Typology of Mixes: How do the change through time?

In today’s musicology lecture – 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. We need to think of this as a three dimensional virtual sound box

  • ¨Listen closely for  the relationships between instruments in terms of:
  • ¨Frequency (High – Low): For example hi hats at the ‘top’ and bass drum at the bottom
  • ¨Depth/Distance (amount of ambiance): Note how studio effects assist this via reverb, delay, compression, etc
  • ¨Stereo Spectrum (Left – Right). Does it change? Do these changes help evoke the mood of the music?
  • ¨General Volume: How does this impact the perception of distance to the listener?
  • ¨Is there any double tracking? How subtle is it?
  • ¨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 center – 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. I suggest you listen to the first 13 tracks on the playlist below (From ‘Blue Velvet’ up to the Queens of the Stoneage Track). Try and listen with headphones – as it is easier to spot the techniques this way. Note the following examples
‘Blue Velvet’ – ‘Wind Cry’s Mary’ and ‘If Six Was 9’. Example of 60s Triangular Mix
‘Mellow Yellow’: Example of Cluster Mix
‘Hold Your Head Up’ through to ‘Black Chandeller’: Examples of Diagonal Mix
‘One Rainy Wish’ and ‘Song For the Dead’: Example of Dynamic Mix
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? As discussed last year – it has been proposed that headphone based listening habits have been one of the reasons why Triangular mixes are no longer used? However – I would love to hear some examples of them been used anyway. In addition to examples of mixes – try and consider the reasons why they occur. Is it easier to hear on the radio? Does it fit with particular styles of music? Is it a trait of the producer? etc.
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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