April 27, 2007
In 2003, shortly after legendary soul singer Reverend Al Green reunited
with record producer Willie Mitchell for the album "I Can't Stop", Seth Mnookin
spoke with them about their favorite microphone:
No. 9 is the microphone that Mitchell first used to record Green, more than
three decades ago. He hasn’t allowed anyone to sing into it since. “Willie loves
that mike, man, he does,” Green said. “It sounds full and it sounds wholesome.
Every time I come down there, he takes No. 9 down off the shelf and out of that
same box and polishes it just like a baby."
“When I first got Al to come into the studio,” Mitchell said, “I knew he was
special and I knew I had to be perfect to capture it. So I tried to use all
kinds of mikes for his voice. And when I heard him on No. 9 I said, ‘Oh my God,
this is the real thing.’ I put numbers on the mikes we used that day so I could
keep track of them. At least I think that’s why I put numbers on them—I was
drinking vodka. But when I got to this one I put a nine on it. It has a real
romantic sound, a soft, warm sound. Like on ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?’
when he breathes on the mike, you hear that.”
No. 9 is an RCA 77DX ribbon microphone, one of those iconic capsule-shaped
mikes similar to the ones that Larry King and David Letterman keep on their
desks. Ribbon microphones are extremely delicate and can pick up the subtlest
variations in volume, which is why Green’s recorded murmurings and half whispers
sound as emotional and intense as his shouts and yell.
Seth Mnookin. "No. 9."
The New Yorker. December 8th, 2003.
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