Midland, NC (May 29, 2007)–The locals in and around the one-stoplight town of Midland, North Carolina know it better as “Hell’s Half Acre,” a name gained during the 1930’s for its unusually large concentration of moonshine and the hellions it attracted. English guitarist Martin Stephenson recently recorded an album– Hell’s Half Acre–on the porch and in the kitchen of Ramseur Records owner and engineer Dolph Ramseur’s Midland home.
Stephenson is perhaps best known for his post-punk band, the Daintees, which were contemporaries of U2, Echo & the Bunnymen, and The Smiths, but he is most loved for his quieter, more intimate work that continues to this day. In recent years, Stephenson became enchanted with the endemic music of North Carolina and wrote a beautiful album’s worth of songs inspired by the region.
North Carolina native Ramseur was happy to release the album on his label, which is distributed by Sony Red, provided they could record it with an authenticity that no studio production could deliver. A location-recording enthusiast, Ramseur suggested they use the ambience of his rural home, and Stephenson happily agreed.
With the location set and passion for the project running high, Ramseur researched stereo microphones with the hope of upgrading his system. “I only do location recordings, and I wanted a single microphone that sounded amazing and that would be simple to set up,” he explained. “Everything pointed to the SoundField MKV. The reviews were great so I arranged to get a demo from SoundField.”
The SoundField MKV contains multiple capsules that capture all three dimensions of an acoustical event and transmit that information to a proprietary decoder in SoundField’s “B-Format.” The B-Format signal contains all of the sound source’s dimensional information. Since every microphone pattern and stereo/surround format is simply a special case where some dimensional information is kept and some is discarded, the B-Format signal can be processed after the fact (by discarding some of its information) to generate any microphone pickup pattern or stereo/surround output that the user desires.
While the possibilities of the SoundField MKV system are heady, Ramseur used a more important organ to find his sound. “I know that the MKV has a lot of different capabilities, figure-8, cardioid, surround, and so on, but I threw all of that out the window and let my ears guide me. I moved things a little bit while they were setting up, but I quickly found what sounded right and didn’t need to tinker with it after that.”
Stephenson and his musician friends (including famed UK acoustic guitarist Jim Hornsby) first gathered around the MKV on Ramseur’s eight-foot by forty-foot front porch. Ramseur set up his Alesis Masterlink two-channel recorder with a pair of trusty headphones about twenty feet away and let the feel of the place wash over the musicians and into the recording itself.
Recalled Ramseur, “We taped birds, bugs, cars going down the road, and even a thunderstorm. All of those ambient noises were absolutely beautiful in the SoundField. There are five or six cars going by on the record and you definitely hear them. The recording has a context that you can practically feel.”
But not all ambient noises proved a blessing. “The recording was made in the summer of 2004, which coincided with the hatching of 17-year cicadas,” Ramseur laughed. “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard those cicadas when they get going, but there were times that it felt like we were recording in a jungle! We had to stop seven or eight times and wait for them to quiet down.”
Since everything was recorded in one pass with no overdubs, Ramseur effectively mixed each song by moving the musicians around the MKV. Depending on the effect they were going for, it only took a shift of a few feet closer or farther to achieve a pleasant, natural balance. “Martin and Jim have recorded in some of the best studios in the world,” said Ramseur, “and they could tell right off the bat that the sound was authentic. We had the sweet spot, and it wasn’t hard to find. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to pull Martin in just a little bit and bam, we had it!
“I’m no sound guy,” he continued, “but everyone who hears this recording thinks it’s out of this world. I think that’s what’s so great about the SoundField MKV system–it can be so technical, but all you have to do is trust your ears and you’ll get something spectacular. If I can achieve success with this format, then anyone can achieve success with this format. It’s really just point and click.”