Last month I travelled up to Saffron Road Studios in High Wycombe with The Engine Room to assist in-house engineer Dave in recording a track for a forthcoming compilation album. Saffron Road is an excellent independent recording facility just a short hop north of London.

The challenge for this session was to capture a short three minute piece from The Engine Room’s longform psychedelic improvisations. The Engine Room’s percussionist, John, decided the best way forward would be to record a drum loop first and then have the band improvise over this – including additional percussion – and try to build a piece from the band’s spontaneous interaction with the loop.

Dave set up a selection of mics around John’s kit, with an AKG C414 initially used as a mono overhead mic. We ended up placing the 414 quite far back from the kit which really allowed John’s thunderous, almost big-band playing style to breathe. John likes a lot of resonance to his toms and the extra space in the mic placement really brought out the booming tones of his drum pattern.

Shaun contemplating a bottle of San Pellegrino.

Looping Logic

Once we had a few bars of John’s rolling hypnotic drum part, I looped it in Logic, being sure to extend the loop onwards for way longer than we’d need it! I wanted to make sure the band had the freedom to play for as long as the spirits moved them. We set up a quick headphone mix for Gary (bass), Shaun (guitar) and for John to add additional percussion and the band set about improvising over the drum loop.

The next twenty minutes flew by as the band created a swirl of ambient noise, funky basslines and rolling martial percussion, building up to a naturally cacophonic crescendo.

We recorded Shaun’s guitar in the live room through a Marshall 4×4 as well as through a Trace Elliott Tramp which Dave had isolated in a booth while the bass was captured through a large 15″ cab in the live room and a smaller Peavey amp located on the stairwell. John’s additional percussion was caputured with the 414 repositioned from his main kit, as well as an SM58 running through some guitar pedals.

Improv Behemoth

The Engine Room are pretty adept and forming on-the-fly pieces from improvisation and the resulting twenty minute recording already sounded like a finished, composed piece of abstract hypnotic art rock. The next challenge for me was to attempt to edit this behmoth down to a three or four minute piece to be able to fit onto the compilation! But I’ll write more about the mixing stage another time.

If you’re looking for an inspiring place to record, do check out Saffron Road – Dave is an accomplished engineer and a sympathetic, patient guy well versed in working with a wide range of music genres. Take a look at their website for more info: http://saffronroadstudios.com/

Categories: Recording

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