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Paul McCartney: Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road banner
Paul McCartney (photo by Richard Haughton)
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Besides the tape recorders, there were filters and limiters and compressors, all electronic devices to alter the nature of the sound. You could eliminate frequencies in such a way as to completely transform the sound of an instrument or disallow frequencies above and/or below a given range. These devices not only existed as recording studio tools but also began to appear as specialized effects boxes for electric guitars, modifying the signal coming out of the instrument before it headed to the amplifier. One of the most popular was the fuzztone, used to great effect by the Rolling Stones on "Satisfaction."

As Paul McCartney mentions in the program, the Beatles used a four-track recorder to "ping-pong" new tracks onto old ones, which resulted in compression and distortion that sounded good to the band. Their album SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND is a testament to what could be done with a four-track recorder and in collaboration with a gifted man like George Martin, who understood both their artistic needs and the technical means to realize them. At the time, it would have been absolutely impossible to reproduce the vast majority of music on REVOLVER or SGT. PEPPER in a live show.

Naturally, once this music hit the streets and other musicians heard it, they eagerly set about trying to do the same thing themselves. In the United States, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys had been following a roughly parallel track -- it was the Beach Boys' PET SOUNDS that had inspired Paul McCartney to urge his bandmates to greater experimentation. Pretty soon, under the catchall banner of psychedelia, loads of bands were experimenting with studio techniques.

The electronics industry, for its part, realized there was a market for sound-altering equipment for both the stage and the studio and cranked out devices -- the wah-wah pedal, the phaser -- that made it easier to create special effects. The industry was also miniaturizing and simplifying recording gear, so by the time McCartney made his first two solo albums after the Beatles' demise, he could record at his home studio -- something unthinkable just a few years earlier.

Today, the concept of the recording studio as an instrument is taken for granted, as is home recording. I recently interviewed a band that had made a very well-produced album, filled with strange effects and studio tricks, in the living room of one of its members. "You can buy stuff for under a thousand dollars," he told me, "that does more than all the stuff the Beatles had available to them when they made SGT. PEPPER." And, of course, hip-hop and electronic dance music is purely studio music, which reverses the old dilemma of how best to reproduce the live sound on a record. Now, the problem is how to get a live performance to sound like the studio creation.

So for the guy who was there at the beginning of the transformation of the recording process to explain and demonstrate how it's done, what better venue than the recording studio where it happened? Paul McCartney and Abbey Road Studios, old friends, together again.

Top banner photos: Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney

McCartney was knighted by the Queen of England in 1997.

McCartney performing in Studio 2

The Beatles recorded at Abbey Road from 1962 to 1969.

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