Ever since legendary producer and Sun Records owner Sam Phillips pioneered his slap-back echo experiments, and almost certainly long before, audio engineers and musicians have ceaselessly sought out new techniques and tricks to capture striking and original sounds. In the '60s, graced by The Beatles and The Beach Boys, two bands which married technical wizardry to commercial appeal, a new breed of maverick producer emerged.
Using the concept of 'studio as instrument', Joe Meek, Phil Spector, George Martin and a host of other greats teased out new sounds, new strategies and even new technologies which defined the tone of some of the greatest artists and bands of the era. Throughout the '70s and on up to the modern day, musicians continue to test all sorts of imaginative methods, both makeshift and hi-tech, in search of distinctive elements. The stories behind the making of the records on the list below are almost as fascinating as the music itself.
From cardboard tubes and empty ballrooms, to rotating mics and 'blind' singing, each of the ten albums presented here employed a highly unusual recording process.
10. Fetch The Bolt Cutters - Fiona Apple
There aren't many contemporary women singer-songwriters more successful or celebrated than Fiona Apple. Ever since her debut, 1996's Tidal, the multiple-Grammy-winner has proven herself to be amongst the most imaginative and distinctive of artists, willing to take risks in remaining steadfastly singular. With her fifth studio album, 2020's Fetch The Bolt Cutters, she continued to explore new ground.
Apple chose to record the bulk of the album at her Venice Beach home, positioning the house itself as a vital part of the process. Says Apple: "I really felt like it's an instrument in itself, it's the microphone: The house is the microphone, the house is the ambiance, the house is a member of the band.”
The singer chose to capture the music using Apple's (the company) GarageBand software, forcing her to adopt a decidedly different approach. "I didn't even know how to edit it and make a take shorter,” the singer observed, “so each track is just this one long take, and if I made a mistake in it, well, I better just play over it and let that mistake work itself into it".
This deliberate, one-take approach, plus the metaphorical and literal use of environment-as-instrument (with ambient sounds left in) make Fetch The Bolt Cutters the singer's most inventive album in a highly inventive catalogue.