thoughts on impermanence, the moment, structures large and small
The following is a blog entry made in March 2012, when we first approached recording at a small demo studio. None of those sessions made the light of day, for a number of reasons, but it was good prep, and raised some interesting ideas around recording and capturing improvised music:
A very long but productive day back in the studio yesterday; we are exhausted, but much progress has been made!
We started Saturday with the fretless material, but we all approached Saturday as more or less a run through: getting used to the room, the vibe, fixing basic tones, etc. So Sunday we started where we left off and tackled the fretless material in earnest, then made headway on some of the regular guitar material.
Overall, after two days work, we have 8 of the 12 tunes tracked. I think thats phenomenal progress. That said, we left last night without having done any listening to playbacks, so as of then, I wasn't sure how viable any of it is.
Because of the amp separation, playing through headphones, etc, all of us sense that it's hard to know precisely what and how we're doing; some takes feel stronger than others, but are there minor problems? Big problems in either the performance or the capture that we didn't catch at the time?
I did some listening to the first set of playback mixes this morning (some of the material from last night). Happily, there are really strong moments everywhere. That said, we're all human, and there is an occasional quirk or flub on my end in some of the written sections.
I was concerned that those would force some retakes (keep in mind that a band like ours with such a group improvisational focus means this isnt a part-by-part band; we have to play it live), but I don't think so. When I picked up the rest of the playbacks this evening, James and I listened to all the microphone tracks in isolation and discovered the bleed or crosstalk is minimal. That should make taking care of the occasional clam on the "heads" much easier. Then again, it may be in there just enough to make punching in sound cloudy. Won't know till we try.
I also haven't heard playbacks from Saturday night, and there could be pleasant surprises there, too.
The improv portions are all good so far -- the question, as always, is can they be better? Do they serve the tune?
I'll give an example. One of the Sama Duo tunes that made it into the P4B repertoire is "Mist." Moody, dark, atmospheric, its a chordal slippery piece, with a lot of tense harmonic movement against a pedal point. The improv section can get pretty out there, but it always relates. Lately we've been pretty adept at taking it far afield yet still sustaining the feel of the piece.
I have two takes (and one I havent heard yet). One is good. The other is very good; Jefferson and I have the conversation going and are following each other really well -- but while not frenetic, it's a little busier than we've been treating the tune as of late. Great playing and interplay -- we played from the heart and it was honest and in the moment -- but do we do a retake to see if we can serve the tune better?
The de facto impermanence of improvisation is beautiful, and one of its main attractions for me. While the moment generates its own structure, once you document it -- epsecially in an album length context --there's another structure superimposed upon it, and that's where I think recording this kind of music gets interesting: Is it a passive, transparent archive, preserving the moment, or can the superimposed architecture bring out something more? What are the overall aesthetic considerations and emotional impact of the larger frame -- the section of a piece, the piece, the album?
What are you saying?
What do you stand for?
How do you want your heart to speak?
The beauty of the recording process is that those answers get revealed as the larger process takes shape, just as the monetary nanoseconds of a musical exchange defines its own form.
For us, for this CD, the journey's just beginning to unfold.
I got the rest of the playbacks this evening; will distribute to the bandmates tomorrow. Much listening to do over the next two days before we go back Thursday.