Hank wanted to record live, head-on, in the same space. No headphones. No overdubs. No click tracks. Hey, we even tuned with a fork! Foremost, we wanted to preserve the phrasing, the very essence of a vocal duet. And as in any chamber ensemble, proximate visual interplay facilitates instrumental phrasing (all three artists being guitarists as well as string players). So we positioned the three artists in a triangle, as shown below.
The heart of the signal chain at Fred Remmert’s Cedar Creek Recording is a one-of-a-kind 1973 Neve Console (known to audio historians as the “Ballantine” desk), with its unique preamplifiers and channel equalizers, through which all dedicated mics were routed. A pair of Schoeps CMC6 microphones with Mk4 cardioid capsules were positioned well above the trio in a wide (120°) X/Y pattern and routed to a Millennia HV-3D preamplifier to capture the room sound transparently.
Shaidri’s vocal was captured with a Neumann U87, with gentle tube leveling provided by one side of a
Manley Variable Mu Limiter. For the first day of recording, we used a Shure Beta 57A on her 1957 000-28 Martin, again with gentle leveling provided by one side of a Summit Audio DCL-200 Dual Tube Compressor. After the first day, we switched to a Neumann KM54 (and never looked back). The KM54 was repositioned for tracking her violin.
Hank’s vocal was captured with a Klaus Heyne German Masterworks modified Neumann U67, with gentle leveling provided by the other side of the Manley. For the first day, a Neumann KM56 was used on his guitar (and subsequently positioned for mandolin), with gentle leveling provided by a Tube-Tech CL 1B Opto Compressor. After the first day, an AKG C460, modified by Jim Williams at Audio Upgrades, was placed low and away to capture more body. Hank’s custom Lance McCollum Grand Auditorium guitar, of Brazilian rosewood and Italian spruce, is an instrument with remarkable clarity. Although similar in size to a slope-shouldered dreadnought, not only did it not require the customary “dreadnought roll-off”, the C460 helped round out the bottom end – just enough to give it a full baritone voice, and not that bass voice which would compete with the cello for low frequency real estate.
Doug’s cello was captured with a Neumann TLM193 for the first day, with gentle leveling provided by a Teletronics LA-2A. During the second day of tracking we switched to a vintage Neumann U47, giving us more warmth without sacrificing clarity and detail, and with the added bonus of greater off-axis rejection from its tighter pattern.
High resolution digital recording (24-bit/96kHz) was done through Cedar Creek’s Nuendo 24-track workstation and 24/96 VST mixer (Nuendo/Steinberg converters, clocking by Rosendahl Nanosync HD). Mixing was done inside the digital domain. Monitoring in Fred’s spacious (18’L x 24’W x 10’H!) control room was primarily with Genelec 1030A’s with sub, and in the near-field with Yamaha NS-10M’s (Bryston-powered). Fill-the-room sound came from Dunlavy SC IV/A towers (also Bryston powered).
We recorded all tracks in three consecutive eight-hour days, and then took off a couple of days to clear the ears. Back again after the weekend, we mixed ten tracks in two more work days, took a day off, then repaired to Jerry Tubb’s vaunted Terra Nova Digital Audio for mastering. Recorded, mixed, mastered and shipped to the duplicator in 10 days!
I have produced/engineered/played for recording projects where the artists/players are never in the same room at the same time. Although one might capture accurate performances of each constituent member of a Mozart string quartet, mixing them together can only yield a result wherein the whole is considerably less than the sum of its parts. There is no plug-in for genuine interactivity and group phrasing. Getting it in the mix is a cruel myth. Fred had wanted simply to put a single omni mic in the midst of the ensemble – the first rule of good microphone technique being to never use more than one mic. But I did want to preserve a spatial sense for the configuration, and the detail available from each sound source. I should know, because I had the wonderful luxury of placing my ears wherever there was to be a microphone!
In September, 2009, I accompanied Shaidri to the family home in Greenville, California (population 1,160, elevation 3,586 ft), located in Plumas County on the southwest side of Indian Valley. (Okay, I didn’t know where that was either.) Hank picked us up at the Reno airport and headed northwest through the mountains for the 120 mile ride to the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas.
Doug Harman drove across the state from Novato in Marin County. We set up in Hank’s music room for two days to explore how well Hank and Shaidri’s duo would grow with the addition of Doug’s cello, long-time support for singer/songwriter Loren Rowan. Hank and Doug played together extensively in Austin, Doug’s hometown, in the ‘70’s. When I moved my band Balcones Fault from Austin to Marin County in 1977, Doug joined us (keyboards, cello, guitar) – at least until that adventure ran its course. So the elements of personal history and musical come-from seemed to bode well for finding that especial chemistry for which I was searching.
Hank’s Music Room is a delightful place to play music. Not particularly large, but with a two-story ceiling, plenty of light and air, and a feng shui conducive to creative explorations. The adjacent Control Room, although not large, provided a pleasantly neutral and honest monitoring environment with Genelec 8040A’s. Hank has a tidy selection of quality microphones and preamps, and another important goal of this preproduction work was to audition different microphone selections and placements, a step which proved essential to our subsequent success in the recording. Honestly, had we blocked out more time, we had everything we needed to make a good recording – and we did. But I knew that in order to make a great recording, we should set up at Fred Remmert’s Cedar Creek Recording, with its favorably warm acoustics, vintage Neve console, excellent mic cabinet, warm tube processors, and of course Fred’s considerable skill as an engineer. I have worked there with Shaidri, and I felt we would be most comfortable in familiar circumstances.
The chemistry and the sound were there as Hank & Shaidri played through their prepared repertoire. Doug, being a superb sideman, initially merely supported the sound he encountered. But then as new songs were introduced, or we changed vocalist or instrumentation or treatment, and we added his substantial presence, the interactive sound of a string trio emerged. In two days, we sketched fourteen pieces of material, some originals from Hank and other friends, some traditionals with our treatment, and some just great songs appropriate to the voices and instrumentation. The next step was to find a window of availability for Doug and Hank to travel from California and Cedar Creek to be available.