Recording in London (Part 3)

The next day Brian and I got to work in his basement studio:


First job: microphone trials, determining which microphone to use to capture the vocals; everything else would be crafted around the voice, so establishing the sound we wanted for the voice was the first step. Basically, you sing a few lines and capture them on every available mic, then listen to each one and compare tonal qualities. Here’s a picture of all the microphones when they were setup:


The mics you see in the above photo:

-Neumann TLM 103
-AEA R44 (ribbon mic)
-AEA R92 (ribbon mic)
-TELE FUN KEN AK47 (a tube mic, w/ its own amplification)
-Blue: Kiwi
-Shure Sm57

I sang a few lines from “In the black space”, then we listened, and after clicking back and forth dozens of times (with Brian selecting and deselecting various plugins to accent certain frequencies), we determined upon the AEA R44 for its old-school analog qualities.


This mic is actually a remake of the RCA R44, which, Brian had informed me, is the mic Billie Holiday used to do a large percentage of her recordings… it was chosen objectively, though, since when listening to the various tracks I was unaware which track corresponded to which mic. It was thus chosen solely for the way it sounds, not for the fact that it was the coolest looking one nor because of its association with Billie, one of the original pioneers in vocal recording. The irony is that I’d read a biography of her not long before this, so images of her life had been floating around in my head over the previous months, her scrappy, poverty-stricken youth in Philadelphia, her pinnacle days as the queen of the Harlem club scene, her horrific and pathetic demise in Manhattan’s Metropolitan Hospital in 1959, with police guards stationed outside her room to prevent her friends from supplying her with smack. Her friends were doing this not simply to deviously help her get high, but rather to keep her from having to confront two life battles at the same time: cirrhosis of the liver and heroine withdrawal. The two-front war proved too much for her body, and there was outrage among her friends at the authorities’ unwillingness to allow her to overcome cirrhosis before putting her through an enforced withdrawal by vigilantly overseeing her hospital bed. Before leaving New York I had wanted to go see her grave in the Bronx, but I failed to do so… eventually I will, though.
Between finding all the cables, setting up the mics, singing and listening over and over, this took quite a few hours. Brian and his roommate were having a party at their place that night (it was Saturday), so people had actually showed up before we were finished, and a few folks had come into the studio with us. London parties start quite early, apparently. This is seemingly due to the cultural habit of starting to drink as early in the evening as possible, which in itself is a result of the fact that ever since World War I and the “Defense of the Realm Act” of 1914 (when the government tried to force people to drink less, sleep well & be good workers) pubs in England have closed very early in the evening. During the Great War pubs had to close by 9:30pm, but this has very slowly been relaxed over time, so that the legally accepted time is now 11pm.
Toby, who I met the previous night, came into the studio just before we started to wrap things up for the day, as did one of Brian’s friend from recording school, who lent us another pair of ears. Eventually we worked our way upstairs, and things were kicking… I’ve moved around quite a bit in the last ten to twelve years, but this was definitely one of the most international parties I’ve ever been at. I met people from Poland, Moldova, Argentina, Portugal, Russia, Korea, Slovenia, Sweden, England, and Switzerland, not to mention me and Brian, from New York and Texas, respectively.

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