Greg Milner is very passionate about music he likes and how he likes to listen to it. The (unfairly) simplistic premise of this book would be "Analog/LP = Good, Digital/CD = Bad". And he turned almost every stone around America to prove his point, from Edison's single minded-obsession with improving the recorded sound quality to explaining in detail how modern, internet based compression formats are destroying the sound we now listen on a daily basis.
It is rather obvious that he had his mind made up long before he started researching for this book. Warmth, wittiness and houmor of his writing about early days of cylinders and vinyls turns quickly into bitter sarcasm every time he mentions CDs, and Digital seems to be a dirty word for him. Artistic and technological advancements in Europe are largely overlooked, except when they are either nicked or exported over the Atlantic. I couldn't stop wandering, if by any chance CD wasn't invented by an European and a Japanese company, would it fair a bit better in his views?
Accounts of audio developments are detailed and to the point, but some might find them too technological. Milner wastes no efforts to prove his point - that since the 80s over-produced and over-compressed rock and pop music doesn't sound 'natural' any more, exclusively due to digital recording technology and digital sound processing. But when he gets to explain why do we suffer from a digital fatigue, he is still exclusively focused on rock and pop. Classical music is barely mentioned, and even then, Leopold Stokowsky is painted as a charlatan and Herbert von Karajan wrongly(!) labeled as 'Hitler's favorite conductor'. And that's it. Naturally created sound doesn't seem to exist in Milner's recorded world, but it was far easier proving that already artificially created sound of rock and pop music sounds equally artificial when recorded and reproduced. And the fact that Philips and Sony already fixed all shortcomings that 'dirty' CD made such an inadequate sound carrier is also barely mentioned - there are only two passing references about Super Audio CD in the whole book, but nothing about its capabilities to sound like a good old LP.
Everything concerned, this is an interesting read. If you have more than a passing interest in sound technology, this is a must. The unique selling point of Milner's writing should be his ability to build up a very convincing theoretical analysis out of historical narrative. And, at the end of the day, you can agree or disagree with some of his points, but the fact remains that the commercial need for a quick musical buck lowered the sound quality of the (rock and pop) music we listen today to an equivalent of a cold pizza - digestible only if you're desperate.
on 1 January 2010
An excellent, compelling read for anyone interested in the process of recording music and capturing sound. It does seem that Milner has really told the story that he wants to, focusing on the areas that interest him while making some quite surprising omissions. The front cover shows a vinyl record, an audio cassette and CD, yet the whole story of the audio cassette is missing; only mentioned in a couple of sentences in passing as he describes the birth of the CD. This is astonishing, given its popularity as a playback mechanism in the 70s and 80s and the destructive effect home taping had on the music industry. Similarly, Milner tells us how at the beginning of the magnetic tape era of recording, one of the first engineers struggled to effectively splice tape, trying scotch tape amongst other things but never succeeding. A few pages later, Milner is telling us how splicing revolutionised music production, without ever telling us how anyone figured out how to do this. Nevertheless, it is a great read. Milner's attention to detail is admirable, and although sometimes he does get over-technical and risks alienating the reader, he usually pulls it back as he is never short of interesting studio anecdotes. He interviews a range of people intricately involved in the history of music recording, whose views are forthright and deeply revealing. Although some reviews here accuse Milner of having an "analogue good - digital bad" agenda, this is not quite true. Although Milner clearly has an analogue bias, he tests his prejudices along the way and often admits that the distinction is not clear-cut, as when he struggles to distinguish compressed and non-compressed audio in a 'blind' sound test.
The main point about this book is that it is a fairly technical tome and the sub-title does not lie. It is a book about the engineering and the science behind sound recording, not in any way a book about the music industry or the musicians. Certainly recommended for anyone interested in the technical side of things; but if rock n roll anecdotes are what you're after, this will be a turn-off.
I found "Perfecting Sound Forever" to be an interesting read. My knowledge of how recorded music developed though is fairly limited, so I can't really comment on how accurate the book is. I would just say that I found myself wondering in a couple of places whether there was an element of author bias in terms of the emphasis given to various events covered in the book. Having said that, the author's enthusiasm for the subject makes the book highly readable, so perhaps that bias has a positive aspect too, although there were also parts of the book where I found my interest flagging. Technically, it's not the best written book ever, and chronologically, it does jump around a bit, particularly within a chapter, although again, this often helps the author to illustrate a point, rather than just write a very dry history of events.
The most interesting part of the book for me was probably the discussion of what we have lost by moving to digital, rather than analogue recording. Having read the book, I do find myself thinking more about the origins of the music I have listened to, and being more critical of how it has been produced - so I think it was a worthwhile read! Whilst it's a book probably of most interest to those involved in the music industry in some way, it does also appeal to those who would just consider themselves part of the audience for music, and who love their music. It might also be interesting to music students - particularly those learning music recording techniques.
on 6 March 2013
This is a fascinating and well researched history of sound recording dating back to Edison and bringing us up-to-date with the compressed music formats we all download. There are lots of anecdotes as well as sidetracks from the main theme but they're always interesting.
If you want to be well-informed about everything from the introduction of magnetic tape through the loudness wars to the introduction of sampling then this book is a must read.
I found this book difficult to read. It contains many fascinating anecdotes that fans of recorded music will love but at times it feels like a Tolkien novel. The author takes an age to get to the point of the various stories that are being told. I kept wanting to skip ahead but found that doing so meant that I often missed the point being made.
I really wanted to enjoy this book but in the end found that the reward for sticking with it was just not worth the time I was spending wading through the detail.
Overall a fascinating insight into the story of recorded music but not for the casual reader.
Books like Perfecting Sound Forever don't come around very often. It dances in perfect step between a potentially dull, scientific subject, and the bizarre (when you think about it), yet utterly life affirming human past-time of recording music for pleasure, to present a highly readable book that is hugely informative, yet never ever dull.
Within about ten pages, I couldn't believe that no-one had ever quite written this book before, so obvious was the deep world of marvel that recorded sound has provided over the last century or so.
If, like me, you've tipped enthusiastically into the recent trend for books on the human act of enjoying music, led by This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel J. Levitin, you'll know that the idea of a book on the notion of hearing music can be far more exciting than the actual book itself.
However, that is far from the case with Perfecting Sound Forever. Milner pulls off the trick of balancing his musical nerd passion with genuine fascination, and driving it all home on a prose that's easy on the cranium, but nevertheless electric and ceaselessly compelling.
As Bono once said, we don't buy stereos to play our records - we buy records to play our stereos. And for once, he was absolutely, 100% on the money.
Kicking off with a crackling state of our musical nation address, Milner quickly rewinds to the time of Edison's first forays into recording to evoke base-wonder at the very notion of trapping sound with machines, and more importantly achieving playback, before cutting a natty groove through the rest of the 20th century and beyond. Along the way we visit all of the key social trend stages of recorded music, that shows not only how the music player (record, tape or CD) was the computer of its day, but also how we are suckers for experience. Which goes some way towards explaining why the music industry is dying as we all migrate towards the more immersive domains of the internet-fuelled computer, and our interactive, larger than life and twice as crisp flat-screen TVs.
I can't recommend this book enough - it's not geeky, it's far from dull, and it will leave you marvelling at the sheer brilliance of mankind's ability to seek the joy of the heavens.
Perfecting Sound Forever could have been a dry as dust recording history tome, but it isn't. It is much better than that. The overall experience of reading it is both very enjoyable and very informative.
The introduction chapter doesn't get off to a great start though. Milner seems to be having trouble making up his mind what he wants to say, and whether digital is better or worse than analog seems to be a question he cannot come to a firm conclusion on.
However, once you get into the meat of the book it all flies along wonderfully with the chapters being liberally punctuated with moments of great humour. Recording history turns out to be far from dry and dusty, and the personal 'character' of various important figures from Edison to the present are aptly and succinctly captured by Milner. As the book progresses into the digital era we are treated to some wonderfully instructive sections on the chase for listener attention in what has become known as the loudness war. Once you get into that you find you are listening to your own music collection differently, and you may start to find all manner of nasty things you hadn't really been aware of before. The book tells you straight up why most recent recordings sound so loud and compared to recordings from the pre-digital era so 'odd'. Those parts alone are worth the price of the book, and there's much more besides.
We might want to question why Milner set up the chase for the perfect capture and reproduction of sound and music as the central theme of the book when that theme is pretty much resolved before the half-way point of the book, but it does make good sense as a means to hang everything else on to, and once you reach the concluding chapter it is easy enough to understand why Milner appeared to be prevaricating in the introduction. The issues raised by the emergence of digital recording methods are complex after all, and his treatment of it here does provide a good and easy to read overview of them.
So overall it's a great read that both entertains and gives some extremely useful information on the growth and current state of the recording industry. There's a liberal sprinkling of humour, and you will likely come out of it with a greater appreciation of what it is you are hearing in modern music and why it sounds the way it does. So It's definitely worth the asking price, and definitely a book you will be glad you read.
As I have just embarked on recording my own series of meditation/relaxation CDs I felt this book would be an ideal opportunity to learn more about recording. How right I was. However...
This lengthy tome has been written by someone who, dare I say, is obsessed with sound and the recordings of it. From early days to the modern digital age he covers everything. But be prepared for a hard slog. The book is extremely wordy and at times very hard work. (One of those books you have to read but have to re-read sections over and over to take it all in). I would like to say that it inspired me to really get on with my recording - I'm resting, honestly! - but if anything it made me more critical of the actual sound (not good) rather than the content. In truth I feel the author Greg Milner, has had so much floating around in his head he needed to get it all down on paper, and to be fair he has down it extremely well so long as you understand all the jargon and are interested in the history (and I mean history) of recorded sound, a history that covers everything rather too deeply for someone like me. I am not a sound engineer or anything like that, but I can see this book appealing to anyone whose job (or obsession) lies in recorded sound.
The bottom line. Yes I enjoyed this book, rather like a masochist would enjoy being beaten, pleasure through pain. The book itself is indeed a text book and fills a niche really well, but for the 'common man' it is just a bit too much like hard work. It is very much a book aimed at the American market and far too wordy for me.
So did it help me with my recording? Yes because it showed me that recording is more about personal perception rather than trying to please all of the people all of the time. It has shown me that if I am happy with what I have achieved then I don't need to beat myself up about wondering whether I could do better. But it also made me realise that every single recording has its own merits, which for me has helped emormously.
However, I still give the book 4 stars and if I ever get round to reading it again, it might even get the full set simply because of the style of writing - too academic in places.
If you are really into sound recording, either as a profession or as a serious hobby, then you will find this book fascinating; indeed essential to your education.
This really is a definite account of the history of recorded sound, from the first audio reproductions to the very latest in audio technology, such as MP3's and AAC's. It is, by no stretch of the imagination, anything but exhaustive and very technical. But for me, for whom music is as important as breathing, it is fascinating to examine the evolution of sound and frequency, the fetishisation of the vinyl object as a work of art to the depersonalisation and mass production/reproduction of sound - in effect, moving music consumption from the Object (the record) to the Subject (the emotional response). It is very detailed, and covers almost all areas I can think of,from Auto Tune to Pro Tools to the latest, and harsh Loudness Wars that ruined "Death Magnetic" with audio clipping. Thankfully, whilst there is an enormous amount of information and a brisk, human writing style that collects all this information and presents it in a easy, brisk narrative style, it does also require at least a basic understanding of sound technology. Some parts are briskly skipped over, others focused on beyond their deserved length, but this is an interesting, useful read that explains the narrative of recorded sound since birth to 2009, not always in exhaustive detail but with enough content that almost everything is covered. For anyone who listens to msuic with any integrity or conviction, this is well worth a read.
Firstly, I adore music. The clichéd sentiment about it being my first love is absolutely true in my case. So I enjoyed muchly receiving this book to digest and review...and it didn't let me down.
This book begins with Edison's experimental and groundbreaking expeditions into recording sound and takes the reader on a fascinating journey through pretty much every historical and technical aspect of recorded sound since.
That sounds extremely dull but, with the exclusion of one or two paragraphs whereby being a musician would aid what was being talked about, the author manages to make it a genuinely excellent, engaging and informative read.
I realise this is a daft thing to say, but being a reviewer that's kind of what I constantly have to do - a passion for music and how it's made and recorded is absolutely essential if you're thinking about splashing out on this book.
Being a music fan, I'm really glad I've read it. And, a testament to what a fine book it is, I'll be holding on to it, and the golden nuggets of information within.