“What’s up with this ‘one’?!” … live and studio performance #arpOslo2014

Roland Huschner, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Sing it, Glenn…

“What’s up with this ‘one’?!!!” („Was ist denn das für eine ‚eins‘?!!!”) Discrepancies between live- and studio-performance and the consequences for musical efficiency of artists/bands in the recording studio.

Author keywords:      ­Recording Practice, Bourdieu, Foucault, Ethnography

Usually the recording studio is being thought of as an environment which enables artistic performance of the highest standard. Several of the disrupting factors of live-performance are successively removed during recording sessions or the architecture of the studio does not allow certain aspects to appear in the first place. Therefore the artist should be able to achieve individual performance of the highest level but for several reasons this is often not the case. The proposed paper deals with the question why despite all the advantages of the recording studio in comparison to live-performance the musical efficiency of artists still seems to be limited by several aspects that are the result of this specific environment. The technological, sociocultural or simply musical provenance of these aspects will be described and analyzed:

Why do even accomplished musicians for example suffer from the so called „red-light fear“ once the recording process begins? What effect does the idea of the highest possible transparency of the audio-material have on the playing technique and what does that mean for the agents? Are there specific reasons why certain studio-situations are more strained or affected by higher expectations than others and in what way do discursive formations from internal and external provenance shape these configurations between agents?

The paper draws from data that was collected from 2011 to 2014 in several Berlin recording facilities and rehearsal rooms. The data will be reflected in my PhD-thesis in musicology that deals with the role and function of the producer in popular music. The manner of collecting information consisted of participant observation and non-structured interviews. The analysis of the data is carried out with a specific model which seeks to combine elements of Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of the field of cultural production as well as Michel Foucault’s analysis of power-relations, their origins and the technologies to sustain them.

[Read more…]

Q: Where’s the song? A: It’s the track stupid! #arp13

CHAMBON, PHILIP J. (Kingston University, London)

Q: Where’s the song? A: It’s the track stupid!

[abstract] Many contemporary and indeed historical popular music songs have been created as a result of collaboration and improvisation between individuals in a studio environment (larger controlled spaces, multi-track tape, ProTools), or in a home recording environment (smaller unpredictable spaces, portable reel-to-reel recorders, multi-track cassette recorders, laptops) or a combination of these.

Popular music tracks are referred to as songs, sometimes even if there are no vocals. What is the song? Is it the basic top line – tune and lyrics and the piano chords? Probably not since Brill Building days, or music theatre has a song existed as a score. Paul Simon, one of the most successful songwriters of his generation, is quoted in Levetin (2008, p.2) as saying ‘The way that I listen to my own records is for the sound of them; not the chords or the lyrics – my first impression is of the overall sound’. [Read more…]

Collaborative Songwriting – academic paper

This is an academic paper on the subject of collaborative songwriting in the studio. It was presented at the 6th Art of Record Production conference in Dec 2010 and appears in the Journal of the Art of Record Production Conference Proceedings – ISSN 1754-9892. Please feel free to download/cite it as you think fit. The correct citation is;

Bennett, J., 2011. Collaborative songwriting – the ontology of negotiated creativity in popular music studio practice. In Journal of the Art of Record Production 2010. Leeds, UK: Art of Record Production.

In keeping with my view that academics should make their research as freely available as possible, you can download the whole paper here.

BENNETT_J_ARP2010 (pdf)

[Read more…]

And so peaceful until…

Yes, I know the blog’s been a bit quiet lately. The studio has actually been quite busy with the Widcombe project and a couple of small freelance things, but mainly I’ve been preparing for a lot of commitments and events outside Bath in November. I’ve started the songwriting PhD (at Surrey) and had an initial meeting with my supervisor, Prof Allan Moore. The working title of the PhD is ‘investigating creative interactions in collaborative songwriting’ and I’ve been reading background materials for my initial literature review. I’ll probably post some more detail soon about the PhD for any interested songwriters or other musicians & academics – I’m hoping that the blog will be useful in this respect, because I want to (continue to) amass a comprehensive list of songwriting-related contacts, publications and interviews etc. So it’s always great to hear any recommendations that people may have for songwriting books or analyses – or, for that matter, any experienced collaborators who want to find out more about the study. There seems to be only one book that deals specifically with collaborative songwriting – Walter Carter’s The Songwriter’s Guide To Collaboration. Not that the PhD is going to be exclusive academic – it will involve interviews with songwriters and a lot of actual co-writing (it combines musicology and composition).

Part of the work involves investigating the psychology of creativity, in musicians and others, so it’s fortuitous that there’s a conference next week at Surrey about this very subject.

We're buying a stairway to Scotland

And I’m gearing up for a week in Scotland at the end of November working on the Burnsong project. Burnsong is a Scottish (Arts Council) organisation that promotes songwriting – not the songs of Burns himself, but of the values and beliefs he expressed in his work. They run an international songwriting competition, and the ten winning songwriters spend a week writing and recording at a remote farmhouse in Dumfries. We’re then going to perform the songs at a one-off gig (on 30th Nov) at the Scottish Parliament building, which will be broadcast by BBC Radio Scotland. Apparently we’re setting up the whole band on the staircase pictured – I’m intrigued!

Producer Chris Blanden and I worked on the Burnsong project back in 2007 (the songwriting venue was the same, but the 2007 gig was at BBC Glasgow). For 2009, the whole Burnsong event promises to be larger in scale, due partly to the fact that 2009 is the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth. We’ve already heard the winning songs, and there’s some good stuff there, from traditional Scottish folk music to acoustic singer-songwriters, and (I kid you not) a plate-smashing song. I’m planning to blog the project every day anyway (as we did in 2007), and as before will try to get as many MP3s and lyrics online as possible; it’s possible that the project will generate 50+ songs (10 writers, 7 days) and Chris is pretty adept at producing good-quality acoustic demos from the first playback sessions.

Until I meet these men I am unable to get into the studio.

And now some bad news. I’m locked out of the studio! Rainwater found its way into the wood of the exterior door, which has now swelled so much that I can’t get it open. Hoping for some dry weather, and that it will shrink a little, so I can book a Man With A Plane. And a guitar recording project came in this week with a 7-day turnaround. So I’m going to do this using Chris’ help and a mobile recording setup. Which, as he says, kinda proves the point that we, er, don’t need studios any more…

Reasons to be cheerful (part 3)

And that’s it! Phase 3 of the build is now completed, so the studio is now ready for the wiring to be installed, which will be happening early next week. Howard and Jeff sorted out a few details on the phone. The original large panel tabletop had too much mass, risking creating sympathetic resonance, and also making the space under it into a resonant cavity. So Artis chopped even more off the back of it, and added a vertical support underneath to take the weight – the M1F being the heaviest item. I also learn that all-valve desks have a slight acoustic resonance (being made partly of very thin glass valves) which has to be taken into account in studio design – it’s important to ensure that no sympathetic vibrations make it through to the body of the mixer.

Here's the original (too large/resonant) tabletop, before Artis cuts out the ergonomic curve...

Here's the original (too large/resonant) tabletop, before Artis cuts out the ergonomic curve...

And here's the curved area. The straighter part on the left is deliberate - it's cut to the width of the M1F desk.

And here's the curved area, with a larger cable hole at the back. The straighter part on the left is deliberate - it's cut to the width of the M1F desk.

The basic rack frame, with an angled top for the compressors and patchbays, and a straight lower rack for DVD burners etc...

The basic rack frame, with an angled top for the compressors and patchbays, and a straight lower rack for DVD burners etc...

Artis is making another standalone rack unit, which I won't need yet, to future-proof the studio in case I get more rack equipment. For now it will sit empty under the M1F.

Artis is making another standalone rack unit, which I won't need yet, to future-proof the studio in case I get more rack equipment. For now it will sit empty under the M1F.

On seeing the photos and videos, Howard still wasn’t convinced that the desktop would be acoustically neutral in the room. So he phoned through some more info & suggestions to Jeff, who got Artis to cut the desk down even more.

The holes in the tabletop were cut to the size of Howard’s speaker stand design. There are various ways of making studio speaker stands (including buying them commercially) but the rule seems to be simply to stand your cabs on something as dense as possible. Artis was telling me that sometimes they just stack concrete blocks then paint them or cover them with hessian. In this case, he’s made tall rectangular vertical wooden ‘boxes’ out of chipboard, which are then filled with sand to provide the density (ensuring no transmission of vibration to the floor or desk).

So my tabletop is a completely unique shape that no other studio has – it’s been cut to shape to take account of the M1F, Digi002, over/under rack, and all of course at the right knee height for a short bloke in a swivel chair. They even cut it to ensure the smoothest ergonomic travel for the mouse (so I can’t work with any left handed co-producers!).

The final desktop shape and design, with the newly-constructed sand-filled speakers stands in place. Lovely!

The final desktop shape and design, with the newly-constructed sand-filled speakers stands in place. Lovely!

Now that everything’s in, I can get back to sofa purchasing. The consensus seems to be that ‘wipe-clean’ surfaces are best for studio sofas (euwwww) so I’m on the look out for antique leather ideally – second-hand of course. So if you see anything, send me those ebay links!

Shape of my heart

Launching home-made UFOs at a Gloucestershire campsite.

Launching home-made UFOs at a Gloucestershire campsite.

I was expecting to write a post this weekend to the effect of “all the walls are now covered with hessian”. This is great news sonically, but doesn’t necessarily make a very interesting blog entry, considering that you probably now know (more than) everything you ever wanted to know about frames, fabric and sound absorption etc. I’ve just been away at a camping weekend with the family (also playing bass for a blues scratch-band – kinda DIY music festival for a couple of hundred people). Before we left I had a quick look at the studio in progress and asked Artis if there was anything he needed while we were away overnight. He asked if it would be OK for him to cover the air ducts in the live room with ‘interesting shapes’. He suggested that the room was starting to feel a bit austere (when someone says the words “like a dark prison” very slowly in a Latvian accent, it is difficult not to think of Count Dracula). Given that Artis has a real craftsman’s eye, I figured that whatever he had in mind would be tasteful, and way cooler than any suggestion I would make – so I left him to it.

When we returned it was blisteringly hot day so I went straight down to the studio, partly to see what Artis had done, and partly because it’s really cool in there: the sound isolation is so heavy that the building’s interior temperature is pretty much unaffected by the weather.

He’d completed all the hessian frames in both rooms, plus all the window frame pieces, and had made the MDF/hessian panels to covered the air inlets as planned. And… he’d made them all in the shape of guitars!

I’m speechless with delight. Here are some pictures while I calm down.

A simple duct cover, in front of the control room baffle.

A simple cover, in front of the control room cool air duct...

  Although it conceals Artis' secret signature inside the duct, which reads "Built to last by Lazy Fat People, 9-6-09".

Although it conceals Artis' secret signature inside, which reads "Build Till Last (built to last) by LAZY FAT PEOPLE."

And in the live room, here are the works of art…

Shape of my heart2

The circle represents the banjo - the headstock is from my banjolele. Cool air comes from the now-concealed duct.

And this is my banjolele - the first musical instrument I ever bought. It was £10 in 1980, and is responsible for my love of playing music. Explains a lot, perhaps.

And this is my banjolele - the first musical instrument I ever bought. It was £10 in 1980, and is responsible for my love of playing music. Explains a lot, perhaps.

On the opposite side of the live room is the warm air outlet, and this time Artis has gotten really creative…

The body shape is based on my Yamaha classical guitar; the headstock is two pegs from the top of the Takamine.

Live room warm air duct cover. The shape is based on...

The curve of the Yamaha body...

...the curve of the body from my Yamaha classical guitar...

Shape of my heart6

...and the pegs of the Takamine's headstock

I can’t say how delighted I am with this development – it’s not only beautiful in its own right but it’s made the studio really personal, referencing some instruments that have been with me most of my musical life.

Here's the live room laminate floor, which Artis laid this morning. Beautiful!

Here's the live room laminate floor, which Artis laid this morning. Beautiful!

So, to sound recording issues. I had a long chat with Howard (the ‘Studiowizard‘) over the weekend (all our chats are long – when two geeks collide it’s always the way). Obviously the whole of the live room is ‘dry’ rather than ‘live’ due to the small dimensions involved – it’s too small to get a useful room reverb going, and anyway, it’s always easier to add reverb to a dry signal than to try to dampen a lively room. But wooden floors can still be great for acoustic guitars and drums, even in an otherwise damped room (a while ago I took a recording tip from Davey at the University, which is to record acoustic guitarists on wooden boards for extra reflections). So for the best of both worlds, the plan is to lay high-quality wooden laminate on a bed of fabric (to prevent squeaking floorboards), and then to buy a large IKEA rug on which to put the drum kit; the laminate is pretty tough, but I don’t want nasty bass drum spikes spoiling my nice wooden floor.

Laminate floor with UFO lights, archetrave, mains socket and hovering banjo...

Laminate floor with UFO lights, archetrave, mains socket and hovering banjo...

KIBÄK - one of the many classy rug designs available from IKEA (not that Im trying to compromise your right to a free democratic choice)...

KIBÄK - one of the many classy rug designs available from IKEA (not that I'm trying to compromise your right to a free democratic choice)...

So, the important question. Which rug? Here’s an IKEA search to get you started. This isn’t a poll, it’s a free choice for readers of this blog, so you can suggest styles and colours. Please add comments on this post, or via my Facebook page. You will of course be asked for your opinion on matching drum shells when the time comes…

Rug-a-round… now!

Heart of Glass

This is the door to the Mac area - note the grooves in the bottom for cables.

The Mac void has a miniature door now (double-thickness MDF), meaning the computer can be isolated behind the control room wall, so no fan noise can escape into the room. This means I’ll be able to use the control room as well as the live room for tracking. Today we agreed to add another hole, between the lobby and live room, so we could at a pinch use the lobby for tracking too, giving us three fully isolated recording spaces – not bad for a garage!

Artis has added a slab of MDF to the inner doors for extra density to improve isolation, meaning each door now weights 50KG or so. And today, for the first time, we sealed the building – the exterior glass went in. It’s currently double-glazed (albeit with 10mm thick panes) but each interior floating room will also be double-glazed. It’s almost completely silent in each room with the doors closed – even with HGVs going past on the main road outside.

The exterior glazing is now fitted; looks like Jeff's off to practise his gondola technique.

Today’s Latvian import is Linda Leen – Beyoncé-style pop/R&B. Which is nice, but unremarkable.

But I know what you want – you want more ‘cellists playing hits of the 80s, don’t you? Here’s Melo-M with guest artist Intars Busulis performing ‘Ghostbusters’. What’s the best adjective for this cover version? I’m favouring ‘unnecessary’. Great video effects though…