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Recordings as simulacra

Blumlein 88

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The following is copied from the wikipedia page on the Jean Baudrillard essay Simulacra and Simulation.

Simulacra and Simulation
delineates the sign-order into four stages:

  1. The first stage is a faithful image/copy, where people believe, and may even be correct to believe, that a sign is a "reflection of a profound reality" this is a good appearance, in what Baudrillard called "the sacramental order".
  2. The second stage is perversion of reality, where people come to believe that the sign is an unfaithful copy, which "masks and denatures" reality as an "evil appearance—it is of the order of maleficence". Here, signs and images do not faithfully reveal reality to us, but can hint at the existence of an obscure reality which the sign itself is incapable of encapsulating.
  3. The third stage masks the absence of a profound reality, where the sign pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original. Signs and images claim to represent something real, but no representation is taking place and arbitrary images are merely suggested as things which they have no relationship to. Baudrillard calls this the "order of sorcery", a regime of semantic algebra where all human meaning is conjured artificially to appear as a reference to the (increasingly) hermetic truth.
  4. The fourth stage is pure simulacrum, in which the simulacrum has no relationship to any reality whatsoever. Here, signs merely reflect other signs and any claim to reality on the part of images or signs is only of the order of other such claims. This is a regime of total equivalency, where cultural products need no longer even pretend to be real in a naïve sense, because the experiences of consumers' lives are so predominantly artificial that even claims to reality are expected to be phrased in artificial, "hyperreal" terms. Any naïve pretension to reality as such is perceived as bereft of critical self-awareness, and thus as oversentimental.
I have considered nearly all or all recordings simulacra for some time. I read this Stereophile article which had me thinking about it.

You don't really need to read it. It simply skims over lightly all the reasons the idea of re-creating a sonic reality from recordings was never going to work. And posits that as a reference was always misguided. Probably intended to get people to give up on the idea of high fidelity and accept more subjectivity. That is not what I have in mind.

Now the above 4 stages of simulacra do fix in my mind how I view recordings of music. You regularly have discussion/disagreement between audiophiles about factual fidelity the idea there is an Absolute Sound of reality while at the other end are those who point out music can be completely artificial which means there never was an Absolute Sound. Now the Four stages of simulacra seem to pretty well lay out where the various types of recordings lie. Maybe something like many Pink Floyd tracks are in stage 3, it sounds plausibly real, yet has zero relation to any reality as it is all a total artificial construct. Yet most of the sounds are recognizable as something we have heard or think we could hear in the real world. Stage 4 is maybe "Hearts of Space" types of music. Ambient electronic creations that sound real yet are of sounds that could not exist and we have never heard anything like it. Now such music doesn't claim to be real or have more authority than real music or at least few of the artists would think that. They likely think it liberates them from the constraints most musicians have to work within.

Anyway, just wondered if anyone has some contrary or alternate thoughts and ideas on this. As someone who records music now and again, I think examining which stage you want the result of your recording to exist within is helpful in making decisions. I enjoy, respect, and find worth in music in all the 4 stages of simulacra.
 
What about the idea that we make a faithful image (stage 1) of the sound mix that the artists signed off when it was played back to them through speakers at the studio?
 
The following is copied from the wikipedia page on the Jean Baudrillard essay Simulacra and Simulation.

Simulacra and Simulation delineates the sign-order into four stages:

  1. The first stage is a faithful image/copy, where people believe, and may even be correct to believe, that a sign is a "reflection of a profound reality" this is a good appearance, in what Baudrillard called "the sacramental order".
  2. The second stage is perversion of reality, where people come to believe that the sign is an unfaithful copy, which "masks and denatures" reality as an "evil appearance—it is of the order of maleficence". Here, signs and images do not faithfully reveal reality to us, but can hint at the existence of an obscure reality which the sign itself is incapable of encapsulating.
  3. The third stage masks the absence of a profound reality, where the sign pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original. Signs and images claim to represent something real, but no representation is taking place and arbitrary images are merely suggested as things which they have no relationship to. Baudrillard calls this the "order of sorcery", a regime of semantic algebra where all human meaning is conjured artificially to appear as a reference to the (increasingly) hermetic truth.
  4. The fourth stage is pure simulacrum, in which the simulacrum has no relationship to any reality whatsoever. Here, signs merely reflect other signs and any claim to reality on the part of images or signs is only of the order of other such claims. This is a regime of total equivalency, where cultural products need no longer even pretend to be real in a naïve sense, because the experiences of consumers' lives are so predominantly artificial that even claims to reality are expected to be phrased in artificial, "hyperreal" terms. Any naïve pretension to reality as such is perceived as bereft of critical self-awareness, and thus as oversentimental.
I have considered nearly all or all recordings simulacra for some time. I read this Stereophile article which had me thinking about it.

You don't really need to read it. It simply skims over lightly all the reasons the idea of re-creating a sonic reality from recordings was never going to work. And posits that as a reference was always misguided. Probably intended to get people to give up on the idea of high fidelity and accept more subjectivity. That is not what I have in mind.

Now the above 4 stages of simulacra do fix in my mind how I view recordings of music. You regularly have discussion/disagreement between audiophiles about factual fidelity the idea there is an Absolute Sound of reality while at the other end are those who point out music can be completely artificial which means there never was an Absolute Sound. Now the Four stages of simulacra seem to pretty well lay out where the various types of recordings lie. Maybe something like many Pink Floyd tracks are in stage 3, it sounds plausibly real, yet has zero relation to any reality as it is all a total artificial construct. Yet most of the sounds are recognizable as something we have heard or think we could hear in the real world. Stage 4 is maybe "Hearts of Space" types of music. Ambient electronic creations that sound real yet are of sounds that could not exist and we have never heard anything like it. Now such music doesn't claim to be real or have more authority than real music or at least few of the artists would think that. They likely think it liberates them from the constraints most musicians have to work within.

Anyway, just wondered if anyone has some contrary or alternate thoughts and ideas on this. As someone who records music now and again, I think examining which stage you want the result of your recording to exist within is helpful in making decisions. I enjoy, respect, and find worth in music in all the 4 stages of simulacra.
I like the analysis here. I think there still might be a debate as to whether stage 1 is truly possible, and to what extent, but at least that boils down to a technical argument rather than philosophical.

If I'm reading right, you could butcher it as:

1. Realistic recordings in the sense of (having the potential of) sounding truly real
2. Recordings trying to be realistic and failing
3. Recordings that are realistic in the sense of having real instruments, but are entirely artificial
4. Recordings that never pretended to be realistic in the first place

Seems like a useful framework.
 
What about the idea that we make a faithful image (stage 1) of the sound mix that the artists signed off when it was played back to them through speakers at the studio?
I think that falls into at least stage 2. Artists signing off on it masquerades as "official reality" when it cannot be reality. It is at least one step of abstraction as the artist's reality.
 
Unless you define the sound that is coming out of the speakers in the studio (playing the final mix) as the absolute and original sound?

A range of different sounds occur during recording but these are not the important composition that is finally agreed as complete.
 
Unless you define the sound that is coming out of the speakers in the studio (playing the final mix) as the absolute and original sound?

A range of different sounds occur during recording but these are not the important composition that is finally agreed as complete.
What you describe is why it is a created simulacra and not a reality. The composition means someone authored it. A group or a single person, but it is not a first stage representation of reality. You might split hairs and slip it in, but then I think it no longer has value in how you think about it. Instead it obscures what kind of recording you are attempting to make which is where my thinking lies in the usefulness of the concept. Once you are authoring or editorializing even a little bit rather than attempting as faithful to real a recording as possible then you start to make different recording choices.

For instance, some think editing out mistakes using multiple takes is not kosher even if using minimalist accurate techniques. I'd decide that is okay because even if you are using multiple takes the goal and reference is real music, reality sound based. And one could rightly quibble with me about that. The idea we have mixes, and some processing that the band signs off on is a whole different level of departing from the real. Does not mean I would not record that way, but it would inform decisions about how far to go with things away from reality.
 
Then I essentially believe that all recordings made today will be stage 4 simulacra (and I'm fine with that). (With possible niche exceptions like 2 mic stereo concert recordings).

Drummer lays down track on Monday, drums are individually close miced and have to be balanced on the mixing desk. Guitarist comes in on Tuesday, plays electro-acoustic but has distortion added in post-processing...etc. In film, there is no real version of the sound of a laser cannon firing through space!

And so it is more interesting (to me) to define the final mixed sound heard by the artist through speakers at the studio as the "original". (It is why I prefer the term artist's intent). Artists do whatever they want (by hook or by crook) to get to that final sound. They might do multiple takes, play stuff backwards, use an AI plugin, whatever. The reality that we try to recreate is the sound coming out of the speakers when the artist finally agrees it is all done. Then we can apply these 4 stages to reproduction of that final composition

Today we have a chance of getting near to a stage 1 reproduction of the "original" sound. If your home audio system adds distortion or different tonality then this takes you to a perverted stage 2, etc. Willful use of DSP exciters, tube amps etc to change the sound to the listener's preference is perhaps stage 4?
 
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Love this. Seems sensible to me that all recordings are #4 pure simulacrum i.e. that they are themselves the only reference point but I can imagine a discussion going very late into the night :)

Any thoughts on what #2 perversion of reality sounds like? Adding crowd noises to a studio recording ... or just Taylor Swift in general?
 
@Matt

I think most recordings are stage 3 and more than ever stage 4.

I think the artists intent is somewhere between a myth and overblown.

BTW your posts are what I am looking for. A sounding board to bounce off of. I don't have the answers and don't intend dismissiveness. Thanks for engaging on the topic.

As someone who records different projects need different guidance. I've found these four stages to be more helpful than anything else. Deciding which stage a project fits in seems to illuminate decisions along the way. It is not perfect so maybe there's a better way.
 
Love this. Seems sensible to me that all recordings are #4 pure simulacrum i.e. that they are themselves the only reference point but I can imagine a discussion going very late into the night :)

Any thoughts on what #2 perversion of reality sounds like? Adding crowd noises to a studio recording ... or just Taylor Swift in general?
Where would you place Cuniberti's One Mic recordings?

Stage 2, simple barely processed multi mic recordings made to sound like something real.
 
I think the artists intent is somewhere between a myth and overblown.

As someone who records different projects need different guidance. I've found these four stages to be more helpful than anything else. Deciding which stage a project fits in seems to illuminate decisions along the way. It is not perfect so maybe there's a better way.

Just to be clear, I think that in a lot of cases when we speak of "artist's intent", the artist in question is really the person producing the final mix. (Hopefully that at least gets the nod from the "talent", or director in the case of films).
 
Where would you place Cuniberti's One Mic recordings?

Stage 2, simple barely processed multi mic recordings made to sound like something real.
This is why it's a late night conversation :)

Those 'one mic' recordings make a good attempt at capturing what is actually presented to the microphone. Ultimately, aren't they just recordings though the same as many others.
I can see why this aspires to be #1 a faithful copy or #3 pretends to be a faithful copy.
#3 is fascinating to me: how can a recording 'pretend' to be anything? The people involved may have intentions, they may present their recording to listeners as 'faithful', but the recording doesn't care or know. Likewise, the people involved may intend to deceive - to add room effects where there were none. That latter point doesn't apply to 'purist' recordings, obviously. Either way, sound waves strike a microphone and an electrical signal is created which may or may not then be processed.
#1 is an attractive thought - a faithful copy - if I hear this then it's just the same as if I was at the performance ... but I'm not. Even without thinking about the room acoustics (recorded in one space, listened to in another) it's simply a fact that I am not. My head is a different shape than the microphone (I assume!) and I don't stay in the same place each time I listen. If I was in the room during the performance I wouldn't have my head where the microphone was and my ears don't hear the frequencies that the microphone does.

Personally, I'd have to discount and ignore artistic or technical 'intent' as unknowable to me. A signal is recorded. The signal may be technically good - no unwanted distortion, clipping etc. Is it the same as the recorded event (a faithful copy), I don't see how it can be. Does it intend to deceive, I don't buy that, even when the engineers create 'large room ambiance'.

Part of this is down to my personal philosophy, so no surprises if you disagree. Take life at face value - the recording is it's own thing, no need to imbue it with intent or properties that cannot be proven. That leaves me with that pure simulacrum.

It's got me thinking though, and I may have to do some reading now so thanks for that :)
 
Jean Baudrillard essay Simulacra and Simulation
You haven't read the essay, correct?

Same relationship goes for the Wiki article vs. the essay itself. It's been a long time since I've read it, but IIRC the essay opens by referencing a Borges story where an emperor was so obsessed with knowing all of the details and extent of his domain that his cartographers produced a map which exactly matched the territory beneath.

The central issue is how to interpret representation. A map meant to represent a territory will always show the map to lack something, just like a recording can't capture the exact soundfield. But, if you let the map have its own reality instead of always casting it as being just a simulation of another, more basic, more important reality of the territory, then you can examine the map itself for its qualities.

Wander into a museum and look at the representational art from the Renaissance and later—earlier art of the Renaissance and Baroque relied on allegory (symbolic representation), later art tried more and more for photorealism (before photography, this was called "verisimilitude"), until you hit the modern era. In modern art, representation is less important than the impact of the images themselves, the dynamism of form and so forth.

Audiophile discussions constantly assume perfect representation as the base goal. Terms like "illusion" gesture in that direction. Their ideal is perfect simulation, using Baudrillard's term. But to the extent a person is willing to be empirical, they can drop the representational relationship and listen to recordings instead of "through" recordings. I think this becomes very clear for all of us if we listen to the earliest existing recordings and read the accounts of the first listeners. Those listeners were shocked at how real those recordings sounded. But with the passage of time and technical progress, we tend to focus first on the qualities of that old media itself and of all its distortions.
 
You regularly have discussion/disagreement between audiophiles about factual fidelity the idea there is an Absolute Sound of reality while at the other end are those who point out music can be completely artificial which means there never was an Absolute Sound.
Yes, it’s all nonsense. It’s a bit like people going to a show/performance by a magician and then arguing about how powerful or impressive the magic was, when actually there was no magic, it was all just illusions. Of course, everyone bar young children and the seriously deluded take for granted that it’s all just deception/illusions and therefore discuss the performance in terms of how the illusions were created and executed but for some reason, the same is not generally true of music recordings. To be fair, this isn’t quite as far fetched as believing in magic, because there is nothing supernatural about the “absolute sound of reality”, it’s just that the “absolute sound of reality” has pretty much never been the goal of commercial audio recordings, even going back to the days of just a horn and a wax cylinder.
If I'm reading right, you could butcher it as:
1. Realistic recordings in the sense of (having the potential of) sounding truly real
2. Recordings trying to be realistic and failing
3. Recordings that are realistic in the sense of having real instruments, but are entirely artificial
4. Recordings that never pretended to be realistic in the first place
Seems like a useful framework.
TBH, that’s not a “useful framework” IMHO because engineers don’t really think in those terms, or try to achieve or avoid them. Obviously it varies from genre to genre but even in those cases where there was an actual real/live acoustic musical event/performance, for example a performance by an orchestra, then what exactly do you mean by “sounding truly real”? Do you mean the actual sound that existed at a particular location in the performance venue or do you mean that it can be perceived as “sounding truly real”? This might sound like semantics but it’s not, it makes a huge difference in practice because the latter is what we typically try to achieve (in the case of say an orchestral recording) and that necessitates not only a completely different setup but also a significantly different methodology, due to the fact that what we perceive is significantly different to the actual sound that existed. Virtually the only exception to this would be the relatively rare dummy head binaural recordings but even those are typically manipulated to some extent and of course, although they might represent actual sound as it existed at a location, it may not entirely be perceived as such depending on how well it matches a particular consumer’s HRTF (or how well they can adapt to it).

In other words, all 4 of those classifications could be true of the same recording and almost all commercial recordings could fall into at least 2 or 3 of them, depending on exactly how you define “truly real” or “realistic”.

G
 
There is no doubt that an alternative reality is created. I mean, I can't imagine anybody defending the opposite, cause we all know what life music sounds like.
I just call it abstract art.
We have come so far that this is true for classical recording, too. The gigantic piano is an example that has been discussed here, but even with orchestral most recordings now create an artificial/abstract soundstage
 
The following is copied from the wikipedia page on the Jean Baudrillard essay Simulacra and Simulation.

Simulacra and Simulation delineates the sign-order into four stages:

  1. The first stage is a faithful image/copy, where people believe, and may even be correct to believe, that a sign is a "reflection of a profound reality" this is a good appearance, in what Baudrillard called "the sacramental order".
  2. The second stage is perversion of reality, where people come to believe that the sign is an unfaithful copy, which "masks and denatures" reality as an "evil appearance—it is of the order of maleficence". Here, signs and images do not faithfully reveal reality to us, but can hint at the existence of an obscure reality which the sign itself is incapable of encapsulating.
  3. The third stage masks the absence of a profound reality, where the sign pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original. Signs and images claim to represent something real, but no representation is taking place and arbitrary images are merely suggested as things which they have no relationship to. Baudrillard calls this the "order of sorcery", a regime of semantic algebra where all human meaning is conjured artificially to appear as a reference to the (increasingly) hermetic truth.
  4. The fourth stage is pure simulacrum, in which the simulacrum has no relationship to any reality whatsoever. Here, signs merely reflect other signs and any claim to reality on the part of images or signs is only of the order of other such claims. This is a regime of total equivalency, where cultural products need no longer even pretend to be real in a naïve sense, because the experiences of consumers' lives are so predominantly artificial that even claims to reality are expected to be phrased in artificial, "hyperreal" terms. Any naïve pretension to reality as such is perceived as bereft of critical self-awareness, and thus as oversentimental.
I have considered nearly all or all recordings simulacra for some time. I read this Stereophile article which had me thinking about it.

You don't really need to read it. It simply skims over lightly all the reasons the idea of re-creating a sonic reality from recordings was never going to work. And posits that as a reference was always misguided. Probably intended to get people to give up on the idea of high fidelity and accept more subjectivity. That is not what I have in mind.

Now the above 4 stages of simulacra do fix in my mind how I view recordings of music. You regularly have discussion/disagreement between audiophiles about factual fidelity the idea there is an Absolute Sound of reality while at the other end are those who point out music can be completely artificial which means there never was an Absolute Sound. Now the Four stages of simulacra seem to pretty well lay out where the various types of recordings lie. Maybe something like many Pink Floyd tracks are in stage 3, it sounds plausibly real, yet has zero relation to any reality as it is all a total artificial construct. Yet most of the sounds are recognizable as something we have heard or think we could hear in the real world. Stage 4 is maybe "Hearts of Space" types of music. Ambient electronic creations that sound real yet are of sounds that could not exist and we have never heard anything like it. Now such music doesn't claim to be real or have more authority than real music or at least few of the artists would think that. They likely think it liberates them from the constraints most musicians have to work within.

Anyway, just wondered if anyone has some contrary or alternate thoughts and ideas on this. As someone who records music now and again, I think examining which stage you want the result of your recording to exist within is helpful in making decisions. I enjoy, respect, and find worth in music in all the 4 stages of simulacra.
I've noticed lately that the music beds of many current TV series and movies are much like the "New Age" recordings of the 1980s/1990s. Stage four simulacra. I was doing some tech work for Music from the Hearts of Space back then, also functioned as a board OP at KPFA Berkeley to broadcast those programs late Sunday nights. So, I heard a lot of those shows and a lot of that music. I also had a stretch after the Hearts of Space broadcast to continue a music program in the same vein. My favorite music from the era/genre was/is Brian Eno's ambient music. I guess the touchstone is Music for Airports, though Thursday Afternoon is similar. Eno's ambient music doesn't sound like it's attempting to emulate or copy any preexisting instruments, doesn't really modulate, simply creates a comforting environment.

I'm not sure exactly why stage 4 simulacra have taken over musical "soundtracks" for movies and TV series. Maybe it has something to do with the budgets for such entertainments. If these shows want to demonstrate some connection to reality, they usually license familiar music that either situates the show in a specific time or makes an ironic comment on a scene as the Guardians of the Galaxy series of movies do.

A lot of the music I listen to would fit into the first category, only most of the time anyone paying close attention would notice how it fails in that regard. I'm thinking of Classical music, with some sense of localization and depth but often with false perspectives. So it's a species of category 2 in spite of itself. In any case, speakers that realistically demonstrate the dynamics and full frequency range of the real thing are few and far between. What's curious is that most people don't notice that big gap between the sound of the real thing and "canned music" and just focus on the music, as if the music existed on some other plane.

BTW: Neil Innes wrote some interesting things about Simulacra and Simulation in the liner notes to "Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse" relative to "I'm the Urban Spaceman".
 
#3 is fascinating to me: how can a recording 'pretend' to be anything?
My mind immediately goes to Fleetwood Mac, the Buckingham Nicks era. Those recordings are produced to give the impression that the five members of the band are in the same room, play together as a quintet when in fact the recording is a series of overdubs. The same is true of the Beatles, though the effect with them was often more artificial. So many recordings after the 1950s are stage 3, giving the impression that a group of people are playing together in a room when in fact, they're not.
 
My mind immediately goes to Fleetwood Mac, the Buckingham Nicks era. Those recordings are produced to give the impression that the five members of the band are in the same room, play together as a quintet when in fact the recording is a series of overdubs. The same is true of the Beatles, though the effect with them was often more artificial. So many recordings after the 1950s are stage 3, giving the impression that a group of people are playing together in a room when in fact, they're not.
Perhaps its about the way we approach the recording.

In your example, people (the producer, the artists, the recording engineers and others) intend the illusion of a quintet.
The recording makes no pretension and is simply a captured signal. The recording does not pretend to represent a quintet, or a series of comingled solo performances. The recording is what it is, it's own reality.
 
It depends on how you define "reality". ;) It IS possible to reproduce the sound of a recoding/mastering studio at home. These are "artificial" productions. It's not supposed to sound exactly like live music. It's not supposed to sound like live music at all. And you're not supposed to hear what the musicians were hearing on the other side of the glass. The "art" is what's heard in the mixing & mastering rooms. A ton of modern music is artificial MIDI and it only exists digitally-electronically. There is no original "sound".

With live music the acoustics make a BIG difference. You CAN play recorded orchestra music in a concert hall and fool the audience. Big stadium rock concerts are produced through speakers and they could also fool you with the same setup in the same venue. (Some acts do use some recorded music and vocals in the "live" performance.)

With surround sound and acoustic treatment you should be able to get close to the sound of live music at home. But you probably wouldn't fool a blindfolded person because of the other sounds (and lack of sounds) in the smaller space at home. If you walk into a room blindfolded you'll get a feel of the acoustics and room-size. But personally, I wouldn't WANT the sound of a real orchestra or rock band in my living room! Loud music in a small space is somehow uncomfortable for me.

...If you've ever recorded live music from a normal seating position, there is too much "room noise" (reverb, etc.) when played back on a pair of speakers (or headphones) at home. It just doesn't "sound right" in a small room with all of the reverb (and any audience noise) coming from the same direction (the speakers).



My mind immediately goes to Fleetwood Mac, the Buckingham Nicks era.
:D :D At one time Fleetwood Mac was my favorite band. ...Still one of my favorites! Their vinyl records had better sound quality than most and that was part of the appeal. (Of course the CDs are even better.) Since I still listen to it, I don't really think of it as "old music". But several years ago I was watching a video and seeing the clothes and hair styles, I said, "Wow! That was a LONG time ago!" :D :D
 
TBH, that’s not a “useful framework” IMHO because engineers don’t really think in those terms, or try to achieve or avoid them.
Well, it would be a framework for analysis, not production necessarily.
I'm not sure exactly why stage 4 simulacra have taken over musical "soundtracks" for movies and TV series.
One theory: It's not much work to crank out long stretches of music that consist mainly of slow-moving synth pads, as long as you're not too proud to use preset patches. :)
 
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