In the 1960s, it was very common for Hi-Fi enthusiasts to build their own electronics from DIY kits from HH Scott, Dynaco, HeathKit as well as speakers by names such as Tannoy, Goodmans, Wharfedale etc.
This phenomena carried thru in the home recording world with a plethora of 3 head, 2/4 track machines from Studer Revox, Sony, Teac, Akai, Philips and Ferrograph to do multi-channel recordings…..no decent Hi-Fi enthusiast would be without such a machine-it was their pride and joy. In the late 1970s this waned with the advent of direct-to-disc vinyl, the compact disc and the ever-increasing intrusion of the upstart video world.
The home-enthusiast recordist still exists with the help of small, very high quality digital multi-track recorders and many more microphone manufacturers than previously existed. These machines give sonic results we could never have dreamt of in the old reel-to-reel world.
There are still many amateur recordists who strive to make excellent recordings with minimal microphones and audio tracks relying mainly on the art of microphone selection/placement only coupled with excellent raw talent. This eliminates or substantially minimizes the mix/edit process which tends to kill the spontaneity and life in recordings….think of Jazz at at the Pawnshop in 1976.
With these limitations in mind, the three of us as audiophiles and recording enthusiasts set out for Santa Clara, Cuba last December with a pair of Nagra VI recorders and a handful of Gefell, Josephson, Neumann and Sennheiser microphones. Previous contact with musicians and friends lined us up with many artists to preview and old friendships to renew. One of the new groups we met was a trio of young women named Palabras. They worked with a Cubano music style called trova and had been working together as a dedicated ensemble for 17 years.
Trova is a music style practiced by trovadors(troubadors) from the Spanish empire ie mid to late 1800s-normally a vocal duet of two young men or man/wife accompanied by a guitar. A more formal version of trova would add a Cuban tres- a Cuban guitar with 3 sets of two strings, each pair of strings tuned an octave apart, contrabajo and percussion. This style was best exemplified by Maria Teresa Vera in the first half of the 20th century via many recordings and enjoyed a major renaissance in the 1970s and again in the early 1990s courtesy of the Buena Vista Social Club recordings of Ry Cooder.
Three simple test recordings later we asked Palabras if they would do more test recordings with us in a local cathedral for an evening and then come with us to the famed EGREM studios in Havana for a more formal session.
The EGREM studios were built by RCA in the 1940s for such artists as Tito Puente, Nat King Cole and the many popular Cubano recording artists of the day.
The simplicity and purity of the material as practiced by these three girls left us in awe as we went thru the various tests to perfect the microphone placement process- using only headphones for monitoring added to the recording and soundstage challenges.
The short presentation at the Vancouver Audio Show will show pictures and video clips from the test recording process at the cathedral and EGREM plus a couple of audio clips of the product ready to go to mastering prior to final release as a HD download interspersed with commentary from ourselves.
We had our share of fun along the way-street noise outside the cathedral, the long tiring three hour trip to Havana and its toll on the girls, EGREM in the middle of building upgrades which meant noise at the most inappropriate times etc. The language barrier always added unexpected entertainment and frustration to the process but never slowed things down. Luckily we had a couple of bilingual Cubano friends, Marlon and Yaikiel, who helped us thru the challenging times.
The girls of Palabras were troopers in all aspects and we loved working with them; we are in contact with them weekly and we have other sessions planned with them and other Cubano artists this December.
Finally, we intend to open the floor up to questions of any and all kinds re the trek to Cuba-technical challenges, political problems, musical abilities, guidance for people who wish to do the same-any question posed in good faith is great. As this Audio show was brought to my attention by a recording engineer, I feel there will be many more in attendance.
The plan is to make a contact list of interested parties who wish to be kept abreast of our various activities and soon-to-be launched music catalog.
As we will be returning to Cuba to preview artists and material in July and lay the tracks for same this December, the plan is to have final mastered tracks of material for presentation at the 2017 Vancouver Show.