Que Dónde Está – Herbstsonne (2017)

Single by band from Santiago de Chile based in Berlin. I was in charge of the production and engineering, assisted by Mattia Battegazzore and Angelo Thomaz (the three of us recently formed Cleo, an audio production partnership running a small studio in Marzahn 🙂 )


Pre-Production

Herbstsonne is a two piece band consisting on Cecilia —a female vocalist and synthesizer player— and Claudio —a male vocalist and guitar player. A home recorded demo EP was listened first, without a clear preference on which song to record yet. In the first meeting with the band we decided this and thus focused on Que Dónde Está. First the demo of the song was listened and analyzed. It included a sampled drum kit played on a MIDI keyboard. Secondly, the band played it live on their usual basic setup and rehearsal space, including a delay and loop pedal for the guitar providing good part of the rhythmic foundation. This second instance caused a better impression, feeling tighter and emotionally stronger. However, the demo version that included the drums plus the conversation on the meeting were key for interpreting how to arrange the song including bass and drums in a way that the band’s vision was fulfilled. Collaborators needed to be found for the bass and the drums parts but it was clear that these should better not be the foundation of the recording but worked on afterwards instead, getting the guitars, synth and vocals as the core tracking. For this, a new and fixed-to-grid drum machine track was created based on the pattern of the demo, serving both as a click and as a reference to the drummer to create his part.

 

Recording Sessions

The approach for the core recording was, given that it was a plausible option, recreating for the musicians the vibe of the rehearsal space in the wooden room of the K3 studio at the Funkhaus. This was made by using speaker monitoring, letting them sing live and taking the correspondent considerations not to have any spill on the synth and guitar tracks that were the ones being recorded as definitive. For this, the synth was plugged into two channels of the desk through a couple DIs and the guitar was sent to the room next door into the Blackstar amp and miked closely with a Beyerdynamic, from an approximate 1.5 meter distance with a Neumann TL103 and with an AB Ribbon Coles stereo pair, all going straight to separate channels of the Audient. An additional DI after the pedals chain was used too for registering a cleaner version of the guitar The nine channels, including the live vocals —though they were planned to be recorded again isolated— plus the prepared drum machine were registered and at the same time sent back to the wooden room. The single monitor mix was made to be comfortable for both of them and avoiding need for headphones, which could have compromised partially their performance due to the sense of isolation that these may create between the performers and the fact that they were not used to play with them.

A challenging part of the session that had to be planned in advance, was the fact that the analog loop pedal of the guitar player was not able to make its repetitions precisely with the tempo of the project. Because of this, the approach was asking the guitar player to play several of these repetitions organically, then choose the best of them and quickly organize them on the Pro Tools project before recording the lead. The delay pedal also had the issue of not being possible to set it precisely with the tempo, but did not meant that anything in the recording workflow should be reconsidered. Perhaps it would have been a good idea though, to record the DI signal of the guitar before the pedal chain, and later reamping and having more control over the effects. Also, by doing so the editing stage could have been avoided.

Following, a quick comp of the synth and guitar takes was made in order to keep on with the definitive vocals, which were recorded simultaneously and with similar setups in the wooden and the middle room. The first, for Claudio, included an SM7 and an AT4050 and the second, for Cecilia, included an RE20 and a TL103. No processing in the way in was applied given that there are only two dbx compressors and it was preferred to leave the choice or mix of the microphones for later. However, the input gains of the four channels were set at pretty hot levels to get some character. Backing vocals were overdubbed with slightly further positions of the musicians in relation to the microphones.

A second session was held for the recording of the drums and the bass. The bass went through an external 1073-like pre-amp with instrument input and straight into Pro Tools. For the drums, the first consideration was recording them at the middle live room, being the driest of the three, thinking in working on reverb effects later on. The position was decided prioritizing eye contact between the drummer and the bass player and the operators in the control room. Between the pieces of the drum kit at the K3 and the drummers’ kit, a careful selection and discarding of each was made, spending a good amount of time looking for the right snare and cymbals sound. Close microphones included B52 for the inside of the kick drum, RE20 for the outside, 441 for the snare, 421 for the floor tom and SM57 plus an Octava pencil condenser for the hi-hat. The overhead was chosen to be mono and it was a Neumann TL103 and the room stereo technique used was an improvised one keeping phase relationship of kick and snare with each of the microphones. They were to AKG 414s in cardioid pattern colocated at the height of the snare, pointing horizontally towards the kit as shown in the picture.

 

Comping and Editing

After taking notes during the session of which takes were generally better for each instrument, a more detailed selection part by part was made along with the editing. Some section on the drums were looped given the repeated pattern, in order not to rely so much on the timing adjustments. For some particular sections on the vocals and the rest of the instruments were all of the takes had some kind of problem, chosen pieces of takes in other parts of the song were used. For editing, beat detective was used for the most straightforward parts of the drums, but manual improves were made over some of the automatic corrections, as well as to make the fills tighter.
For the guitar the process was similar, just that there was more manual and less automatic work, while for bass, synth and vocals, I corrected manually and I was generally more tolerant with human imperfections and feel.
Phase relationships were tried on guitars but did not feel as good as leaving them natural, though they were yes addressed on the drums, by matching the individual pieces’ close takes with the overhead microphone. The rooms were left on its original place.
Vocals were first time-corrected as pointed above and later pitch-corrected using Waves Tune plug-in, in a similar procedure as would be done with Logic, scanning the whole take with certain parameters and then going over to make manual improvements. Lastly, a level automation was applied to the backing vocal to keep it in an even relationship with the lead, which was also automated in particular moments.

Rough mix

First step was getting the best sound possible by only leveling and muting some of the tracks. Using different combination and mix of microphones for the different guitar parts for example, which were all recorded on the same setup originally, helped towards getting a unique character and to sound more clear when summed. Next, some quick equalization and compression was applied digitally to individual and grouped tracks, and this settings were used as a reference in the studio rough mix session.
The main issue with the rough mixing session in the K3 was that the time was limited for the experience in that particular task, so decisions were not easy to make. For example, having only two compressors to use at once mean that one must think ahead how the setting for the drums for example, will interact with the one of the guitar, making it difficult to optimize such settings. As soon as this was recognized, the plan was getting a decent rough mix sounding in the studio but still re-recording in groups, so any track could be later substituted by the digitally-processed version if convenient.
In fact, it was done with the synth and the drums were “helped” by individual microphones’ takes that were processed only digitally, summing them to the stereo drums track mixed on the desk. Correspondent phase corrections and comparisons were made before adding these.
A new level and panning adjustment and a cleaning of the project was made once back in Pro Tools. Some subtle extra processing with digital plug-ins was applied to make general improvements, as well as time-based effects for the vocals Also, some rough level automation was made at last, mainly to enhance differences betweens parts A and B/C, though most of them were made after, over the analogically grouped, processed and re-recorded tracks.

 

Overdubs

The process of the rough mix displayed issues with the sound of the original guitar. Too much processing was required to make it more or less fit into the mix and still it did not feel completely pleasant. Because of this, a second guitar session was arranged at Cleo studio in Berlin, this time using not only the Fender Telecaster (chosen for the main riff and the solo) but also with a PRS Les Paul (chosen for the chorus and bridge). The amp was the studio’s Orange AD30, close-miked with a Share SM57 through an external Pre-73 MKIII pre-amp and a Rode NT5 through one of the channels of the Black Lion Auteu, both signals converted digitally with the studio’s Focusrite Clarett interface. These takes were layered over the original guitars and both made up  together the sound heard on the final mix.

For the solo, the NT5 microphone was moved from the amp and placed in front of Claudio’s right hand, to capture the natural sound of the pick and strings, and it was mixed together with the SM57 still miking the amp.

Also the synth was layered with a second take, played slightly differently than the original one and with small arrangements, which were edited out of three different improvised takes.

 

Mixing

The mixing process combined the power of digital and analog domains, using the Funkhaus’ K3 Trident analog desk and external gear to make the basic EQing, compression and grouping of the tracks. Anyway, some of the original individual tracks were used for reinforcing and layering, especially on the drums. The warmth of the analog desk was really helpful and quickly made the tracks blend together in a natural way. In fact, many of the digital processing done on the rough mix was undone as it was recognized as not  longer necessary.

The work in Pro Tools included several compression stages, time-based effects and lots of volume, panning and plug-ins’ parameters automations. It felt a bit like a catcher strategy game as the project got more and more complex.

 

From Demo to Master:

Party Fears practice guerrilla recording

I played in Party Fears from August to December of 2016. This was one side of a split cassette we did with Mincer Ray. Only few copies were done and sold at the Monarch in Kottbusser Tor, Berlin, in November.

The recording was made with a Zoom H6 hand recorder literally hanging from a lamp to catch the drums, plus 4 mics plugged in it for kick, snare and guitars. Bass and vocals were recorded through a 2 channel Focusrite Scarlett into a computer.

Blu Mambo – Use Me (Bill Withers cover)

The song was recorded live at el Ombú Records in Montevideo and I mixed and mastered it in Berlin before having a fixed accommodation. It was possible thanks to the kind crew from the Noize Fabrik that let me in one of their studios.

 

Early Washington DC hardcore scene and Dischord Records

The english word ‘Discord’ means “the state of not agreeing or sharing opinions’’. A subtle musical pun turned it into the name of the record label that 18 year-olds Ian McKaye and Jeff Nelson started in 1980 to release their disbanding Teen Idles’ first 7’’. Naturally, the idea sounded as absurd as out of reach not long before. In fact, they all laughed about it when it came up during one of many hang-outs at the Today and Tomorrow record store. However, the supporting and sympathetic store owner Skip Groff would immediately facilitate them with a couple of key contacts and information. This, plus $600 saved from gigs in their previous and first year, was all this young group of friends from Washington D.C. needed to start making it all by themselves. If it already sounds exceptional, these kids were seriously independent thinkers and doers. In a matter of months and almost without noticing it, they redefined punk with an acutely political speech and long term action in correspondence. The whole scene, represented a counterculture to both the establishment and to the obsolete established counterculture of popular music from the previous two decades. How did all of this happen?

At first glance, one can think it is a little peculiar for this to happen in a city with such a governmental presence and not precisely characterized by a very diverse or widely known entertainment industry as other cities in the US. Maybe more peculiar if we think about the fact that it was an absolute white majority scene in a city where the majority of the population was black at that time (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). In fact, if we look at the most transcendental acts of popular music coming out of the city, we find they were much more representative of the African American population. The white minority, on its side, commonly associated with white collar jobs related to or in the structure of government, had notably less representation in the spectrum of artistic expression. But as this might be already suggesting, a movement is always naturally influenced by its city of origin. In the case of harDCore, from its somewhat oppressive location of origin, it got what can be described as a reactionary interaction in several ways. Taking words from key figure of the scene Ian MacKaye:  

“In the late 70s, there was a uniformity in the way people presented themselves visually, behaved, reacted, the music they listened to or the way they navigated the trajectory of life. If you were a step off of that pattern or looked different or whatever, you were immediately set yourself up as the enemy.” (Salad Days, 2014)

Ian, Jeff, and other friends from Wilson High-school used to spend time together skateboarding for hours, taking up its aesthetics, and practicing other rebellious disciplines like DIY bombs and alcohol drinking in school. However, Ian’s convictions presented in the above quote do date back to those days and extended to his view about the socially imposed habit of recreational consumption of legal and illegal drugs. From an early age, he had a strong voice among his hyperactive friends about what was positive rebellion and what was actually just self-destruction and just got in the way. Strong enough, apparently, to make up many of their minds.

Around then, kids of different parts of town were getting an interesting way-out cultural input from the radio run by students at Georgetown University known as WGTB.

Georgetown’s radio station WGTB featured free-form music programming, and an open space for radical thoughts and ideas to be heard publicly. For many teenagers in D.C. at the time, WGTB provided an outlet for new music, notably punk rock. (The Georgetown Voice, 2015)

A couple of older fellow students from Wilson High-school began adopting the punk style through the influence of this station, calling the younger crew’s attention at school and therefore introducing punk into their lives. However, the inflection point that gave them sense of belonging to punk, was after the WGTB was shut down by Georgetown University by conservative authorities and a concert in protest was held.

It was a large, noisy, unconventionally dressed crowd that filled into Georgetown University’s Hall of Nations for a concert featuring the Cramps, Urban Verbs, and D’Chumps. The mood suggested both a funeral and a possible riot. (Andersen and Jenkins, 2001:32)

The concert was open to all ages and had been heavily promoted over the air during WGTB’s final weeks. As a result, many teens for whom WGTB had been a window to a world of cultural possibilities were in the crowd, many attending a punk concert for the first time.
This included most of the Wilson High skater crowd, who all still wore the long hair typical of male high schoolers of the late 70s. Also there was a 13-year-old Guy Picciotto, who attended the private Georgetown Day School. “WGTB was the only station playing remotely alternative music, the first place I ever heard bands like the Adverts,’’ he said. “To see it smashed was a really big deal to me.’’ (Andersen and Jenkins, 2001:33)

Guy Picciotto, who would later become an important figure of the harDCore scene, was just one of many sad and angry kids there. This gathering in which a common emotion was shared around naturally turned into a visceral, tribal bedlam —just the kind of release and enjoyment these kids needed and would look to experience later on. Infamous all-black piece super-intense punk band Bad Brains and their shocking presence were also among the audience, promoting their upcoming gig. Bad Brains’ shows and bands like the Clash or the B52s —that started adding Washington DC into their touring agendas— would be frequented by the teens from the Wilson and the Georgetown Day high-schools, inspiring and influencing them to make their earliest bands such as the Teen Idles and the Untouchables, and to learn to play their instruments, in that order. By 1980, their emerging bands were opening for shows of more established punk acts. But they were getting notoriety among some of these bands for attitudes such as making savage mosh pits, and then leaving for the time the headliner played. Also many of the older punk bands were splitting up and the venues hosting shows were either being closed down or banning punk acts, but this crew was too lively and on headstrong to let such thing affect them. By this time, and without noticing it, they were getting rid of the barriers between the audience and the artists, what came naturally to them, as they were all part of the same group of friends.

“However, what I really learned from living in a city which you have an industry like the government was that the way to navigate these institutions is to never engage with them, and to work on the margins instead; to always work around them. There was a saying amongst the young punks here about how if you went to public schools in Washington DC, you learned two basic things: one, how to wait in line; and two, never ask for permission because the answer is always no. So the thing to do was: just do it, don’t ask for permission! At some point the authorities would come along and say ‘You can’t do that!’ but then you just said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know.’ If you had asked them, they would have just said no right away. Mainly because of the bureaucracy and the sludge of the administration. They just didn’t want to do any extra work.” (MacKaye, 2010)

By 1980, the Georgetown punks had already consolidated an interesting community of fresh bands that supported each other inside an ecosystem of high tolerance and freedom of creation. And while Ian and Jeff figured out how to make their first releases through Dischord, this last citation shows how the methods to generate free spaces of expression in the form of underground gigs  were. DIY was by both choice and need, the definitive way to operate. At the time, the kids in early bands and new insiders were reorganizing in new projects like Government Issue, Minor Threat, Void, Faith and more. Many of them worked in different commercial shops in the northwest area of Washington, and they spent their time off work hanging out in the streets and record shops of the area, covering each other’s back from violent redneck gangs that would beat them up regularly just because of their looks. Apart from physical threats, their creativity was constantly fueled by skepticism and pre-judgement coming from other musical scenes and press in its developing years. Apart from their city of origin and young age, the open mindedness that let them express some seminal straight edge principles in some of the lyrics and their re-appropriation of punk sounded contradictory in some people’s minds.

In my Eyes – Minor Threat

You tell me you like the taste You just need an excuse
You tell me it calms your nerves You just think it looks cool

You tell me you want to be different You just change for the same
You tell me it’s only natural
You just need the proof

Did you fucking get it?

[Hook]
It’s in my eyes, it’s in my eyes

It’s in my eyes, it’s in my eyes
It’s in my eyes, it’s in my eyes
It’s in my eyes, it’s in my eyes And it doesn’t look that way to me In my eyes

It doesn’t look that way to me In my eyes

[Verse 2]
You tell me that nothing matters You’re just fucking scared
You tell me that I’m better
You just hate yourself
You tell me that you like her
You just wish you did
You tell me that I make no difference At least I’m fuckin’ trying
What the fuck have you done?

[Hook]
It’s in my eyes, it’s in my eyes
It’s in my eyes, it’s in my eyes
It’s in my eyes, it’s in my eyes
It’s in my eyes, it’s in my eyes And it doesn’t look that way to me In my eyes
It doesn’t look that way to me
In my eyes

Inspiration from this on several songs by Ian McKaye during his teens, came solely from experiences with people overreacting to his personal decisions —of not drinking in this case— and were many times misinterpreted, making people feel either offended, or that they were being told what to do, in a similar reactive pattern that inspired him to write in the first place

The straight edge issue was almost always the first question asked in many interviews Minor Threat did on the tour. ‘Everywhere we went,’ MacKaye said, ‘ people wanted to fight me to prove I was wrong’ about his opposition to drugs.
While the singer seemed to take some satisfaction from his ability to so threaten people with a simple idea, he and the band also repeatedly tried to emphasize that straight edge was not a monastic canon but a commonsensical idea of personal responsibility. ‘We don’t pull any of this ‘if you drink you suck, if you take drugs you suck, said Preslar. “It’s the idea that if you want something, you’re not going to allow yourself to be distracted, to be so fucked up with a lot of bullshit.’
Straight edge ‘is not just not taking drugs or not drinking,’ echoed Baker. ‘It’s an outlook on life. In the sense that you want to be in control of your body and yourself, you want to have a clear view of what’s going on. We will never, never tell you what to do.’ (Andersen and Jenkins, 2001:113)

This feedback of criticism coming from several different external environments, would actually help to build and shape their identity, while strengthening their speech. Also as a crew of moshing snotty teenagers, they were identified as childish by the L.A. hardcore punk scene, and as too coarse by N.Y. art-punks when showing up at CBGB. That probably had effects on their looks, getting more low-key and stepping back to skate aesthetics roots, and by this reaffirming their identity once again. Besides, fear of the redneck bullies from D.C. could have discouraged spiky hairs as well.

It did not take long for Washington DC hardcore punks to earn a reputation as the toughest and most radical in the US, thanks to their consistency between their creative-artistic and politic-ethical outputs. The latter should not be misinterpreted as adhesion neither support to political parties or existing social movements. As Ian explains in his interview for Sober Living for the Revolution, he has got a very reasonable and down to earth concept about approaching politics in an independent way and the value of doing so.

“I don’t have this kind of romantic notion about political activism where it’s like, ‘We go out into the streets and we bring down the government and everything will be fine!’ I just don’t think about things like that. I think that political action is a lifelong effort that will manifest in specific ways, depending on where you are and whatever it is that you are doing.” Ian MacKaye (Kuhn, 2010)

In this context of early Washington DC scene, political activism included for example keeping low prices for all shows and records as a must, all ages shows only, both for minors rights and against clubs and alcohol companies greed. But their raising reputation drew more fans and some cash in—and not only from DC any more—, inevitably turning the page on the Washington DC hardcore scene. The outcome of the necessary reinvention led to the Revolution Summer, when many concerts in benefit and other forms of activism started to be held by an organization founded in 1985 called Positive Force DC and with a relationship with the Dischord bands. Essentially, what began as circle of friends just having fun and letting themselves be who they wanted to, ended up attracting so many people that became the more visible and respected representation of punk in the US in the years to come, perceived as the most “true” punk. The term Straight Edge, on its side, introduced by Ian’s song by Minor Threat of the same name, got popular and slowly turned into a thing with its own life, for some people a movement, for others a lifestyle. None of that was Ian’s intention; just an unpretentious song about his choice to live life as present as possible mixed with anger about such a thing as not being well accepted.

The purpose of this piece of text to rescue and uncover the value of this early part of the scene from below prejudgment and association people commonly have with the noise and controversy that less tolerant voices later caused in the name of straight edge and media made sure to turn into its visible face. In a more general plane, this analysis over a piece of history is written from a core desire and as a humble call out to more authentic opinions, fearlessness towards critical thinking and awareness of one’s intellectual integrity.

Proof-read and corrected by Maggie Devlin

References

Andersen, M. and Jenkins, M. (2001) The dance of days: Two decades of punk in the nation’s capital. New York, NY: Akashic Books,U.S
Kuhn, G. (2010) Sober Living for the Revolution. California: PM Press. [Online] Available from: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/50e79ec7e4b07dba60068e4d/t/ 513389dee4b0c6fb04dc2e01/1362332126268/Kuhn.pdf
Miller, R. for The Georgetown Voice (September 10th, 2015) Out Of Step: Georgetown’s Relationship With The D.C. Hardcore Punk Scene [Online] Available from: http:// georgetownvoice.com/2015/09/10/out-of-step-georgetowns-relationship-with-the-d-c-hardcore- punk-scene/ [accessed December 28th, 2016]
Minor Threat (1981) In My Eyes, in In My Eyes. Washington DC: Dischord Records
Salad Days, (2014) Crawford, S. Pennsylvania: MVD Entertainment Group [Film]

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