When one is conceptualizing a project, even a one song project such as "Island Letter," in one's imagination there is an audio vision of the finished work. Of course, along the way, things happen and that "vision" must morph and change - hopefully into something better that you had conjured up. As I have done on virtually every single project, certainly since 2005's "THE GREEN FIELD," I have been so very fortunate to have been able to count on the friendship, wisdom and input from Rob Mounsey (Keys & Orchestrations). His contributions to this project, and on all levels, was immense. Having already been huge fans of Take 6, when we first received Mark Kibble's vocals in January of 2022, we were both overwhelmed by Mark's artistry, creativity and imagination. After listening to the scope of what Mark had sent us, Rob said something like this to me: "You know, we're really going to need to have this mixed by a great professional, because treating vocals of this quality demands skills and equipment that neither you nor I possess." How right Rob was! Lucky for me, the only real option, another deep friendship and talent, the finished product was going to be mixed by Malcolm Pollack.
If this makes any sense to some of you, I was hoping to achieve what I would describe as a high-gloss production, but with a pronounced sense of transparency. By that I mean, that if one could "see" into a mix, the presentation of any sonic product, you would actually be able to see space in between the instruments, and the voices as well. Easy to say, not so easy to achieve.
Though it might not sound as such, this really was a very minimalist project. I've already mentioned Rob Mounsey, and he was joined by Rubén Rodríguez (5-String Elec. Bass) and Marc Quiñones (Timbal, Conga, Bongó & Perc.). My contributions would be on my Martin MC-28 steel-string acoustic and Strat orchestrations. Mark Kibble had sent us 2 mono lead vocal tracks, and then, 5 stereo pairs of background voices. If you haven't read the Island Letter Saga, I went into much greater detail there. But, when all of the elements were done and ready to mix, that was to require much greater scrutiny and attention from Malcolm and me - with important contributions from Mark Kibble and Rob Mounsey.
Though it has been said a million times, it always seems to bear repeating, "There are no perfect mixes!" So, try as we might, we just had to arrive at a point where we believed that we had come close to capturing what we were hoping for - knowing that it's always going to fall a bit short of that. In a perfect world, I would have preferred if I could have been sitting alongside Malcolm and working through the fine details in real time. But, because I live in New York City and Malcolm now lives in Wellfleet, MA, on the cape, we have to endure sending audio files back and forth, followed by commentary via phone calls and e-mails. At home, when I would receive a version of the mix from Malcolm, I would then burn a CD-R and listen to it attentively on my real and very serious stereo system. After one listening, for feeling, I would listen again, and make some notes. Then, I would communicate those impressions to Malcolm as best as I could - and the process would continue, and repeat itself many times. Our process took quite a bit of time and energy - but we survived it, and our friendship survived it - intact.
But, with so much musical information contained within this one wonderful little love song, and opinions and perceptions being most subjective, it's never going to be exactly what you thought that it might be. That said, Malcolm did a beautiful job, a very sensitive and artistic job. All along the way, Malcolm and I worried about virtually every single detail, large and small. In all cases, Malcolm and I would try to meet somewhere in the middle. We were both especially concerned with representing Mark Kibble's vocal brilliance in the best possible audio light. For me, having lived with this piece of work from its inception - I knew every detail. But, as we all know, we can't expect the average listener to hear all of those details - they are just listening for the feeling of it all. And, in the final analysis that is everything!
Long after we signed-off on everything, and the song had been mastered by Greg Calbi @ Sterling Sound, I wondered to myself, "What would this sound like if we only could hear Mark Kibble's vocals accompanied by the Latin percussion, all performed by the great Marc Quiñones?" And so, I endeavored to make a rough mix of just that - tinkering away at it for hours on end in Protools, and finally, I felt that I had come-up with something.
If you are now going to take the time to listen to the performance in this way, I believe that there is no way that you will not be able to appreciate what Mark Kibble created here. Sorry about the double negative! It is simply from another world of the human imagination, a kind of artistry rarely seen or heard. Speaking for myself, I love listening to this version! And imagine this if you will, there's no guitar, no keyboards, no bass, and yet, it's all there. The bedrock for Mark's creative vocal adventures was always there in support. During the Outro, there are four little two-beat surprises that I wrote into the arrangement, and just for Mark - because he can hear these things. They occur during the 2nd-half of the 4th bar of repeats 2 through 5. See if you hear them go by.
I would remind you all that, every single voice that you hear, from bottom to top, from top to bottom, it's all ONE GUY!!! Yes, ONE GUY!!! And that's Mark Kibble. Enjoy his magnificence with my best wishes!!!
MK-MQ "Island Letter" Performance: