THE ARTIST: Ken Schumacher, Grass Valley
August 6, 2004
What is your career and your current job title? Senior technical writer at Thomson Grass Valley. I write operation and service manuals for the video switchers we manufacture.
Describe in a sentence or two your art. I seek out creative music and, with the artist’s permission, record it with the highest sound quality I can muster. All my recording is on location. I don’t have a studio. I also take performance photos and prepare artwork for the CD recordings I produce.
How long have you been working in this discipline? My first location recording was of John Fahey back in 1976, but I would say I have concentrated on learning how to do good location recordings since 1995. That’s when I started doing live sound part time at Steamers Cafe, a jazz club in Southern California (www.steamerscafe.com).
Why do you do it? I love music, and live music can be absolutely magical. Moments happen when the audience and the performer interact that just can’t be reproduced in a studio. I also especially like improvisation, which after it is performed is gone, never to be repeated. Live recordings can sometimes capture the magic. And I’m actually starting to get paid for my work, too, which is great.
Do you create your art with an exact message you want the viewer to receive and if yes, what is that message? My goal, as a location recording engineer, is to be invisible. I try to not influence the performance in any way, so the musicians can express their art without inhibition. Then I capture the music the best I can. It isn’t just documentation, however. Picasso said, “Art is lying to tell the truth.”
Some recordings I make are performed in poor sounding spaces, and I’m not above using tricks to make the final recording sound quality be better than what was heard in the room. But I do this to enhance the intentions of the performer, not to artificially create something that couldn’t have happened live.
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Where do you want to be with your art, in terms of part-time versus full-time status and positions? I would love to do location recording and produce live music CDs full time. Hopefully some day I will link up with a successful artist and have some arrangement that would provide income from residuals that would support myself and my family. This would give me the freedom to record artists who don’t have commercial potential, but are making great music anyway. But for now, I have to keep my day job and do my music recording thing as time and finances permit.
What kind of special training did you take? I’m pretty much self-taught. I wish I had taken recording classes when I lived in Southern California, but I let that opportunity pass by. There aren’t any recording schools up here, of course, but learning the hard way in the trenches is sometimes best.
What’s your favorite part of your endeavors? Completing a CD project, knowing it sounds good, the packaging looks good and it honestly captures a unique and magical performance. And meeting and working with creative musicians.
What’s your least favorite part of your endeavors? Meeting and working with creative musicians. Yes, this is a joke, but artists can be wonderful and infuriating at the same time. I have had great luck, though, in working with wonderful musicians, partially because it’s still mostly a hobby so I can choose who I work with.
Any other comments you’d like to include? Can I do a plug here? I recently produced the “Buck Love and the Humperheads LIVE Volume 1” CD as an experiment to see if we can sell enough to recoup production costs and provide seed money for a Volume 2. The CD is available at my Web site, www. livevibesrecording.com. It is also at The Record Connection, Love Shack Records and Yabobo. And my current project is with Dakota Sid and the Badland Serenaders.
Everyone should go see both these bands. They are great!
“The Artists” appears each Friday. To suggest a person to be profiled,
call Carol Feineman at The Union at 477-4232.
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