Poem: Stereophile Cuts an LP Page 4
A short break, then it was time to try the Griffes again, this time with the tube mics. The sound was so true to the real thing, it hurt. Four o'clock saw Poem safely in the bag, but it was glaringly obvious that there was no way we were going to capture the Prokofiev sonata—a big work, with some 24 minutes of music—on tape in the time remaining. A hasty conference revealed that the following Monday was the only time that all of us could reassemble and get the hall, so we called it a day.
The following week, Larry and I got the early Delta flight from Albuquerque to LAX and arrived at USC just before 9am. The piano had been tuned, Kavi had set up the tube mics and electronics—interrupted only by a brief earthquake—this time with Cardas cable used throughout the signal path, but Chris Donnelly hadn't been able to come along to align the tape machine. Luckily, the Ampex manual is well-written—even a hi-fi writer can follow it—and as the musicians were arriving, we had optimized the bias and alignment and were recording a new series of test tones. (Ever distrustful of sophisticated technology, I always travel to such events with a soldering iron, a multimeter, a complete set of tools, and a signal generator.) For the morning's sessions, Gabriel Arregui would be turning the pages for Brooks, but perhaps even more importantly, would be playing one bass piano note where Prokofiev had written a chord that otherwise couldn't be played without being spread, something that Brooks found distasteful.
Gary and Brooks warmed up. So did the hum. And the clock. And now there was a new sound in the headphones, a very quiet rumble which hadn't been there the previous week. The clock and the hum we knew we could cope with, but the rumble we would have to live with. (It turned out to be due to an ornamental fountain two blocks away.) Then we found out that the air-traffic controllers had rerouted incoming LAX traffic over USC. This kind of thing must drive professional engineers crazy.
So off we went, starting with the third movement of the Prokofiev and hoping that we would be lucky and that the clock, compressor hum, and airplane noises would only interrupt when Gary and Brooks were not playing.
And that was pretty much how it went, the first movement following the third, then the second, and then the fourth, with Gary and Brooks taking long rests between each. (Having spent literally days as a session musician in the early '70s waiting for the featured artists to get their act together, I have to congratulate Gary and Brooks for the consistency with which they repeated their performances, both in tempi and feeling.) By 8pm, the Prokofiev was in the can, though it turned out to be Heather who ended up playing that crucial bass note. We celebrated the fact by lifting the lid of the piano and letting Brooks thrill us with the opening of Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto.
Back in Santa Fe, we realized that we had 7½ hours of unedited tapes to listen to. Some movements were going to be easy: there was an obvious best take where everything had clicked musically. But for others, the fourth movement of the Prokofiev, for example, which is both episodic and very long, there were 55 separate takes (including false starts) to sort out and judge. Our session notes would only serve as a starting point. I made a dub of the cassettes for Richard and we spent the next two weeks absorbing as much as possible of the character of the performances and making detailed notes about each take. Larry, in the meantime, had booked a day at The Mastering Lab and was recommended an editor, Hugh Davies, by Lincoln Mayorga. Hugh was once with Capitol but is now a freelance, working, for example, with Harmonia Mundi USA's Robina Young.
Again I got up at 5am to take the early flight to LAX—I couldn't even sleep on the plane, as I wanted to go over my editing schemes for the four works and listen to the appropriate takes one last time. Arriving at the Mastering Lab, I was met by Kavi, who had driven down from Santa Barbara with the 17 reels of ½" tape, and by Doug Sax, who ushered us into a new addition to his studio. He has acquired the adjacent studios from The Producer's Workshop—the studios where The Wall was mixed, for lovers of trivia—to use as an editing suite. Though a pair of Doug's legendary horn monitors had been installed, we were actually going to monitor the tapes using small Tannoy dual-concentric speakers, driven by two of Doug's brother Sherwood's mono tube amplifiers. Doug had also provided two solid-state Ampex ½" ATR machines, Hugh Davies's favorite for editing. Some of Doug's thick black coffee brought me to a semblance of life; Hugh arrived prompt at 9:30am, assembled his collection of single-edged razorblades, red and white leader, and splicing tape; and we were off.