Sound vs Silence
Wired 03: Re-Examined; a 25 year Album
Re-Examined is the recently published album of the musical project: Sound vs Silence; but it began to be recorded in 1997.
The Re-Examined album was recorded in 1998, what expectations did you have at that time when you started recording an album?
The album was actually started in 1997 and the recordings were completed in 1998. I didn’t know what to expect! At the start of the process, I was so naive with regards to the technical aspects of what I was hoping to achieve. I had ideas bouncing around in my head and needed to capture them and refine them because the ultimate goal was to share them. I had no delusions or notions of grandeur or fame; I simply wanted the music out of my head and into the world. I knew how I wanted it to sound, and my expectations were to produce an album and share that sound with as many people as possible.
Can you remember some details of the recording process? Like general conditions of the studio, instruments, microphones or the format in which you stored the recordings at that time?
The recording process was so much fun. We had spent hours rehearsing and recording and trying to get it just right. We would start recording and tinkering and the hours would fly by before we had realized the day was over. It was in a spare bedroom on the 2nd floor of an old house in Toronto. It had hardwood pines floors that were super reflective and a window that didn’t completely keep the sound out.
The actual recording was done inside a closet within the bedroom.
Our poor singer and rapper spent hours sitting inside that little closet. The walls and inside door of the closet had been lined with thin sheets of styrofoam.
The floor had a thin rug that was supposed to mute the reflections.
There was a small stool with a wooden red seat that had been fortified with a hundred screws so that it would not squeak during recording.
The windscreen for the mic was (you guessed it) a metal hanger turned into a ring covered with pantyhose with a copper plumbing corner to hold it together. It was a cheery little ghetto studio!
In 1997, when the studio was being “put together”, the DAW was Steinberg’s Cubase and I also used Wavelab, VST architecture was at its infancy, I ran it on a Windows 95 Intel Pentium machine with a PCI soundcard called “GINA” that had a breakout box and a digital I/O.
The microphone used then was the Audio-Technica AT4050 multi pattern condenser unit. Budget was an issue, and this is what could be afforded at the time with all the equipment expenses. It was and still is and outstanding piece of equipment.
The mic was fed into a Roland VS880 Digital Studio Workstation and raw recording was done at levels just below clipping but no processing was used at the input level.
The audio was then fed digitally directly into the PC via the digital interface and into the DAW.
The PC was connected to a Yamaha O3D digital mixing console that allowed good automation via MIDI.
This is where the bulk of the processing was applied to the audio (within the O3D mixer).
In terms of instruments and controllers, I used a Rhodes MK80 as master keyboard, I also had Korg M1 synthesizer and a Kurzweill K2000 rack synthesizer/sampler all orchestrated via MIDI and fed directly into the Yamaha digital mixer where the sounds were processed. The Yamaha had a digital out that was fed into a Tascam DAT machine and /or back into the PC for saving purposes.
Alesis Studio Two monitors and Audio Technica ATH 908 open back headphones were the reference for mixing.
Everything was recorded in Wave format and backed up on the hard disc of the PC. It was also backed up with a Tascam DAT machine.
It was quite the setup in terms of wires everywhere and computers and digital mixers.
I wish I had taken pictures.
At what point in the process did the production of the album stop?
The production of the album stopped in 2000. I was working in the United States at the time and the studio was in Toronto, Canada.
I would come back every few weeks to work on the project.
The feedback from friends and colleagues at the time was that the sound was incredible, original and interesting. However, to really promote it, demos needed to be made and sent out and doing a live performance or two would get people interested. I was (and still am) a studio musician and was not keen on working on a live performance but would entertain the idea.
Our singer and rapper were also tentative to organize a show but were not completely opposed to it.
We had decided that we would try and do it, but my work became increasingly time consuming and the time off from work couldn’t be dedicated to the album completely.
We were at the mastering stage at the time, and I was planning on mastering the tracks myself, but at this critical stage that required more attention, the album that we focused on in 1997 and 1998 was starting to become less of a focus as other priorities emerged.
I was professionally licensed in the United States and I was studying to write the licensing exams for Canada, then, my wife and I were married in early 2001 and decided to move full time to the United States.
Between settling in a new state and adjusting to a new job/city, it was impossible to setup a studio in our new location although I was eager to try.
The equipment ended up being more on display rather than being set up properly.
My trips to Canada became more infrequent and I couldn’t maintain the studio in its original location either.
In sadness, the project just faded into a memory.
What keeps you from being able to finish it or from continuing to make other productions?
From 2001 until 2003 I didn’t have the room or time or bandwidth to dedicate to a studio or the album. My new wife, my profession and establishing our new home and life in a new city was my focus. Perhaps if we had stayed there I may have rebuilt the studio, but in 2003 a family tragedy brought us back to Canada to be closer to family. At this point, it was impossible to think about the old project. We were moving countries again and it was chaotic. By the time we had settled again it was 2004 and much of our possessions remained in boxes. By then, the sound equipment and sound we had created were becoming “stale” and I wasn’t keeping up to date on recording technology or even playing an instrument.
Then my kids were born, and I had started a business and the focus and priorities of life shifted again.
Life was moving quickly, and time became a blur.
We moved houses again and the nicely boxed equipment was basically buried in storage.
I hadn’t spoken with our singer since 2000 and the rapper had a new life as well.
The years whizzed by, and the album became a distant memory.
Kids, school, business and family took over and by 2010 the equipment and album were obsolete.
By 2019, it was as if the album had never happened.
What made you find the recordings and want to finish this production?
My daughter was enrolled in piano from an early age. She loves music and enjoys singing as well. Around 2015 my wife and I entertained the idea of creating a “music room” for her but nothing transpired because it would require a larger renovation and it wasn’t an immediate priority.
Because we had started thinking about a home renovation at the time, we began purging “junk” from the house in preparation. During that process, I found the old Rhodes MK80 electric piano in storage and set it up so the kids could practice keyboard.
I also found other boxes that were still sealed that were thought to contain ancient equipment within them. I kept them aside, but now I had seen the boxes and memories of their contents had been gently triggered in the back of my mind.
We finally started our renovation in 2019.
The good news was that our evolving renovation plans had suddenly allowed for an extra room that was not initially planned for. We decided to finally make the music room for my daughter.
During the process, I gathered the old boxes and for the first time since 2003, I thoroughly inspected them. I came upon an antique looking computer, a strange mixer, some sort of a tape machine, a weird rackmount sound module, studio speakers as well as a mic and a vintage pantyhose windscreen. It looked like expensive junk (except for the windscreen)! As the room took shape and the renovation wrapped up, we had ended up with a small music studio that both my daughter and I could enjoy.
Then the lockdown started and in mid 2020 as the old equipment lay scattered throughout the new room, I tried to envision its use again.
I couldn’t. The Tascam DAT machine wouldn’t turn on and the tapes didn’t look like they were in good shape. However, to my surprise, I was able to extract data from the old IDE hard drive and found some wave files that were completely intact.
The vocals actually sounded decent! I had found some premasters also that sounded completely from another era and were laughably unusable.
Within those moments of discovery, I knew that I needed to finish the old project, but I didn’t know where to start.
I reached out to an old friend who was still in the music business and over the course of the next few months, had in depth discussions about modern production and realized that my old methods were antiquated and mostly extinct.
The majority of the fossilized equipment was going to be unusable.
What general tools and processes did you use to finish the production in 2022?
The lockdown allowed many of us to slow down and reflect on things that were important to us. I realized that music was one of them for me, so I decided to re-educate myself and try to catch up on current music production.
In mid to late 2020 I started reading about modern DAWs and production techniques and after some lengthy research (and discussions with my old friend), decided that Presonus Studio One was the right choice for me.
I invested in a new PC with some nice horsepower and committed to Studio One Five.
I paired it with a Universal Audio Apollo Twin USB audio interface. I ended up keeping the same microphone but switched to Presonus Sceptre S6 studio monitors and ATH-R70x open back studio headphones. I spent the rest of 2020 and some of 2021 learning the DAW and working within a VST architecture system.
I imported some of the old wave files into Studio One and started working on the material musically trying to maintain the original spirit of the project.
Initially, I cleaned up the vocals by going over each wave file visually and removing artifacts and smoothing out issues. Then the vocals were EQ’d and brightened, compressed and sprinkled with a little reverb.
The music was then produced around the vocals starting with percussion and then bass and then everything else.
I tried to keep the overall feel like the 90s but just with cleaner crisper sounds. Finally, I mastered within Studio One itself with various plugins to alter dynamics and enhance/excite different frequencies.
I used the new studio monitors but also the old Alesis ones as well as various sets of speakers (of varying sizes) throughout the mastering process. Each song had a slightly different process, but I tried to maintain the same feel throughout the work.
By spring of 2022 the project that had remained dormant for so long was done!
Did you have technical difficulties regarding compatibility with the original recordings and current tools?
There were surprisingly no compatibility issues with the original recordings and the current DAW. I was incredibly fortunate to have kept many of the original recordings and because they were in a digital format, there was no tangible loss to quality. It was surprisingly easy to get the audio into the new DAW and it was unbelievably seamless to work on it.
However, the entire method of small scale production had shifted from being externally hardware driven to being primarily software focused within the PC itself.
Once the recordings were within the DAW, the workflow came very naturally. These modern DAW programs are very powerful, and the creative possibilities are endless. It was like moving from pen and paper to a word processor. The difficulty arose with the artistic choice of trying to maintain the 90s vibe to a certain extent while modernizing the material.
25 years ago, did you imagine the finished album sounding like it does today?
Such an interesting question.
The answer is no. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted when the project started.
That never transpired. The finished project included an unplanned 25-year interruption. These were 25 years of life experiences sandwiched between the start and end of the work that involuntarily changed me.
I wanted the same vibe as when the project was started, and I think I managed to achieve that but I’m sure that the memory of that vibe has unconsciously changed to what I perceive it to be today.
The end product entails 25 years of life that I could not have imagined when this was started. What I consider finished now and the vision of what I originally intended has unintentionally diverged as 25 years of life has forcibly and irrevocably changed the creative influences and inherent inspirations that shape artistic drive.
Did the people involved in the original recordings hear the finished album?
I have known the rapper (Sharad) for more than 40 years. He has heard the original premasters and the finished product. He was completely onboard when I relayed to him the intention of finishing. He offered to redo vocals, but I wanted to maintain as much of the original material as possible. The singer, Jamillah, was informed about the finished album shortly before it was released. I hadn’t spoken with her since 2000. I found her on social media and reached out to her. She was surprised to hear from me and told me that she had thought about Sharad and me many times over the years. I had her listen to the album, and she told me she couldn’t stop smiling the entire time. I asked her consent to release the tracks with her vocals which she happily gave.
Do you plan to continue producing music from now on?
Absolutely. Re-examining the past efforts and reproducing the work was incredibly fulfilling. There was always a nagging sensation of something unfinished when I thought of the old project. As well as a persistent void in its absence that was once filled with music and creation. Both are now gone, and I have already started on the next batch of music. What’s interesting about music today is that distribution has changed dramatically. There are so many music sharing platforms available today that didn’t exist when the project was first started. With a few clicks, YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal among others are readily able to distribute. It is unbelievably easier now to get music out into the market! 25 years ago, I never imagined how easy it would one day be to share music with the world.
Finally, what makes this all ultimately more fulfilling is the fact that now I have my daughter involved and I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait to release the next batch of music.