Feeling Room: Horses

PROJECT: Tonal Achievement: Robert StillmanDATES OF RECORDING: December 2005STUDIO: Avast StudioLOCATION: Seattle, WashingtonALBUM TITLE: HorsesPRODUCER/ENGINEER: Robert Stillman/Troy Tietjen

I was inspired from reading about The Band crammed in together among baffles, mics, and consoles in Sammy Davis Junior’s pool-house when recording their self-titled record, so I wanted everyone to track live in the same room, minus headphones, so we could get the feel of playing together as a group, and also to get the effect of the different sounds interacting with each other in the shared air-space. There was concern about bleed at first, but we placed baffles where they were needed and tried to work with the bleed as opposed to against it. In a few cases during the mix we got the instrument sounds we wanted from a room mic that was set all the way across the room. During the first take of the session it became clear to everyone involved that this tactic was, sonically, the right thing to do — since we had captured the feeling of our surroundings in addition to the audio.

Being somewhat familiar with Avast Studio I was wary of what the acoustic character of the live room would be — as the last record I worked on had been tracked there one instrument at a time. Upon listening to the playback of the first take, we were met with a sound that was incredibly mysterious and dark in character — not the traditional wood and high-ceiling live room — it was intimate with an almost ethereal quality. To this ear, it seemed as if the sonic movement of the tones finding their way to each little corner of the room was being captured. With a few minor exceptions, all the reverb on the album was obtained naturally by placing mics to capture natural ambience.

Engineer Troy Tietjen’s talent and wealth of knowledge made him an invaluable resource during the recording. Prior to the session, Troy and I conceptualized so that he could get a good sense of what equipment would be most appropriate. He suggested recording 16-track to 2-inch tape at 15 inches per second to give the recording that dark, saturated, classic sound and using old tube condensers and ribbon mics. Since the band entered the studio well rehearsed, we were able to use a majority of our time there getting good sounds — track a take and then make a few changes after playback, ad hominem, until we arrived at a sound we liked.

There were a few very different ‘spaces’ I wanted to open up in various songs — the circus big-top, the western saloon, huge mountain valleys, the feeling of fluttering and breathing in nature, and so on. Transposing these fairly abstract notions to specific sounds associated with different equipment and techniques was a strenuous yet exciting process, but Mel Detmer, the mixing engineer, did an amazing job of placing each sound we achieved, spatially and dynamically, in the mix — giving it a more clandestine feel.

I was lucky to have the access to such resources when recording this album. If the artifice they constructed is any good, then this should serve as a good example of how to translate idea into sensation all while using the tactics of the days of old.