The Wonders of RecordingPosted: January 31, 2014
I spend most of my working life alone in a room and much of that is spent waiting for inspiration. Since there’s no-one else too consult or argue with I listen to the work in progress again and again, examining it from different angles to see what should be added or subtracted in order to make it right. My opinion’s gradually formed by the graduall accretion of listens.
As has always been clear, I’ve been keen to keep a certain element of chaos involved in the recording progress and that’s, actually, pretty easy for me to do. I don’t read or write music of course and, over many years, have approached recording in a way which evokes action painting as much as it does formal arrangement. Certainly, t’s rare for me to start off a song with *any* idea of where it’s going to end up. (At least, that’s the case in solo work – if I’m writing for VdGG I have the imagined musical voices of HB or Brain somewhere in mind….)
So, in fact, most of the time I have to guess what additions will contribute well to the current available musical space. Or, indeed, what will maintain the essential openness. I’ve never had any pretensions to virtuosity as a musician, so in turn I have to be aware of my technical limitations when it comes to what will be overdubbed. Blistering solos are rarelty the ideas which come to mind as being the best way to move a piece forward. Generally, though, I do have some idea of the sonic territory which I’m looking to expand on or into.
It has to be said, of course, that listening to any work-in-progress is heavily skewed towards whatever is the most recent musical addition. It’s this that’s presented in pride of place, even if, in fact, it’s *not* an essential architectural part. Always, though, there’s the knowledge that the final, finished, work will involve a degree of cramming together in order to find a coherent mix for the whole.
Most of my time, then, is gathered up in calm(-ish), gradual consideration. Sometimes, though, a lucky patch hits and I’m hurtled right back into the wonderful hurly-burly and instant gratification which is the real world of the studio. I had such a run a couple of days ago.
The piece I was working on was, to be honest, the one in the worst shape of any on this particular project atr the time. It had a guitar, a couplpe of pretty average and messy stabs at a bass pars and a gesture at lead vox…and, indeed, only rough lyrics. Such notes of prospective amendments as I had seemed to indicate redoing most, if not all, of these p[rts and beyond that I really wasn’t sure where to take it.
The timing was pretty sloppy too. I don’t mind that in principle – there’s always a bit of life in a straying beat – but in this case I’d started without any semblance at all main beat and hence it was all over the place.
So first I retrospectively added some various simple pulses. Having done so, fairly radical editing and shifting of the guitar part was in order. Suddenly it began to sound rather more promising. I even managed to salavage a coherent bass part out of the original efforts, by radically reducing the amount played. This was something of a result, as I’d imagined I’d have to start from scratch on the instrument.
I had enough now to feel much more confident about doing a proper vocal. It’s also the case (pretty obvious, I suppose) that when things are getting real in the L Vox stakes then the final lyrics are also forcing their way forward into the frame.
So suddenly the song was becoming a serious proposition.
So far, so normal, actually. What came in the next 48 hours, though, was really quite out of the ordinary.
I had an inkling that some B Vox might work and set to work in my usual fashion, experimenting with lines and positioning. Over a couple of hours I found a two-part harmony which ran right down the song, sometimes in agreement, sometimes in oppostion to, the main vocal. And in my normal way of working (this is one of the skills I *have* got) I tripled up each line. Very warm.
I also found a couple of places where the B Vox could go off completely on their own, both in the middle section of the song – which had been spectacularly empty up till this point – and in an extended coda, which was also completely new.
The piece was transformed and, perhaps more importantly, structurally sound.
Over the next day I had an inspired – or supremely lucky – period of recording. Every idea I came up with worked out spontaneously and immediately in terms of sound, instrument, approach. That’s prettty rare: usually one has to work through some erroneous first takes and misjudgements. Swiftly, I overdubbed sevral different parts, some purely sonic, using various keyboards and guitars. Each one of these was absolutely instinctive and improvisatory.
All of these dubs were in themselves fairly simple…the cumulative effect, though, was to make the piece fully complete. None of the dubs in themselves had totally altered the structure; but sometimes adding atmos and angle in the background ushers in major change in overall effect.
This is the wonder of recording. What had not been there at all two days before was now safe and complete. That’s why I still love and am fascinated by the studio process.
Still, after all these years, when I hit one of these passages I just keep hitting that replay button going “well, where did all that come from?”.
Yet there it is.