Entering the world of ‘Glitch’. I’m

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When it comes to recording music, I have certainly seen some changes in my lifetime.  The first recordings I made of my songs was on my dad’s old Philips Tape Recorder.

Dad had bought it to record us kids growing up and seeing as how my brother was 7 years older than me and I started recording on it when I was 12, well, it certainly wasn’t cutting edge technology.  But it did the trick.  Without that machine I would never have sent a tape to John Peel on Radio 1 and I’m sure my life would have taken a very different route.

Maldwyn Pope with John Peel BBC Studios London July 1973

Once I was in that world of professional recording I was completely spoilt.  I went from recording in our front room to Abbey Road studios.  These hallowed rooms were equipped with the very best microphones, mixing desks and tape recorders in the world.  Even then the march of technology was moving at pace. I remember having to wait to start one session at the legendary Marquee Studios because they were moving from a 16 to a 24 track tape recorder.  24 separate tracks that you could put instruments and voices on.  How would you fill up the tape, surely no one would need more that 24 tracks?

Of course, we did.  Pretty soon you would really, really need a 25th track and so it went on. 

Studer 24 Track Tape recorder

All of this was very much in the analogue domain.  This old technology relied on capturing sound through great big valve microphones onto reels of plastic tape covered in tiny particles of iron.  Even as I try to explain it now it sounds like a pretty ‘Heath Robinson’.  At the time you got used to sometimes seeing smoke coming out of your mixing desk when the valves got too hot. Over time the magnetic recording tape would start to break down and come apart.  Today, even old tapes stored in ideal conditions often have to be ‘baked’ in an oven to help restore the tapes properties before you can play them again.

Then the world went digital.  At first, the sound which had been converted to zeros and ones was again stored on Magnetic tape.  Because the technology was improving it also meant you could get crystal clear digital recording on 32 track tape recorders.

It soon became clear that if you were only dealing in zeros and ones for digital recording you didn’t need tape at all, why not record those digits straight onto a computer hard drive?  There were lots of advantages.  That old magnetic tape was expensive to produce and store.  A reel cost hundreds of pounds for 20 minutes recording time.  Compare that to a hard drive that could store hours of recordings at a fraction of the price. 

But here’s the strange thing about people.  Having striven to find a way to record sound in the best possible quality they started to miss the way the old analogue tape recordings used to sound.  Some artists disliked the clean sound of digital so much they actually recorded a track of hiss to add to the final mix.

They soon forgot about how unreliable the machines would be and how expensive the tape was, no, they just remembered how great the drums or vocals sounded on those old recordings.

A computer screen full of virtual audio equipment

There then developed a whole industry of manufacturers creating what are known as ‘plugins’.  These plugins can be added to digital recordings to make them sound more analogue. Sound engineers have taken thousands of hours working with some old gear, mapping out their sonic characteristics and then modelling some computer code to emulate that sound.  In effect what they are doing is taking the pure digital signal and making it sound worse, to make it sound better. 

Some of these plugins and digital machines have led to completely new sounds.  Do you remember hearing that Cher track ‘Do You Believe In Life After Love’? It’s a good song but what really caught people’s attention was the way her voice sounded robotic at times.  That sound came from a machine designed to analyse the way a singer had sung a song and then gently nudge it into tune where they were sharp or flat.  With the Cher song the producer turned the knob all the way up and created a whole new sound.

That was a very obvious way to hear how digital technology works but sometimes I have to say it’s hard to tell.

A ‘plugin’ designed to make your digital recording sound like tape.

I’ve spent most of life in and around studios and if I’m honest when I actually get to try some of these ‘plugins’ I can’t always tell the difference they are actually making.  I’m not sure if it’s like the ‘Emperors Clothes’ whereby you convince yourself that something is better because that’s what some expert has said.  Even knowing that, I look at my current set up and realise I’ve spent far too much time and far too much money on these plugins… they’ve got me haven’t they?

But for the new producers of music all of this technology, analogue and digital, is now affordable and at their fingertips.  Consequently, they don’t think about the differences, they just use everything they can get their hands on.

Which brings me to a whole new genre of music, which owes its very existence to digital technology that I will join next week…Glitch Music. Here is a basic definition.

‘The glitching sounds featured in glitch tracks usually come from audio recording device or digital electronics malfunctions. Sometimes devices that were already broken are used, and sometimes devices are broken expressly for this purpose.’

When I was approached by ‘Glitch’ Music Producer Dai Griffiths it took me a little bit of time to try to understand the concept.  He played me some songs recorded by one of his artists, a lady called Luna Lie Lot and I thought that’s very clever I wonder where you start.  Dai told me, he wanted to start by taking apart one of my songs and ‘glitching’ it back together with Luna Lie Lot as the lead singer. I sent him the various different tracks of my latest single ‘I Still Think About You’ and left him to it.

A couple of weeks later Dai sent through the final mix.  Now I can’t say I totally understand how he did it, but it sounded great, so much so that we decided to release it as a new single.  Dai works in mysterious ways with access to lots of Glitch music lovers all around the world.  I don’t expect they would listen to a Mal Pope album but apparently they can’t wait for the new music from Luna Lie Lot.

I’ll let you know how we get on and whether the world of Glitch Music is my new home.

Mal Pope with Luna Lie Lot

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