“Mixology” with George Walker Petit: On Kitchens and Compression

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“…Yeah…I guess I first tried it, I don’t know, maybe back in high school.  I don’t remember who gave my first taste…I was playing bass in an Allman Brothers cover band and all the really cool guys in the group were into it, so I was curious I guess.  The first time I tried it I knew there was no way I would ever kick it…over the years, my habit got a lot worse…I’d spend every penny I had buying more ‘stuff’.  I’ve just never been able to get completely off it.  I have to say, I’m still an addict…I faced that a long time ago.

…Hi, my name is George, and I’m a Mixaholic.”

Familiar story? I Figured.  If you’re one of “us”, you totally get this intro, and I hope you’ll be checking in with me on a monthly basis to try to talk through our mutual “habit” and related issues.  Call it a 12-step program.

George Walker Petit is always practicing Mixology.

I’ve been asked to write a “monthly” on the subject of “Mixing”. I am really honored and pleased to do this.  I’ll be conversational in my tone and will try to hit on different philosophies and approaches to mixing and upon occasion, tools of the trade, recognizing that we all do our jobs differently.

But mostly, it’ll be MY anecdotes, thoughts and observations – intended to elicit thought, invite debate, self-define – or perhaps just share a laugh and an “Amen”.  I hope you enjoy the trip.  Feel free to educate me to your read on all this stuff…I am also here to learn. Aren’t we all to a greater or lesser degree?  Personally, the day I stop learning or being psyched to learn more about what I love will be the day I do my last mix.

What are you mixing for dinner?

In our house, I’m the chef…for a lot of reasons. First, my lovely wife is English…that’s a giveaway right there.  The Island Nation has never been known for its culinary leadership, its “bevy of delicacies”. You won’t likely hear a Cordon Bleu chef exclaiming:  “Sacré Bleu, but zees ‘Bangairs and Mash’ ees…Formeeeedabluh!!!!”  And, unless you’re a Brit, you probably won’t experience the profound ecstasy derived from a good plate of Beans on Toast, some Bubble and Squeak or a good Toad In The Hole.

Ok, ok, there are a number of great English chefs with cooking shows – Jamie’s great…whatever.  Bottom line is, cuisine is not really their bag, so I do the cooking around here and I really enjoy it. I love to cook.  I like planning a meal, shopping for ingredients, prepping, cooking and finally, happily, eating what I’ve cooked.  It’s creative, focusing, requires some degree of skill, experimentation, timing, flow and effort…and is very, very “full-filling”.  Sorry.

You know where I am going with this, right?  I figured, again.

Over the years I have noticed that there are a great number of mixers that love to cook.  Granted, there are also a great number of musicians that are “into” wine or food…but the business, the “doing” of the cooking, that is, for people that mix music — for hobby or for a living — the vast majority of us, we cook.  We “mix” meals.

Look at the analogies, the parallels. Tonight I am going to make what I hope will be a great meal for my wife, myself and a couple of good friends.  The menu is not important at the moment — you can email me for that.  I don’t know for certain that it will be all that I hope for, but I am confident that it will be very tasty, well-presented and well-received.  My intentions are admirable, that’s my start. Let’s see how I do.

I have ingredients to buy! And the better, fresher and tastier the ingredients, the better the meal is likely to be, right?  But before even that, I have to have had a concept for the meal…what type of food?  How much food?  How rich, how spicy, how subtle, how will the meal “flow”?  As soon as I have decided on this concept for my dinner, I have basically already envisioned how the meal will unfold, imagined how it should taste and hopefully, how my guests will experience and enjoy not only the food itself, but the entire “meal”.

George's inner Niles is loose!

Do I sound like Niles Crane?  Perhaps…but please read on…(someone pour me a sherry…not too dry.)

So – I choose the menu, I buy the best ingredients I can find – usually from a few shops that specialize — a real bakery, fresh fish monger, local cheese shop and wine store – all carefully chosen for quality.  I actually care about this and make efforts to get the best.  It’s a personal pride thing.

Next, I’ll prepare – I’ll wash veggies, clean the fish, uncork the wine (pouring a large glass for the chef), organize my ingredients, my spices, olive oil, butter, it’ll all be laid out in front of me for quick access.

My cooking tools – my saucepans, double-boilers, knives and blenders, utensils and mixing bowls are all right there in front of me, all clean and all of quality – hell, I’d rather work with one sharp Sabatier knife than a dozen dull or un-wieldy blades.  Quality is the key here.  I get a certain degree of pleasure knowing that I am working with great quality tools.

How much pepper?  How much fresh dill or shallot?  Cream sauce with white wine or clarified butter…poached or sautéed?  What will bring out the flavors I want to highlight in this meal?  Too much cream sauce and garlic, and my fish might as well be tofu.  Cook the veggies too long and the nutrients are gone. Experience helps here. If I can’t identify why something tastes “off”, I can’t fix it.

(Aside:  I once heard an hilarious description of a wine on some comedy show like SNL: “The red is… vigorous, yet…unbarred…flaccid, yet…turgid…”  Cracked me up.)

…and the meal has to evolve.  A good meal is a journey, an experience, a passing of time. I don’t cook one-plate meals. I prepare three courses – minimum.  The meal has a beginning, a middle and an end.  And the end has to leave the diner wanting more, at the same time satisfied, replete…having enjoyed the experience, wanting to repeat it. It’s all got to work together: balanced, well presented.

“What a lovely meal”, my guests will hopefully say, or “Great burger!” That kind of reaction, and sharing in the tastes, the conversation, the joy of the meal. That’s my reward.

Draw your parallels. The ingredients; preparation; combination of elements; flow; presentation.

Why make such efforts, take so much time? Because my “guests” deserve it, and my mix clients are paying for it.  I don’t like getting the least for my money when I shop. I like getting the most. So do they.

Sweet words o' wisdom.

Are mixers not chefs?  Surely, poorly recorded tracks ruin a good “stew”.  Sloppy edits noise-up a salad.  Too much cayenne pepper masks a perfectly good percussion track.  A filthy mix room turns your diners away.

What are you trying to accomplish both in the short and the long term?  Consider how you work, why you work, your presentation and level of pride in your work.  Pride in our industry.  What are you trying to accomplish both in the short and the long term?

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  • Rumbatap

    Very well put Mr. Petit, and definitely valid for any artist, no matter what your field!!

  • Savoy

    Niles, this is so cool, educational as well as entertaining

  • George

    Thanks, Savoy ! I appreciate the comment. gp

  • George

    Cheers, Rumbatap! Thanks for the response…and agreed!

  • Well said indeed Mr. Uhms, a very cool intro for your column. Good luck with it. I tweeted it: “Mixology” with George Walker Petit: On Kitchens and Compression : SonicScoop – For NYC’s Music & Sound Community: http://bit.ly/gBRgmM

  • Nathanielchan

    George, I’ve thought about exactly this many a time. I love to mix and I love to cook. Well written. Does your wife at least assist you in the kitchen?

  • George

    You bet ! Another analogy there…sous chef/assistant engineer…?
    Cheers, Nathaniel – and thanks for reading – see you next time ! g