Blog post 9/27

When reading an article or chapter from a book that is long, technical, and at times opaque, articulating what you do not understand is just as important as writing about what you do understand. Using Zak’s “Sound as Form” chapter from his 2001 book The Poetics of Rock: Cutting Tracks, Making Records, articulate problems that you had with the article. Maybe you do not fully understand a concept, a term, or a passage. Tell us what you find perplexing about that idea, term, or passage. Please cite the text using the page numbers and quotes so that we can discuss problematic passages tomorrow in class.

16 comments on “Blog post 9/27

  1. Naeem says:

    Zak says, “Listeners to rock are commonly engaged in the first instance by a sonic color” (60). While introducing the concept of timbre, Zak mentions the concept of sonic color, and idea that slight perplexes me. Is the sonic color just a synonym for the genre of the song? Or does sonic color have to do with the feeling the listener receives from listening to the song? To me, sonic color appears to be the specific components of rock music—or of any genre for that matter—that make rock music what it is. However, I feel that the concept of sonic sound is broad and open to many other interpretations.

  2. Aamina Ahmad says:

    On pages 64 to 65 of The Poetics of Rock: Cutting Tracks, Making Records, I have difficulty following Zak’s argument. I understand mostly everything he says on page 64 until paragraph three when he says, “this generalization does not begin to tell the story of the conflicting stances associated with different kinds of distortion”(64). I am not sure what Zak means when he says this; he does not specify exactly what the generalization is. Also, as I read on I tried to find what the “conflicting stances” were, and I failed to understand that part too. Are the conflicting stances how people got mad when Dylan switched from the acoustic to electric guitar? Or are the conflicting stances how some people see rock music as a means to “escapism” while others do not (65)? Either way, I was generally very confused in this section.

  3. Z says:

    On the page 81, the author says about the ambience of the song. At the beginning of the page 81, he writes “Because it makes no sense in terms of our experience of the natural sound world, rather than perceiving the ambience as space, we are reoriented to hearing simply as an extension of the drums’ timbre, whose strangeness underscores the dramatic sense of the song’s creepy lyric (81).” In this quotation, he illustrates that we may not feel the meaning behind the ambience because of our experience. However, later, he says: “the use of ambience in problematic ways may simply be a matter of sonic architecture (81).” Since these two claim that the author made is somewhat contradictory, I did not really understand the point that the author want to show the readers. And what does “problematic” actually mean in the second quotation?

  4. Melody Carter says:

    In the beginning of the reading, the author starts off by discussing his first point, musical performance. On page 50, he states, “Because much of what impresses a concert audience is absent, musicians must rely far more upon purely sonic means to make their impression.” All throughout the article, the author uses the term “sonic”; however, I’m not quite sure what he means by sonic. For example, he uses it again when talking about ambience. On page 76, he writes, “Recording microphones hear source sounds and the resulting ambience as a composite sonic image…” The author uses this term so frequently that I feel like it’s a main point, and it would be helpful in understanding if I knew what he meant by it.

  5. Rafe Mosetick says:

    I do not exactly understand the point of overdubbing. It could be because I do not really understand what overdubbing is. “overdubbing is difficult… (because of the) degree to which musicians’ imagination must replace the missing elements of conventional musical performance”(Zaks 54). I believe it is when they add random musical elements into a piece. How does this make the piece better? How does an artist decide when to incorporate an overdub? Does overdubbing have to do with when a theme changes in the song that they play an instrument or sound that has to do with the mood? I guess what bugs me about this is how he didn’t ever explicitly tell us what he is talking about but assumes we know the term.

  6. Lyons Li says:

    Actually, in Zak’s article, page 65, he says that “the guitar tracks on Nevermind are as raw as the vocals, which, rather than “escapism”, are more like a total immersion in Cobain’s world.” It seems that Nevermind’s music style is not escapism. So, as far as I am concerned, this implies that the distortion talked before is a kind of escapism. However, the first distortion is “highly refined, clean and smooth”. To me, such adjectives do not convey a feeling of ideal or fantastic. On the bottom of page 64, Zak says that “they each project different images, representing different music styles and aesthetic attitudes.” I think that “escapism” is a thing that means not representing specific moods and opinions of the songs writers. Maybe because I have not known much about American music before, I am confused with the term “escapism”.

  7. Monica Poleway says:

    On page 60 where Zak begins to speak about timbre at a rock concert. I am unclear about what timbre really is, “Before any lyrics can be comprehended, before harmonic or rhythmic patterns are established, timbre instantly signals genre and affect.” I think he talking about the pre-show atmosphere but im not sure what that has to do with how Hendrix interprets Bob Dylan’s song.

  8. Will Adams says:

    In “Sound as Form,” I was most perplexed with the section on echos. At first, I understood the concept and how the replica of the initial source transformed the rhythm and feeling of the song, but then I became perplexed regarding the issue of automatic double tracking. On page 71, Zak states, “Raising the echo’s volume to a level roughly equal to that of its source produces a distinctive timbral effect often referred to as automatic double tracking.” He also says, “With ADT, although the delay time is still too short for the echo to be perceived as an independent image” (Zak 71). Why must an artist double his performance if it cannot be distinguished by his audience? Is there a distinct attribute to the sound after ADT is implemented or is the quality the same as the initial sound?

  9. Tony Huang says:

    I still don’t have a clear understanding of the definition of echo and how does it work to change the feelings of a song. On page Zak 76 says that “An echo is a recorded sound, and using it as a formative element foregrounds the essential power of sound recording to capture and control moments of time presented in sound and to transform those moments into material strands of the musical work.” Zak seems to believe that echo can emphasize the theme of the song. But I am wondering whether something so vague in the song as echo will have actual effect on the general feelings of the song.

  10. danmann7 says:

    Honestly most of this article went over my head because I am not experienced with music terms or musical theory, but I will pick one of the ideas/passages that I didn’t really understand. Zak introduces “slapback,” a sort of quick and quiet echo that can be added as an effect. I don’t really understand the effect of it though, since he says it’s almost inaudible, yet the echo somehow “imparts a pervasive rambunctiousness to the overall rhythmic fabric that emanates from a place somewhere within the track” (72). This is just an example of the confusing language Zak uses to explain everything. Pervasive rambunctiousness seems like an unnecessary combination of adjectives, I’m not sure exactly what rhythmic fabric is and I don’t understand how the echo emanates from within the track.

  11. Dalila Vazquez says:

    As I was reading “Sound and form,” I encountered a few problems understanding what exactly overdubbing is. Zak mentions it through out the reading, for instance in the following lines: “Part of what makes overdubbing such a different and difficult kind of music making is the element of conjuring that it involves, the degree to which the musician’s imagination must replace the missing elements of conventional musical performance.” (54) I don’t really get what it is and how it helps the recording have a better quality.

  12. Robbie Katz says:

    The term “overdubbing” was used multiple times throughout the article “Sound as Form” but I never fully understood its meaning. Zak uses it at various points throughout the text but even with the context I was not able to uncover its meaning. I am not sure if he expected his audience to have some sort of musical background and maybe this word is supposed to be common knowledge but I have never heard of it before. Not knowing this word made other parts confusing as well when it came into play at different points. I feel that a better understanding of this concept would have made money of the more seemingly complicated ideas a little easier to understand.

  13. Jen Chung says:

    I personally found the material harder to understand than Zak’s style of writing. I feel as though Zak understands that he is discussing difficult material. Therefore, he does a great job of organizing his thoughts and how he is going to portray them throughout this particular chapter. On page 49, he specifically outlines “1)musical performance, 2)timbre, 3)echo, 4) ambience (reverberation), and 5) texture.” as topics he will cover. Because Zak realizes that these five topics may not be familiar to the reader, he does his best to help the reader by doing an phenomenal job in his organization. I also noticed that Zak never failed to use an effective topic sentence; the first sentence of every paragraph always provided a basic summary of what the paragraph would be about. The topic sentence in the last paragraph of page 57 reads, “…there are many performers who refuse to split up their performances.” Consequently, the following paragraph explains arguments in opposition to studio performances. Although Zak discussed an unfamiliar material, his organization helps the reader to better understand the article.

  14. chenxiyu says:

    From page 70 I don’t understand the phrase “an array of timbral, textural, rhythmic, and atmospheric possibilities.” All these adjectives are very technical and is not clear what their result is. To start, I have no idea what timbral means, and then the other adjectives I know them to mean other things that have no relation to the text. For example, atmosphere I know is the gas zone of earth that contains many other zones and separates us from space. I know texture is how something may feel when touched, how is the echo in music making one physically touch something? I need understanding in the other meanings of these words so I can make sense of them.

  15. Haoyue Ma says:

    In the “Echo” part of Sound as Form reading, there are words that “The voice’s echo adds a quality of nervous energy to the words and a rhythmic density to the overall texture of the track” being stated on Elvis Presley’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” recording of July 1954. I’m confused about the use of words—“nervous energy” and “rhythmic density”. Why the author would like to use “nervous”? “Nervous” probably means “inside heart” illustrating that the energy can touch deeply into the innermost component, but I’m not sure about that.

  16. Abby says:

    Zaks explains the sounds on records as having musical performance, timbre, echo, ambience and texture. He explains each of the first four thoroughly and then almost seems to generalize what texture means. He states “sounds and musical parts may lose their individual identities and become inaudible as distinct characters, yet their presences is felt in the overall sound and affective sense of the texture”(86). What does he mean when he says overall sound? He quotes Richard Williams saying that songs need to be “felt rather than perceived” which echoes Zaks introduction of how artists must be careful to not forgot about the feeling of the song. Zaks goes on to state that certain aspects of songs such as guitars provide “mood(s) that are evident on the track’s surface”(86). However, these terms of “feeling” and “texture” seems abstract and subjective. Zaks is stating that that the texture gives a clean summation of what to feel in a song. There seems to be a calculated way to listen to songs and that if viewers know what they should be hearing, then they will understand the meanings of songs. However, listeners usually have different interpretations of what songs mean and the mood of one song can vary each time someone listens to it.

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