If producing and engineering a record is a science, then never let it be said that the discipline has lost its appetite for experimentation – not when there are producers like Sylvia Massy around.
Massy has long established herself as one of alternative rock’s go-to producers, having produced albums such as Tool’s Undertow, welcoming the likes of the Melvins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Taylor Hawkins, System Of A Down and more to the studio.
Perhaps it is Massy’s technical bona fides that artists sign up for. That’s definitely part of it. The other factor is her restless search for new sounds, and new ways of engineering a record that other producers – perhaps more faint-hearted souls – might consider just too radical.
Her approaches have included smashing up pianos with Tool, exploding (!) a Hammond organ for a Lady Strangelove album, and having Alabama Thunderpussy record their guitar and bass guitar parts in an abandoned cooling tower at a nuclear power plant.
Or, and here’s one George Martin surely only ever dreamed of, passing an electric guitar signal through a pair of cheese sausages.
Massy was in Germany recording Flying Mammals’ 2017 album, Vier, when the experiment was conducted. Regular speaker cables were swapped out so that the signal from the amplifier passed through a pair of cheese sausages – käsekrainer in the local parlance – which, it was to be hoped, would add a certain something to the sound.
Luckily for aspiring engineers, Massy documents a lot of this on YouTube, and it serves as an inspiring example – and a reminder – to us all that the process of making music is always a learning experience.
This, we can assume, was Massy’s first time using cheese sausage as a conduit for electric guitar, and bringing a whole new meaning to the idea of a heavily processed guitar signal.
“There were better quality sausages but we thought maybe the junky, cheaper sausage might give us a bit more grittiness,” she says. “What we’ve done is we have actually inserted into the speaker cable a pair of cheap sausages. There’s a positive sausage and a negative sausage. I’m going to give the power soak a boost because we are going to have some attenuation with the sausage.”
Does guitar sound better going through cheese sausage? That is the question and title of the YouTube video. Well, it’s the darnedest thing, but for the lead guitar tone James Birdsall is going for here with his Fender Stratocaster, yes.
Frontman Aaron Birdsall approves. “I think it breaks up just a little bit, just a little bit so that is interesting,” he says. “The sausage adds a little bit of nice breakup.”
Massy is convinced, too, positing that the inferior quality of the sausages – perhaps the high sodium content – helped with the breakup. Experiment conducted, it’s time to track the solos.
All bets were off when Massy was recording Vier with Flying Mammals. When tracking piano, Massy rigged up a lovely old Bösendorfer with a pair of Neumann KM 54s, a Sontronics Apollo 2, and a Soyus 017. All very conventional. Nice gear. But then ran a hose inside the piano, skirting the harp and running to a vintage 457 – “it’s basically an SM57 from Shure” – that’s glued into a funnel, gaffer taped in place, to capture the sounds through the hose.
Massy’s YouTube account is a wealth of information for those seeking out new recording techniques. If, after the sausages, the hosepipe mic technique seems a little vanilla, then consider her 2017 sessions with the Melvins, when she ran Buzz Osborne’s guitar signal through a pair of kosher dill pickles, all in search of better feedback.
This, she assures us, is a tried and tested method. There's a real visual element to this, too, with the sodium content making the dill pickups light up as the signal goes through it.
So, once you’ve got yourself the best audio interface, the DAW of your dreams, don’t forget to drop by the supermarket on the way home, and stock up on the pickles and sausages. If the music doesn’t work out, at least you won’t go hungry.