Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Acetates: The New MP3's

“The goal is to have surprises.”  In this ever-changing world of advancing technology, director/editor Alex Steryermark is surprisingly using a piece of recording equipment from the 1930’s to expose recording artists of the 21st century. “It’s about getting together with the artist in an authentic way.”

Alex has been accumulating PRESTOs, which inspired The 78 Project.    The PRESTO was considered a “portable” recorder (it weighs in at about 50 lbs). Alan Lomax used one for his field recordings. One of the most famous uses of the PRESTO was by a reporter and engineer who were sent to cover the Hindenburg landing.  Obviously a disaster ensued and they were able to record the events as they unfolded and interview survivors for an on-the-scene account. 

The 78 Project is an ongoing collection of mini-documentaries, which run from 6 to 9 minutes.  Explains Alex, “We asked artists to do their take on a public domain song:  folk, blues or murder ballads and one of their own songs. The piece is centered around the cover song.  The artist picks the recording location. Recording is an excuse to see artists in an exposed, intimate way.”

A PRESTO records directly from one mic to the acetate disc, so it’s a live recording.  “It’s one mic and we have three minutes. We can screw up, they [the musician] can screw up.”  Dawn Landes performed the inaugural recording.  “Since it’s the first one we did, everything went wrong and we still got a great record.”   To date, they followed with two other recordings. The Reverend John Delore & Kara Suzanne recorded the early 19th century murder ballad Omie Wise.  Their updated version incorporates the OJ Simpson story.  The third piece takes place at an outdoor gathering with the Mynabirds.  

Per the Project’s website:

As it cuts, the PRESTO throws up a thread about the thickness and texture of human hair.  That’s the negative space from the sound!  But not only is it INCREDIBLY FLAMMABLE, it can also become lodged under the cutting needle if it isn’t constantly guided away with a brush.  You want to ruin the shirt you’re wearing?  Try being the one holding the brush as the record spins.  Guaranteed to make you sweat.

Alex was developing the project with the executive producer Erik Nelson when he decided to just start recording. He had the equipment needed to film and record and knew the musicians.  These would be low-pressure situations (unless you worry about the PRESTO catching on fire). The original TV show idea was redeveloped as a web series.

Along with writer/producer Lavinia Jones Wright, they have completed three episodes.  They’ve done a great job of giving us just enough with the three trailers to whet the whistle of curiosity:  What are they going to give us next?  The first full-length piece should be posted this week.

The anticipation for a new music project used to be fever pitch. You could mark your calendar for the next Clash release and you were there at the record store waiting to buy it.  This has been lost in the current overload of music.  Wouldn’t it be nice to get a regular email alert that an admired musician has just recorded for The 78 Project?  It would be 6 minutes of rediscovering music and the people who make it, a nice surprise indeed. 

Note on Alex Steyermark:  Music is always a big component of Alex’s work.  He’s a master at placing appropriate music in the right film scenes (music supervisor on films such as Malcolm X, The Ice Storm, For Love Or Money, Subway Stories).  His most recent directorial endeavor is Losers Take All, the story of the trials and tribulations of an indie  rock band trying to make it in the 1980’s. 

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