Issue 1 Preview #2: Alexander Hinksman – The Mastering Engineer: Manipulator of Feeling and Time
Other contributors have responded to Mary Oliver’s prompt with valuable considerations of the roles phonetics and their so- called ‘felt qualities’ play in the construction and performance of popular songs. These phonetics can have pitch, they can be delivered at a particular loudness and they can also contribute to a sense of rhythm, meter or tempo as the songs in which they reside play out over time. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin defines these five parameters, along with harmony and melody, as the factors that structure sound into music. He argues that when the parameters are in a state of obvious and controlled flux, a listener’s expectations are challenged and so a listener responds to the music on an emotional level. With this concept in mind, it is therefore important to consider how, in the context of recorded popular music, all of this is reconfigured and finalised by ‘mastering engineers’. In this sense, they shape the listener’s emotional response to every major recorded music release heard at home, on the Internet, or through the airwaves.
This contribution draws on my own experiences in music production and research, citing relevant technical literature where appropriate. It first describes how, at the ‘micro’ level, the mastering engineer can affect the felt qualities of a vocal performance in a recording. Secondly, this contribution will position the mastering engineer as an agent for controlling a vocal’s “temporal organization” [sic] – that which, at the ‘macro’ level, Prof. Keith Negus would argue is “fundamental to [music’s] creation and reception”.
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