A manual for producers by Paul White and an illuminating critique of pop’s obsession with its own past from Simon Reynolds are among PSN-e’s literary recommendations for the upcoming festive season, writes David Davies.
Published by Sample Magic, The Producer’s Manual by Paul White (Sound On Sound) offers a comprehensive guide to recording and mixing in the project studio. Featuring 350-plus full-colour pages and available now from the Sample Magic website (link below) priced £29.95, the book is designed to help its readers take a mix from initial recording to the final master.
Specific features include: a wealth of detail on classic recording techniques and how to get the most from performers; in-depth guides to dynamics and compression, reverb, pitch correction, studio acoustics, monitoring and more; an examination of mix theory and practice; advice on other mastering options for those unable to afford professional services; and interviews with globally-renowned producers, including Tony Visconti and Alan Parsons.
Standalone producer memoirs have been few and far between this year, but Phill Brown’s Are We Still Rolling? (Tape Op, £12.99) is straight out of the top drawer. As an engineer/producer of more than 40 years’ standing, Brown has lent his talents to some of rock’s most enduring and original albums – Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, John Martyn’s One World and The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, to name just a few. Brown was evidently at his best working with artists – like Martyn, Talk Talk and Robert Palmer – who were open to experimentation in the studio, and his joy at recalling a time when creativity still took precedence over commercial considerations is undeniable.
Pop Will Eat Itself – no, make that has eaten itself. That’s pretty much the premise of one of the year’s most thought-provoking books about music, Simon Reynolds’ Retromania (Faber, £10.99). Author of an extraordinarily vivid study of post-punk, Rip It Up and Start Again, Reynolds here takes the endless recycling and genre-mashing of post-millennial pop as his starting point. Recalling the startling freshness of rock’s late ‘60s heyday and the endless twists and turns of non-mainstream music in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, Reynolds recognises the irony of his nostalgia for a time when demographics came second to originality. One of those rare books which contains a fascinating idea or kernel of knowledge on every page, Retromania is never less than compelling.
Much the same could be said about David Toop’s new publication, Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener (Continuum, £17.99). The author of several landmark books – including illuminating studies of ambient/experimental music (Ocean of Sound) and hip hop (Rap Attack) – Toop’s latest work is by some distance his most ambitious. Moving out from beyond the world of music, Toop explores the use of sound as metaphor in art (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Bacon) and literature (Joyce, Beckett, Woolf). Supple and reflective, Sinister Resonance amply replays a close reading, opening up entirely new horizons on iconic artworks.
A new book from Greil Marcus is always an event, and as one of the world’s foremost Dylanologists, the publication of Bob Dylan: Writings (Faber, £15.99) feels especially significant. Anyone familiar with his deep-mining of American music in Mystery Train or his almost mystical appreciation of Dylan/The Band’s Basement Tapes recordings in Invisible Republic will know Marcus’s gift for shaping a sentence and teasing out the wider context. Those qualities are abundant in Bob Dylan: Writings, which is likely to be the most essential publication on the subject until the great man finally gets round to issuing the second volume of his Chronicles memoir.
The epithet ‘mixed bag’ could have been coined for the rock autobiography, but there have been a few eminently readable additions to the shelf during 2011. The Police broke touring records in 2007/08, but now Stewart Copeland has helped the group to complete another notable first: all three band members have issued outstanding memoirs (the other two, for the record, being Sting’s Broken Music and Andy Summers’s beautifully written One Train Later). As highly regarded these days for his film and TV music as his drumming skills, Copeland’s energetically-written Strange Things Happen (The Friday Project, £8.99) does not shy away from documenting his famously fractious relationship with one G. Sumner.
Finally, there is a glimpse into rock’n’roll life of a rather more lurid kind in rock journalist Nick Kent’s memoir, Apathy for the Devil (Faber, £12.99). Closely associated with the ‘classic’ NME of the 1970s, Kent hung out with his subjects and shared their spoils – to increasingly deleterious effect. The overall trajectory is a descent into darkness, but some of the anecdotes are priceless: Keith Richards’s perplexed fury at the rise of the ‘Boppin’ Elf’, aka Marc Bolan, is laugh-out-loud funny, while Kent’s recollection of attempting to explain the premise of Steptoe & Son to Iggy Pop is pitch-perfect.