A couple of years ago my computer was being fixed (blue screen of death, unmountable boot volume – it was a grim) and was in still in the shop when, one evening, I wrote a new song I quite liked and decided I wanted to demo quickly. Without a computer, I had to dig out Old Mr Four Track, who nowadays makes disconcerting clicking, clacking, groaning noises whenever you ask the thing to play something back.
Nonetheless, within ten minutes I was outgroaning it, when I got to the end of a flawless guitar performance, only to have my brain freeze on me. Unable to recall where my fingers should go, they tried to go in a couple of places at once, and I played a chord never before heard by mankind. It dawned on me that – in the analogue domain and with this equipment – I couldn’t begin to make a seamless edit of the correct chord. That kind of edit, on tape, in such an exposed piece of music, would certainly be audible. At least, with my level of skill. Ken Scott could probably do it easily.
I’d only been recording digitally for a few years – five at most – but already I was thinking like a digital recordist. And couldn’t believe how unfair it was that I had to play a whole perfect take all the way through in order to get something I could live with later. That’s the most insidious thing digital recording does to you. But after a few minutes of cursing, I decided to knuckle down and get on with playing the take over, as many times as needed, and that in future I’d work harder on actually playing good parts and resist the temptation to use digital editing like a crutch. My guitar and bass playing have improved a lot from that: a simple, unglamorous improvement that probably no one but me notices.
Boy, has all of this hit me again in the last couple of days, as I prepare to record the drum track of this song for a third time. The first take: solid, but too slow. The second take (to which I already added guitar and bass before deciding I couldn’t live with it): speeds up.
For the third one, I’m resorting to the horror of a click track. So maybe my time hasn’t improved so much after all.
Despair, Edvard Munch. Four-track recorder not pictured