This is a very cool little project studio, perfect for what we do. By day, engineer/owner James runs the space as a martial arts studio and dojo, but by night he explores his other passion and transforms it to a nice recording set up.

Our first night was short, mainly dialing in tones and headphone mixes, troubleshooting some minor technical issues, and a few run throughs to get the feel. Everything got dialed in fairly quickly with no major hurdles.
 
We're all standing in the large room with the drums, which is the perfect way for us to play.

 

Chris is going direct, and my amps get some very creative isolation treatments:one amp is in a closet,

 

 

 

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the other in a bathroom!

 

 

 

 

 


 

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However, there's no need for any 'my tone is going down the toilet'  jokes. On the contrary, I'm getting a great sound in both amps so far. Whatever works!

While I dont think we have any keepers from last night, good prep work was done. Today will be a long day: let's see what kind of progress we make.

These are some notes from an early demo studio session we tried in March of 2012., before we began to track in earnest later that August. None of these sessions saw the light of the day, but this post shares some thoughts into recording and preserving an essentially ephemeral way of making music. Then as now, the philosophical questions remain:

A very long but productive day back in the studio yesterday; we are exhausted, but much progress has been made!

We started Saturday with the fretless material, but we all approached Saturday as more or less a run through: getting used to the room, the vibe,  fixing basic tones, etc. So Sunday we started where we left off and tackled the fretless material in earnest, then made headway on some of the regular guitar material.

Overall, after two days work, we have 8 of the 12 tunes tracked. I think thats phenomenal progress. That said, we left last night without having done any listening to playbacks, so as of then, I wasn't sure how viable any of it is.

Because of the amp separation, playing through headphones, etc, all of us sense that it's hard to know precisely what and how we're doing; some takes feel stronger  than others, but are there minor problems? Big problems in either the performance or the capture that we didn't catch at the time?

I did some listening to the first set of playback mixes this morning (some of the material from last night). Happily,  there are really strong moments everywhere. That said, we're all human, and there is an occasional quirk or flub on my end in some of the written sections.

I was concerned that  those would force some retakes (keep in mind that a band like ours with such a group improvisational focus means this isnt a part-by-part band; we have to play it live), but  I don't think so. When I picked up the rest of the playbacks this evening, James and I listened to all the microphone tracks in isolation and discovered the bleed or crosstalk is minimal. That   should make taking care of the occasional clam  on the "heads" much easier. Then again, it may be in there just enough to make punching in sound cloudy. Won't know till we try.

I also haven't heard playbacks from Saturday night, and  there could be pleasant surprises there, too.

The improv portions are all  good so far -- the question, as always, is can they be better? Do they serve the tune? 

I'll give an example. One of the Sama Duo tunes that made it into the P4B repertoire is "Mist." Moody, dark, atmospheric, its a chordal slippery piece,  with a lot  of tense harmonic movement against a pedal point. The improv section can get pretty out there, but it always relates. Lately we've been pretty adept at  taking it  far afield yet still sustaining  the feel of the piece.

I have two takes (and one I havent heard yet). One is good. The other is very good; Jefferson and I have the conversation going and are following each other really well --  but while not frenetic, it's a little busier than we've been treating the tune as of late. Great playing and interplay -- we played from the heart and it was honest and in the moment -- but do we do a retake to see if we can serve the tune better?

The de facto impermanence of improvisation is beautiful, and one of its main attractions for me. While the moment generates its own structure, once you document it -- epsecially in an album length context --there's another structure superimposed upon it, and that's where I think recording  this kind of music gets interesting: Is it a passive, transparent archive, preserving the moment, or can the superimposed architecture bring out something more? What are the overall aesthetic considerations and emotional impact of the larger frame -- the  section of a piece, the piece, the album?

What are you saying?

What do you stand for?

How do you want your heart  to speak?

The beauty of the recording process is that those answers get revealed as the larger process takes shape, just as the monetary nanoseconds of a musical exchange defines its own form.

For us, for this CD, the journey's just beginning to unfold.

I got the rest of the playbacks this evening; will distribute to the bandmates tomorrow. Much listening to do over the next two days before we go back Thursday.

After some careful thought, we've scrapped everything we did in March. We realized we were neither as  relaxed nor as ready as we needed to be, and while James ' studio was great for what it was, we really needed something with a bit more flexibility, space and isolation wise.  

Enter Third Eye Studio , about 1/2 hour east of the city, in Tijeras. 

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Lovely spot, with a big sunny main room where we set up the drums, giving it that Bonham stairwell effect.

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Our proposed schedule was this: load in, get decent sounds and some test runs on Day 1; track all the Gretsch material Day 2; fretless and oud, Day 3; cleanups/retakes/fixes on Day 4.

Im pleased to report this actually has gone according to plan!

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I  did two days of cleans ups/fixes the week after. 

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The studio sounds glorious and we've got some great  performances: Hendrix goes to Bengal, Johnny Cash dhrupad, some very lovely oud stuff. Dave and Dana were fabulous and easy to work with!

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Now it's on to some careful review, editing and mixing -   and launching our Kickstarter campaign!