I open the unmarked side door and Paul waves me in.
“Have a seat.” Paul points to the big comfortable couch on a platform behind where he and Matt sit at the console. Tamra Hayden raises her voice in the iso booth, and it falls on us like rain from the speakers.
And we’ll all go together
To pull wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather,
Will you go, lassie, go?
A song in a singer’s mouth is just an idea until it’s given form with voice and a vision of what it could be. But this is not a performance, lived and lost with minutes. This is composition, the deliberate crafting of something that may not defeat time, but can stave off its decay. The last notes plink down, and after some conversation between Tamra, Matt, and Paul, she sings “Wild Mountain Thyme’s” chorus again, and again, and again—refining each word, note, and inflection.
Take after take, Matt layers Tamra’s voice into a one woman choir, lifting “Mountain Thyme’s” chorus out of the song’s narrative and refining it into a poetic image, multifaceted, that turns like a diamond capturing light and dark, high and low, presence and absence, until it disappears—like Countee Cullen’s bright chimeric beast—into the rest of the song.
As modern music listeners, it’s hard to wrap our minds around a time before multi-track recording made this kind of layering possible and digital recording made it, in Matt’s words, “Infinitely simpler.”
A recording studio expands what is possible, yet to most of us MP3 downloading, ear bud wearing, iPod junkies, it is an industry both invisible and taken for granted. We think our music comes from the internet the same way we assume dead headless chickens just appear in the grocery store. We look back on the days before we could satisfy a musical craving by streaming off the digital teat as a dark age of inconvenience.
Yet, controversy has dogged each technical evolution. From Edison’s hill verses Victor’s groove to the pressing of the first CD. Philosophically, the dividing line is goal oriented: Is the purpose of recording to replicate the live listening experience or is it to transform it? Socially, the side you take in the debate pitting digital against analog marks you as either cultured elite (analog), or consumerist sheep (digital), even Greg Milner who wrote the mostly marvelous Perfecting Sound Forever comes out staunchly pro-analog in the end, despite being unable to reliably discriminate between the two in double-blind Codec tests.
Paul, kicked back in front of Mohr Fire’s ProTools digital console, and within a few feet of the Studer ‘s twenty-four analog tracks, frames the debate in more practical terms: “If you listen to a cheap digital studio, it’ll sound like crap. If you listen to top notch digital, you’ll know the difference.”
Check back Tuesday, for more from my first sit down interview with Paul and Matt about the good stuff and the gear, the equipment and Elvis, homogenization and hamburgers.