Notes from the Studio

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What Is The Nature Of Your Emergency?

I value the immediacy of playing straight from the heart.  I trust this process because the least amount of deviation between what I’m feeling when I compose and what comes out of my instrument when I record is my definition of “proper technique.”  Most of my tracks on this recording are first takes, played from beginning to end, sometimes with no predictable course or destination.  Studio anomalies have been removed here and there and have been digitally dispatched, but the basic track was preserved.  For my style of planning, honesty trumps pristine virtuosity.

The “classical: musician in Tom Tompkins likes to enter the studio knowing exactly what he is going to record.  The “folk/rock/jazz” musician in him is much more laid back, but still likes to have ready at least the germ of an idea.  So it was atypical for him to show up to record Your Theology at 30,000 Feet without a clue as to what to do.  After listening with me, we determined where the timbre of the viola should be introduced, and I asked him to improvise a melody, which he did with one take.  Then I asked him to listen to what he had just recorded and to improvise a new line around it. Then I said, “Do it a third time!”  Tom has had many chances in his career to improvise with other string players, but he doesn’t remember ever improvising in counterpoint with himself.  It was clear that when I asked him to come and listen to all three at the same time, he was dubious. But then it became obvious why we love the studio so much – it’s the magic that happens when the unexpected appears.

I remember asking Greg Perkins to think “outside the Greg.”  After he stopped laughing, he responded with a creative fluidity that I felt was a musical epiphany for him.

I watched in disbelief as Jon Hyneman assembled his tracks, playing “in the negative.”  By this process he left space for the principal track which was recorded last.  The math involved in this is mind-boggling to me.  We referred to them as his “Hynemanlick Maneuvers.”

Mike Seifrit listened to “Not All His Dogs Are Barking”, and then looked at me as if to say, “Now what have you gone and done?”  He then went into the booth and recorded some of the most amazing bass tracks I have ever heard.

Tom summed the studio experience up quite well: “Where else can magic, mystery, math and muse bubble together and musically fuse an image of thought, a snapshot of time, expressions of feelings, and wordless rhyme?”




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