I showed up for work at the Marquee one night last week and found out that Carlo Spinazzola had died suddenly at age 33. Carlo was a well-respected local artist and musician. I had recorded his last CD at Soundmarket:
I wanted to write something about Carlo but I couldn’t figure out what to say and I got stuck on it.
Then I went out of town. I spent a couple days in Shelburne, on the former army base where I used to live. I was down there teaching audio to a class of budding young sound engineers.
Not much has changed on the base in the past few years.
A CD turned up of some music I’d taken down there for a similar seminar a couple years ago. I’d scribbled the date on the CD with a Sharpie: “Sept. 10 2001.” (Note the date; I watched the towers collapse on a military issue television.)
Most of the tracks on the CD were my own music, but as it turns out there was also a track on there from the Carlo sessions.
~ slow burner [4.8MB mp3]
This is probably my favourite session from all my time as a studio engineer. I remember Carlo showed up at the studio on a Friday to book time on a Monday. He paid in advance because he said he was afraid he’d spend the cash over the weekend.
Carlo booked eight hours, with the plan that we would try to get two or three songs recorded and possibly mixed. That’s pretty ambitious for a studio day, but if the band is tight it’s not unheard of.
So Carlo showed up with his band on Monday morning. Brian Bourne was playing bass and Jeff Arsenault was on the drums.
Initially, Carlo had forgotten his dobro and had to run home and get it. During the 45 minutes or so that he was gone, I really worked hard with Jeff to get a drum sound. Owing to time constraints, I was going with a minimal mic setup on the drums; mics on the kick and snare, plus a pair of large-diaphragm condensers used as overheads.
I knew the room pretty well and I got Jeff set up in the sweet spot. Most of the time was spent getting the best possible sound from the overheads. We would record a little bit, and then play it back while I listened carefully for phase cancellation. Then I’d move the mics a bit and listen again. All this time definitely paid off in the final drum sound.
When Carlo got back we set up the room for vibe. We got things really cozy in there, with nice dim lighting and a happening headphone mix for the boys. The vibe was very important. We kept turning off lights, the room kept getting darker and darker until it was perfect.
We tracked everything live off the floor, vocals and all. Carlo had this big painting that he’d just finished. He set it up in front of the bass drum and stared at it while he played. The painting helped form part of the insulation between the drums and the guitar.
Sometimes in the studio you just have these magical moments, where the hair stands up on your arms and you know right away that you’re hearing the final take. As soon as I was rolling and everyone started playing together, I remember raising my hands up off the console while a voice inside my head said “Don’t… change… anything.”
It was intense. The guys finished one song and went straight into another, and another. We wound up recording a full-length album, twelve or thirteen songs (eleven made it onto the final release). Carlo overdubbed some extra guitar on a few of the songs. But mostly it was all live, mostly first takes.
An entire album, recorded and mixed in eight hours. Only an outstanding talent is capable of pulling that off.
I love the way the CD sounds. Every time I hear it I’m transported back to the studio on Gottingen Street on that day. I gave me the shivers while we were tracking, and listening back to it the other day, I almost broke down in front of this classroom full of kids.
There are certain moments of the disc that might technically be considered mistakes, that I’m so glad are in there now. It makes the memory so vivid for me.
A tapping foot against the base of a mic stand. Or Carlo’s voice phasing slightly with the guitar mic, as he leans back in his chair and drifts off-axis from the vocal microphone (I chose an AKG-414 to bring out the warmth in Carlo’s voice).
It makes me realize the importance of studio engineering. Carlo left little pieces of himself all over Halifax, in the form of music or artwork or carpentry (he was an accomplished woodworker and I believe he may have contributed a lot to the construction of the Marquee Club).
The music. This silver sliver of digital science, preserving for us the essence of Carlo.
I hope you download the mp3. Take a moment to listen and to think about what we had that is now gone.