David Berkeley Pro/File | Isle of Magic


Photo: Matthew Washburn

The fodder for David Berkeley''s latest indie-folk offering, Some Kind of Cure, resulted from spending a year on the small Mediterranean island of Corsica, where he accompanied his wife while she conducted research for a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology. Berkeley''s music is known for vocally rich, lyrically layered arrangements that blend acoustic and electric elements; in Corsica, his songs took on a greater sophistication, becoming more haunting than his previous work. “There is magic on that island,” Berkeley says, “and without sounding too voodoo, I think that magic hovered over these recordings.”

While in Corsica, Berkeley made field recordings in a little village church, recording bells, a choir, and children''s voices using a Zoom H2 pocket-sized digital recorder. “It was hard to direct the Corsicans to sing in the keys I needed, both because my French sucks and because Corsicans are pretty hard to direct,” Berkeley says. “But those recordings sounded great; the church had an amazing natural reverb.”

Berkeley then worked at producer/engineer Will Robertson''s studio near Atlanta. Although many song arrangements became quite elaborate, Berkeley says he wanted his performance to be at the core of every song. “On my voice we used an SE Gemini II [dual-tube mic] into an FMR RNP8380 [mic preamp],” he adds. “I played guitar while singing on most songs. Will would back the mic off my vocal a little bit and stick an AKG 451 as close to the guitar but as far away from my voice [as possible] to avoid phase problems. Additionally, he recorded a piano part or a bass part while I was performing. This allowed me to be musical; plus, we had many of the basics done all at once.”

Robertson miked additional instruments using a pair of mics placed near and far from each source. Robertson''s go-to models included AKG C 414s and AKG C 451s, which he usually ran through a Focusrite ISA428 mic pre. To record violinist Sarah Zaslaw for “Soldier''s Song” (see Web Clip 1), Robertson set up a stereo pair of AKG C 414s in an X/Y configuration. The mics were positioned about five feet off the floor, pointing down diagonally at four chairs that were set up in a semicircle. “I''d record four passes of each violin line,” Robertson explains, “with our violinist sitting in a different seat, creating different ‘personalities'' for each pass. Since each pass hit the mics a little differently, it really sounded like a section, and we avoided the phase issues that can be problematic when doubling or tripling violin lines.”

Drum tracks were recorded in Chicago at Clava Studios into Pro Tools 5.1 using an Avid 888 I/O interface and a Mac PowerPC 9600. “I wanted Kevin O''Donnell to be our drummer on the record, and he''s based in Chicago,” Berkeley says. “I also wanted Neil [Strauch of Engine Studios in Chicago] to mix the record and thought it would be cool to have him engineer the drum recordings so he could have the songs in his head.”

Berkeley blended his field recordings from Corsica into several songs, including the album''s title track (see Web Clip 2). “We played with placing the audio in various parts of the song, layering it in such a way that created a sort of old-world, ethereal backdrop,” he says. “There was also a happy accident where the reverb on the soloist''s ‘s'' happened to hit at the same time as the ‘s'' in the second chorus'' ‘dangerous.'' I liked that so much that Will printed it to its own track and asked Neil [Strauch] to keep it in.”

Home base:San Francisco
Primary software: Avid Pro Tools 8, Propellerhead Reason, Spectrasonics Stylus RMX
"Must-have" piece of gear sideman Jordan Katz and his trumpet