Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Shifting focus

The Whiteboard


Nothing but a 20 minutes or so practice while watching some Olympics.


Nothing. Went on 4 hr bike ride featuring: roots, mud, rain, great company, more mud, lunch at a historical hotel and a little more rain.

Nothing. Do I really have a gig in less than a week? You'd never know by how hard I'm working.

Band practice. Ran through the whole set. Not great. Came home and edited 3 tracks in an hour and a half.

The Commentary

The last time I tried to mix Bicycle Built for Two (actual title: Daisy Mae) it took me 4 or 5 hours over two days to come up with something listenable. Last night I did 3 times the material in around 1/4 the time and it sounds better. Hmmp.

I suspect that first effort helped the later one. A lot of the extra time was spent button pushing and knob twiddling. What does this effect do? What happens if I drench it in reverb? And so on. In essence, though I didn't realize it at the time, I was practicing with the recorder and its mastering software. Just like guitar, practice is essential.

But there's more to it than that. I find I have two levels of listening. There's hyper-critical and focused, where each part of the sound is serially the center of attention. Then there's a wider approach, where the whole is considered. Last night I was able to move between the two without effort. Usually once I start listening critically I can't stop. All I can do was shift my attention through each instrument and hope for the best. I'd listen to the final mix again after at least a night's sleep. The theory being that given enough time I'd hear it more as whole. Doesn't always work. The same problems or concerns would stand out front and center, and really, why wouldn't they? After you've invested a lot of time and energy on them it's hard hear anything else.

Last night was different. I was under some time pressure. The LUC is using these tracks as a background for a visual presentation. (She designed a Rails to Trails project that won an award and is presenting it at two conferences.) I've been dawdling and suddenly it was crunch time. Crunch time without crisis, not my usual state of affairs.

I think there are two reasons it went so well. The LUC was sitting across from me as I did the mixing. I've been trying to maintain my shit as much as possible around her. I tend to over-react to just about everything and it's time to stop. The other reason is something that Ridley Scott (director of Alien, Black Hawk Down etc.) said in the commentary for Matchstick Men. Apparently he likes to work quickly, decisions are made right now and things are kept moving. He trusts his instincts and I'm beginning to realize that the only way to learn to trust yourself is to actually do it.

Last night I found myself listening to the track as a whole without any agenda. The decision to change something was based on a feeling: did it sound "right". If it wasn't right I'd narrow my focus: how's the bass, what about the drums, is the lead too loud etc. The first thing I noticed as being wrong got adjusted then the process would start over. I wasn't conscious of any of this at the time. I'm really hoping that by working out what happened I'll be able to repeat it.

So, the formula would appear to be:

An unhealthy respect for a Hollywood director.
+ A strong desire to avoid the disapproval of a loved one.
+ A procrastination produced need for speed.
= A better way of working.

Hmmm, I wonder if this'll help me file my taxes on time?

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