Blue Man Group may have started out roaming the streets of New York as performance artists-a category laid on creators whose live pieces defy easy categorization and, as a rule, generate little mass appeal. But their zany antics-which include earsplitting unison drum figures pounded on PVC pipes and pouring paint on drumheads and splaying it around the stage with their strokes- have captured the hearts and imaginations of Middle America. BMG is now a full-sized business operation whose show Tubes runs simultaneously in several cities with a subset of Blue Man players performing and reinterpreting the parts devised by the original creators, Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton. They have appeared more than six times on The Tonight Show.
Mix columnist Dan Daley visited BMG in December 1998, but the group has just finished its first CD, Audio, and is preparing to take its show to Las Vegas, and so we stopped into their new Lower East Side studio/rehearsal space for a visit. Producer Todd Perlmutter, who performs with the group, was helping to rehearse the larger ensemble that will be heading out to the Luxor Theatre in Las Vegas for a scheduled five-year run. "We recorded the album here as well. Recording in traditional studios wasn't working out," he says. "How do you retune a 20-foot length of PVC pipe by sawing off a foot if you're tracking at Quad?"
When Blue Man Group moved into their rehearsal/recording space last September it was with a sense of urgency. "The studio was built over a two-week period," says Perlmutter. The equipment showed up on a Friday, and we began tracking Audio the following Monday." Not exactly a construction schedule of Biblical proportion, but a lot of work crammed into a tight time frame.
BMG's studio includes plenty of "utilitarian" gear, according to Perlmutter. A Neotek Elite console, with 46 inputs and eight stereo outputs is the studio's only console. Tracking is done to a pair of otari MTR-90 2-inch machines.
The studio uses Dynaudio BM15 monitors only, and a variety of Shure microphones were used. To capture the lowest frequencies of the huge bass drum constructed by the group, a Neumann TLM170 was employed.
In addition to the live performances that will be featured in the Vegas show, some prerecording, including a dance track mixed in surround sound at Record one in L.A., was recorded at Soundtrack with engineer Bill Bookhei. Mixing for the rest of Audio was eventually executed uptown at Quad with engineer Mike Frazier.
Audio, and their installation at the Luxor, reveal BMG's desire to expand the musical component of their art by adding players to their core ensemble. Limited by space constraints in the smaller venues they've been booked in to date, the record adds guitars for a post-punk/Spaghetti Western admixture that retains the tribal aspect of their live show.
on the day we met, Blue Man Group was conducting interviews in the control room of their studio while rehearsals were taking place on the large stage where they also track. Wink, who struck me as the John Lennon of the group, paused for only a moment when asked if their transformation into a fully formed business organization had altered the basic nature of the Blue Man Group. "Becoming the American business model is something of a mind f-, yes. We became a company. There's an ebb and flow. The worst case is that you can turn into a bureaucratic, bottom-line entity. on the other hand, we can be a finely tuned organization. It is possible to reconcile art and commerce, and that's exciting."
Still, Vegas is a long way from the fine food/working class decor found at places like the Kiev restaurant in Alphabet City. Isn't there some culture shock going on here?
Matt Goldman says that the group "needed a West Coast presence, a place where we could sit for a while. We started out on the streets, but we're comfortable playing in different places. We checked out spaces in San Francisco and L.A., but the longest runs they'd ever had were five or six months. The Luxor offered us a deal that sets us up for five years, which is just what we were looking for."
"There were really only two options," says Wink. "We could tour large venues, or find a place to sit down for a while. our show is not tourable yet, because of all the gadgets we use. Vegas is the only place that can freak out a New Yorker. It seems so weird to them! The thing that attracts me about the place, though, is that the population turns over every three days!"
Blue Man Group has gotten a lot of press for the instruments they build, but the soul of their act lies in the way they play with cultural models. "The constant tension between the individual and the group is what our show is all about," says Wink. "We have this romantic notion that America is all about the individual, but there's more conformity here than anywhere else. on the other hand, cultures that value the collective experience can actually be encouraging individual expression in a deeper way. Blue Man Group shows center around those moments when the individual asserts himself and is then absorbed back into the group."
In other studio news: The Cutting Room has recently added an SSL 4064 G Plus console to its tool set. owner David Crafe has set out to offer clients premium analog and digital recording pathways. The studio tracks to 2-inch, ADAT and DA-88 and recent clients include Whitney Houston, Bruce Hornsby and Mary J. Blige.
Construction on Studio B is nearly complete. This room offers Pro Tools|24 hard disk recording. Crafe says that the SSL has taken his studio to the next level: "I started out as a synth programmer and engineer, and the business grew out of the work I was doing while I was still in college. The club scene led me to get contacts with lots of New York DJs, and eventually the studio grew. The SSL, coupled with our Pro Tools rig, put us in the big leagues."