It’s got to be… perfect?
One of the things I wanted to do with the new album was get back to basics. Those of us of a certain age will remember the era of recording to tape. Tape was a pretty unforgiving and inflexible medium. You had to practice, practice, practice and then deliver the musical goods when the red light went on. Any mistakes meant rewinding and doing it all again. If you had a decent sound engineer (or could find your way around a razor blade and sticky tape) it was possible to record several different takes and edit the best bits together to create patchwork – or “composite” – performance.
With the advent of digital recording things became far less pressurised and the possibilities became endless. It’s now possible to scrutinise the tiniest detail of a recording and change almost anything with surgical precision after the fact. This brings huge benefits. It also poses challenges. When anything is possible, it makes making a decision, a commitment, far harder. In the old days, the length of time it took to make an album was governed by how much the studio (with the big tape machines) was charging by the hour. Freed from such constraints it’s all too easy to simply keep on refining and tweaking in the quest for perfection – whatever that might mean – and never actually complete anything!
There’s also a danger that, in ironing all the inconsistencies and wrinkles, we lose any sense of expressiveness, personality or humanity. With this collection of recordings, I wanted to avoid falling into the technology trap and return to a more “vintage” approach to the production process. For each of these pieces, I actually wrote musical scores and rehearsed each piece thoroughly. Then, for the recording, I sat in my studio and played through the whole set in one go – as if in a live concert. I did allow myself the luxury of some second chances when I felt some pieces would benefit from a second take to give me options.
As I’ve mentioned in the sleeve notes of the album cover, it’s only fair to confess that there were just a few occasions when I resorted to editing in order to nudge an occasional offending note into line when I knew I simply couldn’t live with it. But, by and large, I’ve managed to keep my perfectionism in check and these recordings are as live and imperfectly human as it gets!