The Sarah Kenan Sessions

As Long As I Know You


Everywhere I Go (I See Your Face)

During a relatively brief three-year period from 1990 through 1992, I collaborated with Durham’s lovely and talented Sarah Kenan (Shunk) to write, arrange, and record a group of songs that blended our two quite different and disparate musical abilities, approaches and sensibilities into a surprisingly cohesive small body of work.

The songs were recorded in my home studio using a Fostex Model 80 1/4″ 8-track reel-to-reel (built in 1986), synchronized via SMPTE code to an Atari 1040ST computer.  Song projects were ultimately mixed to 1/4″ tape on the matching Fostex Model 20 stereo half track recorder of the same vintage.

Generally Sarah would show up with a song idea she sang and played on an electronic keyboard.  I would work with her to arrange the ideas into the form of a complete song with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  We would then record her keyboard part beginning to end, and with that we had the framework upon which we would layer other instruments and vocals to build a fully produced finished song.  I usually added drums, percussion, bass guitar, electric guitar, and various synth layers.  Then we recorded Sarah’s lead vocals, after which we both added background vocals.  From all these layers we mixed final stereo versions of the songs.  Vocals, guitar, and bass came from the Model 80 tape recorder while all electronic sounds came from the computer playback of the various synth and sampler devices.

These songs were never published or released, only enjoyed privately by family and friends through the stereo cassette tapes we made and shared one at a time.  As a result of passing years and changing technologies, the cassettes were all lost, damaged, worn out, or simply abandoned to obsolescence.  Our lives moved forward taking us in very different directions.  Our collaborative work, along with our collection of songs, was all left in the past.

By chance, early in 2019, I ran into Sarah in Chapel Hill for the first time in nearly 25 years.  We caught up on families and careers and then asked each other whether or not any of our old recordings might have survived.  Shortly afterward Sarah told me she indeed had found a few reels of tape in storage at her home in Durham.  We decided to try to get the tapes digitized.  Not an easy ask as by now our ’80’s technology is long out of use at nearly all studios.

I contacted Chris Wimberley of Nightsound Studio in Carrboro, who told me he still owns a 1/4″ half track reel-to-reel machine and would be happy to try to convert our old tapes to digital files we could enjoy in the here and now.  It was not exactly a straight ahead project as Chris’s machine mostly sits idle and needed substantial cleaning, lubrication, and alignment.  A lot of people might’ve said sorry, good luck with that, but Chris possesses an abundance of enthusiasm and integrity, so he naturally went the extra mile to put forth the effort.  Nightsound’s Rafael Green actually ran the transfer sessions, which turned out to be even trickier because the nearly 30-year-old tapes needed some repairs, and the machine needed even more cleaning and adjusting before it would play the tapes clearly and consistently.

Ultimately the efforts were successful, Chris and Rafael managed to extract the recordings pretty much exactly as I remember them from way back in the day.  They have my sincere respect and appreciation for working so hard to help retrieve and preserve what amounts to a few sonic polaroids of musical moments from the past.

I’ve taken the liberty of doing just a tiny bit of remastering here, just to get a little more fullness and clarity from those original imperfect mixes.  I’ll share a few specific thoughts about the music itself later, but first, the songs.