Changing the Artistic Intent

The world is full of creative people. It takes training, experience, craft and inspiration…and sometimes money…to produce something that has artistic merit. There are traditional arts such as painting, sculpture, music, theater and poetry. But artists express themselves in more commercial enterprises as well. While I marvel at the musical output of composers such as Bach (my all time favorite), Beethoven, Stravinsky and Adams, I also appreciate the genius that can be clearly seen in the works of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles and Peter Gabriel. The inner spark that makes someone pursue an artistic life can be found in a very wide array of individuals and across a variety of disciplines.

So after examining the DSEE process from Sony (and their are others by Yamaha and Denon) and the aggressive timbral and dynamic modifications that the Max Sound Company offers with its process of “music enhancement”, I started wondering about the relationship of the original creative product and any subsequent “enhancements” that a particular creative work might undergo. There is an important difference between the motivations behind the DSEE process and that from MAX-D.

When a creative work is completed and offered to the public, I think it’s safe to assume that the artist believes it requires no additional changes. This is true for music, film, the visual arts and written words. I know there are certainly cases where artists have gone back and changed the original and reissued a new version but let’s put that aside for now.

There are processes such as DSEE that are designed to “restore” a music track back to its original fidelity. When the CD or final release format was made available for sale, it was what it was. The fidelity of that selection met the artistic requirements of the creators (subject to commercial norms and business demands in many cases AND of course, the technical limitations of the era). The fidelity was what it was.

In the case of online or web-based digital files and cost effective distribution, the original music track is compressed and undergoes a format change. Some of the original “artistic intent” is lost. Most artists are not pleased about this but understand and accept the limitations of the technology. The DSEE process makes an attempt at restoring the sonics after the change to MP3 or AAC. Programs like No Noise from Sonic Solutions allowed me to scrub layers of noise out of older recordings…restoring a Nat King Cole recording or wiping a layer of grim off a Renaissance painting is at least attempting to bring the original artistic intent back.

However, when the process simply uses the original creation as fodder for further “enhancement”, I think it’s a hit or miss undertaking. Is colorizing a black and white movie an acceptable thing to do to a classic film? Do you think Frank Capra would approve? How about taking the “Wizard of Oz” and painstakingly turning it into a 3D film?

The sound of an individual musical track can certainly be altered after it’s released. I’m sure we’ll all played with the treble and bass controls on our playback equipment. I know there are some AIX customers that add reverberation to my recordings because they find them a little dry. That’s not my intent but I’m certainly not going to put warning stickers on my discs that say the fidelity police will come knocking if you change anything.

But we should all be sensitive to the original artistic intent of those people involved in producing art. Maybe, just maybe the experience they intended is really the best one.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

One thought on “Changing the Artistic Intent

  • January 7, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    I actually posted this in another thread earlier tonight and just read todays nugget and think that maybe this is somewhat related.

    I guess the idea of “Mastering” escapes me in the digital age. I believe that when lacquers are cut for vinyl, there is something to be gained by reducing bass and removing it from the difference channel that can compensate for vinyl limitations and lesser quality playback devices; i.e., cheaper turntables/cartridges, etc. I remember a James Taylor LP (Gorilla?) that was always returned to the record store because it skipped on inferior playback equipment. But in the digital domain I just don’t see the need for mastering at all – the source the way the artist and producer wanted it. Even the cheapest CD player can use all 16 bits (well, most of them). Does the mastering engineer know better? Maybe I don’t understand what “mastering” is…

    But if it changes the sound of what the creator submitted, isn’t this just another enhancement. Worse yet, it’s one we cannot undo.



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