Remote Working with Steve Jansen

I’ve been amazingly fortunate with the musicians who have been involved on the record. As the production process has gone on things seem to have fallen into place, with the key musicians injecting exactly the right degree of expertise and personality, non more so than Steve Jansen.

It was well over a year ago now that I found myself outside the cottage having just ended a phone call with a prospective drummer for the project. I had been discussing the project with various possible candidates, all fantastic technically, but ultimately not quite feeling right, or able to commit to spending time on Jura. In trying to convey my frustration I exclaimed, to the chickens(!), “I just want someone like Steve Jansen”. That was the spark and within half an hour I was in touch with his management.

Working on the building site I had pretty much been in a cultural vacuum for a few years and, apart from music articles that made it onto BBC Radio 4, my mind was completely switched off from who was doing what in the music world. I had barely been listening to other people’s music for a few years, so the fact that Steve’s name entered my head at that moment seemed slightly surreal.

I had always admired his work, particularly from the early David Sylvian solo albums where I always had a sneaky suspicion that Sylvian’s apparently modest brother contributed a lot more than a conventional drummer to the process. I was a bit too young to be anything other than vaguely aware of the Japan work or any of the earlier spin-off projects, but Rain Tree Crow and more recently Nine Horses positioned Steve in my mind as a completely original and musical percussionist. Subsequent listening of his more recent solo work confirmed this (see http://www.stevejansen.com).

Following discussions and submission of my demos I was delighted when Steve’s manager let me know that Steve might be interested in being involved. But there was a condition. Due to his other commitments and travelling, he wasn’t able to come to Jura to record and his involvement needed to be via remote file sharing. I subsequently wondered if this stipulation might be more to do with him reading my blogs in which, for the most part, I seem to bang on about how hostile the weather is up here!

Working in this way wasn’t new to me but it hadn’t been what I had in mind for this project. However, the prospect of Steve being involved more than persuaded me to be open minded and we committed to work together. There followed an incredibly enjoyable period of collaboration.

I must admit that I’ve rarely enjoyed creative musical collaboration with relative strangers when we’re all put in a room together, sometimes under the added pressure of recording. It was with some relief to be sending off my songs to Steve for him to work on quietly in the privacy of his own situation, much as is my style of working. He was someone who, by knowing his previous work, I trusted, and it felt liberating to be sharing my early outlines with him.

There were some technical challenges to overcome. Internet from Jura is via microwave and, at the time, was a maximum speed of 512K with regular drop-outs. Given that high sample rate files in modern music production are enormous, much experimentation was done with the most reliable file sharing host (www.dropbox.com was chosen). Uploads from Jura would typically take days! As I’m not too bothered about which production software I use, I also elected to switch to the same system as Steve, so that we could seamlessly share the same project files with no compatibility issues.

Over a few months, I uploaded two or three songs at a time, prepared as multitrack outlines with my rudimentary percussion guides. The process was pretty open from a scheduling point of view, so whilst there was a desire to keep up the momentum, things just happened in their own time. It was with great excitement that every now and again I’d receive mp3 files back with work in progress. It was clear that Steve was taking time really working stuff through, and the results delighted me when they arrived unannounced wherever I happened to be at the time. The most memorable occasion was when I was in Istanbul for my birthday. On receipt of an e-mail, an immediate hunt for a wi-fi connection ensued so that I could download a new track to my phone. This was followed by a very happy half hour sitting in the Grand Bazaar listening to Steve’s ideas for the track ‘Rescue Me’.

During this process we would communicate via email or phone, meeting in person only when we both happened to be in London. I actually found the remote working process to be very personal and fulfilling – much more so than a relatively fleeting collaboration in a studio. It gave the opportunity for properly considered discussion, over time, allowing fine tuning to be made and options to be explored. It gave me the opportunity to grow used to what Steve was doing before having to give feedback, which I’m sure has resulted in music which retains more personality and spirit.

There are two sets of recordings. Firstly, those made by Steve at his place in London, which are mostly recordings of him playing, which are then sampled and programmed. I had also sent through samples of ambient Jura sounds which I had recorded; winds, water, stones, shells etc… which he could incorporate. Secondly, studio sessions to record his live drumming parts. By happy co-incidence around the same time Steve was in New Hampshire working with his brother at his Samadhisound Studio, so we were able to record all the live takes there. The fare for me to fly out and join him wasn’t in the budget, but actually when I thought about it, because of the process we had already gone through, I realised that there was no reason why I needed to be there anyway. Steve sent a few photos so that I could see what instruments he was playing (see above) and my duties were limited to technical support back in Jura, sending appropriate files through when required. My absence also gave me that first shiver of excitement when hearing the work when I received it a few weeks later – a good barometer of whether you’re on to something!

I’m now right in the middle of mixing Steve’s playing with all the other layers in the music. His performances, as do mine, all end with his ghostly footsteps walking away from the microphones. He still hasn’t been to Jura.

Over and out

Hugh

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