The Gods of FUBAR
by Sue Terry
Sometimes, in the course of human events, we are visited by alien entities who descend upon us to mess up our projects. In the military they have a descriptive name for these happenings: FUBAR. This is an acronym which euphemistically translates as "Screwed Up Beyond All Recognition."
The chief weapon in the hands of the gods of FUBAR is Surprise. When one realizes the debilitating strength of their onslaught, one might easily succumb to the second weapon--Fear.
Here's what happened: I was in a top recording studio with a top engineer, getting ready to do an important phone interview with a top Jazz journalist, to be broadcast on NPR during my upcoming tour. I had worked hard to make this happen, and it looked like all the ducks were in a row and we were ready to go.
Setting up for the interview, the engineer checked the phone line, the microphone, the feeds--everything was in order. The interview went great, and my husband said it sounded excellent from the control room. After the interview I said my goodbyes to the interviewer, and the engineer arranged to send him the files.
I went into the control booth to listen back. Curiously, the playback was completed distorted and barely intelligible. The engineer was mortified. He could not figure out what the problem was, but he knew the recording was useless. His wife came in and tried to offer some helpful suggestions as she was very familiar with the recording process, but he told her in no uncertain terms there was no way to rescue the tracks. He was freaking out--in that low-key way that recording engineers have. (In the etheric aura surrounding his body, he was tearing his hair out and screaming.)
The engineer and his wife were old friends of mine, and I had recorded at their studio in the past but not for some time. The homecoming party was not turning out so well.
My husband and I went over to the main house with the engineer's wife. We drank some fruit juice and talked about how weird it was that the track had gone all FUBAR on us. While the wife and the engineer were beside themselves with embarrassment and anxiety, I myself felt quite calm. I can't explain it, but the whole scene had a "my plan is working perfectly" vibe to it that was completely illogical.
While the rest of us were in the house, back in the studio the engineer had to call up the interviewer and explain what had happened. That must have been a tough phone call to make.
We returned to the studio, and the engineer was working on the other project I had brought him--making a compilation disc from several different albums of mine. As he sensed that I was not at all upset, he began to relax, and soon we were working at a nice pace and finished the project quickly. I then suggested that we recreate the interview by listening back to the distorted recording and writing down the interviewer's questions. Then I could go back and record my part again, inserting the cues for the questions. (In radio interviews like this, interviewers normally re-record their own voice when they are making the edits for the final program, so he would have had to do this anyway.)
I tried my best to recreate the spontaneity of my original answers as I asked myself the questions and answered them all over again. In my humble opinion, it came out even better because I trimmed out some of the rambling parts.
We sent the interviewer the new files, and he e mailed back saying they would be fine. He thanked us for the extra work we put in.
"How much do I owe you?" I asked the engineer as he was handing me my discs.
"On the house," he said. So I got my NPR segment recorded, plus my compilation CD, for free. Aside from the extra 90 minutes or so that I spent at the studio.
Moral of the story: Stuff happens. Don't freak out. Be calm, deal with it. Relax and let the river settle back to its natural flow. If you agitate yourself you stir up the mud and make things worse. Are you a Jazz musician? Then improvisation is your coin of the realm. Heads or tails, baby, make it work.