Mobile Phones, pocket digital multi-track recorders, voice-recorders, note-takers: there are myriad multimedia devices available to enable the travelling musician to record ideas.
It might seem slightly anachronistic, therefore, when I say that I still use an ancient analogue Sony cassette voice recorder to log the majority of my musical musings. Yes, I mean the truly old school, cumbersome and noisy cassette tape version.
It doesn’t denote a reluctance to move forward on my part. My studio is completely digital (except for certain pieces of vintage hardware that software hasn’t so far managed to emulate accurately enough), and I am always thirsty for the latest updates that will allow me to make life easier.
My stubbornly clinging to such an outdated piece of kit stems from something more primal and tactile. All of us have our habits, systems and rituals, however random and sometimes illogical they may seem. Partly, there’s an element of familiarity and comfort attached: when I started recording ideas as a kid, I had a dusty old cassette voice recorder with huge buttons and this form of aural note taking is therefore an ingrained habit.
But there’s more to it. I like the organic chronology associated with ideas as they evolve on tape. Forty-five minutes each side, with ideas recorded in the order they came to me. Of course, it’s handy to have all of the ideas relating to one song in a folder, and, once a cassette is full, I transfer it’s audio content to digital format and edit things into a more logical format. This, though, is what I define more as end-stage logic, and erases some of what I consider to be vital parts of the creative process. On the tape, I may skip from one idea to another. The initial idea for a song may segue into a dozen other audio sketches, and then reappear later on in a more developed state. In addition to the ‘that’s-how-it-happened’ element, I find this useful in some practical ways. Say, for example, I’m struggling with an arrangement of a new song, I can use similar tape examples to discover how I got around the problems. If it was all in one folder containing only the audio relating to that track, then all I’d hear were the results. If I hear it on tape, the fact that numerous other ideas appear between instances of the track in question, then it demonstrates to me that I forgot about that track for a while, moved on to other things, and came back to it later. Sounds very obvious, but such reminders can prevent one from dwelling on finding an immediate resolution to certain compositional conundrums.
It shouldn’t be overlooked that a large proportion of my ideas come to me at inconvenient times: in the middle of the night when it’s to much trouble to switch on lights; after drinking profuse amounts, when creating, naming and saving files would be impractical, and so on. All I’m concerned with is getting the ideas down, without any additional complications. A fist-sized unit with easily-punchable buttons that records in page-per-day diary form will therefore continue to be my chosen method.
So, if you happen to see me talking into my old-skool machine, before pointing and laughing out loud, remember that it is providing a useful service.