Recording in Progress
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Recording in Progress, but I had a vague idea of what goes on when people get together to record an album. Granted, it’s an unusual album, given that the musicians are working in a room fitted with a one-way glass in an art gallery, but I had a rough idea what it might be like.
I expected that PJ Harvey comes into the studio with a set of ideas that simply need executing. In between, I anticipated lots of boring things: standing around, discussing things, plugging things in, adjusting things, setting up stands, moving the mics and swapping effect pedals.
Some of these assumptions were validated. Someone was eating a sandwich mid-take, disposable coffee cups covered every horizontal surface, and cables had to be plugged in to the right effects and microphones all the time. But the creative process surprised me.
The track the musicians were working on wasn’t fully fleshed out before they started playing it. As a group, they were trying out different approaches: styles, instruments and tempos. It wasn’t a case of simply performing what’s written on a piece of paper; it was being created right there, by everyone involved.
Although it was clear that Harvey ultimately made decisions about which direction each track should take, everyone seemed comfortable making changes and suggestions. It was delightful to see a group of professionals, clearly comfortable with one another, engage in a creative activity together. The outcome wasn’t a rough diamond in need of some polish; it was a process beginning with compressing carbon.
The requirement to leave all phones and recording devices with the staff at the Somerset House made me think about the idea of just-enough privacy. Each moment might be witnessed by thirty people, but since it cannot be recorded it remains fleeting.
The double glass separates the audience from the musicians not just visually, but aurally. Harvey specifically asked to not see the audience, so that instead of performing she can focus on the album. Together with the lack of recordings of those semi-private moments it gives the control over how the work is presented to the world to the musicians and the organisers.
The design of the identity for the performance is bold, but restrained. The style follows the rejection of the gig poster archetype, with its picture of the artist, and their name in huge letters. Instead, the emphasis is put on the title of the work itself. Together it makes for a coherent message: this performance art piece is about experiencing the moment.
I wish I could recommend you see it, but all tickets are sold out. I’m sorry. It was brilliant.