Creating the Barrio del Pilar (Go Play With Traffic).
Barry Rogers was producing and album for Harvey Averne’s record Company, “Coco”, called “Pasaporte”. The group was called Orchestra Broadway. This was a Latin music album in a style called “Charanga”. Charanga as a style had existed for a while, but at the time (1976) it had not yet exploded to the general Latin music public. It is said, Pasaporte was part of the Charanga explosion.
We recorded and mixed in an unusual way. We didn’t just mix in such a way as to play-back on only the finest audio equipment. Each song on the album was crafted to be very audible on the radio or cheaper Hi Fi, and also swing like crazy. Eight songs as I remember, each too long to get air-play but yet crafted for it, like they were each going to end up the single a single. Each song crafted to sound great on not only the best audio equipment, but also on the worst.
One of the songs is about a specific section in Puerto Rico where a lot happens. It is like a market, with much hubbub, and people, and excitement, and music and jamming on instruments, like an inner-city market place. It is called Barrio del Pilar. The Barrio del Pilar is actually in Madrid, Spain, but Barry led me to believe it was in PR.
In the middle of the song with the same name, the song was supposed to break away from the ambience-less, dry-sounding, studio recording, and take you to the actual market place. It was supposed to let you feel the pulsating hub-bub of that market place, with all the musicians just jamming, on mostly percussion instruments, some bottles, and boxes. For this auditory scene, we needed to record some street sounds, musicians jamming, and all the hubbub to fit perfectly with the song and ambience. We did not want to use sound effects records. They would have no interaction with music and not paint the picture properly.
We decided to make a jam session with friends in the studio, to get those live “playing-with-each-other” sounds. We wanted unrehearsed jam music with little direction and a lot of combined “feel”. We wanted interaction between the street sounds and the playing, all while staying true to the “feel” and tempo of the in-studio music recording.
The session was scheduled for a Friday night, at rush hour, near 9th Avenue in NYC. We placed microphones on the roof of the studio building so we could pump the actual street noises and activity from the outside, into the studio. Friday night has the most activity in NYC.
In prep for the session, mics were thrown up all around the room, some drinks on a table in the corner, studio speakers were feeding the street ambiance into the room. A single head-phone feed was set up with just the rhythm track of the song feeding it, to keep everyone jamming in time with the track.
(Earlier Barry and I did the following: I took a 4 track machine and from the original 24 track copied just the percussion section onto the four separate tracks. Then I made a 2 bar loop out of the 4 track tape. This loop would play over and over, and sounded continuous. We took a full reel of 2 inch tape and packed it so it would play longer than the 32 minutes they usually do, maybe about an hour in length. And then during the jam session the 4 track loop was to be copied onto 4 tracks of the 2 inch, along with the outside microphones, and the inside musicians jam microphones.
Musicians came to the studio and got into the groove of the loop. They played with it, made up counter rhythms, and took the rhythm track back to the feeling of the Barrio. At around 5:30-6:00 we went into record on the multi-track. We captured the song’s rhythm, the jamming playing, the street sounds, and the playing together. The playing soon became double inspired. Not only were they jamming with each other, but also with the car horns and general hubbub sounds from outside in the street. A car horn would go “Beep Beep” and someone would mimic that on the congas and the other musicians would jam off it. The ambiance and the jam and the track were now all tied together.
Pretty soon we heard from the street what might have been a back fire or a pop. Maybe it was a gunshot. Then about 5 minute later we heard ambulances from a distance rushing towards us. Suddenly an ambulance and police cars were all the same distance from us as the pop we heard. They pulled up somewhere near. The musicians played through the whole event. Just like the hubbub in the Barrio del Pilar.
Later when we mixed the song, all we had to do to get that “life in the Barrio del Pilar” feeling, was to cut out most of the extra jamming on the tape. We left the most interactive parts of the story in the single.
Barrio del Pilar, even though it was almost 7 minutes long, became one of the “hits” on the album. The Album was on the Latin Charts 7 Months.