A Conversation With David Chesky Page 2
TH: [laughs] Yeah, my parents are ballet dancers ... I'm probably sick of dance music. Can you tell me a little about your music history, your earlier music like "The Body Acoustic" and "Club de Soul" is rhythmic and structured, but these days your music is rich and dense ... and almost chaotic sometimes.
DC: I've been a composer my whole life and you can't keep doing the same thing. It's spice, if you start off eating Thai food, it's not spicy and as you add more hot stuff you build up a tolerance.
For me, everything comes from jazz and grooves, and my music is impressionistic. I don't live on a beautiful farm or in the suburbs, I live in the middle of a city. You don't need a long thesis to write a metaphor for New York City, it's 'Yo man, get the fuck out of my face,' so that attitude has to be reflected in my music. I'm trying to take a symphonic form and write music that's relevant to today.
I'm not a rap guy, but rap reflects our time and culture in an urban setting, it's a living art form. Classical music was written for a king sitting on a throne 200 years ago, and 4,000 miles away. How is that relevant to a person walking down the street? I write in the symphonic form where you have counter melodies, density, and polyphony, but it also has drive, rhythm and passion. I write to entertain myself.
TH: It's very intense music, and the quality is clearly there. The 'Concerto for Electric Guitar' was very interesting to me. Don't know what it is, but there's something going on there.
DC: We live in a world with electric guitars, so why not? I'm not trying to make the orchestra sound like a rock band, I'm trying to put the guitar in an orchestral setting and give it drive. It's in a language that speaks to younger people. I also wrote a children's opera, 'The Mice War,' and two cutting edge satiric operas, 'The Pig, The Farmer, and the Artist,' and 'Juliet and Romeo.'
TH: Steve told me about them; they sound quite unusual and funny. Who were your musical influences?
DC: I studied with John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and composition with David Del Tredici, who is a great guy, and I learned a lot just doing orchestration. My influences run from Stravinsky to Bartok to Gershwin to Bernstein, that's where the roots are. I took what I learned and put it on steroids, in classical, music is always subdivided on the beat, in jazz it's syncopated off the beat [Chesky taps out the rhythms on his desk to illustrate the difference]. That's what I do ... which has something to do with living in New York City.
TH: Why did you start HDtracks?
DC: I saw record stores were going away, and I was looking for a way of getting better quality sound to the people. A downloaded file is bit perfect, and there's no need for error correction, or a laser reading a spinning disc. I think digital has a bad rap, it's not the digital sound that people don't like, it's the execution. When you hear a 192-kHz file played from memory, it's great! We've been listening to two-dimensional audio for too long, and we have to get past that. In the future when you have Choueiri's BACCH crosstalk filters, you're there, man, you're there.
TH: I have to tell you, for me it's an incredible treat when I find a Chesky disc with music I love. The Jon Faddis (Remembrances) and the John Basile (The Desmond Project) discs in particular are just so right up my alley. I want to thank you, because what you do has made a difference to me. I can ignore the bad recording of a Django track, but it's spectacular when you get great music and a great recording at the same time. What's coming up from Chesky Records?
DC: Wycliffe Gordon's jazz, folk singer Amber Rubarth, and CC Coletti's Led Zeppelin record are all in binaural.
SG: The 'Zeppelin sessions were awesome, and it's rare, even for a Chesky where you get to hear a singer and a band –- electric and acoustic guitars, acoustic bass, harmonica, and drums -- all being picked up with just the two mikes in the binaural head. The relative dynamic envelope of each instrument is preserved. I doubt too many people have records in their collections made after 1960 or so that sound as realistic as this. Forget recordings, even in small clubs it's rare to hear a singer and a band that's not individually miked, mixed and played over some kind of PA system. I hope Jimmy Page eventually hears CC's album, he's into sound so he would love it!
TH: I had the good fortune of hearing the Muir String Quartet in a practice session in Bozeman, and I was sitting as close as we're sitting right here. The thing that struck me most about the Quartet's sound was there was zero edginess to the strings. It was so spine tingling, and a Chesky recording is as close as you can get to that live sound. I can tell you a real, live violin is not harsh....
DC: That depends on the player and the violin, but that can also be microphones that are hard at 5- to 7-kHz., the B & K binaural head has none of that.
SG: Sorry, but what most people consider great sound is so skewed, maybe because they so rarely hear rock or jazz recordings that sound truly realistic. That's the least likely possibility, but how could it be otherwise when most recordings are made with a forest of mikes, run through a big mixing board, processed, equalized, dynamically compressed, overdubbed, Pro Tooled and a billion other things. That's true for almost all CDs, LPs, SACDs, DVD-Audios or Blu-ray recordings made over the last 20 to 30 years. The machines have taken over.
TH: I think people would be surprised how smooth sound is when it's right. Some would say that sort of sound isn't 'fast' enough, I think most people, even audiophiles, are accustom to crappy, over-emphasized treble.
Last question for David, on one hand you're into composing this incredibly complex music, and on the other hand, minimal miking, is there a little bit of dissonance between those two things?
DC: Not really, recording the way we do is more complex, we're using very sophisticated equipment. All we're trying to do is record music the way we're supposed to.
SG: Multitrack and Pro Tool computer editing systems are all about creating the sound and manufacturing music after the musicians have gone home, at a Chesky session the 'mix' is fixed as they play, there's no room for mistakes. When the session's over, the musical balances are locked.
DC: Trust me, it's hard to get right.
TH: In the end, man, as far as I'm concerned, it is so worth it. Thanks for what you do.
And with that, we split to eat dinner at a Thai restaurant and talk about stuff like the ear canals on our head microphones. Good times.