The high desert in Southern California, at altitudes from 2,500 feet to a mile and more, is a place like no other. It’s beautiful, intense and unpredictable. Joshua trees stand as silent sentinels. A magnesium sun cautions you. At midnight under a billion stars and the Milky Way, if the coyotes aren’t howling it’s quiet enough to hear your heart beating in your chest. Hot summers, winter snows, wildlife everywhere.
Drive East on the 10 freeway out of LA for two hours. The housing developments gradually fall away replaced by enormous 3-bladed wind turbines 300 feet high. They decorate the hillsides and plains gracefully turning in the wind, silently and cleanly producing electricity. Take the Joshua Tree exit off the 10 on to Highway 62. A dozen miles from there, through a mountain pass and a 1/2 mile down a dirt road, is RED BARN RECORDERS. An aural oasis, a place to turn visions into reality via recording equipment and techniques that were born in the late '50s and fell out of favor sometime in the mid '80s. That long neglected, beautiful, red-headed stepchild is back with a vengeance, enhanced and integrated with 21st century technology. Here, a red barn has been transformed into a recording studio. In it, a loft overlooks a room full of eclectic musical instruments and tools of the trade.
Take a spin at the Optigan made in Inglewood, California in the 70s. It’s a keyboard instrument that pre-dates synthesizers and samplers using 12" acetate film discs printed with looped optical recordings of real musical instruments, voices and sound effects. An optical (Opti-) organ (-gan) that sounds like a scratchy old movie soundtrack. You may have heard one on any number of Tom Waits albums. Visit optigan.com to learn more about this odd instrument.
Stand behind the same microphones that Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra used to tattoo the sound of their souls onto history.
Sit at the white Steinway grand and channel some John Lennon.
Plug a Telecaster into a beat-up tweed Fender Deluxe amplifier, turn it up to 12 and get in touch with your twang.
With the 20 foot long theatre curtains in the barn pulled back to make full use of the high-ceiling acoustics, bring out your inner Bonham slamming some drums. Put a mic up in the loft and hit record. Back in the control room behind the big MCI console, push up the faders and listen to what those drums sound like recorded onto 2" 16 track tape at 15 inches per second. It'll spoil you.
Put some wood in the stove and mic up your acoustic guitar. Turn down the lights and dig deep. Let it bring out the best in you. If you show up, you won't be let down.
Photo by Joseph Corsentino