A talk with legendary producer and musician Martin Bisi

‘Tired of recording’
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  February 23, 2011

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‘ALWAYS A LITTLE UNDERWHELMED’ Martin Bisi.
Since opening BC Studio in Brooklyn in 1979, Martin Bisi has recorded dozens of records on the fringe of the avant-garde scene, including early Sonic Youth, Michael Gira's Swans and Angels of Light, and the cabaret breakout debut record from Boston's Dresden Dolls.

These days, Bisi's production work has slowed. He's focusing on writing, recording, and performing his own material, which, predictably, culls from as diverse an array of styles as the records he's engineered. As his touring band — which includes the Dresden Dolls' Brian Viglione on drums — play Empire Dine and Dance on February 25, we caught up with him about his origins, the "golden era" of recording, and the stuff he thinks is crap. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

HAVE YOU STOPPED RECORDING RECORDS? I've really toned it down for a lot of reasons. (The main reason) is to get more into live issues, and also (focusing on) me as an artist and musician. Also, I'm tiring of some of the process of recording. I've been feeling like the whole nature of the world of recording is a lot less exciting. We'll still always do it, but this golden era of important recordings is sort of over. You can see how all the monster dinosaur recording studios have bitten the dust. There's very few left. There's something to be said for stuff being done on a small scale, on a DIY scale, that's great art, but also there's a lot of great production and record making that's (been) lost because a lot of these monster studios are gone.

I think the whole idea of recordings being in and of themselves exciting is gone. I used to get a sense that in terms of production, I could blow people's minds. It wasn't just the music, or great songwriting, or a great band with great performances; people would hear a whole experience (on a record) that they never had before. We could argue whether that's still possible. Maybe it is here and there.

IN YOUR OWN WORK, HOW DO YOUR SONGS EMERGE? VIA STUDIO OR IMPROVISATION? DO YOU PLAY ANY GAMES? The process of songwriting has always fascinated me. Obviously, if you're asking the question, you must realize that people have really different processes. I play music all the time, just for relaxation. I'll pick up the guitar and play; it's really just something I do continuously. But it's funny, because I always insist that that's not art. When I do that, it's just because I have a musical brain. I'm not really creating. I'm just letting the mechanics play themselves out.

To answer your question about improvisation, it's never, in my case, (that I improvise) with other musicians. I maybe could have gone that way, but it's never worked for me. Maybe that's my personality, maybe I need to be a little more solitary. Maybe because in an improvised context, ideas sort of fly out the window. It's a process that's never worked for me. It's always by myself.

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