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Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music

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4.16  ·  Rating details ·  1,148 ratings  ·  90 reviews
In 1915, Thomas Edison proclaimed that he could record a live performance and reproduce it perfectly, shocking audiences who found themselves unable to tell whether what they were hearing was an Edison Diamond Disc or a flesh-and-blood musician. Today, the equation is reversed. Whereas Edison proposed that a real performance could be rebuilt with absolute perfection, Pro T ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published June 9th 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Edmole
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Usually with 400 page facty books you enjoy them but are happy to have got through to the end. With this, I was disappointed when I got to the last few pages. So much fascinating detail, so many fascinating stories, and hundreds of answers about the recording of sound, none of which Milner is arrogant or foolish enough to call definitive.

This starts off with the Big Bang, obviously, and how the universe spread out in waves of sound and light. Then we get a little more specific, with technical bu
...more
Ero
Aug 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: from-liberry
Absolutely one of the best things I've ever read about recorded audio. The chapter on Leadbelly's discovery/exploitation/celebration/creation is splendid, and the rest of the book is pretty well done too.

Occasionally this lurches a little, from almost-stale college-research-paper historical bits into magaziney "then I went to his house to hear his $5,000,000 speakers for myself" bits. But all in all it sustains a high level of intelligence and ease, and occasionally rises to truly high levels of
...more
Mike Lindgren
Mar 10, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a well-researched and intermittently fascinating look at the history of recording technology. Music geeks will like it because they get to learn a lot of semi-technical stuff about compression and waveforms and the like. Milner is not a natural storyteller and occasionally gets himself crossed up; the book could have been substantially shorter. Audiophiles and vinyl snobs will find ammunition for defending their Luddite ways.
Kaitlin
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
This book took an incredibly long time for me to finish. I found the topic interesting, but the writing was a little hard to read for extended periods. I believe this was primarily due to being sort of repetitive and circular in sections.

Still, it was nice to know how the recording process has changed over the years. The book made me wish I had been around before music was compressed to within an inch of its life.

I'd probably recommend the book only to those highly interested in the subject matt
...more
Darren Hemmings
Sep 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
Starting with Thomas Edison's invention of the Gramophone, it traces key developments in the world of music, including the development of analogue tape, the high fidelity years, multitracking, digital, the Loudness Wars and finally the emergence of Digital Audio Workstations such as Pro Tools which instigated the widespread closure of the legedary recording studios of the world, such as the Power Station in NYC.

If you're a music fan of any kind, this book is simply a must-read: one of those work
...more
Emeraldia Ayakashi
Aug 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mu-sic
« Très, très, très peu de livres changeront votre façon d’écouter la musique. Celui-ci est l’un d’eux. » Jarvis Cocker

Obviously this Jarvis's sentence terribly given me want to read this book!

Here is a book for lovers of music. More than 400 pages to revisit the history of technology that helped save the music (which seems so obvious now), and yet it only goes back to 1877.

Extremely well documented, concealing technical details (complex enough for some), but also anecdotes from the world of mu
...more
Taffnerd
Jan 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
This book is outstanding. The cover (and title to a lesser degree) might lead one to believe that it is a dry academic work but that couldn't be further from the truth. The mechanical and cultural impact of recorded music read like well-paced fiction.

Milner writes about the whole history of recorded sound with humor and insight. His retellings of Edison's efforts and the field recordings that john and Alan Lomax did in the 1930's illustrate the conflicts between fidelity and reality that have sh
...more
Joseph Cope
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellently written, thoroughly researched and absorbing history of recorded sound. The author is clearly something of an audio geek, in a good way, and his passion for the subject shines through. There is a well judged balance of technical detail throughout; accessible but not over simplified. What really adds value though are the accounts of the personalities and politics that shaped the way recordings have been made all the way through from wax cylinders to MP3s. It is possibly not surpris ...more
Andrew Horton
Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Probably the first accessible "general audience" book about the history of recording music, it perfectly balances the sociocultural context behind the history of different recording practices and technological advances without skimping on either front or capitulating to an elusive mainstream audience. As a recording engineer, I was surprised that even I learned new things and yet I'd still feel comfortable recommending the book to my Mom or anyone looking for a general pop-nonfiction read.
Bram
Nov 24, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This took me 4,5 months to read. Not because it was heavy, but because large parts of it were quite repetitive. And then I would just put it away and try to forget about it. But yeah, you’re like a 150 pages in, it would be a waste to just throw it out, right? And admittedly, I did enjoy the whole synthesizer history lesson, which I would’ve missed out on if I would’ve given up at 150. But mi gado, this could’ve easily done with half of the pages.
J.
Sep 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Analogistas
Shelves: music, sound-audio
Review at Konichiwa Witches, on the "Bell" pages....
http://home.earthlink.net/~cumulo-nim...
...more
Steven
Apr 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great, just great. This book will change the way you listen to music. Greg Milner is a gifted storyteller and very good writer.
Aaron Arnold
Oct 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's easy for a 21st century music listener to forget that for the majority of human history, music appreciation has been an exclusively live, ephemeral, social affair - the serious music nerd with a vast album library, arcane tastes, and expensive headphones and speaker setup is purely an creature of the fruits of technological progress. Milner shows how the invention of sound recording technology had a transformational effect on how people interact with and appreciate music, from the early Edi ...more
Christopher
Apr 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 600-technology
I purchased this book probably around 2010. It has a different cover than what is shown here. I wanted to delve more into audiophile topics and investigate technical aspects of recording and Hi-Fi sound production. Parts of this book were fascinating, but in other areas I got lost in detail that seemed too finely grained for the breadth of this survey. It's the kind of detail you have to slog through and will promptly forget. Overall, I found the book rather interesting, but sometimes lost inter ...more
Lyubomir Vasilev
Simply brilliant. All the reviews on the covers actually do it justice. Hands down the best non-fiction book I’ve read. It flows week from start to finish and throughly and passionately well researched and explained. Unlike other non-fiction books, even though Greg Milner is a true and opinionated audio geek, he’s done really well to tell the story from all sides and leave room for the reader to think for himself.

Long story short, I can honestly say this book changed the way I view recorded mus
...more
Adam Osth
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
A really fascinating look at the history of recording and production from the beginning until today. The thesis is that the history of recording has been a tug-of-war between trends of capturing the spirit of a live recording versus making a recording that sounds good in and of itself. While it is a pretty complete history, the author is clearly an indie rock guy - he sure gives a lot of attention to Steve Albini throughout and comparatively much less to pioneers like Phil Spector, Sam Phillips, ...more
Chris
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
There is no denying the author has a great deal of knowledge of music recording, but I do not think he wrote a book that is approachable for a casual listener.

I enjoyed the chapter about the Lomaxes and their quest to record the music of different regions, but otherwise I found this book way too technical. I knew I was in trouble when I struggled to understand the concepts in the Thomas Edison chapter, so much of the book was a grind for me to read in the hopes it would become more approachable.
Vasil Kolev
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it
This book lacks depth. There are a lot of side stories and distractions, but stuff seems to be missing, or just explained without enough depth, without relevant details, and is mostly someone walking around and talking to people, even the structure is not as good as it should be.
Jonny Brick
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After an exhaustive survey of the birth of recorded sound, things pick up with modern recording techniques including compression, which explains why music made in the digital era sounds SO BLOODY LOUD.
Jehnie
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: academic, music
A very detailed book for a specific and small audience. But enough entertaining and fascinating tidbits woven throughout to keep me reading.
Chris Witt
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic read for audio nerds. Well-done book on the history of recorded sound. Almost makes me want to get back into the studio.

(Almost.)
Becca Daniels
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating in some parts, bit of a mansplanation in others
Chris Nagel
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
The butler did it.
Edu F.
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book which talks about the evolution simple and didactically for people not introduced un this magical world. 7.5/10
Alexandra
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
One of the best, most clear set of reasons and reflections I’ve ever read. Everything he writes is brilliant.
Luke
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first came to this book because of Jarvis Cocker's reading of an excerpt about how, physiologically, you perceive the drums in Led Zeppelin's 'When The Levee Breaks'. It was an excerpt - edited, as I've discovered, though not greatly - that ropes physics with the excitement that particular Foot-Of-God drum phrase invokes in a way which makes even non-Zep fans a bit excited.

You can hear it here. I'll wait.

Basically, if you liked that snippet and the way it conveys SCIENCE stuff in an easy-to-
...more
East Bay J
Sep 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: about-music
Wow. This is a killer read. I could just leave it at that but I’m not known for quite that much brevity, so…

With Perfecting Sound Forever, Greg Milner has tapped into the collective recording consciousness through an exploration of recording technology. From the very earliest forms like Edison’s talking machine and those first circular shellac discs, to the conundrum that is modern digital recording, he examines not only those technologies but also the effect they have on us as listeners and tha
...more
Joe
Apr 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book describes the history of attempts to produce better recorded sound -- and in doing so, it takes an interesting trip through the history and technology of recording itself.

Milner starts off at the beginning of recorded sound. This was the part of the book I found most interesting, and had the most history that was new to me. I think many people are familiar with discussions of the quality of analog or digital sound reproduction -- records or CDs -- but it was fascinating to see how that
...more
Alexander Miles
This was an interesting non-fiction pick. It started off a bit pretentious, but when it got into the history it really started to shine. There are one or two passages where the author attempts to touch on more scientific aspects and ends up painfully out of their depth, but these are rare exceptions. The vast majority of the book is written expertly, citing examples and providing quotes from the various personalities. The author's voice is entertainingly sardonic when appropriate, and other time ...more
Alex Orr
Aug 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
The chapter analyzing digital compression and the loudness wars is reason enough to recommend this to all serious music fans, though, thankfully, it is consistently entertaining and educational. I think the biggest revelation for me was just how much of a constant flux the recording, mechanical preservation, reproduction, and commercial distribution of sound was in throughout the 20th century. It's easy to think that sudden changes, such as tape over vinyl, digital, and multi-track studios were ...more
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Greg Milner is the author of Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His forthcoming book, Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture and Our Minds, will be published by WW Norton in May 2016. Milner is also theco-author, with filmmaker Joe Berlinger, of Metallica: This Monster Lives. A former editor at Spin, his w ...more

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“When you have two notes from two different performances Auto-Tuned, it sounds like a car horn. And then you add harmonies, and it starts to sound like baby seals honking." - Tom Lord-Alge on Auto-Tune” 3 likes
“This is... an attempt to find some of the important fault lines in the narrative of "recorded history"--the points where people with access to the technology decided that *this* was how recordings should sound, and *this* is what it means to make a record. Ultimately, this is the story of what it means to make a recording of music--a *representation* of music--and declare it to be music itself.” 2 likes
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