Friday, April 15, 2011

Recording a Tree

I am not a religious person. I have never really felt any absence in my life as a result of not having a religion. The word 'secular' fits me pretty well - I worry only about the 'timely' concerns of day-to-day living, not the more esoteric matters of the 'soul' or the 'supernatural'.

Yet I've carried a story with me down the years. I tried just now to confirm it by Googling it, and it turns out the story might either be apocryphal or misunderstood. I'll get to that... but let me just share with you the story as I remember it and prefer it.

Lee 'Scratch' Perry, the popular Jamaican producer alternately hailed as a genius, a madman or a kind of voodoo priest, is working in his 'laboratory'-cum-recording studio, trying to get the right feel. He is famous as one of the pioneers of the genre of music known as 'dub', a genre that is designed for the head, as a 'psychological' music that alters one's sense of perception.

So in any case, in an attempt to get the 'vibe' he's looking for, he recalls a tree he enjoys sitting under, and decides to take his recording equipment outside to 'record the tree', mixing the resulting track into the song he was working on in order to add the appropriate ambience.

Now, rationally, I know this to be obvious nonsense. At best, Perry should have hoped to obtain nothing more than ambient 'garden noises' - birds, a nearby stream, perhaps a wind blowing through leaves. At worst, it would have merely added another layer of hiss to the resulting song. Obviously the recording medium of magnetic tape doesn't record whatever 'ambience' a tree might have, right? And in any case, what exactly would that 'ambience' be? I mean, a tree doesn't do anything except merely sit there...

And yet simultaneous to my 'rational' rejection of that as patent gibberish, I also have a kind of sense-of-wonder attraction to the idea. Somehow, on some level, it still makes sense to me. And it makes sense that in some way the tree 'contributed' to the final product, to the song he was working on. Or perhaps I'd just like to believe that. Perhaps it gives me a kind of comfort.

And while that's not 'religion' exactly, it would certainly get me laughed out of any meeting chaired by Richard Dawkins.

Now... it turns out that the story I got might have been mixed with a story I've just read on Google that Perry buried microphones at the base of a tree and then thumped the tree in order to record some unplacable bass-level reverberations. This, while still brilliant, has little to do with 'the supernatural' and much to do with creative use of recrding techniques. I like both stories, even though they signify very differently. As I could not find any specifics (i.e. the name of the song in question), I'm a bit hesistant to believe either story. But coming from a man who burnt down his studio because of 'bad spirits', it's not too hard to believe.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...