photo manipulation by nacrowe
SOUND CITY (ROSWELL FIMS, 2013) is a documentary about that on the surface relates the story of a recording studio in BURBANK and the people that worked, produced and created music there, but has aspirations for a wider dialogue about the relationship between the soul of music and its interaction with emerging technology.
i'm going to skip in large part the history lesson on SOUND CITY the studio, suffice to say that there are a wide abundant of classic albums recorded there on tape and legendary musicians (everyone from TOM PETTY, STEVIE NICKS to TRENT REZNOR and JOSH HOMME) and producers (RICK RUBIN, BUTCH VIG, JOE BARRESI, JIMMY IOVINE, NICK RASKULINECZ and ROSS ROBINSON) who all swear by its revered analog NEVE 8078 console. at some point in the 1980s with the advent of sequencers and early digital recording technology, the studio was deemed antiquated, but reemerged in the 90s with the help of NIRVANA's generation-defining NEVERMIND (GEFFEN, 1991) album, which took advantage of its warm analog sound and venerated thumping drum room. this drew countless acts over the ensuing decade. ultimately, the studio closed in the early 2010s after, largely the victim of dwindling recording budgets brought on by online piracy and powerful recording software available to consumers on their personal computers.
but id argue this film is really about recording technology and the philosophy behind it. BRAD WILK of RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE hit this idea home quite pointedly in the film when he states:
Whatever bands that you love, go find out what bands they love, and what bands turned them on, and then you really start getting into the human aspect of it because the further back you go in time the less technology you had, and consequently the better records you had. There’s this incredible library of music thank god.
and in essence that human touch is what makes music work, argues director and legendary NIRVANA drummer / FOO FIGHTERS frontman DAVE GROHL. those imperfections, miscues and "mistakes" are what make us human and recognize such in the music we love. this is not to say that the film is anti-technology. TRENT REZNOR of NINE INCH NAILS makes the case that emerging technologies expand our capacity to create, expand the colors available and with it the sonic possibilities. it is all in how you use it.
and i feel GROHL is on to something with this. too often in modern ROCK AND ROLL the sounds are so "perfect" that it loses something in the process. it sounds stiff, soulless, slick and most damningly "commercial" to my ears. there is a reason why people go back and listen to raw aggression in music for inspiration, whether that be HARDCORE acts with terrible sound fidelity in their recordings or more classic acts like GUNS N ROSES, NIRVANA, THE STOOGES, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, THE ROLLING STONES, etc. these are all actual bands playing music on the spot, in the moment, especially in a live context. there is something to be said about putting yourself in that space where you are vulnerable, no netting below. modern ROCK AND ROLL is safer than milk. its boring.
HIP HOP was not brought up in the film, but id argue that their use of emerging technology is within the REZNOR framework. in HIP HOP production there are literally no rules and no expectations. if it bounces and sounds killer than it works, the process be damned.
lastly its hard to watch this film and not feel nostalgic, which is a sentiment i despise. its too easy to correct snare tempos, pitch guitars and autotune vocals on the back end.
i just feel that some point someone out there is gonna come out of left field with the most direct, raw, undiluted, undeniable shit ever and will wipe out the phonies much like NIRVANA did in the early 1990s. i just hope i am young enough to recognize it and not too old to experience it.