The Endless Transition…

While digital culture feels ubiqutous in the two fields that I spend most of my time, film & music/sound, the analogue technological world remains ever present. Accordingly it always interests me to hear people philosophise & reflect on the transition from working via purely analogue means to current methods. It isn’t exactly an analogue vs digital consideration as both mediums are still evolving; digital is obviously in constant development but in more subtle ways so is the analogue world, for example the release of new modular synth modules is overwhelming… But what interests me is the evolution of technique, and are some techniques lost along the way?
I remember attending a picture editing workshop at the Berlinale Talent Campus and an older editor who had cut many James Bond films amongst others made the interesting comment that using digital editing equipment had ‘reduced the thinking time’ and he went on to describe how, when you are cutting on 35mm film, making a cut is not easily undone & therefore the cut is thought about & discussed before it is made. It was still based on feel: playing footage in real time & stopping on a cut point, but the inference is that the decision to make a cut required focus & depth of thought. Nowadays he described editors making rough edits without too much forethought & then tweaking/nudging them until they seemed right. Now digital picture editing does not preclude the traditional approach used; reading of Walter Murch’s approach to the same issue is reassuring in that, if the editor is aware of the difference then they can maintain their preferred and/or traditional approach. But what intrigues me is that for people who have never cut on film, the old techniques were never learned & accordingly cannot be truly appreciated. Is this a loss or a gain? Inevitably, it is both.

A recent issue of Vague Terrain online magazine had a section focused on Digital Dub and its an interesting & thought-provoking read (& listen) but one comment by the curator of a selection of dub influenced media got me thinking about these transitional times:

Greg J. Smith: “… I know dub is important to you as a musician, why do you think the ‘production legacy’ of dub music is eternally relevant for technology based art?”

Neil Wiernik: “….I see it as one of the few analogue art forms that has made the transition to digital methodologies naturally, almost as if it was there all along.”

So what techniques that havent made the transition, do you most miss from the exclusively analogue era? The technique I keep thinking about is primarily that of mindset; of taking a photo or recording a performance when you know it can’t easily be edited (ie before Photoshop or Protools.) Similarly to the film editing example above, there is no reason why that mindset can’t be maintained… but because the option exists I doubt it rarely is…

5 thoughts on “The Endless Transition…

  1. Carl

    The major downside of modern digital tech is the fact that content can be made so cheaply and by virtually anyone, so there is an enormous oversupply of low quality product out there in our faces all the time.

    On the upside, for working in audio post, the ratio of creativity/technical procedure would be much higher now, I think. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy this line of work if I had to painstakingly splice tape and what-not for every edit. I imagine you’d be so bogged down in technical craftsmanship, there’d be little room for letting your imagination run free. (Which of course makes some of the really good sound jobs from the analog days all the more impressive).

    1. admin Post author

      Yes, it seems actual talent is less & less required to produce ‘something’ that appears like music nowadays, but the long term value of that something remains to be seen. Its almost like sooner or later, bands will release ROMplers along with their albums, so you too can be Radiohead etc….

      re the latter comment though, I dont believe creativity is necessarily tied to technology. In my opinion Alan Splet was one of the most creative sound designers ever, and I am comparing him to those working in the field now. But he was pre-digital…. I know what you are saying, but it seems he didn’t get ‘bogged down in technical craftsmanship’ – maybe, as with music, the entry level/access to creative expression was higher?

  2. Loopy C

    Because of my getting behind in technology (using a PPC 1.67 Ghz PB 17′ still), my recent audio projects had to be approached in a more ‘discrete’ manner, that is I started pre-producing single tracks that pushed the limits of my available processing power…creating them in ‘modular form’ so as to be usable in several ways in later recombinations (key, tempo, etc…tagging like ‘loops’ but these are full linear track of 1+min length).

    I found working this way, which in many ways is laborious and tedious, created a new structural and creative mindset (lots of thinking and notes taking place while bouncing these ‘portions’ of a project) that though I am ready to upgrade to a more powerful (and realtime) system, I am not likely to abandon. The added bonus is that day when all the elements finally to get to meet in realtime , it’s has many surprising effects on me, much like improvising with other people where I am reacting to something new (i.e. more right brain) which informs the final construction with a new synergy which is often the opposite effect than that of working on something for a long period.

    All that to say, even working within technology there are lessons and inspirations to be found in slowing down, in my case a nostalgic return to primitive 24-track reel to reel using 4 track machine dubs is gleaned for profit in modern times 🙂

    Related to any good Walter Murch read, check out:

    Many insights related to the process affecting the mindfulness 😉

    1. admin Post author

      thanks for recommendation, will check it out…

      i own a few books by Mr Murch, specifically:
      In the Blink of an Eye (based on the premise that our acceptance of film editing is due to the fact that we blink)

      Behind the scenes of Cutting Cold Mountain on Final Cut Pro
      (this is a very good explanation of how he works, literally & philosophically)

      Walter Murch in conversation with Michael Ondaatje re The English Patient

  3. Loopy C

    Yes, ‘Blink’ was quite interesting, ‘Cold Mountain’ will be my next. I think Murch and Rosenblum have a lot of application to audio editing (especially in more abstract/experimental electro acoustic and collage).

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