Cover image for The poetics of rock : cutting tracks, making records
The poetics of rock : cutting tracks, making records
Zak, Albin.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvii, 259 pages ; 23 cm
Reading Level:
1450 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML3534 .Z35 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



After a hundred years of recording, the process of making records is still mysterious to most people who listen to them. Records hold a fundamental place in the dynamics of modern musical life, but what do they represent? Are they documents? Snapshots? Artworks? Fetishes? Commodities? Conveniences? The Poetics of Rock is a fascinating exploration of recording consciousness and compositional process from the perspective of those who make records. In it, Albin Zak examines the crucial roles played by recording technologies in the construction of rock music and shows how songwriters, musicians, engineers, and producers contribute to the creative project, and how they all leave their mark on the finished work.

Zak shapes an image of the compositional milieu by exploring its elements and discussing the issues and concerns faced by artists. Using their testimony to illuminate the nature of record making and of records themselves, he shows that the art of making rock records is a collaborative compositional process that includes many skills and sensibilities not traditionally associated with musical composition. Zak connects all the topics--whether technical, conceptual, aesthetic, or historical--with specific artists and recordings and illustrates them with citations from artists and with musical examples. In lively and engaging prose, The Poetics of Rock brilliantly illustrates how the musical energy from a moment of human expression translates into a musical work wrought in sound.

Author Notes

Albin J. Zak III is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Michigan School of Music. He is also a songwriter, a recordist, and editor of The Velvet Underground Companion: Four Decades of Commentary (1997)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Based on superior dissertation research informed by respected scholars in aesthetics, musicology, ethnomusicology, and popular music study (e.g., Langer, Treitler, Blum, Feld, Manuel), Zak's book references dozens of songwriters, arrangers, performers, engineers, and producers. Zak reviews recorded music's impact on musical thinking and the development of rock music and its three components: song (words, melody, chords), musical arrangement (setting, instrumentation), and track (the recording itself). Breaking the process of rock composition into five aesthetic considerations (performance, timbre, echo, ambience, and texture), Zak (Keele Univ., UK) cites dozens of recordings to support this introduction to understanding "laying down tracks." He explores the electronic tools and architecture of the studio, emphasizing the synergistic teamwork of human and inanimate forces in the production of a recording. The book moves from performance to mixdown (the combining of discrete forces while making decisions regarding the proportions of each), discussing the crucial though often mysterious roles of producers and engineers that result in "magic"--the transformation of a performance into a transcendent aesthetic object that can be transmitted and retransmitted, taking on a power of its own. A dense and nutritious blend of facts and history seasoned with well-grounded philosophical musings, this book will serve upper-division undergraduates through faculty, professionals, and general readers. V. Giglio Florida Atlantic University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
1. Writing Recordsp. 1
2. Tracksp. 24
3. Sound as Formp. 48
4. Places and Toolsp. 97
5. Tracking and Mixingp. 128
6. Engineers and Producersp. 163
7. Resonancep. 184
Notesp. 199
Glossaryp. 221
Engineer and Producer Creditsp. 225
Recordings Citedp. 237
Bibliographyp. 241
Indexp. 247