Sound and technology

Black and white photograph of amplifiers and a microphone

© Vinnn

Technology has always had a close relationship with musical sound. From the invention of new instruments to developments in sound recording, different aspects of technology have had a major effect upon what musicians do, what music sounds like and the way in which we as listeners experience music. They continue to do so today.

In many ways the music industry was built on the back of technology. Without the possibilities offered by technological developments such as sound recording, the industry's potential to promote musicians and sell their music would have remained limited. For musicians too, many important developments were linked to recording technology - such as the arrival of the microphone, which meant a wider range of sounds could be heard in performance, and multitracking, which allowed complex sounds to be produced in the studio that could not be produced in a live context. The late 20th century saw the arrival of computing technology, which introduced concepts such as sequencing. Through all of these and other developments, the recording studio itself became like a very sophisticated instrument.

Through the development of specific instruments, technology provided musicians with other equally significant new opportunities. Electrically amplified instruments for example, especially the guitar, opened up a new range of sounds that instruments could produce, as well as new possibilities for expressive performance.

The technologies associated with sound recording and also with radio had an impact on listening to music. Before the arrival of these technologies, listeners had to be in the same place as musicians in order to listen to music. This meant that music was tied to certain social situations (the church, the opera house, the music hall) or various types of social activity (dances, parades). The marriage of sound and technology that produced gramophones and radio sets allowed people who owned them to break such ties and to listen to music in private environments. Today CDs, mp3 players, radio and TV have become such a major part of our lives that most people experience music primarily in environments of their own choosing.

Throughout Liverpool's own musical history, developments in instrumentation, amplification have led to new developments in musical practice. The information in this section also explores how musicians have a great effect upon technology, constantly shaping new technologies to suit their needs.

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