Explanation of the Jester Project, Chapter 2 – Recording Process

I’ve recorded with analogue tape before, and some people think I’m fixated on a preference for it. I won’t get into anything technical here, since I’m unqualified, and I want to avoid tempting your thunderous disinterest. But I will say that certain tools will fit certain jobs, and we might want to consider every one when approaching a project, rule out none, and embrace each for its qualities and its constraints.

 

Alabaster's understanding of mic placement, diagram a).

Alabaster’s understanding of mic placement, diagram a).

I like nice sounds, yes I do. But if you give me human beings to be distracted by, mic-placement and intonation go out of the window, frankly. I have never put a record on because of how good the signal-to-noise ratio was. But I have put a record on for a pleasant tune, and for what those people did, when they made that sound. This last point depends, I reckon, on how those people felt at the time. So, I approach recordings with my first concern being to the mood of a room, and of the performers. The music, and the recording of the sound, are second to that, for me. People, I believe, are what we’re interested in, after all.

The people who played on this record are especially good at listening to each other. We wanted them to arrange the record – to a degree – in their own manner, organically. Here’s a couple of ways in which we helped that to happen.

DSC_0707w

We had three rolls of tape. Once these were full there was no more recording. You can record a song about seven times on one of these tapes, then it’s full. How many times do you need to record a song? How do you keep your musicians interested in playing the song? How do you sing a song without thinking about the TAPE? No-one wants to hear a song that was sung about the tape, do they? Do you want to hear a song about how long there is left on a TAPE? I don’t. So I don’t want the musicians to think about tape, when they’re playing/singing a song with me. That sounds like a joke. I don’t want them thinking about microphones, dinner time, their tone, their training, their hair…

Drezz Dressler at work

Drezz Dressler at work

We would chose two songs, and play them all day. Play them slowly, play them clownish, play them quietly, play them noisily, this way, that way, the other, however we felt. Two songs, back to back, all day. No-one talks about ‘a take’, no-one made any ‘mistakes’ or got anything ‘right’, and no one was in, or out, of tune. Engineer Mark “Drezz” Dressler (Tape Rooms analogue studio), sat in the control room, and took down everything, or as much as he could, paying close attention to the moods of the room, and preparing for when a certain sort of performance arose, or when the tapes needed changing, or the microphones moving, and he acted swiftly and surely. At the end of a day, a tape and a half would be full, of a variety of performances. We would mix the tape and a half from the previous day’s session, there and then, as best we could. And tomorrow, yesterday’s material would be recorded over, and never heard again (aside from the mixes we’d just done).

 

Since there was no time to edit, or become precious over a piece, no-one had any time to doubt themselves, and they simply played, and played together. They used all that was in themselves to make an honest voice in unison, irrespective of immediate ‘recording’ concerns. They were magnificent, and certainly exceeded my own hopes, in terms of their artistry, and their personal human input. Input that they would likely have felt duty-bound to replace, with any number of typical and piffling concerns, if encouraged/allowed to do so. Only a gentle effort on making other things stand aside was required, to have that human input step forward. In this way, those musicians have honestly made this piece of work what it is.

Next Episode: Chapter 3 – Artists’ responses, curation and exhibition, Fri 11th October
The Jester LP:  http://alabasterdeplume.bandcamp.com/album/the-jester