Dr Sue Miller presents her Latin Music Research Project at the British Academy Summer Showcase
‘Latin music in the USA was booming in the 1950s and 1960s, with New York recording studios humming with the sounds of Cuban flute, tenor voices, charanga violins, congas, timbales, güiro, bass and piano. Over time the move from traditional recording techniques to new technologies changed the way this music was performed.’
Dr Sue Miller, Leeds Beckett University – BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants 2018-20
British Academy funding was awarded for this practice research collaborative project to Dr Sue Miller and Dr Paul Thompson (Leeds Beckett University, Leeds School of Arts) and involved the expertise of sound engineers Barkley McKay (Valleywood Studios/Leeds Beckett University) and Michael Ward (Leeds Beckett University ), industry specialists (Stewart Tavener of Xaudia http://xaudia.com/ ) and leading performers (Eddy Zervigón, Nestor Torres, Sue Miller and her band Charanga del Norte).
The project was devised in order to enable a more holistic narrative on Latin performance aesthetics and Latin music production history to emerge. The project was conceived by Dr Sue Miller as she felt it was important to bring to light the hidden histories of Latin music record production, bringing an important transnational genre (Cuban/Latin) into the historical narrative which has, to date, favoured Western Art Music and to a lesser extent jazz over other classical and vernacular forms.
Dr Sue Miller’s research project featured as part of the Bristish Academy’s virtual showcase which took place across 19-20 June 2020.. A live virtual showcase featured live and pre-recorded talks, performances and demonstrations bringing the best new humanaties and social science research to life for audiences at home. You can find recordings taken from the British Academy’s virtual summer showcase event via the British Academy’s YouTube channel.
‘This was an incredibly fun and fruitful experience from start to finish. From watching performances of live music in Havana, speaking to Cuban recording engineers and performers, to recreating some of the conditions musicians, engineers and producers would have experienced in the 1950s and 1960s in recording studios in New York and Havana. Using an archeological approach helped us to gain new insights into what might have happened during a recording session, and more importantly, why certain decisions were made. The starting point for us, or the archaeological data here, were the recordings that were produced in Havana and New York in the early 1960s; but a method of working backwards from the finished product, or reverse engineering, can only reveal a limited amount of what’s involved. Sourcing microphone technologies of the time and recreating the conditions of a recording session as closely as possible gave us an additional direction of analysis (Ingold, 2009) as the creative process was examined forwards.’
Dr Paul Thompson, Reader - Music, Sound and Performance
‘I was attracted to the idea because of the process of capturing tracks in one take and the framework imposed by the original ribbon mics. I wanted to honour these limitations by developing a similarly restrictive worthing method towards capturing the performances.
I've shot a lot of footage of bands recording in the studio and it can be quite frustrating, trying to anticipate when the magic will happen. I wanted to see if i could replicate the energy of the live session, with a free approach. The players were all set up for the optimum sound and for the recording, rather then with a performance and an audience in mind. I wanted to capture all of the signals and communication that occured between the players.
In the same way that the musicians had to weigh up the pursuit of perfection against a recorded take with the right energy, as sole operator of 3 cameras, what i sacrificed in terms of control and coverage, i hoped i would communicate through an authenticity and vitality (warts and all).’
Tim Blackwell, Senior Lecturer in Interactive Media and Broadcast Media Technologies BSc
Sue Miller is a Professor of Music, teaching on the undergraduate and postgraduate courses in music performance and production. She specialises in Cuban/Latin music, improvisation, music analysis and music history within the fields of performance, (ethno)musicology and popular music studies.