Bottled Lightning

Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I started off as a very math-and-sciency kind of guy — rational, skeptical, facts and figures. As I aged and my world expanded, I started to perceive limits to rationality. You can never know everything, and you can never be certain about what you know. My rational side still rules the roost, but I maintain a certain level of mysticism to fill in the cracks. This makes me a more balanced person, and a better artist. I mention this because what I am about to say is decidedly mystical, and you don’t understand that sort of thing, you’ll think it’s hogwash.

Sometimes, you do a jam, and it’s magic. Lightning in a bottle. There’s some inexplicable quality to it, kind of like what sets “Excalibur” apart from “a sword”. It becomes an artifact. If you’ve had it happen, you’ll know what I mean, and if you haven’t… you won’t understand until it happens to you (as discussed here).

These magic jams are completely unrepeatable — if you try to do it again, it won’t come back. You have to record it when it comes, or you’re SOL. The recording itself is just a cheap facsimile, a memento, of a special moment you had in a particular room at a particular time. Nothing (no current technology, at least) can recreate the experience of being there, doing that jam. That’s tops. If you’re in the room, watching someone else jam, that’s second-best. A recording is a poor third.

Once you’ve resigned yourself to a recording, tape is undeniably better at capturing a magic moment. It comes far closer to putting the listener in the room with you. However, some tape is better than others, and some digital interfaces are absolutely superb. If money is no object, it’s best to capture your magic with a Nagra. For normal human beings, a good computer audio interface will blow a portastudio out of the water.

Finally, there’s a funny little trick that can help no matter what medium you use: a room mic. When I do a live recording with a bunch of grooveboxes, I’ll often plug in a mic and toss it in the corner of the room. It may sound like a strange thing to do, but it helps capture the moment. It’s an attempt, albeit a feeble one, to put the listener in the room with me as I record. It’s a recording of me recording; the layer of recursion adding a little depth and detail to the magic. I can’t rationally justify it, but I can’t deny that something’s there, either…

Categories: musical development, philosophy, recording, studio

Post a Comment