Friday, 1 January 2010

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 59


The points you make about sound quality / the way we first hear music is very interesting.

When George Lucas made 'American Graffiti', he took advantage of the latest audio technology to allow one song to be heard in a number of different ways. Thus, as a scene progressed, a song would be heard coming out of the radios of passing cars, out of transistor radios, etc.

It achieved continuity, but in a far more natural way than if he had just played a master recording of a song as background music. The way Lucas did it, the music was simply there because it would have been there in real life - the background music of everyones' lives, and the heartbeat of the night.

Incidentally, 'Graffiti' was the first film to use so many original pieces of music in its score (the music is almost constant) and Lucas had to fight to be allowed to do that. It was so successful that many other films have used the same idea (Martin Scorsese always makes good use of music in his movies).

On a different note, Jerry Lee Lewis always played his new releases on a crummy little portable record player back in the Fifties, so that he would know how his fans would hear them (back then most teenagers didn't have expensive record players). It shows a lot of insight on his part to have done that.

In terms of listening to music, I always find it much more exciting to unexpectedly hear a great song on the radio than it is to deliberately put it onto the record / CD player. Whenever a song appears, by surprise, I'll turn up the radio and really focus on it.

I find the same thing with old cars. It's always more interesting to come across some great old chrome'n'fins cruiser just driving around than seeing a hundred of them parked together at a car show.

As for the sound of ITSOTN, it makes you wonder how much is actually lost through the quest for technical perfection. Let's be honest - that record wouldn't have been put out if it had been recorded today. It probably would have been treated as a demo, and the 'real' single would be recorded on about a hundred channels, with plenty of overdubbing, remixing, etc. And the world would be a poorer place for that!

I have read that Lucas wasn't allowed, or couldn't afford, to mix the soundtrack in stereo for the film's original release - which is an even greater tribute to his or his soundman's skill in conveying atmosphere. I don't know whether the standard DVD is stereo or not, but this rhapsodic review of a collector's edition indicates that a stereo version is certainly obtainable. Again, I don't know about the regular edition, but it is a film which demands widescreen.

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