About a week following the exhausting production of the Makai ‚Stealth‘ album, here we go. We are giving ourselves the challenge of creating the second Megashira album, which is to be the most extensive project of our career so far. Even now, the organisational requirements are such as he have never known. We met in Tokyo to put together the band for the album, together with Mark de Clive-Lowe, but now all the millions of details are creating untold complications, naturally which nobody could have predicted. At least none of us.
Flights from all corners of the world need to be booked, hotel rooms reserved, studio dates arranged and musical instruments booked for certain hours of certain days. Before the first notes have played, so much more time has gone by than any of us could have expected in our wildest dreams. And no sooner were these thankless jobs finally done than Mark de Clive-Lowe stood at the door of our studio in Hanau, motivated and inspired – and willing to compose a minimum of one piece per day over the next seven days, to be used as blueprints for the subsequent recordings. We had collected many musical ideas over the years for use in Megashira recordings, and were waiting to finally be used. But if any of us were to claim at this point that it was a simple matter to pre-produce these ten pieces in such a short period, then it would be a lie. In reality it was damned hard work.
While Kabuki and Mark were giving it all they had working on the sketches, Mainframe is going all out to ensure that the production is technically possible – in other words to prepare for the recording sessions in London in such a way that we can actually create something out of the material produced so far. No mean task, when you consider that the whole project represents uncharted territory for us and that we have no points of comparison. Shortly before leaving for London, we don’t have much more of our recording session left than what we have on paper. And Kabuki still has to take care of a spontaneously planned DJ gig. The planned meeting point with Mark and Mainframe is at Frankfurt airport. Together we board our flight, but not before putting our sampler through dust test search for explosives...
Monday, 24. January 2000 - Departure / Meeting Dr. Watson
And so – off to London. Mainframe and Mark de Clive-Lowe drive from Hanau for Frankfurt Airport, Kabuki arrives directly from the Midem in Cannes. DJ obligations. Together we continue for London. Nick Gaffaney, our man on the drums also arrives in London today. The meeting point is arranged for our quarters in the premises of our generous host Ken (Yo Ken! Thanks again! How is your bass playing getting on?) From there directly into the studio. First contact with Dr. Watson, our somewhat cranky studio host. Watson is undecided and does not know whether to believe that we are the people who have rented time in his studio. It takes a cup of tea and a measure of trainspotting talk until he believes that we are in fact the ones. The studio is exactly how we imagined it would be. Pure seventies. Retro galore! If there were no chance of the dust damaging the machines and instruments, Doc Watson would probably not even bother with dusting, if the love of nostalgic detail was anything to go by in these rooms. Although it isn’t in the schedule, we begin recording immediately on the first day and start work with Nick on the first drum track for the album. The Zyldian drum kit comes from Watson’s studio repertoire. The cymbals, he explains, came from a flea market, where he bought them for one pound each. They sound unbelievable – absolutely warm, crystal clear and excellent in tone. All those present agree unanimously that these are the best that they have ever heard. We enter Watson’s recording room, to position our equipment: The Akai sample and peripherals are placed right next to Watson’s tape machine. The sampler is used for playing the basic musical patterns, which had been written a week before our arrival, back in Hanau. Watson squirms past these monsters of modern technology like a fox around water. As far as technology is concerned, our man here is well and truly stuck in the seventies. And no less suspicious are we as we inspect his arsenal of original sixties recording equipment. Two worlds collide.
Tuesday, 25. January 2000 - Work permits and other hindrances
Around 11.00 a.m. We arrive at the studio. A (from now one) regular English breakfast is waiting for us, consisting of sandwiches, bacon, beans and a grilled tomato. Long live the Kingdom! It is quite likely, we think, that by the end of the week this breakfast will have killed us off. But in reality it was more likely to be the prevailing temperatures in the studio that threatened to finish us off. Today it is about 4°C, and at least this is a whole degree warmer than it is outside the door. One single heater in the recording room (of course a vintage model) is our friend. Watson’s control room is unheated. Mainframe is now wearing two sweaters and a jacket. But Doc Watson doesn’t seem in the slightest rattled by the cold – he sits at the controls, unruffled in his tweed jacket. Nick continues his drum tracks. We notice that some resonance has crept into the bass drum, which can only be eliminated by sticking on an old, rolled up cloth. Memories of MacGyver. The drum takes from the day before are rerecorded in part, and still we are not satisfied. At some point during the recording, bassist Cameron Undy snows into the studio dragging his huge double bass behind him. No idea how he managed to get that into the taxi. Brief introductions, and then Cameron disappears again. Bass recordings aren’t planned until Tuesday. The next interruption – Kabuki’s telephone rings. At the other end, our percussionist Juan from New Zealand. Oh dear, after a twenty hour flight from New Zealand he has just been put on the next twenty hour flight back home. He has been refused admission into the country. Because of the instruments he has brought with him, the national security forces suspect him of attempting to take up illegal employment. Whatever the tortures were that the nice guys from the Office put him through, we didn’t find out. The studio time is running out – what shall we do? Watson again grabs his telephone in an effort to maybe negotiate some kind of gentlemen’s agreement with the authorities, but the Brits even dared to defy their own countryman on the telephone. Depressing.
Wednesday, 26. January 2000 - Friendly neighbours
Breakfast. Delicious. Let’s get going quickly with the bass recording. Mark attempts to find a replacement for Juan via his contacts in London. A few minutes later the name of our new man is mentioned for the first time – Williams Cumberbache. However, Williams has no time on the planned date and we have to change our plans once more. The plan which was coordinated so meticulously before we left should be renamed Plan C, now that Plan B also failed to work out. We develop survival instinct and the first ideas for preventing any further catastrophes are thrown into the works. We call the man with the vibraphone – William Ware III. Whatever you do, don’t bring any instruments with you! Don’t carry any papers which could hint in any way at the session. William, you are on holiday here. Repeat after us: H-o-l-i-d-a-y! He of course thinks we are out of our minds. We force him to promise to stick to these conditions. In multi-tasking mode, (the bass sessions are continuing all the while unabated – studio time is precious), we arrange a loaned vibraphone, not completely without Doc Watson’s brave help – his neighbour, Roger Beaujolais, owns one. When Roger finds out that Bill Ware of the Jazz Passengers is to play on his vibes, he is all fire and flame. Steffi, our photographer documenting the session (just arrived today) discovers all kinds of facial expressions today for her pictures. We could swear that everybody adapted to the events of the day in chronological order.
Thursday, 27. January 2000 - Odyssey
Breakfast. Really delicious. The first version of the recording schedule contains entries for recordings with Juan, our percussionist from New Zealand. The naive innocence of this entry forces smiles onto our frozen faces. His backup, Williams, has no time today, so consequently, we cancel today and take the day off. It would be a good opportunity to find a Rhodes to loan for the session on Saturday. To balance the fine English foods on offer in the morning, we take a macrobiotic supper at Wagamama’s. Doesn’t seem to help much though. Cameron is taken back to the airport, his takes are complete and he flies back to New Zealand. We go off with Steffi and look for objects to photograph. For relaxation, we end up marching right across London. In fact we spend the whole day walking. Our odyssey is only interrupted by the occasional short and wild taxi rides until at some point somebody realises where he is or recognises a certain street corner, so that we can find our own way back on foot. This is followed by the regular evening coma session in the bed camp in Ken’s living room.Friday, 28. January 2000 - Can it all be so simple then?
We meet Bill Ware, the vibraphone player from New York. Dr. Watson’s neighbour, who is friendly enough to lend us his vibraphone, seems to know Bill from some time ago. There don’t seem to be so many vibraphone players in the world. A bit of small talk about Debby Harry, with whom Bill has been working for several years. As with every musician, we go through the individual phrases of the tracks, piece by piece, and give Bill some time to familiarise himself a little with the material, after which we begin recording. The written vibes tracks seem in part to be a real challenge, even for a professional vibes player like Bill. But it doesn’t seem to worry him. In the evening everyone meets up again for supper.
Saturday, 29. January 2000 - Enter Plan D
Doc Watson’s studio has unfortunately already been rented out for today, so we have to make do with an alternative studio in Hoxton Square. This wasn’t originally intended, so we begin the new phase, also known as Plan D. Framtons Studio in Hoxton Square had originally been earmarked for all the recording sessions, but Mike, the owner and engineer, only returned from holiday today. The studio is no less filled with vintage equipment than Watson’s kingdom. Mike even owns a Helios mixer, which even the Who used at some point. He is also particularly proud of his old Otari tape recorder, equipped with the legendary Telefunken preamplifiers. We are actually not so displeased to have to be moved into Mike’s studio today – the keys are on today’s recording plan anyway and the atmosphere is somehow rather pleasant.
But first we have to drag the Rhodes, weighing several tonnes, into the second basement floor of the Tardis studio. Once connected up, we notice that a mechanical part of the piano is subject to resonance at a certain frequency so that we can not use it. Even the rented ARP Odyssey seems unable to emit any reasonable sounds, apart form a shrill and penetrating scream. We get in touch with the rental company, who send out two roadies. They are friendly enough to carry the whole lot back up the stairs and replace it with a fully functioning Rhodes. Mark gets all the Rhodes tracks down in five hours. He says something about being so incredibly happy about not having to work in 4°C conditions at Watson’s studio. As the second microphone is either broken or not there, we record the two Rhodes speakers in mono using a single mike. In the post-production (months later), we put the mono signal through the only official (also from the seventies, apparently) rotary speaker simulation from Dynacord, in order to create a stereo effect, much as we had actually originally intended.
Sunday, 30. January 2000 - At Last
Although today was not actually planned for the actual session, we meet up (in pretty worn out condition) for the last time in Watson’s studio. Today we have to record the parts on the Hammond organ and the Wurlitzer, before Williams Cumberbache (the replacement percussionist) arrives. Both come from Doc Watson’s private collection. To start with it wasn’t certain whether the instruments would actually work. But they do, and they are even reasonably good at tuning, despite not having been switched on for so long. Watson has already installed everything, but the Leslie (a rotating loudspeaker) belonging to the organ is unfortunately squeeking so loudly that we can hardly hear the actual signal and have to make do with various guitar and other amps. In combination with ribbon mikes, which are not even available any more, we manage to create the official key sound. Otherwise, everything goes according to plan, and we succeed in finishing the recordings before Williams Cumberbache arrives. After unpacking his exotic collection of percussion instruments, we begin by recording the congas for all the tracks, followed by all the shakers, scrapers, cowbells and triangles. Nobody knows where all the instruments have been collected from over the years; Watson noted in his recording log "Unknown scraper 2". Williams plays his parts in less than two hours and leaves quickly, because he absolutely has to attend a concert.
Our material is complete. All the recorded tracks are on the studio tapes. We next archive all the material onto Adat, so that we don’t have to worry about returning to Germany with our takes. But the tapes contain complete chaos. All the tracks seem to be running together in parallel. Nevertheless we have an impression of how it all is supposed to sound in the end. All those who are still in the studio accompany the rerecording. The confusion on the tapes form the basis of the unbelievable random pattern, which captivates all those who are present. After a long farewell, complete with bear hugs, we make our way to the airport. Somehow, we notice that we have all felt fitter than this. In order to avoid paying excess baggage, we take our sampler on board secretly. However the plane is unfortunately rather small, and our flight case does not fit under the seats (and no way will it go in the overhead locker). An angel of an air hostess takes it away for us and deposits it somewhere in first class. Cabin attendants, please lock all doors, ready for take off.
The real work began for Kabuki and Mainframe once they arrived back home. Now that we had all the instruments on tape, it wasn’t as simple to merge all the tracks the way we wanted them as we imagined it would be. There were rather large timing discrepancies between the instruments. To solve the problem, we went down a level further into the details and attempted to synchronise every track at an interval of a quarter note. But without success – the tracks still ran unevenly. The only thing left to try was to set the raster somewhat finer. But even this did not initially produce any results. But finally this method blessed us with success and at the same time the finest raster – 1/192. It worked, luckily, but it was clear that we now had to completely reprogramme the entire tape in this depth of detail. Real donkey work.
Over the following weeks we got to know every single beat of the snare personally, and were on first name terms with every fill of the hi-hat. This was necessary in order to adapt it to the raster of the other instruments. It was the kind of work you wouldn’t even want to give a robot to do. Almost 30 minutes of audio material had to be split into its individual atoms for each track, so that it could afterwards be reconstituted correctly. But we were driven on by our ambition to get the thing completed. If we had looked the truth in the eye, and asked if our activities would ever work, it would probably have smiled and told us we were crazy. But by now there was no way back anyway. We had no choice. The motto for us at this point was – either we are going to go completely off the rails or we are going to deliver a result in a few weeks, the like of which nobody has ever heard before. We were definitely prepared to wait and see which way it went.