The Recording Session — Finding It: Chapter 22

From the outset, arranging the recording session for One Thane proved a logistical nightmare. Getting everyone together along with the borrowed equipment proved to be the greatest challenge, far exceeding the months of practice to just get the members of the band ready to perform at a high enough level to commit the Rock opera to tape.

For the past few weeks, every weekend when the other members of Thrush and I were available Bart, Fleahead, or both were not. I felt we needed at least one entire day, but suggested we set aside a Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday. Amazingly, everyone seemed good for the first weekend in February. But just when I thought everything was set, Darren and Rich’s mother threw a wrench in our plans. She didn’t want us recording in her house. She made a good point, though. There was no way everyone else in the world could be quiet enough for us to make the recording.

So, instead of rehearsing in the evenings before the actual recording session, we gathered up the band’s equipment and relocated it to one of the old, vacant houses on my dad’s farm. The one we chose was in the process of being remodeled. There was newly installed electrical wiring downstairs and running water as well as a finished, modern bathroom.

Although the new venue seemed perfect, it created other problems. The rooms had high ceilings and tall windows, making reverberation a serious concern. Darren, Rich, and I spent two late nights before we moved in the equipment just dealing with acoustical treatments. Old mattresses were moved from the upstairs bedrooms to help absorb some of the sonic brightness of the room, deadening the reverberations from plaster and glass. Thick drapes were removed from the upstairs windows and tacked up to cover the windows and walls in the room where we planned to make the recording. Empty egg cartons were stapled to wooden frames to be leaned against bare walls to help deaden the liveliness of smooth walls.

Darren and I scraped together as many microphones as we could, borrowing them from every musician we knew, calling in some favors in the process. Considering how many bands had paying gigs that weekend, it was a miracle we came up with enough mics for our needs.

After wrestling practice on Friday, I picked up the simul-sync reel-to-reel tape deck and a mixing board from my friends at Audio House, a hi-fi store in Springfield where I shopped so often that I was considered part of the family. Fleahead’s brother was out of town which allowed him the use of a car. Since he lived in the same neighborhood as Bart, the two of them rode together for the recording session.

Finally, everything was set in the old house. Fleahead, Bart, and I carefully placed the microphones and used labeled tags for identifying purposes in anticipation of plugging them into the mixer board. We planned to put Fleahead in an adjacent room transforming it into the control center of our improvised studio with speakers borrowed from my home stereo system.

Although both Fleahead and I had worked with reel-to-reel tapes decks in the past, neither of us had prior experience with a simul-sync, reel-to-reel recorder. I’d heard that professional recording artists created material using such equipment, so I was excited to play around with it. Other than simple instructions received at Audio House and reading the owner’s manual, we learned many nuances while recording our rehearsals. I told Fleahead to keep all those recordings as well in case we wanted to pull something from them later to overdub onto the final master.

We wanted the recording to be as close to perfect as possible while understanding it was unlikely as any number of things could go wrong. Not only were we working with unfamiliar equipment, but also none of the participants had experience recording music. The songs were mine but the execution of notes, chords, and beats that were composed over the past several months resulted from a considerable collaboration. And we planned to record a session live as much as possible, then go back to overdub extra instruments, vocals, and effects.

When Darren and Rich arrived, they tended to their sleeping arrangements in the room across the foyer from our make-shift studio. Bart and Fleahead double-checked all the connections to the mixing board and recorder. Cam and I hashed out some adjustments to his parts for the recording. When everyone was finally assembled inside the make-shift studio, Thrush managed a quick practice with the tape rolling. We needed that as a sort of shakedown just to feel comfortable playing in the strange environment. When we all felt good about making this recording happen, we powered down all the equipment for the night, and as a group, we shared a late dinner that Mom had brought down to us from my house which was less than a mile down the road. Afterward, everyone bedded down. I must have been tired because I don’t remember anything between slipping into my sleeping bag and waking up from the sun shining through the windows.

With everyone else awake, we all piled into Darren and Fleadhead’s cars and drove to my house where Mom was already making breakfast. While we were seated around the dining room table, I first heard from the others about hearing strange noises in the house throughout the night.

“It’s an old house,” I excused. “Noises are to be expected. Heck, I’ll bet there are some animals nested upstairs.”

“Maybe that’s it,” Bart said. “And the rest was our imaginations.”

“Yeah, we thought the place might be haunted,” Rich said. The others joined him in laughing. From where she stood at the stove in the kitchen, Mom glanced at me but said nothing as I merely looked away.

With breakfast concluded, we headed back to the old house, eager to get underway with the long-awaited recording session. It was a relatively warm day for the first week of February with temps in the low to mid-forties. Although the house had a working gas furnace, there wasn’t a need to turn it on. Six people were working on the project in the same room. So, our combined body heat moderated the chill well enough.

Despite being a large room, the ‘studio, felt cramped. Within it sat two drum kits — the larger one belonging to Rich and the smaller was Bart’s. Amplifiers and speaker cabinets for the lead, rhythm, and bass guitars rounded out the equipment to handle instrumentation. Strategically placed microphones and their individual cords presented tripping hazards, so we had applied duct tape over them much as we would on a performing stage. With everything meticulously placed for the best possible recording, we needed to climb over things at times.

When we played, we stood still, which was unnatural for us, especially the three guitarists. We all tended to move around quite a bit when performing on stage. But preventing the possibility of knocking anything over or tripping on the exposed part of a cord and inadvertently unplugging something was a major concern. After recording the overture, we took a break and rearranged some things in the room, creating the illusion if not the fact of more space.

Bart hung out with Fleahead in the ‘control room’ until he was needed on the parts written for two drummers. He claimed that gave everyone else more room, but that was silly because his kit took up the same amount of space whether he was sitting at it or not. Still, I understood why he did it. He was not all that happy with how things were progressing. Throughout the process of writing and learning the Rock opera, there was a good deal of friction bordering on animosity at times between him and Thrush, particularly Rich over the percussion arrangements. Begrudgingly, he granted Darren and Rich autonomy over revising the material he and I originally composed. It wasn’t as big a deal to me as it was to Bart since I was accustomed to working with Thrush and adjusting our performance according to the whims of others. It was how we functioned. Bart wasn’t as accommodating. Still, he admitted that a lot of what they wanted to change made sense. I edited the sheet music to reflect the adjustments and redid those pages in anticipation of making multiple copies to hand out to the class for the presentation of our project. Regardless of who came up with what change, the sheet music was collaborative even if Bart and I would take credit for the overall project.

On that weekend we played the score with little or no improvisation. The project demanded it to be that way. One Thane as a live performance with all the instruments played together in the same room at the same time amounted to about 42 and a half minutes as a final product but it required several hours of recording and rerecording. Bart expected the actual recording sessions to last maybe four hours, tops. Allowing for some slack time seemed about right for him. But that proved highly optimistic. Afterward, Darren and I performed overdubs for extra guitar and vocals. That left only the overdub of piano tracks in the choir room before school the following Monday.

Early on, everything advanced smoothly. After the overture and the reprises, we recorded the two songs Bart wrote, one of which he performed in tandem with Rich producing a violent dynamic captured on tape. Since that song related to the climactic confrontation with Grendel’s Mother, it created the appropriate feel.

Unlike his brother, Darren, who was rather quiet and laid back, Rich had a huge ego. He was bombastic and always questioning everything. That produced an uneasy tension over the session, but somehow, on that weekend we navigated between the personality conflicts of everyone involved for the sake of the music.

Bart’s friend, Fleahead, was a godsend. I’d known him for three years, of course. It was on Bart’s recommendation alone that we had asked him to serve as recording engineer for our project master. It turned out that he was a natural at mixing audio. The result had a professional feel that was completely his doing. The recording sounded like it had been captured in a much larger room than was the fact, somewhere like a nightclub, for example. Some reverberation of guitars off the walls and ceilings acoustically suggested an organ, but at that point, there were no keyboards in the mix, an aural illusion that on playback I considered intriguing.

Overall, both Bart and I were pleased but allowed there was considerable work ahead in editing and mastering. We could do some of that later and on Sunday before we tore down our setup and began to return everything to where it belonged.

In the evening, we went to my house for dinner. Mom prepared spaghetti, salads, and garlic bread that were both tasty and satisfying. When we returned to the old house, we brought a cooler filled with ice and soft drinks. We relaxed for a bit while we shot the breeze, weaving tall tales of individual triumphs, most of them involving mishaps in relationships with girls. As might be expected, I remained quiet on the subject. I was not about to mention what had happened most recently. I wasn’t sure I could explain it, anyway.

For the first time, Bart brought up my recent success in wrestling. Darren and Rich had heard something about it at school, but neither of them followed wrestling or any other sport for that matter. Although Bart called me a local celebrity, it was offered and taken in jest. A week after the fact, just as I had predicted, no one was talking about my surprise win at the Lake Invitational anymore. That was a good indication of how minor the accomplishment truly was in the grander scale of the Countryside sporting universe where the lion’s share of the seasonal focus was on the basketball team as they were heading for the league title.

Before bedding down that night, Thrush fooled around playing some covers of hits, which turned into impromptu band practice. It was useful as we had a gig coming up the following Saturday and we’d been so focused on the Rock opera that other things had fallen to the wayside.

When we tired of practicing, Fleahead cued up the tape to overdub Darren playing some additional lead and some fills here and there. In some other places, I added harmony to my vocals. And, as planned, I played additional bass lines during the height of tension in battle sequences, creating low rumbling support for the chaotic percussion.

By then, everyone was exhausted. We rolled out our sleeping bags in the same room as before in preparation for spending another night.

This time, the strange noises from upstairs awakened me as well. Darren and Rich insisted that the house must be haunted. Bart and Fleahead laughed nervously as I confessed that some people said it might be. But again, I reiterated that it was probably some wild animals, like raccoons, that had somehow gotten inside the house to spend the winter. That seemed reasonable enough that everyone calmed down and returned to sleep… until the noises returned, louder and more persistent than before.

This time, everyone else stayed in the front room downstairs. Bart and I took flashlights to look around upstairs. Officially, we saw nothing, or rather, Bart saw nothing. I didn’t report what I observed. What Dawn had warned me about had come to fruition. Apparently, I’d gained the ability to see what others could not.

Maybe it was because I’d been prepared for the eventuality, but I was not frightened. Moreover, I sensed sadness and felt pity for many of the ghosts’ plights. Silently, I wished I could do something for them, but I had no idea how.

Despite our official report of finding nothing, Cam refused to stay in the house any longer. So, along with Bart and Rich, they rolled up their bags and piled into one of the cars, and drove to my house. I followed them in my car to let them in and helped them spread their stuff out on the living room floor.

When I returned to the old house, Darren and I decided to continue doing overdubs with Fleahead’s help. We didn’t bed down until very late.

The rising of the sun through the eastern facing windows awakened us on Sunday morning. We gathered up our stuff and returned to my house taking our turns showering and cleaning up. Then we sat down for a hearty country breakfast of farm-fresh, over-easy eggs, bacon, cornmeal gravy, buttermilk biscuits, and orange juice.

We returned to the house and listened to the entire recording again. Bart and I made some suggestions for edits and further overdubs while Fleadhead made note of the spots on the tape. By afternoon, Bart, Fleahead, and I made some preliminary plans for the following few days to work on the mix down to stereo and production of a final master that we would produce on my reel to reel before copying it onto a cassette tape for the actual presentation to my class.

Darren, Rich, Cam, and I packed up our equipment before we helped Bart and Fleahead return the old mattresses to the rooms upstairs. By evening, with everything back where it belonged, we were ready to call it a weekend. Bart and Fleahead took the recorder and mixer board with them.

Bart brought the reel-to-reel to school on Monday morning so that Fleahead and I could overdub the piano where it was needed. Miss Gains, my choir teacher who taught me how to score music and play the piano well enough to enhance sections of the Rock opera, watched as I performed the sections and at the conclusion gave her verbal approval. She made us promise that we would give her a copy of the recording once it was mastered onto a cassette.

Monday evening, after wrestling practice, I met Bart at Fleahead’s house. We stayed up past dawn the following morning working on the remix and copied the final master to my stereo reel-to-reel. The recording of One Thane was officially complete. It was time for everything else that was to follow. Despite difficulties in the process that I felt were the pinnacle of stress over the preceding year, it felt like the greatest challenge of my senior year was over.

How could I have been so naïve?

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