Is music getting crispier?

Flying home from Indianapolis yesterday, I was listening to music on my iphone. I forget which track. But I remember the genre: funk.

And all of a sudden, I heard myself wonder “Is music getting crispier?”

This is one of those very uncrisp problems, fraught with problems of definition and analysis. But it isn’t, I don’t think, unthinkable.

We could ask, at a minimum, do songs, and parts within songs, start more precisely and end more precisely? And are the pieces in between better defined.?  Ok, so the definitional problems are formidable.

Even if the answer is “yes,” this may be prove a trivial finding. After all, digital technology makes precision easier. And this technology may encourage precision in other ways.This is another fantastically difficult calculation. But let’s say we remove the digital effect (somehow). Is there a crispiness still in place?

There is where we need a problem solving superhero to swoop in and my superhero of choice is Steve Crandall (pictured). Steve, what say you?

Is this a manageable problem?  (Assuming of course lots of analytical risk taking.)  Is it an interesting problem?  

If we get a positive result here, the cultural implications are pretty fantastic.  But let’s wait to hear from Steve.  

4 thoughts on “Is music getting crispier?”

  1. Undoubtedly, music is getting crispier. Not only are exit and entry points sharper the notes themselves are cleaner. In the same way digital photographs are become more high resolution with enhanced colors and textures. Now when you hear older recordings of symphonies don’t they sound muddy and soft?

  2. Holy bat signal Grant:-)

    Definitions are important. If you mean timing, characteristics about the note (rise time, fall time, harmonics, shape of the waveform, Q, etc…), some aspects of digital music production can make a difference. Early midi music, for example, sounds very artificial, but might be called “crisp”. These days we have things like auto-tuning for singers and certainly a lot of musicians use synthesizers which vary a lot in these qualities (early machines like the Moog were analog, but in the 80s these became digital – more recently hybrid models have emerged).

    The music process for recorded music has several steps where “crispness” might be introduced. The performance, recording, post production and playback stages. Your audio equipment can make a huge difference. The frequency response of your headphones or speakers may tend to isolate parts of the music that may have more in the form of purely digital instruments and processing … or not. It is interesting that a lot of audiophiles prefer tube amplifiers which (they say) produce a “warm” sound. They can introduce a bit of noise which is can be interpreted as less harsh. (early solid state audio kit often sounded very harsh). Guitar amplifiers often use tubes to add some noise overtones and create interesting sounds. .. this is mo ving away from the “crisp” sound.

    But can it be categorized? Certainly parts of it. Note timing and certain aspects of the waveform are easy to categorize – correlating the results with human testing is necessary and possible. The last part of the step tends to be expensive. We did quite a bit of it testing audio codecs – a somewhat different problem, but I would use some of the same steps.

    These days I tend to listen to acoustic live music. No real changes other than my ears are getting terrible with age.

  3. I’m a fan of an electronic music group called Boards of Canada. They’ve been making music since 2000, but their music has always sounded warm because they use (mostly) older instruments.

    Their solution, where needed (and sometimes to excess), is re-recording their music once through analogue means (tape). This filters out the so-called “crispiness” that happens with poor or modern compression methods (I am not sure which is the cause) – to give off a warm, analogue sound, that is still true to the tonality of the original source of sound.

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