Emily Bezar knows synthesis. Her music, which fuses classical and jazz elements with exotic electronic textures, owes much to her background in classical vocal technique and studies at Stanford University's famed Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).
Faced with a limited recording budget, Bezar has to come up with ways to combine her personal studio with a commercial studio to get the best of both worlds. She perfected this tricky logistical approach for her third release, Four Walls Bending (DemiVox Records, 1999).
Four Walls Bending teems with intense, progressive pop. Its compositions and instrumental jams reflect a heightened collaboration with her band: guitarist Morris Acevedo, bassist Andrew Higgins, and drummer Steve Rossi. "I wanted it to be a band album," Bezar says. "It does have a lot of electronic sounds, but you hear the sounds only after you hear the song and the band. I create a world around that performance. The sound serves the song. `Black Sand' has bleepy, analog, trippy things that remind me of an eerie kind of twilight on a beach."
However, Bezar believes her approach stands in sharp contrast with "a lot of music today, where the individual sounds seem to say more than the song itself." The production began at home with her acoustic piano, a Kurzweil PC88 and K2000, a Power Mac 8500 (upgraded to a G3) running Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer and BIAS Peak, and an Alesis ADAT-XT connected to the Mac through a Korg 1212 I/O PCI card. "It wasn't so much composing at the computer as arranging. I look at Performer as a big sketch pad." Bezar notes that the song "Sigh" was "a huge jigsaw puzzle. I used Performer to juggle song parts until it sounded like the tension and release was right." Next, she burned demo CDs for the band - "more or less blueprints of the final arrangement I wanted on the record" - and rehearsed the band.
Four Walls Bending was tracked onto 2-inch analog tape instead of ADAT tape to capture a warmer sound. The rhythm section and vocals were recorded at Coast Recorders in San Francisco, while the acoustic piano was tracked at Spark Studios in Emeryville. "Once we recorded the basics, I transferred them to ADAT tape along with a dub of the SMPTE time code and came home." Bezar returned to her personal studio for the final touches, which included editing, the addition of MIDI sequences, and guitar processing and overdubs. She also created a palette of electronic sounds by looping and processing her synthesizers - including her analog Sequential Circuits Six-Trak - in Digital Performer. All of these elements were transferred back to analog tape at Coast Recorders.
The biggest challenge for Bezar was working with the time code to ensure that her ADAT tracks were properly synched with the analog-tape tracks. When she brought her computer and ADAT-XT into Coast Recorders for final mixing, engineers Justin Phelps and Dan Phillips helped her overcome any problems with the system. "It was complicated to try and do this, " she says, "but it worked. When we mixed, we didn't have any sync problems.
"It's when you aspire to create a real electroacoustic sound that it becomes a complex project," Bezar says. "Four Walls Bending took a lot of planning, as all big multitracked albums do. I had to have a fair amount of foresight about the final sound of the song before I went in and recorded it. "