Tuesday, 26 March 2013

David Bowie goes to Bangalore

I heard a story once about how the recording of "Heroes," the title track off the seminal album from David Bowie's "Berlin Period."

If you've heard the song you'll notice that Bowie's vocals change dramatically as the song progresses - close and intimate in the opening verses, more passionate and strained near the end.

The story says that to get that effect, producer Tony Visconti set up three microphones. The first was nine inches in front of Bowie, the second 20 feet away, the third 50 feet away.

The first microphone afforded Bowie the early, almost whisper-like vocal effect. But as the song's intensity grew, Visconti closed it, forcing Bowie to project his voice toward the second (you can hear the effect kick in at the 1:15 mark) and then, the third. Wikipedia describes it thusly:

Only the first was opened for the quieter vocals at the start of the song, with the first and second opening on the louder passages, and all three on the loudest parts, creating progressively more reverb and ambience the louder the vocals became.[8] Each microphone is muted as the next one is triggered. "Bowie's performance thus grows in intensity precisely as ever more ambience infuses his delivery until, by the final verse, he has to shout just to be heard....The more Bowie shouts just to be heard, in fact, the further back in the mix Visconti's multi-latch system pushes his vocal tracks, creating a stark metaphor for the situation of Bowie's doomed lovers"

One artist, three mics, and one producer challenging him to produce something innovative and lasting.

"Heroes" wasn't a hit upon its first release, but it's since gone on to become Bowie's second-most-covered song after "Rebel Rebel."  That Bowie is back with a new album whose cover riffs off that of "Heroes" also bodes well for his continued relevance.

Even if this story wasn't true, it does put the last month or so in a helpful context. February (and a bit of March) saw me attend three meetings in three different cities. Though not officially related, they did take me progressively further afield, and forced me to progressively expand my capabilities.

They also gave me the opportunity to blog about one of my favorite songs.

Back in early February, I met with almost 50 of my social media colleagues in New York at the IBM offices at 11 Madison Ave. Over three intense days, we sought out strategies, tactics and innovative new ideas that would move our social strategy forward. We shared what we had learned on our own or in our immediate teams, we applied them to what the business was asking of us, we identified the gaps that we're now working to fill.

This was the first microphone.

Later in February, I made my first trip to Bangalore, India, to meet colleagues and further our social metrics strategy. This time the discussions were at a higher level. We talked about longer-term goals. In my spare time, I caught up on visiting colleagues from my Chile adventure and marvelled at the speed and scale of what we like to refer to as "emerging markets." Suddenly, the scope of my previous achievements didn't seem so impressive. I knew I'd have to up my game.

This was the second microphone.

Then, in early March, I attended SXSW Interactive ("Southby," to those in the know). This time, there were no real work deliverables. This trip was purely professional development, with a taco or two thrown in for good measure.

I attend SXSW not for practical, pragmatic, down in the dirt kind of advice. (From my experience, the only way to get that kind of advice is do actually get down in the dirt and learn it yourself.) I attend SXSW to see if my own knowledge and skills in the social "scene" are keeping pace with where the industry is headed and to hear from some amazingly prescient thinkers like Douglas Rushkoff and Stephen Wolfram.

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I'd ask myself, How much farther do I need to stretch my thinking? How many more people do I need to reach? Are my assumptions about the industry that I purport to understand still valid, or do I throw it all out and start again?

Third microphone.

As for me, I know we accomplished a lot in New York. I know I accomplished a lot in Bangalore. What I will accomplish based on SXSW has yet to be determined.

I have ideas about what I can do. I can't guarantee that it will be an immediate hit, but with any luck it will be covered many, many times.

1 comment:

Ottawa Sports Guy said...

Thanks, I didn't know that story about "Heroes".