Modern Uses of The Soundbox: Examples of Triangular Mixes

Today in my musicology session – we discussed a few ways in which a musical mix can be analyzed. It started by suggesting the following factors as a way to consider recorded sound.

  • ¨Listen closely for  the relationships between instruments in terms of:
  • ¨Frequency (High – Low)
  • ¨Depth/Distance (amount of ambiance)
  • ¨Stereo Spectrum (Left – Right). Does it change? Do these changes help evoke the mood of the music?
  • ¨General Volume
  • ¨Is there any double tracking?
  • ¨Use of effects) (compression, delay, chorus, etc)
  • ¨Use of EQ?
  • ¨Is the texture homophonic or Polyphonic?
After briefly discussing the ‘layers’ of a mix (beat, harmonic, melodic etc) we spent some time discussing the ‘Soundbox’, considering Allan Moore’s typology of mixes as a starting point
  • ¨Cluster: Where all instruments are grouped together in a cluster.
  • ¨Triangular: Bass, Drums and Vocals spread across the stereo spectrum – or two one side – one the other
  • ¨Diagonal: Bass, Drums and Vocals in centre – with other instruments around them
  • ¨Dynamic: A mix that changes through time.
After listening to a number of musical examples which considered all of these factors  (in particular how the ‘Dynamic’ mix has emerged from the early 70s as been dominant) – we began to consider the prevalence of these ‘older’ mix types (Triangular and Cluster) in modern music.
The question I am asking is this – in order to make a modern mix sound ‘authentic’ (for example if a band was attempting to sound like early Hendrix)  – are there any examples of contemporary music that uses Triangular mixes?
I would be interested in any observations. For anyone interested in reading Moore and Ruth Dockaway’s paper on the Soundbox – click here.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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9 Responses to Modern Uses of The Soundbox: Examples of Triangular Mixes

  1. JoeB says:

    [Paul wrote]
    >in order to make a modern mix sound ‘authentic’ (for example if a band was attempting to sound like early Hendrix) – are there any examples of contemporary music that uses Triangular mixes?
    I don’t think there’s very much of this about – I can’t find a good example. The reason is probably to do with the playback medium, in that these days people need to mix on the assumption of earbuds. Sgt. Pepper with its hard panned bass I find unlistenable on headphones – the bass thuds into one ear in a very unpleasant way.
    The loudness wars (in mastering and in radio compression) may be another influence on the ubiquity of diagonal mixes.


  2. Krik says:

    Hi Paul,

    Interesting blog post, there are a few using triangular approaches, The Raconteurs album – Consolers of the lonely is modern sounding but has many hard pans on guitars and vocals, although not drums,, some tracks by ‘Tame impala’ are very retro sounding and hard pan drums though. ,


  3. Paul Carr says:

    Thanks Kris. It is the hard pans on the snare, vox and bass I am particularly interested in. I will look forward to listening to the album you suggest.


  4. Paul Carr says:

    Cheers Joe. I have never listened to St. Peppers on headphones – will give it a go. I certainly ‘grew up’ as a musician with the diagonal mix being king – but have never questioned it.


  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m no music scholar, and Don’t know if this really relevant. I find in modern mixing and recording that intonation has become more an exact science, than the art it used to be,with all instruments tuned to the centre of the tone, with no play with the shape or shade of the tones. In an attempt to recreate the authentic sound this perhaps is worth musing . Thanks to all you in music World for your time.


  6. Thanks Paul, any more musings about mixing, I would be happy to read!


  7. Paul Carr says:

    Good to hear from you Simon.


  8. tryfanhobbs says:

    Hi Paul, enjoyed the article, although I did feel the different types of sound boxes were discussed a bit too briefly.

    Although I have not been able to find any obvious triangular mixes, I did come across a unusual piece which raises a few questions of its identity as a mix. The song in question was “Horses of The Sun” by “Bat For Lashes”. From listening it seemed that the instruments in the centre of the “Soundbox” were the (homophonic lateral use of) backing vocals, part-drums (rim shots being either side of the spectrum) and the bass part.

    The interesting component was that of the main vocals, they never fell in the centre of the space and instead were positioned on both left and right sides of the spectrum. They were attributed with an almost delay like feel, only applied to one side of the spectrum. This seemed to be achieved by duplicating the mono recording of the vocal part, and then placing the duplication slightly behind, in time, to the other side. This effect transversed either side, only briefly sticking to one side before applying to the other, giving an unusual floating, space-like ambience.

    Raising the topic of ambience and looking at the way Jimi Hendrix created such mixes as “Purple Haze”, raising discourse falling under the psychedelia mixes, the notion that this mix could be in a similar style seemed prevalent. The main point being that it felt as though the vocal part was changing from side to side by using one mono recording and panning it, like many psychedelic mixes did to create a wider ‘fake’ stereo image, while the other instruments were clustered in the middle of the soundbox.

    But, here are the questions that immediately appeared. Can psychedelic tracks have vocals on either side of the soundbox at the same time, even if in this case they are both the same delayed mono track? And can other instrument parts such as the rim shot share those sides? Is this a triangular mix (the bass and drums are central and the vocal part is off-centered with the rim shot)?

    Or, as I am questioning now, is this mix some form of hybrid? Part cluster and triangular? It doesn’t feel vaguely dynamic or diagonal.

    Look forward to hearing your voice on it, and others here (all welcome).


  9. Pingback: Modern Uses of The Soundbox: Examples of Triangular Mixes | Tryfan Hobbs

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