Orchestration as a Prototype of Mixing.

The art of arranging, orchestration and finally orchestral conducting, deeply rooted in music, can also be understood as 'acoustic proto-mixing'. These disciplines, in fact, besides being focused on rhythmic and harmonic aspects, had the crucial task of balancing different instruments and sections, avoiding the phenomenon of 'masking' the timbral colour or, worse, the very notes of certain musical parts.

Composers and orchestrators, well aware of the dangers of masking, developed specific criteria using different pauses, dynamics and octave registers to ensure clarity and definition.

The role of the conductor was also fundamental: his trained ear, combined with the use of gesture, ensured a dynamic balance between the elements. This ancestral form of mixing control also relied on the sensory acuity of the performing musicians, who actively contributed to the overall dynamism of the performance mix.

The advent of amplification and recording technologies gave rise to new methodologies and the role of the sound engineer, understood in part as a modern conductor at the mixing console, capable of modulating volumes and tonal and even dynamic characteristics of sounds.

The Origins of Mixing

The origins of recording are simple and rudimentary; the art director would position the performers in the studio, controlling the acoustic balance of volumes as in a concert. Modern technical tools such as equalisers and compressors did not yet exist and the concept of the sound engineer was only beginning to take shape.

Later, multi-track technologies revolutionised the art of mixing, allowing detailed, precise and creative manipulation of sounds.

Multitrack Evolution and Post Production

Technological innovation has walked hand in hand with the evolution of mixing in the 20th century. The introduction of the multitrack recorder in the 1960s marked the beginning of modern mixing, with the emergence of devices such as equalisers, compressors and reverbs becoming key tools in recording studios. Increasing console sizes and expanding tracks allowed more precise control over sound, elevating the art of mixing to new levels of sophistication.

The digital tape

The 1990s marked a turning point in the music scene. Music, in its various stages, from creation to distribution, underwent a profound metamorphosis thanks to digital sampling and computers, which became major players in this decade. Digital tape recorders pioneered the transition, changing the way sound was acquired, although processing and mixing techniques remained largely unchanged.

The digital era, however, did not suppress the importance of analogue consoles, which, despite their limitations, retained a central role, offering programmable and automated control over track volumes through complicated VCA controls. These analogue devices evolved, motorising the volume control faders for greater mix precision.

Despite the innovations, the final mix was often (but not always) transferred to a traditional type of magnetic tape, maintaining an analogue component in the audio-music production process. Magnetic tape 'pizzas' were still essential in the recording industry, serving as a physical medium in the distribution of music.

Daw and home studio

The digital revolution continued with the introduction of real-time digital audio processors, initially embodied by Pro Tools III in 1994.

These early systems were related to dedicated DSP cards external to the computer, which allowed for great audio signal processing power, while relying on PC processors that were not yet highly performing. Cubase, introduced by Steinberg in 1996 in the form of MIDI-only processing and later also audio through the advent of VST systems, was the first system to allow real-time audio processing using only a computer's CPU, offering a simpler and more accessible alternative for musicians.

These developments led to the emergence of 'home studios', a term coined to describe home recording systems that became increasingly accessible and compact. Although home studios could not yet compete with professional studios in terms of quality and variety of processes, the removal of barriers to access to audio quality and control made music recording a more accessible activity.

Technological advancement has continued to make great strides: nowadays, a modern DAW (long adopted also by large production studios) can easily handle a variety of plugins and stereo reverbs, making home music production even more fascinating and versatile. The proliferation of high-quality plug-ins and the constant evolution of digital technology suggest a future where the possibilities will be endless.

Professional studios still maintain a qualitative advantage thanks to their large operating spaces, reliable acoustics provided by expert designers and the know-how of professional sound engineers; however, home studios, thanks to the excellent price-performance ratio of DAWs, are increasingly narrowing the gap, further 'democratising' the world of music production.

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