Wednesday 28 July 2021



The Apple+ series includes music and conversations with Paul McCartney, members of the Beastie Boys, DJ Premier of Gang Starr and '80s icon Gary Numan.
Mark Ronson is best known for  “Uptown Funk,” his hit single with Bruno Mars, but the producer’s fingerprints have been all over music in the 21st century. He’s won seven Grammy Awards and an Oscar for his work with artists such as Mars, Amy Winehouse, and Lady Gaga.

Now Ronson is providing a look at the process as the host of Apple TV+’s “Watch the Sound” docuseries. Each episode tackles a different piece of music technology: autotune, sampling, reverb, synthesizers, drum machines, and distortion.
Ronson mixes personal stories about the music of his childhood (his stepfather is Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones) and his working life as well as interviews and side trips, like the one Ronson takes to the Inchindown Oil Tanks in Scotland, home to the longest reverberation in any manmade structure.
The highlight for many fans, however, will be Ronson talking and making music with guests including Paul McCartney, Kevin Parker from Tame Impala, members of the Beastie Boys, 80’s new wave icon Gary Numan (who seems surprised and flattered to get his historical due) and Gang Starr’s DJ Premier, a personal favorite of Ronson.

Ronson spoke last week about discussing synths with Parker, distortion with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, and the voice of John Lennon with both Paul McCartney and Sean Ono Lennon.

Q. Who is the audience for this? Are you looking to entertain casual music fans or inspire and educate musicians?
Of course, I want it the music fan — whether they like King Princess or The Beatles — to say, ‘Oh wow, so that’s how they did that.’ But I also really want musicians to say, ‘I’m going to try that next time I fire up my laptop.’

Q. How did you pick the topics for each episode?
[Executive producer] Morgan Neville and I talked about the way technology has revolutionized the music that we love. Morgan said this had to be through my lens so it was all things I’ve used in my work and love or have come to love. I hated autotune at first but have changed my tune, so to speak.

I can’t tell you if these are the most important tools ever but they seem to cover a lot of eras:

Reverb was one of the first. When there weren’t a lot of technological tools, the reverb on Elvis’ voice made songs like “Love Me Tender” iconic. With distortion, you think about how The Kinks sliced the speaker cones on their amps for “You Really Got Me.” It would have sounded like a jangly Beatles wanna-be song, but instead, it’s “De-nanna, ne na,” this razor-sharp thing. Then in the 1970s, you get into synthesizers and then sampling in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Autotune is the most defining characteristic of music in the 21st century.

Q. You seemed to really enjoy every part of the experience, like going all the way down into that tunnel in Scotland to experiment with long reverb.

That was amazing. I didn’t know it existed and it was so much fun to go in there. I have these reverb plug-ins on my computer and I just thought they were designed from algorithms. I had no idea someone was going underground and mapping these things out.

Q. Was it easy to get the guests to talk about their process?

I’ve probably worked with 80 percent of the featured artists. When I’m alone with Kevin Parker, we talk very openly about the synths and what the settings are, but there is a huge mystique around the Tame Impala sound, so you want to hoard those secrets. I had to ask, ‘Are you cool talking about this on camera?’

When Queens of the Stone Age’s “Songs for the Deaf” came out it, was so mind-blowingly awesome they started covering their gear in blankets because other bands would come around at their shows to try to get a look at what gear they were using to get that distortion. People would guess, ‘It’s an old pedal from the ‘30s’ or ‘It’s this mixed with that’ but it’s a freakin’ Peavy from the 80s you can acquire at any store. And it’s so cool Josh is on TV for the first time saying, ‘This is the sound that no one knows.’ I felt constantly giddy that everyone was so open and generous in talking about what they do.
Q. One of my favorite moments was you sitting with Sean Ono Lennon and re-imagining his father’s sparely produced “Hold On” with the layering of Harmony Engine plug-in.

That scene was really touching. It was a pretty big ask as a friend to say, ‘Hey, do you mind taking this thing that’s almost holy material at this point — your dad’s voice — and manipulating it?’

It is kind of crazy to put John Lennon’s voice through Harmony Engine and these modern tools.

The idea came when Paul McCartney says if John was around today he’d use autotune because he loved to play with his voice. Morgan had the idea to go with Sean and see if he’d essentially jam with his dad. It was a lovely moment.
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