– Q1 : How long have you been in this business?
– Q2 : So what was the equipment in the sixties?
– Q3 : Do you think that we are coming back to emotion and playing live?
– Q4 : What do you think about rhythm machines? Do you think they represent an evolution or a regression?
– Q5 : When you work with, let’s say Little Feat how do you procede?
– Q6 : Do you do it technically or do you ask the player to do it?
– Q7 : And how do you record drums? Because there is in Paris a generation of engineers who don’t know how to take drums.
– Q8 : How long does it take you to make drum sound?
– Q9 : There is this controversial thing between analogue & digital...
– Q10 : What is your most insane session?
– Q11 : I’m going to ask you one last question...What do you think of actual music and actual recording?
Q1 : How long have you been in this business ?
– I’ve been in the recording business now for about 26 or 27 years, I started as an electrical land engineer, kind of like a teen electrical engineer and moved on to...other things, but really regard myself as an engineer and a musician, was a trombone player and a bass player later I was in an r&b band. I enjoyed that very much but I wasn’t very good. I enjoy very much building equipment and making records using that equipment to attempt to improve equipment, I find that it’s a fertile ground for development in a recording studio, there’s always something wrong and always an environment that makes equipment look bad, you can... pretty much break anything in a recording studio. To that end I engineer records and I also produce records, I have people that I have workede with for a very long time: noto(?), little feat and linda rondstadt. and occasionally people that I work with are new, for the first time. I work as a producer some of the time, an engineer some of the time, I prefer to do three different things, I prefer to work as an electrical engineer building equipment, as a recording engineer with plenty of time to play with the equipment, in other words a producer doing the choice and about the third of the time as a producer with the responsability for deciding how a record should sound. That’s what I do.
Q2 : So what was the equipment in the sixties?
– The very first equipment that I was exposed to in the sixties consisted of cathode ray tubes, valves, the tape recorders and the mixers and of course our microphones were all tube based. this presented some interesting challenges, and some advantages that we didn’t even know about at the time. But the thing that I remember most about the sixties was working in the two track format and having to learn how to fit everything onto two tracks. My experience was both in jingles for advertisements and records, the jingles were harder because we had to do the music very quickly, you are always pushed to finish jingles very quickly but the records weren’t easy either. Both of them were characterised. I remember doing both things and I remember having to work very hard to fit the sound in a final form as I heard it. It was a very quick take, you would get a fast balance, your very first impression of the sound, do a minimum of E.Q. because we really only had a few equalisers. And I seem to remember the only equalisers we had were proto equalisers and it pretty much had to go down on the tape correctly. This presented some interesting challenges for musicians and arrangers and that arrangment really had to allow for everything that was going to happen, everything had to be known when you went into the recording studio, to really make something sound crisp and thoughtful and present. Usually this meant that all the parts had to be written, but at least when I listen to old records from the sixties, from the fifties and sixties, old Frank Sinatra, old Ella Fitzgerald, old jazz records or old Coltrane or any of the guibert records, the thing that i’m struck with the most is how artful the presentation was, It would start off as a complete presentation: the arrangment and the setting in the studio and where everybody.How everybody was set up.
The other thing that I remember from all these sessions was the energy from doing those sessions, the two tracks sessions that when people walked into the studio to work, they were on, they had to perform well, they had to perform well not only for themselves but they had to perform well to help their fellow musicians, so that their fellow musicians wouldn’t have to stay endless hours and do take after take, it was a different attitude. That attitude changed in the seventies, the seventies were a time of experiment, of evolving technique, at the forefront of rock & roll, one always notices innovation, innovative sounds or innovative techniques. The biggest innovation of the seventies was probably multi-track, it was going into the studio with something less than a complete idea and forming the idea as one proceded in the recording. In retrospect I have to say that this was less successful than the arrangment method of going into a recording studio I think, because there wasn’t the dream, one person didn’t sit down and have a dream, you know the dream of a song and the dream of a sound. One person didn’t organize the effort, because it was usually done by different people: the guitar player would play with who he wanted to play with, the bass player would play with who he wanted to play with and the one thought of being able to work it out in the mix of course was impossible, completely impossible and a lot of time was wasted. As people understood what the limits of the technology were and pressed against those limits - I am going to go way out on a limb here and say that musical innovation happens when people meet, when musicians and artists meet a barrier, meet an obstacle and have to innovate a way around it. A lot of time a musician would dream of a sound or dream of an effect but it was impossible to make with that technology in the sixties, they were, they would simply have to dream a way around it whether it’s a tape recorder, or a reverberation effect or a musical effect and I can’t think of a good example, maybe I can think of a good example. Stop for a second and I think the sound that evolved the most, at least for me in these thirty years were drums, percussion, the modern rock & roll drum sound. In the sixties it was extremely hard to get a drum sound, you had to count on what you could do to the snare drum, to make the snare drum bigger, to make it broader. You’d literally change the snare drum, you’d tune it very carefully or you’d double up on the snares on the bottom or you’d very carefully damp the, the head of the drum...Rather than rely on equalization or any of the exotic reverberation effects that became...well known in the eighties. There was a big difference but I’m going to return to that point of meeting a technological barrier, time and time again because of what happened in the eighties, the barriers seemed to fall. There was very little that you couldn’t do, there was very little to resist your impulse, all that it took was time, you’d have to spend time to do these effects but you could do it, effects or, or musical sounds, or synthetizers became very highly programmable in the eighties. No longer did every patch corner have to be placed very carefully, they were highly programmable by many computers and at a touch of a button you could get thousands of tens of thousands of different kinds of sounds. The challenge of the eighties, the challenge of the eighties became how to find out, for me how to find a culture in the music, how to refine, where to go with the music, how to find the barrier, what was the technological barrier. The first technological barrier was having enough hands to mix multi-tracks and we sort of solved that by designing the use of friendly automation system that’s still evolving as we find things that are to do. Synthesizers were addressed by improving the programability but I say in the eighties that few musical barriers existed. We all looked at technological barriers and were fixing technological barriers, but I think music has suffered in the eighties as a result. I think there was very little challenge in the eighties. What happened to musicians in the eighties was that everything that could be fixed was fixed, that the performances became synthetized, that whenever you heard a note that maybe seemed to clash, your very first impulse was to replace it, the very first impulse was to get the guitar player to play the part again and to re-record it until it was seemingly perfect, in tune and in time, in the correct perspective and the correct texture until what the music had, was featureless and emotionless and many records in the eighties with artists proceded in that direction, proceded in emotionless directions. Though I just have made very good records like this, steely dan made superb records I think we still like to listen to them. But i’ve never met two more tortured individuals than Fagan and Becker, absolutely suffered for what they had to put on tape. The barriers that they constructed in their mind was sufficient to stimulate them to creativity. they were not limited gy technological barriers but their creative juices flooded and they made great records, a lot of people didn’t.What I want to hear in a record, in the nineties I want to hear a life and a culture and a texture that’s as close to real as I can possibly imagine. Anything that’s in the way of that, to me is a barrier which presents a lot of opportunities because every piece of electronic equipment you suspect the all digital process is suspect because it has limited resolution. We’re looking for ways to improve the resolution of digital, because we’d like to seek culture in music we’re more likely to record where there is an inherent musical culture. the records was started in new orleans which is a music city and the challenge was to work with musicians that didn’t necessarely know how to play in a studio, didn’t necessarely know how to synthetize their performance and didn’t clean up what they did. they were responding to the moment and it was up to us to make it presentable for a record which we’d try to do without over synthetizing the performance, so that’s the challenge now, is taking the technology to where real culture exists.
Q3 : Do you think that we are coming back to emotion and playing live?
– I think that we have something to compare emotional playing to. I think a new respect for records of the fifties and sixties, because I think some recordings that were made then are to this day unsurpassed. some absolutely superb recordings that we have not improved on, whose methods we have not improved on. And I think the musical performances are standards as well, on the other end of the spectrum we have the synthetized dailies which are an example of corruption of musical values and banalities and comparing these two it’s very clear what the choice should be,what the choice should be is a live, emotional performance were possible. If a band can deliver a live performance, great, if the producers can focus on what a live performance should sound like, what in their heart is the effect of live performance then I think multi-track will survive. cause It does help in some ways. And I think there’s, there’s some new methods with digital editing that are very interesting. I work with a jazz group and we take complete performances of a song and when we’re finished we edit together our favorite sections. Now we happen to do this on 48 track rather than 2 track, in the sixties we did it on 2 tracks, we did any number of blue grass records that way, 2 tracks, straight on, play it five or six times and "hey I like that and let’s put it on the finished take". Now we’re doing that 48 tracks so that we have the ability to improve on the mix. But the combination of the mixing tools we have in the eighties...I think we actually can make a snare drum sound bigger than ever, tremendous, I mean we really can make drum sound fabulous but we can’t guarantee a performance out of a drummer. the tools that we have to make things sound good if coupled with a method to allow a heart and musical values to come through a performance, I think it’s the record of the nineties. It’s not perfection but it’s improving the accessibility of the musical performance.
Q4 : What do you think about rhythm machines? Do you think they represent an evolution or a regression?
– Well, I’m sorry to tell you that the evolution of rhythm machines or drum machines has led us to a point where we very often when we’re cutting a rhythm track have available a click or a rhythm part for musicians to listen to, should they prefer to do that. It’s not always the case but i’d say it happens in eight out of ten sessions. What we find has happened between the rigorist formalisation of tempo and the rigorist formalisation of pitch has on one hand increased the sensitivity of drummers and players to at least be exposed to how to play, in time and in tune which are two primary classical values. You know rock & roll players never really had to learn how to play in time and in tune. and with rhythm machines and tuning machines now they’re obliged to be sensitive to this. I think that’s good. I think that’s good. On the other hand, I fear that it’s been overdone, I enjoy the classic r & b from the sixties where everyone had a sense of time but could play in a liquid fashion within a beat. That a drummer could lay back from the beat, a guitar player could be pushing it, a piano player could be playing anywhere, a bass player maybe ruling(?) solidly in the beat and there was a...there was a live feel to this music and it interchange because time has another dimension in music, everything doesn’t have to be exactly on 4/4. And I think unfortunately drum machines have made things very rigid. Having seen this happens in the eighties we’re responding to it in the nineties with saying that we’ll follow a click but it’s ok if something’s slightly behind then, you know maybe when we listen to a drum machine we’ll move the part around and see where it feels best. Maybe instead of programming and quantising drums we’ll take a complete loop of two mesures with a fairly er... liberal sense of time within those two mesures and loop it. It’s a volt but I think having the drum machine has been a good lesson.
Q5 : When you work with Little Feat, how do you procede?
– What we try to do is to procede as it is appropriate for the song. A song will generally tell us what it needs, if you listen very carefully to a song it will give you a direction...you know it said that to a novice there are many choices, to the boudhist, to the evolved boudhist mind there is but one path. I think if you’re very... if you listen very carefully to what you’re trying to do, it’s very clear how to procede. It could be that you use a drum machine, it could be that the drummer follows a click, it could be that the band plays completely live, completely live, and you record many times the same track until it’s perfected. we still do that from time to time. It could be that you tweaser(?) a track together that you have live players but you take the parts and you move them as it suits you, you take, you love the second verse on guitar. So...Let’s move the second verse to the first verse, let’s move the second verse to the third verse, let’s have that same guitar part every place in the song.
Q6 : Do you do it technically or do you ask the player to do it?
– We do that technically. With a digital machine. And in our case, we use a sony 48 tracks cause they’re really very easy to do this, they have an internal sound memory so that you can move, you know within the machine and it just requires one machine, more often we have two machines locked up and we build a song by offsetting and dededing(????) things across. It’s, it’s an option, it’s not something you want to do all the time, it’s not even something you want to do very much but occasionally it works. We have a song on the new Aaron Neville record that’s just new orleans’s rhythm section playing without a drum machine, doctor john, mac rabonite(?) the piano player and er...a new orleans’ player, willy green and darryl johnson playing bass and, and it’s just four piece on Aaron Neville and it’s beautiful, it’s completely unchanged. This song rejected all attempts at changing it. We tried to overdub horns, we tried to overdub singing, we tried to overdub everything, nothing worked. The song only existed as a four piece song of aaron singing. and finally after spending a great deal of money trying a number of different things, we mixed four musicians playing. And i’d like to, i’d like to point at this as an example of the proper path to the truth in mixing, that if, if you can just be objective about what the song needs and even though you’ve spent ten thousand dollars or a hundred thousand francs to do what’s right for the song, you tear off the money at the end, you throw it away, it’s what’s right for the song, it’s what’s important for the song and it’s always clear if you listen patiently and carefully. I’m pretty far out on the limp on this one, because record companies I think of are gonna get very unsure about my next project. But innovation takes experiment, real innovation, really, really trying to hear something new and real and something viceral and tangible and something you can touch, you know, something when you put the earphones on or you turn the radio on, it goes right to your heart, it goes right to your heart. I mean you can, you can hear the times that’s happened, you can remember the times that’s happened when you’ve listened to music, where you turn on the radio and the song has immediatly grabbed your heart and said I want your full attention. That’s the hardest thing to do in a studio, you know. What do you....let’s talk about Linda Rondstadt. How do you work with her? As far as recording her voice and getting the voice? Linda Rondstadt’s sessions go back really a long way. when linda finds a song, she’ll make a cassette of it and listen to it...for months, day and night, for months, listen to it in the bath tub, listen to it in bed, listen to it in the car until she starts getting ideas about what that song says to her, how she’s responding to that song, what the voice should be, what, what perspective the, the band should take, the direction of the band should take, who should play on it, what musicians might contribute to it. By the time it gets to recording the voice, we usually have a scratch track, a rough track and it’s, we’re pretty clear on what direction we’re going by then. When we finally get to recording voice we do so by recording many many tracks. by linda trying the song over and over again until she can find that small voice within herself. She has to be very patient to hear it, but it’s a little voice that says: "try this, try that". Out of many performances we sit down and we listen to these complete performances and we select sections, we take the first verse here and the second verse there and whatever, it’s common technique now I think. We take it to an extreme and if there’s something, if there’s something out of tune and it doesn’t fit, if there’s something out of tune and it’s intrusive, if there’s something out of tune and your ear skids on and comes to aand we’ll replace it. We’ll go so far as to harmonising it. if we don’t have a song in tune, we’ll use an H3000 with a custom set up and we’ll harmonise a performance until it’s in relative proceed pitch. But that’s not to say that her performance is always in perfect tune, if it’s, if there’s an emotional value to a selection of pitch, if it comes from inside, we’ll leave it alone, we’ll leave it alone.
Q7 : And how do you record drums? In Paris there is a generation of engineers who don’t know how to take drums.
– They have many, many stories about in the united states, many stories about er...young engineers coming into a studio, being paid a lot of money, coming into a studio and cases of drums being moved into the studio and they say, they turn to their second engineer and they say: "what are these things?, what do I do with this?, what is this? I think they’re having to learn, I think some of the, some of the best engineers of the eighties, engineers like bob clearmountain had become extremely competent live engineers. He really has learned how to record drums beautifully and I think that’s true for many of the, of the new engineers that have only learned with machines, they had to learn to deal with live drummer. How do I record drums? I record drums differently almost every time I do a song, but I always start at the same place, I have certain sets of microphones I use, I always start with b&k 4011 on the overheads, I always start with gml eqs, I always start with gml mic prés, I always start with a sennheiser 431 on the snare, always always always. that’s my reference point but this could go anywhere. I could replace a 40,11 with dynamic mikes, or I could replace them with mikes off in the room(?) I could replace a snare drum mike with a 56, I could replace them with a b&k, I could replace them with a C12. it moves along with the song, what elements in the song need to be exposed, how, what role the snare drum plays in the song whether it should be large and warm, whether it should be roomy, whether it should be ambiant, whether that ambiance should be rectangular, rectangular ambiance by which I mean anonally(?) type of sound, an M&S anonally type of sound or what we do very often to simulate... If it was a phil collins sound where we compress the room, squash the room, maybe distort the mike Completely squash everything, two or three different compressors and then very sharply trigg the room off in response to each tom-tom and the snare is solid you play the cymbals it’s kind of a nice sound but touch the tom-tom and the room exploses. We can go that way with the sound. It evolves, the kick sound evolves through one of five or six different kinds of microphones but I always start with a D12, I very often go to a 47 fet, i’ve gone to 44 bx, sky is the limit. I just have a reference point for where I start, and I should add that if there is a range missing in the snare drum i’ll take a sample and dial that into the snare drum, just that range, if it’s a...on little feat for instance, often we need a crunch on, Richard plays two snare drums and to differentiate them i’ll give one snare drum a little different crunch, 95% of the sound you hear on "Little Feat" records is a live drum but there’s this small element that’s enough to tell the ear that it’s a different drum or to help the ear along, I use a 4 out for that and I use my own samplers of drummers i’ve worked with but I use a drum machine just to add a little extra.
Q8 : How long does it take you to make drum sound?
– I make my first drum sound in about five minutes.What I want to do is to let the musician hear what the drum sound like as fast as possible, and the artist hear what the drum sounds like so that everybody can work together. What i’ll do is to make sure that everything is in tune and i’ll work with drum technicians to make sure that the heads are good and that the essentials are taking care of. But once i’ve started turning mikes up, I have a drum sound in about five minutes and it’s very good, if I do say so myself, it’s pretty good sound. Sometimes this is the only sound that sort of...survives! Occasionally you know, we have to use the first take and that’s the sound. more often what happens is that you make a tape as fast as possible, musicians are doing the song as fast as possible, and you get the first reading on the tape as a group: musicians playing, singer singing and you listen to it and you decide what a good approach would be. Maybe it would be that the song will be broken down with just a rhythm section playing the part, piano and bass drum playing the track. Maybe it will probably be broken down into further than that, maybe to just a drum machine, get a drum part together and very often you proceed, you fix one thing and you proceed. So there’s different ways of starting songs. what I try to do is to listen to the song as much as possible and to get ideas about it, to have some thoughts about what I hear in the song, what touches me in the song, how I can make what touches me more accessible, more clear: if it’s a drum part, if it’s a tiny drum part maybe in the demo it’s badly recorded, maybe, usually, you know the important elements you have to pay careful attention to. So that when it comes down to working with the track maybe i’ll have, after the musicians have tried some things, maybe i’ll have a suggestion for a musician, maybe i’ll say...."boy, wouldn’t it be great if we went to a cross take here, you know I..I.. what’s that? We’re talking about how I might help as a producer, help a song along in the studio. what I was talking about I think, we hire very good musicians, we love our musicians, they’re really very good friends of ours. What we’re hiring good musicians to do is to give us very often...give us their idea of the song. so maybe the very first thing we’ll listen to is what the musicians idea of the song is. If that doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere and often it doesn’t, I’ll have an idea of a good jumping off point for musicians either a sound or what I like in the demo, the song demo or what I like about the song or what I like about the way they were playing in this one spot and maybe they could expend on that. As a producer it’s my responsability to be very careful that my ideas are transparent, that it’s not just my taste, that we’re asking people to aline(?) themselves with. What we’d like to do is to be true to a song and to allow the ideas to be more accessible, it’s very easy for someone to come into a studio and want to try all of his or her ideas, to play guitar all through, to play piano all through it but it’s much more difficult and it takes a much more complete musician and a much more mature musician to not play so much, to listen to the heart of the song and to expend on the very heart of the song. And our favorite player, our best example is dan verony(?) who is just a great player, he’s a great person and a great player and makes the very simpliest idea -which in fact may be extremily difficult to perform- makes the very simpliest idea come to life, sound alive and real and visceral and he plays with great heart but very simple and very careful to listen to, at any time, the entire performance, always listening to the performance as a whole, listening to the dums and the guitar and the bass. This is very self-serving but the first sign of a musician who maybe is not so mature is a musician who needs to hear a great deal of (?) himself in the earphones. It’s a clue, we watch for this. I’m sorry to make this sounds like preaching.
Q9 : There is this controversial thing between analogue & digital...
– Frankly, I think that the things that I like the most about analogue recordings are out of reach in the d domain, digital domain right now. These things are: resolution in the low levels and a friendliness toward ambiguity, a friendless toward ambiguity. Digital is not very ambiguous, digital world is absolutely precise at any given instant but the price that you pay for this lack of respect for ambiguity, the price that you pay is that the ear has learned how to derive to tell from a lot of clues and the analogue medium supplied those clues. The problems that we have in digital, the palette that we were given in digital are completely different and the techniques had to evolve. I considered it a challenge to try to make good recordings in digital because frankly, very few people were when I started making multi-track digital recordings. I can’t even tell you that i’m now making good multi-track digital recordings but I can tell you that i’m trying very hard, I can also tell you that. I find that some of the tools available in digital stimulate me, I really love the ability to edit performances and retain the initial aspect: the first take that I had, the first mix that I had doesn’t deteriorate as I copy digital, I’m sure of that now. I’m gonna go so far as to say that I believe that it doesn’t deteriorate. I’m maybe going out of limb but I think that number for number transfer to digital is true, taken that as a fact I like a lot of things that we can do. I like shifting pitch i’ve already told you, I like moving things around sometimes if one drum is beating the song it stops my enjoyment of a song, i’ll move it, i’ll fix one back beat just to make it work a little bit better. I think a lot of people are doing a lot of wonderful recording in analogue and now they’re expending on that with sr(?) but for me I appreciate working digitally and it’s getting better. And again there’s this tremendous technological barrier that I mentionned earlier with these limited resolutions of 16 beats, what fits to this window, all recordings I see as a window, we have to make things that work in this rather small window, it’s not the real world, it doesn’t have infinite detail and great depth, it’s this little window. We have to present things in this little window that make people, the fool people into thinking that this is real life, we have to make things presentable. things that work in real life don’t work in this little window. I’m going on a little bit too much about this but the digital resolution, the low level resolution changes what we can present. It changes the instruments that work in analogue don’t work so much in digital, that changes...the reverb changes, these beautiful reverbs that we use to be able to capture in analogue are less effective in digital for some reason, we don’t get as much of the spaciousness, this is changing. I won’t be able to give you a copy of this but i’d like you to hear one of my early aaron neville records that we’ve just finished. it’s a good example of working in a cathedral and maybe compressing the ambiance a bit so that we hear the ambiance a little bit better. As digital evolves it will undoubtoudly offer more resolution, i’ve been told by people that I trust that we could consider that the resolution of the ear is as much as 23 binary beats, right now this is beyond our physics, current physics doesn’t allow this, there’s a physical technology barrier somewhere around 18, 19 or 20 beats. I’m using a 20 beats converter to mix now, when we’re getting into the mastering room, in our digital prep-room we convert to analogue into all our work analogue, our limiting and our eq is all analogue. We reconvert to 16 beats for cds but we have mixes that have 16 times, that’s probably not fair, some substantial increase of resolution compared to the released product and the effect is stunning. We make very good mixes now. in the future the technology will undoubtoudly offer more beats of resolution.
Q10 : What is your most insane session?
– OK the recording that comes to mind, the recording that was mentionned to Mr. Bonzai was a recording I made. With David Franks in 1967, 66/67. We went to a pig slaughter house and recorded on a nagra sounds of pigs being slaughtered. You know there’s the squils that come out of them are rather earthly and we...and there was a drum pattern in the sixties known as the fat-pack. It was doo doo....tch tch.....the fat-pack it maybe came from memphis or from the south, r&b drum pattern and we made out of five or six different squils and moans of pigs dying a drum track. Long before digital samples by splicing these sorts of things together and putting a little loop in and you’ve seen this on hanging them on a tape recorder and building a song around it. And I remember when we were actually working on the song david bought ten pounds or five pounds or some...a tremendous ammount of hamburger meat and we were throwing raw meat all over the studio for the ambiance and the effect is absolutely over-worldly. It was two track section and musicians played to this fat-pack little pen I don’t even have a copy of it but I remember it as being bizarre and abstract and very very weird. That was my weirdest time in a studio and there were some pretty weird times.
Q11 : I’m going to ask you one last question...What do you think of actual music and actual recording?
– What is taught me is a respect for, a new respect for how instruments really sound that...our best work, our best efforts may be and quite properly could be just getting an instrument to sound right, not inventing something from scratch, just making it sound right. I love Bruce’s approach to recording because he really has great respect for sounds, he gets sounds right. I’ve learned a lot from bruce but i’ll only give you one parade(?) of you, you’ll have to ask me again. I’ve got a million of them.
Interviewed by Marc Salama and James B. Cote