Gould - Zappa - Martin


Glenn Gould (1932-1982), Frank Zappa (1940-1993) and Sir George Martin (b. 1926) were three quite different artists who all saw the potential of the recording studio and devoted much, even nearly all, their careers to the use of the studio as a creative device.

Glenn Gould was a virtuoso concert pianist who gave up performing in 1964 because he preferred to work in the studio. He saw tape editing as part of the creative process, and positively embraced the use of dubbing to produce effects that are not possible in live performance. The second of his two recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, made in 1981, was the first digital recording issued by CBS. There is much documentation by and about Gould, including several documentaries and a film: Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould (1993, dir. Don McKellar). The Glenn Gould archive is also available online.

Frank Zappa managed to fuse many different musical styles and idioms during his prolific career, including rock, jazz, R&B, doo-wop, disco, reggae, new wave, serial and electronic music. The methods he used, even in live performance, were based on an almost obsessive use of the recording studio, where he developed unique techniques with many pieces of equipment. These included ‘xenochrony’ or, literally, ‘strange time’, which used a collection of material (usually guitar solos) as a kind of database to be accessed and included anywhere on an album. Many writers have discussed Zappa’s ‘intertextuality’ and his critical stance towards the ‘culture industry’ and Zappa himself gives an entertaining account of his career in The Real Frank Zappa Book (co-written with Peter Occhiogrosso).

George Martin is often called ‘the fifth Beatle’, because his mastery of the recording studio was so crucial to the sound produced by the ‘Fab Four’ as they moved increasingly towards studio albums. He worked with a vast array of other artists too, and may justly claim to be the most influential record producer of all time. There is so much documentation about his work that further discussion is largely unnecessary. However, at the time of writing, he (with his son Giles) has just issued ‘Love’, an experimental remix from original Beatles tapes. One way to start on this project, therefore, could be to compare tracks on ‘Love’ with the earlier Beatles albums.

The Project

Make a comparative critical study of the creative use of the recording studio by Glenn Gould, Frank Zappa and George Martin. Limit the study to one or perhaps two albums by each.


This implies a written or listening project but, if you are fortunate enough to have access to a recording studio, it can be done as a practical exercise in pastiche by emulating the use of the studio made by these masters. If you do not, then a full study of the recordings and documentation will be perfectly adequate to understand their contributions.