Sometimes audio engineering can seem like a pretty lousy job. If you've ever spent days away from sunlight, alone in a small room, dealing with repetitive and mundane tasks (quantizing drums, editing dialogue, tuning giant vocal stacks), then you know exactly what I'm talking about. A couple of weeks ago I got to do a location job that reminded how fun and rewarding corralling sound waves can be.
It started what seems like a year ago when I first heard from Kojo Bey, the leader of an African drum and dance troupe, inquiring about doing a location recording. It took him quite a while to get educational funding from the state (if you've ever applied for an artistic or educational grant you know the sloth-like speed of government), but he ultimately got endowed and we were on to record seven djembes, six doundouns and a shekere on location. What I didn't completely understand was the location.
It turns out the Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center in Concord NC is a juvenile detention facility, so I didn't know quite what to expect … as far as room acoustics, about how welcome a recording rig might be and how friendly the kids, some of whom have been involved in some pretty rough stuff, might be.
I soon learned that the making of the drums, hand tensioning the heads, composing their two songs, recording them and finally putting out a CD is actually therapeutic for these young men. It looks like it was therapeutic for me too, as I had a wonderful and gratifying experience. The good folks at the SJYDC were warm and welcoming, their approximately 30' x 45' room (with adjoining interview rooms for the ideal “control room”) sounded just great, Kojo led the group with a gentleness and encouraging dignity, the group responded with energetic playing and a wide-eyed innocence that belied their surely difficult lives and everyone seemed genuinely happy to be part of the effort.
For budget and practicality reasons we had to squeeze the whole recording onto 16 tracks, using only a single mic (mostly cardioid dynamics and a few condensers) on each drum, a ribbon mic on the shekere/vocal and a pair of small diaphragm sE Electronics Rupert Neve RN17's on the overall room (used the omni caps and a spaced pair positioning, see the upcoming full review in Pro Audio Review). Mic pres were the linear Earthworks 1024, the quick Sytek MPX4A and an 8-ch True Systems Precision 8 which captured unprocessed, dynamic signals for mixing down back in the studio.
Lemme tell you -- it sure was nice to get out of the batcave for a change and working with the kids was really fun. I can't help but hope that maybe my little speech about “make your own music and put it out on the Internet, empower yourself!” might've given just one young soul some inspiration. And working with Kojo was a real treat; a client who is so positive, so focused, out there making a living andmaking a difference, reminded me of the power of music and inspired leadership. Yeah, audio engineering is a great job to have.
Kojo Bey, Executive Director
OBey Foundation, Inc.