September 07, 2007

Devil's Advocate

Just when I thought music was dead, I get wind that we've got ourselves a savior. Thank goodness.

In related news, a few people recently got bit by the "compression is bad" bug. Now, I'm hardly going to argue with the general complaint. However, I think it's worth pointing out that compression is a tool just like any other. Good cooks use only enough salt so that you don't taste it, you know? The IEEE piece focused on such "overseasoning" issues, but there are recordings that use extreme compression quite artfully. Take a look at the waveform of Fiona Apple's "Limp":

Parts of the track are quite compressed and quite loud. They are preceded, though, by quieter sections with a more pronounced dynamic range. The contrast makes the aggressive refrains ("call me crazy / hold me down / make me cry / get off now / baby") more aggressive. The more delicate verses pick up more tension and uncertainty than a more consistent dynamic range might've suggested. Those max amp spikes you see in the last refrain are when the drums come in to accent "baby," pushing the song over the emotional edge it had been otherwise holding back from.

An entire album of music like this would be very fatiguing. The song which follows on the album ("Love Ridden") has an entirely different attitude:

The softer instrumentation (no percussion, only piano and strings) and dynamic range give your ears a chance to rest without forcing a break in the action.

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