Music's Latest `Cord'

FOR many of us who grew up loving music (even if our parents called it caterwauling) and intrigued by meters, knobs, and flashing lights, recording studios have held a special allure.

If it wasn't the prospect of sitting behind the master console, it was being present during the creative process that turned - or so the hope was - a group of scruffy musicians into a hard-driving, chart-busting sensation.

All of which has prompted at least one set of eyebrows here to rise at the news that studios are adding the humble telephone line to their inventories of high-fidelity recording equipment.

Through digital and fiber-optic technology, 50 studios have been linked via the Entertainment Digital Network, set up in 1992 by George Lucas of ``Star Wars'' fame. One current project involves a new Frank Sinatra compact disc. Ole Blue Eyes lays down the main voice track in one studio in Los Angeles, Aretha Franklin ``uploads'' her contribution from Detroit, as does Liza Minnelli from Brazil. One demonstration reportedly had musicians in L.A. playing behind a vocalist in Miami, with the session recorded in New York.

At one level, this is another instance of digital technology allowing for geographic dispersion of the work force. Artists have an easier time scheduling sessions if they don't have to fly to a studio thousands of miles away. Producers can send material to other studios instantly. And studio time becomes easier to juggle if one needn't wait for artists to arrive from far-flung places. (Says one producer: ``You can go nuts waiting for artists.'')

This leaves us wondering about the intangibles of a performance: that extra verve that comes once the music begins and only when artists are face to face. Yet no Luddites, we. Let the lines hum, especially if the reduced time and expense of producing a record translate into lower CD prices.

At this rate, it won't be long before a portable studio can be hooked into a pay phone. Just be careful with those collect calls:

``Your three minutes are up; please deposit 25 cents.''

``(Sigh) `I Did It My Way take four.''

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