Air Vs Music
It struck me recently that there was something quite interesting about the music I like having a sonic quality that has little to do with melody or lyric. In fact isn’t technically ‘music’.
Generally I listen to an eclectic blend of music during the day – mostly ambient stuff as it helps me work. For example I quite like listening to white noise following a revelation about how clear my thinking became on long haul flights.
Anyway, there is something about music that has been recorded in a certain way that pulls me in. I used to talk to the sound engineers from Olympic Studios when I had a business down there. They used to enthuse about these big reverb chambers (with big plates?) they used before sound processing became the norm and how Abbey Road had a certain sound Vs Studio 1 Vs Studio 2 and how Phil Spector used ensemble playing to multi-layer the guitars like an orchestra: “little symphonies for the kids".
So I thought about the thing that stood out most. And bizarrely it transpires it is the atmosphere created by the way the drums are recorded.
The best illustration I know of is Honky Tonk Woman (which also has best use of cowbell ever IMHO). It was engineered by Vic Smith (later to become Vic Coppersmith-Heaven – don’t ask…) who claimed that Studio 1 was a big cavernous room – 80ft high ceiling with mics in it and the drums on a riser in the middle with open mics everywhere.
What I notice most is the sound of the air around the kit. And the sound of the air being pushed out of the drum itself. Have a listen. Other examples include ‘If you Can’t Beat Them’ by Queen off the Jazz album. The air lives and breathes. Which is why I struggled with most of the processed stuff in the 90s. Phil Collins included.
I also like the sound on ‘When the Levee Breaks’ recorded at Headley Grange – funnily enough on the Rolling Stones Mobile unit – just 2 M160 Beyers at the top of the stairwell. It isn’t the sound of the drums – it’s the atmosphere created by the air after the skins are hit. I think anyway.
So when people ask me in future what sort of music I like – I shall tell them it’s not the music – it’s the way the air sounds around the drum kit.