Dave Pearce's first album in 15 years consists of processed electric guitar performances recorded at home, live to tape and CD-R. Textures abound, sometimes jarring or noisy, but more often sedate and beautiful. It's a trippy listen, and I wanted to know more about how he recorded this album. 

Is Instrumentals culled from live performances?

Not live on stage. But yes, everything was played through, almost always in one pass, whether the first track put down, or an overdub. Most tracks are fully improvised, including a couple of things that may seem pre-written. In some places there is some editing, although, as far as I remember, I only edited after final mixes of a track, rather than edit while working on a track. That may seem strange, but some of the tracks on the record were created in the mix. I find it easier to assess things when a decent mix has been done, rather than during the actual recording/making process. These edits were to remove what I realised was unnecessary repetition, rather than mistakes. The first track on the record is two guitars, but the tape is running backwards and slowed down. The repeating, almost electronica-type sound running through track 14 is me playing a riff over and over, but the tape was then played backwards. 

What is your recording equipment? 

Some of the tracks on the earlier records were done in a more sophisticated way. For Instrumentals I used a Yamaha MT8X 8-track cassette recorder mixed to an Aiwa AD-S950 cassette player onto metal tapes. Effects units were Alesis MicroVerb 4 digital reverb unit, as well as my guitar pedals. I always thought the sound on the Yamaha cassette 8-track was unbelievably good. Those '90s cassette 4- and 8-tracks sounded fine to me; it's a shame they were suddenly rendered obsolete. I liked the slightly thicker sound than what you'd get in a studio. In fact it was extremely handy for guitars! Those '90s Aiwa AD-S950s were three-head cassette players. I had two of them and you could do really good edits with them, without the traditional small gap in the sound you'd get from most two head players, once you got used to the timing. While I was slowly, and occasionally, recording I'd compile favourite mixes here and there onto CD-R, and maybe even occasionally mix to CD-R. It was never about strictly keeping to an analogue sound. 

Where do you record? 

At home. This record was culled from the last 12 years during which there were long, long periods where I wasn't working on music at all, so home would have been various small flats (i.e., pretty much the only room!), or the spare room at my Dad's house. The important thing is that I managed to set my hi-fi up pretty successfully in all these places. When I record, I run the equipment through the hi-fi. Unless absolutely necessary for an overdub, I don't use headphones. I'm working to the sound through speakers that my ears have become "tuned to" over time from general listening of records, CDs, and whatnot. If nothing else, this gives me a feeling of being "grounded" somehow. I directly inject the guitar most of the time, so the sound of the electric guitar (and pedals) is coming out of the hi-fi speakers. I'm playing to that, and then adjusting the sound and mixes. 

What types of guitar effects do you use? 

A Boss DS-1 distortion foot pedal, a Boss DD-3 digital delay, and sometimes the Alesis MicroVerb 4. I don't think I've ever used all three in sequence, so it's probably guitar to distortion to digital delay as a rule, then directly injected. Directly injecting obviously gets a very different sound than that you get through those pedals running into an amp and then recording by mic'ing the amp (I've certainly used that in the past, but just not on this record as it turns out). I might be using a slide, screwdriver, jumper sleeve, or hacksaw on the guitar. And I might then mess with the recorded sound; slowing it down or running it backwards. I also use the two pedals or MicroVerb as effects when doing the mixing. There's a lot of stereo reverb use in the mixing on this record. One thing I like about the MicroVerb is the high frequency tones it sometimes generates that sound like a touch of feedback, or a separate instrument occasionally, there's some of that going on with this one. A lot of the sound you're ultimately hearing is coming from the outboard effects in the mixing. 

How do you manipulate guitar volume swells? 

From the playing (or pressure used with the screwdriver or whatever). Some swells could be made artificially with level in the mixing. The swell sound at the end of tracks 9 and 15 was done with the volume knob on the guitar as I was playing. A somewhat random and arbitrary process! 

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

Or Learn More