Real vs hyperreal vs surreal

In a blog post, describe three recordings with different recording aesthetics as specified below.

Embed or link to each song.

Additional information from Ethan Hein:

“Real means that is sounds like it was produced in real time by humans in a room. Hyperreal means it sounds mostly real, but enhanced – more perfect or bigger-sounding than could actually be attained in live performance. Surreal means not doable by humans in a room. I’m not interested in how the tracks were actually produced, just how they subjectively sound.”

1) Choose a “realistic” recording, one that accurately represents the sound of people performing live. It could be an actual live recording, or a studio recording with a live sound. What makes it sound realistic?

“Peg” – Steely Dan

In the Aja recordings, one thing that makes it sound very real is the fact that the drums are recorded very “dry.”  If you listen you’ll notice that there is very little reverb on the drums.  As far as special effects go, there is almost nothing save reverb, compression, and EQ.  The compression is somewhat lighter than modern recordings and the track is not “squashed” as in today’s music.  Further adding the the realism are the lack of synthesized instruments.  Instruments used are: sax, trumpet, clavinet, rhodes piano, electric guitar, and drum set.

For this section, I could have chosen a recording of an orchestra or a Broadway performance as another possible example, but I felt that the Aja recordings were pretty realistic in terms of their representation of the band’s sound.  Maybe an orchestral recording is even more “realistic,” but to my ears personally not in a more meaningful way.  Doubling and tripling of parts to me doesn’t constitute enough sonic manipulation to put it in the “hyperreal” category, although some would have a strong debate for this (and it’s hard for me to disagree with them).  I do feel like electronic instruments and special effects like Autotune start to move things into the next category.

2) Choose a “hyperrealistic” recording, one that sounds like a perfected or enhanced live recording. What makes it sound realistic? What makes it sound artificial or manipulated?

Finesse” – Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B.

Starting from the beginning of the song, the drums are extremely compressed.  They also sound like they may be duplicated and the sound sample itself electronically generated or synthesized.  One reason for this is that the snare hit sample sounds exactly the same each time it is triggered.  In an acoustic performance this would be impossible.  The orchestral hit patch is also another example of synthesized sound.  The vocals and harmony vocals are very tightly compressed.  The bass sounds like a synth bass sound probably generated from a sine wave or sub bass and there are strings in the background which sound like they are keyboard strings or electronically generated.  Another reason for the hyperreal feel to this recording is the perfectly tuned vocals.  Bruno Mars is an incredible vocalist, no doubt, but these vocals are perfectly in tune all the time.  Sounds like Autotune to me.  I love Autotune, but it isn’t real or able to be reproduced easily in a live setting.  Further there are riser sounds at the end of each chorus and cash register or bell ringing sounds as well as some kind of wood block sound that are very synthesized.  These wouldn’t be generated by live instruments. The piano sounds nice but it is also buried in the mix and sounds somewhat synthetic as opposed to a completely realistic replica of a grand piano.

I’m sure I could have picked a techno or electronica recording for this section, but I decided on a modern top 40 recording because I feel that the sonic milieu these days is to have a hyperreal recording.  Very rarely do you hear a recording that is as realistic as the Dan from the 70’s.

3) Choose a “surrealist” recording, one that could not possibly have been recorded live using instruments. What elements make it sound unreal? How would it affect you differently if it were somehow created “live” with acoustic instruments?

Revolution Number 9″ – The Beatles

As much as my cousins in the Fab Faux (Jimmy Vivino, Jerry Vivino) try to reproduce this recording live, they still need to use pre-recorded tracks, as there are a lot of reverse sounds and other special effects going on in this recording.  The reverse strings and chopped up synthesizer sounds are very unrealistic.  The man sounds like he’s talking in a cave when he says “number 9.”  There are recordings of things that sound almost like traffic.  There’s a choir in the background.  The amount of money it would take to bring all of these sound sources into the same room would be staggering and most likely, impossible.  There is a sped up recording of the man talking.  There is an orchestra playing at the same time as a choir, synthesized sounds, a piano, two men talking, and a clarinet playing some kind of “snake charmer” type of theme.  Finally, all of this has a “gloss” over it of a scratchy vinyl record (or even a wax record?) type of sound overplayed over the whole track.  The Beatles really did it all, and it’s just another testament to how trend-setting and forward-thinking they were for all of the music to follow them.

However, I do recommend going to see the Fab Faux reproduce this (as well as the entire White Album) live if you haven’t seen it already.  It’s pretty spectacular.  They really do the Beatles justice in their reproduction.

I’m not even sure how you could recreate this with acoustic instruments.  You’d have to bring everything into the room and have it playing simultaneously.  As far as how it would affect me differently, for one thing it wouldn’t be as “haunting” or “creepy.”  There is something pretty impressive sounding about the man’s voice repeating “Number  9” exactly the same way repeated many times, and the other sounds that are in reverse, as well as the sounds of traffic all mixed together into one.



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