Recording Heavy Rock 'Live'
Where 'live' recording is involved, truth is stranger than fiction. Or is it?
The world's leading sound company, Slowco, detail the problems encountered in recording the world's loudest rock band 'live' on tour in Siberia. Paul White monitored the proceedings by satellite.
It's never easy recording live gigs, and when it's the notorious Axelords Of Tranthax, it's virtually impossible. To compound the problem, the concert to be recorded was being held in the Zaguloth Bowl which, as any sound company will tell you, has a difficult acoustic due to the several square miles of reinforced concrete that form the floor of the huge Amphitheatre. The situation was little improved by the massive sound refractors which had to be installed on this occasion (following complaints from the GLC) to prevent nearby towns from being seriously affected.
The Axelords, as anyone who reads the popular music press will surely know, are a very loud band, even by today's standards. Of course, every decade has one: in the Sixties it was the Grateful Dead, in the Seventies it was the Dreadful Grate, and now it's the Axelords Of Tranthax, the most thoroughly raucous of them all.
This kind of escalation is made possible by a combination of technological advances, and made necessary by the fact that most hard rock fans are stone deaf after spending hours exploring the labyrinths within Motorhead's bass bins.
With the recent invention of the plasma field PA, conventional cone drivers are being replaced by the new system which utilises huge cryogenically-cooled excitation coils capable of moving hundreds of tons of ionised air every second.
With sound pressures of up to 1200dB now easily possible at distances of up to a mile from the stage, miking techniques have had to be radically updated. For example, a conventional microphone could never handle vocals at that kind of level as it would feed back hopelessly, even before the faders left the zero position. To get round this problem, Thrangor, the Axelords' demon guitarist and lead vocalist, has had a nickel film surgically evaporated onto his vocal cords, so that with the aid of a pickup coil built into the collar of his stage survival suit, his vocals can be coupled to the remote mixer by modern DI techniques, thus eliminating mics altogether.
Recording the bass is always one of the biggest headaches at an Axelords gig, so we played safe and buried a seismograph transducer about 100 yards from the stage and planted another twenty miles down the valley to capture the ambience. This method, coupled with a PZM mic (see HSR Oct 83.) mounted flat on a distant cliff face, gave a remarkably live effect without having to resort to DI boxes.
It's always a good idea for the sound company to turn up well in advance at these events, as things invariably go wrong and there are always earth loops and faulty cables to fix. Even so, we suffered a major setback when sound-checking the drum kit as a high pressure steam line feeding one of the dual servo-controlled hydraulic bass drum rams fractured, and only the band's stage survival gear saved them from being badly burned.
This meant shutting down the band's fusion reactor for most of the day but it did give us a chance to test out some ideas. No microphone built could survive more than one blast from that kick drum so we ended up with a rotating mic carousel which automatically fits a new mic head between each beat of the music. But even so, we still had to mix in some 128 bit digitally recorded thermonuclear explosion to achieve the required depth.
Obtaining sufficient foldback level for the drummer by conventional methods proved futile and we were on the verge of despair when someone hit on the idea of feeding a couple of MegaZapp 3000W monitors into the wide ends of a couple of Vitavox horn flares and then jamming the narrow ends into the drummer's ears. Surprisingly, this technique worked quite well but did look a bit silly!
What none of us in the PA crew realised at this stage was that the Axelords' ex-keyboard player, Nike Screecher, had managed to evade the security robots and was even now making his way onto the carbon fibre-reinforced podium on which the band were due to perform.
Stationed on a distant asteroid to avoid the destructive vibrations, the remote cameras of TV AD followed the mutated form of Screecher as he made his way towards the on-stage control centre. The left-hand side of his head and body had been totally replaced by old ARP 2600 circuits after an accident involving a pyroflash and a neutron star at a previous gig and the resulting increase in his musical abilities caused the band to sack him for being too clever and hi-tech.
A re-run of the video tapes clearly showed the distorted form of Screecher, desperate to avenge the unjust punishment meted out to him, exchanging Thrangor's original 1992 SynthAxe for a Chameloid Krasiotone (reviewed E&MM Nov 2026). This most insidious instrument can re-arrange its molecules to instantly resemble any known instrument whilst still retaining its ability to sound like a flatulant wildebeest tap dancing at a fire alarm sales convention.
However, as he stumbled across the stage, blinded by rage (and the XLR sockets grafted into his eyeballs), he accidentally plugged the Krasiotone trigger output into his own voice sampler input and lurched screaming across the stage reiterating a string of sampled wildebeest mating calls.
Recognising the sound of food, Thundar the drummer mistook Nike Screecher for a self-serving Intergalactic Big Mac and ate him there and then, pausing only to add more chilli relish.
During the three days drive back from the stage to the mixing bunker, we had a chance to relax a little and the band's manager, Taxi Vader, travelled with us, listening to long passages of digitally recorded silence through lightweight headphones in a vain attempt to clear his head.
Back in the bunker, we could just make out the high altitude lift on stage as it broke through the cloud layer on its journey to the top of Thrangor's Marshall stack, where a pressure-suited technician was using a pair of mole grips to get an extra turn or two out of the master volume control.
Two days before the concert, the audience started to arrive and within a short space of time, they were digging their own bunkers and trenches far out in the Siberian desert ready for the first rendition of Anti-Matter Blues - the Axelord's perennial opener.
The time came to check over the mixing desk. We had trouble at the last gig when one of the faders jammed in the 'up' position and that, of course, means that the attached carbon rod won't go back into the reactor core. The entire desk melted its way down through two hundred meters of bedrock before we could eventually stop it.
As you know, all mixer EQ circuits work on time constants and ours is no exception; you simply turn up the treble, for example, and using a basic relativity transformation equation, time itself is revalued by the simple expedient of assigning a new value to pi. This alters the EQ of everything within 20 parsecs (ps) but a more serious side effect is that circles no longer join up and planets fall out of orbit. We really must get it fixed sometime.
Just then Ronnie Ray-Gun, the band's pyrotechnic expert, burst in complaining that he couldn't get enough lava pressure to operate the footlights and the GLC were giving him grief over his plutonium-based flash powder, "How the hell are you supposed to set up a decent show?" he screamed.
The rest of the lighting was up and running however and we all went out of the mixing bunker to see the twin power stations straining against each other, their two mile high pylons flashing and blazing, recreating the Aurora Borealis, one of the band's more tasteful backdrops.
As the band's performances transcend both space and time, the Axelords (like most Superstars) are all clinically dead between gigs. Let me explain: In the late Twentieth Century, it was discovered that if the brain was removed from the body and frozen, the body would not age. Using a simple MIDI interface (Mental Intermittent Death Interludes) and a couple of five pin DINs, it therefore became possible just to unplug the brain between gigs and return it to its storage tank at Cryostar International where all the stars stored their brains (when not in use). So successful was this technique that one early patient, Lemmy of Motorhead, had his brain placed in storage whilst his body continued to gig for the rest of the decade - and no-one noticed!
Finally, everything was ready. The Aurora faded into life, a shimmering curtain of green and gold against the desert sky. Fans struggled in their straitjackets, some even tried to burrow into the concrete as the Axelords towered above them, the MegaMoog Z intro to Anti-Matter Blues growing louder and deeper.
Thrangor opened his mouth revealing his silver plated vocal cords and then, with the expression of a rabid Doberman in his eyes, he sang the dread words: "Oh Mandy, please kiss me and stop me from shakin'".
It was horrible, but the awful truth dawned too late! A technician had inadvertently connected the brain of the mutant Manilow by mistake.
Some of the audience were biting off their own heads, others just sat and dribbled, whilst the stage crew flung themselves onto the plutonium loaded pyroflashes to escape the sheer torment.
Before anyone could unplug the MIDI link, Thrangor had reached the song's middle eight and Ronnie Ray-Gun finally cracked... With his eyes rolled back in his skull and saliva dripping from the corners of his contorted mouth, he nuked the entire stage area, vapourising the Axelords and registering +10dB on the peak-reading section of the mixing console.
When Thrangor's brain finds out what happened, it's not going to be very pleased!
To be discontinued...