SFP: Playing for Change

Aug 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Matt Gallagher



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Can you talk about how your field equipment has evolved during the course of this project?

When I started out, I would bring a lot of equipment. Most of the ideas for how to record outside came from a guy named Mickey Houlihan. He has a company called Wind Over the Earth (www.windovertheearth.com) in Boulder, Colo. He was my consultant for the whole project, and we started out working with golf cart batteries, the Exceltech [AC power inverter], Grace 801 [mic pre's] and a [Tascam] DA-78. It was very heavy and costly to ship, but it did work.

So I could record musicians outside, it would sound really good and I could overdub other musicians to the tracks. Then we switched to car batteries and a smaller Exceltech XP125. I then switched to a Digi 002 [interface] with the smaller battery-powered Grace Lunatec V3 [mic pre], and those are powered by Power Runner Model 2 battery packs. Then I was much more mobile and that's how I did a bunch of recording. As a backup, I would use a Metric Halo Mobile I/O 2882. But the problem is when you go to foreign countries where you can't fly with car batteries. For example, in the Himalayan Mountains, I would buy a car battery and then take it up to the mountains and find out it wasn't charged. That left me wanting to be completely in control of my own power, so that's when I went to using an MBox 2 Pro with the Grace mic pre's, which would get me six tracks. If I needed more than eight tracks, I would use the Metric Halo Mobile I/O. A lot of the stuff that I was doing was multitracking on top of other tracks, such as [with] “Stand By Me.” So six tracks was plenty.

The majority of the recording came down to using a lot of hypercardioid mics and dynamic mics, and then more recently back to the Neumann KMS 105, which is a really great hypercardioid mic. I would usually [use] windscreens on the mics. So now I could go anywhere, anytime, power myself and record up to six tracks.

Grandpa Elliott of New Orleans, seated, and Clarence Bekker of The Netherlands

Grandpa Elliott of New Orleans, seated, and Clarence Bekker of The Netherlands

What recording device and software did you use?

I recorded everything with a Mac laptop to Pro Tools LE, except when I used the Mobile I/O; then, I used the Metric Halo software. I mixed it on an HD system.

Did you figure out mic setups on the go?

[Laughs] It was definitely challenging. A lot of times it was just pick the right mics and turn them against the wind and hit Record. Half the time we would record these musicians, they would already be performing when we'd show up, so we had to adjust to what they were doing. Sometimes I would ask them to move or turn around because of the wind. But for the most part, it was really spontaneous. I got good [at] knowing when to use which kinds of mics. I would have 57s, a Beta 58, a Schoeps [CMC 6], the B&K [4011], the Neumann 105s and the Shure Beta 52 for bass or low-end instruments. I had passive Dis, and then [would] try to figure out which mic pre's to use. Over time, the combinations got better.

The challenges were constant — battery life, wind, rain, too much sun, and also the car horns and extraneous sounds around you. Obviously, you're going to have some of that. But when you put together 40 tracks around the world, you don't want to have too much extra noise in each of them where it gets overwhelming. The other important thing was a tuner. I had feared that problem because you're outside, and tuning shifts so much due to temperature.

And you had to set up cameras at the same time.

Yeah. We shot on HD, Mini-DV and 16mm film. But the whole thing was very basic: start off with a good track, inspire the people and then point and shoot.

It's interesting that the overdubs worked out so well: You played mixes live and people played along to it.

Yeah! For the most part, it was one take, very little editing — just people finding the place where they could fit in and play in that spot.

So you mixed as you went along.

Right. “Stand By Me” starts with [street musician] Roger Ridley on guitar and vocals, and then we add musicians. But with “War/No More Trouble,” we wanted to challenge ourselves a bit more. We did that in the same key and tempo of Bob Marley and the Wailers Live at The Rainbow, a [1977] concert of his in England. So I tapped the tempo of the “No More Trouble” part of the song because there's a drift in tempo from “War” to “No More Trouble.” So I had the musicians play “War/No More Trouble” to that click, and then got permission from the Marley family to use Bob's vocal and video. So Bob Marley is singing with Bono, Israelis, Palestinians, Catholic-Protestant kids, and musicians from Congo and Zimbabwe. It's the most amazing feeling because his whole spirit and energy are actually in the track, and that was one way to take it one step further from what we had done in the past.

How did you mix the final tracks?

Most of it I just mixed in the box in my apartment. For some of them, I went to Chalice Studios in Los Angeles.

What is the monitoring setup in your home?

I use Genelec 1030s. I'm in love with them. Paul Simon, Jackson Browne and Keb' Mo' used them, so my ears were accustomed to them for many years. Everything I used was real simple — no compression on anything. When I mixed, I [used compression], but when I was recording everything was just clean.

This is a remarkable undertaking.

The power of music — when it is being used in the right way — enabled us to go into places we otherwise would have never been able to survive. And we tried to show all the different ways with which people use music to persevere through struggles; then people start to realize that we're all the same.

Matt Gallagher is Mix's assistant editor.

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