To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
Date: Wed, 18 May 1994 23:14:58 -0400 (EDT)
From: Peter Byrne Manchester <PMANCHESTER@ccmail.sunysb.edu>
Subject: Sound on Sound `Del Palmer: The Red Shoes Sessions' Dec. 1993
Uli e-mailed me his master list of all articles and interviews that have so far been posted in connection with the release of The Red Shoes, and sure enough, as I suspected, this one was not picked up on at the time. It is a highly informative article based on an interview with Del Palmer. Much of the information is now familiar, but there are a wealth of details that are new. I would very much look forward to seeing Jon Drukman's comments on some of what Del reports.
I'd like to thank Alexis Armstrong, eldest son of my host for the recent visit to London for the Konvention, for unearthing the magazine from his library, and loaning it to me to transcribe for the newsgroup. Alexis is a skilled instrumentalist and resourceful electronic music composer; it was a pleasure to meet him, and I thank him for his thoughtfulness.
Volume 9, Issue 2 (December 1993), pp. 52-57.
LAYOUT: Each left-hand page has two inches of the fruit still from `Eat the Music' as border. At the top of the first page is a photo of Del in a blue shirt, standing behind the mixing desk and leaning on it with his forearms. Across the page is a photo of Kate in a dance pose, hair piled on top of her head, a black top, long-skirted crepe below, en pointe in red dance shoes (but supported from the rear by a male dancer). Inset just below is the logo from the album. Subsequent pages have sidebars with inset photos described below, in the context in which they appear.
[Sidebar] There's been a lot of publicity about Kate Bush's new album, The Red Shoes ; RICHARD BUSKIN goes behind the scenes with engineer/producer Del Palmer to discover exactly how the album was recorded, and how pop's most enigmatic lady really works.
Kate Bush's private studio was initially set up to record demos for Lionheart ; Del Palmer was the only band member interested in operating the tape machine! Fifteen years on, Del is Kate's main man with the faders, and what was once a demo studio has evolved into a sophisticated private recording facility.
Located in barns adjacent to the Bush country home, today's studio is equipped with a 48-channel SSL 4000E console with G-series computer, two Sony 3324A digital machines, a Studer A80 half-inch, and a couple of U-Matic video recorders.
Del takes up the story: "During early 1990, Kate said `I want to do something, I want to go in the studio and work.' During the early stages I can set up a sound for her, set up some keyboards, show what to do on the console, and leave her to it. She'll work for days until she's got something, then we'll get the musicians in and carry on from there."
As both producer and artist, Kate Bush is extremely focused and knows exactly what she wants. So when Del comes up with a particular sound, she wastes no time in telling him whether or not it's what she's looking for.
"There have been lots of times when I've had quite heated arguments with her--I'd say something wouldn't work, to which her response has been, `Indulge me...Just do it.' For example, on the Hounds of Love album there's a part that goes `Help me, baby, help me, baby,' which cuts in and out very quickly, which she wanted to do by turning the tape over and cutting in and out with the records switch. I said it would just be a mess, but she said, `Look, just do it, will you?' So I did it and of course it worked, and I had to eat humble pie. I've eaten so much humble pie over the years that I'm putting on weight!"
Kate is apparently not averse to placing her own fingers on the faders, especially in relation to the vocals as well as much of the instrumentation. "I was able to just set her up with a sound, and she'd take care of it herself," explains Palmer. "She'd record all the vocals, then phone me up and say, `Let's put it all together'."
These days, Kate Bush tends to write about 90% of her material as part of the overall recording process in the studio, largely because of the difficulty of trying to recreate the spontaneity and the feel of the demos.
"We just couldn't do it," says Palmer, "so we decided to use the demos as the basis for the albums. We started off by taking the demos, transferring them, then working on top--then it struck us that we should just do away with that whole process, develop the home studio and record absolutely everything right onto the multitracks and keep everything that was done. Now, a lot of the stuff that we start with doesn't make it right through to the end, but at least the flavour of it does.
"There's no fixed method to how Kate works, but generally speaking she will say, `Can you get me a drum pattern that sounds like this?' She'll sing me something and I'll program the Fairlight with a simple eight-bar loop, never any more than that, and then she'll program a sound in the Fairlight and get a tune going. Then she'll say, `I've got something, can I put a vocal down?' Something that may only amount to `la-la-la-ing`, but almost every time there'll be a specific little bit of lyric that will give her an idea, which in turn becomes the basis for the song. So we put it down, and that becomes the basic demo that we're going to work with; an eight-bar drum pattern, a keyboard and a very rough guide vocal. From that she can tell whether it's worth pursuing an idea or not. Some get discarded at this point, while others progress a little bit further before it becomes obvious that they too are not going to work."
Until the Red Shoes project, it was traditional to bring in the musicians one at a time to record their parts. Firstly--and, from Kate Bush's point of view, most importantly--the drummer, followed by the bass player (often Del Palmer himself); this would then allow her to review how each song was progressing and to make any necessary alterations prior to the guitarists and other musicians entering the fray. This time around, however, it was decided from the outset to record quickly and to aim for more of a band feel, so most of the tracks were recorded with a least bass, drums and, in several cases, keyboards being played together.
Palmer, wishing to concentrate on his role as engineer, didn't play the bass guitar; the same bass player and drummer worked over the course of ten separate days to fuel the group atmosphere, though guide guitars weren't deemed necessary. However, `Rubberband Girl' does feature a keyboard pattern performed by Kate with an acoustic guitar sample.
"On the track `Big Stripey Lie', Kate played electric guitar as well," points out Palmer. "She said to the guitarist we were using, `I'm really into the guitar. I'd really like to be able to play it,' and he said, `Oh, here, play this one (a Fender Stratocaster) for a bit.' So, he showed her a few chords, and--this is no kidding--a week later she was in front of this Marshall stack in the studio giving it her all! I've never seen anything like it. She's a natural--she was playing lead guitar and no one would know it wasn't an experienced guitarist."
THAT VOCAL SOUND
The trademark Kate Bush sound that has been developed over the course of the last four albums owes a lot not only to the pulsating, highly atmospheric, slightly discordant noises that seem to emanate from every direction, but also her own unique vocal style, with its breathy delivery and haunting presence.
"I can't take any credit for Kate's vocal sound," admits Palmer, "because it was originally shown to me by an engineer called Paul Arden who taught me so much. He would explain anything that I asked him about. One day he couldn't make a session, so he said, `Why don't you do it?' So I did, and he showed me how to get the sound which they had started using on The Dreaming. Kate loved it, and ever since then we've been using it.
"Basically, it's all down to an overdose of compression, and the fact that she really knows how to work with it. We set her up with a [Neumann] U47 in the live part of the studio--brick floor and stone walls--so it's very, very live--and then there's loads and loads of compression on the mic. The SSL desk's compression is very violent and works very well for this. So, what's happening is that every time she breathes in, you can hear it, so she has to be very specific in the way that she deals with this. She's backing off from the microphone all the time, really working it. We use a small amount of gating so you'll get the sound of the room and then it cuts off--a bit like the Phil Collins drum sound.
"If Kate's singing really loud she backs off from the mike and then she comes right in close for the quiet stuff, but when she breathes in, she does this to the side. I have to say that from a purely technical standpoint, it's really badly done, there's just so much compression on everything. But I'm not interested in being technical, I just want it to sound good, and if it does, then what's the point of changing it?
"When it comes to the mix you don't have to push the vocal up as high as you might imagine, because with that sound you're getting so much high frequency. It's real borderline stuff. Sometimes you can go too far, and it'll break up or distort, or it'll really blow your ears off, but if you get it just right, you're getting so much high frequency that you can just push the voice right down and it will still cut through everything."
On average, Kate performs four or five vocal passes for each part, and while compiling does take place, there is normally a clear contender for the master take. This is invariably deduced by way of Kate's own vocal chart, on which she makes notes while listening to the various takes. "Usually, Kate will record a complete section of her vocal and it'll work, then I'll just have to patch up a few bits."
When dealing with problems, Palmer tends to steer clear of the old cliche, `we'll sort it out in the mix.' For one thing, as Palmer is quick to point out, you have to be very sure that you *can* sort it out in the mix, so and Kate try to get things right as they put them down on tape. When it came to mixing the album, it was simply a matter of pacing, creating space and giving everything its moment. There were, however, a few exceptions.
GUESTS OF DISTINCTION
With the exception of her piano (recorded with two 87s inside the lid and Massenburg Parametric EQ), Fender Rhodes and Yamaha DX7, all of Kate's keyboard sounds were produced using a Fairlight. The other musicians were provided with only limited room for experimentation, as she was characteristically specific in her directives, while also keeping an open mind and ear to any new ideas or sounds that might come her way. For this reason, Palmer has become accustomed to recording absolutely everything that goes on during the sessions.
"Even when the musicians are just setting up I record everything," he confirms. "Because she'll say, `Oh, do you remember that thing you did when you were warming up?', and of course if you haven't got it on tape you've lost it. So, whenever there's anybody in, I always have the half-inch running, then I can spin anything back in later."
All in all, a pretty wise approach; whereas some of the musicians within the `band unit' returned time and again, others simply contributed guest appearances and it would have been altogether more difficult--not to mention embarrassing--to have these people return to redo what they had already done.
Violinist Nigel Kennedy, featured on `Big Stripey Lie' and `Top of the City', was recorded in the deader of the two main live areas, standing on carpet. "The thing with Nigel is that he never stands still," says Palmer. "So, after talking to him, it seemed that the best way to work was to use a pair of 87s. They're so versatile, I use them for everything. One was about eight feet from the ground, pointing down over his (left) shoulder toward the violin, and the other was diagonally to his right and about three feet from the ground, pointing up toward his chest. Out of the two I think I used the overhead one the most, but it was just a juxtapositional thing to see how different the room would sound. Because the room's so small you could put a microphone anywhere and it would pick him up. I used the Massenburg EQ--you have to watch the mid-high frequencies--our rooms are so live and so specific that you can get a tone that'll go right through your ears."
Jeff Beck played his signature Stratocaster for `You're The One' in the control room with a tiny amp positioned underneath the front of the console and miked with a U87 positioned three inches away to the side and pointing in. "I was sitting at the console, Kate was to my right and Jeff was seated about four feet behind," explains Palmer, "so she could talk to him and was able to both operate the deck and stand up to adjust the rack."
Eric Clapton played his Eric Clapton signature Strat using a very similar setup for `And So Is Love', albeit with his amp in the studio area. "What happens with people like Eric is that his guitar roadie turns up with a lorry full of gear and just piles it into your studio," exclaims Palmer. "Then, when he turns up, you say, `Well, actually what we want, Eric, is that classical sound of yours,' and so he says, `Oh yeah,' and he gets out a small combo and puts that up!"
Gary Brooker (of Procul Harem fame) played Hammond C3 in the main room, miked with a U87 on the Leslie cabinet, and another one about ten feet away to capture some ambience. Again, Massenburg EQ and hard compression were used to create a rich Hammond sound with sufficient cut at a relatively low volume.
As the Bush studio does have a very specific room sound--small and harsh, as characterised by the vocals--it was decided that a more expansive sound might be obtained for the vocal performances of the Trio Bulgarka by recording them in Abbey Road's Studio 2. They stood around a crossed stereo pair of U87s; Abbey Road's Studio 1 was also used for the string sessions for `Moments of Pleasure', arranged by Michael Kamen.
"The only other stuff we did at Abbey Road was technical, like moving analogue material onto digital," says Del Palmer. "We started the album 48-track analogue, using two A80s, and about a year into the project we became aware that it would be better for us to go digital... We weren't really sure whether it was going to work or not--we were kind of thinking that without some tape compression we may not get the same drum sounds--but I was convinced within an hour of turning the thing on!
"With Kate's stuff, where you do have a lot of level changes, there's a constant fight between noise levels and signal levels, but with digital you don't have that. You can put the quietest thing on tape and you won't get any background noise. At the same time, whereas with analogue you may say, `I'm going to put some 10k in here because I know I'm going to lose a bit,' with the digital machines I found that I was using far less EQ right across the board."
As things turned out, since the decision to switch to digital was made relatively early during the Red Shoes sessions, much of the analogue material was later replaced. Only the performances of the Trio Bulgarka, as well as Nigel Kennedy from `Top of the City', remain from the analogue.
"With digital, a lot of doors opened us to us which we previously had no idea about, and the result was that Kate was off and running," says Palmer. "She had so many good ideas to try out, generally to do with editing. For example, if there was a piece of vocal here, rather than sampling it and flying it back in, we could actually offset the machine and put it in various strange places. Sometimes this wouldn't work, but a lot of the time it did, such as the track with Prince (`Why Should I Love You?') on which we had to offset lots of things, and some of the guitar parts now appear in the weirdest places. I'd say, `Wait a minute!' and she'd say, `No, no, it works, leave it! Put that down, it works.'
"Her overview of everything is alarmingly interesting. I really find it fascinating how she can hold all these things in her head at the same time. She's very au fait with studio work. I'm sure a lot of people think, `Well, she gets the producer credit but I'll bet she doesn't do much,' yet that's really not true. She knows what she wants to do and, being technically mind, she knows how to do it."
As to the future, Del Palmer feels that there's a lot of new studio gear on the market which he must check out before re-equipping Kate's recording environment. "One of the best things I'm now looking into is to make the studio a little bit more conducive to her, with everything plumbed in permanently," he says. "So all she'll have to do is push a button and the Fairlight or whatever will be up and running. And I'll find her a few more little goodies to play with..."
[SIDEBAR:] SPECIAL EFFECTS
"We did leave some of the effects Kate wanted on the voices until the mix," says Palmer. "On `The Red Shoes' track, for instance, where she goes, `She's gotta da-ance...', there's this little sound effect, a really high digital delay off an old AMS--octave above, octave below--going through a Sony M7 digital effects unit [picture inset into text here]. We worked on it a bit while we were recording the song, and then we decided to leave it until the mix so we could set it up on a fader on its own and just switch it when it comes in. It's just a matter of setting it up so that it comes in and out at the right place, rather than wasting a track or two to record it."
On `Rubberband Girl', a wobbly-sounding effect on the vocal comes from the voice being faded down while a stereo image of a digital delay is faded up underneath it. "They get to a point where they've overlapped and the effect is louder," explains Palmer, "then that starts being faded out as well, and the whole thing disappears into the background and sounds weirder all the time, while some Lexicon 224 reverb is added to take it even further away.
"At other times I used a 480L, a 244, a 244L, a Quantec, a Yamaha Rev 5, a Rev 7 [picture inset], an SPX90, an old Eventide harmoniser, a Dimension D--loads of stuff... I always try to keep the Quantec for the vocals because it has a very cold, icy kind of sound that works well with that very cold vocal sound. Otherwise, on the 480, I tend to have a nice warm hall sound for things like backing vocals and pianos, and on one of the 244s, I'll have quite a close room delay.
"On the snare drum I was using the Rev 7 with a reverse gating sound, to give it just a bit more of a hard snare sound. All of the drums were samples from an Akai S900 and they (together with cymbals) were played in real time on Simmons pads set up in the main recording area. Our studio is so small that you get a very specific sound which we didn't want. Using samples, not only do we get separation but we also have a fantastic choice of drums. The Rev 7 made the snare drum sound a bit fatter and rounder, and that worked really quite well, particularly on songs like `And So Is Love' and `Rubberband Girl'."
One of the distinguishing aspects of tracks such as `Rubberband Girl' and `Big Stripey Lie' is the pumping five-string bass sound, courtesy of John Gidman playing in the recording area <??Disparity Alert>. His G&K amp was placed in the studio kitchen (for separation from the drums) and miked with an Electrovoice RE20. "I just wound it up so it was really distorted," says Palmer, "and used tons and tons of compression so that is was really pumping. Then again, the way he plays sounds really good no matter what you do to it."
[SIDEBAR:] PRINCE--GUESTING LONG DISTANCE
Watching Prince at Earls Court, Kate received a note from him expressing his admiration for her work. After subsequently contacting him and getting his agreement to help out on a track, on analogue tape was sent over to Paisley Park, but when it arrived back three months later, there was nothing to be heard. When Kate attempted to telephone him, she was told by assistants that he was working on it. Then, a month later, a couple of Paisley Park tapes arrived. Palmer played them.
"He'd looped a four-bar section from the chorus of the song that Kate had written and just smothered 48 tracks with everything you could possible imagine: Guitars, keyboards, drums, voices. I sat there and thought, `Well, this is great, but what are we going to do with it?' So, I made a general mix of the whole thing, gave if to Kate, and she puzzled over it for months. We kept going back to it over the course of a couple of years, and eventually, with a lot of editing and work on her part, she turned it back into the song that it was."
Basically, then, a case of pick `n' mix; "Here it is, take what you want"?
"That's exactly what it was. Because she'd said to him `I want you to sing this bit here and I want you to sing that bit there', and he'd sung it, but he'd done it over the loop that he made up. So, we had this piece of vocal that she wanted but it was everywhere, all the way through it, so we had to take the bit that we needed and put it in where we wanted it--we had to reconstruct the verses so that they worked with her lyrics. Then we took out the original drums and replaced them because it was now basically a more up-tempo song. At the same time, we also tried to turn it back into a Kate Bush song, and although in a lot of ways it didn't turn out as we'd hoped--I have to be honest--it's still very interesting.
"There was one vocal section which Prince actually didn't do and Kate was so pissed with this. Then, one day she hit on the idea of getting in Lenny Henry, who's actually a great singer. It was like he'd worked in studios his whole life--he had no trouble doing it. Kate sang him the part she wanted him to do and then he sang it. Then she asked him to do a harmony which he worked out with her. I used a little bit of compression, just to make the voice sound a little more throaty."
[END OF ARTICLE]
Date: Thu, 19 May 94 20:57 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (chris williams)
Subject: Re: Sound on Sound `Del Palmer: The Red Shoes Sessions'
> THAT VOCAL SOUND
> "I can't take any credit for Kate's vocal sound," admits Palmer, "because it was originally shown to me by an engineer called Paul Arden who taught me so much. He would explain anything that I asked him about. One day he couldn't make a session, so he said, `Why don't you do it?' So I did, and he showed me how to get the sound which they had started using on The Dreaming. Kate loved it, and ever since then we've been using it.
This indicates that this interview was taped and transcribed. As far as I know, Kate has never worked with an engineer named Paul "Arden" but *has* worked with an engineer named Paul Hardiman on Hounds Of Love .
> One of the distinguishing aspects of tracks such as `Rubberband Girl' and `Big Stripey Lie' is the pumping five-string bass sound, courtesy of John Gidman playing in the recording area <??Disparity Alert >. His G&K amp was placed in the studio kitchen (for separation from the drums) and miked with an Electrovoice RE20.
Here is another one. Kate hasn't worked with a bass player named John "Gidman" but *has* worked with John Giblin (on Breathing .) These may be Peter's transcription errors, but as I didn't notice any other spelling errors, I doubt it. The errors were probably introduced by the original transcriber of the interview tape. So I wouldn't take this as the most accurate of interviews.
Date: Fri, 20 May 1994 23:26:41 -0400 (EDT)
From: Peter Byrne Manchester <PMANCHESTER@ccmail.sunysb.edu>
Subject: Re: The SOS interview
Fiona McQuarrie writes:
> Thanks to Peter M. for posting that interview with Del. My question is, if he (Del) knows all this technical stuff, why have all of Kate's recent records sounded so flat and empty? I still think she needs an outside producer to help her.
Well, I agree, and that's why I look forward to any new comments Mr. Drukman may have on the topic.
Consider some of Del's remarks on Kate's vocal sound: "Basically, it's all down to an overdose of compression..."; "We use a small amount of gating so you'll get the sound of the room and then it cuts off--a bit like the Phil Collins drum sound."; "I have to say that from a purely technical standpoint, it's really badly done, there's just so much compression on everything..."; "I always try to keep the Quantec for the vocals because it has a very cold, icy kind of sound that works well with that very cold vocal sound...". Fiona's words are extremely well chosen: "flat" is precisely what you get from tons and tons of compression; and "empty" is exactly the effect of cutting away the room ambience.
As someone with very little experience with studio experience ('way back in the 60s, and I bailed out when 16-track came in, because of the way it was being used and the microphone techniques that accompanied it), the most amazing of Del's remarks was this one--speaking of when they first set up to go digital: "We weren't really sure whether it was going to work or not--we were kind of thinking that without tape compression we may not get the same drum sounds...". Huh?! By "tape compression" he presumably means the clipping of transients due to the limited dynamic range of analogue tape. There are better and worse ways for this to exhibit itself--better is simply a dulling down of the impact or punch aspect of the percussive `hit'; worse is audible splattering of the leading edge of the sound. But surely neither is a sound one would relish, and not want to part with!?
Thing is, I want to stipulate that I found Del Palmer enormously likeable at the Convention, and that moreover he is giving Kate Bush the sounds *she* wants for her creative palette. It is very significant, I think, that the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" was so influential in setting her `ear' for music as performed recording. I find that the most artificial, in the sense of studio-dependent, of all their recordings. In this area, as in her reluctance to tour--or even, apparently, to really jam with other musicians `off the record'--Kate is doing what she wants.
From: email@example.com (AFC PeterS)
Date: 21 May 1994 04:02:02 -0400
Subject: Re: Del Interview
I agree completely. Del knows a certain amount about recording, but he's not really a great engineer. The bit about learning to compress Kate's vocals from "Ardman" (aka Hardiman) is an example. Yes, KB's vocals have always been heavily compressed, but *nothing* like the sound Palmer introduced on TSW, where you can hear the bloody compressor pumping! This guy needs to turn over the console to someone qualified, and get back to playing bass - something he was really good at.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (AFC PeterS)
Date: 21 May 1994 04:19:04 -0400
Subject: Re: The SOS interview
[Peter Byrne Manchester on "tape compression"]
Actually, tape compression can sound pretty good, and many engineers still prefer to use analog tape and hit it very hard to get that sound. Roy Thomas Baker was particularly famous (or infamous) for this; he slammed the tape something fierce for the Queen records he did, and I think they sound splendid. One result is that you get a lot of third harmonic distortion which, rather than dulling the sound, tends to make it sound brighter and silkier. This is similar to tube (valve, to you) distortion. Obviously, there's a limit before it starts to sound bad, but pushing the needle into the red is quite acceptable for analog recording. In digital, it's disasterous.
Of course, there are other ways to get that sort of sound when recording digitally. A good tube compressor would be one way. I think Del's choice of a "cold" sounding compressor is a mistake, especially when printing to digital; a warmer sound could still work for what he wants to do, it just wouldn't be so horribly exaggerated.
From: email@example.com (Jon Drukman)
Date: Tue, 24 May 1994 10:24:38 PDT
Subject: recording techniques/SOS/et
Hi gang, I'm back! betcha thought (hoped) I was gone for good. well, both |>oug and Stev0 have forwarded me articles about recording techniques used on The Red Shoes wondering why I haven't said anything. truth is, I have a new job, and my email situation is pretty flaky. also, there's not much to say. The Red Shoes sounds bad. period.
I don't know what the deal is with pop music these days but most of it sounds unbearably awful.
We just got a set of $5000 Meyer monitors for our studio and they do not lie. the red shoes sounds like shit. the new enigma album sounds incredibly good. I don't like it much musically, but you can't deny that the sound quality is top-notch. anyone who doubts is welcome to come over for a little round of comparison shopping.
I'm still not on love-hounds so if you want to flame me, make sure you cc a copy here.
To the Reaching Out Interviews Table of Contents
"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds