Artist: Small Colin
Title: Tape Productions
Released: March 2013
Artist Country: Scotland
Catalog No: Rec72-054
License: CC BY-SA
I have a generally leery attitude towards any release marked as being in the “lo-fi” genre. When I first encountered the genre, several artists had started by embracing the idea of returning to older recording methods, with minimal production to allow their music to speak for itself. However, as soon as their work had recognized, they immediately upped their engineering and production values that were indistinguishable from the majority of artists in the music field, while still marketing themselves as “lo-fi” artists. (I’ll resist pointing fingers at the artists themselves, mostly because many still produce good work.)
However, Small Colin (aka Colin Sweeney) has taken the idea of the “lo-fi” genre and turned it on its ear, and in the process has provided a reason for renewed hope that there is still a lot of ground left to examine. For this recording, Small Colin chose to use a variation on what is known as the “ping-pong” method to analog engineers / artists. In this case, the instrument tracks (stems) were recorded digitally, then transferred to tape, then transferred back from tape. The tracks were then mixed, transferred to tape one last time, then transferred back to computer. This amazingly detailed production process takes a lot of additional work and time to accomplish. Easily every track on this recording took as much as ten times the tracks run-time to produce using this method. Just to put this into perspective, the first track is four minutes and twenty-five seconds long, but with this production method it likely took an additional forty (or more) minutes to produce the final, mixed down version. That doesn’t include the time required to compose or record the initial tracks.
The result of this process is quite astounding. Each instrument has a warmth or colorization that when combined with others creates a new landscape that is very familiar, and more inviting than many of their purely digital counterparts. Adding noise into the mix isn’t a distraction, instead it is part of the shape and texture of each instrument; an integrated element of the mood of each track.
However, as much as the production method is an integral part of this recording it is far from the only thing that makes it a worthy listen. Each song on this recording is tightly composed and well structured. The arrangements and instrumentation are exceeding strong. Which, are every bit as, if not more important than the production process itself. If any of these elements had been less, then it is likely that this recording would just be an experimental curiosity for it’s production and engineering. Instead it is an engaging ride into a landscape that takes elements from different genres and styles of music, puts them in the framework of tight compositions, and breathes some additional warmth onto them. Very worthy listening.
I rarely pay attention or listen to this rock-lofi-singer/songwriter thing, be it cc licensed or conventionally released, as it is mostly just reactionary output.
Well, there are exceptions to it. Once in a while.
When I first read about the production method Small Colin used I expected another low spirit output covered with layers of noise. This time I couldn’t be more wrong.
Eleven well composed tracks, mainly melancholic but with some hidden serenity, that do not really fit in any of the available standard drawers. Definitely a highlight this month. ‘Racking’ is the track that stands out the most for me.
I could be accused of being a bit harsh on the lo-fi genre. But I really don’t think I am. Part of the problem is that these days the idea of a genre has become linked to marketing in many cases. You can trace this back to (at least, if not earlier) the Jungle and Drum-n-Bass genres. Today, it seems that indie, lo-fi, and a couple of other genres are marketing buzzwords. Notice that more mature, established artists are not as heavily associated with a genre since they don’t need the same type of marketing.
Colin has really accomplished something unique using this production method. If he had merely done a digital equalization and added white noise to the stems, it wouldn’t have worked. At best it would have felt like an artificial attempt to re-capture a bygone era. Instead, what he’s found is a new method that complements the composition and presentation process. My hope is that he can take this process and explore different types of compositions and subject matter. The one thing I hope he doesn’t do, is try to make a “Tape Productions 2.0” that just re-treads the same ideas he worked with for this recording… Listening to some of his other works suggests that he has a wide range of composition skills, so I have a feeling he will be able to expand on this release.
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