Thursday, 18 May 2017

Thoughts on tuning, double tracking & contrast of style on an LP

Here's a reply I wrote to Grilly about his post here. I thought I'd repost my thoughts here for my own reference, as they felt substantial enough to warrant it.

Image result for double tracking images

I've never listened to Soundgarden, but now that I've read this - and listened to 'Fell On Black Days' - I might investigate further. Some thoughts on your post: - the "tuning of the guitar should suit the performer" is such an important realisation. It encourages the player from the get-go to abandon the normal constraints of received wisdom and how to do things "properly"... and understand music as a flexible and expressive medium that can adapt to any ability, taste or company. There are no right or wrong ways in its implementation. I felt I discovered this with the piano. I couldn't play it, but if I banged the bass notes really frantically with the pedal on, it made a fantastic sound that seemed to chime with how I was feeling when I did it. This seemed to me as valid as any dextrous part played in a Grade 9 piano exam. However, this point only really hit home when playing in my duo in London, where I was required (as the only one not playing drums) to play guitar and sing at the same time. Not being able to play guitar, nor able to do two things at once, in desperation I tuned the guitar to an open tuning and then just slid my finger along the fretboard in a big line to make different sounds. Later, I tuned most of the strings to the same note, to create a really thick, chorussy sound. It may not have sounded like much, but there I was, playing guitar - something I would never have thought possible, and all because these moveable pegs on the headstock had been utilised a little further than I had seen done in the past. It may not have sounded that good, but it felt incredible! - I agree with what you say about double tracking. It has always been a weakness of mine, so much so that in recent productions I have attempted to limit its use because I feel I am repeating past production methods... but it is a revelation the first time one does it. There is a depth and a richness, a quality, that is impossible to achieve in the live performance. It is something special for the recording rendition of the song alone. I also love how the depth is achieved not through any great artistry, but the tiny imperfections in the takes, and their respective differences between one another, that force the ear to pay attention. For this reason I find The Beatles' use of ADT (Automatic Double Tracking) really brittle and flat: there's none of the good stuff in there, reacting with a take that's slightly different. - having contrast between the styles of the songs throughout an album seems groundbreaking as an idea now, doesn't it? Yet back in the day when one actually sat and listened to the whole CD from start to finish, variation in tone was essential. One of my chief complaints of the cool, aloof and hopelessly affected touring bands that would pass through the proto-hipster venues of Newcastle's underground music scene in the late Noughties, was that all their songs, and all their records, sounded EXACTLY THE SAME throughout. They just fixed their aim on one particular sound, and then beat it out over countless tracks, albums and live sets. It was exhausting and boring to witness. Their repetition paid dividends, however: it made them easy to pigeon hole, and therefore easier to sell to a gig-going market. By the time you left the show, you were in no doubt what they were about, having been hammered with the same motif twelve times in 40 minutes; essential if you had spent the last half hour talking loudly at the bar and ordering fizzy beer in plastic cups, or were already too inebriated to realise that one song had ended and another identical piece had begun in its place. It did my head in, partly because it seemed like a prerequisite for "success" in the music industry world. As soon as anybody from these groups did anything remotely different or interesting, it was siphoned off into a side project, whereupon the repetition of this new particular style was done once more, under a new name. When I listen to an album (yes, some of us still do this!) I want to be taken on a journey, and end up somewhere different from where I began. This can't happen if the drums sound as though they've been mixed for the opening track and then all the settings have been copied and pasted en masse across the whole album mix, or the guitarist takes a solo after EVERY second chorus.