Showcasing a recording process used for first time in 90 years
The American Epic Sessions is a new award-winning feature-length film showcasing a range of high profile artists replicating early recording processes on an original 1920s electrical recording system. The roster of contemporary artists are led by executive producers Jack White and T Bone Burnett, and includes the likes of Elton John, Alabama Shakes, Beck, Bettye LaVette, Frank Fairfield, Los Lobos, Nas, Rhiannon Giddens, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Taj Mahal, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
The musicians were given the chance to record like Jimmie Rodgers did in 1927. And this is the first time anyone has recreated it in 90 years. The soundtrack of the film will be released on CD and digital download by Columbia Records on June 9th and on vinyl by Third Man Records on June 16th along with many extra performances not featured in the film.
For The American Epic Sessions concert film, engineer Nicholas Bergh reassembled the recording system from original parts as first used in the 1920s, and it is now the only one left in the world. The system consists of a single microphone, a towering six-foot amplifier rack, and a live record-cutting lathe, powered by a weight-driven pulley system of clockwork gears. The musicians have roughly three minutes to record their song direct to disc before the weight hits the floor. In the 1920s, they called this “catching lightning in a bottle.”
All the musical performances in The American Epic Sessions are live, and the audio heard is taken directly from the discs they were recorded to, with no editing or enhancements. In one of the many dynamic and unexpected musical moments captured in The American Epic Sessions, Elton John composes a new song on camera called “Two Fingers of Whiskey,” from lyrics that Bernie Taupin had just given him.
With Jack White accompanying him, the track was recorded direct to wax.
Watch the performance in the video below:
The film will air in the US on PBS on Tuesday, June 6th at 8pm and in the UK on BBC on Friday June 9th at 11pm.