I recently did an interview with Open Labs about the art of making electronic music remotely.
As technology continues to make strides, more and more artists are finding themselves left alone in their studios; while endless piles of gadgets replace people, and become an artist's sole source of inspiration. Where there were once groups of artists discussing the levels on the bass line, there are now lonely sound engineers, pushing buttons and sliding faders. But it doesn't have to be so solitary. Working remotely, while not a new phenomenon, is becoming progressively easier and producing better quality music. Although the set-up isn't always ideal, it creates the opportunity for musicians to work together—with people, equipment, time and even talent they may not otherwise have access to.
To further the idea of a collective aloneness, Jamie Watts, who appropriately goes by the DJ name KiloWatts, points out an intensely interactive and collective piece of music. “Perhaps the most extreme example of musicians working remotely would be the Soulseek One Second Massacre, aptly titled, 'Sloppy Seconds,'” says Jamie. This musical collage is a collection of one-second sound bytes, each created by a lone artist, tacked on to the existing project, and forwarded to more than 500 artists over two years. The result is a 9-minute sonic patchwork. As Jamie describes it, “The result sounds something like a bunch of monkeys pushing buttons, but it's interesting how certain segments develop, especially in the segments where the rhythm is done at 120 bpm, which fills one second evenly.”
Jamie, who was a part of the “Sloppy Seconds” project, met his recording partner, Peter Van Ewijk, just once, and long after initiating their own remote recording process. The US-Germany relationship started via the file-sharing program Soulseek. Jamie says, “He sent me some guitar and vocal ideas he was working on, and I added my production to the mix.” It seemed like an easy enough orchestration between the two familiar studios but when they got together for the first time in person, at the Lab30 festival in Augsburg, Germany, the duo only had two days to practice a live set they'd spent a year building, seemingly effortlessly.
Four years later, Jamie and Peter got together for a second album. Jamie says, “The second album was more involved, so there was a lot more creativity going back and forth for each track: re-recording things, adding things, changing things. Doing the two albums like this was fun, but if we decide to do another one, I would want to create it in person together.” Headed in different musical directions, the second album was harder to control. “Because of the limitations of being in different places ... it's almost like the process is a 3rd collaborator. Ideas can change drastically during the time it takes for a project to transfer, or when the other guy gets around to working on it.” This can be good in situations where it allows the project to grow into something new, but it can also be frustrating because it is impossible to be in the same room, bouncing ideas off each other.
Providing a valuable insight, Jamie adds, “Working remotely helps with scheduling differences, as each person can get to the song at their convenience. But the result sometimes can sound double-sided, as each person is solely in their own head during the creation process. With uploading and downloading time, it usually takes a lot longer to complete a track. I've found that when working in the same studio together, we can ... pull immediate inspiration from what we're both feeling in the moment.”
There are options, though, for a sort of “live remote” session, which is exactly what Jamie concluded is one of the best alternatives. “I'd love to see something that is real-time interactive,” Jamie says. “If you can imagine it ... software that allows for two users to interact with the same song file through TCPIP, and chat at the same time. You could be tweaking a synth while your partner's arranging a sequence.” More than the future of remote work, it's the present.
Nick O'Toole, who's used remote recording techniques to capture the sound of the Prague Orchestra, explained the intricate process of producing the sound monsoon in real time from his Southern California location. “We used my NeKo to run Protools and another source connect plugin to monitor the session. The tracks were actually being recorded in Prague. It works by having the plugin, which is RTAS/VST/AU capable, and has to be running on both ends. The plugins connect and you can send audio back and forth in real time.” This is an impressive process because it compensates for latency and carries a MIDI time code signal, so the two systems can be in sync for recording. “It's all done via IP and the Internet,” Nick says. “This plugin enables you to monitor and produce what is being recorded on the other end in real time.”
Nick continued, “[We were] streaming at MP3 compression in real time and set up a Mackie big knob for the feed so the talk back button would send our voice to ... the control room. We hear it as it happens, then make comments, ask for more horns etc.”
Live remote recording, or producing as in this case, is an awesome technological feat and alleviates a lot of the problems that musicians encounter when recording remotely, or live for that matter. Nick emphasizes this last point, saying, “The best part is you never have to get dressed.”
Between scheduling, living across the country, or not wanting to get dressed, remote recording has solved a lot of problems. For those who prefer the solitude of their audio lairs, remote recording is being social. At the same time, it's not for everyone. Just as Myspace is fun for a while, it's not face-to-face human interaction. And, as Jamie says, “At its worst, working remotely can turn you into a head case from lack of human interaction.”
Article by Tatiana Ryckman, Open Labs Staff Writer
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