Thursday, March 16, 2006

BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! (Ohhh, sweet music!)

A gentleman named Bob Speer has written an elegant essay explaining why nobody listens to recent popular music anymore: it's too loud. I can bring a bit of historical perspective to this issue; here's the letter I wrote to him:

Bob Speer,
I enjoyed your column about loud music at:
http://www.cdmasteringservices.com/dynamicrange.htm .

Perhaps you're not aware of this, but as a classical musician interested in old performing styles and old recordings, I can assure you that music has been getting distinctly louder since the early 1930's, and probably earlier than that. I believe that in recorded pop music, the 1970's saw a very important step in this process: It was - at that time - no longer possible to get absolutely louder, but it WAS possible to use many electronic sounds that hardly decayed at all. (Sounds that do not decay in volume sound much louder.)

This business of increasing volume may have been exacerbated by World War One. Many composers (such as Frank Bridge in England), heavily affected by this awful war, developed louder, angrier styles of music to express their feelings. The automobile and other machinery have of course made normal life much louder, and music naturally has increased in volume to keep up.

I was an early Gustav Mahler advocate in the late 1950's. At the time, most classical musicians said something like this: "I don't like Mahler! He's too loud! He bangs!" By the mid 1970's, life was so loud that no such criticism could be heard.

You seem to feel that music has finally gone too far in its loudness. I hope you are right, but many people have felt the same in (quieter) times past.
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