Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music – Review

I first read this when it came out in 2010, but I’ve re-read it a couple of times since. Why? It’s a fascinating and compelling story of the way recorded music has evolved. The real strength of Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music by Greg Milner is that while it is a reasonably technical and dry subject matter,it is presented in an entertaining and well written style – the kind of thing you’d find in a music magazine rather than as a thesis.

The book kicks off with the very discovery of how to record sound and then works it’s way through Thomas Edison’s developments right through to vinyl, CDs and digital files. The most interesting element of the book to me is the way that the whole recording processed has been reversed over time. Originally the goal was to capture a live performance as accurately as possible – these days recorded music, via the skills of producers and engineers using things like Pro Tools and digital samplers are now creating recordings that are not even possible to recreate live.

Some key areas covered include the war time “discovery” of magnetic tape as a recording medium, the emergence of the compact disc, the volume wars of the ‘90s, the emergence of the compact disc, and the assembly of music one note at a time.

About the only knock against the book is that Milner focuses on rock and pop rather than looking into the world of classical and jazz. Now for me that is actually a positive, but be aware that I have seen reviews where people have complained about it.

Overall I can’t say enough about this one – a great read for even the casual music listener.

There are some excellent comments from reviewers at Amazon that I like so much I thought I might as well share them here too!:

Perfecting Sound Forever is an exhaustively researched, extraordinarily inquisitive book that dissects the central question within all music criticism: When we say that something sounds good, what are we really saying? And perhaps more importantly, what are we really hearing?” —CHUCK KLOSTERMAN
“A compelling look at the birth and evolution of recording, and how it changed the way the world hears itself.” —MARC WEINGARTEN, Los Angeles Times
“Greg Milner tells the story of recorded music with novelistic verve, ferocious attention to detail, and a soulful ambivalence about our quest for sonic perfection. He shows how great recordings come about not through advances in technology but through a love of the art, and that same love is the motor of his prose.” —ALEX ROSS, author of The Rest Is Noise
“You may never listen to Lady Gaga the same way again . . . [Milner is] a gifted storyteller with an ear for absurdity . . . You might not think a book about reverb could thrill. Milner’s does.”—MIKAEL WOOD, Time Out New York
“Very, very, very few books will change the way you listen to music. This is one such book. Read it.” —JARVIS COCKER

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