Sylvia Massy, author of Recording Unhinged: Creative and Unconventional Music Recording Techniques, was featured in the mid-January issue of Recording Magazine. In Recording Unhinged, Sylvia Massy and her cohort of celebrity music industry producers, engineers, and recording stars discard fixed notions about how music should be recorded and explore techniques that fall outside the norm and yield emotionally powerful, incredibly personal, gut-wrenching, and even scary recordings. Take a look at the excerpt below.
Coming back to the book, one of the cool things is that it’s not just your techniques and ideas. The book is filled with a lot of great examples of strange and wonderful techniques from other engineers. Do you have a favorite somebody else’s? Or moments putting the book together, or even in your career, where you thought, “Wow, that’s so cool!”?
Sylvia Massy: There’s so many of those wow moments. For instance, Matt Wallace was the one that top dmd about reamping a snare by taping another snare to a PA speaker, running the original snare through it, and milking the new snare. There is a legendary story from Roni Saint Germain which I got him to share for the book, with the singer from Bad Brains being in jail for possession of pot and they recorded his vocals from jail over a telephone. He describes in the book how they did that…
I’ll stop you so readers will go buy the book to hear the rest, but it involves smoking a page out of a Bible before the take…
I was really excited to be able to share some of the legends and amazing techniques from these engineers in the Recording Unhinged book. There are so many more stories to come… I hope to write a second book.
I was going to ask: since you’ve done the book, do you have any new techniques you’ve used recently or that have excited you?
Oh yes. Oh yes. Something for the second Recording Unhinged book includes taking a speaker cable out of a guitar amplifier, and before you plug it into a guitar speaker, you cut it in half, separate leads… and then you plug in some potatoes into those leads so you have a positive potato and you have a negative potato, do you understand what I’m talking about? [laughs]
This sounds like high school science experiments where you light a light bulb with a potato.
That’s where the inspiration came from. I mean, you can light a light bulb with a potato, so why can’t you filter the audio from a guitar with a potato? It turns out that a potato filter will actually add a nice high shelf to your guitar tone and it adds a kind of graininess which is really quite interesting.
So now you’ve got your potato filter, but you can try any number of other times. You can try carrots, you can try apples, oranges… I find that hot dogs are very good; in fact, two days ago I used a pair of sausages that are cheese sausages, they’re German cheese sausages [laughs]… sorry, I can’t stop laughing while i’m telling you this, but it was incredible! I think it was something to do with the cheese. There was a sound that I couldn’t believe and so for the Flying Mammals session that I’m doing in the castle, if they’ll let me, I’ll cut a cable and we’ll try some of these cheese sausages on guitar.
Here’s a bit of warning, though. If you’re going to do this at home, it’s better to use a solid state amp for this, because the tube amps don’t like it and they eventually start smoking and you’ll probably blow some of the fuses, but the solid state amps seem to do pretty good.
There are more stories, too. Ed Cherney actually told me how to wire household appliances into the guitar chain… but you’re going to have to actually get the next book so I can draw the diagram on how you wire it up.
To read the full interview, pick up the latest copy of Recording Magazine.