Indie100 India 2017 / Indie100 India 2018
Links to Bandcamp Playback for the albums
300 Word Statement for UK REF 2020 Submission
I conducted this research with members of QUT and KM Conservatory staff in Chennai India in 2017 and 2018. The output of the research is two ten track albums named Indie100 India 2017 and Indie100 India 2018. These recordings have been widely distributed in India and the bands that participated in the project have been featured in publications such as the India Rolling Stone Magazine, and the Hindu newspaper. The project brought students from Australia to India in order to participate in collaborative recordings, production and promotion.
This output sits within a larger scale and longer term project which aims to build critical mass in a nascent South Indian pop music ’scene’. Bringing in experience in both record production and music management from Australia and musical talent from India, the project seeks to kick start a small indie music community of practice to exist alongside the well-established film music industry in India. This particular sub-component of the project involved a short, intensive burst of activity in which we were aiming to:
- troubleshoot a broad range of anticipated but unknown logistical, technical and social problems
- create a sense of community and enthusiasm among the students
- get them thinking pro-actively about the ways in which the process of recording might affect their identity and practice as artists
- get them to collaborate on writing and recording material
- and produce an album to the highest professional standards that we could manage.
By taking the managerial lead role in the recording process, a collegiate and collaborative role as creative consultant to the artists, and an ethnographic data-gathering role as a researcher, I had to take a highly pragmatic, results-focused approach to the project. The research element is not the recording techniques or the musical outputs but the overal experimental process of combining these community / scene-building, entrepreneurial / commercial production, experiential learning activities. The text below provides contextual information about the sensemaking approach utilised and provides a few examples of how this approach produces results.
The aim of this project was to provide unique learning outcomes for students in both Australia and India by combining the students into a new community of practice aimed at the underdeveloped indie music scene in India. As such, students from Australia engaged with students from India to write, record and promote the two records in 2017 and 2018. The students also worked together to create collaborative compositions and they filmed the outcome of their work. This is an example of pedagogical practice using a constructed community to engage in entrepreneurial learning. It is also an example of what occurs when students actively develop creative output by negotiating with new communities of practice to develop a unique method of self-driven learning. The project makes a contribution to new thinking and practices in relation to creating large scale and impactful experiential education projects that are flexible and responsive to students’ learning aims.
The final creative output for this project was two ten-track albums. The artists for this final project range from students at KM Conservatory, through to professional musicians from all around India. The Australian students participated in collaborative songwriting, recording, promotion of the final output. My role in this project was to manage the production and songwriting teams for the recording sessions and the songwriting collaborations. I functioned as one of the production managers responsible for producing, recording, mixing, and delivering the final masters for the finished records in 2017. I partnered with Yanto Browning at QUT to produce the 2018 album. Dr Kristina Kelman was responsible for the management of the music industry students that promoted and organised the event.
Developing a Recording Space for Creative Collaboration
- To record this project, I needed to build a recording space centred on creative outcomes so that students could focus on creative exchanges
- KM Conservatory had a large concert hall that I transformed into a creative mobile recording facility in partnership with Universal Audio
- During the construction of the studio environment, I viewed myself as a sensemaking facilitator building an organisational space to create collaborative recording outcomes
Sensemaking in Unfamiliar Environments:
Designing a Mobile Recording Facility in Between Chennai, India and Brisbane, Australia
In the India 100 project, I coordinated a small production team in a cultural exchange project between QUT in Brisbane Australia and KM Conservatory (KMC) in Chennai India. The project aimed to record ten songs over three days on location in Chennai. The production team consisted of two recording engineers from Chennai, two Australian producers and one producer from Chennai working with electronic artists. My role was to coordinate the Australian producers and the assistants from Chennai to turn a small recital hall into a professional sounding recording facility to record new music for professional release. Additionally, it was my role to record, mix, and produce six recordings in three days and to add artist contributions to an additional seventh collaborative track interwoven into the three-day time frame. Myself and the production team mixed the final album produced from this project, which were then mastered as a collection of ten songs, and released by KM Conservatory in Chennai through digital platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and Bandcamp. This paper investigates how my production team operated as implicit sensemakers in this context, working to logistically transform an auditorium space into an environment that fosters the cultural communication between producers and songwriters from two different continents.
The 2017 iteration of this project is part of an ongoing, reflexive cross-cultural relationship between QUT and KMC. Easterby-Smith et al. (1999) interpret cross-cultural projects as reflexive and unpredictable relationships, with a focus on ‘The importance of managing relationships within cross-cultural research teams and the need to adapt methods for different national and cultural circumstances in ways that cannot be predicted in advance’ (p. 77). This form of adaptive relationship management bears striking similarities to personnel management in record production, which Howlett describes as a ‘nexus’ of reflexive negotiations between interested parties (2009). This concept is reinforced by Pras and Gustavo (2011) who state that music creation itself ‘cannot be separated from the culture of musicians and composers who constitute the project’ (p. 74). This meshing of cultural and musical elements is one of the key aims of the recording project in Chennai, and as such, Ronin’s (1996) propensity towards ‘dynamism and openness in cultural identities’ (p. 61) becomes an important consideration when understanding how collaboration is enacted across cultural contexts. Using a reflexive lens, cultural complexity becomes a positive form of negotiation and exchange rather than a potential issue or a problem to be resolved. According to Sawyer, a diversity of perspectives improves the ability of any project group to form a ‘collaborative web’ (2007, p. xi), in which the group benefits from such diversity of approach and a multiplicity of tacit knowledge. Such complex or unpredictable contexts present opportunities to evaluate how the production team makes sense of and negotiates the production process. To investigate how the production team creates an environment that makes this conversation possible I turn to the sensemaking theory of Weick (1995). Using sensemaking, I examine how active participants solve logistical problems and foster creativity through social cognition. The four sensemaking stages of Rutledge (2009) informs my development of models that account for the sensemaking actions of the production team. Finally, the time pressure of the India 100 project offers an especially useful context to study sensemaking in an unusual and accelerated record-making setting.
To contextualise the nature of the accelerated recording process in India, it is helpful to consider a binary of two recording approaches: the first being a ‘long’ approach focused on details, and the second being a ‘short’ approach focused on capturing performance energy. These approaches have a significant impact on how producers orient the decision-making in the recording studio. The first is a protracted process, focusing on details and taking the time to craft a record in a studio. In this sense, ‘the creative [recording] process can be viewed as a sequence of decisions from inception to completion; if decisions are not made quickly then the process inevitably becomes prolonged’ (Martin, 2012, p. 132). The benefits of this method include the ability to ‘reflect and discuss with the artist, steering the musical outcome’ (Hepworth-Sawyer & Golding, 2010, p. 16). The drawbacks centre around time management, and motivating artists to make decisions and finish their work. Additionally, the digital tools available in modern recording present the potential for the creation of ‘time-consuming possibilities for editing and audio manipulation’ (Kirby, 2015, p. 235). The second recording approach focuses on the capturing of energy that takes place in a fast-paced recording session. This approach involves swift decision-making, performance delivery, and a focus shift from the detailed view of recording to a more macro view of capturing the energy of a song. Graham et al. (2015) describe such an experience as an ‘intense, collective burst of creativity’ (p. 15). This typology of recording workflow relies on instinctive reactions and can produce creative results of varying quality. Embedded in this faster process is an element of risk that takes advantage of what Thompson and Lashua (2014) describe as the ‘frenetic swirl of activity’ in the recording studio (p. 748). When the timeline is shortened, producers focus more on the ‘importance of seeking emotion rather than technicality’ (Pras et al. 2013, p. 620). This time-limited and emotion-focused approach is the essence of the India 100 project which is a deliberately time-limited cultural conversation between Australian record producers and Indian songwriters. Recording six bands in three days focused the producers on capturing bursts of energy without having the time to spend on perfecting details. As a result, this recording takes the second, faster method of producing songs for the project. To address the fact that mistakes, errors, and inconsistencies often emerge during ‘fast’ model of record production, we set up a small production team in Australia to edit and evaluate recordings at QUT.
The India 100 project also took advantage of the time-zone clash between India and Australia which generated the conditions for a non-stop, twenty-four-hour workflow. On the completion of any recording day, the team in India uploaded the sessions to Google Drive for analysis and editing in Australia. This arrangement constructed what Sawyer and DeZutter (2010) refer to as a network of labour’ distributed across people, tools, and environments’ (p. 81). The QUT team consisted of myself and Brad Collumbine embedded in India, while James See filled the role of spectator perspective in Australia. Bacon (2012) explains the Australian spectator perspective resides in a more objective environment than the embedded producers in India. This perspective, combined with the embedded nature of the production team in India, serves to create a multi-perspective approach which is a distributed approach to recording.
The Mobile Recording Paradigm
To produce professional recordings in Chennai, the production team took advantage of new portable recording technologies. The development of new analogue and digital tools makes it easier to produce higher quality recordings in non-studio environments. Carvalho (2012) frames this shift in recording technology as an important element in the rise of the home studio producer, suggesting that the discourse surrounding digital disruption has led to new breeds of recording engineer. These new breeds of producer now challenge the sovereignty of previous industrial models of creative labour in the recording industry. Carvalho’s observation is reinforced by Leyshon’s (2009) argument that digital software has had a significant impact on the economic models of recording studios. However, this growth in the digital toolset benefits experienced producers as well as early career producers. Pras, et al. (2013) advocate that experienced engineers with high competency in recording practice also benefit from the mobility that digital recording equipment offers. The newer mobility of the recording station means that experienced record producers can leverage their knowledge and adopt the ‘tonemeister’ concept that treats any given recording environment as a metaphorical musical instrument (ibid). Using an instrumental approach to the recording space, an experienced producer can utilise any space to produce professional sounding results. In this example, experience plays an important role; the producer must negotiate the complexities associated with converting unusual spaces into creative recording instruments. However, a drawback of this mobile recording paradigm may be that a producer rarely utilises the same recording space on multiple occasions. As a result, there is a constant need to re-evaluate and transform spaces to function as productive recording environments.
This paper utilises the affordances provided by mobile recording interfaces and investigates the methods for negotiating complexity in unfamiliar environments using sensemaking theory (Weick, 1995). Sensemaking provides a theoretical frame that accounts for complex social construction and gives agency to social groups as the negotiators of meaning-making (Allen, 2011). Regarding the mobile recording environment for the India 100, sensemaking serves as an action-driven process for the social construction of an ad hoc recording studio. Sensemaking theory also aided in the conversion of an unsuitable auditorium space into a working mobile studio capable of accommodating six musical groups with varying requirements.
Sensemaking is the ongoing rationalisation of plausible constructs for detangling complexity to drive action (Weick, Sutcliffe & Obstfeld, 2005), and sensemaking naturally occurs when complexity becomes overwhelming and disrupts the normal flow of events for a social group (Rutledge, 2009). I argue that sensemaking is a useful tool for producers and musical groups who frequently deal with complex and abstract decision-making through semi-democratic, processes. Howlett highlights the frequency of this type of agreement stating that ‘often enough the decision is a collective agreement’ (p. 88). These decisions can be micro in nature such as the placement of a microphone or the selection of a software synthesiser. Or they can occur as larger attempts to decode a complex issue that halts the recording process. Sensemaking materialises meaning out of complexity through social discovery and process-oriented thinking. This materialisation of meaning is an active social construction highlighted by Weick, Sutcliffe, and Obstfeld (2005) who state that ‘sensemaking is, importantly, an issue of language, talk and communication. Situations, organisations, and environments are talked into existence’ (p. 409). As such sensemaking is a valuable tool for negotiating complex and culturally unfamiliar recording environments.
Weick (1995) grounds sensemaking theory in seven properties that create conditions and actions for group negotiation of complexity. These seven properties are, Identity construction; the use of retrospective analytical thought; the restrictions of sensible environmental boundaries; the social negotiation of complexity; the focus on extracted cues; the drive for plausibility over accuracy; and ongoing re-evaluation. The seven properties form the theoretical framework for sensemaking as an organisational and social form of meaning-making. These properties are inherently pragmatic in nature and sensemaking borrows from the theories of both Peirce (1878), and William James (1907). Pragmatism influences sensemaking specifically through Peirce’s (1878) adherence to collectively clarifying meaning. Both sensemaking and pragmatism rely on process-driven thinking and the acceptance that truth is an ongoing, socially negotiated construction, which means a social group takes action and arrives at a collective agreement that the action either works or does not work. This negotiation of belief is best summed up by Weick (1995) through his assertion that ‘sense may be in the eye of the beholder, but beholders vote and the majority rules’ (p. 6). In recording settings, any joint decoding of meaning shares a theoretical grounding with James’ (1907) ‘cash-value’ proposition (p. 53): what Bacon (2012) describes as a utilitarian agreement that true belief is ‘a reliable habit of action, one which enables us successfully to pursue a course of action’ (p. 65). James (1907) argued that truth can be expedient and does not have to be correct, it just needs to serve a utilitarian purpose. James drew criticism for this utilitarian thinking from contemporaries such as British logician Bertrand Russell in 1910 who suggested that ‘cash value’ was nothing more than wishful thinking (Burr, 2015). However, in the recording studio, producers and groups of artists often draw on this utilitarian approach to evaluate actions: Howlett describes such utilitarianism as ‘relying on the commonality of his sensibilities, his or her “feelings”, the reliability of which will be tested in the cultural marketplace’ (2009, p. 18). In the India 100 project, there are several complexities associated with redefining a classroom auditorium space into a workable recording facility. As a result, there are cases in which a plausible answer from a sensemaking process becomes a utilitarian truth, serving the purpose of driving action and achieving democratically agreed outcomes. When we make sense of complications or challenges during the recording process, a Peircean democratic adherence to communal decoding of complexity coupled with James’ cash-value approach are crucial tools. As such, the acceptance of an action depends on a social agreement that in turn serves a utilitarian purpose.
Sensemaking in the Recording Studio
In the recording environment, I frame the producer as a member of a creative group engaging in minor and significant forms of sensemaking. This form of social discovery differs from individual cognition, addressing group decisions through the Peircean maxim that ‘knowledge is arrived at through collective inquiry’ (Bacon, 2012, p. 43). In the recording studio, less important sensemaking exercises become crucial to building collective decision-making, allowing group members to involve themselves in structural recording decisions. Pras and Gustavo (2011) situate the producer as a facilitator of this process, stating ‘the record producer’s responsibility to make trade-offs between technical constraints and musical aesthetics. To accommodate cultural specificities and aesthetic choices, record producers may want to listen to the music and discuss the process with the musicians prior to the recording’ (p. 75). Less consequential sensemaking exercises occur earlier in the recording process when the creative group negotiates the best use of recording space. Examples include minor discussions on microphone placement, guitar tone or selecting primary instruments to form the framework of the recording. These smaller sensemaking exercises indoctrinate musical groups into a collective decision-making mindset that assists when more significant interruptions occur, as such interruptions result from a build-up of complexity that halts the creative process of the group, driving the group from a collective flow of experience into a state of retrospective analysis (Weick, 1995).
A Model of Sensemaking
To better understand the sensemaking process in its practical form, it is helpful to build a sensemaking model of the active process. Rutledge (2009) takes the more explicit sensemaking properties to create a four-stage model for the analysis of sensemaking. The first step of this model is bracketing the issue that the social group is struggling to understand. Bracketing isolates the interruption that has taken the group out of the flow of experience and into a retrospective analytical frame of mind (Weick, 1995). This step isolates complexities and places them within the constructed environment (Allen, 2011). Once bracketing occurs, groups begin the process of mapping extracted cues such as phrases and single words that clarify and refine the isolated issue. The mapping process assists in clarifying and contextualising the bracketed issue (Rutledge, 2009). With the completion of mapping, the bracketed issue is contained and refined, the group can move to the next stage of sensemaking. The third stage is the establishment of plausible solutions to mitigate complexity and foster action. According to Brown et al. (2014), this step is ‘designed to reduce equivocality and to attribute plausible sense in ways which make the world seem stable and enduring is fundamental to human sociality’ (p. 273). Plausibility is the pragmatic key to sensemaking in the recording studio, it removes the necessity for absolute answers and motivates musicians towards action. The final stage in the model is action and review. Rutledge (2009) establishes action as an explicit component of this model in response to Weick’s interactive duality of action and ongoing retrospective analysis (1995). Taking action on a plausible solution gives actors a concrete proposition to accept or reject using a cash-value utilitarian lens (James, 1907). If the action is rejected, the sensemaking process restarts with more mapping information. In recording practice, this model is useful for observing and analysing the complex mental models that producers and artists implicitly perform as a form of ritualised social meaning-making, as illustrated in Figure 25.
Figure 1. Simplified model of sensemaking using Rutledge’s (2009) four-stage model
To understand how sensemaking occurs in the India 100 project, I take the methodological approach of participant observation and combine reflective writing with interview data and meeting transcriptions. As this research is attempting to understand the social nature of sensemaking, I proceed from Hammersly and Atkinson’s (1983) proposal that we cannot study the social world without being part of it as an embedded participant. However, a multiplicity of participant viewpoints in this research offers the chance to create a more detailed picture of sensemaking phenomena in the recording setting. A variety of perspectives contributes to a relational negotiation between small groups of people within a sensibly framed creative production environment. McIntyre (2012) observes this creative production as a form of Bourdieuian reflexive interplay between agency and structure. This structured understanding of creative production fits within Weick’s (1995) concept of a constructionist, sensible environment that builds abstract boundaries around process to inform decision-making. A methodological approach must consider data collection from a socially embedded perspective to aid in understanding the agency of production teams within a constructed environment. Graham et al. (2015) argue for an experiential approach to understanding recording scenarios, stating that ‘there is no part of it that can be fully understood other than through personal experience of the intense, collective burst of creativity’ (p. 15).
In examining different typologies of social interaction involved in this project, it is helpful to use a multimodal approach to the data collection. Alan (2011) argues that sensemaking is ontologically constructivist which leans towards a socially constructive, experiential-driven investigation such as participant observation. However, to formulate a deeper understanding of the social phenomena of sensemaking, it is necessary to collect different perspectives from interview data. Flick (2018) argues for a constructivist formulation of multiple data viewpoints that reveal a deeper understanding of qualitative socially focused research. Ritchie and Lewis (2003) assert that a multifaceted approach to data collection allows for a more complete picture of the examined phenomenon. In the case of the India 100 project, the production team in India and Australia engage socially on multiple levels such as direct recording practice with the artists, Skype meetings and email conversations making it geographically impossible to rely on just one method of data collection. The aim of data collection in this project is to collect a ‘richness and diversity of the data found as well as emerging patterns of diverse opinions’ (Diefenbach, 2009, p. 892) with the intent to reveal more detail and conduct a thorough phenomenological examination through thematic analysis.
To capture as much data as possible, I used a several methods. First, I conducted semi-structured interviews with Brad at the beginning and the end of each recording day. The early morning recordings serve to establish the teams aims at the beginning of each day. Evening interviews serve to evaluate the production team’s efforts in solving creative challenges that arose during the previous recording day. I take these interviews during the recording process for later comparison with more reflective data. Second, I collected meeting data from Skype conversations conducted between the production team in Australia and India. These meetings occurred every morning before the recording sessions and included discussion of the Australian team’s progress in editing and evaluating. The discussions were reflexive in nature, with the Australian team acting as an advisory group who addressed any issues that had emerged in the recording. Third, I generated reflective notes that offered in-depth, reflexive narratives to add context to any revelations. Finally, I administered exit interviews with Brad—who was part of the Chennai production team—and James, who was a part of the Australian production team. These interviews aimed to broaden the scope of the reflective data and gain further insight into their impressions of the social and logistical challenges involved in the project. I then transcribed the interview data and examined the information for thematic patterns that related to the sensemaking process. During the analysis, two distinct sensemaking processes occurred, both of which offer new insights into sensemaking theory and the recording process.
In the following section, I analyse the data from the India 100 project according to two central themes. First, I examine the elements of interactivity in small sensemaking decisions. This theme investigates the liquidity of sensemaking when three smaller sensemaking exercises combine and influence each other to create a macro-sensemaking event. Second, I examine an isolated sensemaking event that impacted the productivity on the initial day of tracking. In this example, I present a complex parallel sensemaking exercise that occurred when the India-based production team solved a multifaceted obstacle under the pressure of time-critical circumstances.
To establish the fluidity of sensemaking in a practical setting, I demonstrate three small sensemaking models that occurred during the setup for the recording. I argue that these three sensemaking models interact and influence one another. The result is the formation of an overarching macro-sensemaking exemplar that folds the three isolated models into a singular thematic phenomenon. The following statements are taken from an interview conducted after the conclusion of the project in Chennai. In this example, Brad reflects on the early power leakage concerns that impacted the quality of the audio recording during the transformation of the space. This discussion examines one of the initial bracketing of an issue.
Brad—Power in Australia is for the most part clean, constant and safe. Power in India is not safe as I have witness for two years now. After recording things in India versus Australia, you have to go through and clean up files, every single file that had a microphone and even Di boxes because of weird power interferences.
Brad—We worked in an auditorium that have a lot of low energy going on. Fans, and weird traffic noise and pigeons on the roof, big air conditioners, people walking through rooms and slamming doors with no regard to the fact that there was a vocal session happening.
The issue of power leakage and surrounding noise was of considerable concern for Brad and myself. In this discussion, Brad ‘brackets’ audio noise interference as a significant problem that will degrade the audio quality of the recordings and affect the final outcome of the production. Once bracketing the noise issue, Brad begins experimenting with mapping phrases such as ‘low energy, interferences and traffic noise’. These mapping phrases serve to build a clear picture of the concerns we needed to address in the early stages of the recording. From the spectator position in Australia, James also brackets the issue of noise. In the following excerpt, James indicates that this noise interference is of particular concern in the vocal microphones. From the quiet laboratory conditions at QUT studios, James can identify the specific areas of concern that both Brad and I are unable to identify in the frenetic recording environment in Chennai.
Dan—Considering the place we were, listening in a kind analytical environment was not an option for us.
James—Yeah, absolutely, I think it’s good here because we have the facilities. Big clean open rooms that I can really sit down and have a nice look at what you’ve done. I can imagine with the stress of everything going on there and a bit of a makeshift studio that you didn’t have that environment to really just hone-in and solo things out and listen to what you’ve captured.
Dan—I know you picked up on some air conditioning issues that we couldn’t hear. We wouldn’t know because it was being drowned out by the air conditioner.
James—Yeah, it was only in one of those main vocals, when it was something loud like a drum kit or a bass guitar it didn’t even phase me at all. It was really when it came to soloing out a vocal it was really quite apparent then. But, you know, nothing that can’t be edited out or fixed with RX. I didn’t know if that noise was a mistake or if that was as clean as it got.
The added perspective of James in Australia enabled us to refine our mapping phrases and target specific areas of concern. As a result, we were able to isolate and assess our concerns and then suggest a plausible action to deal with the noise issue. In the interview above James suggested a post-production approach using Izotope RX editing software to reduce noise in the audio. Brad and I already discussed that there was no possibility of reducing the environmental noise, so we collectively decided that using post-production editing software was a plausible method for dealing with the surrounding environmental noise. As a result, both Brad and I recorded noise profiles while we were tracking instruments. These noise profiles were later used to reduce surrounding environmental noise in the recording. The following model presents the sensemaking process that enabled the group to mitigate audio degradation from external environmental noise.
Figure 9.2. Sensemaking model for noise management
Following the first sensemaking model described above, I address two other complexities that affect the design of the recording environment. These challenges involve developing a space to facilitate cultural conversations between artists and producers. In the subsequent reflection, I explain the geography of the room and how we negotiated the space. I also expand on the challenges associated with both the noise and communication considerations. At the time of designing the space, our intent was to produce a well-isolated recording, while fostering as much collective performance energy as possible, as represented in my journal reflections:
The space that we recorded in Chennai was not a treated audio facility. It was a large auditorium with a dead acoustic property similar to a cinema. There was a small side room that was not well isolated, a noisy air conditioner and thin walls that let in surrounding environmental noise. We also had to negotiate the constant traffic of artists entering the space due to the communal nature of the project and the enthusiasm of the artists that wanted to be involved with the recordings. The musicians we recorded all wanted to track live electric guitar, so we put the guitar amplifier into the semi-isolated room to reduce some of the electric guitar bleed. We tracked the majority of bands live to account for the lack of time and to capture the energy of the performers. The initial suggestion for the project was to set up the listening station in the isolated room so that the production team could hear the results without being in the noisy room. However, in the end we set up the recording station in the auditorium with the musicians so that we could communicate directly and reflexively with the performers rather than isolate the listening space. There was also plenty of enthusiasm coming from the Indian performers who were excited and keen to be involved as much as possible. This level of excitement and engagement was a new experience for me, it was higher than my usual experience from Australian artists. Rather than dampen the enthusiasm to suit my normal working style, I opted to engage with it and place the recording team in the centre of the activity. This created the added bonus of clear sight lines between the producers and the musicians, giving us access to verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. We relied on closed headphones to listen to the recordings as they happened because communication was more important to us than isolating the recording station. To focus on vocal performances and reduce sound bleed we tracked vocals separately in a small isolation booth that we constructed from baffles near the recording station. The booth did not isolate very well but did provide an inspiring space for vocalists to track and communicate with the recording engineers. We set the drums up at the farthest end of the room in an attempt to use distance and the dead ambience of the space to isolate drums. Having made every effort to set the surrounding space up to minimise noise we then accepted that we would later edit any remaining noise out using Izotope RX. To account for the remaining noise, we made sure to record noise profiles so that we could remove noise in post-production (Daniel Pratt, Research Reflection, 5 December 2017).
In this reflection, I identify two small sensemaking exercises conducted by the production team. The initial priority was to facilitate communication with a new culture of performers in an unusual recording environment with very little time. The second priority was isolating as much potential noise and instrument leakage as possible. Having set these two priorities informed the decisions on setting up this environment for recording over the three allocated days. In this sense, we were setting our environmental boundaries and restricting our choices to guide decision-making (Weick, 1995). The first sensemaking exercise presented a technical post-production solution. However, the consideration of microphone noise leakage demanded a more physical resolution from the production team. In the reflection, I note that two instruments present a concern due to their volume. Loud instruments in the same room tend to leak sound into other microphones, embedding the direct sound with competing, generally undesirable reflected sound. The two instruments that present the largest difficulty are the drums and electric guitar. As a result, we bracketed these instruments for sensemaking. Following bracketing, the production team used mapping phrases such as ‘isolation’ and ‘microphone bleed’ to identify the issues they must address. The plausible solutions for the next sensemaking model involved the isolation of the guitar amplifier using a separate room. The drums were then moved to the far end of the auditorium to take advantage of the dead atmosphere in the space. Once decided upon, these actions create a template for the recording setup with the drums at one end of the space and the recording station at the other, as illustrated in the following sensemaking model for the placement of loud instruments in the recording environment.
Figure 9.3. Two sensemaking exercises for the placement of loud instruments.
The final sensemaking model emphasises the importance of communication in a recording. In the reflection, I note that the recording station is deliberately placed in the recording space to enhance communication with the musicians. This placement enables the producers to operate as a part of a creative group rather than isolating themselves in the side room to improve their listening environment. Both Brad and I wanted to engage in a reflexive musical conversation with the performers (Easterby-Smith et al. 1999). We achieved this by prioritising an open, communicative environment over a more separatist approach of placing recording engineers in a different space. The removal of barriers between the Chennai performers and the Brisbane production team allowed for a free flow of ideas in a direct communication environment. Placing the production team in the recording space with the performers invites the whole group into the decision-making process and allows for the social negotiation of ideas as ‘individuals working together in a complex social system’ (Kazanjian, 2015, p. 288). This decision had two main benefits. First, it allowed for a more inclusive communication environment with an expanded form of verbal and non-verbal communication. Second, it opened up the isolation room for the guitar amplifier. In this third sensemaking model, we ‘bracketed’ the recording station placement as a primary concern. The mapping phrases included communication (both verbal and non-verbal), and sight lines designed for performance interactivity. The plausible solution was to set up inside the recording auditorium and embed the production team with the musicians, as indicated in the following model of the sensemaking process involved in setting up the recording station.
Figure 9.4. Sensemaking model for the placement of the recording station.
In these three processes (isolated sensemaking, influential sensemaking, and parallel sensemaking), it is interesting to note the interactive nature of all the sensemaking models. For example, the decision to place the producers in the auditorium with the musicians meant that the small isolated room was now available for the guitar amplifier. The placement of the drum kit at the far end of the auditorium occurred because the recording station was at the other end of the auditorium. Each decision was considered within what Weick calls the ‘sensible environment’ within which we make decisions (Weick, 1995, pp. 30–38), and each decision involved negotiating the strengths and weaknesses of the recording environment, with the sensemaking models having a cumulative effect on the overall sensemaking process. In these three examples, there is an interactive network of sensemaking events that reflexively determine the priorities of the space. Weick (1995) explains sensemaking as an ongoing and constant process of cognitive looping, this means that previous models can influence future sensemaking processes. The outcome of these multiple processes is something that can be understood through William James’ utilitarian concepts, such that this recording setup satisfies the ‘cash-value’ of our recording purposes (1907, p. 53). In this case, the cash-value proposition of these sensemaking models was a professional sounding well-isolated recording that fostered an interactive live performance energy. Figure 29 below captures this interaction of sensemaking models and creates a macro view of the overall philosophy behind the ad hoc studio design:
Figure 9.5. Sensemaking processes interact and influence each other combine as an interactive macro design philosophy.
The next identified theme involves a complex, parallel model of sensemaking that is unique to the time-limited nature of the India 100. In the following example, Brad and I are bracketing a synchronisation issue associated with the first day of drum tracking. Our analysis is confused because there are multiple reasons as to why the initial drum tracking resulted in some odd timing issues. The timing issue negatively affected the performance of the artists during tracking and as such it required bracketing. The following excerpt is from an interview between myself and Brad at the conclusion of the first day of recording in Chennai. In this first excerpt, we are attempting to decode the complex issues relating to the drum recordings. The interview offers a real-time embedded sensemaking exercise, with both myself and Brad bracketing a specific concern and attempting to map the parameters of the issue.
Dan—The drums were a little out, but I think there’s some sort of a latency thing going on.
Brad—A latency thing and he’s not a drummer.
Dan—The final session we had either latency issues or something was going wrong.
Brad—It was a room issue multiplied by a latency issue, there was like a natural latency, and then there was just a conversion latency.
Dan—It’s an enormous room, and that’s probably the first time I’ve worked in a room that size.
Brad—And we had offshoots, and the roof is indifferent, yeah it’s
(Brad rubs his eyes and shakes his head looking tired)
In this excerpt, Brad and I are exercising our ‘irritation of the doubt’ (Peirce, 1878, II). In his writing on pragmatic theory, Peirce argues that irritation of doubt occurs when competing meanings become entangled removing the ability to master meaning (1878, para 9). The resultant confusion takes us both out of the flow of experience and into an analytical frame of mind. Weick (1996) asserts that retrospective analysis involves stepping out of the experiential flow and looking back to assess what halted the flow. At this early-stage, we are bracketing a drum timing issue and experimenting with mapping phrases of ‘conversion latency’ and ‘room size’ to further clarify the interruption to flow. James confirmed this concern from his vantage point at the QUT studios in Australia. The following excerpt comes from an interview with James on the subject of drum timing in the first day recordings. James recalls his perspective on the issues with the drum recording. His spectator viewpoint serves to reinforce the problems that both Dan and Brad have discussed in the previous interview.
James—It seems like not even individual beats were behind, it felt like the entire thing was slightly out. Whether something—it can happen—whether an entire group of drums got shifted off the grid. It felt like, the drums if you listen to by themselves, they felt in time. However, to the rest of the song—and I think because that song had Ableton stems which were pre-recorded stems that were on grid exactly—it just felt like the whole thing was a little bit off-kilter. So, I don’t know if that was due to latency, or something in your headphone monitoring or if it accidentally got nudged in editing and no one checked it before they finally sent it to me.
In this excerpt, James corroborates the issue with drum performance, reinforcing our initial concerns about the drum recording from his vantage point in a controlled listening environment. This identification of a problem serves to bracket the drum recording as an area requiring attention from all perspectives of the production group. The international nature of the bracketing is of particular interest as it serves to reinforce a concern already noted by Brad and myself, this time from a more objective viewpoint. James contributes more mapping phrases such as ‘headphone monitoring’ and ‘off-kilter’ allowing the production team to refine the bracketed issue further. To continue clarifying and mapping the drum timing issue I refer to my reflection notes below, as written on 15 December 2017. This reflection expands on the multiple environmental and recording factors that contributed to the problems with the drum recording, and I also offer some insight into the definition of latency, as well as some discussion of the meetings that we conducted on Skype. In this reflection, three possibilities are identified that could affect the performance of the drums in this recording.
In the initial tracking day, we encountered latency issues with recording drums through Universal Audio interfaces. Latency is a micro time delay that occurs between playing and recording music as a result of analogue to digital conversion. Brad and I had concerns with the drum issue as there was a lack of clarity in the cause of the issue. Our first meeting with James in Australia validated these concerns. James edited the drums in time to make sure that they did not hurt the recording. However, the problem was still a significant concern for us considering that the upcoming recordings relied more heavily on the drum performances. As a result, it was a priority for us to fix it on the second day before we started to track any session with a substantial drum contribution. The reason for the delay was complicated for us to determine because in the first recording day we did not have any professional drummers to test our theories. We developed three possibilities for the latency issue for us to work through.
1. Because the performers were not drummers, it was possible that they just can’t play in time.
2. The drums were around 20 metres away from the listening station. The delay could be as a result of the distance causing diffusion of the drum recordings.
3. Something was happening with the plugins on our Universal Audio Apollo converter that caused latency.
On the second day, we arrived in the studio early to make sense of the drumming latency issue. Since we had one hour before the bands arrived, we treated all three problems with equal concern rather than running through one at a time. The solutions that we applied were as follows: The first issue was no longer a problem as we tracked experienced drummers on the second and third day. The second concern was distance, so we moved the other players in the bands closer to the live drum kit so that they were able to feel the sound pressure of the drums and interact with the drums on a physical level. The third issue was possibly due to recording through several Universal Audio digital plugins that required extreme processing. We proposed that this could cause latency in the recording path. To solve this problem, we removed the plugins and replaced them with light processing plugins for tracking. This last point was a touch disappointing because we had spent a lot of time getting a great drum sound by taking full advantage of Universal Audio’s processing power. However, in our estimation, having a heavily processed drum sound was not as desirable as having great performances. We never actually found out what the most significant factor of the three caused problems on the first day. However, after these corrections, we had no tracking issues for the remaining recordings. The result was a smooth tracking experience regarding technical matters for the duration of the recording sessions (Daniel Pratt, Research Reflection, 10 December 2017).
In my reflection, I note that one environmental concern is the short timeline with which to complete the project. As a result, the team elects to conduct three plausible solutions in parallel rather than attempting and testing issues in series which consumes more time. Parallel sensemaking also presents a different approach to the interactive serial approach to sensemaking that occurred in the earlier example. As I identified in my reflection, there were three possibilities and limited time to solve the concerns relating to the issue of drum timing. The first concern was the drum performance, and it is fair to assume that a professional drummer negates the performance problems. The mapping phrases surrounding this issue were ‘timing and experience’. The plausible solution for this process was replacing amateur drummers with professional drummers. The second concern was the distance of the musicians from the drums. Mapping words around this concern were ‘feel and grooving together’ The plausible answer, in this case, was to relocate the musicians closer to the drum kit to assist in physically feeling the groove of the drummer. The final concern was the plugins used in the Universal Audio recording device. Mapping phrases for this problem include ‘latency and processing’. The plausible solution was to remove highly taxing plugins and to replace them with less impressive but lower taxing plugins to reduce latency. The result of these three parallel processes was that the drum performance issue was solved. Throughout this process, there was no attempt to search for a ‘correct’ answer: rather, these sensemaking models all occurred in parallel and the process created the outcome, resulting in an issue-free drum recording. Below is a model of how this parallel sensemaking process occurred in this case.
Figure 9.6. Advanced parallel sensemaking process.
This example helps us to understand production teams as implicit sensemakers who approach complex recording issues with a utilitarian, outcome-focused, pragmatic approach. Furthermore, the parallel bracketing of problems across both Australian and Indian-based teams represents a convergence of opinions over the bracketed issue. The binary of embedded and spectator viewpoints presents a unique take on the bracketing process, offering a dual-lens approach to identifying production issues. The emerging element discovered in this research is that complicated parallel sensemaking processes were performed implicitly by the production team, with both myself and Brad’s execution parallel sensemaking tasks emerging in large part due to the time restrictions of the project. This level of complexity presents an interesting model for sensemaking theory, breaking or expanding the more linear or serial nature of sensemaking process and analysis that tends to define existing studies (Rutledge, 2009). The nature of parallel sensemaking processes also emerges through a pragmatic dedication to process over absolute answers. That is, in such a parallel process, there was no weight assigned to any one process in itself; rather all sensemaking processes were all tested at the same time after plausible solutions were completed. The practical outcomes served to satisfy the cash-value of the musical aims (James, 1907) and alleviated the contradiction of meaning (Peirce, 1878). This clarity of auditory meaning served to refocus the production team away from the distraction of drum timing and back into the flow of recording experience (Weick, 1995). As such, the complex nature of the problem, coupled with the limited time created the conditions from which I have identified an expanded understanding of how sensemaking processes can function.
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