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 • 16:30 - 17:00
Digital Warmth:The Retro in Digital

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It is not uncommon to hear people speak of ‘warmth’ when describing analog technologies such as vintage mixing consoles, multitrack tape machines, and valve compressors. What is perhaps less common, is hearing this term used in association with digital technology. This paper will explore whether the notion of digital warmth has become part of the discourse associated with a nostalgic attachment for early samplers.

An area that dominates this discussion is the lo-fi aesthetics produced by early hardware samplers such as the Fairlight CMI, Akai Linn MPC 60 or Emu SP12. A question exists as to how much the low bit rate and low-grade conversion quality contribute to the sonic character of these iconic instruments. Interestingly, what used to be regarded as deficiencies are now often seen as characteristic in a positive way, constituting an aesthetics associated with such technologies. Moreover, while the sound of these original hardware units were once described as ‘cold’, it is now often regarded as exuding a quality described as ‘warmth’.

This paper explores the changing values related to the digital past, drawing on qualitative interviews with producers and musicians and an analysis of spectral differences between the original and remake of said technologies. The paper also reports from a listening test of the perceptibility of sonic differences, conducted with an Akai MPC Renaissance, which uses an algorithm to simulate the sound of the original hardware. In doing so, such qualities as ‘digital warmth’, if there exists such a phenomenon, is assessed and evaluated.

avatar for Gary Bromham

Gary Bromham

Researcher & Independent Music Professional, Centre for Digital Music, Queen Mary University of London

David Moffat

Queen Mary University London

Anne Danielsen

University of Oslo

Gyorgy Fazekas

Queen Mary University