Henry Kaiser has been offering a series of weekly, solo, “live” performances” through Cuneiform Records. Mike Baggetta has posted a video of his band MSSV also performing “live.” Here, Henry talks about his duo video with Baggetta, why these performances are not streamed, and both reveal how they record them.
These days, all “live” band and many solo performances you see streamed are actually recorded and then posted. Even the “live” ambient performance I watched recently was played live (as the remote performers didn’t need to worry about latency), but was recorded and the recorded version streamed, because streaming is so problematic.
Kaiser is not a fan of streaming.
“A few weeks ago, another well-known guitarist called me and said, ‘Frisell is on a live stream playing a ballad,’” he relates. “‘Go to it and tell me what kind of stutter pedal he is using—it sounds just like you!’ I went to the stream and it was the stream audio stuttering, but not the video. Bill thought he was playing a pretty ballad on a Tele with no crazy pedal effects, but it was going out with the audio all fucked up by streaming problems at the source. That seemed like something to avoid. It made me even more committed to presenting stuff online with good audio. Also, I get bored watching dudes play guitar, so I try to get video backgrounds and more action in there somehow.”
What is your approach?
Since I cannot in good conscience subject folks to the awful audio quality of live-streaming performances, I have been recording video performances weekly and they get posted on Thursdays on the Cuneiform Records YouTube page. .This week it is a duo with Mike Baggetta, the week before it was a solo with some abstract animation of mine, and once in a while they are historical old thangs from my video archive.
How did you do the duets with Baggetta?
For the first duet, I recorded my side then Mike’s side is a video and audio overdub. For the second one, he recorded first, and I am the overdub. They are studio recordings so there are no latency problems and they are mixed after recording so we could get the audio just right— something you cannot do live-streaming. [For the duos with Baggetta, both guitarists used the Hologram Electronics Microcosm pedal]
Did you use amps or go direct?
No amps, I went direct from pedal board. I have always recorded direct, from my first album onwards. The amp is never miked in the studio; it’s just there for feedback. For me, amps are for live gigs, not for guitar sounds in the studio. I don’t use modeling because the latency makes complex controlled feedback impossible.
What was your guitar in the first duet with Baggetta?
It is the New Complexity Harmonic Isolator
How do you record the videos?
I shoot with QuickTime from the monitor camera and record in Apple Logic at the same time. If it’s a collaboration, I send those two files to the other player. They record, send me audio and video files, and then I mix the audio in Logic, edit the videos in Final Cut Pro, and add the good mix audio.
Baggetta’s process is similar:
I am using iMovie. I record reference track(s) with a separate click track, and then send those to the guys in MSSV. Stephen Hodges goes first and records separate video and audio tracks to the click at the same time. I then forward drum audio tracks and click to Mike Watt. He records his bass part to Hodges’ audio and the click, and a video at the same time. They both send me separate WAV files for audio and separate MOV files for video. I just play along to their parts with no click and take separate video.
I mix the audio with no click and mute all the audio from the videos while I put them together. Usually Hodges and Watt do four to eight visual cues before they play in video (stick hits, string hits) so is easy to line up. The real issue is assembling the videos.
They send me different types of files, so I first run them through a freeware coding program called Handbrake to make them all the same (I think I set it to 25 FPS fixed). You can only do one picture in picture at a time in iMovie so I have to do five or six passes. First, I marry the final audio track to one video the next pass I take a black background and put in the first video as pic in pic. Next pass, I add second video to first pic in pic and then one final one for the third person. There’s probably an easier way in Final Cut or something more professional.
This is obviously a laborious process to make it look like people are playing together live at the same time. We can only hope that the current mess will drive the development of technology for faster speeds and more bandwidth (just like pornography did back in the day) so that someday we can stream musicians play together remotely for real.