If you saw somebody suspiciously loitering around on trains the other day in the London Bridge area, then you can put your mind at rest; it wasn’t a terrorist, it was me trying to get some decent recordings of what it sounds like to be in a train carriage while it’s on the move. This was for a project I’m working on at the moment which should be on display when the weather gets a bit warmer. More about this as things progress though…
However, the focus of this post is more on the fact that I was trying to get a ‘decent’ recording rather than working with what the recording was for. I was walking through carriages, getting off trains and getting on others without them even moving and was looking quite suspicious at the same time probably! I was behaving like this as I would get on a carriage and there would be somebody talking on their phone, or coughing a lot; and I got off of one train because a whole class of young children were noisily clambering aboard. Not very good if I wanted the uninterrupted recording of the train moving but this is all part of field recording; it is very difficult to get a clean recording of anything in it’s natural habitat as there is always so much else going on at the same time.
This behaviour has come from a perceived need to get only what I set out for. Anything else is seen as impure and incorrect and therefore I pained to get what I had come for. But when I thought about it, this wasn’t right… I had come to get a natural recording but ended up trying to shape this recording into something very un-natural: a train without passengers; the truth of what I was aiming to capture shouldnt be covered up.
This all seems fairly obvious, but I have noticed things in music recordings that have annoyed me of late: an acoustic guitar with too much high frequency (or treble) to make it ‘sparkle’, turning up the high frequency on the various instruments in a metal recording to aid clarity, compressing music so much that all dynamic range disappears so it sounds louder (which is generally perceived as better). All of these examples are trying to squeeze a foot into a shoe that just doesn’t quite fit. Auto-Tune is another great example as a tool to allow non-singers to sing. Click here for a mastering engineer’s thoughts on this. They do manage to make it fit but at what cost? The nice woody quality of the acoustic guitar was destroyed, the metal sounded thin and overly compressed music sounds more unnatural and is actually more fatiguing to listen to. Of course, the nature of mixing musical instruments means that they do have to be tweaked a little from time to time, but it seems some people out there like to go a bit too far.
I’m not saying that all recordings should be imperfect or sloppy but do you remember those recordings from the 50′s and 60′s (and earlier) that sometimes had a little imperfection in them? A drum not quite hit properly, or a musician deviating from the tempo a little bit. We are human, so mistakes happen and these little ‘mistakes’ add so much to the character of the music, even changing the feel of the song for the better. Also, the world isn’t nicely ordered to suit us. The world happens around us all of the time and any art that we create is a reflection of this. It should not be showing off for the sake of showing off or pristine as we think it will make more money this way, it should record life and not cover it up. This also goes for the way we live our lives: covering up reality and truth can quite easily be the cause of being led down the wrong path not to mention the confusion and extra effort it causes to get things done properly. Do the right thing and stay true! If you can’t do this you probably should be adapting what you are doing…But then, it really does depend on what your goals are! But anyway, the moral here is: why cover up the blunders you make when you could embrace them, integrate them and use them to make yourself stronger?