Nominated for a number of Grammy and Tech awards for her mastering and engineering work, Mandy Parnell was recently called upon to work on Bjork’s latest project Biophilia, working with a Prism Sound ‘box of tricks’ to help master the album.
The album combines elements of installations, live performances, digital media and apps to create a unique piece of work. The apps, which are targeted at the iPad market, include ten separate apps housed within one "mother" app. Once this is downloaded, the Biophilia app unfolds on screen into a galaxy of ten stars that allow users to explore, understand and interact with each of album’s tracks. Lyrics and detailed musical analyses are included, while users can also remix the songs themselves, further blurring the line between art, performance and audience.
With years having passed between Biophilia’s inception to its completion, Parnell was brought onto the project in September after Bjork decided she wasn’t happy with the mastering she had done in New York. So, one month prior to its release the album’s release date was pulled back due to conceptual issues on the album, as well as Bjork’s desire to give the album a more ‘live feeling’.
“I initially got a call in London asking if I could re-cut the vinyl,” Parnell said. “Then I got another call asking if I could re-do the entire CD, then another call asking if I could fly out to Reykjavik in Iceland for a playback with Björk and possibly master out there. She wanted me to master the album out there so we had access to the mixes and other rooms if we needed to. She was also in preparation for her live shows, and my being out in Reykjavik meant she could still do that.”
A firm advocate of Prism Sound Technology, Parnell compiled a ‘box of tricks’ that included her Prism Sound Orpheus FireWire Computer Interface and the latest Sadie 6 software. She took this with her and set everything up in a Pro Tools equipped studio belonging to mix engineer Addi 800, who loaned his studio Ö&Ö, part of a facility called E7, for a few days.
Parnell commented: “I’m a massive fan of Prism Sound conversion – their converters are an integral part of my sound – and everything I do goes through them. I also took a Monster Controller to feed into Addi 800’s Barefoot MM27, using my Oprheus as my conversion back into Sadie 6 software, which was also used for editing. The whole process worked really well. This set-up is one that I have put together with the help of the Prism Sound team, who have always been really great whenever I’ve needed their assistance.”
Mandy arrived in Reykjavik for the album playback with Björk, who had just spent two weeks working on the foundation of the album with Leila Arab, a long-time friend and collaborator. They were working on the concept to take the album into the sonic direction she had envisioned. Björk also brought an assistant engineer, Curver, who had been involved with the project for a few months.
“That first day we spend seven hours going through every track on the album so that Björk could explain the concept and the emotional intention, what type of sound she was looking for and how she envisaged the end result. Then I spent another five hours on my own mastering just one track.
“I delivered two versions to her house and she was very happy with the mastering but wanted some changes made to the mix, so it was back to the studio to tweak the mix. We then spent the next couple of days going through all the mixes, tweaking them during mastering and revisiting them to tweak again if Björk felt we needed to.
“We ended up stem mixing, comping vocals and pulling in material from her live shows,” she continued. “All of this was done against the clock because she had recalled everything from New York and needed to deliver a finished product by the end of that week.”
Parnell was keen to state her delight at her involvement on the project, as well as her working relationship with Bjork.
“She’s lovely – really interesting and someone who knows exactly what she wants. I was thrilled to be part of this project and although it was a chaotic four days, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”