When Matt and I were nearing the end of the vocal recording sessions for the new album, we reached the point where Matt began ‘comping’ the vocal takes together to create the final version. He was working away with his trusty studio headphones so I didn’t have to listen to 9 different takes of the same two and half word phrase as he searched for the perfect (/best) version. After a while he had enough to play me a sample. He flicked a switch and played the track through the studio monitors (speakers) so I could listen in.
I didn’t know what to say. It didn’t sound that good. My vocals weren’t perfect, or even close to. Thankfully I didn’t have to say anything. Matt stared at the monitors for a few seconds and then glared at his ‘trusty’ headphones. ‘You’ve been lying to me’ he said at them.
The headphones had failed to reveal the discrepancies between the pitch of my vocals and the pitch of the instruments. Matt was right, they had lied. As I’ve thought about this for a while, the image has grown on me.
From a technical side, sounds reverberate at frequencies that are related to one another. So sounds that are in the same key or harmonise reverberate in ways that makes sense with each other. Put simply, they work together. That’s why they sound good together.
The challenge is, and it was a challenge too great for Matt’s ‘trusty’ headphones, is to give voice to things that are discordant, particularly things that are only just discordant. The headphones contain a speaker cone, which has to vibrate to express the sounds making up the track. Therefore its very hard for the headphones to create all those sounds that make sense with one another and then still be truthful in creating that sound which doesn’t quite belong (in this case, my wobbly vocal). And yet, it was still there. So what to do with it?
So the headphones fudged it. They performed ‘musical roll-together’ (you heard it here first, trademark, all rights reserved). They nudged my vocals that little closer to tuneful than they really were, and it wasn’t until we listened on some more truthful speakers that the deception was revealed.
It occurred to me that it is really difficult to give voice to things as they really are. It’s much easier to let things ‘roll together’ to create the illusion of unity even if the reality is less coherent. Our lives, our relationships, our characters and our church’s are full of things that are slightly (or wildly) out of tune. Yet it can be all too easy to gloss over these glitches and present a more harmonious front than is truthful. Lying becomes preferable.
It takes courage to articulate the complexities of our lives. It also takes quality of character. It is not easy to hold the tension between things that make sense together and honestly confess the things that don’t. Often we can’t cope with things that don’t seem to make sense, especially if they are close to us or even inside of us, so we coerce them into making sense – in order to live with ourselves more peacefully. But it is a false peace, built on a lie.
This brings me to confession and our understanding of righteousness. Too often we understand righteousness as rightness. But this is not the Biblical picture of it. It is more about right connection with God and one another. As long as we buy into the ‘righteousness as rightness’ school of thought we will fudge things and tell lies about the discrepancies in our lives so as to preserve the illusion that we’ve got things ‘right’’ But if it’s about ‘righteousness as right-connection’ then getting to the truth is quite important. Hearing the out-of-tune vocals becomes essential. It’s like getting to something solid before you start building. God seems more interested in our efforts at honesty than our efforts at perfection. Confession is the gift God gives us so we can hear the truth about ourselves and know that we are not condemned by it.
So may you hear the truth, and may it set you free.