Thursday, 8 November 2012

Sonic wrestling

There has been a fair degree of sonic wrestling with the new Future Loss material.

Some of the sounds captured from the last session were not pretty.  The kick mic fell over, meaning I lost all my high end 'click' detail on this particular part of the kit.  The bass tone was uniformly awful:  James' Ashdown amp and Fender Precision guitar created this perfect storm of mid-heavy flap and low definition.  The guitar at times became so white it blended into the background wash of noise.  The size of the room meant my vocals bled heavily onto the drum overheads; in fact everything bled into everything else.

The players were only recently familiar with the material; having jammed it out for the first time minutes before the record button was pressed.  As a group, we lacked the opportunity to play together for a sustained period of time prior to the recording, so our dynamic and musical relationship was also hurried and makeshift.

Technical issues, such as tuning, up to date lyric sheets, and Ribena-based refreshments were also absent.

What this ensured was several gigabytes of muddy, slushy psych gloom.  No amount of mixing trickery (gating the kick to get a 'click', adding an amp emulator to the bass feed to get some high-end grit, using the left drum overhead microphone to establish the lead vocal volume rather than the direct feed itself) will disguise the less than glamourous environs in which it was recorded.

This is the sound of mediocre amps and guitars, far from primed for optimum sonic potential.  Said equipment has been placed in an acoustically hideous space, cramped and boxy, and left to hiss and hum.  The microphones have been hastily selected, positioned where bleed was inevitable.  And the people operating them have been feeling their way through the takes, fluffing notes and second guessing when the changes occur.

Finally, and most crucially, the producer was mentally AWOL during the recording, as he was trying to muster vocal performances worthy if the music.  So there were no reminders to tune, no moon gels for the skins on the kit, no repositioning of the vocal amp to prevent infraction on the overhead mics, and no special attention given to EQ-ing the guitar amps.

A masterclass, then, in how not to conduct a session.  And proof that with music of this nature, it must be got right at source.

Give me a big empty farm house, with the drums in the tiled hallway, the vocal booth in the soft-furnished sitting room, the four players within eyesight of one another, but with room to move.  And a fifth man to operate the controls, and provide Ribena between takes.  Now give me a week of rehearsals, and ribbon mics for the Fender MC-80 bass cabinet, and two RVD 15s for overheads.

It is frustrating to know what one needs to create a great sounding session, and to know what to do with the audio once it's captured; yet be faced with an uphill struggle mixing sludge that was tracked in less than ideal circumstances.  The passion and brilliance of the music gets subverted by the recording process, rather than exemplified by it.