Alex Machacek and Gary Husband spent several days with us recording a new album for their label, AbstractLogix. Gary has just finished touring the East Coast with John McLaughlin, and Alex flew in from Los Angeles. Both had been writing, practicing, and sharing notes about the music they would be recording, but this was the first time they had a chance to play it together. It was exciting to witness the music literally being realized through the process of recording!
Our recording setup anticipated Alex playing both electric and acoustic guitar. In the photo you see him practicing with Gary, so the amp is not isolated, and neither is Alex. For the recording, Alex played through a Carr Rambler amplifier isolated in Booth B, but he’s practicing with Gary through a Carr Mercury amplifier. He really enjoyed playing through both. During the recording session, Alex moved into the hexagonal room we made from gobos. When he was getting set up, I asked him “what’s your favorite color?” and when he told me “something warm, maybe orange”, I illuminated it with a really orange light. He liked the effect, and that’s how we kept it during the remainder of the session. (See below for some color out-takes.)
For the acoustic guitar, Alex auditioned two of our studio guitars: a Breedlove and an Alvarez Yari. Alex picked the Yari because its tone and action fit were a perfect fit for the tone he envisioned and for the way he plays.
Gary played our Yamaha CF-9. We set up three pairs of microphones to capture several perspectives of the piano’s sound. Over the hammers we had a pair of Schoeps CMC6 mics. Over the harp we had our DPA 3521 compact cardiod pair. Slightly higher and slightly farther away we had a pair of Coles 4038 ribbon microphones which you can see on the large boom stand. Ian then set about to get the piano to play Gary’s favorite colors, which tended to be a bit darker than our piano plays naturally. However, after some back-and-forth, we found that we could get the desired color with a touch of EQ. With that, we were ready to record.
Alex and Gary played their way through the first song, finding a variety of small things that needed fixing along the way. A note marked natural should have been marked sharp. A chord voiced one way should have been voiced another way. A bass note written for the piano actually worked better when played on the guitar. As these details were hammered out, the true character of the piece was revealed in greater and greater detail. And those details then informed further refinements, to voicing, gestures, dynamics, emphasis, and improvisation.
This reminded me of the process of designing the studio: when Wes drew the big lines of the initial floor plan, he was making major decisions. When he presented those decisions, there were a few that I questioned, and one that we really did alter (thereby creating Booth C and, in a round-about way, the Annex). But long after the big lines were drawn, we had to fill in the fine details, details that made our one-of-a-kind structure a truly organic environment. Listening to Alex and Gary work out the first piece, I heard them not only translate it from its notational representation to a performance, I heard them giving life to the musical spirit that would define the whole album.
Here are two photos that show the back-and-forth of this process:
Of course once the nature of the music has been defined, there is the small matter of actually playing it. And yet another challenge: how does one practice what has only just been decided minutes ago? The answer, I’m convinced, is to forget the complexities of the notes, and instead play the music. It is certainly more easily said than done, but both Alex and Gary are such accomplished musicians that once they had agreed on the music, it just flowed in so many different ways.
At the end of the session, Gary decided to add some percussion tracks. He took the Yari from Alex, turned it upside-down on his lap, and played it like a small cajon. Is there anything he cannot do?
I eagerly await the final mix and mastering of their new album. There is a lot of magic in the way that Alex and Gary played together, and I am sure you will hear it clearly when you listen.
And now for the “outtakes” of the gobo colorings:
And now the visual palate cleanser:
LED lights are fun!
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