Archive for March, 2011

Hollywood Winds

Niche market sample libraries… a cachet category these days. Products designed to fill the gaps that big-ticket products fail to address, that’s the deal. Enter, stage left, Hollywood Winds. This Cinesamples library can be purchased for $149 as a download at either the Cinesamples site (www.cinesamples.com) or through Big Fish Audio (www.bigfishaudio.com).

Cinesamples co-founders Mike Barry and Mike Patti clearly spent a lot of time studying the manner in which woodwind combinations have been used to impart depth and imaging to film scores over the last 60 years. The idea is so simple that at first blush you could have realized it: record woodwinds playing in unison and in octaves, then throw in some chords, riffs, and tempo synced scalar runs. No big deal, right?

But there are decisions to be made. What happens when you reach a pitch that three or four instruments nail in their meat range? How do you create a seamless keyboard patch that covers this part of the spectrum and combines it with other areas that reveal the thinness of timbre of a particular instrument or the paucity of instruments that cover the range? Not so simple, right?

I suggest that you call up a Tutti Staccato patch. Microphones were set up at the stage and close levels; you can load up either as a preset, or one that gives you both plus controls that let you determine the balance between the two. I was curious as to the need for the individual patches, since the player allows you to load the full version and blend the two in any combination you desire, but Mike Barry told me that the company was simply responding to user demand. Hollywood Winds requires the full version of Kontakt 4, by the way, not the free one.

Start improvising monophonic lines across the full woodwind range. Notice how even the balance is. Cinesamples could have created balance by artificially introducing a second Bb clarinet when the bassoon reaches its tippy top Rite Of Spring range, for example. Instead, working as orchestrators, they used the available instruments to create a seamless set of registral transitions, just as a big time LA scoring pro would do. Study this work, it’s good! But be careful: you’ll be tempted to play chords using the Tutti patches. Don’t do it! You’ll end up creating a false woodwind section, larger, and more awkward, than anything you hear in concert or on screen.

The atonal rips are great. The plug-in uses a widget in Kontakt 4 that gives you a notation view for lots of the material, which is very helpful, but no scores are available for any of the atonal effects. Why? “We wrote a low note and high note on a piece of staff paper,” says Barry, “and then drew an arrow between the two and told the players to play in between them atonally. They did the rest, just the way they do when they’re working on a major film score!”

One of the big concerns I had was whether this library would be able to able to integrate with other woodwind libraries. After all, these winds play a specific role; they allow the user to grab classic woodwind combinations and quickly create unison and octave lines, with some extra tweaks thrown in as a bonus. But I had no problem creating a template that included both Hollywood Winds and some VSL wind instruments. Just be sure to use the Close presets; they match up well with the non-reverberant sound of the VSL samples.

Hollywood Winds is an intelligent, well recorded plug-in that does exactly what it’s intended to do. Bravo!

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Ninja PT Workflow: Creating a Click on an Existing Session

I recently had to re-cut drums on a live session that wasn’t cut with a click. I needed an accurate click countoff plus a few bars to feed to the new drummer to get him aligned with the track. Pro Tools’ Identify Beat feature makes this an easy prospect.

1. Find an instrument that plays a consistent two bar section at tempo to use as a tempo identifier. (I used a rhythmic guitar intro but a drum or percussion track would work.)

2. Turn on Pro Tools Tab To Transient feature and Tab to the first beat of a bar. Hold Shift and Tab to select two bars.ss1-2-tempo.jpg

3. Turn on Loop Playback (Control + Click on the play button) and play the selection to see if it represents a tight two bar segment.

4. If the selection is good, create a Click track by selecting Create Click Track from the Track pulldown

5. Bring up a Transport (Command + 1, or from the Window pulldown), turn on the MIDI controls (upper right hand corner of the Transport) and make sure the Click and Conductor is On (Metronome and Conductor Icon)

6. Use the Event pulldown and select Identify Beat (Command +I). If you selected a 2 bar segment set the Add Bar/Beat Markersss4-tempo.jpg popup Start to 1|1|000 and the end to 3|1|000

7. The click will now follow the tempo set by your selection (as long as the band doesn’t drift!). If you need a two bar countoff, click Countoff at the top of the MIDI controls on the transport.

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Free: Devil-loc Plugin

SoundToys is offering the Devil-loc plugin free until the end of March as a precursor to the Devil-loc Deluxe edition coming soon. dl_500px.gifThe plugin is a wicked-simple crusher/distorter that is as fun as it is simple. The knob on the left gives you more crush (It’s inspired by the classic Shure Level-Loc but is also reminiscent of the SSL Listen Mic Compressor), while the knob on the right gives you more distortion. I’ve had it on guitars and drums and it sounds great and does exactly what it says: provides heavy-handed compression/distortion with a devilish personality.

From SoundToys:
The Devil-Loc: Essentially a distorting compressor but so much more, it’s really quite simple but also a bit supernatural. Because the release time of the compression is effected by the input level (like the Level-Loc) it’s a bit hard to predict exactly what will happen the first time you work with it. Luckily with just two knobs, you can find the magic spot for your track fairly quickly and you’ll be going for that sound more and more. Don’t be fooled by it’s simple front panel, this plug-in has a lot more cool sounds than you’d expect out of two knobs. Get crushing kick drums, to almost rhythmic level sweeps with the crazing sucking compression, to blitzed out blasting beat loops. Drive it hard and you get straight hardware sounding break-up and drive. It’s a devil in disguise, and the devil’s in the details, and the devil made us do it and all those other devil references.

Devil-Loc Deluxe. Coming April 2011
To take things beyond the hardware that inspired it and give you even more creative flexibility, Devil-Loc Deluxe adds a “Darkness” control for tone, switchable slow or fast release times and the ability to mix the original back in right on the front panel. The addition of these controls opens up the sonic palette immensely. Dark thundering drums, to driven lo-fi loops, and more, and the mix control saves all that tedious routing and lets you automate mix to keep the Devil from taking over the soul of your tracks. This time, evil is good.

A Bit of History
The Shure M62 Level-Loc was designed by Shure to be a leveling amplifier mostly for mics. The concept was it would keep an even level (locked level) once it hit a certain input so you wouldn’t get “fade outs or blasting”. It was super simple with only a switch for three “distance” settings based on how far from the mic you were. The M62V upped the control a bit by adding an input level knob. However, the reason it became famous was not because it did a good job of leveling, it may have, but largely thanks to SoundToys user Tchad Blake and his desire to push, abuse, and do deliciously evil things to his tracks. He discovered that pushing the Level-Loc gave you gritty, dirty, unusual compression that made drums gigantic and nasty. Both of which are good things. So we’ve taken that concept and dropped it in the simple two control Devil-Loc. Then we’ve taken it further than the original hardware with the Devil-Loc Deluxe.

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Ninja PT Workflow: Dual Mono to Stereo

Going from multi-channel to mono tracks in Pro Tools is as easy as selecting your track and choosing “Split into Mono” from the Track pulldown. However, going the other way, from mono to stereo, isn’t as simple. For me there’s always a doubt that I may be accidentally moving audio left or right on the timeline and opening up a new can of worms. The method below quickly and accurately moves mono tracks to stereo giving you access to multi-channel plug-ins while slimming down your mix window.

1. Make a new Stereo track to the right of the dual mono tracks you wish to move

2. While holding Shift, use your mouse to select the audio regions and Copy them with Command + Cscreen-1-pt.jpg

3. Turn on Keyboard Focus (see pic –>)

4. Use “P” to move selection UP or “:” to move selection DOWN into your New Track

5. Command + V will copy the regions into the moved selectionscreen-2-pt.jpg

6. Delete or deactivate mono tracks and move them off the Show/Hide list

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Cloud-based Production and GrooveZoo

I’ve been researching cloud-based production and found quite a few high-end producers/engineers are using it for various purposes. For example, Robert Venable in Nashville uses the Cloud to store his audio toys. He says, ” I keep some of my drum sample collections in Dropbox to be able to pull them when needed. I do a lot of work at other studios, in other states, and it’s one less hard drive to lug around or check at the airport.” Watch for an in-depth feature on the Cloud in the May Mix from Blair Jackson and Tom Kenny.

In my outreach via FB and Twitter, I also found the Groovezoo. It’s an online studio thatgz_logo-copy.jpg promises enhanced connection with musicians, producers, and songwriters, sharing of files in organized sessions and mixes plus the ability to set up work for hire and royalty split contracts with other musicians.

We’re watching the future of audio unfold and the cloud is where it’s all going. It will become more common as bandwidth deepens and becomes more affordable.

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Neil Dufallo

Had breakfast this morning with Cornelius (Neil) Dufallo at TOAST, on Broadway, a couple of blocks south of 125th St. Neil’s a member of ETHEL, one of a handful of great string quartets that specialize in modern music. Besides being a kick ass fiddler, Neil’s also a very good composer. Check out his website, http://www.corneliusdufallo.com/, when you get a chance. He’s posted lots of intriguing music, including selections from his solo album, “Dream Streets.”

Ethel’s been spending time at Bicoastal Studios lately, recording their next album. Look for this Innova Recordings disc- devoted to New York composers- in the fall of this year.

Neil heard a midi version of my string quartet, “The Amazing X-Ray Machine,” liked it, and suggested that we meet. He’s going to play the piece for the rest of the members of the group and, if all goes well, the group will perform it at some point. If I’m really lucky, they’ll record it!

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Avid Releases Pro Tools 9.0.2 Upgrade

Avid has released the Pro Tools 9.0.2 upgrade that fixes 26 pages of bugs from previous versions. Fixes include annoying problems with Control Surfaces, Plug-ins,pt9-upgrade-902.jpg File and Disk Management, Video and more (read the full list here). The upgrade requires previous installation of Pro Tools 9 software and a Pro Tools 9 iLok license.

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Teflon Don

Last night’s class at Kintock, the halfway house in Newark where I teach a music course, was one of those that makes the effort worthwhile. The current group has been tough to connect with. Beethoven’s Appasionata Sonata and Mozart’s Piano Concerto #24 elicited limited response during our last two sessions.

At the conclusion of our discussion on Mozart I told the guys that it would be helpful if they’d bring in music they love and explain to the class why it’s meaningful to them. Two men volunteered to do so. I showed up with Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock CD’s and planned to sandwich them around this other material.

I started out by playing bits of a half dozen or so tracks off the Evans CD and asked what the emotional constant, if any, was in his playing. I was surprised how many people sensed a melancholy throughout, even in the up tempo tunes. Bill’s death at the age of 50 was precipitated by extended drug abuse. Noone seemed surprised to hear it.

One of the prisoners took my place at the front of the room and put the Rick Ross disc Teflon Don into the CD player. As I was walking to his seat I mumbled “Why I got to be in this class, man?” and followed up (wittily, I thought!) with, “When’s smoke break?” The guys laughed.

I don’t remember the name of the track- it was either the third or fourth; the “teacher” was following my example and playing snippets at first- but we listened to one piece in its entirety. Wait, I just went online and retrieved the information. It was Free Mason, the fourth cut. I asked the guys what Ross’ message was and got some pro forma responses: “He’s talking about the ‘hood,” “He’s telling you about his environment,” and so on.

I may be confused, I said- I couldn’t hear every word, but wasn’t he comparing himself to JFK- the ultimate white player? And didn’t he mention those nice houses that people out in the suburbs live in? (*) I get the sense that he feels caught between where he’s been and the allure of what’s now available to him. No?

First one man, then another, and then a third said, “You listenin’, you listenin’.” The energy level spiked. People started talking animatedly, multiple conversations erupted and overlapped. Something had changed.

In 1993, Khalid Muhammad, a Nation of Islam minister, gave a speech at Kean College, just a couple miles down the road from my New Jersey home. In this homily Muhammad referred to the Pope as a “no good cracker.” He also called Hitler “a great man.” The national press picked up on the event. Eventually, the United States House of Representatives passed (unanimously) a special House Resolution censuring him.

Shortly thereafter I assembled a panel of music industry heavyweights in Wilkens Theatre, the Kean College auditorium where Muhammad had spoken. We had a frank conversation about racism in the music business. Fat Joe, a prominent rapper then and now, agreed to sit on the Beyond The Labels panel. Joe made his mark as a bad ass rapper, a real no nonsense guy. His autobiographical track, The Shit Is Real, contains these verses:

This story takes place back in the South Bronx
where at the age of 14 I was already knockin’ off punks…

See I just didn’t give a fuck, and if you had a C-skin
-a leather bomber- you was gettin’ stuck;
that was the way it was.

One day I went to visit my aunt and stuck up my cuz.
See shit was fucked up back then,
No matter what the fuck I did I never had no ends.
And my moms was on welfare,
I knew I had a father but the nigga was never there.

So what the fuck was I to do?
© Fat Joe, all rights reserved

Joe had to cross through a valley of doubt, he told the audience sitting in the Wilkens Theatre, when his work began attracting fans beyond the borders of the Bronx. He’d perform in Cincinnati, or Cleveland- Paris, eventually- and white teenagers would scream for him. They knew all of his lyrics and showered him with mad love. How could he hold onto hatred for the haves? But if he let it go, what would fuel his art?

Fat Joe could relate to what Rick Ross is going through, I thought. One prisoner, new to the group, said that Ross reminded him of some people in his neighborhood. “You got to understand that even in poverty areas like many of us come from, not everyone grows up bad. Some people come from stable families where there’s always food on the table. You get some people who come out of these good homes and try to make it on the street. Then, when they get caught, they turn into snitches. Why? Because they don’t have the strength to live the street life, they were just playin’. Rick Ross reminds me of them, and yeah, I guess he makes me feel a little bitter.”

“Wait a minute,” someone else said. “Wes Craven, Steven Spielberg- you don’t expect them to have lived the stories they tell, do you? Rick Ross is just an artist. Who cares what his own life experience is? We should only be judging his art.”

Then, 56 year old John M., the guy who grew up with Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the entire Rat Pack as his babysitters, a good guy, took the floor and asked the group if they ever felt embarrassed having their kids, or nieces and nephews, listen to the language that’s in these records. The guys laughed, everyone was talking at the same time, huge amounts of energy spilling all over the room. I told the “teacher” that he was losing control, and everyone started laughing again.

It really was a phenomenal moment. Eventually, I went back to my seat and the guys calmed down. I reminded them that the purpose of the course was to search for connections between artists (Beyonce and Beethoven, say, Stravinsky and Shakur), to look for common ground where it might not seem obvious, and to leverage that insight when they get out of prison to establish connections with people who might have something positive to offer- a good paying job, for example.

“Am I the only one who feels that Bill Evans and Rick Ross have something in common?” I asked. “Both of these artists seem to be struggling, trying to come to grips with where they are in life, and I hear conflict and pain- expressed in different ways, to be sure- in the work of both.” A collective murmer- the sound of involvement, bonding even- emanated from the group. I ended the session without playing Herbie Hancock or the other prisoner’s CD, and was surprised to find that we’d spent less than an hour together.

(*)
New Rolls Royce
Guess you made it, nigga
All white neighborhoods, you they favorite nigga
My top back like J.F.K.
They wanna push my top back like J.F.K.
So, so I J.F.K.
© Rick Ross, 2010, all rights reserved

4.19.11

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Philly Soul

Our nephew got married in Philadelphia this weekend, so the whole family- including our puppy, Troy- trucked down to the City of Brotherly Love for the weekend. For the record, yes I did feel a bit strange parading a miniauture poodle through the hotel when he needed to go for a walk, so please, no snide comments!

The trio at the rehearsal dinner read through the up tempo jazz standards play book brilliantly. Catherine Russell has clearly absorbed the ouevre of Billie, Ella and Sarah, but she put her own spin on the material. Check out her website (www.catherinerussell.net) when you get a few minutes.

I thought about visiting Baker Sound, one of the oldest and most well established audio post productions studios in Philadelphia, but didn’t get around to looking up their address until Sunday afternoon. The next time I walked out the door of the Westin, located at Chestnut and 17th, I found myself staring directly at Ranstead Street… wow, there’s Baker Sound!

I called up the studio at around 9 a.m. on Monday morning and was fortunate to get Rick DiDonato, Baker’s President, on the phone. Rick invited me over for a quick tour.

I love working out of my home, but it’s always great to walk into a working recording studio. Baker’s got three Pro Tools rooms. One of them serves as the composition hub for Chuck Butler, who pens original scores through Monster Tracks, his wing of Baker Sound. Chuck joined the Baker staff back in 1987, the same week, in fact, that Rick DiDonato was hired.

DiDonato says that while the industry has shifted, business has remained solid for Baker Sound. “Radio work seemed to pick up during the economic downturn,” he says. “Radio spots are cheaper to produce than television ads, and I think that was a big factor.” DiDonato says that e books voice overs now account for a substantial number of billable hours.

I felt the need to ask Rick what the string of RDAT tapes were doing sitting on a tiny shelf above Chuck Butler’s workstation. “We keep them around for old times sake,” he laughed. “I can’t remember the last time we fired up the DAT machine!”

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Liberis- first impression

Liberis- first impression

Is there a need for a well-recorded children’s chorus sample library? Well, damn- what do you think? Tonehammer is a fabulous company, no doubt about that. They scour every aspect of the source, and “deep sample” with great results. My initial reaction to “Liberis- Angelic Choir,” is that they’ve once again filled a gap impressively.

We’ll conduct a detailed review of this library at a later date, but on first impression, the most expressive feature is the one that lets you assign a controller to cross fade between the “low” and “high” layer syllables. Let’s face it: current technology limits the degree to which you, the author, can direct any choir to intone a text. The ability to cross fade between syllables while a note or chord is being depressed adds measurably to the realism of a track… nice job!

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