The Making of Street Life and the Manipulation of Sound

The Making of Street Life

If you are a Roxy Music fan, as I am, the above article is an interesting read over at Uncut about the making of the song Street Life.  In reality that is narrowing the article down a bit, as it also deals with reflections of the band from that whole period, when Brian Eno left and the band had to make the album Stranded.  For those of you that don’t know, Roxy Music not only gave birth to the career of Bryan Ferry, but yes, also world famous musician and producer Brian Eno.  Eno was only on the first two records, Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure.  Also, the band was more than a two man show, as everyone that was a member of Roxy Music was extremely talented.

Some of you that have been reading along might wonder how I could jump from the earthy roots rock reggae to the seemingly more alien Roxy Music.  However, all great music creates cinematic worlds.  One doesn’t want to watch one kind of movie all of the time do they?  Also, in the way that Roxy Music and Lee “Scratch” Perry manipulated sounds, there is a commonality between the two.

One thing that I find really interesting, and perhaps you will as well if you make records or are interested in how they’re made, is the manipulation of existing sounds.  Manipulating sounds has been made easier now by modern technology than it was in the 70’s, but I find it no less enchanting if done well.  Often when one records something you will notice that a certain section lacks something.  When you play live the sheer enthusiasm with which you play something, the ambience of a room, may cover up the fact that a part of a song lacks some quality to make it stand out compared to the rest of a song.  When one notices something like this in a studio often the first idea is to add some kind of new overdub, whether that is a new instruments, a harmony, or a second part by an existing instrument.  I’ve found a really interesting way to get something unique, while remaining true to the existing recording is to manipulate something sonically.   You can either manipulate something that is there already, or duplicate something that is there and then manipulate it beyond recognition.  I personally really like manipulating guitars.  Because there are so many human elements in the playing of a guitar, the way a string is pressed down, the tuning is rarely absolutely perfect, etc., when you manipulate a guitar in a unique way it usually ends up being a sonic one-off, something that can’t be repeated exactly.  I know there are some people that want to be able to duplicate a recording as perfectly as possible live, but I see live performance and recording as different formats.  If you want the formats to match, that is up to you, but it doesn’t matter.

Yesterday I was listening to this period of Roxy Music on headphones and the guitar solo of Amazona blew my mind.  It is not only greatly played, but the way that section is manipulated and treated adds so much to it.  You are never taken out of the world of the song, but the world of the song expands tremendously through this solo section.

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