In Alan Moore’s excellent paper with Ruth Dockwary, he discusses the demise of what he calls the ‘Triangular’ mix – which has been replaced by the ‘diagonal’. To get an understanding of this, listen the ‘The Wind Cry’s Mary’ by Jimi Hendrix. Note how the drums are panned hard right – while the vocals are panned hard left.
This can also be heard in ‘If 6 was 9’ by Hendrix. This time the vocals and drums are hard left, while the guitar is hard right.
Some basic listening would reveal that there are countless mixes of this type during the 60s, but as Moore’s paper reveals – slowly but surely it has been replaced by the ‘diagonal mix’ – where the vocals, bass and drums tend to be central – with other other instruments such as guitar and keys panned either side. A great example of this is the 1972 hit by Argent – ‘Hold Your Head Up’
This type of mix has become common place in popular music – the question is why? I have heard a number of reasons for this – including
- Many 60s desks had no pan controls – only left- middle and right switches
- Triangular Mixes are easier to move to mono
- The emergence of headphone listening: a hard panned bass guitar for example can sound horrible via bud earphones
Diagonal mixes sound louder on Radio -see the loudness wars
It is interesting to listen to contemporary bands who are influenced by the 60s – who seem to take on all the stylistic influences – aside from the mix. For example listen to the example below –
I would be interested in any examples of contemporary bands who are brave enough to use a triangular mix – please message below. For a podcast of the full lecture – see below
I’d always assumed that the reason was largely an aesthetic one. When stereo players began to appear, the musicians and producers wanted to make the most of the new technology. Suddenly, instead of all sounds coming through a single speaker, you got one sound coming from one speaker and another from the other. This added a measure of drama, but above all was a novelty. I had an uncle who bought a stereo and was so proud of it that he would play records of trains where the chuff-chuff started in one speaker and moved to the other. We were invited to marvel at the illusion of a train “going” from one side of the room to the other. Indeed, some of these “triangular” bands your refer to began to experiment a bit with instruments or vocals moving in the stereo image (the bass, for example, might be central in the introduction and then shift left for the first verse).
But, I think, that once the novelty of this had worn off and probably with the influence of producers who also worked with orchestras (where the impetus was to provide a realistic “stereo picture” of an orchestra on stage), and with the invention of more affordable and more sophisticated hi-fi equipment, musicians wanted to use the possibilities of stereo with more refinement. Vocals and bass central, guitars slightly left and right, keyboards and other instruments perhaps slightly more left and right. Incidentally there was a vogue at one time for drums to have multiple pick-ups so that while the other instruments stayed in one place, different drums and cymbals would be scattered across the stereo “image”. This was very effective but perhaps became a little hackneyed.
I remember conversations with knowledgeable friends where they would speak with affectionate condescension of those “primitive” early stereo albums. They would, moreover, often judge the mono releases (in the days when both a mono and stereo album would be released) as superior.
Of course another consideration is that a basic rock set up – bass, drums, one or two guitars, vocals, perhaps even a keyboard – can work quite well in a triangular setting, those groups that included more instruments needed to make better use of the panning possibilities available to them.
So, as I say, my guess is that the change came about as a result of artistic decisions by the musicians, producers and technicians, and by the changing tastes of the general public once stereo reproduction became standard.
Thanks for the useful comments – very interesting. I have have had a look at your site – really good.
Thanks for that Paul. A couple of years ago I did a music tech course, and the first lesson started with the assertion that ‘the bass goes in the middle’. It didn’t make me popular when I pointed out that this didn’t seem to be the case in some of the music I liked most. It seemed too early to seriously contest the point, and I never have since, but I am going to try some recording explicitly based on the triangular idea and see if the change is interesting.
The justification I’ve encountered for the diagonal mix, however, seems to make some sense to me. This is that, bass waves being bigger (including the ones from the bass drum, of course), they take up more physical space on the stereo spectrum than do higher ones. And if the bass is especially big – as it now nearly always is – then a triangular mix would give the listener the impression of being in a very funny shaped room.
I would be interested in hearing your experiments. I can’t find a single example of a ‘modern’ track that uses them. I actually really love the early Hendrix records for example – great sound.