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Mark Ronson Arrives at the Intersection of Music and Technology in ‘Watch The Sound’

The new docuseries sees the master producer roam the globe and shine a light on sonic experiments that made history

Anurag Tagat Aug 04, 2021

A still from 'Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson.' Photo: Courtesy of Apple TV+

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Across the course of six episodes, Watch The Sound with Mark Ronson makes a strong case for just how timeless some music innovations can be. Although there’s no number we can put on the specific kinds of technology or techniques which have aided musicians, this new docuseries airing on Apple TV+ hones in on the invention of Auto-Tune, sampling, reverb, synths, drum machines and distortion as their key concerns.

Produced by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?), Watch The Sound sees Ronson dive into connections old and new in the music world – from Paul McCartney to the Beastie Boys, DJ Premier and Charli XCX, among others. Breaking down the origin behind each of these game-changing music tools, the series feels like it’s meant for producers and gear nerds, at best being just about accessible to the regular music listener keen to learn more.

Through the course of six episodes, Ronson joins DJ Premier to understand sampling, sits with Angel Olsen as well as producer King Princess and Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi (at an unique sound art installation). Making his way into the town of Inchindown in Scotland, Ronson finds the “longest reverb in the world.” The series salutes lesser known figures who aided the development of synthesizer music, including women composers such as Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and Pauline Oliveros.

The producer’s personal stories also get mingled into the mix, as Ronson recounts his explorations at home with synths collected by his stepdad Mick Jones of rock group Foreigner. The present day relevance of Auto-Tune, drum machines like Roland TR-808 (which defines hip-hop sounds today) and distortion is looked into. The dangerous rise of distortion and heavy-duty amplifiers armed musicians to be grittier than ever before, as noted in conversations with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Kathleen Hanna from Riot grrrl frontrunners Bikini Kill. But then the series also shows how it’s helping rappers like Denzel Curry and beatmakers. Along the way, Ronson also created a song at the end of each episode, showcasing the tech as well as collaborating with the likes of McCartney, Santigold, Gary Numan and more.

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In a roundtable conference, Ronson answered a couple of Rolling Stone India‘s questions about Watch The Sound, including the making and intention of it.  

Watch the Sound seems to show us that no element of music innovation can ever truly be outdated. Was that the intention with this series?

I think the intention of the show was just to show that I wanted to make something that people who love music and technology and innovation and make music would really enjoy and people who just like listening to music and know nothing about the technology.

When we started to make the show, we discovered all these other things that were really interesting stories. So many of this great stuff actually came about by accident. Someone bought this machine ’cause it was supposed to do this and then Prince does the wrong thing and everybody goes, ‘That’s amazing’ and everybody does ‘the wrong thing’ with this machine now. Also, these machines, these tools gave people a way to express themselves in a way they didn’t know how to do that before. Distortion, Dave Grohl talks about how he didn’t know how to make the sound that would channel his emotions as a kid until he found that thing to go [imitates guitar noise]. We made this show to be educational and then the other things that came along the way were also really interesting.

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This series really tries to be as inclusive as possible – was that a challenge? Or do you feel like it doesn’t aspire to be all encompassing?

I think Morgan, the director, who’s done so many great documentaries about music and stuff, he said it when we finished, ‘It’s not going to be the all-encompassing thing because it’s through your lens’. Something might be more important to me… When I think of synthesizers, I think of Duran Duran first. Somebody else might think of Herbie Hancock or Depeche Mode first. But then I also thought it was important to include things that people might not know about. Like all the female composers from the Sixties onwards, who remain a bit unknown but were so impactful and important in pushing modern technology. Wendy Carlos – a trans woman – was the person who helped Bob Moog really develop the Moog and make it in such a mass way. I learned a lot during the making of it. The amazing research team, I learned a lot.

Watch the trailer for ‘Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson’ below. Stream it on Apple TV+.

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