PBS series delves into his­tory of recorded mu­sic

Kuwait Times - - WEEKENDER -

At one point in the “Sound break­ing” doc­u­men­tary series, pro­ducer Paul Ep­worth de­scribes a freshly heart­bro­ken Adele singing him her new song, “Rolling in the Deep,” pound­ing out the beat - and her frus­tra­tions - with her foot on a slab of wood.

He shows how her foot-stomp­ing was in­cor­po­rated into the rhythm track of the record­ing, which be­came one of this cen­tury’s biggest hits. It’s one of sev­eral in­sights packed into the eight-hour series that be­gins Mon­day at 10 p.m. EST on most PBS sta­tions.

The series was the brain­child of Bea­tles pro­ducer Ge­orge Martin, who died March 8. The sprawl­ing over­view was wres­tled into shape by Amer­i­can pro­ducer Jeff Dupre, who made sure it was some­thing other than a tech­nol­ogy wonk’s par­adise. “You want it to not be a his­tory les­son but an ex­pe­ri­ence for the au­di­ence,” Dupre said. “They’ll hear a few new things, but also en­joy hear­ing it.”

The series is di­vided into sev­eral top­ics, in­clud­ing the role of a pro­ducer, the use of sam­pling and how the record­ing stu­dio be­came an in­stru­ment. Each episode is packed with songs and per­sonal sto­ries. Tom Petty de­scribes how Jeff Lynne stopped him upon first hear­ing the chord pro­gres­sion that be­came “Free Fallin’,” and Quest­love talks about be­ing en­tranced by the sound of “Rap­per’s De­light.”

Giles Martin was a part­ner in the project, be­com­ing more ac­tive with his fa­ther’s ill­ness. “His life was ded­i­cated to mak­ing peo­ple happy through sound,” he said. “If you think about it, it was re­ally as sim­ple as that. He tried to push bound­aries all the time within that. The in­no­va­tion, not just with him­self but with a lot of peo­ple, he thought was quite an in­ter­est­ing story to tell.”

Af­ter the Bea­tles left the road, they part­nered with Martin us­ing the stu­dio as a palette. “Sound break­ing” dis­cusses the mak­ing of “To­mor­row Never Knows,” where Martin was charged with bring­ing some of John Len­non’s off­beat ideas to life.

The goal of record­ing tech­nol­ogy

For much of the 1900s, the goal of record­ing tech­nol­ogy was to make a lis­tener ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing in a room as mu­sic was made, said Giles Martin, who went into the fam­ily busi­ness. In the 1960s and beyond with the con­stant in­tro­duc­tion of new tech­nol­ogy, that changed.

Be­fore be­ing as­signed to a young Liver­pool band no one had heard of, Ge­orge Martin pro­duced com­edy records, where he was ac­cus­tomed to in­cor­po­rat­ing sound ef­fects into record­ings. With his back­ground, he would have never got­ten the job as Bea­tles pro­ducer in to­day’s world, “which is kind of an in­ter­est­ing les­son that hasn’t been learned since,” Martin said.

The sur­viv­ing Bea­tles, Paul McCart­ney and Ringo Starr, both par­tic­i­pate in “Sound break­ing.” More than 150 artists and pro­duc­ers are in­ter­viewed.

Be­sides Ge­orge Martin and the Bea­tles, “Sound break­ing” talks about the 1960s work of Brian Wil­son and Phil Spec­tor. Be­cause of Spec­tor pil­ing on the in­stru­ments, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” doesn’t sound like a breakup, “it sounds like the end of the world,” Dupre said.

For­tu­nately, the series doesn’t stay stuck in a by­gone era. There are artists you wish you’d heard from - Prince and Bruce Spring­steen come to mind - but “Sound break­ing” keeps up with chang­ing styles and the di­ver­sity of creators. In the first episode, Dr. Dre ex­plains that “it’s very easy to make a hip-hop record. It’s not easy to make a good hip-hop record.” Al­though it’s not some­thing that Giles Martin wanted to spend much time on, the series doesn’t avoid the mask­ing power of record­ing tech­nol­ogy: auto-tune’s abil­ity to make some­one sound much bet­ter than they ac­tu­ally are. “This is more a cel­e­bra­tion of what is great about mu­sic,” he said. “Since pop mu­sic has be­gun, there are peo­ple who have sold records who can’t sing. It’s not a new thing.”

Mostly, “Sound break­ing” tells sto­ries about how artists as fans were ex­cited by cer­tain sounds they heard on records and how they as­pired to cre­ate some­thing new them­selves. “If you watch all the episodes, you will hear mu­sic in a new way, be­cause you will have a greater un­der­stand­ing of how it was cre­ated,” Dupre said.

— AP

This un­dated im­age re­leased by PBS shows Bea­tles pro­ducer Ge­orge Martin, one of more than 100 artists fea­tured in the doc­u­men­tary series, “Sound­break­ing,” be­gin­ning Mon­day on PBS.

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