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One Musician’s Poetic Process in the Recording Studio

By BETH HARPAZ

David Grubbs is a musician and music professor at The Graduate Center and Brooklyn College. But writing is a big part of his life as well. He’s been writing lyrics since he was a teenager, and his Ph.D. is in English. His latest book, The Voice in the Headphones, takes the form of a long poem.

The book “describes a single, epic day in the recording studio in which an unnamed musician struggles to complete a film soundtrack,” Grubbs said in an interview with The Graduate Center.

“The voice in the headphones says, ‘You’re rolling,’” the book begins, “followed by ten seconds of line-hum silence, an intercom-like click, and the reminder ‘You’re still rolling.’” In a later passage, Grubb writes, “Try to summon the terror of the first recording session. To recall, to experience again the awful uncertainty coloring every aspect of it except laying it down, killing it, which is the only thing that continues to matter.” Once the recording session is complete, the musician and three others head for a celebratory swim in the studio’s indoor pool: “Clothes shed, four bodies hit the water at the same time with one mega-splash while the engineer slides open every one of the glass doors.”

The book channels Grubbs’ fascination with “the culture of the recording studio—not only the fact of it being a space in which one can focus on music and recording to the exclusion of anything else, but also the language and lore of the studio, its visual culture, its architecture, and its economics, particularly at a moment where digital recording technology has contributed to the shuttering of many of the studios where I’ve spent so much time, and that are still so vivid to me.”

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The Voice in the Headphones
Duke University Press, 2020

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David Grubbs (Professor, Music, Performance and Interactive Media Arts) | Profile 1 | Profile 2