As audio engineers and artists we may baulk at the term ‘Low Fidelity’. However, there’s a difference between low fidelity and low quality. As previously discussed the idea of a grungy aesthetic is one that appeals to my own practice and recently, I discovered a cassette which contained a live recording of my first band circa 1997; a low fidelity recording taken straight from the mixing console. On listening, with the benefit of over twenty years perspective, it was clear that the E.P. we had professionally recorded had not captured any of the band’s live energy. There is considerable contrast between the fast-paced punk-rock energy of the gig versus the hyper-clean sound of the E.P. Not that the band were unhappy with the E.P. it just presented a higher fidelity version of our raw sound that lacked the intensity of the live performance.
As a Sound Engineer who started my career during the advent of multitrack tape machines, I have spent a significant proportion of my life trying to increase the fidelity of analogue formats. High bias tape, Dolby NR, filters, gates and a whole arsenal of other gear but with the advent of CD Standard digital recording, there was no longer any need. 44.1kHz, 16 bits is enough for the noise floor to be lower than any other equipment in the system.
The proliferation of computers and smart devices, means most modern musicians enjoy access to a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Often music recorded and produced via these means is tweaked, tuned, time-aligned and corrected. However, these processes also have the potential to make the audio sound ultra-clean and precise and without careful consideration, produce a high fidelity output that may lack a musical quality. These modern mixing practices can rob a song of its raw beauty.
I am privileged to have experienced the shift from analogue to digital recording practices, balancing an understanding of both mediums. I have learned about the processes involved in capturing performances in both domains. Creating purposely noisy records in the analogue domain and pushing way too far into the super bright, often lifeless sound of digital.
Despite it ease of setup and use, perhaps we should not automatically record everything in DAWs just because we can. Consideration should to be given to the recording medium employed. For example, a seventeen track punk album recorded in a damp, leaky basement on equipment with questionable safety features should, perhaps not be presented on the same format as a string quartet performing in a beautifully ambient space. Each example has its own unique features and the recording medium should be considered integral to the process of recording.
As professionals it is easy to believe that all audio should be technically perfect. However, in my experience this is not the case at all. Art is beautifully imperfect, messy and emotional and music should be too. To present it as anything else is to miss the point entirely.
Owner & Curator here at Fiercely Indie. Stu’s background is in Sound Engineering and Education. He leads undergrad and postgrad courses at dBs Music, acts as Producer for Live in Session and, is a huge fan of vintage recording gear.