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By Chris Readman


With extensive musical training and education from the Guildhall School of Music, George Martin was initially an unlikely candidate to record such a current and popular ‘pop’ band, considering his classical background. The calm and collected presence of Martin seemed to be in direct contrast with the four cheeky boys he was placed in the studio to work with. However, he relished the opportunity and history was in the making. His sensitive nature allowed the Beatles to experiment and develop their song writing, whilst allowing their creativity flow freely under Martin’s gentle guidance and above all else, maintaining their charisma that he praised so highly. Widely regarded as the illusive and highly controversial ‘Fifth Beatle’, frontman Paul McCartney commented upon Martin’s death in March 2016 by saying, “He was a true gentleman and like a second father to me. He guided the career of the Beatles with such skill and good humour that he became a true friend to me and my family. If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George” (BBC News 2016).

The term ‘Fifth Beatle’ was often thrown around in association with the performing ‘Fab Four’ members. Such a position was also informally awarded to figures such as manager Brian Epstein and original drummer for the band, Pete Best. The fact that any personnel, exclusive of the performing line-up, could be culturally acknowledged to have contributed enough to the Beatles’ success in order to be regarded in the same light as a performing member, places a high value on their contributions as a whole. Though Paul McCartney acknowledged Martin as this unofficial figure, John Lennon was known to be critical on numerous occasions of anyone claiming credit for the Beatles’ success (despite the titled being unofficially awarded by media and fans and not personally claimed). Lennon wrote of his disapproval of Martin’s credit in a letter to McCartney, saying “When people ask me questions about ‘What did Martin really do for you?’ I have only one answer, ‘What does he do now?’ I noticed you had no answer for that! It’s not a putdown, it’s the truth (Willman 2012).

Martin’s ‘Fifth Beatle’ contributions in this case were down to his unparalleled creative and innovative input into the recording sessions in Abbey Road Studios, operating consistently above and beyond his expectations. Stemming from his competitive and ambitious nature, Martin had a uniquely methodical approach to working in the studio, which tended to spark his curiosity and reflect his creativity and flair onto others. “A creative contribution represents an attempt to propel a field from wherever it is to wherever the creator believes the field should go. Thus, creativity is by its nature propulsion” (Sternberg 2007, pg.125). In an attempt to evaluate creativity, Robert J. Sternberg devised the ‘Eight types of Creative Contributions’; a model that suggests eight types of contributions that can be made to a field of endeavour at a given time. Martin’s creativity would fall under what Sternberg terms “Advance forward incrementation – the contribution is an attempt to move the field forward in the direction it is already going, but beyond where others are ready for it to go. The propulsion leads to forward motion that is accelerated beyond the expected rate of forward progression” (Sternberg 2007, pg.127). This type of creative contribution is one that accepts current paradigms and attempts to extend them. Martin did not set out to redefine the field of music production, nor alter its course, he was a classically trained musician with roots strongly planted in traditional music. The way in which he progressed the development of recording was through his acceptance and understanding of the popular music field and the application of his extensive knowledge and innovative experimentation in order to help propel the field in the direction it was already heading, as demonstrated by similar emerging developments from notable producers of the time such as Joe Meek.

George Martin’s pioneering contributions

The recording desk was to Martin, what a palette is to an artist. In a clip from BBC documentary Produced By George Martin, Martin quotes whilst reading from well-known French artist Degas, “Drawing is not what one sees but what one must make others see and, in a way, that’s what we do with sound. The recording is not what one hears, but what one must make others hear” (Arena 2011). The way in which he perceived the idea of a recording was unique to himself, almost philosophically describing the mix as a sonic idea that can be understood from different perspectives and interpreted differently, identifying that there are more factors at work to recording that just the capture of sound. The allowance to combine, control and distribute the input and output signals of all the devices in the control room was fundamental to his creativity and work; mixing, spatial positioning, routing and I/O switching were all available as tools for Martin to use, he just had to decided how. The way in which Martin used this equipment created his very own personalised sound through his use of sound processing and editing tools. When referred to as a pioneer, it was less about Martin inventing new technologies but instead more about him pioneering new ways in which the existing technologies available were used. Speaking about his initial years at Abbey Road studios, Martin said, “Gradually I got hooked, gradually I didn’t want to leave it. It enabled me to be creative, I could manipulate things, I could do things and that I found very enjoyable” (Arena 2011).

Martin, alongside other pioneering producers of his time, such as Joe Meek, was considered one of the original pioneers of multi-track recording. Though both were pioneering similar techniques at similar times, the fact that the discoveries were made individually does not subtract from each other’s credit. “The importance of context is illustrated by the difference, in general, between creative discovery and rediscovery” (Sternberg 2007, pg.125). Sternberg implies that context is everything in the situation of discovery or even rediscovery, being that even if the initial discovery has already been unknowingly discovered elsewhere, it does not discredit the discovery. The process of multi-track recording involved making use of four-track (and previously, two-track) recorders to record on more tracks than their names would suggest. Multiple takes would be recorded onto a four-track machine, then once all four channels were filled, they would be mixed together and bounced down onto a second four-track recorder single channel, thus freeing up the original tape recorder and preserving the mix on the other. This allowed for dozens of separate tracks to be combined and crafted into a more complex recording, limited only by the increased build-up of noise after each bounce-down process. Martin described the limitations that he faced, which in turn acted as a stimulant to his creativity:

What four-track imposed on us was, firstly, you had to think ahead as to what you were going to do. Secondly, you had to get things right at the time; you couldn’t just say, OK, let’s leave that because we can fix it in the mix. All those kinds of decisions, that kind of discipline, imposes constraints on you but also makes you focus much more, makes you think (Massey 2000).

Four-track also allowed for overdubbing, another innovation pioneered by Martin as well as other four-track pioneers of the time. Four track recorders gave the ability to be able to go back to a track and add in another part, in this case often used to add string sections amongst others. This was all part Martin’s solution to the problem that we no longer face or perhaps even contemplate, with seemingly infinite numbers of tracks at our disposal in the digital age of the seemingly infinitely expansive DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

Aside from his innovative expansion of a four-track track tape recorder, perhaps the most notable pioneering aspect of his work was his development of tape editing and manipulation. Previously explored in tapes infancy by pioneer Pierre Schaeffer and the Musique Concrète he created in the 1950’s, Martin adapted his groundwork into key production techniques. Many of the techniques used went on to remain core practices, notably in the rise of hardware sampling and more recently through the use of software audio editors in DAW’s, giving birth later to genres such as Electronica and Experimental sub-genres. Andy Keep suggests the ways in which innovation in experienced record producers can be sparked, “Either through the influence of, or reference to, non-mainstream techniques used in experimental or electronic art music, or through being inspired to explore beyond the boundaries of common practice, known techniques, and factory given presets” (Keep 2005).

Martin was most likely a combination of the two, taking influence from Pierre Schaeffer and exploring new sounds with the ever-growing creative demand from the Beatles in the studio. Manipulation of tape speeds was something synonymous with Martin and the Beatles success. Working on an instrumental break on the 1965 track ‘In My Life’, due to absence of ideas from John Lennon, Martin was to perform a keyboard part in a Baroque style but struggled to play to the requirements of the section, neither through Hammond organ nor through piano could he perform to the correct tempo of the track. “The solution was to play at half the speed and then play back the tape at double-speed. It worked, the song was complete, and it went on to become one of the Beatles’ most respected pieces of work” (Lewisohn, 1989, pg.65). Recording the part at half the speed meant that he could play the intricate part more easily and then when the tape was played back twice as fast at the correct speed. It was a perfect performance. The double increase in the speed of the tape however meant that the recording was now an octave higher and had a general shift in tonal quality; the resulting experimental effect had a unique timbre that many people have mistaken for a harpsichord over the years. Building on this experimentation in 1966, the Beatles and Martin were at work on the album Revolver when the track ‘Rain’ was born from tape experimentation (though it never actually made it on to the album). The whole song in this case was to be performed by the band at a higher speed than intended and then slowed using tape manipulation. Similar to the speed effect of the baroque instrumental, the slowing of the performance changed the texture of all of the instruments. In addition to the instrumentation, Martin recorded Lennon’s vocal takes to the tempo of the performed track and were slowed to match the track, giving the song an elongated and stretched sound and providing the track with an overall surreal hazy feel.

“ ‘Revolver very rapidly became the album where the Beatles would say OK, that sounds great, now let’s play it backwards or speeded up or slowed down’, says Emerick. ‘They tried everything backwards, just to see what things sounded like’” (Lewisohn 1989, pg.74). Continuing with their experimentation on the track ‘Rain’, Martin displayed one of the first recorded examples of the reverse tape effect technique. The final verse towards the end of the song includes vocals from John Lennon that were recorded at normal speed and then flipped back to front and placed back in the original position.

They wanted to find new ways of what they were doing and new harmonies, new endings for songs and that kind of thing. They would always want to look beyond the horizon and not just at it…There was one time on ‘Rain’, where I decided to play around with tapes, and I took John’s voice off as a separate item and put it on a quarter-inch tape and turned it back to front. So, I slid it around a bit and then put it at the end of the song. (Arena 2011)

Martin played the reversed vocal back to Lennon and he immediately approved of this innovative approach but was initially unsure of what he was actually listening to. Martin explained that it was himself he was hearing, reversed by playing the tape backwards. Martin continued, ‘”I explained to him what I’d done and from that moment, he wanted everything backwards, you know, they all did” (Arena 2011). Several elements of tracks from the Beatles psychedelic phase were reversed from that point onwards, including Ringo’s cymbals in ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. The song resembled a drug fuelled trip and benefitted not only from reversed elements but also greatly from George Martin’s tape splicing ability, successfully matching two Mellotron takes of different tempo and pitch to blend almost perfectly as the song transcends. From this ability to seamlessly splice different takes together, Martin was able to experiment further and create tape loops by joining the two ends of a selected take together. In the Arena documentary Produced by George Martin, Ringo Starr listens to and discusses the studio recording of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ alongside Martin, commenting, “The cymbal! It’s all the way through. It was far out then, cos everything was so pulled back and a bit neat. This is when we started to change” (Arena 2011).

Starr identifies one of the creatively unique sounds and timbres that made their music so original and ‘far out’ for its time in comparison to the clinical and dry production sounds that people had perhaps come to expect from bands. His attention is immediately drawn towards the looped cymbal from his drum performance that relentlessly repeats throughout the track, creating an unnatural wave of constant cymbal crashing. This experimentation into manipulation of recorded sounds is what Starr defines as the point at which the band started to change, ultimately pinning this career directing moment to the innovation of Martin and his unorthodox techniques.

“In the early to mid 1960’s it was the performers who were regarded as uncreative, as malleable voices to which producers, writers, arrangers and engineers gave shape and texture” (Frith and Zagorski-Thomas 2012, pg.215). Though this may have arguably been the case, the Beatles were themselves learning through Martin and they explored and experimented together. The Beatles would often be the spark of creativity, coming up with the creative direction but lacking the skills to implement such ideas; this is where Martin’s innovative ways shone the brightest. Martin recalls John Lennon’s request for a specific effect on his lead vocal take on track ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, “I want to sound as though I’m the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountain top. And yet I still want to hear the words I’m singing” (Lewisohn 1989, pg.72). Others recall John also requesting that the song “have the sound of 4,000 monks chanting in the background” (Lewisohn, 1989, pg.72). Martin’s resulting ground-breaking solution was to feed Lennon’s vocals through a revolving Leslie speaker inside a Hammond organ. The swirling effect that resulted was one that had never been heard on vocals before and once again the Beatles wanted it on everything from that point onwards.

Also featured on Lennon’s vocals was ADT (Automatic Double Tracking) conceived by Abbey Road engineer Ken Scott and developed with the help of Martin. This effect simulated the natural double tracking of an instrument or vocals by taking the original recording, creating a second copy and then shifting it fractionally out of sync with the original. The natural wow, flutter and peculiarities that you would associate with a tape machine in the 1960s would keep the takes from sounding exactly the same, through the small pitch drifts, allowing the part to sound doubled and considerably wider. ADT went on to be used generously on vocals throughout the rest of the Revolver album, due to Lennon’s repetitive requests for his vocal take to be doubled instead of recording a second. Abbey Road engineer Peter Vince states that Lennon was the main motivator behind the invention of the effect, usually only recording one or two takes, with a second take not always being available to double a vocal within the mix when required. “John was a one or two take man, if you didn’t get him then, or if you didn’t put the right amount of echo into his cans you just wouldn’t get the performance from him” (Lewisohn 1989, pg.70). Following closely from the conception of ADT, flanging was born, a variation in which tape speeds were constantly changed to give a similar effect to phasing. Nonsensically named by Lennon, the effect was essentially a less discreet version of ADT with added intentional oscillation rather than a constant level of de-sync. To this day, flanging is still the common term for the effect and is a popular standard used by both producers and musicians alike.

The Creative Abuse of George Martin

The innovative techniques and practices that George Martin utilised and, in most cases, pioneered, could be considered to be acts of ‘creative abuse’, a term defined in the EARS (ElectroAcoustic Resource Site) glossary as:

Musicians using instruments, objects and/or other digital protocols for use in manners that differ greatly from those known generally. For example, turntablists use their instrument in a manner in which the turntable was never meant to be used. Those musicians who have found creative uses for feedback, the bane of many live musicians’ existence, form another example (Weale 2005).

Andy Keep, a senior lecturer at Bath Spa University, wrote a paper further elaborating on the aesthetics and context surrounding the somewhat odd term of creative abuse and began to question whether it was a defining factor in the development of record production. The initial EARS definition of creative abuse does not attempt to highlight any studio applications, production processes or experimentation, instead focusing predominantly on musicians and their instruments. “The approach to tools and technology known as creative abuse involves more experimental techniques than that of ‘recommended use’. In the sound studio this could be through the desire to find that elusive sound or effect but is more likely to be through pure heuristic experimentation” (Keep 2005). Keep inadvertently constructs his own version of a definition of creative abuse here, taking into consideration what the EARS did not; the central importance of the production process and the potential for experimentation within. Acknowledging what was previously referred to as instruments and objects, Keep has now re-established as tools and technology. This redefinition encompasses a wider range of practices and perspectives, with less emphasis on specifics such as instruments, which can now fall into the category of tools, alongside mixing desks, outboard gear, etc. He also refers to the “recommended use” of these tools and technologies, providing a more realistic and relatable approach to sourcing what exactly the “abuse” is directly in opposition to, in this case likely to be instruction manuals and manufacturers guidance notes. He chooses to provide an example in context of the studio environment, referring to intentionally pursuing a specific, unique sound through misuse of tools and technology, cementing the definition further in place of studio context. Furthermore, he identifies that creative abuse is perhaps not something we intend to partake in all of the time but perhaps a side product of creativity as a whole, achieved through “heuristic experimentation”. When we work heuristically, we tend to be unaware of the actions we make in the moment and the progress we’re making (if any) and we learn from our actions and the process of “doing”.

The heuristic moment is one of breakdown – the inadequacy of theory, the malfunction of technique, the rupture of interpretive frameworks, the dissolution of categories. The question is no longer “what is experimental music,” but rather “when is music an experiment”; when is music heuristic?’ (Mauceri 1997).

Mauceri’s take on heuristic experimentation can be seen to be one that supports the act of creative abuse and vice versa. The list of four describing factors of the heuristic moment are all associated with the misuse of common protocols that combine to create the aesthetics of creative abuse. He acknowledges theory, technique, frameworks and categories as all things that are disregarded, misused or of course abused in the process of heuristic experimentation and are therefore fundamental criteria. Mauceri begins to draw a conclusion that experimental music and heuristic music are essentially one and the same; implying the word “experimental” in musical terms is a synonym for heuristic and should automatically be considered so. If Keep believes that heuristic experimentation is the main source of creative abuse and Mauceri defines the fundamental criteria necessary for heuristic experimentation, then it’s reasonable to suggest that there a rhizomatic relationship between the many and that the four defined fundamentals can be directly applied to aid in defining the creative abuse aesthetic.

In context with what Keep had initially defined, the “experimental techniques beyond recommended use” perfectly encapsulate the many ways in which Martin approached tools and technology with the Beatles, as referred to earlier. Heuristic experimentation could be said to be the way through which the majority of Martin’s innovations were sparked. Discarding the theory and technique that he learned by, he enabled himself to solve problems creatively such as finding a work-around for the 4-track limitations, finding a way to get two vocal takes from Lennon without him performing twice and performing an intricate piece at half speed just to get the correct sound.  Similarly, the “desire to find that elusive sound or effect” was also present, displayed in solutions such as passing Lennon’s vocals through a Leslie rotating speaker in order to translate Lennon’s request to sound like the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountaintop and reversing elements to appease the Beatles growing fascination with the effect.

Keep’s overall aim is to consider “the notion that developments in both the technology and many recognised production techniques in the field of recorded music are driven by the misuse of music technologies in practice, rather than the introduction of new technologies” (Keep 2005). From this, we can see how this directly applies to Martin’s work with the Beatles. All of his innovation was through pre-existing equipment, some often considered old as opposed to new, having been the backline in Abbey Road Studios for some time, with multiple producers having access to it and using it on a daily basis. Martin was in-fact initially opposed to updating the equipment in the studio, due to himself and his engineers being so familiar with four-track recorder and the ways they’d learned to edit and manipulate the tape, which would not be the same on the newly proposed 8-track. Ken Scott recalled (Muckala 2018), “With regard to the late move to eight-track, you have to sort of put a certain amount of responsibility onto George Martin for this as Abbey Road did actually have eight-track tape machines much earlier than we started to use them. George was offered the use of eight-track for the Beatles, and he turned it down”.

Never did Martin see the equipment he used as a limitation, only ever a problem that required an achievable solution. In agreement with Keep, it was the misuse of technology that drove developments during Martin’s time spent with the Beatles, rather than the acquisition new technologies. Even with the introduction of the four-track and then eight-track tape recorders, nothing fundamentally changed in the way Martin approached recording. Their introduction perhaps made less work of the recording process, but they were not themselves responsible for the source of any creativity or innovation, likely that without their invention, the same core concepts that Martin developed would still be fundamentally the same, only through a different medium. Martin said, ‘The album wouldn’t have sounded much different if they had recorded it on a 32-track digital console.’ (Abbany 2016).

The Value of Innovation

Macintyre explores the contrasting ways in which we are creative within our studio practice. His main focus is on the relationship that both traditional and innovative approaches have with each other. He refers initially to this quote (Niu and Sternberg 2006), “There is a tendency in the West to valorise individualised innovation as the single most valuable set of conditions in creative practice”, continuing to dissect in reference to Niu & Sternberg’s quote:

This valuing of innovation is often set against what is seen to be stodgy and safe, rule bound and static, that is, those things that have stood the test of time, the things that have become in effect ‘traditional’. However, there is a very real need to look at both continuity and change, the things we keep and the things we discard, when investigating innovative practices. This imperative moves well beyond the nostalgic, in the use of what we can see as traditional tools and pre-existing knowledge, to realise that the use of tradition is very much part and parcel of the process of being innovative. Rather than being diametrically opposed to each other tradition and innovation are in fact complementary (McIntyre 2015).

This thought-provoking perspective on the values we tend to place on traditional approaches, highlights that techniques and practices considered to be traditional are by no means irrelevant or obsolete, instead their presence and acknowledgement is often necessary for true innovation to be achieved. His mention of moving beyond the nostalgic suggests that we perhaps view the traditional approach as something that is out-dated and not very relevant in a modern environment, disregarding it if favour for entirely new concepts. The reality is however, that we only view approaches as traditional because they’ve stood the test of time. Through their integrity there lies potential, since in order to be considered as traditional, the practice will undoubtedly have been considered innovative at one point in its infancy. “New is meaningful only in reference to the old. Original thought does not exist in a vacuum” (Csikszentmihalyi 1999, pg.315).

Whether Martin realised this or not, his approach to recording did embrace the traditional through his innovation, taking influence from Pierre Schaeffer’s groundwork in tape editing and manipulation and choosing to embrace the tools and technology he had, regardless of age, rather than seeking new ultra-modern ways in which to work. As McIntyre states, you cannot expect be innovative without first embracing the traditional and undertaking the decision-making process of where to apply continuity or change, which Martin did through his extensive tape editing and manipulation, adopting both Schaefer’s groundwork and further developing his own.

Innovation in the Digital Age

Continued changes within the tools and technology in which we innovate through have gradually swayed further and further towards the digital side of music production towards the end of the 20th Century, most notably through the rise of the DAW and the creative potential it provides through the manipulative use of plugins: “The move from linear, tape-based recording practice to non-linear, hard-disk systems has also had a powerful effect, not just on recording practice but also on the way that artists and producers conceptualise a piece and envisage the creative process” (Zagorski-Thomas 2007, pg.196). Zagorski-Thomas acknowledges that the gradual shift to digital has in-fact changed the way we approach the creative process as music producers altogether. With technology continually evolving and changing shape, so too must out capacity to adapt. Giving rise to a more consumable creative environment, desktop based plug-in effects and processors are now readily available on the sound-recording market and often come with an extensive assortment of pre-set sounds and configurations. Often aiming to capture a classic sound or track specific timbre, these presets often incorporate certain trademarks or signature sounds of notable innovate production techniques.

‘This is encouraging changes in working practice: rather than the continual monitoring and tweaking of the parameters of an effect or processor to fit the changing sound of a mix, an option is selected and maintained until it grates sufficiently to be replaced by another” (Zagorski-Thomas, 2007 pg.196). Zagorski-Thomas suggests that innovation and creativity is somewhat nullified from the readily available use of presets. Where once parameters would be defined with intent and precision and would likely evolve dynamically to fit the changing sounds of the mix, presets are often now applied to suit the needs of the mix until the mix evolves and another more suitable pre-set or plugin is selected. This reinforces the marketability of plugins and the perceived need for a more specifically relevant pre-set or sound that leads to the desire for greater variety and the acquisition of further plugins. Zagorski-Thomas continues to elaborate on the direction that creative methods have taken since the rise of digital technologies, suggesting that the organic ways in which producers such as George Martin were progressively creative and innovative are less prevalent now, due mainly to the fact that “Cut and paste methods of desktop systems have encouraged composers to work in a modular fashion” (Zagorski-Thomas, 2007 pg.196).

This “modular” way of working is in direct reference to the ways in which a DAW can be used, with multiple simultaneous windows open, displaying multiple effects, on multiple tracks. Tendencies lie in viewing the recording process as sections and partitions in which performances and sounds are dissected in order to get a good verse or chorus sound for example, rather than the way producers such Martin would work, viewing the recording as whole and capturing the performance as one take, ensuring all parameters were correctly dialled in before the capture and then manually adjusted throughout to adhere to any emerging changes within the sonic mix, with less affordability available to fix it in the mix. “The shift to digital technologies was not in itself innovative, merely a change of platform” (Keep 2005). Keep argues that this shift to digital was just another medium through which we innovate. Original recognised production processes and tools are simply remodelled in the digital domain with the original parameters remaining present, albeit with the addition of further additional parameters and extended ranges. The allowance for innovation has not been lost, just slightly diluted through the ease and accessibility of these technological shifts in creative approaches. “Within the digital domain creative abuse aesthetics can now be seen to inform emerging software design, only for it to be wrongly used again by innovative users” (Keep 2005). Keep suggests that the aesthetics of creative abuse, through the misuse of equipment, are now informing certain software design and presets. A notable example in this context being the Fab Four plugin created by EastWest; a plugin prides itself on successfully emulating the majority of instrumentation and effects found on the Beatles records. The main GUI for the plugin includes a section dedicated to ADT, with four adjustable parameters; delay, depth, speed and level which can all be easily adjusted as well as switched on or off with the flick of a switch. To consider the initial experimentation, development and set-up that was undertaken by the Abbey Road engineers, just to achieve a doubled effect by shifting a vocal take slightly out of time using multiple tape machines and processes and to then compare it to the ease and simplicity of its digital counterpart, enabled by the click of a mouse and disposed of just as easily, is somewhat exhausting. “The shift to digital technologies was not in itself innovative, merely a change of platform” (Keep 2005). Keep argues that this shift to digital was just another medium through which we innovate. Original recognised production processes and tools are simply remodelled in the digital domain with the original parameters remaining present, albeit with the addition of further additional parameters and extended ranges. The allowance for innovation has not been lost, just slightly diluted through the ease and accessibility of these technological shifts in creative approaches. “Within the digital domain creative abuse aesthetics can now be seen to inform emerging software design, only for it to be wrongly used again by innovative users” (Keep 2005). Keep suggest that the aesthetics of creative abuse, through the misuse of equipment, are now informing certain software design and presets. A notable example in this context being the Fab Four plugin created by EastWest; a plugin prides itself on successfully emulating the majority of instrumentation and effects found on the Beatles records. The main GUI for the plugin includes a section dedicated to ADT, with four adjustable parameters; delay, depth, speed and level which can all be easily adjusted as well as switched on or off with the flick of a switch. To consider the initial experimentation, development and set-up that was undertaken by the Abbey Road engineers, just to achieve a doubled effect by shifting a vocal take slightly out of time using multiple tape machines and processes and to then compare it to the ease and simplicity of its digital counterpart, enabled by the click of a mouse and disposed of just as easily, is somewhat exhausting.


Though many of George Martin’s methods were undoubtedly defined acts of creative abuse, the EARS definition (Weale 2005) is somewhat outdated, brief and inexhaustive in its description of the act; emphasis appears to lie mainly upon musicians and their misuse of their instruments. Though Martin was of course a musician in his own right and the various hardware, desks and sound processing units he primarily worked with were essentially his instruments, the description does not acknowledge this aspect of the creative process accurately enough. Though it could be said to allude to the production aspect through its generalisation of terms, it has not truly considered the producer’s perspective, or the impact creative abuse can have on the production stage. Arguably, the production process is the stage where the various elements of recording are subject to the most experimentation, allowing for creative manipulation of sounds and timbres. If the EARS definition is to be considered the official definition, it would have to include less suggestive terms, in favour for terms such as those used by Keep in his description.

Though the process of creative abuse is now been reinterpreted through the use of new technologies, this does not discredit the initial acts of creative abuse or render them obsolete in any way. The creative ways in which George Martin approached recording are not lost in translation to the digital age, with Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke, known for his experimental flavour, recently describing his approach to recording a soundtrack for film Suspiria as, “tinkering around with new toys that I didn’t know how to use, you know, which is an essential part of all studio work – don’t read the manual, just plug it in – which was about 80% of the soundtrack” (BBC Radio 6 Music 2018). Similarly, modern chart donning band Tame Impala have embraced the digital side of creative abuse, owing their gritty psychedelic sonic fingerprint to the misuse of equipment, specifically a Boss digital 8-track mixer. Frontman Kevin Parker recounts mixing a track saying:

Without knowing it, I’d completely limited the whole thing by putting the master fader of the final mix up until it was flat lining! That Boss recorder has a feature where when it’s about to start digital clipping, it limits it. It gives it a great, crunchy sound that I loved. But when I sent it to mastering, she (Mandy Parnell) pulled it up and it was just a flat line. She asked if I could mix it again and I was like, ‘I can’t! I mixed it four years ago’. Each time you mix on this 8-track it’s a different performance. I loved the way it sounded and asked her to work with it, but she hated it (Maiolo 2013).

“Within the digital domain creative abuse aesthetics can now be seen to inform emerging software design, only for it to be wrongly used again by innovate users.” (Keep 2005). Referring back to Keep’s statement, if initial acts of creative abuse become widely acknowledged and are increasingly considered as accepted production methods or techniques, they gradually lose consideration as an act of creative abuse. If a once highly innovative and creative process e.g. ADT, can now be dispatched by a pre-set or with a click, its innovative prowess is somewhat diminished. The transformation of acts of creative abuse into accepted methods, through social acceptance and acknowledgement, is a continuous cycle. This understanding of the way creative abuse is continuously developing yet remaining connected through its roots, with no defined beginning or end and multiple non-hierarchical entry points, could be viewed as a Rhizomatic process. As pointed out by Keep, these aesthetics of creative abuse, combined with the availability for new extended ranges and parameters within the digital domain, create the stepping stones for the continuation of further creative abuse through the continuous misuse by innovative users. The technology shifts once again, acting as a forward moving platform in which the user can continually innovate in several directions from its evolutionary discourse.


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BBC News. (2016). Fifth Beatle’ Sir George Martin dies. [Internet] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-35761464 [Accessed 4 Jan. 2019].

BBC Radio 6 Music (2018). Thom Yorke on writing the Suspiria soundtrack. [Internet video] Available at: https://youtu.be/CfSFyLo0FXE [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].

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