Friday, August 20, 2004

I post my thoughts in other places on the web. Yesterday, we were discussing 'artifice' in recording music,.... Specifically where do we draw the line between documenting what an artist does, and artifice--making the recording sound as 'good' as possible.

The engineer/producer that I am corresponding with is Dan-O from Snake Oil Studios (contact at the end of this post). I met Dan-O at the Tape Op Conference in New Orleans last May. We found that we had a lot of common ground in our experiences and attitudes about our work so we have shared mixes, laughter, & some frustration with each other. Dan-O is right on, and if you are in his neck of the woods, you NEED to record with him.

Here's my post:

The artist, myself, and everyone that knows the artist intimately, all want the recording to be representative of 'what really happened' when the tape was rolling. They are sometimes in conflict because the best performance is not commercially acceptable, or artistically desirable (sometimes both! ).

EVERYONE ELSE ON THE PLANET COULD NOT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THAT CRITERIA OF EVALUATION! They want music that sounds 'good'. If the guitarist had to punch in (overdub) his solo, who cares (including the guitarist)? Punching in is an acceptable form of self expression now, but as recently as the late seventies, there was a HUGE contingent of recording artists who came up in the what-you-play-is-what-you-get generation of recording who thought that overdubbing was for pussies and signaled the end of 'quality' music and performance as we know it. (They were half right...)

Everyone else on the planet does not care if a singers voice was tuned on a bad note--hell, they won't even know about it! Ditto on the fact that most snare sounds you hear on pop records have been so processed that no snare drum will EVER sound like it in the 'real world'.

We do have musical markets that still adhere to standards of the 'musical documentary' such as jazz recording and classical recording. BUT, (and this is the height of hypocrisy, imo), both jazz and classical recordings are ALWAYS edited together from a bunch of different takes to assemble the most desirable playback experience. BTW, this is particularly true of 'live performance' CDs.

There are a lot of groups on the road offering CDR's of the night's performance that are, in fact, true documentaries. It is very cool to listen to them even though they do reveal the places where there were rough spots in the performance. As of today none of these have gone on to be best sellers in the commercial world.

As for the idea that we would use software to turn user parameters into musical composition, well, WTF, why not? I'm open to hearing the results. Is it any more weird than people who play records on turntables being considered composers & performing artists? What about bands that play live to pre-sequenced tracks that have been transposed & time aligned via software?

I like to return to the movie and glamour photography metaphors. People are, in general, pretty wise about how movies are made. Like the listening experience of a CD, we expect a movie to be entertaining. We would NEVER accept a movie that had an actor coughing out of context while he played his part--it's simply not entertaining & detracts from the show. Fact is, we don't care if that happened and are glad it was edited out. Linear temporal performance is only important in stage plays, not movies.

Similarly, in fashion photography, there is simply no such thing as an unedited picture. Zits, large pores, oily skin, & boogers are the norm--even for the beautifully-evolved. ALL fashion photography is 'false'. The only people who complain about it are the ones who don't enjoy hyper-realized human imagery & think it sets a bad standard for the less-beautifully evolved (I'm sympathetic, btw).

Finally, (whew), none of the technologies that make this artifice possible are to blame. I, for one, enjoy movies as well as musical performances , which have been groomed, for one reason or the other, past the boundaries of realtime linear performance. I'm not going to make a big deal out of the fact that an apple is not an orange. I recognize the two for being what they are and I eat both for different purposes. I see a lot of people in the supermarket who are very frustrated that all of the fruit is not the same and spend a lot of time railing about how apples and oranges should not be sold together, that one does not deserve to be called a fruit at all, and.... (somebody help me shut up).

OK, music lovers, fire away......

and here is Dan-O's insightful response:

Just thinking out loud having a bit more time with this issue raises yet another question. (and I seem to be running into only more questions with this one) If this was given to me as a mix/remix project again I would have no problem doing "what ever it takes", by any means necessary" (that ones trade marked I bet) to accomplish the goals. What it really comes down to here I believe is my self-esteem. Since I was at the helm from the start there is no excuses. It should be right. Throw out ALL the variables that can kill a recording for a moment. I should be able to get a decent kick (now the floor tom) sound to work with. I know Andy Wallace could, I know Mutt Lange could, I know.... wait a minute...

None of them are here to frown upon me and call me fraud. And given what the circumstances are they could possibly be in the same position. I'm sure they've tuned a kit only to have the drummer explain to them that he prefers to have ALL the toms sound like the kick drum. (true) And then proceed to play them like my 5yr old daughter. (true, but my daughters better) Hal Blain was obviously not available for this session.

The players? Ah, the players. Yes yes. The players. Good ones translate and bad ones don't. Yeah, yeah we know. The problem to some degree is we have that ability to call up the "starmaker" preset and fix it somewhat. I come from what I believe to be a transitional period for music production. We all are, but some who have roots in earlier methodology struggle with the level of fix it in the mix philosophy adhered to currently. . (Although I must state here the artists referred to are not requesting this. quite the opposite). I LIKE tools! I like using tools. But why not here? Because I didn't get it right to start. If I did and then decided that it wasn't quite right for the song I would change it. But knowing I got it right initially. With the marketing of music production tools today the desire to really learn one instrument is in danger somewhat. Somewhat that is. Really it's probably just changing. Possibly it's just going to be more demanding of an artist to know not only his instrument, but engineering as well. The water will find its level on this one as it always does.

I couldn't agree more with you when you comment that no one cares how it was done in general. And why should they. We have, for quite sometime, become accustomed to the drum machine and loop based production techniques. In ALL genre's. For a LONG time know. Some probably don't even know to this day. Didn't stop the almighty dollar being wielded at the retail level.

I've been dying to tell these guys that Andy Sneap triggers him drums. Death metal? Triggered drums? I really need to tell my self that. The hell with them. (They are not death metal BTW)

Objectivity is blurred when you try to apply it subjectively. We all know that. But art requires a view of both simultaneously with an eye on reality. So I just need to get real.

BTW. I did augment the kick, now floor tom too, with a sample. I don't feel good about it yet but it's the right thing to do.

Snake Oil Recording
Richmond, Va.


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