Martin Birch - Catalyst: The Pivotal Role of Deep Purple’s Sound Engineer on the Classic Mk. 2 Albums

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Few people would dispute the role of music technology and production on the aesthetic qualities of metal music. In the more than fifty-year history of the genre, metal music has become ‘heavier’ and increasingly hyper-real, with advances in technology and its use driving the genre’s evolution. However, the role of audio engineers and record producers, who were key to the genre’s development, is easily overlooked in common perception. This chapter pays tribute to an overlooked figure in the genre’s history: Martin Birch, the sound engineer and later co-producer of the classic Mk. 2 Deep Purple records between 1970 and 1976. From his early collaboration with the band as an engineer for their 1969 album Concerto for Group and Orchestra to the 1976 output Who Do We Think We Are, Birch not only gained the band’s trust but effectively became their fifth member. Birch’s outstanding engineering abilities aside, his role has frequently been described as a ‘catalyst’ by Purple and other bands he worked with over an extended period of time. The aim of this chapter is twofold: first, it documents Birch’s role and influence on Deep Purple’s classic albums; second, it analyses Birch’s sonic signature and determines his contribution to the emerging art form of engineering heavy metal in its formative phase in the first half of the 1970s. The findings illustrate the technical challenges of creating metal music’s crucial aesthetic criteria on record, such as heaviness and aggressiveness, representing the band’s live characteristics and personality, as heard on Purple’s studio albums and influential live record Made in Japan (1972). In the absence of engineering documentation, the sonic analysis is achieved through close listening to Deep Purple’s classic records, as well as comparison with other seminal records – by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, for example – from the period. Birch’s role in Deep Purple’s musical development is, in turn, explored through artist interview statements and journalistic coverage of his work.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWho Do We Think They Are?
Subtitle of host publicationDeep Purple and Metal Studies
EditorsAndy R. Brown
PublisherEquinox Publishing
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2 Jun 2022

Publication series

NameStudies In Popular Music
PublisherEquinox Publishing


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