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Music

On the tip of the needle

A Minas guitarist’s obsessive search for forgotten sounds and milieus in the wake of music’s digital revolution

Facilities of Bunker Studio, which focuses on vinyl recordings

JOÃO MARCOS ROSAFacilities of Bunker Studio, which focuses on vinyl recordings JOÃO MARCOS ROSA

Five years ago, guitarist Anderson Guerra, a veteran of arts circles in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, decided to launch an album of songs he had put aside. He maintains that he is not opposed to the digital production method widely used in the industry today because of its speed and efficiency. But he has chosen an older, more painstaking alternative.

In opting to adhere to the methodologies of the old analog process used for producing vinyl records and cassette tapes, Guerra has given up a host of benefits. The advantages of the new digital systems include the ability to eliminate errors, put finishing touches on all the voices and synch tracks recorded in different locations. With the help of software programs, a recording of a song today can blend the sound of a guitar strummed in Russia with a keyboard played in the US.

The digital process converts everything into graphs, the music becomes a pattern on the computer screen, and this makes it possible to make cuts or splices or to smooth out any rough edges. “Anything that goes wrong is deleted. I have nothing against that process, but too often the result sounds sterilized,” Guerra says critically. “That’s what I wanted to avoid; I wanted to humanize the process and present a sound quality that flows from that.”

Equalizers, reverbs and other old equipment

ANDERSON GUERRAEqualizers, reverbs and other old equipmentANDERSON GUERRA

He knew there was a price to be paid, in the form of time and dedication. In the years prior to the digital revolution, one wrong note often meant that the band had to start the session over from the beginning. And if a serious mistake was repeated during editing, everyone had to come back to the studio one more time. Guerra went in search of precisely the milieu that was lost in the technology revolution.

Along the way, however, he ran into another problem: that type of production had vanished from the scene in Brazil. “I found a lot of hybrid studios [that offer a choice of analog or digital recording], but even there I think people may be tempted to use some kind of digital tool to solve a specific problem. It’s very hard to avoid.” To ensure a pure experience, the musician decided then and there to set up his own studio.

This fall, more than five years later, Guerra is finally debuting his album Mercúrio758, on which seven other musicians collaborated. And the facilities of Bunker—possibly the only example of a completely analog studio in Brazil—are now officially open. Bunker is dedicated to recording vinyl records, from facilities on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte in an area surrounded by woods, on the same grounds where Guerra lives.

His research turned into a treasure hunt. Setting up a studio like the ones used in the mid-20th century meant that he had to hunt for the exact parts, and many of them are no longer made. “I dug around, and I bought a lot of things that had been scrapped. I got hold of equipment that people didn’t want anymore.”

the album Mercúrio758, which is being debuted with songs written by guitarist Anderson Guerra

JOÃO MARCOS ROSAthe album Mercúrio758, which is being debuted with songs written by guitarist Anderson GuerraJOÃO MARCOS ROSA

Much of the setup, he added, came from the defunct Philips studio that was in Rio de Janeiro. “Chico Buarque, Elis Regina and Raul Seixas recorded there; almost all of Brazilian pop music, or MPB, came through there during its heyday,” he says. When Polygram bought Philips, they scrapped the equipment. I came across it with a friend of mine. I made three trips in a pickup truck to cart all of it over to Minas.”

Some parts were found easily; others weren’t. “The microphone from Telefunken (a German manufacturer) is super-rare; the last lot was made at the end of the Second World War. I found one and sent it to the United States to be restored. The Beatles’ entire discography was recorded with this model, and Frank Sinatra always used to ask, ‘where’s my Tele?’ It has live-like characteristics that capture the details of a sound. I dare say it sounds better than the real thing.”

Mercúrio758 was recorded in 2011 in the midst of the search, and was pressed on vinyl by Polysom, the only vinyl record production plant in Latin America, the musician says.

Anderson Guerra

JOÃO MARCOS ROSAAnderson GuerraJOÃO MARCOS ROSA

In Guerra’s opinion, Chet Baker Sings, the album recorded by the American singer/trumpeter in the 1950s, “is where analog reached its peak.” If that record, Guerra says, “were recorded today, amidst all the possibilities of the digital universe, it might not have some of the features that make it special,” he argues.

Efforts to recapture the sounds of the analog world, he goes on, have built up a new market in the US and Europe. “There’s been a boom in the past few years,” he says.

In Brazil, the return is still in its early stages. “The people who used to service the equipment I bought no longer do that work. They’re selling insurance now,” he says ironically. “I saw that I’m going to have to face the harsh reality, so I started doing research. With some effort, I’ve been able to keep the equipment maintained.” It may sound somewhat romantic, Guerra concedes, but his search is actually for the salvation of a sound.

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