ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – APRIL 2014: Beauty Pill is the musical brainchild of veteran producer and engineer Chad Clark, who founded the band in 2001 shortly after the dissolution of Smart Went Crazy. Both bands have received heaps of critical praise from outlets local to Washington D.C. and from the national press. Solid songwriting has turned Beauty Pill’s on-again/off-again status into something that promotes, rather than detracts, from its cult following. Beauty Pill recently teamed up with the Arlington, Virginia-based Artisphere museum to take on a unique artistic, musical, and sociological experiment. The band set up in a large room inside the museum with a windowed overlook and spent two weeks on display recording an album. Although they went in with racks of borrowed A-list studio gear, their initial recordings fell flat. It was only after Clark stripped everything down to just his Metric Halo ULN-8 interfaces that the recordings came alive, a testament to the ULN-8’s fantastic sound.
“Artisphere initially approached me to ask if I could do something ‘musical’ in the museum’s beautiful space,” explained Clark. “I was touring around, trying to come up with some ideas, when they showed me a large room with a window that overlooked it. It reminded me of Abbey Road Studio 2, where the Beatles made a lot of famous recordings. That put the idea in my head to do a recording there. It would be live in the sense that people would be watching us, but my plan was to record exactly as we would in a normal studio… including all of the discussions, overdubs, and the like. I thought it would interesting for the public to see that process – I have some non-musician friends who seem to think an album is made in almost the time it takes to listen to it!”
A musician first, Clark happily fell into engineering and production when other bands in the D.C.-area approached him because they liked the sound of Smart Went Crazy. He quit his day job in 1998 and spent nearly a decade between now and then as a mastering engineer at Silver Sonya. These days, he works mainly as a mix engineer, where he finds his passion for music is best nurtured. “It was working with Beauty Pill that first got me interested in the Metric Halo ULN-8,” Clark said. “It seemed to fit what I needed and what the band needed. Although I have nothing against low-fi recordings, I have no romance for them. I like sound that is vivid and the descriptions of the ULN-8 conveyed that idea. It’s turned out to be completely true – the ULN-8 is a miracle device! It’s incredibly flexible, and everything I record with it sounds amazing.”
Nevertheless, when someone goes to do a big studio recording – especially one that will be on display – there are certain preamps with legacies deep in the recordings of the late 1960s that engineers naturally assume will be the best choice for a rock record. With the help of friends at local studios, Clark amassed a rack of the choicest analog preamps and processors available. “We mic’d everything up with the best mics for each application and ran them to the textbook pro preamps that engineers have been using for decades,” he said. “The initial recordings were okay, but they weren’t fantastic. We all agreed that they fell kind of flat. So we simplified the mic’ing and pulled out all those great preamps, relying entirely on the Metric Halo ULN-8s for preamps and conversion to 24-bit/88.2kHz.”
He continued, “It was a revelation. The sound came alive. It was vivid and tactile. The ULN-8 preamps are just stellar. That was a convincing test, and now I never wonder about using anything but the ULN-8s now. I think it’s worth pointing out that although Metric Halo’s use of the term ‘archival quality’ is totally appropriate, it shouldn’t give anyone the idea that the ULN-8 is only for purists or documentary recording styles. Beauty Pill’s Artisphere recording is far from documentary. We use all kinds of overdubs and textures and found sounds. The quality of the ULN-8 simply makes that mode of recording more vivid and involving.”
Some of the band’s friends advised them against the experiment, citing YouTube’s “comment culture” as an example of how mean people can be when a band is vulnerable. “I suspect that if we had streamed the installation or posted video, things might have gotten ugly,” said Clark. “But the people who came to the exhibit were completely supportive. Sure, there were some uncomfortable moments when we were arguing amongst ourselves, but I mainly felt empathy from the window. They were wishing us well. It was an encouraging experiment!”
Ultimately, Immersive Ideal ran as an interactive multimedia photography and music exhibit with pictures from the recording sessions paired with a surround-sound mix of the final versions. Beauty Pill anticipates releasing it as a conventional stereo recording in the fall.
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