Surprise me.

I had two pleasant surprises on Saturday.

Surprise number one came my way care of the new Field Music album. I picked up a copy from Dr. Disc. It’s good stuff, as expected, and it’ll take a few listens to digest — also expected. The Brewis brothers make dense, thorny music that’s as unpredictable and complex as it is catchy, packing songs with multiple hooks while not always drifting into a conventional verse/chorus structure. They’ve managed the neat trick of carving out an identifiable sonic signature while having the confidence to mess with it and warp it in new directions whenever the spirit moves them.

They also write lyrics like, “I want a different idea of what ‘better’ can be, which doesn’t necessitate having more useless shit.” That’s a little deeper and more interesting than something like, “Your love is my love, my love is yours,” eh?

The surprise came before I even listened to the music. I was leafing through the lyric booklet when my eyes scanned this little note:

In order to preserve sonic fidelity, this record has been mastered using significantly less compression and limiting than most contemporary records. For maximum listening pleasure, please turn your stereo system UP!

There’s something you don’t read in album liner notes very often. And it really is a great-sounding album. It has a healthy volume, but it doesn’t come at the cost of sound quality. All the dynamics are intact. Everything gets to breathe. It’s nice to hear good music that isn’t marred by a heavy-handed mastering job. Kudos to them for not falling prey to the still-pervasive “louder is better” mentality.

The second surprise has to do with my own music. I’ve been staying away from revising or altering songs meant for THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE that already have finished mixes, aside from those cases where it really feels necessary. But a lot of things need to be remastered at a quieter volume, since the versions I have on CD tend to be from a time when I was making things louder than they needed to be, and louder than I want them to be now.

I’m in the process of finishing up what will hopefully be a good sequence for the second disc. There are only a few songs that need tweaking before I’m done. One of them is an eight-minute track with roots that stretch back to the ABSENCE OF SWAY sessions, and it’s sort of the centerpiece of this particular disc.

It’s also the one thing I couldn’t find on a backup disc. I knew which specific box of data CDs it was supposed to be in, but it was nowhere to be found. All I could find was a very early unmixed version that was nowhere near complete. That wouldn’t do at all.

It looked like my only course of action would be to take the too-loud version of the song and chop down the waveform to get it to the volume I wanted. That would technically solve the problem. It would probably also sound like crap.

I scoured other boxes of backup CDs over a period of a few days and never found a version of this song I could really use. Everything else was there. It was if the one thing I really wanted had vanished just to spite me.

On Saturday, just for the hell of it, I grabbed a plastic sleeve with two CDs inside of it from the box that was supposed to contain the song I was after. Normally when a sleeve has two CDs in it like this, what’s on those two CDs is identical. I make a backup copy of everything I back up just in case one of the CDs craps out over time. I keep them together for that reason.

I thought I might get lucky, but I knew it was pretty unlikely that this missing song was just sitting there behind another CD in the very first sleeve at the front of the box. I don’t tend to throw two completely unrelated things together like that.

And wouldn’t you know…that’s exactly where the song was. Right at the front of the box, behind an unrelated CD. Just sitting there.

Isn’t that the way it always goes? You spend a chunk of time madly searching for something, and it turns out it was two feet away from you the whole time.

On Sunday there came yet another fun little surprise. I was setting up the stereo ribbon microphone to record some drums when I noticed the return of the dreaded buzz. I first noticed it during the recording sessions for OUTSIDE THE FACTORY GATES and assumed it was a cable issue. It didn’t turn up too often, and when it did I was usually able to get rid of it by jostling the patch cords a little.

This time there was no escaping the buzz. Nothing I did would make it go away. I spent half an hour trying all kinds of different things, even down to blowing into patch cords and flapping them around, hoping if I abused them enough it might shut them up. No success.

Then I turned off the main light in the studio. The buzzing disappeared.

Turns out ribbon microphones are sensitive to external electromagnetic fields. If nothing else, it gives me a good excuse to use a little less electricity, and maybe I’ll be able to finagle some low-level mood lighting for those late night recording situations. If not, I’m not opposed to the idea of recording drums in relative darkness. There’s still enough light being thrown off from other sources to let me see everything important.

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