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Hardcover | $27.00 Short | £21.95 | 200 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 20 b&w illus. | February 2016 | ISBN: 9780262034142
eBook | $19.00 Short | February 2016 | ISBN: 9780262334440
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Digital Signatures

The Impact of Digitization on Popular Music Sound


Is digital production killing the soul of music? Is Auto-Tune the nadir of creative expression? Digital technology has changed not only how music is produced, distributed, and consumed but also—equally important but not often considered—how music sounds. In this book, Ragnhild Brøvig-Hanssen and Anne Danielsen examine the impact of digitization on the aesthetics of popular music. They investigate sonically distinctive “digital signatures”—musical moments when the use of digital technology is revealed to the listener. The particular signatures of digital mediation they examine include digital reverb and delay, MIDI and sampling, digital silence, the virtual cut-and-paste tool, digital glitches, microrhythmic manipulation, and autotuning—all of which they analyze in specific works by popular artists.

Combining technical and historical knowledge of music production with musical analyses, aesthetic interpretations, and theoretical discussions, Brøvig-Hanssen and Danielsen offer unique insights into how digitization has changed the sound of popular music and the listener’s experience of it. For example, they show how digital reverb and delay have allowed experimentation with spatiality by analyzing Kate Bush’s “Get Out of My House”; they examine the contrast between digital silence and the low-tech noises of tape hiss or vinyl crackle in Portishead’s “Stranger”; and they describe the development of Auto-Tune—at first a tool for pitch correction—into an artistic effect, citing work by various hip-hop artists, Bon Iver, and Lady Gaga.

About the Authors

Ragnhild Brøvig-Hanssen is Associate Professor in the Department of Musicology at the University of Oslo.

Anne Danielsen is Professor in the Department of Musicology at the University of Oslo.


Digital Signatures brings to light some of those processes that intervene between the invention of music and what is presented to listeners. In this it adds to the growing wealth of studies that address music technology and its mediation. This book, however, goes further than most others. Through a series of well-chosen case studies, it demonstrates how to bring digital sound manipulation within the orbit of music analysis, insisting that it is the musical effects of the use of technology that matter. In doing this, it emphasizes issues of musical meaning, which is what draws listeners to music in the first place.
Allan Moore, Professor Emeritus, University of Surrey; author of Rock: The Primary Text and Song Means

The authors offer an alternative and refreshing view of the uses and effects of recording technology through the original concept of ‘digital signatures.’ Each chapter’s analyses brilliantly illustrate the impact of digital signatures on the sounds and meanings of recorded popular music. A must for anyone interested in the poetics of music/technology interaction.
Serge Lacasse, Professor of Musicology, Université Laval

Digital Signatures offers a major contribution to our understanding of the mediating role of technology in the forging of contemporary popular music aesthetics. Framed by two thoughtful essays on the role of technology in pop, Digital Signatures presents a series of in-depth analyses of pop songs from the 1980s to the present, finding traces of the digital in the pulsating surfaces of popular music, its rhythms, sounds, and silences. Brøvig-Hanssen and Danielsen are as well versed in the tools of contemporary music production as they are in the methods of music theory and analysis. Their collaboration has resulted in a profound investigation into how we make and experience music in the digital age.
Paul Théberge, Canada Research Professor, Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture, Carleton University