Let There Be Sound on Sound

“Let There Be Sound on Sound” is an article that on the surface seems to be limited to a mere historical recollection of the timeline of the development of audio recording technology. This intention to contribute to the historical literature of the topic at hand is announced in the first opening paragraphs that provide a backdrop for what’s to come by providing the context of audio recording being among Thomas Edison’s many inventions.

From those origins the article then expands to trace the development of audio recording technology from that of mere mimicry into the tools utilized by artists to manipulate the original material. Whereas the very first use of the technology resulted in the uncreative parrot-like playback of Edison reading a hopelessly banal nursery rhyme, in the hands of genuine creative visionaries like Les Paul, that technology of recording has transformed into an instrument every bit as essential to the musical process as guitars, drums or pianos. The article provides a wealth of detailed specifics on the process that took Les Paul from a career spent doing little more than playing guitar behind Frank Sinatra to the forefront of the rock and roll revolution who played an instrumental part in allowing other artists to create musical masterpieces of their own.

Such is the surface appearance of “Let There Be Sound on Sound.” To fully appreciate the depth of the article and content beneath the obvious context one must pay closer attention and inspect with greater scrutiny. The subtext behind the article’s seemingly simple attempt to add to the historical literature of the development of audio recording technology is made manifest at the closing of the “Foreward to the 1996 Edition” when the author equates the creativity of working with audio recording devices with the creativity of painting. This comparison is highly suggestive for approaching the succeeding article from the perspective that it is about much more than providing the reader with historical context in the form of the story of Les Paul’s part in the timeline of technological development.

Further lending credence to the argument that the article is more recording devices as tools for creative expression than as engineered technology is the decision by the author to kick off the article by introducing Thomas Edison. The careless reader may not immediately pick upon the irony of the author’s suggestion that anyone who has enjoyed recorded music should be grateful to Thomas Edison when, in fact, once again it was actually Thomas Edison who constructed the invention for which he claims credit. This subtle bit of irony is further underlined by Edison’s thoroughly uncreative choice to initially test the invention by reciting “Mary had a Little Lamb.” The author seems to hint that even the most amazing technology ever invented is essentially useless without a creative mind capable of stretching its purpose beyond the most mundane. For the rest of the article that creative mind turns out to be Les Paul who becomes a symbol of subtle comparison against Edison for the rest of the article. Paul works with others, but it is his hands and not some assistant’s hands (as with Edison) who engages in the actual process of invention. Also, unlike Edison, Les Paul looks toward the inventive process as a natural link to the creative process. His first thought when presented with the potential for manipulating sound recording is to use the tools like an artist would use paint, brushes and canvas. In this way, he also compares favorably to Edison who viewed inventions as a means to acquiring another patent rather than expanding any sort of creative vision.

This article proved to be more than just a history lesson and it subtext of audio recording technology as essential instruments in the creation of music helped to expand the understanding of class discussions on recording techniques of the 1960s and the 1970s. As vital and creative talents as the Beatles and Pink Floyd may be and as revolutionary as albums like “Sgt. Pepper” and The Dark Side of the Moon may be, it becomes clear after reading this article that without the work of those possessing both creative and technological genius like Les Paul, none of those albums would have been possible.

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