Home Taping (is skill in music)
International Musician and Recording World (UK) Dec. 1988
You don't hear music like Enya's every day. Her new album, Watermark, stayed on my turntable for weeks after I first heard it. Like all good things, Enya's music isn't easy to describe. Dense and frail at the same time, it deals in atmosphere and mood, expressed through a voice so crystalline that it almost hurts. One of the reviews suggested that it might be quintessential CD music, but that seems to me to miss the point completely.
Christened Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, Enya left school to join the family band, Clannad, eventually tiring of being the little sister, and so leaving to work on her own music. Along the way, she composed the music to film mogul David Puttnam's The Frog Prince and the BBC series The Celts, worked with Sinéad O'Connor and eventually landed a record deal with WEA, almost by chance, through sitting next to the MD (who was familiar with her work) at an awards ceremony.
Enya's music is created and demo'd at a studio in the quiet Dublin house she shares with her manager/producer Nicky Ryan and press officer/lyricist Roma. It's an enclosed, private world, which you can feel in the music produced there. Built with money from The Frog Prince, the studio is based round a desk (24:8:6) which was custom built for Nicky in the days when he was doing the live sound for Clannad. "I wanted the warmth of a Neve, with the best of SSL eq."
The unusual thing about it is that the eq is at the front of the desk, so within easy hand reach. The machine is the trusty Fostex E16 ("an incredible machine - as good in quality terms as most 24 tracks, but you'll find that most engineers feel obliged to say it's worse"). For monitoring, there's a pair of Yamaha NS10Ms, but these don't in fact get used much.
"I mainly monitor on these KEF hi fi speakers, because they're truer to the room. There's a pair of Urei model 809s here, but they're almost too good; you'd almost want to build a room around them."
Outboard gear is kept to a functional minimum; two MIDIverb IIs ("I prefer them to the super duper machines"), an ATC Q1 reverb and a Roland SDE-1000 digital delay. Nicky uses no compression whatsoever, preferring to let the music breathe freely, saying: "It's time engineers got back to listening to sounds and not flavour of the month. I wish they'd stop reading Studio Sound for a while. It pisses me off."
Nicky and Enya build up the huge vocal swathes which are so much a feature of the sound, by patiently layering sometimes dozens of tracks, bouncing them onto a Sony F1 and then spinning them back in. Many engineers remain unconvinced by the F1 but, as with everything, Nicky is practical and philosophical about this.
"The F1's better than DAT because it has an accurate pause button, even though the DAT sounds better."
Enya sings through a Sennheiser MKH 40 P48, which is prone to popping, but valued for its absolute transparency. The acoustic instruments, such as Davey Spillane's haunting bagpipes and flutes, are handled with a Sony ECM50 - a relatively inexpensive mike, as it happens. Engineers often complain about having to record the more exotic acoustic instruments such as the Celtic ones used here, but Nicky insists that, "There has to be a microphone to suit every instrument. It's all to do with placement. If an engineer tells you he can't get a good sound with a particular instrument, he's lying."
Enya seems immediately much more at home when she's in the studio talking than when she's outside of it. Composing the music is a lonely, absorbing process.
"I usually work with the D50, and I have a microphone in front of me, just putting down ideas on my own (TEAC) four-track. I'm just recording at random. Even ideas that I don't know what to do with, they always come in handy somewhere, maybe as a middle eight or the start of another piece. I have to keep working all the time."
So Enya sits in the studio, chained to the D50, an old Juno 60 - used mainly for its arpeggiator (check out 'Storms In Africa') - and a Yamaha KX88 master keyboard, until a complete piece (solos and all) is written, at which point Nicky joins her and they commit to tape. Sometimes this takes weeks, sometimes a couple of days, as in the case of the B-side to the single 'Orinoco Flow'.
"It was done in a couple of days, because time was so short. I had written it in A, but the uillean piper can't play in A, so I had to transpose it down to G, so I had a guide down for him in G, and on the day he was arriving, I said to Nicky, "Oh dear, I don't like G at all", so we decided on the spot to transpose it again to C. So I had a couple of hours to put down the guide, but in fact that became the lead vocal, because the feeling was so strong for me: the song's in Gaelic, and it's about my grandparents and their influence on me. So I went to put down the guide, and when I stopped, that was it, it was the lead vocal, because the feeling was there. It's rough, but the feeling in it was so good. I was very happy with that."
Gaelic is actually Enya's first language, although it's only used on one of the songs on the album, 'Na Laetha Geal M'Óige'. The soundtrack to The Celts, however, was different.
"There's a sound in the Gaelic section, Scots Gaelic (which is very close Irish Gaelic). They do what are called Waulking songs. They're very rhythmic: Irish music isn't rhythmic at all, it's very open. But for The Celts, we wanted something very rhythmic, and we used Scots Gaelic Waulking songs. It's all sounds, it doesn't mean anything, but when all the women are working, weaving or whatever, they sing these. It's like Blues, it's just a rhythm that helps them when they're working. I use these in 'The Longships' on Watermark too."
You'll be hearing a lot more of Enya in the near future, a fact which proves once and for all that, in the English record companies' search for "world music", they need so often look no further than their back door.
Note: Originally transcribed by Peter Warburton and posted to rec.music. newage. His notes follow:
I corrected some obvious errors in copying the text. In particular, Andrew Smith must have mis-heard Nicky Ryan's first name, as he refers consistently to "Micky". "Uillean" got rendered phonetically as "Elland". I don't know enough about the recording industry to recognise errors in the technicalities, so it wouldn't surprise me if there are a few of those.
One other correction I made, after much thought, was to change "Scotch Gaelic" to "Scots Gaelic". The Scottish people seem to prefer the adjectives "Scots" or "Scottish", reserving "Scotch" for a few time- honoured expressions such as Scotch whisk(e)y, Scotch broth and Scotch mist. Whatever the correct usage might be in this case, I'm sure Enya got it right, but I'm far from sure that Smith would have heard her correctly, and he evidently didn't check any spellings.
Smith neglected to mention the title of the B-side of the 'Orinoco Flow' single, perhaps understandably in view of his difficulty with spellings; it's 'Smaointe... (D'Aodh Agus Do Mháire Uí Dhúgain)', which also appears on the expensive imported Japanese CD 6 Tracks and is the last track on Shepherd Moons.
'Na Laetha Geal M'Óige' is not in fact the only Gaelic track on Watermark, as fans will know. Apart from 'The Longships', which may consist of meaningless phrases, but they are Gaelic meaningless phrases, there's also 'Storms In Africa'.