Juana Molina

“The recording process is like catching a very strange bird with your camera, like an instant picture of the music at the moment you are doing it,” reflects Juana Molina. “You can try and repeat the picture, but you won’t have it. You will have maybe the back or the beak, but it won’t be as good as you saw it before.”

Molina is speaking from her home studio in Argentina, where she writes, records, and mixes her one-woman albums, now numbering three. On her latest, Son, the focus can’t help but shift to the sounds emanating from her guitar(s) (primarily a 1961 Martin 00-21, Martin 335, Ibanez Roadstar II, and an “old Yamaha acoustic”), all of which are miked raw and sent in the same fashion.

This ready-to-go approach is what Molina has counted on for making music since 1999. At that time, she shifted her operation, from a rinky-dink four-track to incorporating her home computer (currently a Mac G5) while using the latest version of Digital Performer and a Mackie 1604-VLZ Pro 16-channel mixer (“some channels don’t work as good as before,” she says).

“I like first takes,” states Molina. “First takes have this fresh way. It has the research [and] all the spontaneity of what you were looking for. You can fix it if there’s something really bothering you, or wrong, but it won’t change the spirit.”

The vocals of Son benefit from a similarly simplistic recording method, with a Shure SM58 serving as the rough track mic (“it’s a little duller and not as high-fidelity and you lose a lot of frequencies, even if it is warm,” she says), and a Neumann TLM 103 for the final sessions (“it takes a lot of the breath I have naturally,” she says). To capture ambient/room sounds, Molina relies on an Audio-Technica AT822. “I put the microphone in the middle and that’s it,” she says. “It has all the highs and the small things. I hear more things with the microphone than with my ears, especially outdoors. There’s some kind of rumble, very low, I don’t hear it, but the microphone feels it and records it.”

All of Molina’s material is sung in Spanish, with her hollow, throaty utterances serving as seductive conduit. This can take the form of almost no sound at all, such as on “Las Culpas,” another product of her one-take mentality where she uses a Lexicon MPX on both her vocals and her guitar. Alternatively, it can change form more than once in a song such as “Micael,” where she shifts from hypnotic to disturbed.

“Micael” originally started as a Christmas song Molina borrowed from her daughter’s school to perform at the Disney Concert Hall two years ago — taking only the melody while changing the lyrics entirely. Bells that she used at the live performance, however, weren’t at her disposal during recording, so she recreated their sound on the keyboard. Additionally, she thought of having gongs as part of the song, making it more complex with increasing rhythmic and instrumental parts.

“We put five [gongs] on the floor so you have this very dull, metallic sound,” Molina explains. “We recorded with the stereo mic in the middle, so the stereo in the gong is a natural stereo. I hit the gongs with the special sticks they have and recorded the figure I wanted to have. Then my friend wanted to play too, so he recorded the second one in a different layer. When I had everything recorded, I heard something that wasn’t recorded. I cut some of the sounds (especially the high, tiny sounds), got that particular sound and pasted it where I was really listening and it had to be and wasn’t because we hit the wrong gong while recording.”

She continues, “Music goes beyond technology. There are amazing records technical-wise that sound big, huge, but they don’t transmit anything. If you can transmit what you want through what you have, that’s good enough.”