“Most recordings were like jigsaw puzzles since the advent of wave-matching. Although some old fashioned conductors and performers still adhered to the old hit-and-miss methods, what usually happened these days was that a master was prepared, a blueprint for a particular performance, a sort of picture of the desired orchestral sound. This visual master could be easily transferred direct into sound, but, if it were, it would only be of interest to music students. It would be entirely too mechanical for anyone else.
When the master was complete, the orchestra would record the music and an automatic process of comparison would be carried out. The machines would ignore the nuances of expression and phrasing which they didn’t understand, but would point out the factual, measurable differences which they did—where the second trumpet played an E natural instead of an E flat, where the second violins swamped the first, where somebody in the woodwinds squeaked during a rest. The engineers, conductors, soloist if any, and supervisor would go over these points carefully, deciding what didn’t matter, what they preferred to be played to what was on the master, and what would have to be done again.
This system didn’t produce music of any greater artistic worth, it merely produced much more immaculate music much quicker.”
These are the words of Scottish writer J.T. McIntosh (the sci-fi pen name of James Murdoch MacGregor). It is an excerpt from a short story called “Immortality…For Some”, which was first published in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, in March of 1960.
This forgotten story that I found in an obscure book accurately predicts modern digital recording with shocking accuracy, including all of its strengths and drawbacks. This was 54 years ago, and about 30 years before any of these things came to exist in any practical way.
What he’s describing in the above excerpt is the essential concepts of MIDI, pitch and rhythm correction, and quantization, all of the foundational concepts of digital audio.
The amount of prescience he had about this is truly astounding to me. I love the fact that he also intuited that the digitization of the recording process wouldn’t necessarily produce aesthetically superior results.
We should pay more attention to speculative fiction.