Monday, March 18, 2013

Sound City (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Sound City

Dave Grohl, the drummer of Nirvana and now the front man of the popular Foo Fighters, has made a wonderful heartfelt documentary about an unassuming old school recording studio. "Sound City" details the iconic history of Sound City studio in the San Fernando Valley, but it is really about the importance and romance of analog (non-digital) music and the poetry of human-produced sound, complete with its share of accidents.

Sound City was a Kafkaesque looking concrete block that was once a box factory in the 1950s.It has been the second home of many bands: Fleetwood Mac, REO Speedwagon, Rick Springfield, Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Nirvana.

There have been countless other groups that have fallen in love with Sound City. For rockers in the 70s and 80s, it is as iconic as Disneyworld. Now it has closed, but it remains a beloved phantom, a sonic banshee of the non-digital age.

The studio housed a Neve board, a console beyond compare, a heavenly mixing board encrusted with old fashioned knobs, switches and lights which stands as wondrous in its variety as a huge chest of Crayola crayons, each button tempered to the human touch, delivering a very individualist sound, tone or shade. A Neve board is like paint drips are to an Abstract Expressionist, allowing the musician to become jagged, characteristic and edgy.

We see a great many eccentric personages here. Stevie Nicks is present in all her hand waving witchy-ness. And here is Tom Petty in his hangdog Dylan-in-Wonderland mystique. Rick Springfield also appears looking very well seasoned with retro Ricky Nelson good looks.

The 70s  and 80s indeed stand still within this nondescript utilitarian block.

A highlight of "Sound City" is a studio session with Paul McCartney and many of Grohl's former Nirvana mates: Krist Novoselik and Pat Smear. The song "Cut Me Some Slack" features hard drums by Grohl, and a good amount of caterwauling by Paul. At one point during the jam, Novoselik sways and moves suddenly like the twenty year old grungester he once was and dear Kurt Cobain materializes, superimposed within the existing band as a wilted wraith brimming with energy.

If this is not enough there is Neil Young, his mere being an element of great nostalgia. Old footage shows him driving a shelled and smoking station wagon, with the cops on his tail. And, last but certainly not least, the smoky voice of Stevie Nicks will bring a tear to your eye and make you believe in analog devils.

The sonic shade of Kurt Cobain haunts this film throughout and he is equally visible in the eyes of the happy go lucky hazel-eyed Beatle Paul (who becomes incensed by a blissful rage ) as he is by his old friend Dave Grohl who seems to sense the textured surge of his friend in a pea green and coffee-striped shirt whenever his fingers hit the sticks.

To partake in "Sound City" is to feel and hear the painterly qualities of rock music and to give analog sound its rightful recognition as something numinous and physical, as rare as an exotic and solitary beast furred in brown shag.

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