Beware the Bongo Line of Doom!
Whenever you record music in a recording studio, there’s a persistent stress factor that you have to contend with – the clock. Studio time is expensive. As such, you have two choices when you’re going to go into the studio and recording live musicians:
– Either you write something that you know will be easy enough to record a perfect take of quickly
– Or you hire insanely talented musicians who can perform anything you put in front of them
You also, incidentally, can fail at both.
The first option can make you feel like you’re watering down your creativity for the sake of a budget and it can feel disappointing. The second option can cost a lot of money. So, in reality, you tend to do some of 1, some of 2, and then shoot for a midpoint on other pieces and hope it all works out in the end.
With The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, however, I didn’t have the luxury of writing the music myself. I was working from Michael Land, Barney Jones, Andy Newell, and Patrick Mundy’s original score from 1990. For the most part, recording the instrumentalists went well. There were instances where melody lines went outside the range of the real playable instruments or phrases that were awkward and needed to be spliced together from a couple of takes, but these were easy to tackle.
There was, however, one track of one instrument that flummoxed every musician I threw at it – the bongos for the opening credit sequence. The credit sequence track is tricky. For the musicians out there, it frequently flips back and forth between bars of 3 4 and 4 4, with a couple of 2 4s in there for good measure. For the non-musicians, it’s hard to dance to.
The first up on the bongos was The Workshop’s own Jedi Mudkip who’s a very nice guy and a percussionist to boot, but the bongo line of doom did him in. Next up, a drummer who had been playing in prog rock bands for years. I was sure he’d be able to handle the changes. No dice. Next up, a percussionist who specialized in ethnic percussion and particularly the complex rhythms of the Indian tabla. And yet, still no groove. Our last shot was a guy on staff here with an uncanny knack for being able to pick up any instrument.
In the end, the bongo line of doom did in more drummer’s than Spinal Tap and I had to use samples. Not ideal, but it’s the only track that ended up stumping me with bongos for the whole score.