Paul Thompson, Sue Miller, Barkley McKay (LEEDS BECKETT UNIVERSITY, UK)


Archaeological researchers are finding new ways to explore historical events, practices and processes. A particularly potent method is experimental archaeology, which involvescontrolled experimentation in order to answer specific questions. For researchers working in the fields of music performance and music production, this approach can help to gain new insights into what happened during a recording session, and more importantly, why certain decisions were made. The starting point, or the archaeological data here, are the recordings that were produced in Havana and New York in the late 1950s and late 1960s. A method of working backwards from the finished product, or reverse engineering, can only reveal some information of the processes involved however. Recreating the conditions of a recording session as closely as possible can provide an additional direction of analysis (Ingold, 2009) as the creative process is examined forwards. 

Bringing together performers, producers and engineers to record Cuban dance music repertoire from the late 1950s to mid 1960s, the following study offers another take on the aesthetics of engineering, production and performance (both inside and outside the recording studio) through the use of experiential archaeological methods to further examine the contributing factors of performance and production within the genre. Elements of the recording context for the original repertoire were recreated to investigate the influence of earlier recording technologies and studio practices. and to gain some insight into the interaction between musicians within the recorded Cuban Charanga tradition.
Paul Thompson is a professional recording engineer who has worked in the music industry for over 15 years. He is currently a Reader at Leeds Beckett University in Leeds School of the Arts and his research is centred on record production, audio education, popular music learning practices, creativity and cultural production in popular music. His book Creativity in the Recording Studio: Alternative Takes was published in early 2019 by Palgrave MacMillan.

Sue Miller is a Reader in Music at Leeds Beckett University. Specialising in Cuban popular music and improvisation her book Cuban Flute Style: Interpretation and Improvisation (Scarecrow Press, 2014) explores the role of influence in the development of a style. Her second book Improvising Sabor: Cuban Dance Music in New York (University Press of Mississippi, 2020) looks afresh at the history of Latin music in the USA. Her current British Academy funded research project employs experimental archaeology approaches to live studio performance. Sue is also a professional flute player and musical director of ‘Charanga del Norte.’
Barkley McKay is a professional musician, educator, engineer and producer. He has worked with artists as diverse as The Pretty Things, Crystal Gayle, Jon Langford, The Waco Brothers and The Mekons. He also owns (and built) a full analogue recording studio ‘Valley Wood Studio’, which has operated since 2000, working mostly in the acoustic and Jazz field. Clients have included Jaki Graham, Kirsty McGee, Matthew Bourne and Corrine Bailey-Rae. 

1 thought on “Paul Thompson, Sue Miller, Barkley McKay (LEEDS BECKETT UNIVERSITY, UK)”

  1. Really fascinating project, thanks for this, and I really enjoyed the collaborative approach as well. I look forward to seeing what else comes out of this down the line. All the Best, Justin

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