Wednesday 6th May 2020 – 6pm UK Time (GMT +1hr)

Andrew Bourbon (University of Huddersfield) and Simon Zagorski-Thomas (University of West London)

This presentation takes our previous work on Sonic Cartoons – the idea of recorded music as schematic representations of musical activity – and looks at how it can be used as a practical tool for both teaching and practice in this area (Zagorski-Thomas, 2014; Bourbon and Zagorski-Thomas, 2017). The theoretical basis of this approach can be distilled down to the idea that musical meaning grows out of the way that the sound of a person or persons performing some activity in some way (with or without some instrument or tool) in a space (Gibson, 1979; Clarke, 2005) affords either empathic or metaphorical meaning (Lakoff and Johnson, 2003). We break this down into five perceived features: the agent or agents, the type of energy being expended, the level of energy being expended, the materiality of the tool or instrument and the spatial characteristics (Schaeffer, 1977; Smalley, 1997; Zagorski-Thomas, 2018).

We will run through some practical examples of how we can think of production tools through the prism of the musical and perceptual features that we are seeking to manipulate – and the musical reasons for doing that. While Zagorski-Thomas’ work on Sonic Cartoons in the past has focused on the analysis of musical examples, this phase is about the practicalities of tool use. This presentation will focus on the ways in which the various dimensions of the perception of space  (e.g. reverb length, volume, direction, compression, bass, pre-delay etc) can be suggested and manipulated through schematic representation. The aim is not to explain techniques that you can all go away and look up in text books and interviews but to explore and demonstrate how we build connections between musical strategies and production strategies. This enables practitioners and students to use the theory to select from a range of tools and techniques that will achieve specific and explicit musical aims.

This is part of larger book project which aims to steer the literature on mixing away from a focus on tool parameters and towards musical meaning through the broader theoretical notion of Sonic Cartoons (Zagorski-Thomas, 2014).


Bourbon, A. and Zagorski-Thomas, S. (2017) ‘The Ecological Approach To Mixing Audio: agency, activity and environment in the process of audio staging’, Journal on the Art of Record Production, 11. Available at: (Accessed: 10 February 2018).

Clarke, E. F. (2005) Ways of Listening: An Ecological Approach to the Perception of Musical Meaning. Oxford University Press, USA.

Gibson, J. J. (1979) The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Psychology Press.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (2003) Metaphors We Live By. 2nd edn. University Of Chicago Press.

Schaeffer, P. (1977) Traité des objets musicaux. Paris: Le Seuil.

Smalley, D. (1997) ‘Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes’, Organised Sound, 2(2), pp. 107–126.

Zagorski-Thomas, S. (2014) The Musicology of Record Production. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zagorski-Thomas, S. (2018) ‘The Spectromorphology Of Recorded Popular Music: the shaping of sonic cartoons through record production’, in Fink, R., O’Brien, M. L., and Wallmark, Z. (eds) The Relentless Pursuit Of Tone: Timbre In Popular Music. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.