“… and of course to Adrian, who brought us all together!” Cray toasted the group with a plastic cup filled almost to the brim with champagne. Every one cheered, crushing together their plastic cup spilling copious amounts of their celebratory drink on the sand below. They did not see that as waste but as a tribute to the beach which had welcomed them all, turning into their new home.
“To the Rock’n’Run tour!” exclaimed D.C. who was his alcohol fuelled self at the moment. More cheers followed by more drinking. Sam picked the large bottle resting beside her in the send in a crater filled with ice pouring out another sloppy round. The all stood in a circle around a letter that they had staked with a little tree branch to the ground.
“I am very sorry,” intoned Adrian in a voice mocking one of the managers that had declined to give them a venue to play in. “you band sounds great! I love it. Really I do. But right now, in this rather tense climate I have to stick to the tried and true. I admit that we are here to push the music scene forward. But you. How to put it. You are shoving it right through a wall. A lot of walls really. I really hate to say this” Adrian’s voice was getting more high pitched and whiny as he went on “but these are hard economic times. We can take a few risks. But you’d be one risk to far.”
The group booed and hissed.
“And what do we say to mister manager?” Adrian asked.
“FUCK YOUUUUU!” the others exclaimed.
“And what did we tell him when he and his self-important friends said when they came crawling back?”
“FUCK! YOU!” the others answered. “Oh and by the way!” said Cray “If you really want us to reconsider. Write a letter of apology.” the others laughed Kim added “And make it neat. Make us feel how sorry you are.” Sam continued “And while you are at it, do add some champagne to sweeten it up a bit.” Darius now continued the story “Once we get that, we will read it, check the bubblies quality and then if you did well and are very, very luck you’ll be the one who may open his doors when we feel like playing a concert indoors.” The others jeered, drank the last of their drinks crumpling their glasses in their hands throwing it at the letter in the middle.
By now they had a ‘Wall of Shame’ inside Jörmungandr, where they collected all the letters of appology they had received so far. The one they were celebrating now was the one that would close the last gap in the wall. The next one had either to expand the Wall of Shame’s limits or had to be pinned on top of the older ones.
“I think it’s time to chose one.” said Sam who had become comfortable enough with the others to voice her opinions every once in a while. To her great surprise this was always received well. This was in part because everyone was pleasantly surprised when ever she made a suggestion but also because her ideas were always good. Had anyone else told the band that it was time to get into one of the ‘show cages’ there would have been some instant resistance. Now though everyone went silent for a while taking a moment to think it through.
“I guess it’s about time.” said Kim.
“It would also be nice to make some money for a change.” said Darius. “Not that I don’t love throwing Adrian’s seemingly endless cash out of the window. Getting paid for ones work can be mighty satisfying though, especially when with work you mean doing the thing you love most.”
“I’ve been making some calculations Adrian.” said Cray “And you’ve been incredibly generous so far. Why if you are such a rich bastard haven’t you bought your own island yet?”
“It’s not my money. We have a fan and a backer.” said Adrian.
“I forgot.” said Adrian in a joke only he got. “He insisted on remaining anonymous. It’s all about the art for him. I do agree with Darius though,” he said hoping that he could move the conversation into a more comfortable direction. “it would be nice to get paid. Especially” he pointed at the letter in the middle of them “from those fucks. It’s time for them to pay.” This lead to a wave of agreement washing away any questions about their source of money. At least for now.
They spent the next hour around the campfire working on a plan on how to fleece the people that had rejected them for the maximum amount of money. They set up a tour plan, starting in the smallest venues they could find. They had enough fans by now to make sure that they’d be sold out every time in those places. That would help with worth of mouth. Then one or two medium sized shows, before going back to hit some clubs and larger bars aiming for the halls for the end of the tour.
“And then?” asked D.C. he was lying back looking up into the star strewn sky.
“Then its time for the album.” said Kim.
“A studio album?” Sam asked. She cast a dubious look at Kim.
“Of course a Studio album. What were you thinking of, a factory album?”
“We could make a life album first. We have been recording all our gigs so far.”
“Sure thing sister, we can do that too. While the other one is being produced and distributed we can put the life thing together. Turn it into a tight one to combo.”
Sam looked uncomfortable.
“What’s the matter?” Kim asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know if we should do a studio album. At all.”
“What? Why not?”
“Our music is alive. It moves on its own. It flows as we play. How are you going to reduce that into a static thing?”
“Did you have a hippie for breakfast, sister? How the fuck will it destroy out music?”
“It won’t be alive anymore.”
“In contrast to a life album?”
“That’s different. When it is a life recording it’s like a memory of a living moment. Like a photograph of an everyday scene. But a studio album is a construct. It’s so artificial.”
“I hope you disposed of the remains of that hippie somewhere where no one will ever find him…”
“Sam,” said Darius “I know what you mean. You are not the first great musician who thinks that way. I once was touring with that one dude. You know the one, with the twelve string guitar, who thinks prog-rock is conservative pop-pap for the lazy of mind? No? Anyone? Figures. He’s that kind of guy. Whatever. So we are on tour with him. One smoke filled basement bar after the other. He was totally radical about this. Even life albums where really hard to make. He insisted on hiring what he called his ‘record ninjas’. These guys were to set up the recording hardware and shit like that on the sly. If the dude ever noticed anything that was it. No record. He said that even knowing or suspecting that he was being recorded changed the way he played. So it had to be super secret and suer high quality. Got to give it to his ninjas people he never ever met in person, because, you know, he may start spotting them in the audience, they managed to deliver enough material for an album once a year.”
Sam blinked a couple of time.
“Dude you might have forgotten to add a point to that story.” said Kim with one eyebrow rising over her brow like a pompous sun.
“Oh? Yes. The point. Sam. Listen. You are right life music is like nothing else especially if you have such talented people around you who are so totally on your own wavelength. But you are standing before a truth that is right there in front of you which you can’t see because you are so busy describing it, that you just see the empty spaces around it.”
Sam eyes wide, brows high shook her head slowly.
“Studio albums are completely different to anything you’ve been doing so far. Right?”
“Their qualities are different. They are build different. They are layered in another way. Then there is all the mixing at the end.”
“I still don’t see your point…”
“It is a totally different beast. If you decide to go life only, fair enough. But there is an entire world of music that you are ignoring. Think of the possibilities!”
“mmm…” she grunted “I’m really not sure about this…”
“And that! Is the reason why you should do it. You are not sure if this is the right thing. So don’t run away from it. Walk straight ahead into the unknown. Explore the shit out if it. Until you grasp it, held firmly in your hands. Then you can decide whether you want to keep it or cast it aside.”
“Listen to the man, sister!”
While Sam was still thinking it over Turner said: “Darius makes a really good point. I’d like to do a studio album with you guys too. We’ll be able to do some totally new things. Talking from experience once you’ve sat in the studio playing around with your sounds you’ll come up with a ton of new ideas. And the best part of it? That way we can simulate having two drummers like you. A miracle!”
“I guess giving it a try won’t do any harm.”
D.C. and Cray who had been watching this in tense silence cheered thanking Sam profusely.
The conversation spread over the entire group discussing the upcoming tour, which songs to take for the life album and what crazy things they might do for the studio one. D.C. and Cray were the most enthusiastic about working in a studio with an infectious enthusiasm. Darius convinced them that they could just go ahead and experiment with the small studio integrated in Jörmungandr to see what they could come up with. Darius would work on production. It would come out rough but it would be good enough as a proof of concept. It might be decent enough that they could even try to make a demo tape with their own equipment.
Turner was mostly exchanging vengeful booking plans with Kim. Sam mostly meditated on the life stuff. Whenever she had a thought, the others listened. When Sam voiced an opinion it was always wise to consider her words with care.
* * *
The studio had to wait as it turned out. Despite everyone agreeing that some discs should see the light of day pretty soon, they hardly had any time to even think about it. The official concert tour went better than expected. They had a gig every other night. Things got massively out of hand when they had confronted the police about their clandestine concerts publicly. It ended with the cops having to go away grumbling, swearing to the band that they would have enough hairy eyeballs on them to keep them warm through a long hard winter. Lack of evidence. Lack of evidence that The Band With No Name had ever committed any felony. There were a few reporters there when the confrontation happened, so the next day they were in the local papers.
After that it was only the bigger venues that they could play in. Everything else would cause a minor riot as people were crowding around little bars and clubs, trying to find a way in. They even played a few extra gigs, open air in the beginning to please the fans who’d not been able to see them life.
Darius worked on a system to have the speakers on Jörmungandr transmit the sound from the stage they were playing on so that the people outside could at least listen to the music.
While everyone in the Band would have loved to have CD out, with their on the cover and their music pressed into the disk, it turned out to be low priority for now. The internet was full of bootleg videos, MP3-playlists and boatloads of covers from all over the world. They were not in what ever undead remains there were of music television and having almost no presence on the airwaves their music was spreading like wildfire. That the only stations that played there songs were pirate stations playing their bootlegged music, somehow made everything much more exiting.
There were not enough hours in the day to play all the concerts they should be playing to please their fans.
* * *
“I swear to god that if we play one more fucking concert this week. No fuck that, this year, I swear I am going the keel over and explode. All over the place. And it won’t be pretty. Bone shrapnel shredding everything in a 30 yard radius.” Kim said. Face planted securely on the rough wooden bar table one hand feebly holding on to a beer pitcher which she had declared her personal mug.
“It’s December.” said D.C.
Well next year would be like in a few w…” D.C. trailed off noticing that Kim had moved her head far enough to fire warning shots with her eyes right through his soul.
“My point is. I need a fucking break.”
“Hear, hear.” said Cray his voice cracking.
“You young people.” Darius shook his head. “You have been hardly on tour for a few months and in the same city, no less! Wailing like a bunch of depressed banshees.”
Kim slowly turned her head around to cast another volley of death bringing hate stares in Darius’s direction. While she looked like shit her eyes still could convey a surprising amount of fury. “Gonna kill you. Then bring you back ‘n kill you again.” Kim mumbled.
“This” continued Darius doing his best to ignore the angry zombie bassist, “would be he perfect moment to look for a nice studio and do some recording session. No tours. No travels. Just you guys and your music. Also brainstorming. And lying on couches smoking reefers.”
All the eyes now crawled in their sockets to face Sam. She was sitting in her chair, leaning back over the back rest her gaze directed at the ceiling. No one knew if she was even still awake. With two jerking motions she sat her self uptight…ish. “I knew you’d all be looking at me.” she said.
“So?” asked Cray.
“So, what?” asked Sam back.
“So, do you want to go into the studio?”
“Sure. Why not. Sounds like fun. Just roll me over my drums when it’s my turn. OK?” she let her torso fall back again.
“Right, then!” Turner said with enough motivation in his voice to instantly turn him into the most hated person at the table. “We only have two concerts left to play. After that we are free. I have to admit that I was hoping that we might so some kind of music retreat from December into January at least, which would be great to make our first record.”
“How can you be so old and so energetic at the same time?” asked Cray.
“Back in my day everything was built to last. Including people.” Turner grinned. “Now we just have the tiny little problem of getting a studio.
“I might be able to help you with that.” the voice had come from outside the circle of light that encompassed them and their table. From the shadows a man appeared that they had never seen before. “I am a great fan of yours. I’ve been to most of your concerts and was just thinking about how great it would be to do a record with you guys. And here you are thinking about the same thing. Must be my lucky day.”
“Who the fuck are you?” asked Kim her eyes now slits oozing suspicion.
“My name is Ogden.”
The King of the Cave
The studio was one large building. Carved into the stone and steel remains of a sound stage abandoned decades ago by a film studio shredding its own body to bits in its struggle to stay alive. The studio was long dead, killed by a larger more predatory studio that had grafted what was left into its own ever changing flesh.
Some years ago a man with a vision and a pocket full of green had come and bought the hulk. He went inside with a crew of professionals. Clearing out the innards, killing the bugs that had been its ruler for so long. They put in new veins for water, electricity raw data.
While the building was freed of all that was rotten inside of it, the engineer who had bought it looked for things to save. There were many things that had defied time. He explained to them men helping him that the soul of the old sound stage still lingered within this artifacts. It was important to keep them, repair them, make them the central pieces around which the new studio would grow. That way the bits of soul would merge with the spirit of the new machines, reigniting, infusing the building once again with its power.
The men laughed. At first. However as the reconstruction was almost done, even they who had become hardened to the whispers of moribund buildings, felt the spirit of the glorious past. It smelled like an old building. It was filled with a golden hued light that was warmer than that outside. The presence of the great actor-heroes of legend could be felt in many places. No one could stay within its walls for long without being filled by a longing to create something new, something extraordinary.
From outside it looked like a large storage hall that was there to be walls and ceiling to a stuff that needed shelter from nature. It was evident that it was an old structure, it’s curved metal roof was corrugated, the walls were riddled with cracks, the grey paint flaking from the concrete. It smelt of dry dry sun bleached dust.
“This is your studio?” Turner asked Ogden.
“No. Not mine. I’m just the guy who makes things happen. An ambassador of sorts. I walk between the worlds of the city bringing the right people together. This studio belongs to a man named Bryce. He is to be frank nuts. But his lunacy is focused into an obsession with sound. Should you get along with him he will open sonic realms to you that you had no idea existed.”
“Uh huh.” said Turner. The others looked mostly puzzled. Only Cray seemed to be perfectly calm. After all he was the man who had built himself a house inside a warehouse filled with the remains of dead machines.
“Lead the way.” said turner.
The passed through the large metal double door into a small room. Badly lit containing only underwhelmed people and another set of double doors.
“What are we waiting for?” asked Kim as they stood waiting behind Ogden who just stood in front of the inner doors.
“These do not open until the outer doors are closed.”
“Like in an air-lock?” asked Cray.
“Like in an air-lock. Only this ones not for air.”
“What’s it for then?”
“What’s the fucking dif…” Kim had started, she was interrupted by the clang of the doors behind her falling shut. In front of them the other double doors swung open filling the air with light, giving way to a view of the actual lobby. The room was three stories of art deco opulence. Starting with the marble floor, flowing up the red carpeted stairs with their golden railings up to the curved cobalt blue ceiling held in place by six slender chrome pillars in form of female angels stretching towards heaven. Artificial daylight the cTurolour of honey poured from arc lights integrated into gargoyles nesting in the space where the walls turned into the ceiling as well as from vases held by ivy clad statues placed at the edge of a balcony circling the room at half hight.
“Oh…” said Kim.
“I’d call the guy who’S responsible for this crazy, but I’m far to impressed for that.” said D.C.
“There is a certain magic to it, isn’t it?” said Ogden. “Bryce says that it is important to set the scene immediately. Once you step in the spirit of this place has to roll over you like a wave and not let you up anymore until you are outside again.”
Turner had expected to see Bryce as they entered, somewhere up on the balcony to welcome them with arms wide. Maybe a cape would be involved. The lobby it seemed had to suffice as a welcome. Turner was tempted to say that indeed it was.
They followed Ogden deeper into the building that stayed in character down to the last detail. Everything the saw looked like it had been preserved since the 1930s. The carpets, the wood panelling or the doors with frosted glass windows with things like ‘Studio A’ or ‘Server Room’ stencilled onto them. Seeing the latter Sam commented how she’d expect a room full of butlers behind that door.
Ogden led them through the corridors, the band having the feeling that they were by mere chance walking through the studio in a quiet moment. They could almost feel the other people who had to work here hurrying from one room to the next just beyond earshot. Despite being empty and silent, the place was filled with a feeling of urgency.
They stopped in front of a door at the end of a corridor. The letters on its window reading:
The details of the picture in front of them are all perfect, like everything else in this place. The composition however is slightly off. The office is an impressive fossil from a time where any executive worth his salt throned behind a massive mahogany desk spacious enough to house a family of dwarves, the walls were not papered instead were covered with book shelves and contained a small well stocked bar in one corner. The man sitting behind the desk somewhere in the middle of his journey from his own 30s to his 40s was wearing a white shirt with rolled up selves, a waist coat and what seemed to be a computer stylus behind one ear. He was a picture perfect accountant, who was sitting in his bosses, bosses, bosses chair. He was reading a large leather bound ledger as they entered the room which also seemed a bit off.
“Oh, hi!” the man behind the desk said. The atmosphere held. “I’ve been looking forward to finally meeting you.” his clothes were wrong and his words not as meticulously selected as his surroundings but there was a beaming enthusiasm radiating from him that held it all together. “I still can’t quite believe it. When Ogden told me that he had found you and that he had talked you into coming into my studio I thought he was shitting me. But here you are! My name is Bryce by the way and I am really, truly happy to meet you.” He got up closed the ledger, leaving it on the table to greet everyone individually.
After the introductions were done Bryce gave the a short tour of the studio. Beyond the lobby were three big studios. One just one big room with enough space to accommodate an entire orchestra, one that was isolated cabins surrounding a central mixing room and the last one a bit of both.
“As you can see, I’ve got recoding facilities for every occasion here and plenty of room to make it work.”
“How often do you record anyway?” asked D.C.
“About ten to twenty times a year. It depends.”
“That’s not all to often.”
“I’m very selective.” Bryce shrugged. “The recording has to be worth my time.”
“And what do you do the rest of the time?” asked Kim.
“Rest of the time I’m in one of the sound labs, working.”
“It’s were I work on making the studio better. What do you play?”
Bryce thought about that for a moment nodding to himself. “Right.” he said, “Bass. That’s something I’ve put some work into. I’ve been implementing some clever techniques developed by a German sound sage that will help immensely with your sound when working on an album. Come. I’ll show you.”
He led them into square room filled with two rows of bass amps, one in the front of the rooms one in the back. In the middle stood a lone 4-string electric bass in a stand.
“Take it. Play some notes. Tell me what you think.” Bryce said to Kim.
She took the instrument turned up the volume and played some notes. “Whoa!” was her first reaction. Apart from her only Sam and Darius seemed to be as impressed as she was. Kim played another rumbling deep note letting it hang in the room for a good long while before muting it. “Mother. Fucker.”
“It’s fucking brilliant.” Bryce grined, “Isn’t it?”
“That was some impressive down tuned bassage” Turner said, “but I have to admit that I’m not quite getting it.” Turner said.
“In a small room like this” Kim said “with speaker set up like that you’d get some really horrible resonance going playing a deep note.” she caressed a bone stirring note out of the bass “But here you just hear the one clear sound. There is no droneing, no reverb, no nothing. Fuck. Me. Adiran this is fucking witchcraft.”
“Nope just a bit of clever science. When you play the note the speakers in front of you fire. With loads of power and volume. The note travels through the room and by the time they reach the wall and would bounce back and cause all kind of shit. The rear row fires an inverted sound eliminating the note before it can start its return trip. It’s like there never was a back wall at all. This is about the crispest bass sound you’ll ever get and you can do it pretty much in everywhere.”
“Would you mind if I borrow this room for a while?” asked Kim.
“No not at all. I’d love to put the system through its paces. Feedback from a professional would be great.” Bryce beamed, “See. It’s stuff like that. In my labs I implement ideas be them from others or myself, try to work on mixing them together or work on evolving new stuff. My pet project right now is on a mic set-up that’ll catch the feeling of a live concert, you know? All those albums you always hear, they sound great and all, but they never carry the feeling, right? Mostly because these recordings just pick up the signal from the instruments. And that. That is shit. You have to place a mic or several right smack in the middle of the room so that it’ll sound like the real thing. It works pretty well already but I’m not happy with the quality right now.”
“You have some live recordings like that already?” asked D.C.
“Well I’d love to listen to them.”
“Me too.” said Sam who had lost her usual shell of neutrality to a sudden rush of excitement.
No ten minutes later D.C. and Sam were listening to a live concert over headphones. Cray was distracted by the massive sound library, tweaking sounds on the monstrous child of a church organ and and a server farm.
Leaving Turner alone with Bryce and Ogden.
“Looks like I’m not needed here anymore for the time being.” said Ogden “I’ll leave you here to talk hings through. Just give me a call when you are done here.” he exchanged some chit chat with Bryce before saying his goodbyes and leaving.
“I have to admit that I am quite impressed by your work here.” Turner said.
“Working with you would be great. We are actually still exploring our music, still looking for a new ways to go. Finding out own sound. That sort of thing.”
After a short pause Bryce answered: “Well, I’d be glad to help you with that. The way your team behaves I think that we will be able to do some first class work here.”
“I agree. There are however some things we should clear up before we get started.”
“Payment? You have a fabulous studio, which must cost a fabulous amount of dough to keep running.”
“Don’t worry about it.” said Bryce waving his hand.
“I don’t. I just want to know what your rates are, see how long we are probably going to stay. Basic stuff. Negotiate a good price.”
Bryce now was grinning broadly again. “As I said you needn’t worry. Your expenses are already covered. We can concentrate on the important thing now the sound of your music.”
“Who paid? Ogden?”
“No. Not him. He is one of the best agents in these parts of the world so he has some powerful investors backing him up.” as Bryce said that a shiver ran down Turner’s spine. It reminded him of his own anonymous investor. The idea of having another force like that acting in the background scared him.
The next few weeks fast forwarded past the band as they gave concerts in every kind of venue to find the best possible live sound using Bryce’s magic mic set-up. After every concert they gave Ogden organised a large feast to celebrate every step they took towards their first album. This peaked in a great celebration in a small sea side restaurant that their new agent had rented out for an entire night where they got to fight over the songs they would include on the CD. as they were moving closer to desert and mass murder Turner decided that it would be probably a good idea to make it a two disk project which defused the situation.
Long past midnight they had put all disagreements to rest, drinking champagne singing their favourite songs together peace thoroughly restored. It was then in small hours before the first exploratory rays of light clearing the way for the morning sun appeared in the sky that they agreed that it was time to finally go and hunt down the elephant that had been squatting in the room for some time.
It was time to record a proper studio album.