George Martin’s documentary series airs
|George Martin and The Beatles.
Before his death, Sir George Martin was involved in the making of a television series called Soundbreaking. The series has now started to air in a few markets, notably Australia and The Netherlands. More countries to follow. In USA, the PBS series is scheduled to air in November 2016, but the first two episodes have already got early airings on certain PBS stations. Both initial episodes feature segments on George Martin’s work with the Beatles, as well as interviews with McCartney, Harrison & Starr.
The following is a description of each episode in the series.
Episode 1: The Recording Artist
Soundbreaking begins where a recording does–at the intersection of inspiration and execution. There stands the enigmatic figure of the record producer, the person charged with the critical task of both realizing an artist’s vision and capturing it for posterity. Profiling some of the most accomplished and revered producers in the recording industry, Episode One offers a study in contrasting styles and approaches: between the inspired guidance of George Martin in his work with The Beatles and Phil Spector’s dictatorial insistence on his signature sound; between the gentle coaxing with which Rick Rubin brought Johnny Cash back to greatness, and the fierce creative independence of artist-producers such as Joni Mitchell and Sly Stone. In the process, The Recording Artist underscores the way in which any music recording is the product of a delicate and infinitely variable balance between man and machine.
Episode 2: Painting With Sound
The second episode in our series chronicles a watershed event in the history of music: the moment when the recording studio itself effectively became an instrument and gave rise to sounds that could never be reproduced live. Beginning with the advent of magnetic tape and multi-tracking technology, and charting its evolution from the four or eight tracks used by The Beatles and The Beach Boys, to the sixteen- and twenty-four track productions created by Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac, to the digital innovations that today fuel the work of artists such as Beck, Bon Iver, and Radiohead, Painting with Sound traces the birth and development of a new art form–one wholly distinct from what throughout all prior human history had been meant and understood by the word “music.”
Episode 3: The Voice – The Human Instrument
Celebrating the most powerful of all instruments–the human voice–the third episode of Soundbreaking surveys the range of ingredients that go into a perfect vocal track. At once the most fundamental component of a song and the most challenging to capture, the vocal track is the product of a complex collaboration between performer, producer, and sound engineer–a titrate of artistic commitment, compelling concept, and technical wizardry that, at its best, turns a lyric into the soul of the song. Featuring rare studio footage of some the world’s most renowned vocalists–from blues divas to suave crooners to rock star screamers–the show considers the gamut of tricks and techniques that can both enhance and alter the human voice, and explores the ineffable emotional quality that makes a vocal track truly great.
Episode 4: Going Electric
The fourth episode in our series tells the story of the most elemental force in recording–electricity–and the musical revolution it sparked. Highlighting the way in which electricity has been harnessed and channelled to create new and never-before-heard sounds, Going Electric traces both the chain reaction unleashed by the invention of the electric guitar and the evolution of synthesized music. From Delta blues to Chicago blues to The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, from Stevie Wonder and The Who to EDM, Episode Four looks at the process by which science and engineering becomes sound, and reveals the power of technology to continuously redefine what we mean when we say the word “music.”
Episode 5: Four On The Floor
If the vocal track is the heart of a song, the rhythm track–the beat–is its body. It is the sonic element that taps into the most primal part of us and makes us want to move. The Rhythm Track breaks the beat down, and examines the endless experimentation that has taken place in its core, the very bedrock of all music. Charting the progression of the beat from drum and bass to beatbox and beyond–from Little Richard and James Brown to disco and EDM–Episode Five listens in on the ongoing dialogue between dance floor and recording studio, and captures the ever-evolving process of building an irresistible beat.
Episode 6: The World Is Yours
The sixth episode of Soundbreaking looks at a musical revolution that was not only inspired by recording but born from its history: the art of sampling–a kind of musical equivalent of Adam’s rib. Beginning with the pioneers of hip hop (Afrika Bambaataa, Chuck D, Rick Rubin), the episode tracks the way in which the practice of borrowing fragments from existing records created a new genre–a potent musical form that emerged from the margins, up-ended the establishment, and set in motion a controversy over copyright that has yet to be resolved. As we survey the development of sampling and its multiple, varied incarnations over the years since, Episode Six explores the complex sonic landscapes which, by their very existence, pay tribute to the art of recording itself, and examines the eternally blurred line between theft and homage.
Episode 7: Sound & Vision
The penultimate episode in our series proceeds from the once-preposterous notion that music is a visual art form. Chronicling the era in which MTV forged an indelible and inextricable link between recorded music and the newly emergent music video, Sound and Vision considers what it means to see music as well as hear it. Offering unprecedented exposure to artists with a knack for the form– Michael Jackson, Madonna, Billy Idol, the Eurythmics–MTV turned singles into smash hits and musical performers into international celebrities. It also created new expectations of musical entertainment and imposed new burdens on recording artists. Tracking the music video from MTV to the internet, Episode Seven tells the story of how a one-time marketing tool became a powerful mediator between artist and audience, and illuminates the music video’s role in the popular music of today.
Episode 8: The Way We Listen
Soundbreaking’s final episode, I Am My Music, shifts the focus away from the creation of music to the experience of listening to it, and to the formats that have shaped and ultimately defined that experience. From vinyl discs to the cassette tape, the CD, and the MP3, each generation has had a piece of musical media to call its own–a way of listening that determines not only how and where we listen, but also the manner in which we collect, store, and share the music we love. What was once an almost tactile experience–a matter of cover art and liner notes and record collections that encapsulated our identity and even telegraphed it to visitors–has now become a blizzard of 0s and 1s, a kind of listening that is at once more intangible, more private, and arguably, by virtue of our nearly limitless access to history’s entire catalogue of recorded music, also far more varied than ever before. What remains unchanged is the fundamental miracle of recorded music for the listener: it is music that is ours to command and control. As Soundbreaking concludes, we come to understand the true meaning of that miracle: we listen to what we like when we like, and the music we hear entwines itself with our daily lives and then our memories–until, at last, it becomes an essential part of who we are.