Table of Contents
Historical developments of sound capture.
Historical relationships between technical skills, critical listening skills and professional skills.
Sound engineering, as it manifests in the modern day industry of arts and media, has come a long way since the early years from the usage of sound on disc technology during the 1920s to the digital methods used currently. The study evaluates different skills and techniques used in The Division Bell, an album launched by the highly reputed progressive rock bank Pink Floyd while highlighting the different techniques and skills used by the audio engineers and their developments.
The Division Bell, arguably one of Pink Floyd’s most successful albums, was the fourteenth studio album that the band released on the 28th of March, 1994. The launch process was handled by EMI Records in the United Kingdom while Columbia Records managed distribution in the United States (McBurnie, 2018). It would be important to note that The Division Bell was the second album launched by Pink Floyd that did not include Roger Waters. Largely composed and written by David Gilmour and Richard Wright, The Division Bell also included one of Wright’s earliest track vocals. The production team also comprised of several audio engineering stalwarts including Bob Ezrin and Andy Jackson along with the widely acknowledged Dick Parry as well as Guy Pratt on the bass. Although the Division Bell received mixed reviews, the album managed to reach the number one spot in several countries including both the UK and the US. Furthermore, the album also managed to receive the highly coveted triple platinum in 1999.
In terms of describing the historical development of sound capture and how it has manifested in the recording industry since the early years, it would be important to go back to the Acoustic Era during the late 1880s. The earliest recording devices were completely mechanical by nature and relied on physical air pressure of the sound waves. However, the quality was a major issue as the early devices only managed to capture a narrow segment of the audible spectrum for humans ranging from 250 Hz to somewhere around 2,500 Hz (Ospina Romero, 2019). The electric era was the next major change that took place within the recording industry and began from the early 1920s. The onset of the electronic era meant that sounds could not be captured, amplified and even balanced using electronic means. However, the recording process largely remained mechanical, albeit with substantial improvements in the fidelity of the recording process and the frequency of the audio range that was reproducible. It was followed by the magnetic era that ushered in the usage of magnetic tapes prior to being transferred onto other media for modification.
Discussing the development of sound engineering in the context of The Division Bell, the digital era is the key area of consideration as it is widely considered as the most drastic and the substantial of changes that took place within the recording industry. The key differences that came to the forefront in terms of the technological developments ushered in by the digital era was the ability of sound engineers to capture audio waves through dense and rapid series where the sound samples were discrete. Some of the first digital recording studios include Denon, Mitsubishi and Sound stream among the more notable labels (Gibson, 2020). Pink Floyd began the improvising and recording process for The Division Bell in the January of 1993 at the newly rehabilitated Britannia Row Studios. One of the key instrumental factors in terms of the factors that influenced the sound development was the inclusion of Guy Pratt (Unwin, 2017). Considered among the world’s most talented bassists, Pratt’s style of playing was a major source of influence for the sound contained within The Division Bell. Gilmour largely used the two track DAT (Digital Audio Tape) recorders developed by Sony in 1987, an instrument that was significant in enhancing the prevalence of digital technologies to record and playback captured sound.
The technology used within DAT was predominantly based on video recorders, where a rotating head and heilical scan systems were used to record the data. DAT was increasingly beginning to be used within the recording industry post the 1990s owing to the rise of the all digital production chains (Maguire, 2016). Pink Floyd also adapted to the emerging technology and the DAT system was used by the band even till the early 2000s. One of the key drivers that led to the prevalence of the DAT technology within the recording industry was the ability to retain the audio in the digital format until it was in a CD player. However, DAT machine models came to be discontinued by the end of 2005, with Sony announcing their discontinuation (Litman, 2017). The development of hard disk recording was a major driver in this regard, especially when considering the larger potential for flexibility and storage. The Division Bell album was entirely captured and modified on DAT machines, and considering the prevalence of the music pieces today, it certainly bears testimony to the abilities of the performers and their mastery over the technology.
The final mix of The Division Bell was created by Chris Thomas and involved keyboardist Jon Carin, Garry Wallis on the percussion and Sam Brown and Durga McBroom taking care of the backing vocals. The mastering of the compiled music pieces was completed at the Mastering Lab in Los Angeles. Several techniques and instruments were used by the members of the band with Gilmour playing an instrumental part. A number of older keyboards including Italian manufacturer Farfisa’s mechanical organs were utilised to take samples (Upthegrove, 2019). The collected samples were even used in the final versions of several songs including ‘Marooned.’ Gilmour also relied on the DigiTech Whammy pedals to shift the pitch of the guitar notes and produce that classic Chicago blues sound that the album is known for even today. Zoom effects units were also used by Gilmour along with the J-200 from Gibson (Gonin, 2017). Furthermore, E Bow that was slowly beginning to find its place in the music and recording industries also became a key instrument to produce the bow sounds and render them electronically.
The relationship between technical skills, the ability to listen to sounds critically and the professional aspects of mixing and mastering have predominantly been present right from the Magnetic era in the recording industry. A mastery over the different concepts of acoustics, digital recording formats, controls and microphone properties along with the different signal flows and stylistic tendencies is of paramount importance. One of the key aspects in terms of the inter relationships between the aforementioned factors relates to the ability of the sound engineer to recognize sonic issues through repeated listening (Benedict & O'Leary, 2019). Several sub factors come into play in this regard, such as the amplitude, pitch, frequency, timbral quality and the loudness. The aural skills, as evident in the production of The Division Bell, are also related to recognising the different frequencies and processing the several dynamics. Gilmour managed to bring about a sense of transcendence through the album focusing on the central theme of communication and dialogue. Pink Floyd was always known for their extensive scope of sound design, often going on to include numerous sound samples that would be considered unconventional (Ponte, 2020). The pomposity of the genre that was progressive rock was expertly retained within the music pieces, and it is testimony to the expertise of the sound engineers responsible for mixing and mastering.
Technical skills, especially in the context of being familiar with the studio equipment and what the impacts of using each equipment would be on the recorded audio is extremely important in conjuncture with aural skills. Managing the different micro phones and ensuring that the balance ofthe sound remains perfect is a key skill that sound engineers must strive to develop over time (Van Eck, 2017). In today’s times, sound engineers can resort to different capturing microphones including compression, dynamic and even ribbon to collect the desired sound sample. Attention to detail is also a key technical skill that sound engineers must develop, and was a driving factor behind the global success of The Division Bell (Ponte, 2020). The album went on to win the Grammy for the Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the song ‘marooned’ and it was only possible due to the attention to detail depicted in the sound design by Gilmour and his partners. A major requirement that Gilmour emphasized upon was the bringing in of a meditative quality to the music pieces.
Moving onto the professional skills, title design, packaging and the whole marketing function associated with releasing an album is also a major component ofthe recording industry and has always been so historically. Although the market dynamics and the different mediums have changed and evolved, the basic idea of enhancing the outreach of the album has certainly been persistent. The Division Bell, for instance, was strategically launched in the UK and the US in 1994 March and January respectively to avoid competing with other albums that were set to be released around a similar time. Gilmour and his band also held a press reception in a customized Skyship 600 airship that was later destroyed by thunderstorms (Pink Floydz, 2020). Another reception was also held using an A60 airship that was painted to look like a fish and took journalists for a tour of the London sky. Cumulatively, the album was a major hit and the professional skills along with the mix of technical abilities led to The Division Bell selling over 460,000 units within a period of a month.
Bob Ezrin, the key responsible person for shaping The Division Bell into the album that it is known for today was a master of his craft. Previously having worked with Waters and Gilmour and the entire band on The Wall and A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Ezrin contributed immensely to bring back the old mystical vibe that was the cornerstone of Pink Floyd’s success in the years gone by. Gilmour was also a key factor in reimagining the sound collected through the sample pieces and consolidating them to form The Division Bell (Pink Floyd., 2020). Improvisations were also a major component, especially when recording the song ’Marooned’ and this was a critical factor as how the sound seemed timeless and almost trance inducing. This is where the aspect of technical skills and the ability to understand the perceptions of a band comes into the picture and is extremely relevant when discussing the relationship with the professional skills of the sound engineer. Pink Floyd, in almost all of their songs including the ones contained in The Division Bell, managed to put out a sound that was instantly recognizable. Ranging from airy vocal harmonies to soaring guitars and ethereal swells of the organs, The Division Bell’s sound design was nothing short of a masterpiece (Pink Floyd, 2020).
In conclusion, it was identified that sound engineering and the concepts entailed therein have developed in an incremental manner over the years, especially when considering the trajectory from the magnetic age to the digital age. Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell was the key highlight of the study and it was identified that the success of the album was largely driven by Gilmour and Ezrin’s ability to retain the sound of the band as that mystical and recognizable aura that the audience knew it for. Technical skills, professional skills and the ability to listen to music pieces critically and modify them to get that perfect balance were identified as the most significant requirement within sound engineering. Gilmour and his partners managed to bring about the old sound of Pink Floyd in The Division Bell, even after Roger Waters left the collective a few years ago. DAT technology and it usage in the album was also talked about extensively and how Ezrin and Gilmour managed to induce magic through soundwaves.
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