September 10, 2012

Studio Apartment #3: Tim Cohen

Jon Bernson is the prolific San Francisco based multimedia artist behind Exray'sRays Vast BasementTHEMAYS, a collaborative project with Tim Cohen called Window Twins and numerous soundtracks for theater and film. Studio Apartment is his first column for Decoder. The column is his effort to document and understand recording spaces; what they are and how they can function in the life of a musician. We couldn't be more honored to have him on the team. Look for new installments roughly every month. -Co-Editor, Dwight Pavlovic

Over the last ten years Tim Cohen has unleashed a rare and beautiful flood of music in a staggering range of styles and with as many names: the Fresh & Onlys, Magic Trick, Window Twins, 3 Leafs, Black Fiction, Feller Quentin, and more. A few have been made in recording studios, but most have been written, performed, and recorded in The Treehouse, his San Francisco bedroom studio. Spend some time with his catalogue of dreams: Cohen's stamp is a truly personal blend of lyrical, musical and sonic wonders.

Click through the jump to read Jon's full interview.

Describe your basic studio situation. Constraints? Bonuses?

No constraints. I've been making music here for 12 years and received only one complaint from a neighbor and one unfortunate encounter with the police. Fine police, they were. I might go far as to say they were the city's finest. My studio has no shared walls, so my neighbors are birds and moths, and occasionally butterflies. All creatures of song, mind you.

Describe the basic layout of your room/studio.

A square with a triangle on top. In outer space.

What is the main program or device you use to record?

I always begin on the Tascam 388, a glorified four track with eight tracks on reel-to-reel tape. When I run out of eight tracks, I switch over to ProTools, or I get creative with bouncing stuff down to save tracks.

How linked is your recording process with your writing process? Explain how they interact.

Inextricably, I would say. I've always been of the mind to record every song I write. The two cannot be separated. Firstly, if I record an idea or a fully fleshed-out song, I know I can't forget it. Forgetting songs has been a problem of mine for some time. To solve the problem, I record every melody that flies into my head, either on the voice memo setting on my phone, or in my home studio. Then there's a several step process to determine where the song will spend the rest of its life (on stage, on record, which record, etc).

Talk about the process of making the music you're working on right now.

Right now I'm still writing songs for Magic Trick's next record. I've decided to work in groups of three. My drummer James came over and we tracked drums and rhythm guitar for three songs on tape. Then I transferred them into ProTools and am currently fleshing out the instrumentation. Lastly, I will write better lyrics and record vocals.

Can you share a track from something you have made recently?

MP3: Magic Trick - Invisible at Midgnight

Do you draw inspiration from other mediums beside music? Why is this important to your process?

I draw inspiration without boundaries. Everyone does, I think. I consider myself a conduit. I will volunteer to let you inspire me. In other words, show me what your world is made of, show me through your eyes, and let me turn that into something that I can make. Making things is my favorite activity in life. It doesn't matter where it originates. Just let me make it a part of my world, that I can share it with others. Here's a link to Richard Colman, possibly my favorite living visual artist, just to offer you a more literal answer to your question.

Describe a favorite item of hardware or software and why it is important to your recordings.

I don't play favorites, but I'm partial to this bass drum I bought 15 years ago and this one-octave c-major marimba.

Talk about the way you like to sequence [the recording of] your tracks.

I don't really know anything about the sequence until an album is finished, but let it be said that I am very much into the idea of recording ALBUMS, not merely singles or digital mp3's or videos per se. That being said, I will record a surplus of material, choose my favorites, and go from there. Sequencing is usually contingent on the mood of a song and how it carries you into the next. Not necessarily the timbre of the song, but the feeling, and where a listener winds up after listening. Do you want to keep them low, keep them high, or switch it up and give them a feeling of surprise? Between all of these elements there is truth and a sense of belonging, which allows someone to feel they belong to that music, and too it belongs to them. A tricky and challenging feat it is to sequence a record properly, but there you go. No one said this stuff was easy.

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