What could I say when gifted composer/producer Ruth Mendelson approached me about a recording date with Dr. Jane Goodall, but graciously yes! The recording date turned out to be Dr. Jane Goodall reading her revised 160+ page classic My Life with Chimpanzees for the Worlds children.
The day came on a sunny April Saturday. The location: the hotel Dr. Jane was staying at while visiting the Boston suburbs, one of the US stops of her globetrotting schedule.
Wait a minute; this is Dr. Jane Goodall, the icon with Mother Teresa cred right? And, you are recording her in a hotel room, not in a high-end studio? Yes… And it’s Jane Goodall. That’s why we are recording her in the comfort of a hotel room turned upside down, next door to the room where she was staying. Actually, as it happened the hotel room for the recording was provided last minute. Not the room in the quiet basement I had thought we were to work out of for the day. So yes, a hotel room replete with an old ventilation system that could not be shut off and lot’s of reflective surfaces. Need I say I had 45 minutes to prep a room; I had never stepped into before to record the reading of a work near and dear to an icon, no pressure…
We loaded in and I went about working with the environment, which also meant making it feel comfortable for Dr. Jane. Along with the heavy recording blankets I brought along, thinking ahead Ruth brought a large suitcase full of beautiful large hand woven sacred Pendleton blankets.
As important as the actual recording setup was, creating a comfortable vibe was even more so. Which sheds light on the role of a Producer. That’s the person with the global vision of a project. Who knows how to extract the best performance from the artist/subject. Ruth being a seasoned producer and having worked with Dr. Jane in the past intuitively knew what had to be done in that domain. In this context, that included the use of the beautiful Pendleton blankets and the many child crafted pictures and letters of endearment placed around the room.
I recall my chance hang with producer extraordinaire Phil Ramone, courtesy of a delayed flight we were both on heading back from the Audio Engineering Society trade show one year. Humble as was Phil, he knew just how to make people comfortable. That’s Sinatra, Simon, Streisand, Joel, Warwick and even me, comfortable. Don’t we all do our best when we are relaxed and things can just flow?
Dr. Jane was indeed comfortable and really was not conscious of the microphone peeking out between the flowers, stuffed animals (of course, there was a chimpanzee) and pictures enveloped by the sacred blankets.
Speaking of blankets, the hotel staff must of thought I was nuts when we ordered up a cart of pillows and blankets that we used to create two berms on the bed. One directly behind the speaking position and the other on the opposite side to absorb additional energy deflected down from my DYI vent diffusor. The vent on the far wall could not be turned off. So I set up the recording rig just below it and created a comb filter/diffuser out of towels.
Additionally, keeping as much natural light present was a must do. That meant closing things up to cut down on standing waves and room ambiance was a can’t do. With most of the reflective surfaces covered we just had the high ceiling and occasional hallway noise to contend with. How does the saying go: necessity is the mother of invention?
The recording rig consisted of one Schoeps CMC6 preamplifier/MK41 capsule microphone ensembles set off axis; redundant DAWS: 1.) MacBook Pro running MOTU DP9 using Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo for i/o 2.) Microsoft Surface Pro3 running Cakewalk Sonar Platinum using RME Babyface for i/o. To be extra safe we also set a Zoom HN4 recorder near the Schoeps microphone position.
In case you were wondering, Dr. Jane is all business and sharp as a tack at age 83. We worked into the evening with only a few breaks for narrative rewrites (Jane realized in the moment that she had to update different aspects of the book for this century). Amazing, was how her voice seemed to get stronger as the hours went on. How does an Octogenarian or anybody, basically talk for hours and how does she keep her voice so supple? Well, to my surprise, that answer came in the form of fine English tea with honey.
I feel privileged to have captured her profound message for the Worlds children; having a hand in preserving a much-loved classic in a new form, in contribution to an ever-enduring legacy.
After all, wonderful can, and, does happen when preparation meets opportunity.