February 15th, 2005


Notes on production, reproduction

You know, one of the things that makes cold Hakodate (and tonight it's forecast to dip to minus 13 centigrade) just that little bit warmer is the knowledge that in two weeks I'll be back home in Berlin with the two mammals I live with, twin bunnies Hisae (below) and Topo. Keep the igloo warm, mammals! I will be wild and fleecy when I return, wearing pelt of bear and sounding a mighty horn!

I'm supposed to deliver a lecture at 4.30pm this afternoon at the Future University. I guess I'll just extemporize about sound and music, the raw and the cooked. Maybe I could do a John Shuttleworth-style workshop choc-a-bloc with tips on mic technique and production. If I do, maybe I'll project Ariel Pink's video for Kate I Wait (Paw Tracks) and use it as an example of good production.

"What, Ariel Pink, good production?" I hear my audience expostulate. "How can that be when his sound is muddy and murky, his channels aren't clearly separated, he doesn't stay in time or in tune, and his 80s string machine is mixed so loud? Put him in a good studio with lots of outboard! Never mind that whacky label Panda Bear runs, sign him to a company that'll get him a nice professional producer like Nigel Godrich! Or at least buy him one of those electronic guitar tuners!"

My dear friends, you have understood nothing about production. Good production is about character, personality, intrigue, flamboyance, charm, fascination, license, not about levels, channels, separation, clarity, normality or competent engineering! It's about ravishing the ears by all means imagineable! It's about creeping out of shadows and repositioning conceptual frames, not about synching to SMPTE frames! You'll be telling me next that The Mountain Goats and Devendra Banhart are better now they've thrown away their hissy cassette recorders and employed session musicians! You'll be telling me that everyone should sound just like everyone else! That there are 'objective standards of recording quality'! You'll be agreeing with Shuttleworth that Johnny Rotten should have taken a few minutes before each Sex Pistols gig to adjust his microphone stand to the correct height so he didn't have to do that Richard III hunchback thing! Stooping like a hunchback isn't just great actor's business, it's great production! They don't teach you this at singing school, but there's no better way to project "No future".

More Ariel Pink here and here.