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Committed To Tape

| March 30, 2007

Saying analog recording is becoming a lost art is no longer even a debatable subject. Heck, just a few years ago it seemed the technique was on the verge of extinction when Quantegy Inc., the last company to manufacture reel-to-reel tape, abruptly shut its factory doors and filed for bankruptcy, putting studios in a tizzy and scrambling to snatch whatever tape they could.

Old-school recorders breathed deep sighs of relief when Discount Tape Inc. swooped in and bought Quantegy, reviving the manufacture of tape, but digital recording is still the preferred method among a majority of studios. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of engineers and producers out there still providing analog services, though. And sometimes they come in unlikely packages. Take, for example, Gallery Of Carpet Recording in Villa Park and its 25-year-old producer/ engineer, Brian Zieske.

Twenty-five-years old? Yep, a child of cell phones, 128-bit gaming systems, and plasma televisions who prefers to record to tape.

“The records I grew up listening to, I always listened to them for the emotional contact,” Zieske says. “I found that when I record on analog tape it’s a much more organic process. You’re forced with these limitations, you’re forced as musicians to perform. Even if you’re not perfect, it’s real, and after you do a whole record that way it starts sounding better and better. It starts sounding more and more like an organic performance and not a quantized, digital . . . it doesn’t sound like a bunch of parts, it sounds like a band.

“The best projects I do are the ones that sound the most stripped down,” he continues, “because you do it to tape you don’t add effects, you don’t layer. The tape is so fat it doesn’t need layering. It exposes the band and their qualities. Everybody’s records today are about accuracy, about precision, and not about feeling.”

Zieske, who started GOC Recording four years ago is, of course, competent digitally. He knows analog isn’t for everyone and does plenty of ProTool jobs as well. He also does a lot of hybrid projects where clients record to tape, then Zieske transfers it to ProTools HD at a high sample rate to preserve the quality. “You can take a sonically beautiful recording and then make it precise in ProTools,” Zieske explains. “That’s kind of the ultimate way to do it.”

It’s not just the sound of analog that gets Zieske going, though, he admits. Often times it’s the challenge, like it was when he worked with jazz/rock fusion act The Coop on their most recent release, Lost In Thought.

“We basically tracked it live, then did overdubs. I had to hire an assistant mixing engineer to help me, but we did all the mixes off the tape – it was extremely challenging. I had never done a record like that. I called it the ‘Analog Challenge,'” he recalls with a laugh. “Nothing went into the computer, no computers were harmed; we did it like they would have in 1970. I wanted all these drum sounds to happen, so to set up these six drum tracks I had to split the board into 27 tracks for drums.

“During the song I had to work in tandem with the assistant engineer to mute the instruments, move faders, and it became a performance. You had to learn the song, you had to know when to boost the saxophone, when to pull it down, when to turn up the reverb, when to mute the drums. And you had about 400 moves to make within this song.

“I kinda did it for my own curiosity and bragging rights, I guess,” Zieske now admits. “It didn’t need to be done that way – I could have achieved it in ProTools a lot easier, but I think it really kind of helped. It sounds a lot more edgy and aggressive.”

Though he already has pieced together an impressive resume that includes The Academy Is . . . , The Hush Sound, and The Audition, Zieske often finds himself forced to prove himself because of his age. It’s one thing to convince a young band of 20-somethings doing their first pro recording that you’re able to deliver the goods, but it’s a whole different ballgame when clients are experienced vets more than twice your age.

But, Zieske claims, he isn’t insulted when his age and experience are questions because he’s always confident his product can convince doubters.

Consider John Milne convinced. Milne is the 52-year old leader of Chicago country act The Long Gone Lonesome Boys, who recorded Crawling Back To You and their most recent, Lonesome Time, at GOC. “Brian is a wunderkind, no doubt,” Milne gushes. “I’ve worked with a few guys like him, like Kevin Gilbert, he cowrote and produced lots of Sheryl Crow’s hits and engineered some later Michael Jackson stuff, [and] in terms of being an in-studio genius Brian’s right there. But he’s not smug or arrogant. I suggested some really unusual ways of working, and although he expressed doubts, he was willing to try things and recognized what worked.”

“They are a lot older than me,” Zieske says of the Lonesome Boys, whose other members are 47, 33, and 26-years old, “and they challenged me just because of their experience, and they knew what went on in the studio. I think they were impressed with what I was doing and what I was doing for my age, though.”

For now, Gallery Of Carpet’s best known attribute might be its quirky name, a moniker derived from the fact the first version, housed in then-assistant Ted Elliason’s basement, was covered floor-to-ceiling in carpet to attain a dry sound. But it might not be long before the buzz is about its analog whiz kid.

“Yeah, they think I’m crazy,” Zieske says of people’s reactions to his enthusiasm for old-school recording at such a young age. “It’s cool, though.”

Gallery Of Carpet Recording is located in Villa Park. For more information visit or e-mail info@

At THE DRAKE in Chicago, local Balkan jazz legends Eastern Blok finished mixing a new record . . . Katie Todd worked on new material, as did Teddy Ribbons . . . The Drake is a new recording studio located in Logan Square run by producers/multi-instrumentalists Anthony Gravino and Michael Caskey.

At JEFF FRANKEL RECORDING in Chicago, producer Phil Karnats and engineer Ed Tinley completed a remix of The Polyphonic Spree track, “Justify.”

At SMART STUDIOS in Madison, Wisconsin, Beau Sorenson edited tracks for the upcoming Tegan & Sara record, which was produced by Chris Walla . . . Justin Perkins tracked and mixed a record for Chicago band The Javolinas . . . Producer Sean O’Keefe mixed tracks for Chicago band Company Of Thieves . . . Mike Zirkel finished the new record from Milwaukee band Heathrow and mixed nine songs for the new record from Chicagoans Bumpus . . . Sorenson started the second record from Omaha, Nebraska band Go Motion! . . . Up-and-coming Chicago producer Jonathan Alvin brought in Dr. Manhattan to mix tracks for their new release.

At UP ON THE ROOF RECORDING in Lombard, Chicago singer-songwriter MER and his longtime drummer Mike Alongi worked with engineer Mark Blas on their first full-length project since 2002’s Familiar Ground. Blas is also mixing live material he recorded at MER Cubby Bear performances that will be used for an upcoming documentary . . . Also recording songs for his next release (with Blas engineering) was singer-songwriter Pat Schiller.

Yakuza began recording their new record, Transmutations (Prosthetic). Drums were done at ELECTRICAL AUDIO in Chicago before the avant metal act moved to VOLUME STUDIOS, where they will spend the duration of the recording with producer Sanford Parker.

At SHIRK MUSIC + SOUND in Chicago, The Record Low finished recording and mixing their first full-length album, *Here To Stay. Stephen Shirk produced, engineered, and mixed the record . . . Other acts that completed work so far in 2007 with Shirk include Daphne Willis, Big Sky String Band, and PJ Loughran. Upcoming projects include Crystal Ponzio.

Hey Studiophiler: To get your studio or band listed in “Studiophile,” just e-mail info on whom you’re recording or who’s recording you to, subject Studiophile, or fax (312) 930-9341. We reserve the right to edit or omit submissions for space. Deadline for the May issue is April 10th.

– Trevor Fisher

Category: Columns, Monthly, Studiophile

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