Though the Quiet Music Festival is by nature a loose and eclectic collection of artists, the curation is remarkably consistent: Every year I hear at least one artist that completely bakes my cake, sometimes several.
The 2015 lineup was my favorite thus far, with incredible performances by Amenta Abioto, Rebecca Gates, Secret Drum Band and, new to me, Irma Vep, the on-stage persona of one Edwin R. Stevens. If it was vaguely reminiscent of Dragging an Ox Through Water—using heavy delay and distortion to create a dissonant, fractured take on blues—Stevens’ performance imbued an old and well-worn genre with immediacy and heart. His energy was so positive and ebullient that it was only after a few listens that I grasped the true melancholy and despair in his songs. The effect was powerful, and I was a fan as soon as I heard Edwin sing.
Though there’s an online archive of recordings from past years, but from time to time artists choose to release their performances in physical form. I’m so pleased that Edwin chose to do so, and his complete performance is now available on cassette in collaboration with Comfortable On a Tightrope. You can hear one song from the performance here.
I asked him to contribute some backstory:
My name is Edwin and I make sound/music/song/wtf? things as ‘Irma Vep’.
I live in Manchester, UK but I’m originally from Llanfairfechan (Transylfechan to the locals) on the North Wales coast. I played a show with Sun Foot last year in Manchester at a Comfortable On a Tightrope gig and afterwards Chris Johanson kindly asked me to play his Quiet Music Festival in 2015, to which I agreed, frantically.
Recording has always been a selfish thing I do in my room, a process where I am very much alone with my 4track and in that ‘zone’ thing that I find very, very hard to get into live and this why I really, really love the recordings of the set as they managed to capture the songs at a time where I was absolutely 200 % in that ‘zone’ thang, in my room, but sharing it with hundreds of lovely people sat on futons and pillows and having a great time at the Quiet Music Festival of Portland.
Edwin R. Stevens,
After watching the entire first season of ‘The Last Man on Earth’ starring Will Forte,
About to have a shower,
And then go to bed,
But will probably just stay up,
And watch Wrestling on YouTube all night.
On a technical note, the recordings were done as per usual on Tim Green’s old first-generation Otari MX-5050; the only real change this year was switching to Quantegy 632 stock, a durable low-bias formulation that pairs well with the Otari’s limitations, primarily a primitive transport and a weak bias oscillator.
When it came time to mix, I ran the tape off both the Otari and an MCI JH-110b. The difference wasn’t night and day, but to my ears, the MCI gave a less congested midrange and a bit more high-end detail, so I went with that. I was bummed to discover that I hadn’t marked down my test tone placement, so the first minute of Edwin’s first song was marred by a 1K tone. A combination of notch EQ and a reverse-phase tone salvaged the track, I’m happy to say. Lesson learned!
Multiband compression is not typically the first processor I pull up, but I find it to be really useful mixing live recordings. Other than that, light EQ and serial limiting through outboard gear did the trick.
I hope you like the recordings; I was pleased to have been able to help a bit with helping bring them to your attention.