Interviews & Articles


Electronic Musician
"Digital Barn Dance"
by Michael Molenda
Febr. 1994

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Date: 16 Feb 94 18:47:50 EST
From: Mike Mendelson <MJM@ZYLAB.MHS.CompuServe.COM>
Subject: Electronic Musician Article Febr. 1994

I finally got a shot at the scanner, so here is the EM article. Happy reading. -mjm

Electronic Musician -- February 1994

Digital Barn Dance

Recording Kate Bush and The Red Shoes.

by Michael Molenda

Kate Bush's music is so theatrical that you don't hear it so much as "see" it. Her productions are almost mystical in their ability to reach beyond the aural proscenium and pull the listener into an emotional tableau. So it's fitting that her current album The Red Shoes pays homage to another chillingly evocative talent, the late British filmmaker Michael Powell.

The Red Shoes, named after Powell's classic 1948 film about a doomed ballerina, was recorded and mixed by Bush's longtime engineer Del Palmer in her "home" studio: a state-of-the-art facility housed in two adjacent barns on her parent's farm in Kent County, near London.

The studio is equipped with an SSL 4048E console (with a G-series computer), a Fairlight, and AMS, Eventide, and (luantec signal processors. Six months after the project began, Bush purchased two Sony 3324A 24-track digital recorders from Abbey Road studios, making The Red Shoes her first 48-track digital production.

"We used to be dyed-in-the-wool analog lovers," admits Palmer. "But after day one of going digital, we were totally convinced that it was the best thing since sliced bread. Everything sounded so great direct from the microphones, that I barely touched the EQ during recording. And the absence of tape hiss is a boon for Kate's music, where arrangements sometimes break down to literally nothing." The Red Shoes took three years to complete and includes guest artists such as Eric Clapton, Prince, Jeff Beck, and the Trio Bulgarka. Bush developed keyboard and vocal ideas over simple, 4-bar drum loops programmed by Palmer on the Fairlight. When a song was adequately fleshed out, drummer Stuart Elliott was called in to replace the Fairlight loop.

"All the drum sounds on the record are Akai SIOOO samples played by Stuart on Simmons pads," says Palmer. "The only live sounds are the cymbals. If you solo the overhead tracks you can hear the clack-clack of the drumsticks hitting the pads. We used samples because our studio is relatively small, and if we miked acoustic drums we'd always get the same room sound, which is not very exciting."

Bush's lush vocal orchestrations were recorded on a Neumann U87, usually by herself. "She didn't want to bore me while she worked things out," explains Palmer. "So I'd set up a vocal sound, hand her the remote [control for the multitrack], and leave.

When she felt she had enough good performances on tape, we'd select the best complete performance [for each song], and fix little things by punching in lines from other tracks." According to Palmer, the album practically mixed itself. The sounds on tape were good, so he just added reverb and made sure each instrument had enough space. As a result, The Red Shoes is one of Bush's most organic productions.

"Kate really doesn't like to use samples or sequences," reveals Palmer. "Everything on the record, except a few drum loops is played real-time. We definitely wanted a band feel, so we didn't get obsessed with technology. I just twisted knobs until things sounded good."

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"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush

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Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds