Thursday, May 26, 2005


Our first evening back in the newly renovated studio.

You might be forgiven for thinking that sound just goes from A to B: that it leaves its source and travels neatly to your ears in an orderly fashion but, ah, no. No, sound is a tricky little lizard. It hides. It wanders, loiters with intent, sulks, zips behind your back when you’re not looking. In any given room there will be traps, echoes, reverberations, hotspots. Sound will find them and screw up your plans accordingly. It doesn’t help matters that in a bout of inexplicable masochism some years ago angel tech chose a pair of speakers* as our principle monitors which are so flat, so harsh and unforgiving, that by the time it squeezes out of the cones any sound is so royally pissed off it will deliberately vandalise your mix. Snarling and fractious, it will either flop to the floor and play dead or shear the top of your head off in a fit of pique. “I didn’t put that frequency there!” you’ll exclaim, “It’s not my fault! Not my fault!”

Here’s the main problem: Before its redecoration the walls of the studio were covered in shelves full of CDs, videos, reel-to-reel tapes and musical instruments, rackmount units, little toy clowns, Geiger counters, stethoscopes, etc. These relatively complex surfaces and the generally absorbent nature of the material actually did the overall acoustics some good; with lots of clutter, the sound has a lot to 'deal' with… it quickly gets tired and stops acting the giddy goat. But now, post renovation and without the distracting mess, working in the studio is - sonically, at least - like working inside a giant cowbell.

Whilst annoying, it’s hardly the end of the world. Hanging a bunch of cushions or carpets in carefully chosen places around the room will create rudimentary versions of what are known as “Baffles” (so called because they confuse the sound into submission) and dampen the echoes. Knowing Doug’s DIY fetish this might even involve some clever-clever stuff with foam or varying lengths of wood. All I know is that by midnight last night we were successfully ignoring the room’s minor shortcomings and making full use of its pretty solid soundproofing. Warping, phasing multiple keyboard parts were played at volume into the small hours, and what might well be the last song to be added to the album’s playlist is now well under way.

*Yamaha NS10s, nearfield monitor fans! We’ve had to buy new cones** for these recently. In reggae sound systems you’ll often see that the cones have been deliberately ripped in order to give the bass frequencies a forceful pumping effect. However, I doubt they achieve this effect the way angel tech managed to: by merrily walking the speaker directly into a door handle. Long story.

**The cones are no longer made by Yamaha, and are pretty scarce. There’s a rumour that the paper they are made out of is cut from an endangered species of tree. Given that the Piano*** I inherited from my Grandfather (which I’m beginning to suspect has genuine ivory keys) has now been installed in the room above the studio, I’m estimating Doug and Mary’s house has now become 11% less ethically sound thanks to angel tech. Next, we’ll no doubt discover that Apple Macs are made from dolphins, or something.****

***It’s a beautiful instrument. Tom Waits once said that even a beaten-up, broken piano is infinitely playable. Whilst this one has a “Jerry Lee Lewis” factor of approximately 0.3 out of 10, (hammering it frantically with the fingering style of a grey elephant ain’t really gonna work) it’s a gentle, graceful thing. Perfect for those vaguely hymnal progressions***** and tentative, murky 4am tunes where the chords bleed into one another.

****This is how trouble starts. Someone, somewhere is going to google the phrase “APPLE MACS MADE FROM DOLPHINS,” it'll lead them here, and I’m gonna get sued. Listen: Apple Macs aren’t made from dolphins. Stop googling crap.

*****Speaking of hymnal progressions, alongside the Piano we took delivery of my parents’ Harmonium, a tallish foot-pump affair of the type you used to find in small parish churches. Its bass tones are exceptional, real rattle-the-windows, false-teeth falling-out type stuff. Doug and Mary’s 22-month old son Milo****** took to it instantly, and worked out how to use it in seconds. He stood, both feet on the foot-pumps, paddling away, reaching vainly for the keyboard. Of course, at his size, it looks as if he’s on the cross-trainer in a gothic gymnasium.

******Milo is influencing the LP in various subtle ways. The knock-on effect of having so many toy instruments to mess around with has given some of the album’s textures a child-like quality. We’ve even developed a process for recording Doug’s violin that can best be described as “one-man Suzuki orchestra.” The Suzuki technique teaches children to play an instrument in large groups, having them perform their scales, sketches and exercises in unison, and in the early stages of the learning process this often produces a dense, somehow rickety sound. We ape this by having Doug play his violin parts over and over again on a loop, recording every pass whilst slightly altering the mic location each time and getting Doug to throw in the odd deliberate mistake or odd tuning. It’s a sort of distortion… but without the blunderbuss of sheer volume. Of course, it also means you run out of hard-disc space about twenty times quicker than any normal, sane outfit would.


Post a Comment

<< Home