Art of Record Production Conference
May 17-19, 2019
Berklee College of Music, 921 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215
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Friday, May 17 • 15:30 - 16:00
The performance of ‘Machine Aesthetics’

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Throughout history developments in recording technology have directly impacted upon musician’s performance practices, from the emergence of crooning afforded by the development of microphone technology, to the creative use of guitar feedback by Jimi Hendrix, through to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver singing ‘into’ Autotune. The use of machines in music recording and production introduced a series of new aesthetic characteristics and considerations which not only directly influenced popular music conventions in recorded music, but also directly impacted on the way in which musicians perform.

Although many of these aspects of musical performance, such as the examples highlighted previously, are based on a musician’s interaction with a specific item of technology, there are also other, often overlooked examples where musicians circumvent the use of technology altogether, instead incorporating the aesthetics of the technology directly into their performance practice. Examples of this include pianists incorporating the sonic characteristics of tape delay into their performance, drummers mimicking synthetic or heavily processed drum sounds through modifications to their equipment and playing techniques, and singers mimicking the extreme pitch-correction effects of Autotune in their vocal performances.

Using Brummett’s (1999) concept of ‘machine aesthetics’ as an analytical framework, this paper explores the emergence of these practices in an attempt to gain a better understanding their broader function within popular music culture.


Brummett, B. (1999). Rhetoric of Machine Aesthetics. Greenwood Publishing Group.

avatar for Alex Stevenson

Alex Stevenson

Course Director, Leeds Beckett University