Saturday, June 16, 2007

in front of a live studio audience

I hate recording.

…Well, no, that’s a little simplistic.

I have a hard time performing for recordings.
Hmm… that’s not quite right either.

I have difficulty playing for the purpose of recording.
I wouldn’t have this problem if I were actually performing.

I have no comparable or corresponding problem when performing for an audience (which is probably why so many of my more successful recordings were done ‘live’).
Some musicians are skilled with studio recordings (and by studio, I mean without an audience—the studio in question could be a loft, basement, garage, or bedroom). They love the process and/or they have (I’m not sure how to describe this) ‘recording chops’.

I don’t.

I can’t seem to discipline myself into making every take count. At the back of my mind is the voice that says, “don’t worry, there’s always take two”, except that ‘take two’ tends towards take seven, take eight, nine, ten or take forty. Each take comes with ever diminishing returns; further and further removed from that compact, concise, information-rich play that I was aiming for. The problem, for me, comes from not having an audience, not having the pressure of performance, and this process is exacerbated if I’m recording solo. (The only recording, which was, incidentally, in a trio setting, in which I managed to avoid falling back on the psychological safety net of the next take was when I was suffering from the flu, and I was far to sick to be doing more than one take: that take, the one we just did, was going to have to do.)
This got me thinking, what if I just set up a faux-public-performance (like sitcoms ‘recorded in front of a live studio audience’), and recorded the results of that? All the technical resources would be geared up for recording, but the performance vacuum would be re-pressurized with a minimal audience. In the end, only three people constituted this audience, but (I haven’t heard the tape yet) the play felt more focussed.


Anonymous said...

how about you hire me as a recording engineer and I'll do you a special "Super Expensive High-Pressure Rate" that means you can't afford to do take 2? Would that do the trick?


peter breslin said...

Hi- Recordings are a great mystery to me. How many times have you ripped steamily through a live set, with near-ecstatic enthusiasm and resounding audience energies, only to listen to a bland, wet toilet paper tape of the same show later? Disasters have happened for me in the studio (lousy headphone monitors, endless troublesome passages, cranky colleagues) and yet some of those recordings have ended up sweet indeed.

Maybe Venus rules the arts and Uranus rules the technology? Something.

Anyway, I love studio recording and usually hate recordings of my own live shows. Go figure.


the improvising guitarist said...

Alex, I suspect a “Super Expensive High-Pressure Rate” would mean I wouldn’t be able to afford take 1! ;-)
Seriously, financial pressures would mean I probably would have a harder time (after false starts, restart after restart) actually getting though take 1. By ‘pressure’, I didn’t mean a nervous pressure (which is what I get when dealing with $$$$ whether in banks, in terms of arts funding, or college loans), but a push to be concise—a kind of musical ‘eloquence’, maybe—that comes from people just, well, listening (but you probably knew that really).

PB: …I love studio recording and usually hate recordings of my own live shows. Go figure.

I figure that I’m in the minority ;-)

Thanks for the comments.

S, tig

peter breslin said...

Hi- An amendment to my comment about preferring studio recordings to live recordings of things I've been on...the truth is, I end up preferring live recordings, but lots of time has to go by, spiritual and psychic distance from the performance event itself. When I hear it soon afterwards it feels drained of the energies that were in the air at the time.


matt said...

On the very few times I've done free improv in recording studios, we've recorded about 2 hours of material, and taken short breaks. On listening back over a couple of weeks we've then compiled 45 mins that we like. I've found there are normally several distinct 'pieces' in the recordings we've done. I wasn't quite sure what you meant by 'takes' – ie 'take 1', 'take 2' et al...? i mean, it's not like you're playing a score

There's an interesting interview with Bruce Russell on the addlimb website in which he says he doesn't differentiate between 'live performance' and 'recording' simply because he records everything. I'm not organized enough, and far too lazy, to do that (even though I do have a handy portable .wav recorder and some good mics) but I do like the idea: totally ridding oneself of any self-conscious distinctions between the two.

the improvising guitarist said...

Hey matt, thanks for the comment; those are good points, some of which I’ll try and address below.

I wasn’t quite sure what you meant by ‘takes’… i mean, it's not like you’re playing a score

You’re right, there’s generally no score, but maybe I don’t do ‘free improv’ in the sense that you mean. I certainly make tactical considerations—some on the fly, some prior to a given ‘take’.
One factor is that I don’t want to repeat myself (too much) on a given recording project (if bloop appears on a recording once, I’ll try to avoid boring the listeners with too many more of those). So, not exactly a score (certainly not a Composition), but there are these little strategies to put myself in a certain space to, say, avoid getting stuck or avoid repetition… (I’ll try and write more about these in a future post).
And I don’t like to repeat each tactic too much on a given recording project either ;-)
The other factor is that I generally avoid editing any given ‘take’. Select a ‘take’, sure, but I like the (un)logic (warts’n’all) to remain intact and trust the listener to do the editing (a little like shooting in masters, maybe…).

…he [Bruce Russell} says he doesn't differentiate between 'live performance' and 'recording' simply because he records everything.

Actually, the question that was put to Russell was slightly different—subtly, but significantly—than the one I was getting at (which in retrospect, was perhaps not clear enough). The question asked of Russell was “does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing”. The problem I have is not that being recorded affects my playing (I done ‘live’ recordings without the problems I’ve talked about), but that not being in performance bring stresses and factors that I find difficult to deal with. The distinction I make is not the presence or absence of the recording process, but the presence or absence of the performance ritual.

Hope that makes sense, and thanks for reading.

S, tig