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March 2023
Vol. 22, No. 6
32nd Annual San Diego Music Awards

Zen of Recording

Masking Opportunity

by Sven-Erik SeaholmMay 2020

It all started with the birds.

Each morning (on a workday) I get up at the actual butt-crack of dawn, when the first slivers of daylight begin to wend their way through the branches and power lines and splash upon the angled rooftops that surround the backyard. The first order of business is to take the dogs (Hunnie and Pollie) outside to do their morning potties, which they tend to do in separate corners of the yard. It’s during this period of quiet respite that I steal a little time for myself. I listen.

Mostly it’s the muted stillness that I find so alluring. Soon enough, my ears will be hammered by air brakes, car horns, PA announcements, loud jokes, and podcasts before I return home to listen to audio edits, mixes and masters, and maybe a little Jeopardy before bedtime. But for a brief several minutes at the very start of my day, sound comes gently.

In the distance, I can hear the murmur of Interstate 8 almost imperceptibly rising in volume like a river through the valley, as the earliest commuters make their way to work. Closer by, car doors slam and engines turn over for those who will soon join into the fray. I can hear newspapers hitting driveways and early morning walkers softly chattering as their dogs nails clack and scrape along the sidewalks. For all of the time that I spend willfully celebrating technology and the sounds of human expression, these are in fact my favorite moments.

Birds have always held their own special place within the tapestry of this peaceful ritual. Hearing them waking, chirping, singing, and readying themselves to feed their families, just like my human neighbors are doing brings a certain focus and perspective to the start of each day. The dogs signal that they’re ready to go back inside and so it begins.

For the sake of context, I’ll need to impart a little personal information at this juncture.

Recently, I was ill and it was determined that I would require surgery. In the weeks leading up to that, I arranged to be off from work for two months—on disability between March and May—to recuperate. Long story short, everything went great and I went home on some really good drugs. However, on the day after my procedure, all non-emergent surgeries were cancelled (regardless of how essential, which mine most certainly was) and very shortly thereafter, the city went into lockdown to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

When I emerged a few days later to resume the morning dog routine, it was immediately apparent that things had changed. Gone was the hushed rushing of I-8’s distant rapids. Cars, bikes, pets, and people seemed to have all but vanished overnight.

The birds were having Mardi Gras. Never have I witnessed such a joyous cacophonic whirl of activity emanating from seemingly everywhere around me!

The air seemed newly fresh, crisp, and quite perceptibly clean. I took the blue sky in through the deepest breath possible and savored it for a single blessed moment, only to feel a torrent of shame-related questions as I exhaled…could it be so quickly obvious how much damage we bring to this earth each day just by living on it? Is our global warming a planetary fever? Are deadly pandemics like this one the Earth’s way of attempting to heal itself? To save itself?

I didn’t sleep last night. Well, I finally did around 7am and woke to a lovely video chat with my boy Miles at 11am. Meanwhile, my son Drew contracted one of the earliest confirmed cases in San Diego and did his own video chats with local news stations to help others to take this seriously and stay healthy. Just like you, these concerns—as well as financial worries and stress regarding how to keep my family safe—hammer at me like an ever-churning collage of anxiety.

As an “essential worker” in a less then germ-free environment, even a cursory glance toward returning to work in the future can raise the hackles of fear and set my mind to spin, but when I stop to count my blessings (of which there are so many), I am still so grateful.

This is the last day of a self-imposed 14 quarantine, due to a fever I ran a couple of weeks ago. My girl Patricia could be impacted more than most by this virus, yet she has stood by me through this recovery—cooking, cleaning, bravely shopping, and supporting me through this difficult chapter. The rest of our families are fine despite a couple of quarantines and remain hunkered down at home.

Meanwhile, the studio work I was doing for another artist has continued, albeit remotely, and I’ve been able to put a lot more time and effort into the work I’ve done than my previous schedule afforded me. This has resulted in a much higher quality product. Much of the rest of my time has been spent “getting my learn on” at “YouTube University,” educating myself even more about the tools and techniques I will cover through this column in the future.

Like I said, I’m grateful despite all of the pain, death, and sacrifice that continue to spread over the globe like a smothering blanket of hopelessness and uncertainty. Grateful to our heroes in hospitals and grocery stores, police and fire departments, our military, restaurants who continue to cook and deliver, and the transit workers who brave worse conditions than you can imagine to keep many of these folks working. God Bless You All. God bless the music that resonates in all our hearts like the songs of those beautiful birds in the trees. Please stay safe.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an artist, engineer, producer and MTS Bus Operator who sometimes speaks to birds.

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