Recording bowed guitar for the new SAND album

This is a clip of me playing some guitar for the track “Berceuse”, from the upcoming SAND album “A Sleeper, Just Awake”. It was recorded by Sam Healy (of SAND) in Whitespace on one of his visits.

Toward the beginning of work on the album, Sam and I met up both in Edinburgh and Dublin to trawl through ideas for new music. Many of Sam’s initial sketches had deliberate “Pete-shaped gaps” left in them for me to work within. This is the result of me populating one of those gaps.

We knew we wanted this section of the piece to be very open and flowing, not tied to any obvious meter, quite ethereal. Initially I tried setting up washes of sound by using a volume pedal to “feed” pre-strummed chords into an (almost) infinitely repeating delay, but the result seemed a little too gentle and vague. At the time I happened to have a violin lying around the studio, so I picked up the bow just to mess around with while Sam was working on editing something else. All of a sudden we found ourselves close to something really interesting, and with some retuning of the guitar to be more compatible to the chord voicings we wanted, we were on our way.

Getting my bow on. Behind the reflection filter is a small diaphragm condenser, with the amp just out of shot to the left.
Sigur Rós - Jónsi
Jónsi from Sigur Rós playing bowed guitar. His sound uses a fair amount of distortion and “space” (be it delay, reverb, or a combination of both) on mainly monophonic parts, so we went a different direction with more clarity and dense chord structures.

The obvious contemporary musician associated with bowed guitar is Jónsi from Sigur Rós; this was very much on my mind, as I’m a huge fan and I didn’t want to just imitate what he does. Sam and I thought about this and decided to take things in a different direction wherever we could. Sam really liked the acoustic sound of the bow on the guitar as played without any amp on, so we decided we would use a combination of the amp sound and that acoustic sound. Normally I would record guitars in Bay Studio for room quality and isolation but we were so into the sound that we said we would try recording right there. It was a quiet night, and I had baffles available. That’s why I’m sitting behind a screen, not just to isolate the mic from the room but to block the amp sound as much as possible. The signal chain was:

[Amp sound]
Gibson Les Paul Studio into Boss GT-PRO (using its reverb and compressor), with a Line6 Echo Pro in the Insert of the Boss. Amp was a Mesa Boogie Maverick 2×12, clean channel, with a little grit. Mic was an AKG 414B-ULS off centre of the right speaker, straight into a Focusrite Saffire56 using the Neve emulation.

[Acoustic bow sound]
Rode NT5 around 12cm from the 15th fret, also into a Focusrite Saffire56 using the Neve emulation. Both mics were grouped, blended, and the result gently compressed and EQ’d then sent to the UAD Lexicon 224 Reverb for a lengthy, artificial, chorused 80s style reverb.

I wanted to use washes of reasonably dense, embellished chords, so I figured out voicings with extra 4ths, 6ths, 9ths, maj 7ths, and octaves to add interest each time the chord cycle came around.

What you hear on the video is a rough mix at the time of recording, but it’s not a million miles from the finished product.

As of today we are almost mix complete so hopefully we will be getting this stuff mastered soon.