These five albums were recorded in the strangest of places
The ubiquity of digital workstations these days means that, with a smartphone and an app, anyone can make a crude bedroom recording sound like it was done in a cathedral. But when it comes to reverb, nothing compares to the real thing. Here are five examples of innovation in pursuit of sonic perfection.
A DRY WELL Nils Frahm – All Melody (2018)
For German modern-classical composer Nils Frahm, a break in Mallorca developed into a selfimposed busman’s holiday.
“I was staying in an old stone house, when I heard a water drop falling with this ’80s, Blade Runner reverb. It sounded insanely artificial,” he told Crack magazine. “In the corner of the living room, there was this well, inside the house.” Frahm then set up a quasi studio, placing a speaker and microphone inside the well, picking up its natural reverb to glaze the music.
BY A LAKE John Martyn – One World (1977)
In the notes for Another World, a collection of studio outtakes from One World, engineer Phil Brown discusses how he and producer Chris Blackwell achieved the original record’s magnificent sound at a Berkshire farmhouse.
“The house was almost totally surrounded by a flooded disused gravel pit. We hired a PA system and set the monitor stack up on the far side, pointing out across the lake. “I used two Neumann U87s on the opposite side, to mike up the sound coming back off the lake. A further two were placed close to the water’s edge – these picked up the sound of water lapping, and a distant strangled sound on the guitar which was perfect for lead solos.”
The pair settled into a routine of working through the night, battling damp night air in pursuit of ultimate ambience: “Those quiet hours before dawn created the most magical atmosphere for recording, resulting in two of our classic masters: One World and Small Hours.”
A SWIMMING POOL Sigur Rós – () (2002)
Having decided against a disused NATO tracking base in the Icelandic mountains, avantrock group Sigur Rós opted to convert a disused 1930s swimming pool, requiring the roof of the building to be temporarily removed to accommodate its mixing desk. Sundlaugin was opened as a commercial recording facility a decade ago, however, its early life as a studio was spent crafting the luscious reverbs of Sigur Rós’s () album.
A COFFIN Sunn O))) – Báthory Erzsébet (2005)
Instead of adding reverb, the location for recording Sunn O))’s Báthory Erzsébet actually deadened the sound. For the Black One, the drone metal duo enlisted Xasthur vocalist Malefic, then locked him inside a coffin with a microphone. Perhaps the motivation was to tempt a terrifying performance out of the frontman, but as the arid vocal track cuts through filthy guitar drones, it creates an unnerving juxtaposition that nearly drags you into the casket with him.
POMPEII Pink Floyd – Live at Pompeii (1972)
Filmmaker Adrian Maben was working on an idea for his Pink Floyd feature while holidaying in Italy. “I lost my passport somewhere in the ruins of Pompeii,” he recalled. “I rushed back to the gate and explained to the guards what had happened. They let me in and I returned alone, retracing my steps along the empty streets, back to the amphitheatre. It was filled with echoing insect sounds and flying bats and I knew this was the place for the film. Somehow, it all came together that evening in the ancient city.”
The band agreed, on the proviso that everything must be recorded live, and a unique concert film was developed. The sonic effect is subtle, but reflects the vastness of this empty gallery. Maben never did locate his passport.
In the pursuit of perfect sound, any location will do