Jamie Orchard-Lisle (pictured) has a passion for acoustic instruments, mechanical sounds and fitting strange noises into a musical context. Or, as he calls it, “the weird and the wonderful”.
Odd, then, that the FOH and studio engineer got his start in audio 14 years ago when – “a very long story, short” – he was called up to do work with the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart. It was a good gig, but after three years, Orchard-Lisle’s passion called on him to move on, set up his own studio in east London, and go freelance.
“I set up indigostudio and quite quickly got a fairly good name for being someone to go to if you’ve got a weird instrument, and no one quite knows how it’s supposed to sound. I almost fell into becoming an engineer people call up if you’ve got something strange happening, not just a standard four-piece rock ’n’ roll band,” he says.
This reputation led him to working both live and in the studio with artists such as JuJu – a quarter lead by Juldeh Camara and Justin Adams whose music is best described as Delta blues meets Gambian psychedelia – Ladino singer Yasmin Levy, Penguin Café and sister project Sundog.
“And it’s been like that for the past eight or nine years, really focusing on acoustic stuff. The quality of the sound is what’s really important to me. I love getting in there and messing around with noises, doing things you’re not supposed to do,” he says.
“There’s an album I made a few years ago by a band called Blue Blokes 3; a wonderful English trio, all guitar-based instruments; there’s mandolins, banjos, acoustic guitars. We ended up micing a guitar amp, I remember, and we grabbed a miniature DPA, I think it was a 4061, and we stuck it in a wine glass in front of the guitar amp and got this amazing, weird, resonating thing with the glass interacting with the sound wave. And its that kind of thing that’s exciting… But it’s also great to put up a really beautiful set of mics and get a really honest, natural sound.”
Orchard-Lisle has in fact been a fan of DPA microphones since the Bruel & Kjaer days, and was recently given the opportunity to try out the new d:facto vocal mic.
“It was very lucky that I had the chance, over a one-week period, to try it with a very dynamic female voice (Yasmin Levy), and then to go to almost the exact opposite, a male, African voice (Juldeh Camara). The fact that it worked perfectly on both of them is one of the things that really got me. I didn’t have to touch EQ at all; lo-pass filter, done.”
Curiosity about the new 4099 instrument mics also took hold of Orchard-Lisle; after hearing of their release, he called up UK distributor Sound Network and asked to try a pair out for Penguin Café’s festival tour. “We had the standard thing with live strings where we had a DI or a pickup, and a microphone, but throughout this whole tour of festivals, I didn’t use the DIs once. The monitor engineer loved them because he could get a load of level on stage without feedback, and the players were really happy because it sounded like their instruments. And for me at FOH I had no issues with feedback or anything so I didn’t need to use the pickups. We quickly bought six of these things from Walter (Samuel) and Ralph (Dunlop), and they change what we do. They allow us to have a really high-quality, almost orchestral sound, but get a huge amount of level. They’re one of those mics that just responds beautifully to EQ.”
Off the back of Penguin Café, a sister project was established called Sundog. Its purpose is to allow the legacy of the original Penguin Café Orchestra to exist without too much movement from the original concept, while allowing musical experimentation and expression, still in the vein of the Penguin Café sound.
Their entire debut album, In So Far, was recorded exclusively using a pair of DPA 4015 small diaphragm condensers. “These mics are the most honest mics I've come across,” says Orchard-Lisle. “They allow very accurate capture of the source meaning that during the mixing process, you can really control what's going on, even if it means that by the end, the original sound is heavily modified.”
Between touring with Penguin Café and Sundog, and his work with Yasmin Levy and JuJu (among others), it is amazing that the man who has already racked up passport stamps from 24 different countries this year has time to do anything else, and yet his expertise in quality sound extends beyond the studio and FOH to a position as technical manager at Cecil Sharp House, home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, recently voted Time Out magazine’s second-best venue in London.
As well as managing a team of engineers at the venue, Orchard-Lisle is looking to get involved with Cecil Sharp’s massive audio archive, undoubtedly fueling his passion for mechanical sounds, and the weird and wonderful: “To see the old photographs of these guys singing down a gramophone bell, writing straight to a disc of cylinder, is really amazing. To appreciate what technology can do now, you need to know what was happening back then, and the development over the 100 odd years we’ve been able to record sound.”