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The Struggle of Independent Recording

A review of the CD 'Learning to Live Again'

How do you get 31 mattresses, an eight track Fostex recording system, an Atari sequencer and two musicians with all their instruments into a room which is 4 x 4.5 metres?

The answer is right here in Melbourne where songwriter David Mills and audio technician Alistair Miles have converted a bedroom into a studio which, they jest, doubles as a padded cell.

The three year marathon began after Alistair's offer to record David's songs which he felt had a "depth and maturity" that most message songs lack. Thus began the painstaking process of piecing together a studio with carefully sought out second-hand equipment. Alistair himself constructed over half the cables used, and acquiring, then lining the walls with mattresses for sound-proofing was another enormous task. Over a year had elapsed before they could begin recording.

This pair are at once ordinary and extraordinary. When you consider that it may take up to 6 - 8 months for eight people to produce a full length CD recording in a fully equipped professional studio, you begin to realise just how much they achieved in completing their own within 18 months. Alistair alone was engineer, lead guitarist, drummer, keyboard player and flautist as well as being one of the lead vocalists. Pause for breath.

What image are they trying to project? None. "We've come together," says Alistair emphatically, "to combine my technical and musical know-how with David's songwriting abilities to produce an album which will help other people." And that is the bottom line. David hopes that Learning to Live Again will help people find what they are looking for, be it greater meaning, inner peace or a change of values. Should that smack of idealism, read on. Neither have had an easy ride. As the title suggests, both have had their fair share of suffering and pain.

Like most of life's ventures, this one has been a learning experience. Increasingly aware of how influential music can be, David has identified a need; the need for music not only to entertain but also to bring out the greatness in people. "You can give so much through music if you get it right, and that's what I want to do but in my own way."

Meanwhile, Alistair, who has learnt a great deal about recording, is left feeling somewhat disillusioned about technology: "It's supposed to serve us but sometimes we end up serving it." Continually having to repair unreliable equipment, he would often say to himself, "Why am I doing this?" And being acutely aware of the world's poverty, starvation and conflict, a further question dogged him, "Is what I'm doing really measuring up to the needs of today?"

Despite the doubts and despair, the combination of his single-minded perseverance with David's patience gave them the necessary to complete what they had started. The result: a most unusual collection of songs which on the one hand stir and provoke whilst on the other soothe and relax. David's poetic lyrics are of a high calibre and the music, which combines different styles from folk to rock, almost defies definition. But as Alistair says, "I'm not interested in styles or fashions or trends - I'm interested in reaching the heart."

Learning to Live Again is available on CD, Cassette and Songbook from: "Learning to Live Again", Grosvenor Books, P.O. Box 164, Burwood, VIC 3142, Australia; Tel/Fax: +61-3-889 1769.

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