I’ve always loved live recordings; the hush and expectancy of a classical performance, or the sweat and raw excitement of a rock show captured on tape. Much as I love the studio recordings of Joy Division or the Who, well-done live recordings of both bands reveal them to be so much fiercer and dynamic than their “proper” albums might suggest.
As teenagers, Tim Green and I made live recordings of our band the Vile Cherubs, more out of curiosity than the desire to document our work. What would we sound like with the recorder placed behind us on the stage? At the back of the room? Sealed inside a briefcase (yes, really).
These days, I drag out my “mobile” rig as often as practical (which is to say, not that often). But it’s always rewarding; though the machine I’m currently using–ironically enough, gifted to me by Tim–is primitive in the extreme, it makes good-sounding documents, assuming I haven’t screwed up the mic placement!
That’s the most challenging part of the job; finding a good-sounding (but relatively unobtrusive) spot for the mics; this is compounded when a loud PA comes into play (which is why I tend to record unamplified or quiet events). The Evens bring and operate their own miniature PA rig, making the job a bit easier.
Other than the odd mechanical problem–of which I’ve had my share–there’s not much else to be done but stay out of the way (in my case, trying to switch tapes as quietly as possible).
I’m currently digitizing the recordings from the 2014 Quiet Music Festival; you can hear the 2013 recordings here. I had taken a chance on a couple of pancakes of N.O.S. Ampex 406, and sure enough they exhibited binder failure, leaving a melted, streaky residue all over the tape path. I’m confident the music can be salvaged, however. One of the reels had contained Mark Eitzel’s set but, true to form, the next day he begged me to erase it. Of course I did, though I was unable to fulfill his second request, which was “to erase it from my mind.” Sorry, Mark.
The deck itself–an early-model Otari MX-5050–is a solid and good-sounding deck, but I’m considering rebuilding the tape path with modern roller bearings to see if I can squeeze just a bit more life out of it. Anyone who knows me at all will not find this surprising in the least.
What’s more, a couple of years ago I picked up a truly ancient Magnecord 728. With any luck, someday soon–okay, not that soon–you’ll see me hauling this clunky old beast out to shows too!
The intrepid Stefan Bauschmid was kind enough to share this shot of my mic array pointed at the Evens’ gear at their Portland show on September 29, 2013. (A song from this set is posted on the RECORDINGS page of the site.)