Friday, June 09, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 11

Below is a challenge to musicians everywhere to produce a pure wall-of-sound record based on the following rules:

1. Recording shall take place in a kind of environment familiar to listeners and musicians. For instance, houses, offices, markets, gyms and malls. An effort should be made not to record in sonically-treated spaces such as echo chambers and studios with foam-padded walls.

2. Upon public release, the recording shall include documentation to show where the recording was made and where all the musicians sat or stood.

3. Only one mic shall be used to record the master. Additional mics are permitted only for the purpose of monitoring.

4. Monitor speakers are not allowed. Musicians being recorded may only use headphones for the purpose of hearing themselves and the other musicians clearly.

5. No instrument shall be amplified, except for instruments that require amplification, such as the electric guitar and keyboard. These instruments must be connected to their own amps (one amp per instrument) and must not be connected directly into the sound board. The volume on the amps will be set to the minimum required to obtain the desired tone.

6. No singer shall be individually mic'd, except for monitoring reasons. All singers (along with everything else) will be recorded through the one master mic. No pitch correction or special effect will be added to the vocals.

7. Any equalization adjustments shall be done on the actual instruments and amplifiers, not on the soundboard. Unamplified musicians can move around the room to achieve a desired EQ in the final mix.

8. The use of screens to reduce volume is discouraged. Volume reduction should be done by moving the musicians farther from the master mic.

9. If a singer is playing an unamplified instrument such as the piano or acoustic guitar, and the master mic cannot be placed in a way that properly balances the vocals and instrument, it is up to the singer to maintain a proper volume of the instrument by playing technique alone.

10. If a singer is playing an amplified instrument, the amplifier will be moved away from the singer as appropriate.

In researching this section, I discovered that Scottish pop band Aberfeldy has already done this. ( But I'm still interested to see if it can be done on a massive scale in order to maximize the depth of the record.


Anonymous said...

The musicians should also be completely naked.

Anonymous said...

damn, arta, i'm trying to defeat the spectre of intra-band sexual congress in these parts. don't be all about it.

anyway, a few posts back you likened this wall of sound technique to dogma 95, noting that both are enumerated processes, created by artists, that allow the production of art without the restriction of a contextually-enforced & perhaps artistically inimical form/style. Overall, I take less issue with your vision of the wall of sound than I do with Dogma 95, but that which bothers me most about the latter occasionally creeps in here.
As I see it, the problem with Dogma 95 is sanctimonious specificity; naming the ground rules the "vow of chastity" alone is enough to piss me off, especially when the directors of the first two Dogma films couldn't keep their metaphorical pants on, violating some of (their own!) more inane demands.
Both they and you, specifically here, have envisioned production situations which seem, for one reason or another, to provide the best shot at "pure" artistic expression. The thing is that neither of these situations actually exists. They're both just figments of soul-sick imaginations. I mean, conceptually, it'd be great if we could open up a copy of "Otis Redding Sings Soul" and have a schematic of its production process so we could understand it in a new way. But this only makes sense conceptually; here in the real world, it makes more sense to take in its great sound. I could make the effete argument that this kind of emphasis on production would jeopardize someone’s “artistic vision,” but that wouldn’t be to the real point – that seeing this kind of situational formula as a savior by virtue of angel-winged specificity does everybody wrong. First, it turns the formula itself ludicrous, as anyone adhering to it would be subject to constraints whose deep unreasonableness can only be unmasked by trying to work within them; second, it encourages those interested in producing a nice-sounding record not only to ponder the theory and Platonic form of the wall of sound, but also to spend at least some energy revising the former to deal with the assumed shape of the latter - which is wasted energy, spent as it is in describing, not creating, art. In other words, you’re running the risk of turning the wall of sound into something we both hate: the literary criticism of the high academy. Wouldn’t it be nice to talk about what you’ve actually done, what we’ve actually done, to achieve the sound of our records, rather than what you’d like to do? Turn it into an almanac, not a summit.


Anonymous said...

Also, here's a nice quote from the article you linked:

"We tried to record the bass acoustically through the mic but we just couldn't get it to balance with the other instruments and still sound good. When it was clear that it wasn't going to work we decided to just DI it. But that wasn't really a compromise — the project wasn't about doing a one-mic recording to make some kind of point. It was about trying to get something that sounded good."

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