Friday’s recording session for Annie Lee Evans explored some slightly new territory for me. Not so much because it was in Brighton (considering the distance, I end up there surprisingly often), but in the sense of the musical techniques involved. Let me explain.
My recording experience to date has generally been based around the principle of live in the studio, even if that is a starting point from which to depart. So, for instance, the Filthy Spectacula album was actually recorded by doing full band takes of which only the drum and bass parts were final, the violin, guitar and vocal lines being used as guides while we overdubbed the master versions. Then various overdubs were applied to what were more or less the live arrangements. However, at any given point the person recording had the full band arrangement in his/her headphones, by a combination of live feed, already recorded final track, and guide. And the songs existed (with one or two exceptions I can remember) from start to finish as wholes in the timing and layout of the finished product.
For various reasons, this track – soon to go public as a pro-standard vocal demo of jazz standard ‘Autumn Leaves’ – was constructed differently, both in terms of order and studio method. The materials being assembled were a piano backing track (split in two and framed), vocal (master take done after I left; I did use an approximate guide for some sections), and the strings I had arranged and was recording. The latter amounted to a three-part section (two violins and viola) through most of the track, all of which I was double-tracking for a more lush ‘orchestral’ sound in line with Annie’s vision and influences for the track, plus an improvised violin obbligato responding to the voice in roughly the second half.
So far, not much seems to need to change. The extra complications arise mainly from the two sections of the new arrangement that are not added on to any part of the piano track. At some stage in the process, therefore, there had to be a splicing together stage: introduction onto first half of piano track onto interlude onto second half of piano track. And since you can’t conduct a multi-track dub stack, the introduction and interlude were recorded to click; but the piano track featured heavy rubato so the click couldn’t continue through it.
There would have been an option to piece together a ‘rhythm track’ of piano and click, by positioning sections, which each part could then be dubbed over top to bottom. But this was a home studio session on limited time and that isn’t the way most recording engineers would approach it. So instead we recorded the four sections separately, with their six or (the second half of the piano track, with the improv) seven tracks each, and made detailed notes of how the three joins were to work. Ignoring out-takes, 25 distinct recorded sections being layered on top of each other in groups and then joined end-to-end with specific timing so the whole thing has a single rhythmic flow. It was an unusual afternoon’s playing!
Also an unusual place to leave off, since not only have I not heard final mix, EQ, etc. etc. etc. (which is quite normal, especially for a session player as opposed to a band member), but I haven’t heard the sections joined together in order and correct timing. I have faith in the process, the people and the material involved, but the unusual thing is that faith is required in the absence of my ears corroborating it directly. I look forward to the release with more interest than usual!