GREATER NYC AREA: There have certainly been some down years in recent recording biz history, but 2011 was not one of them.
By all accounts, this was a big year for recording in NYC: There were the major mainstream Made-in-NY albums, i.e. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (Germano Studios), John Mayer’s upcoming release (Electric Lady), Beyonce 4 (MSR, Jungle City), Sting’s latest (Sear Sound) and Tony Bennett’s Duets II (Avatar). There were the critically-anticipated indie releases, i.e. Bjork (Sear Sound, Avatar, Atlantic Sound) and Beirut (Vacation Island) and of course a ton of indie activity emanating out of Brooklyn, as well as big moves in the way of new and newly renovated high-end facilities for record production.
Drink it all in with this “Best of 2011” session highlights and studio hits:
We’ll start uptown at StadiumRed in Harlem – home to a team of engineers and producers that includes David Frost, Just Blaze, Sid “Omen” Brown, Ariel Burojow, Tom Lazarus, Joe Pedulla, Andrew Wright and mastering engineer Ricardo Gutierrez.
StadiumRed hosted Chris Brown (Jive Records) for a stretch as he worked on his Grammy-nominated record, F.A.M.E. and a future album. The single “She Ain’t You” produced by Free School was recorded in Studio A at StadiumRed, and two additional songs off his upcoming album were produced by Just Blaze. Rick Ross also worked quite a bit with Just Blaze and StadiumRed this year – his albums Self Made Volume 1 and I Love My Bitches were both produced, mixed and mastered at Stadium Red with Just Blaze producing, Andrew Wright mixing, assisted by Keith Parry, and Ricardo Gutierrez mastering.
The track “Lord Knows” off Drake’s acclaimed new album, Take Care, was produced by this same StadiumRed team – Just Blaze, Wright and Gutierrez. The choir in this song was recorded in Studio A.
Other highlights include Ariel Borujow mixing three tracks for Chiddy Bang’s (EMI) debut album Breakfast, Joe Pedulla and Andrew Everding producing and engineering the new album by rock band La Dispute (click to read our feature about this album produced with no artificial reverb) and the Grammy-nominated Mackey: Lonely Motel – Music From Slide (David Frost, producer and Tom Lazarus, engineer); Far Away: Late Nights & Early Mornings by Marsha Ambrosius (Just Blaze, producer and Andrew R Wright, engineer); and J. Cole (Keith Parry, assistant engineer).
Rufus Wainwright (Universal Music Group) tracked portions of his new album “Out of the Game” in Studio ‘A’ (Neve 8038) at Sear Sound in Midtown, with Alan O’Connell engineering and Mark Ronson producing. Sear’s own Ted Tuthill assisted on these sessions.
“During his sessions at Sear, Rufus’ new opera Prima Donna premiered at the New York City Opera,” says Sear Sound manager Roberta Findlay. “They recorded using our Studer A827 2″ 24 track with BASF 911 2″, as well as Pro Tools. Tracking and overdubs varied from piano and vocal, whole band takes (piano, bass, drums, vocals), to piano overdubs, bass overdubs, keyboard overdubs, electric guitar overdubs, choir overdubs, drum machine overdubs, and many more. Mark Ronson brought in a wide variety of his personal vintage synths.”
Sear also hosted recording sessions for Bjork’s latest Biophilia, with Damian Taylor co-producing/engineering, and Sting tracking for his latest with engineer Donal Hodgson and co-producer/arranger Rob Mathes. And Iron & Wine tracked and mixed their song “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” which can be heard in Twilight: Breaking Dawn. Tom Schick engineered with Brian Deck producing. Rob Berger wrote the arrangements. [Click for a video of this session.]
In other highlights, Joss Stone tracked new material at Sear with an all-star band (Ernie Isley on guitar, James Alexander on bass, Latimore on piano and Raymond Angry on B3 and keyboards), and Steve Greenwell engineering and co-producing with S-Curve’s Steve Greenberg. “At Joss’ s request, we built a western version of a resplendent ashram for her, to stimulate her creative juices,” says Findlay. “I believe it worked!!”
Meanwhile, mixing sessions for Regina Spektor’s anticipated new album What We Saw From The Cheap Seats went down in Studio A at The Cutting Room – with producer Mike Elizondo, and engineer Adam Hawkins, assisted by Matt Craig. The album is due out in May 2012 on Warner Bros Records.
At nearby Germano Studios – where Joan Jett & The Blackhearts have been recording this month – it’s been a huge year of pop, rock, rap and R&B. In addition to Jett, who’s been in with longtime producer Kenny Laguna, and engineer Thom Panunzio, Germano’s hosted writing and recording sessions with Ne-Yo, OneRepublic and Alexander Dexter-Jones recording with engineer Kenta Yonesaka for his The Last Unicorn album, and mixing sessions with Sony Italy artist Fiorella Mannoia with Dave O’Donnell engineering.
Highlights from the year include the recording for Lady Gaga’s Grammy-nominated Born This Way, Adele’s Grammy-nominated 21, “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 ft. Christina Aguilera, Beyonce’s 4, and the new will.i.am album…The studio also added new Exigy subs, and launched a joint-venture into Tampico Mexico, creating RG Germano Studios Tampico.
2011 has also been an epic year of releases out of The Lodge. Mastering Engineers Emily Lazar & Joe LaPorta mastered Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light, which received six Grammy nominations including nominations for Lazar and LaPorta in “Album Of The Year” category. And the team mastered countless records released to critical acclaim, including Tuneyard’s Whokill, mastered by LaPorta, Liturgy’s Aesthethica, mastered by Heba Kadry, the Cults debut, mastered by Lazar and LaPorta, EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints, mastered by Sarah Register, and albums by Dum Dum Girls, Cold Cave and Hooray for Earth – all mastered by LaPorta.
As covered here on SonicScoop, LaPorta also mastered the huge Neutral Milk Hotel release, the band’s first (an all-vinyl complete box-set) since ’98′s classic In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Lazar and LaPorta also mastered Boy & Bear’s award-winning Moonfire, produced by Joe Chiccarelli.
For EastSide Sound and chief engineer Marc Urselli, it’s been a year of recording some of NYC’s finest avant-garde, jazz, fusion and acoustic music greats like John Zorn, Bill Laswell, Chihiro Yamanaka with Bernard Purdie, and more recently John Zorn, John Medeski and Mike Patton. Citizen Cope and Swiss crossover jazz band The Lucien Dubuis Trio have also been recording albums with Urselli at East Side Sound.
In the Fall, Broadway veteran singer Wren Marie Harrington teamed up with arranger/producer jazz wunderkind Art Bailey to record a collection of jazz and Latin infused American and world standards at EastSide with Lou Holtzman engineering and Eric Elterman assisting. Bailey, Dave Acker, Marty Confurius and Diego Lopez formed the band for this record.
Plenty of jazz, avant and orchestral sessions recorded at Avatar Studios this year, including Stanley Jordan, James Carter, Steve Reich / So Percussion, Joe Jackson with Elliot Scheiner, Esperanza Spalding with Q-Tip and Joe Ferla, Chick Corea, Zak Smith Band. One of the big, ongoing sessions of the year at Avatar was Tony Bennett’s Duets II album, produced by Phil Ramone and engineered by Dae Bennett. In March, Bennett and Sheryl Crow recorded “The Girl I Love” in Studio A. In July, Bennett sang and recorded “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” with Aretha Franklin in Studio C, and at the end of July, he recorded “The Lady is a Tramp” with Lady Gaga in Studio A.
Other pop/rock artists recording at Avatar this year include Paul McCartney recording a Buddy Holly tribute, Ingrid Michaelson recording her upcoming album, Human Again – both with producer David Kahne and engineer Roy Hendrickson – Elvis Costello, James McCartney, and VHS or Beta.
And Avatar’s Studio A and C were used on many a Broadway cast album, and TV and film score/soundtrack recording sessions, including: Boardwalk Empire featuring Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks with producer / engineer Stewart Lerman, and Mildred Pierce, also ft. Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, with producer Randy Poster; Louie, produced by Louie C.K. with engineer Robert Smith assisted by Bob Mallory; Glee, with producer Tommy Faragher and engineers Bryan Smith and Robert Smith; and the films Moonrise Kingdom (the new Wes Anderson), A Late Quartet, Friends with Kids, and So Undercover.
Across town, some of the biggest pop artists were working out of Stratosphere Sound in Chelsea, where songwriter Amanda Ghost and producer Dave McCracken were stationed much of the year working on new material with Florence and The Machine, Santigold, John Legend, the Scissor Sisters, The xx and Daniel Merriweather.
Ever the awesome rock recording studio, Stratosphere hosted several album projects this year including Canadian band Jets Overhead with producer/engineer Emery Dobyns, Japanese band The Telephones with Alex Newport, The Static Jacks with Chris Shaw, and Delta Spirit with Chris Coady. And, switching gears, both Sarah Brightman and Aaron Neville recorded at Stratosphere – both tracking vocals with Geoff Sanoff.
Finally, The Sheepdogs, a rock band from Saskatchewan, were paired with Stratosphere owner/producer Adam Schlesinger for Rolling Stone’s “Choose the Cover” contest. They worked on several songs with Adam…and they won!
BIG YEAR FOR BROOKLYN
In 2011, Manhattan saw the opening of Ann Mincieli’s impressive, golden-age-reviving Jungle City Studios, and major renovations and new rooms at the legendary Electric Lady Studios, but Brooklyn has been the real hotbed of new studio activity. Converse opened its Rubber Tracks Studio this year, and The End in Greenpoint recently opened the doors to its recording and live performance complex. And much building has been underway elsewhere…
2012 will see three new serious recording facilities open in Williamsburg – all three bigger/better versions of existing local indie favorites.
The Bunker, for one, has already held inaugural sessions at its impressive new two-room facility which features an exciting new Studio A with large live room with 25-ft ceilings and three isolated sections which can be closed off by sliding glass doors.
In one of the room’s first sessions, Bunker co-owner John Davis tracking the new record for funk band Lettuce (featuring Soulive members Eric Krasno and Neal Evans). “I tracked all the basics live to 2″ ATR on my Studer A80, and we had drums, bass, 2 guitars, keys (B3 and clav) and one sax going down live,” Davis describes. “Additional horns were later overdubbed. It was a great, super funky party in there the whole time, with a bunch of friends hanging and generally great positive creative vibes going on. We went for (and captured) a live, raw, authentic funk vibe.”
Meanwhile, across town on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border, Joel Hamilton and Tony Maimone are preparing to open the new Studio G – this is one of the original recording studios in the ‘Burg now expanded into 5,000+ square feet. Studio G will house one of the city’s only commercially available Bosendorfer grand pianos (to our knowledge), and three full featured studios – a 48-input SSL 8048 “A” room, and an equally spacious Neve 5316-equipped “B” room – with ample tracking space and isolation…built by musicians for musicians. (Look out for our upcoming feature on Studio G!)
According to Hamilton, they’re booking the A room for January and beyond, but “things are already booked in super tight, so call now!”
Besides building an insane new studio, Hamilton’s been making records all year too. He worked with the electronic artist Pretty Lights tracking the band in a live-to-two-track analog scenario – all analog and vintage signal chains with no isolation. The band played live in the room together and the masters went straight to vinyl – only to ultimately be sampled by Pretty Lights (Derek Smith) for his album, I Know The Truth. It’s a production style the artist calls “analog electronica.”
Another engineer/producer with an ambitious new studio in the works for 2012 is Marc Alan Goodman who you may recognize from his “Building Strange Weather” blog here on SonicScoop. While work has been heavily underway at his studio’s new location on Graham Ave in Williamsburg, sessions have continued across the ‘hood at the existing Strange Weather Recording. Among the year’s highlights were Here We Go Magic recording overdubs for their upcoming album with producer/engineer Nigel Godrich who was over doing television sound for Radiohead.
The band Friends also recorded two singles and an upcoming full-length album at Strange Weather with co-producer/engineer Daniel Schlett. And the band Lakookala made an EP at the studio (“start-to-finish in 3 days”) with Goodman co-producing and engineering.
Over at Fluxivity, 2011 was the year that the studio’s recently-completed tracking room got a workout, with everything from full tracking with drums to guitar, vocals and all manner of overdubs. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has been working at Fluxivity, with Spencer and engineer Brian Thorn mixing the new album. Ed Mcentee assisted.
Says Fluxivity owner Nat Priest: “This was primarily a tape-based project, mixed to the studio’s Ampex ATR 102 tape machine in the ½” stereo format. Jon Spencer and Brian Thorn used quite a few pieces of the studio’s vintage analog equalizers, compressors and delays including the 1/4″ slap machine and EMT plate reverb.”
Black Dice also made a new record in Williamsburg with Matt Boynton recording, mixing and producing at Vacation Island Recording. Free Blood (members of !!!) and Suckers also made new albums at Vacation Island with Boynton this year. And, Zach Cale is currently in the studio completing mixes for his latest EP, Hangman Letters.
A couple 2011 Vacation Island highlights were Beirut mixing their latest release The Rip Tide with engineer/producer Griffin Rodriguez, and the “Recorded for Japan” compilation which saw Ariel Pink, Kurt Vile, Chairlift and R. Stevie Moore through the studio. Boynton recorded and mixed a lot of this record, and the rest was mixed by Jorge Elbrecht. Vacation Island engineer Rob Laakso mastered the album.
Over at The Brewery Recording, also in Williamsburg, members of breakthrough rap group Odd Future tracked vocals for three songs and started mixing for their new side project The Internet, due out in early 2012. Matt Martians and Syd tha Kyd produced and Andrew Krivonos engineered on these sessions.
The Brewery reports they had 700 sessions through their one-room facility in 2011, running round the clock. Another highlight is happening currently with WZRD, the rock duo formed by Kid Cudi and producer Dot Da Genius. Noah Goldstein has been engineering these sessions.
Brooklyn producer/engineer Allen Farmelo – who you may remember designed this awesome custom console with Greenpoint designer Francois Chambard for his own studio The Farm – just finished mixing a record with noise duo Talk Normal, a project by artist/engineers Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro, with producer Christina Files.
Farmelo also produced/engineered an album for Brooklyn-based children’s musician Elska, out of Mavericks Studio in China Town and back at The Farm, and mixed/mastered two new film scores by Cinematic Orchestra, produced by band-leader Jason Swinscoe for Ninja Tune Records. “These two scores were for films from the 1920s: the Dada-ist masterpiece Entr’acte and the early city portrait called Manhatta. Both were performed live to a packed house at London’s Barbican Center this year, a beautiful night of music and film.”
And, as covered this month in the New York Times, Farmelo produced and mixed a new album by 85-year-old jazz pianist Boyd Lee Dunlop which was tracked at Soundscape in Buffalo by Jimi Calabrese, mixed at The Farm and mastered at The Magic Shop by Jessica Thompson
“An old friend and photographer met Boyd in a state-funded nursing home in Buffalo and began recording him on his cellphone and sending me MP3s and asked if this was any good,” says Farmelo.
“I was blown away by what I heard and arranged to record Boyd with bassist Sabu Adeyola and drummer Virgil Day. Buffalo has few studios, but thankfully I found a room tucked away on Buffalo’s West Side with a Steinway and amazing vintage mics and pres (RCA 77s, Neumann U47s, Neves, etc). I put up and tracked the session in one day and mixed on the API/Studer combo here at The Farm. I aimed for a vintage sound (late 50s Atlantic Studios in particular), and feel I got it (mono is a big part of that). Jessica Thompson just nailed the mastering perfectly.”
Next, to Greenpoint where Joe McGinty’s unique Carousel Recording – with its heavenly collection of vintage synths – recently hosted Finland electronic act Husky Rescue. Led by Marko Nyberg, the group booked a week at Carousel to lay the groundwork of their next record, utilizing many of the vintage synthesizers in the studio. “They were ace analog synth programmers,” says McGinty, of Psychedelic Furs, Losers Lounge fame. “It was great to see them in action, and I learned a few things as well!
Carousel has also opened a second room to accommodate that ever-expanding keyboard collection, which we featured earlier this year. Recent additions to the collection include a Moog 15 Modular, Freeman String Symphonizer, Yamaha YC-30 organ, and Yamaha CP-70 Electric Grand Piano.
In DUMBO, Joe Lambert Mastering had a record year. First off, Chief Engineer/Owner Joe Lambert was nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Engineered Album, Classical” category for the aforementioned Lonely Motel: Music From Slide by Steven Mackey and Rinde Eckert.
And other highlights include: mastering the major label debut by Fanfarlo (Atlantic Records/Canvasback), produced by Ben H. Allen, and recorded by David Wrench, the popular Washed Out (SubPop) album Within and Without, also produced by Allen, the Atlas Sound (4AD) record Parallax, produced by Bradford Cox and Nicolas Vernhes, and the Panda Bear (Paw Tracks) album, Tomboy, produced by Noah Lennox and Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember.
Over at The Fort, engineer/producer James Bentley has been working a bit with Brooklyn-based Goodnight Records, including tracking for the new KNTRLR LP, and recording/filming an in-studio performance with the venerable Brooklyn band The Big Sleep. “There were about 40 people and a keg, it was an amazing party,” says Bentley.
OUTSIDE THE CITY
Emerging Brooklyn band Thieving Irons trekked up to The Isokon in Woodstock to make a record with engineer/producer D. James Goodwin, Nate Martinez and Josh Kaufman co-producing. “Incredible songs, deconstructed, then put back together in a left brain way,” says Goodwin of the project. “Very few cymbals, tons of space. Lots of Kaoss Pad!” Stream a track “So Long” from the album.
Goodwin also made an album up at the Isokon with art-folk group Bobby – tracked and mixed the full LP for Partisan Records.
In Jersey City, Big Blue Meenie is still going strong, and hopping with sessions all year. Highlights include Rainey Qualley mixing her EP with Tim “Rumblefish” Gilles and Matt “Dasher” Messenger (the single “Peach In My Pocket” is featured in the 2011 Sundance-winning film To.Get.Her), and Alright Jr tracking their new EP Scratching At The Ceiling with Chris “Noz” Marinaccio, Colin “Gron” Mattos, Matthew “Debris” Menafro, and Jeff “9/11″Canas, and mixing with Gilles and Messenger.
Also six-piece NJ prog-rock band The Tea Club mixed their “Live at Progday 2011″ show with Messenger, Marinaccio and Gilles, and – most recently – the jazz-fusion oriented Dennis Haklar Project tracked new material (9 songs in 2 days) with Marinaccio engineering, assisted by Colin “Gron” Mattos.
What a year, and those are just some of the highlights! We can only imagine what 2012 will bring to NYC in the way of new recordings — and we can’t wait to hear them.
As previously announced, this Friday and Saturday, SonicScoop will present two of the AES’ Platinum Series Panels as part of the 131st Convention going on at the Javits Center.
Helping kick off the show, SonicScoop co-founder David Weiss will present the Platinum Producers panel on Friday, October 21 in Room 1E15/16, from 11:45 – 1:45. David will moderate a discussion between acclaimed producers David Kahne (Paul McCartney, Regina Spektor), Steve Jordan (Keith Richards, John Mayer) and Gabe Roth (Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Booker T. Jones).
The group will speak on the topic of “The Producer’s Portfolio”, exploring the work of each of these producers and how their own artistic sensibilities and unique perspectives have enabled their careers to flourish
On Saturday, SonicScoop co-founder Janice Brown and contributing writer and engineer/producer Justin Colletti (Trust Me I’m A Scientist) will moderate the Platinum Engineers Panel from 11AM – 1PM, also in Room 1E15/16 at the Javits. This panel will be a conversation about “Creative Engineering – The Studio As An Instrument” with some heroes of the craft including engineer/producers Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Neon Indian), Peter Katis (The National, Jónsi, Interpol), Chris Shaw (Bob Dylan, Public Enemy, Weezer) and Damian Taylor (Björk, The Prodigy, Arcade Fire).
The discussion will be structured around examples of creative work in the studio which helped to define some innovative and influential artists’ sounds, creating lasting impressions on fans as well as other musicians, engineers, and producers.
Don’t miss these panels! They are both in the “Special Events” category of the AES’ technical program, which are accessible to all, including those with exhibits-only badges.
This week, we count down to our AES presentation “The Studio As An Instrument” with panelist Damian Taylor (The Prodigy, Arcade Fire, Austra) who tells us about using custom interfaces and robotic instruments to create Björk’s Biophilia.
When Damian Taylor tells me about the making of Björk’s Biophilia, it’s with the inflection of someone who’s been raised all over the world. He has the mild, blended accent of a man who spent a decade each in Canada, the UK, New Zealand before ultimately settling in Montreal.
It’s also the kind of voice that sounds younger than its years. Even now with a wife, small children, and studio of his own, Taylor is always on the ready to laugh at absurdity, and himself. His default tone seems to be one of mild enthusiasm.
Similarly, Taylor’s roles with Björk have been varied as his upbringing, and he seems up for anything. He’s credited in all sorts of capacities, from musical director on her tours, to engineer on her albums to, even as a co-writer of a select few songs on her latest release. The best he can muster is to say that his role is “constantly evolving”:
“On Vespertine, I was in traditional programmer’s role, where on Volta I was with her through the whole thing. My responsibilities would vary from programming and studio engineering to driving a van and carrying a roadcase around,” he laughs.
Although Taylor did the lion’s share of engineering work on her latest albums, there was also room for downtime as Björk took more than two years to conceive and create the album. “If we went to work with Timbaland, Jimmy Douglass would be there with him of course. He’s just an absolute Don, so I might just get to just kick back and hang out with Jimmy Douglass for ten days. But the next month we might be on tour, and so much of it is constantly working or preparing. I think the best way to describe it is that I’m her technical enabler.”
“Björk is a huge lover of technology,” Taylor says, “but she’s not a very technological person herself.”
It’s that kind of attitude, he thinks, that leads Björk to have the kinds of insights she does into how we relate to and interact with new technology.
Her latest album, Biophilia went through several conceptual stages before Björk ultimately decided to release it as an album and an Apple iOS application. As the first major musical release to really take advantage of the new medium, the Biophilia App has been getting a lot of press.
But Taylor reminds us that all the songs on the album except one were written before the iPad was even announced. At first, Björk conceived of the album as a literal house that listeners could visit, where all rooms would be filled with devices that would each play part of a song. At one point, the album was re-imagined as an IMAX film, complete with a working script that had a whole narrative plotted out.
Finally, the decision was made to release the music as both an album and as an interactive App that allows listeners to control the music and the corresponding visuals.
“Björk really came to love the iPad,” says Taylor. “She thinks the way you can interact with it is just an entirely different experience of computing. It wound up being the best vehicle for trying to present those ideas.”
In some ways the presentation of the album mirrors the way it was created. In the making of Biophilia Björk and Taylor became very interested in “electronic music and how you could control it in an instinctive way; without being bound by the normal rules of sequencers and samplers.”
THE “Apps” BEHIND THE MUSIC
Taylor says that the Biophilia App itself is like a “stripped-down, consumer version” of the very tools Björk used to capture and manipulate the sounds. He would know. He designed most of them.
“We thought it would be a cool idea to have an acoustic album, but to have the music all be generated electronically. In other words, we were using robotic instruments, but the performances were still being guided by a human.”
Instead of relying on conventional instruments to write the songs for the album, Taylor worked within Björk’s specifications to create a suite of unique virtual instruments in Max/MSP that she could then manipulate with a variety of unusual devices while singing.
In place of a traditional instrument or sampler, she would be able to trigger and manipulate her sounds with a Logitech videogame controller, the Telsa-esque tabletop Reactable system, or a first-generation multi-touch screen called the JazzMutant Lemur.
“I think the simplest way to describe what this system allowed her to do, is that there’s no way you could have written these songs on a piano. Compositionally, it allows you to form your ideas and control them very precisely – but in a way that’s completely different from what I’ve experienced playing any other instrument.”
The resulting music is captivating, even when the song forms are unconventional.
“It’s kind of polarizing, which is always funny to see. You’ll hear one amazing review ‘Oh my god – it’s just so stunning’ and then you’ll hear another person going, ‘What!? It’s just an unformed bunch of improvisatory crap!’,” Taylor laughs earnestly, heartily. “What people are pissed about, and what people love about Biophilia is that the structures are very unusual. They feel like they’re unfolding in the moment. To some, that’s ‘improvised bollocks’ and to others, it’s this unique and refreshing flow.”
Oddly enough for music that was captured using pioneering new software systems, the album itself is mostly comprised of first takes. Even though they were using digital technology, Taylor thought of the process as being a lot like tracking to tape; at least as far as performances were concerned. Although Björk’s voice and performances on the controller would remain largely etched in stone, the sounds of the instruments could be easily replaced.
This is where the idea of robotic instruments comes in.
On the song “Hollow” for instance, Björk’s voice was recorded, and her performance on the controllers were captured as MIDI data. But for the final version of the song, they brought their rig back to Iceland where Björk knew an organ-builder with novel device. He had a special robotic bar that could sit above the keys of a church organ, and was rigged to accept a regular MIDI input.
As the performance data was transmitted, tiny levers would descend from this robotic arm to push the organ’s keys while Björk made adjustments to the organ stops.
The record is filled with sounds that might be unexpected to some mainstream listeners. According to Taylor, Björk tends to have an idea of what kind of sound palette she wants to use going into each project. On this one she talked a lot about copper, which is where the Gamelan chimes and pipe organs come into to play. But when she was writing the songs, Björk also favored harps for their more “neutral” sound that allowed her “to focus on what was going on musically”. These tones made it into the record as well, most notably in the single “Moon”, where Taylor even received a co-writing credit.
“I’ve found that when it comes to bringing in something for Björk it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bring in something that’s half-baked,” he says cheerfully. “When I was working on [“Moon”] I ended up entering all these melodies into the system, so that when she picked it up she could just press “go” and it would sound pretty good. I just assumed she would change it all. But when I handed her the game controller, and explained it to her, ‘if you push this button and then that button, this melody happens’ she just said ‘Ok, cool, hit record,’ and played it straight away. So even though the harp was eventually replaced with an acoustic one, that song is really just a first take of her singing and playing those melodies on the [Logitech] videogame controller.”
Taylor also says that this process “raised a lot of questions about licensing.” They eventually decided that the person who loaded up the system with sounds and melodies plays an important role in the composition, but that the performance itself is a huge part of the songwriting as well, “because you can arrange the sounds and patterns in so many different ways.” This decision led to one of Taylor’s most notable co-writing credits to date.
For all of the technology that went into the creation of the music, the sounds on Biophillia (and many of Björk’s latest albums) are more raw and natural than those on her earlier records like Debut, Post, or Homogenic. This lack of gloss and polish is intentional, to be sure.
“We wound up mixing the album together because Björk didn’t want to end up in a situation where her hands were off the project and someone else starts compressing stuff and changing the whole sound,” Taylor says. “It was a running joke that anytime I tried to do anything while we were mixing she’d whack me with a stick and tell me to turn it off. She was definitely trying to keep it as raw as possible.”
But Taylor is quick to remind us that Björk’s choices are informed by experience, not superstition:
“She’s done a ton of records, and she will just never repeat herself. Even if we have a great time at one studio, she won’t want to go back there for another record. She’d just feel like she’s just making the same record again. It’s an interesting way of looking at it. She wants it to be her own adventure and doesn’t want it constrained by others’ technical habits.”
“In a way she kind of hates the studio,” Taylor laughs. “It’s also about the environment for her. She went on this big search to find a New York studio that would be a nice room with big windows and a view, and so ended up at Atlantic Sound in DUMBO for some of it. She hates being in tiny air conditioned rooms, so it was perfect,” he says, even if she doesn’t end up coming back for a repeat visit.
THE APPROACH TO VOCALS
One thing that remains consistent, however, was Björk’s method of recording vocal takes. Taylor says she’s not one to stand perfectly still with headphones on. Instead, she’s favored a handheld Shure SM58 for years, and she still tracks all of her vocals while listening out-loud on studio monitors.
When Taylor brought her a Neumann KMS 150 handheld condenser to try, he says that she “sang all of two syllables into it” before handing it back for the 58.
On a few songs that needed extra sensitivity and detail, Björk sang into Martin Kantola and Bruce Swedien designed NU-47, a classic redesign of the U47 with striking wooden body. Otherwise the chain was simple: The Shure SM58 into a preamp with little or no compression.
“When I’m recording Björk, I try to compress as little as possible. Basically never. I do have a little something there on the chain just as a safety net, but basically I ride her performances the whole way in. Her dynamic range is just insane. Fortunately, I’ve gotten to know her pretty well, so I can start to feel when she’s about to take a breath and ride my output gain knob. This way, we’re not getting a squished sound going in, but we’re still getting consistent levels.”
“Bruce Swedien once said something [about avoiding compression while tracking] that really stuck with me: ‘You’re there to work. When you’re recording something you’re doing a performance too.’ I eventually realized that if you have one setting for a voice it rarely works out quite right.“
Originally, Taylor plugged the SM58 into a Neve 1084, with a Urei 1176 as his safety net. “That worked really well for Volta, where the voice had a more rock and roll sound.” But for this record, he realized the voice “would be a more delicate kind of thing”, and he came to prefer Björk’s Focusrite ISA 430 Producer Pack, while largely avoiding its built-in EQ and compression.
There are risks involved in this process, but to Björk, they’re worth it. “I think with her there’s one note on every record where the signal peaks out for an instant and I just have to hang my head in shame,” says Taylor. I suggest that he might as well shrug his shoulders instead. Medulla (which he did not engineer) has one of those moments as well, and I found it kind of refreshing. It sounded like the momentary distortion a listener might hear on an Aretha Franklin record. He seems encouraged.
“She’s really good at what she does,” he says. “She has a vibe and a feeling she wants to keep intact, and everything else is secondary to that.”
Meanwhile, for Taylor, everything that came afterward is secondary to the music. He’s impressed by the new much-publicized Apps, but also finds them unnecessary.
“My real passion is making records. I don’t have much of an interest in [the Apps] myself. To be perfectly honest I don’t think the album needs them at all. It’s this interesting other [dimension] to the music, really. There’s been this huge deal made of it, but I’d be perfectly happy if it was just a record.”
“That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have done it. It was a brilliant choice. But to me, what I love about listening to music is that you can put it on while you walk around the house or while you drive your car. You don’t have to sit down and actively do it. But the app really gave her a chance to express her view on so many other things.”
For Taylor, who continues to work with established artists like The Prodigy, Arcade Fire and breaking acts and Austra, learning the Max/MSP software and experimenting with unusual control surfaces has “opened up new doors”.
“I love mixing on a console if I can, but it’s fun to put yourself in unfamiliar territory. Sometimes when you change what you’re doing with your body it’s almost like you can access parts of your brain you’ve never used before for music. That’s what I love about tools like the Reactable or the JazzMutant Lemur.”
“The Reactable is like something out of Buck Rogers,” says Taylor of the revolutionary control system he first started exploring as a solution for some of Björk’s live performances needs.
“It’s kind of like a table that lights up, and when you put different objects on it, it senses what and where they are and links them together. In addition to effecting the sound, it creates an image of the waveform in real-time as it goes through these different objects that act as oscillators and modifiers and audio effects. It’s basically indescribable. You’ve just got to go see some videos of it.”
But as much as these new control systems are a revelation, Taylor also sees them as just another stage in an always-evolving musical toolset:
“Guy Sigsworth said this brilliant thing to me ten or twelve years ago when we were just starting to work all inside of Pro Tools, and I’ll never forget it. We were doing all this ridiculous over-the-top stuff with automation and editing one day and he said ‘It’s funny – When you look at a mixing desk, it really has absolutely nothing to do with music. A fader, or a knob, is just a completely arbitrary control element. People are used to them, so they don’t think about it, but in reality, they have as much to do with music as a PlayStation controller.’”
“There’s a lot of truth in that. They’re kind of arbitrary, the interfaces we use to create and manipulate music. The controllers aren’t really important, so long as we’re using something.”
“Platinum Engineers: The Studio As An Instrument” is an AES Special Event panel happening on Saturday, October 22, from 11AM – 1PM at
Dave Fridmann, Peter Katis, Gabe Roth, David Kahne & More Featured In SonicScoop-Curated AES Platinum Panels
This year, the Audio Engineering Society (AES) asked SonicScoop to develop its Platinum Panels in Engineering and Production. And we were happy they did!
The 131st Convention comes to NYC October 21-23 at the Javits Center, and the Platinum Panels are still TBD in terms of day/time, but we have lined up some incredible panelists so far. Check it out…
CREATIVE ENGINEERING – THE STUDIO AS AN INSTRUMENT: Co-moderators, Engineer/Producer/Journalist, Justin Colletti and SonicScoop Co-Founder Janice Brown; Platinum Engineer/Producer Panelists - Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Neon Indian); Peter Katis (The National, Jónsi, Interpol); Chris Shaw (Bob Dylan, Public Enemy, Weezer) and Damian Taylor (Bjork, The Prodigy)
Engineers of a particularly creative breed, these multi-faceted audio gurus reflect a singular studio fluency which has inspired and produced some of today’s most sonically expressive, adventurous and influential recordings.
Typically recording, mixing and co-producing entire albums, these craftsman often collaborate with artists whose distinct points-of-view come across not only in the songwriting and playing, but also in the sound of their records. Though they may program, play and/or produce on their projects, these panelists are engineers first, with the skill set to truly play the studio as an instrument.
Participants will discuss the creative recording and mixing techniques they’ve developed, and how they’ve led to great success.
THE PRODUCER’S PORTFOLIO: Moderator David Weiss (co-founder SonicScoop) – Panelists: Gabe Roth (Founder, Daptone Records, Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings), David Kahne (Sublime, Regina Spektor, Paul McCartney), additional panelists TBA.
Everyone agrees the artist hires the producer to serve the band or singer/songwriter and their music. This panel, however, will address the producer’s personal artistic visions, and the growing bodies of work their creative philosophies pilot into reality.
Considered a creative artistic force in their own right, each of these producers collaborates fully with their clients both in pre-production and the studio. Participants will explore the artistic sensibilities they’ve nurtured, how they’ve expressed themselves in their work, and how that self-assurance and unique perspective has enabled their careers to flourish.
Stay tuned for more details…we hope to see you there!
GREATER NYC AREA: It’s midsummer…the middle of a traditionally “slow season” for recording with so many bands out on the road. But this is the city that never sleeps, and slow is a relative term. The following is but a sampling of recent sessions, and works in progress…a snapshot of what’s going on around town:
Starting at Germano Studios downtown…50 Cent has been writing and recording new material with Araab Muzik producing and Ky Miller engineering, Ne-Yo was in writing and recording with Swizz Beatz producing and Moses Gallart engineering, and Justin Nozuka recorded basic tracks with Steve Jordan producing and Dave O’Donnell engineering – all in Studio 1.
In Studio 2, will.i.am continues to record new material which he’s self-producing and engineering, and Oriane recently recorded vocals with Walter Afanasieff producing and Jason Agel engineering.
Nearby at The Lodge, Mastering Engineers Emily Lazar, Joe LaPorta and Heba Kadry have been busy working on Björk‘s epic multimedia release, Biophilia, due out this Fall. The music for Biophilia – featuring a 10-song album and 10 musical iPad apps themed after each song’s scientific subject matter – was mastered at the Lodge in March by Lazar and LaPorta alongside Björk and her longtime engineer/producer Damian Taylor.
Other recent releases mastered at The Lodge include Chris Taylor’s CANT LP, Morgan Page’s new album, In The Air, Ronnie Vannuci’s (of the Killers) solo debut Big Talk – produced by Joe Chiccarelli and mixed by Alan Moulder – the new Boy & Bear album – also produced by Chiccarelli – and Large Professor’s latest for Fat Beats Records.
The Lodge also mastered Ronnie Spector’s tribute cover of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black – produced by Richard Gottehrer – Surfer Blood’s cover of Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings” for SPIN’s Nevermind compilation, new releases by Zechs Marquise (band formed by Marcel Rodriguez Lopez from the Mars Volta), and Junior Mance, and the new Wooden Ships album – produced by Phil Manley of Trans Am.
Over in the East Village at Flux Studios, Todd Whitelock mixed an upcoming album by jazz saxophonist and flautist Kenny Garrett in the Revolution Room. Garrett – who was a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and Miles Davis’ band – will release his upcoming album via Mack Avenue Records.
And down in SoHo, The Magic Shop has been going steady…Shooter Jennings tracked for his upcoming album with engineer Brandon Mason, assisted by Brian Thorn, Burning Spear tracked and mixed for their upcoming album with Thorn engineering, assisted by Kabir Hermon, and Tom Schick was in mixing for She and Him’s upcoming Merge album.
Other recent sessions in the Magic Shop’s unique Studio A include: The American Secrets tracking and mixing songs for upcoming freecreditscore.com commercials with producer Neil McClellan (The Lodge Music creative director) and engineers Ted Young and Colin Thibadeau; The Gaslight Anthem tracking an iTunes exclusive live session with producer Jason Marcucci, and engineers Ted Young and Mike Judeh; and tracking sessions for new albums by Elliot Sharp (producer Joe Mardin/ engineer Ted Young), Lee Feldman (engineer Ted Young), Ben Carroll (producer Adam Levy / engineer Brian Thorn), The Virgins (engineer Emery Dobyns) and The Universal Thump (engineer Kabir Hermon).
Meanwhile in the Magic Shop’s Blue Room, Warren Russell-Smith has been doing restoration work for the second season of Boardwalk Empire. Recent mastering sessions at the Magic Shop include albums for Rockstar Games, Anna Volgelzang, Warpaint, Nightplane (mastered by Russel-Smith) and Nâ Hawa Doumbia, Vic Varney and Pretty Good Dance Moves (mastered by Jessica Thompson).
At another studio down in SoHo – Serious Business Music – producer/engineer Travis Harrison has had a steady stream of bands in to appear on his BreakThru Radio show. In the last month, “Serious Business on BTR” has featured performances and interviews (by Harrison) with A Million Years, Fort Lean, Les Sans Culottes, El Jezel and Quiet Loudly.
Harrison has also been working on a number of album projects, including an album with a new band called The Cosmos – formed by Dougy Payne and Andy Dunlop from Travis, and Cinjun Tate from Remy Zero – a solo 7” with Doug Gillard from Guided By Voices, and a record with Rocketship Park for Serious Business Records.
In Park Slope at Seaside Lounge Recording, engineer/producer/musician Josh Clark mixed a record by Nashville native Luke Roberts, The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport, to be released by Thrill Jockey Records in 2012. Initial tracking sessions for the record went down at The Beach House in Nashville and Atlantic Sound in Brooklyn (with “Seaside Lounge” rounding out the coastal recording theme.)
On the West Side at Stratosphere, Japanese electro-rock band The Telephones tracked their new album in Studio A with producer/engineer Alex Newport, recording everything to tape on the studio’s Studer 2″.
Also at Stratosphere…Ice T booked an afternoon of vocals and filming for upcoming documentary Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap. Stratosphere’s own Adam Tilzer engineered. Aaron Neville returned to record vocals with producer Matthew Ferraro and engineer Geoff Sanoff.
Daniel Merriweather was back for sessions with Dave McCracken, Amanda Ghost and engineer Chris Shaw, Florence + the Machine was in with engineer Andros Rodriguez, and Nathan Larson (A Camp, Shudder To Think) tracked and mixed music for an upcoming film, Tiger Eyes, with Geoff Sanoff engineering.
Up at Carriage House Recording in Stamford, cellist Dave Eggar (Evanescense, Coldplay) and his band Deoro finished mixes for their upcoming record in Studio A with engineer/mixer Brendan Muldowney, and art-pop songstress Rachael Sage tracked basics for her upcoming release with engineer John Shyloski.
Back in town, at Sear Sound, NYC denizen Donald Fagen tracked in Studio A on the 8038 Neve with Michael Leonhart producing and Charlie Martinez engineering for Warner Bros. Records. eONE Music was in Studio C, reportedly “classisizing” Frank Zappa songs for a new release. In this process, Zappa’s original songs were rescored for classical orchestral instruments and tracked on Sear Sound’s custom Avalon/Sear console in sessions produced by Susan Del Giorno with GRAMMY-winning engineer Silas Brown.
Producer/engineer Gary Maurer also checked into Sear to track an ensemble of 22 musicians for his upcoming HEM album in Studio C. He will reportedly return to Sear Sound shortly to mix a 24 song double album.
Further west at Masterdisk, Scott Hull mastered Sting’s three-CD box set, Sting 25 Years, featuring remixes and a previously unreleased live concert DVD with 10 tracks recorded live in NYC, produced by Rob Mathes. Also at Masterdisk, Vlado Meller mastered a Julio Iglesias two-disc “Greatest Hits” set, with songs re-recorded and re-mixed by Alberto Sanchez, the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album, I’m With You, and the Jane’s Addiction single “Irresistible Force,” and upcoming album, The Great Escape Artist.
Andy VanDette recently mastered the Spiderman Turn Off The Dark cast album and albums by Blessthefall, The Static Jacks and Barefoot Truth, and Ellen Fitton remastered Debbie Harry’s Koo Koo, and Jellybean’s Wotupski.
Premier Studios in Times Square hosted Demi Lovato working on a project for Disney Pictures – a song produced by Sandy Vee, with piano overdubs played by Mikkel Eriksen from Stargate. The session was engineered by Sam Giannelli. Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas produced tracks for Lil Wayne, working with engineer Mike Cadahia with Kevin Geigel assisting. DefJam artist Ace Hood, produced by DJ Khaled, was at Premier recording vocals and mixing an upcoming release with engineer Ben Diehl.
Atlantic artist Wiz Khalifa recorded vocals, with engineer Josiah Hendler, EMI Artist MoZella was in with producer Scyience, mixing with engineer Anthony Daniel, and Scyience was also in with Epic artist Alice Smith, mixing an upcoming release with an engineer by the name of Push Buttons.
Over at Avatar Studios, strings were recorded in Studio A for the upcoming Lou Reed/Metallica album with producer Hal Willner and engineer Greg Fidelman, assisted by Bob Mallory. NYC/Ireland rockers Suddyn recorded their single in Studio G on the SSL 4000G+ with producer David Kahne, engineer Roy Hendrickson and assistant Tyler Hartman. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus was in Studio A recording with producer Bryce Dessner, of The National and Clogs, and engineer Lawson White, assisted by Aki Nishimura.
Music for the upcoming film, A Late Quartet, was also recorded in Studio A with producer Alan Bise and engineer Bruce Egre. The cast albums for People in the Picture (producers Mike Stoller and Steven Epstein, engineer Todd Whitelock) and A Minister’s Wife (producer Tommy Krasker, engineer Bart Migal) were also recorded at Avatar.
And we know there’s so much more going on out there! If you’d like to be featured in “Session Buzz,” please submit your studio news to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A number of interesting artists have been recording at the legendary Sear Sound in Midtown Manhattan — Walter Sear’s legacy of audio excellence lives on!
First, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Yoko Ono are making a record together. And they’ve been recording it at Sear Sound, with Chris Allen engineering.
Both Sonic Youth and Ono have a history with the studio — Sonic Youth having recorded multiple albums (Rather Ripped, Sister, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star) in Studio A with its Neve 8038 with Flying Faders. Apparently Walter Sear even recorded one of their earliest records at his former studio in the Paramount Hotel. And Ono recorded and mixed her last record Between My Head and the Sky at Sear with Allen engineering in Studio C, on the Avalon/Sear custom console.
In other recent sessions: the NYC-based blues band JD and The Straight Shot have also been recording for a new album with Dave Natale engineering and Mark Atkins producing. The band, led by James Dolan with Charlie Drayton on drums, reportedly have their own live performance setup in the studio, with speaker wedges and a submixing Yamaha board.
And singer/songwriter Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon) has been tracking a new album, with Ruddy Cullers engineering. John Scofield also tracked and mixed his new record at Sear on the Neve 8038, with Brian Blades on drums, Scott Colley on bass and Larry Goldings on the studio’s B3 Hammond and Steinway ‘C’ grand, and James Farber engineering. They mixed down to RMG 900 1/2″ on the ATR 102.
Producer Craig Street recorded singer Madeleine Peroux with Matt Cullen engineering and a band that included Drayton again on drums, and Mark Ribot on guitar. And Scarlet Johansson was in recording overdubs for an album with Lucien Gainsbourg, with Jeremy Loucas engineering. Prior to Johansson coming in, Gainsbourg has been recording his larger album project at Sear as well.
Singer Nicole Henry recorded with producer Matt Pierson and Allen engineering, with John Stoddardt on piano, and arrangements by Stoddardt and Gil Goldstein. And Japanese outfit New Friends, Inc. were in tracking the pianist / vocalist Akiko Yano for a film. She played the Steinway ‘D’ – 9′ concert grand, and Aya Merrill engineered the sessions.
This is just a sampling of the recent sessions, according to Sear Sound’s manager Roberta Findlay. Visit www.searsound.com for more information on the studio, and its equipment and history.