Sunday, January 6, 2008

"Braided Hair" (from 1 GIANT LEAP)

Photo by Richard Ecclestone

In October 1999 Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Catto embarked on a crazy adventure - going around the world for six months with a couple of DVcams, a Powerbook G3, a digital mixer, a few good mics, and a powerful sense of serendipity - which resulted in a phenomenal DVD and CD called 1 Giant Leap. When I first heard the CD in 2003 I felt it was the perfect album to celebrate the spirit of the new millennium, serving as a cogent artistic and cultural counterforce to the Project for a New American Century.

January 6th is what some folks call Epiphany (according to the official story, it's the day the Three Magi were guided by a flashing star to the 12-day-old infant Christ). It's also the eve of my birthday. So what better way to mark the beginning of a yet another solar orbit than to share a special moment from 1 Giant Leap with whoever lands on this blog.

There's a superb feature on how Duncan and Jamie went about producing 1 Giant Leap. Below is a brief excerpt detailing the technical aspects of Bridgeman and Catto's stupendous accomplishment.
HAVE LAPTOP, WILL TRAVEL: 1 Giant Leap's Portable Studio Setup

The initial work on 1 Giant Leap's tracks was done on Eilean Shona off Scotland in Emagic's Logic Audio running on Duncan's 400MHz G3 Powerbook laptop. A variety of hardware was used, including an Emu sampler and numerous synths, such as a Roland JV2080 and JD800, a Korg Prophecy, Wavestation and Wavestation AD, and an Oberheim Matrix 1000, as well as guitars and basses. These were all recorded into the laptop as audio before Duncan and Jamie left the UK.

The G3 400 laptop running Logic Audio also formed the heart of the 1 Giant Leap portable setup. Two AKG C1000 condenser mics, and Shure SM57 and 58 dynamics, plugged into a compact Roland VM3100 digital mixer, the stereo digital output of which plugged into a Digigram VXPocket PCMCIA soundcard in the G3 Mac (the VXPocket was, for a while, the only PCMCIA I/O card suitable for use with laptops). "I only had a stereo input to the computer, and it meant I had to balance all the mics quite carefully in the mixer, but it wasn't much of a problem, as it was only at the beginning that we attempted to record groups of people — we soon realised that it wasn't really practical."

For monitoring, Duncan took five pairs of Sony headphones, and a Yamaha DJX keyboard with built-in speakers, which he'd had modified. "Whenever I put a jack into it, it killed the internal sounds, and whatever I put in came out of the speakers. So I used the keyboard for monitoring. I'd come straight out of the laptop, into the DJX, and then I'd have my headphones in the back of the DJX. My contributors would all be listening to headphones, and I'd play them a bit of whatever music I had at that moment. I could juggle the mix and control what they had to react to; sometimes I'd only give them one thing, if I particularly wanted them to listen to that."

The Yamaha DJX also doubled as a table, onto which Duncan usually put the G3 laptop. "I had it all worked out. I had a guitar with me in a flightcase, so I could sit on that, and get my legs under the DJX, which had a metal panel on top with velcro for the laptop to sit on so that it wouldn't fall off... the Roland mixer was down at my side, and in the metal box that I took, there was a MIDI interface, so I could play MIDI in from the DJX into Logic, and a half-rack Roland JV1010. There were no proper virtual instruments then, you see, so the JV1010 was my main synth for composing on the road.

"I had 12V battery belts, with 12 elements, like cameramen wear, and I fed that into the metal box. That powered the DJX, the laptop, the mixer, and the JV1010. The power requirements weren't too bad — I could work for about five or six hours before the belt pack was exhausted."

The visual side comprised two cameras (operated by 1 Giant Leap's cameraman Ben Cole and Jamie's girlfriend Jessica Howie), a tripod, and a circular blue screen, so the background could be replaced later at the video-editing stage.

"And that was it! Oh no, it wasn't — there was also a mic stand. That was a bastard to carry around..."
Read the entire story here.

Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman