Highlights from the Tortoise 'ThinkIn' event in Studio Three #AbbeyRoad90

3rd December 2021

As part of our 90th anniversary celebrations, British news website Tortoise hosted a live and unscripted ‘Thinkin’ in Studio Three where they asked whether technology makes or breaks musical creativity.

Joined by Isabel Garvey, managing director of Abbey Road and Karim Fanous, innovation manager of Abbey Road Red, Tortoise editor David Taylor covers the innovations of the last 90 years and hones in on what’s afoot now from creator tools and AI, to augmented reality and the metaverse.

Here's a flavour of what they discussed.
 

“The Studios themselves are an innovation. We opened in 1931 and we were one of the first recording studios in Europe. For someone to buy a house in St. John’s Wood with a garden next door, and to imagine our three heritage studios, it’s just incredible because it didn’t exist as a concept, and yet they’re still being used today and still amazing spaces.” Isabel

 
Studio Three in particular has hosted many technological and musical innovations. The Beatles began sessions for Revolver there on 6 April 1966 - recording Tomorrow Never Knows, Got To Get You Into My Life, Paperback Writer, Rain, I’m Only Sleeping, and Yellow Submarine. Tomorrow Never Knows in particular marks a point when technology really began to shape The Beatles’ sound, as they incorporated things like automatic double tracking, varispeed and reversed tapes.
 

“It’s not, ‘There is technology in the room, therefore people are more creative’, it is driven by an artist’s vision of what they want to create. Then we use everything in the room and everything we can think of to make that happen.” Isabel

“When you listen back to a really innovative song like that, you can romanticise the creativity and the boundary pushing. We now feel incredibly comfortable with the things people were doing then, and when you apply the same set of critical faculties to something that’s just out this week there can be a reaction like, ‘Oh my god are you ruining music?’ I feel like we look back in a much more relaxed way than sometimes we do at the moment.” David

David’s colleague Seb asks, “Do you think going to the studio is irreplaceable? Can bedroom production pose a threat to people going to the studio?”

After noting many people’s isolated working circumstances in the past 18 months due to Covid, Isabel goes on to say, “As they come back into the studio there’s this kind of sigh like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is what creativity is about’. It’s about being in the room with people who understand your trade, understand what you’re trying to achieve. That human connectivity and firing of ideas off each other seems to be at the core of everybody’s work. In my view that is irreplaceable, there’s something so magical about it."


 
The Beatles were among the first to use synthesisers, using a Moog synth on Abbey Road in 1969. In 1972, Pink Floyd continued this popularisation by incorporating synths like the EMS VCS 3 on The Dark Side of the Moon (predominately recorded in Studio Three).
 

“The synth was seen, certainly in the real emergence of electronic music in the 80s, as killing traditional instruments, killing music, or somehow lacking.” David

“The way we look at it is, it’s an incredible instrument that lets you create any sound you would like very quickly, and access it easily. Isabel pointed out that the MU (Musician’s Union) actually wanted to ban the use of synthesisers in 1982. Which is incredible because of what came afterwards, the amazing genres that have been created and the sounds that we love today all due to synthesis.” Karim

 
 

“When we started looking at AI through our incubator (Abbey Road Red), which is now five or six years ago, there was a spook in the room. It was like, “These things are gonna start composing for us!” Now that we actually understand the technology a little better you realise that, actually, it's in that synth zone of enhancing creativity, making different types of music much more accessible. I just think it’s so interesting seeing the cycles of history repeating themselves and technology being scary for a while and then embraced.” Isabel

Tom, who writes all the music for Tortoise’s podcasts suggests, “There may come a time when AI might replace the low hanging fruit of commercial adverts or online things that need music and have quick turnarounds”.

“Is there a scary element to technology and what it can do? Yes, possibly. Could it replace elevator music? Yes. It might take out some of the low level background music in our lives but it’s also creating new music. If you think about Wellness as an example; we know of composers who have composed for a forum or an audience in a new genre that they never would have thought of before. So in as much as it’s taking away, it appears at the moment that it’s expanding at the same rate.” Isabel

“It’s the same in other tech sectors, it has to be used responsibly and you have to apply it responsibly. If you do then you’ll have good results, and if you don’t you’ll get confused or have too much choice, and it won’t lead to a good result.” Karim

Another audience member brings up streaming platform algorithms.
 

“We’re in that era of discovering what works for us and what doesn’t. We mustn’t sit back and let the algorithm rule because it’s there to be used. It’s your tool. If you don’t like it, try a different playlist. Try a different DSP.” Karim

 

“There’s now this thing called the Metaverse where we can have immersive audio experiences. These gaming consoles are so powerful. The audio processors in new consoles are as powerful as the actual main processor. We’re moving in to an era of immersive listening. The content is being piped in these formats as well.”

“We went from mono to stereo in this very building and we’re also making the transition to Atmos and immersive formats here.” Karim

David then asks about the future of live gigs.
 

“Yes they’ll happen in the metaverse, they’ll happen on the street, they’ll be live-streamed, they’ll be played in small venues, big venues. It’s added textures really. We’ll still enjoy listening in mono because some people want to create in mono, we’ll still enjoy listening in stereo because people are still creating in stereo. We’ll also enjoy our immersive experiences. It’s just opening up, there’s so much out there.” Karim

Listen to the full conversation here
 
 

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