Archiving the Muse
on the Roland VS-880 Workstation
copyright 1997 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue # 39 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - Apr '97
A person can become disoriented when exposed to
the myriad of recording technology that is available today.
Wandering through this maze, one learns by chance & discovery; lost in a
labyrinthe, like some forlorn Minotaur, yowling its own peculiar dirge.
Twenty five years ago I chanced upon the
gate to the magical sanctuary of the recording
studio & I have been happily lost there ever
since. In this column I share my experiences that
I am now reliving as I transfer analog masters to
digital format; as I remix, edit & archive "the
Muse" using the Roland VS-880 Workstation.
The VS-880 is the basis of my recording service
which is called "Helicon Productions" *.
My first studio experience was in '72 with the
16-Track analog recording of the "Ptarmigan"
album, produced by Paul Horn at Canbase
(Mushroom) Studio in Vancouver. Keith Stein
was the engineer. Glen Dias & myself were set
up in the main room where we performed our
material as a duo "live-off the floor". The rhythm
section was overdubbed to our vocals, guitar &
wind instrument parts. That was a challenging
duty, especially for drummer Kat Hendrickse,
since there was no click track and we used
multiple time signatures. I'm looking forward to
re-mastering the analog inch master to digital
with Mark at Media Magic in preparation for the
album's re-release to CD.
A couple of years later I recorded an collection
of material at Ed deBree's "Little Fosch" studio in
Duncan. It was a 4-Track Sony set-up. In addition
to the main & control rooms, Ed had built an
iso-booth for vocals and had a drum room; all
with visual contact through windows. It was a nice
environment and he had a great sounding "Sam
Philips" style tape-loop echo. This was my first
experience as a producer and I learned alot
about stacking tracks and track-sharing from Ed.
There were ten musicians on this ten-song
project and some of the arrangements were quite
involved. The 4-track setup is challenging and
you have to be quite creative to overcome its
limitations. Transferring the 4-track analog
master from the original recording deck to the
Hard-drive of the VS-880 for a digital re-mix is
going to be a very interesting part of my on-going
archiving project. It will be great to see Ed again
and to re-open the vault!
In the early 80's I was involved in a couple of
CKRA-FM radio broadcasts produced on an 8
Track Studer by Pat Stradeski. The first was
basically myself on guitar & vocals with Mike
Harney on drums. I overdubbed the bass & lead
guitar with Mike adding some percussion tracks.
We also added some background harmonies with
the help of Joanne Martineau and mixed the
so-called "Live" program for later broadcast.
Archiving this album will be a challenge since the
only Master of this session is the studio cassette
The second CKRA "R-A Alive" programme
was more involved, with a five-piece studio band
and a back-up singer. Pat produced this one as
well. I did the lead vocals & guitar; Mike was on
drums; Torben Pedersen played a B3 & the
studio's baby grand, with Steve Dubin on bass
and Gord Nicholson on alto sax & flute. I had
supplied the band with a guitar/vocal 4 Tk demos
& chord charts, but we grabbed our basic
arrangements on the fly.
We recorded the band off-the-floor and
re-dubbed the lead vocal, adding Peggy
McLarty's backup vocals last. We managed to
complete 10 songs in a marathon 12-hour
session, mixing the next day.
I plan to transfer the 8-Track analog master to
a DA-88 digital format with the help of Jeremy
Sagar, at Access Network in Edmonton. They
have an old 8-track Studer in their production
room. Using an "Optical Link" I will then transfer
the 8 tracks to the VS-880 for digital editing,
re-mixing & re-mastering. Just can't leave that old
My next recording started as a series of
demos engineered by Jim Kent on a 16-Track
Fostex system at his "Lisen Communications"
studio in Duncan. I produced these sessions
using the talents of my band, "the Beaumonts".
We did our pre-production on my Fostex 4 Track
and by playing the songs live at our gigs. There
is alot to be said for getting the songs worked
on-stage before getting the clock running in the
studio. Working out solos & arrangements on a
multi-track recorder can $ave hours as well.
Eventually I had six multi-tracked songs in the
can and wanted to have a tape album for the
1993 Musicwest Showcase deadline. $olution:
record the additional songs live to DAT. We
recorded several takes of the six targeted tunes
on a three-day "Beaumonts" gig at the Brigantine
and selected the best, albeit rough, takes for the
cassette album, "Nothing More Better" (and got
the showcase by the way!).
One problem with taping a "live gig" is that
there is a lack of control over the recording
enviroment. Crowd noise is a problem and
getting multiple takes is difficult. You can't very
well do several re-takes in a row if you're
supposed to entertaining a busy bar.
I intend to re-record "side 2" of "Nothing More
Better" with some additional material in a "live"
private location. Using the VS-880, I'll digitally
edit the expanded album before re-mastering &
releasing it on CD.
In 1993 while enjoying a trip to SxSW in
Austin with side trips to San Antonio, New
Orleans & Nashville, I booked a couple of hours
of recording time at the legendary "Sun Studio" in
Memphis. There I recorded a series of
instrumentals on my Spanish guitar and three
song demos to push around Music Row in
Nashville. Although the original "Sun" analog
gear is there and functioning, I recorded
live-to-DAT. I could do further work on that DAT
master on the VS-880 for inclusion on a future
project. Needless to say, the experience of
recording at "Sun" was exciting.
Travel and budget permitting, one could
conceivably capture the "vibe" of other famous
studios by recording live-to-DAT, with voice on
one channel and guitar on the other, transferring
to a VS-880 for overdubs & post-production.
Electric Ladyland here I come.
The next recording project was my self-titled CD
that started out on a rented Tascam DA-88 /
Mackie set-up assembled by Rick Salt, for
engineer/drummer Damien Graham's "Bagel
This was another recording featuring the
"Beaumonts" & special guests. It was also the
first release on my "Groovedigger Records" label.
The basic tracks were captured in a crude
basement location in Nanaimo with the
post-production work & mixing done at
"Desolation Sound" in Vancouver.
I wanted to warm up the sound with the
extensive selection of tube pre-amps at
"Desolation". We tranferred the project from the
DA88 to the ADAT format that engineer, Craig
Arnatt was using and mixed to DAT on the
studio's warm sounding system. Another example
of a hybrid project using a combination of studios
and various digital formats.
My most recent release is entitled
"Northstream - Songs & Stories of People &
Places". The co-operative production was
accomplished with my nephew Kelly Nordstrom
and the project was the first example of a CD
project based entirely on the VS-880 with the 1
gigabyte JAZ drive.
The "drum beds" were recorded with Donny
McGillivray in my living room and me set up in
the dining room with visual contact through a
glass door. Three drum tracks were captured live
at a gig, then stripped down & embellished with
overdubs. The dubs were recorded in a wide
variety of locations including a few hotel rooms!
Kelly & I mixed the tracks in my home studio
and mastering was done with Mark Franklin at
Media Magic. I'm in pre-production for two new
VS-880 projects at the moment, in addition to the
aforementioned archiving plans.
One of the great features of the VS-880 is its
portability. Another is the array of 200 digital
effects with the optional VS8F-1 expansion
board. Onboard digital editing and the secret "V"
weapon round out the features to make it a truly
awesome workstation. There are 8 virtual tracks
per track (from which you can easily construct a
compilation track). This feature makes it a virtual
64-track enviroment. There are certain limitations
to the system but with imagination and creativity
these can be easily overcome.
Recording is a matter of personal philosophy
and preference. How one goes about the
procedure depends on your needs. There are
certain schools of thought regarding the function
of music. Is it following a commercial trend - the
"Corporate" idea of what music should be at the
moment? One must remember that fads tend to
change quickly and commercial sounds can
become rapidly dated or stylistically mundane. Or
Is the music stating a point of view or a slice of
attitude? Punk music & subsequently Grunge,
have an edge that in the early stages was rough
& nasty. As grunge is now "mainstream", the
acceptance of previously unheard-of techniques
is becoming standard. Running vocals through
overdrive pedals or a drum mix through a
Sans-amp to achieve a "cruddy" sound are
routinely done and a few years ago would have
been practically illegal. Breaking rules is what
Rock & Roll is, after all.
As a producer I try to
capture the sounds that I
hear in my head. Sharing
"Communication - send &
determination - do what
you believe". Sometimes
it's a gift and sometimes
it's a hardsell, but as
much as you suffer to get
there, it should also be
Taking a song from its
basic structure, creating
an arrangement and
capturing that idea on a
recording is what its all
about for me. With the
VS-880 & "Helicon
Productions" I can share
my experience with other
artists wanting to capture
their own "Muse".
* In Greek mythology
"Helicon" is the sacred
mountain of Apollo & the
Muses, where they dance
together with Artemis, the
Charites & the Horae.
Here also are the springs,
Hippocrene & Termessus,
where the Muses bathe.
The poet Hesiod used to
pasture his sheep on the
slopes of Helicon & one day the Muses came to
him there giving him an olive bough, and with it,
the gift of song.
Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 8 albums to
date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
Email Monte at:
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