The Beyond Nature Sessions:
Engineer "jb" Reflects
In 1997 "jb", the engineer for Phil Keaggy's Beyond Nature recording, dropped me a line to request a link to his web page from my Keaggy fan page, Way Back Home. In response I wrote, "Beyond Nature is my favorite recording by anyone, ever, and the quality of the acoustic guitar sound is certainly more than a small contributor to the excellence of that album. (How did you do that, by the way??? What mics and positions---or is this info a trade secret?!)"
Fortunately, the information was not a trade secret, and jb's response describing his experience recording Phil and his Olsons will likely be of interest to many who are not recording engineers. It is duplicated below. For more information about jb's extraordinary work, visit his web site: jb recording engineer/producer. At that site he says of Beyond Nature: "I consider this one record to be the crowning achievement of my recording career. Thanks, Phil, for letting me be there!" And thanks, jb, for recording that magic for the rest of us!
Beyond Nature won the Gospel Music Association's Dove Award for best instrumental album of 1991.
Thanks for your reply. I'm glad that you are such a fan of Beyond Nature. That is the record that I am the most proud of having been a part of, and I've been doing this for nearly seventeen years now. That one stands out way above anything else I've ever done.
You asked about the acoustic guitar sounds on that recording... well, let's see... No, it is no "trade secret." First of all, Phil was playing his Olsons... I believe that he had gotten his second one just prior to the start of that project. He mainly played his older Olson, and it was equipped with a few options as far as signal output. It had both a Sunrise, and a Baggs pick-up installed, which both had a distinctly different character. I recorded the output from each of those sources on two seperate tracks, but the main source that I used came from a pair of Sanken CU-41's which I positioned in an ORTF stereo array, varying from 1 - 3 feet out in front of the guitar. I also used another mic (sometimes an AKG 451, sometimes an AKG 414) much closer to the guitar, in front of the sound hole up toward the neck. Each of those signals went to a seperate track on tape. Ususally, when I work, I like to "be a man" and make a decision on mic technique BEFORE I roll tape, but in the case of this project, we started with just guitar, and Phil plays so improvisationally that I didn't know what sort of a piece we would end up with until AFTER it was on tape. And so I wanted to leave myself as many options as possible for the exact blend of sources to make up the character of the acoustic guitar sound for each song. Then when I finally mixed, I was able to choose differing amounts of each signal source (each having it's own characteristics). The MAIN body of the guitar sound for each song was the pair of Sankens, but then I "filled in" around that with different amounts of the other sources, as it seemed appropriate for the feel of each song. Sometimes I used ALL of the sources, and then for some songs I would use only the Sankens and maybe only one other source.
I'll tell you (and you obviously already know this), Phil is a phenominal artist. He totally amazed me during this recording. He came into the studio for this record with a good idea of what he wanted to play on some of the songs, but then much of the record started as just an idea in his head, and even he did not know where it would go until we had captured it on tape!! Each time he played through a song, it would have SOME of the same basic ideas in it, but every proformance was new and different and fresh. Amazing. Many people who do what I do go through their entire career without ever once getting to know the excitement that comes from working with someone as truly gifted as Phil is. I'm just incredibly happy to have had that experience. I've got to say that as fantastic a player as he is on electric, I believe his real artistry shines even brighter on acoustic. What a trip it was for me to get to be in on that project.... I've never experienced anything quite like that since, and I don't expect that I ever will again. The experience of a lifetime... I'll never forget how that felt.
When I listen to that recording, even now... what.. seven years later(?)... the emotion and feeling in it still bring tears to my eyes. And even though PART of that feeling is due to remembering the privelege of being personally involved with it, I honestly think that it would still move me even if I had not been involved at all. It's just a very strong recording... there is so much emotion in Phil's interpretations and performances of those beautiful musical ideas of his. How could it NOT move anyone listening to it?
Man, I'm so glad that you asked me about that... please forgive me for going on and on like that... I'm sure that is way more information than you were looking for... but when I get started talking about that record... well... it just means a lot to me.