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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Oh how I love you, home recording. The actual studio is nice, sure--it's great to have someone else there to set everything up, who knows what they're doing, someone to choose the mic and try out things you never would have thought of, someone to mix afterwards, someone to tell you if you're being retarded, or at least to slyly mix out your retarded bits later. That's all great.

But oh, for the comfort and leisure, the freedom and openness, the intimate obsessiveness, of the bedroom, of the one- or two-mic studio, the cozy corner with every instrument you own surrounding you in a semi-circle, obscure and never-documented effects chains, maybe incorporating the stereo or the VCR, chained in current-sapping tangles to power strips and Y-split 1/4" inputs. Oh that sense of possibility, of having everything there to play with, to cut and paste, to process and reverse and mix and copy and remix, to fuck with, to add an extra harmony part or a set of handclaps, to put on more reverb than would conventionally be held to be wise, to EQ out of all rationality, to delay into another channel, to pan wildly, to run percussion through a bass head, vocals through a live-miked PA, guitar through a DJ's FX unit, to pile keyboard line on top of keyboard line, to include, hell, the sound of your own amp turning on and off. Why not? You have the time, the possibility, and the amp, hey, you got that as part of a $20 package at Kay-Bee toys, and it runs on C batteries. It sounds horrible, and that's lovely.

Oh, of course it's great to sound professional, to sound like you're supposed to, especially when you sound kind of weird already. But it's also true that we judge things based on production, and new sounds come from these new production techniques, which you usually only figure out by fucking around with things yourself; that, after all, one of the most common bits of advice to people who want to be engineers or producers is just to get a four-track and to fuck around with it, to figure out what works for you. For me, that might be (in the case of the current album), something with no amp sounds on it whatsoever, where there's actually a note at one point that says "should sound more Matrix-y." Or an album where there are no drums aside from the occasional percusssion instrument. Or an album made only with acoustic instruments. Or an album made only with a sequencer. I understand why Merritt (who I'm listening to now) does it this way, still, does it in a home studio--the freedom there, the freedom to spend hours fucking around with equipment to get a neat sound, and then to record that sound directly as you've captured it, without incurring any additional charges beyond what you've already paid for the equipment, is wonderful, to have everything just there, while you're watching TV or reading, in case you get an idea, in case there's something you want to try out.

That lovely openness, that sublime sense of possibility--to look upon this table of cheap, used, partially-broken instruments and equipment you've got, and to know that you can do things with them, to know that you know how they work, you know how to make them make the best sounds, and how to make them make the worst sounds, how to make them sing or howl or whatever you want, and if you don't know yet, you will soon. (I'm looking at you, push-button accordion.) To know that it all makes sense, that it isn't a mystery, that they're just tools, just weapons, just instruments. To know that you might one day convince others to let you surround their voice and their songs with your sounds, or to sing your songs with their sentiments and their ideas. It is a lovely thing, to see all this here, simply sitting, waiting to be unleashed, and then to listen to what you've already done, and like it--a rare thing, to be true.