WHILE DIGGING THROUGH STUFF I’ve had in storage for 20 years, I came
across notes for an article musing on how audio recording technology
reflects the minds of its creators. I’m no psychologist, and we’re
talking tape recorders here, but the ideas are still sort of amusing.
The study of psychoacoustics has provided many fascinating insights into the relationship between sound and human behavior. One spin-off of this has been the emergence of recordings intended to produce specific responses in the listener. There are recordings for relaxation, habit control, prosperity, and even self-actualization and enlightenment. All of these concern the ways in which recordings affect the psyche—but what about the ways in which the psyche affects recording?
It occurs to me that our technologies are created in our own image. For example, people are a lot like tape recorders. Some of us have monophonic or “one-track” minds, while the vast majority are stereo or two-track models. And because the two-trackers dominate, “reality” is often conceived of as occurring within a 180-degree (stereo) field—from far left to far right.
Considerably less common are the multi-trackers, those exceptional minds capable of thinking with up to 64 tracks simultaneously. These are typically high-speed models, and many also possess sophisticated editing capabilities. Of course, since consensus reality occurs within a 180-degree stereo field, it is necessary for such minds to “mix down” to two tracks in order to be even partially understood by the average person. While these mixes may be perceived as compromising the original thoughts, they are nonetheless typically richer and more complex than ordinary, real time, two-track recordings.
In addition to track capabilities and operational speed, there are other criteria for evaluating tape recorders that more or less correspond to those we use to evaluate ourselves. In both cases, professional models tend to spec out better than their consumer-grade counterparts. They are often better informed (signal-to-noise ratio), more discriminating and insightful (total harmonic distortion), broader minded (frequency response), and less easily influenced (wow and flutter).
That said, the performance of even low-budget models may be dramatically enhanced by employing “outboard” processors such as noise-reduction devices, frequency equalizers, and particularly reverb and echo units, which when used effectively may at least partially approximate the spaciousness and depth-of-field of multi-dimensional minds.