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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

October 17, 2003

The Green Bullet

I'd realy like one of these. It's the best way to get that totally honky blues harp sound. I've been running the harp through an amp (when I say amp, I mean amp model) to get something like it, but now I've realised I need to EQ quite severely to cut at 100Hz and 5kHz. I could either do this with AmpliTube or one of the other plug-ins.

I was talking to Simon earlier about this kind of thing. He has concerns that because of the digital landfillability of much of the kit people use to make sounds these days, that it will become increasingly hard to replicate sounds. He mentioned two drum machines he once used which no longer work. And being the kind of item they are, a repair is more expensive than a new one, or a piece of software.

But actually this is nothing new. Keef is interviewed by CSM in Purfling Monthly this month, and they talk about the distinctive sound he achieved on Jumping Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man. Keef played his acoustic guitar into the microphone of an early cassette recorder, and overloaded it. It's a fantastic sound, created in a simple and creative way. But then they introduced a new generation of cassette recorders with built-in limiters, and you could no longer overload them. So he basically chucked that method out of the window, and nowadays you'd have to work hard with outboard gear/software to achieve the same effect.

There are probably hundreds of examples of this kind of thing. I mentioned to Simon that a certain breed of musician (including members of the Breeders) are now vocally anti-digital and insisting everything is analogue on their recordings. Apart, obviously, from the final bit where it gets put onto a CD/DVD/SACD. In this, they face the paradox explained by Keef in his interview: as soon as you record an acoustic guitar with a microphone, it's an electric guitar. This is one of those always-already-there observer interfering with the experiment kind of events. Which brings to mind certain Jonathan Richman gigs I've been to, where he'd do the whole gig with an acoustic guitar, a sax, and his voice, all unamplified, no matter what the size of the venue. Wonderful.

Anyway, I have Shelby's latest, which was very nearly all home made (she played all the guitars). It's a lovely-sounding record, very dry, and of course she insisted on using analogue gear. So there are all these movements going on, with thousands of people getting into home recording because of the power of the home computer, and it's all digital. And there are major recording studios and producers moving over in increasing numbers to Pro Tools|HD, because once you hear 192kHz, the whole digital vs. analogue argument is meaningless. And the systems are cheaper and more flexible than anything analogue. So then the artists themselves, whether through technophobia or stubbornness, are insisting that they use analogue gear both on stage and in the studio, "Because it sounds so great."

My attitude? I'm somewhere between. I wholeheartedly believe that recorded sound has been on a downhill path since Beatles For Sale (and, possibly, even since Songs for Swingin' Lovers, but that's an argument for another day). On the other hand, I think some artistes are just out for a pose, and if they understood the magic that can be achieved with plug-ins from Bomb Factory and McDSP, they'd realise how liberating and empowering the digital revolution has been. From this point of view they begin to sound like elitist nurks, and the noughties equivalent of Sinatra's classic is Songs for Whingeing Luvvies.


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