Archive for December, 2010

Pro Tools 8-9/Apogee Rosetta FAIL

Since Pro Tools 8 was released and now with Pro Tools 9 HD TDM, anyone using Apogee Rosetta 800 welcome_to_fail.gifconverters and a Big Ben on a rig using a Sync IO or HD have had problems with their setup. I’m close to two systems of this type which have repeatedly exhibited snatting, TDM bus overload errors and system crashes during sessions. None of the usual or suggested fixes like upping RAM, upgrading cards to PCIe, changing cables, trashing preferences, system resets/reboot and re-installing of firmware fix the problems. It is plain and simple a product mismatch that most likely will never be resolved. And it’s not just me, the Avid DUC has a thread on the topic chronicling the frustration of a number of users.

There are a few ways to fix this. One is to eliminate the Sync HD from your rig all together. However, this means you must switch sample rates manually on your Apogee hardware and give up trying to sync to tape or any other outside source using SMPTE for sync.

Another fix is to sell your Apogee hardware and purchase sanctioned Avid HD IOs or legacy 192/96 IOs. Or, according to DMEN writing on the DUC, “I got rid of my Rosetta and now I’m using an AD16x and a DA16x. All my problems have disappeared!!” However, buyer beware: since Avid does not sanction the use of third party converters for use with Pro Tools, what works today may not work tomorrow.

Because of the cost of purchasing new converters, the solution used here is to have a dual boot system. One drive running 10.5.8 Leopard OS X and running Pro Tools 7, and another running 10.6.4 Snow Leopard OS X running Pro Tools 9. The only stipulation is that your Sync HD firmware absolutely must be the release included with the install of Pro Tools 7. If you boot using the Pro Tools 9 drive, be sure your Sync HD is off. You must then manually set your sample rates on the Big Ben. Before booting from the Pro Tools 7 drive, turn on your Sync HD and your system will be solid as a rock, automatically changing sample rates and synching to outside sources without digital trash, crashes or pop-up error boxes.

Another issue is that Delay Compensation for hardware inserts in any version of Pro Tools does not work properly with Apogee Rosetta 800s or Mytek converters. I wrote about the fix for this in 2008 and just tested it again in Pro Tools 9 with the same results.

NOTE: Many thanks to Sean Conkling, Tony Nunes and Phil Nichols for their help with this post

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Needle Addict! My Vinyl Hours

I had a holiday full of audio epiphanies after listening to vinyl over the last few days. The audiotechnica_at440.jpgexperience got me thinking about technology and how it shapes our feelings and way of thinking. Not only had I forgotten how good the medium sounds, but how the listening process is so linear.

This all started because my wife bought me a turntable for Christmas. I had a blast setting it up then listening to lost treasures. My rig is by no means audiophile but it has good bones. My turntable is an inexpensive Numark but from there it’s all custom. I’ve had a new Audio Technica at440ml/occ cartridge sitting in the box for 10 years waiting for a deck so I set that up on the tonearm, switched the output of the Numark to phono and plugged the RCAs into a Parasound P/PH 100 phono preamp. From there I went into a Hafler 915 preamp on the way to my Genelec 8020A monitors and Hafler TRM10s subwoofer. It’s a simple, low-cost home system that sounds very good.

My first listen was transformative. I put on the movie soundtrack from West Side Story and when I put my head between the speakers it sounded fantastic. It was warm and full, with a great stereo image and of course noisy but it WORKED! What I noticed most was that on a well-mixed record, the mids and lows all seemed to work better than on the digital alternative with which I’m very familiar. I know this gets into the fragility of auditory memory and discussions on “Perception vs. Realityâ€? but I’ll leave those rants to others.

What I’m talking about is the emotional impact of vinyl. Time flew by as I put on side after side which included a lot great old records: Pat Martino’s ‘Consciousness’, Stan Getz’s ‘Getz/Gilberto’, Journey’s ‘Evolution’, Al Jarreau’s ‘Jarreau’ and more. After 20 minutes, I was off on another adventure. I sat and thought about the concept of the record, the recording quality, the players, arrangement and more. Then of course there is the album artwork and wealth of info on the credit list to dive into. All this isn’t something that’s impossible with digital playback, but I never do it because of the format’s ability to jump around and lack of physical collateral. There’s something more grounding and “organicâ€? (if you will), about vinyl. It was relaxing, seating my thoughts on the music, the sonic quality, the players, the production process and more.

I know I said I wouldn’t rant, but I also think that the lack of sampling has something to do with my experience. Rupert Neve agrees, thinking you must include audio up to 75kHz to truly experience anything near analog quality. He quotes Japanese studies that have shown that lack of music-related frequencies above 20kHz and the presence of switching transient noises produce unhealthy brain radiation resulting in feelings of discomfort, frustration and even anger. After my vinyl vacation, I tend to agree with him.

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“Have You Ever Been…” Turtle Island Quartet Plays The Music of JIMI HENDRIX And The Music Of DAVID BALKRISHNAN Telarc Records

David Balakrishan has a problem with the Turtle Island Quartet. Well, not really. The group, which he founded a quarter of a century ago, has won a pair of Grammy Awards in the last several years and their latest release “Have You Ever Been…?” is amassing critical praise. Robert Friedrich, who tracked, mixed, and mastered the project at Skywalker Sound, has been nominated for a Grammy award.

TIQ was formed, in part, as a place for Balakrishan- a mind-bendingly capable fiddle player- to hone his craft as a composer. Frustrated by the box “classical” string quartets were stuffed in, performing masterworks by composers whose works stood outside the popular stream that formed a part of his musical DNA, Balakrishnan sought out players who could straddle both worlds.

Over the years he’s managed a shifting group of musicians (save for cellist Mark Summer, a band mate since the git go) who can read anything placed before them and also have the ability to improvise in multiple styles at the drop of the hat. That capacity has allowed Balakrishnan to write detailed sections and line them up alongside simple charts that flourish under the group’s care. Intoxicating though it is, there’s a danger to this method and Balakrishnan knows it.

“You can put a lead sheet in front of TIQ and we can play for 10 minutes,” he says. “Part of our thing is that we have the ability to sound like a rhythm section, so we can play something like Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” without having to bring in a drummer or bass player.

“We’ll take a tune and start out with the cello playing bass, the violist comping, one of the violins playing chop style and the other improvising around the melody, and then shift roles over time.

“The problem lies in the fact that no matter how good we handle the task, we’re basically imitating other forms of music. If we’re not careful it’s possible that TIQ could end up as an inferior sounding cover band! The key is to go back and forth between the pop, or jazz, concept and the traditional string quartet model. ”

Ok, that’s clear: because it accommodates the interplay of counterpoint and harmony (perhaps the most fundamental aspect of “classical” music) so well, and the instruments have a pronounced vocal quality, the string quartet is often called the most perfectly balanced and expressive of all musical units. Not exactly what Jimi had in mind when he wrote “Stone Free.” Hendrix made sure to give his bass player and drummer pastures to roam around in, but the show belonged to him. A deft exchange of material among the three instruments wasn’t a part of the formula.

“Right!” says Balakrishan. “Hendrix is primal. Part of what we did on this CD was go there for a bit. “House Burning Down” and “Voodoo Child” are examples. Even in “Have You Ever Been” and “1983… A Merman I Should Turn To Be,” which feature arrangements that are more in the traditional string quartet style, our playing is totally grounded in American vernacular phrasing.

“Some players mistake overplaying as energy. This is especially true when classical players try to cross over and play popular music when that’s not part of who they are musically. They often play loud and with exaggerated vibrato, or over emphasize the minor third, which can sound artificial and annoying (*). Hendrix was loud, but his phrasing is beautiful and he played with a great dynamic range. We went for the beautiful legato side on this record.”

(*Good point: check out BB King’s phrasing on the classic “Live at the Regal” album. His thirds are always bent and sustained in context, never called up by rote).

Then there’s the matter of register to consider. The Renaissance lute composer John Dowland wrote tons of songs, mostly for high voice. Listen to the great English tenor Peter Pears’ recordings with Julian Bream and you’ll hear how effective it is to separate the register of the voice from the instrument that accompanies it.

Jimi, of course, couldn’t have cared less about this. Or maybe he did; his performance practice, which mainly consisted of him answering his vocal licks with guitar parts, kept the problem at bay. Did Balakrishan spend much time considering the issue of register?

“Absolutely. I changed keys to fit the music to the instruments. Jimi tuned his guitar down a half step routinely, by the way. That gave us permission to change keys! The important thing to understand is that my job is to try and re-imagine the music, as we did on “Love Supreme,” our tribute to John Coltrane. Again, we don’t want to run the risk of becoming a cover band by copping every lick.

“Another point regarding register is that we had to accept that a string quartet is never going to get the low end that the electric bass, kick drums and tom toms brought to the Jimi Hendrix Experience records. We did consider using electronics to bring some low end into the mix, but ultimately rejected the idea. Our mission is to be a string quartet, to honor that ensemble, and make whatever music we play work with its confines.”

Still on a mission, still looking to stretch, David Balakrisnan looks forward to writing more music for the Turtle Island Quartet, but he’s also looking outside it as a composer. “I’ve been writing for other players and groups. Without the ballast that TIQ provides I have to prove my worth solely as a writer to other people. I welcome the challenge!”

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Blade Studios update with Brady Blade

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My Favorite LASS Feature

The LA Scoring Strings library has a number of interesting features, including the ability to layer three distinct groups of players tracked during separate sessions. Developer Andrew Keresztes put a lot of thought into capturing highly expressive portamento performances (the sound that results when a player deliberately slides one note into the next), and the way LASS implements this classic string effect is my favorite feature.

Take a listen to audio clip 1. I called up a multi that includes all three cello sections plus the soloist and got ready to perform “God Bless America� into my sequencer. Being a fan of the method school of acting I imagined myself back in 8th grade wearing a blue shirt with pocket protector, khaki pants, and hush puppies. I then strode deliberately across the stage, sat down, and played this Irving Berlin gem.

MIDI controller 83 is hardwired within LASS to control the amount of portamento, and in this performance I set it to a value just shy of maximal and left it there. Notice that the portamento effect, while very good, is identical each and every time successive notes are connected using this effect.

When I replayed the piece (audio clip 2) I used a hardware slider on my Yamaha KX88 midi controller that I’d set to controller 83 to change the amount, or depth, of portamento in real time. I didn’t go overboard in either performance but if you listen carefully you’ll hear that the change in portamento character adds a level of realism to the second clip that the first lacks.

If you’d like to learn more about LASS, a lot of useful material is available at www.audiobro.com.

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Top Gear from 2010

This year saw a lot of great hardware and software hit the market as recession worries eased a bit and manufacturers invested in their future. The picks below are purely my own and humanely culled from a herd of worthy candidates. Please feel free to add your own in the comments below or on my Facebook or Twitter feeds. Talk amongst yourselves.

api_channel_stripweb.jpg
1. API Channel Strip – Just released at AES in San Francisco, the API Channel Strip is comprised of a 512c mic pre, 550A EQ, 527 Compressor and 325 Line Driver.

2. DPA 5100 Surround Microphone – This covert and light surround mic was used extensively to record production audio for dpa.jpegHBO’s Treme. Read Joe Hannigan’s review where he used it to record in the 3,200 seat Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

3. Genelec 8260A Monitors – This slick new monitor from Genelec sounds great and brings a new and stealthy twist to a 3-way speaker making the reviewer call it “the reference standard in 3-way coaxial design.”

4. Focal CMS40 monitors – Lots of bottom end for a small enclosure coupled focal_cms40.jpgwith great stereo imaging makes these affordable desktop monitors a winner for up close listening.

5. JoeCo Blackbox Recorder – This sturdy, single rackspace box for live joeco_blackbox.jpgcapture is just the ticket for rock solid, multi-channel field recording.

6. Josephson C715 microphonejosephson_c715.jpgBringing new tech to the game, the transparent C715 from Josephson features a Lundahl transformer and a unique take on the protective grill/windscreen.

7. Nuendo 5 – This major upgrade has made Nuendo even more Post friendly and a great recording tool for studio use. Grammy winner Chuck Ainlay reviewed it in Mix’s October issue.

8. Nugen StereoPack plugins – The Nugen Stereo Pack plugin suite brings a whole new attitude to stereo placement.

9. Pro Tools 9 – One of many new products from Avid in 2010, Pro Tools 9 ports a lot of TDM features down to an affordable, scalable version of the world’s favorite DAW.

10. SSL Nucleus – This solid desktop DAW controller from SSL literally brings a lot to the table, including ssl_nucleus_audio_hub_aes_2010web.jpgenvied SSL preamps and plugins.

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Rescuing The King

This has to have happened to you…. I labored on “Undertow,� a four-movement work for cello and piano, for ages. In fact, I’d originally recorded this work at Sony Music Studios a decade earlier, but later realized it could be improved upon. When I felt I had nailed the rewrite I hired two great young players out of Juilliard, cellist Lynn Kabat and pianist Ben Laude.

After several rehearsals (yeah, a live performance would have been a better indicator of the state of the piece, but that wasn’t in the cards) I took this talented duo into BiCoastal Studios. Tracking four pieces in one long session without an independent set of producer’s ears is a gamble, but by the time we left Hal Winer’s place in Ossining, NY, I felt pretty good about the takes we’d captured.

That is, until I listened to the “dailies.� All was going well ‘til I got to the third movement, “King’s Court.� A substitution for the original third movement- which was nothing more than a washed out attempt at rewriting Brahms- “King’s Court� was an idea I liked: take a line that Haydn might have written, reharm and then deconstruct it. The performances were all good, but damn, it was so obvious: the opening Eb in the left hand was naked! Audio clip 1. It had to be doubled at the lower octave; how could I have missed something so obvious! And the same miscalculation applied later in the piece! Nobody but the writer notices these things, of course, but when you’ve labored hard you want to get everything right, including the details.

After an admirable exercise in self-excoriation, I realized that an easy fix was available: the Steinway D that East West sampled and included in their Quantum Leap Pianos might not be the same model as the one Hal has in his room, but what the hell- it’s a Steinway, it sounds great, and it’s in tune!

I opened up Cubase 5, instantiated the sampled Steinway, did my best furrowed brow Horowitz imitation and hit the lower octave Eb, holding the note a bit longer than the upper Eb that I was playing along with, and sent this tiny file out to the bay area, where my mix and mastering engineer Ed Goldfarb was able to line it up with the original track, taper its length, and add it to the mix. Presto! Instead of spending mucho bucks going back into the studio to add a couple of notes, or living with a product that I knew wasn’t right, I was able to use a sampled piano to rescue a session Audio clip 2. Ditto for the bar later in the piece that required similar treatment.

Should you be interested in hearing “Undertow,� it may be accessed here: garyeskow.com/masterindex.html.

Ed Goldfarb is a terrific musician, by the way. Check out his new album, “Cold December Flies Away” at this location: http://edgoldfarbmusic.com/.

Cheers,

Gary

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Take A Tour of Blade Studios with Brady Blade

Things are moving along quickly at Blade Studios. Brady Blade is back in Shreveport, La and ready to get the studio open. Here is a quick video with Brady Blade showing our current progress. We will keep you posted with more updates soon.

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PT9 Won’t Launch? Here’s The Fix

I installed Pro Tools 9 today on my MacBook Pro laptop (2.26 Intel Core 2 Duo/4G RAM) and ran into a snag when I launched it for the first time. I got the error:

“Pro Tools could not initialize the current playback device. Please make sure that the device has been configured correctly.”

After searching the web, I found the fix:

When the splash screen appears on the screen, hold down the “n” key on screen-shot-2010-12-02-at-24600-pm.jpgyour keyboard, which will eventually open the Playback Engine dialog for Pro Tools. At the top of this window, you will see the ‘Current Engine’ drop-down menu. Choose Pro Tools Aggregate I/O) and Click OK. Once you fix this, the problem will never return no matter what IO options you choose including built-in output/input or others.

By the way, I opened up the demo session provided on the install discs and with a few tweaks to the playback session it is running very well. It has over 30 audio tracks and 80+ plugins and 5 instruments. Impressive.

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Honey Honey Live from the Esquire House

I’ve been involved on the tech side of things at this year’s Esquire House studio in LA. We’ve got an SSL Duality, a Pro Tools HD3 system with the new Avid HD IOs, speakers from Genelec, a wide array of mics from Blue, instruments and amps from Fender, Moog, Korg and more. One of the bands who have made it up to record at the house is Honey Honey. Check them out:



Honey Honey – Back To You from Toy Human on Vimeo.

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