Archive for October, 2011
What’s your favorite Albert King track? “Laundromat Blues” certainly is a worthy contender for best of the bunch. Albert’s version of “Born Under a Bad Sign,” (“if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”) has to make it onto the short list. The title cut from an album he recorded for Stax in 1967, “Born Under a Bad Sign” (written by Booker T. Jones and William Bell) is probably the song that AK is most remembered for.
For me, though, nothing beats “Crosscut Saw,” King’s version of a simple 12 bar structure that floated along the Delta until 1941, when Mississippi bluesman Tommy McClennan first recorded it. “Crosscut Saw” is the second cut on the “Born Under a Bad Sign” album, an LP that’s undoubtedly Albert King’s masterpiece.
“I’m a crosscut saw, baby just drag me across your lawn.
I’ll cut your wood so easy fer ya, you can’t help but say hot dog.”
With the MG’s as supporting cast (check out the upright piano part hocketing with the horns to create nothing but a simple pattern of harmonic stabs) “Crosscut Saw” sits on top of a light swing pattern played on snare and toms by producer/drummer Al Jackson Jr.. The arrangement leaves plenty of room for Albert to answer his vocal lines with those trademark stinging guitar lines that others have copped verbatim but never with the master’s authority or originality. As every fan knows, Albert was a lefty who played a right handed Gibson Flying V upside down. This unusual technique (copied by another left hander a few years later), along with a strong right hand and an even more powerful imagination, resulted in King’s signature sound.
Listen to the colors, the different shadings that Albert puts on a single note when he repeats it several times in a row. Each articulation has its own weight and curve! King’s virtuosity is on display in “Crosscut Saw” and throughout the album, which includes his outstanding take on the A.C. Williams classic “Oh, Pretty Woman.” “Oh Pretty Woman” received another good read by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers on their “Crusade” album, the cover of which, taped to the wall of my studio, I’m gazing up at right now.
About ten years after “Born Under a Bad Sign” was released I went to see Albert King play at the Lone Star Cafe, a cherished, long gone venue on 12th street in the Village. My high school buddy Brian Williams and I arrived early so that we could get seats close to the stage. By the time our hero entered the spotlight I was, truth be told, fairly looped. I kept calling out “Crosscut Saw,” but my pleas were ignored.
Then, just before he closed his set, Albert stepped up to the microphone and said, “A little while ago the young man asked to hear ‘Crosscut Saw.’” What?! Hey, he’s talking about me! Man, what a great night!
A decade ago Mark Ethier and Jeremy Todd were a pair of smart kids who shared an aptitude for science and a passion for music. The Massachusetts natives met when both were students at MIT, and it didn’t take long for them to hatch a plan to combine their skill sets and create a company within the music industry specializing in signal processing and effects. Today, iZotope, Inc. (http://www.izotope.com) is recognized as a major player. Their latest release, Ozone 5, will be on display this weekend at the AES show. I spoke with co-founder and CEO Mark Ethier a few days ago.
Gary Eskow: “Mark, your website says that iZotope is a “research-driven audio technology company. What does that mean?”
Mark Ethier: “That statement speaks to our founding. Our company’s first address was my dorm room at MIT. Scientific research is in our blood; we’re always looking for new and better ways to use science to do improve things. We have people at iZotope working on forward looking projects, even when there’s no guarantee that the investment of time will result in products.
“Our noise reduction line is a good example. We thought about what it would take to create an algorithm that would allow for the automatic recognition of noise within a signal. What are the common characteristics of noise? How do they differ from the sound of the human voice, for example? Our hardware device, ANR-B, came out of this kind of inquiry.”
GE: “Would that be analogous to developing an algorithm that could identify the meter maids within a flow of traffic and apply a process- removing their pens, say- to these ticket writers only?”
ME: “Not a bad parallel, actually! We were able to build a noise profile, based in part on the fact that noise doesn’t generate harmonics, and then extract the noise from a complex signal.
“But that research didn’t work itself into a product until 2004, when we built a prototype of the ANR-B and demoed it at a trade show here in Boston. An engineer from WGBH came by, and we gave him a demo. He was working on a show called “The World,” that had people calling in live from all around the world. ANR-B gave engineers the ability to instantly remove noise from these calls. Within a few years that product had become a staple on the Oscars, the GRAMMYs, and other major live productions. The laboratory is where things percolate up, but we then have to look at the real world and ask ourselves how we can best apply an idea to circumstances as they exist.
“Stutter Edit, the product we worked on with BT, is another example. What would it take, we asked ourselves, to create a playable audio effect that syncs to a time line- not just a delay, but something that includes low and high pass sweeps? Stutter Edit came out of that thought process. It’s an effect that starts rhythmically and speeds up to the point where it sounds pitched- the effect that BT created as an artistic vehicle is now available to everyone.”
GE: “Many companies have loudness maximizers. What distinguishes your products from those of your competitors?”
ME: “Subtlety of sound, in my opinion. The fundamental question is, how much change can you bring to a sound in this area without introducing distortion? Ozone 5 has a new loudness maximizer that works in real time. It’s constantly analyzing several distinct ways that the audio signal can be modified, measuring the amount of distortion each process would add, and selecting the most preferable option.
“Mastering is the combination of art and science. You are ‘correcting’ a mix, but it has to be done in a musical way. Ozone 5 is big leap in the area of real time analysis. The feedback it provides can, we believe, help the mastering engineer make the wisest choices in terms of limiting, noise reduction, and finding the path to creating the most musical masters possible.”
GE: “What’s the practical value of Sonifi?”
ME: “This iPhone app is an experiment in new media. Over the last 50 years music listening has changed from mono to stereo. Notwithstanding the experiments in quad and surround, stereo masters are still the dominant release platform.
“Sonifi offers the user the ability to restructure the form of a piece of a stereo music, to give him or her another way to experience music. Why should the composer be the authoritarian figure who dictates how the listener should experience a piece of music?”
GE: “Wait, so maybe Beethoven got the second movement of his 7th Symphony wrong?”
ME: “I’m not saying that! We’re working with a prominent musician right now, though, on the release of his next single. This person thinks it would be interesting for the listener to have a unique experience each time he or she listens to a song.”
GE: “As computers get faster and even more powerful, will they allow you to develop products that you can’t currently bring to market?”
ME: “Yes, in the area of real time processing, for instance. So much is about listening! You want to be able to close your eyes, move a control, and listen. We’re trying to find ways to give people more and more direct feedback. Ozone 5 has a new visual interface. Faster computers will allow us to deliver products that offer more and more real time feedback.”
I teach an Analog Recording Class four times a year – five weeks of editing, flanging and 4-track plus five weeks of 24-track. While not trying to ‘sell’ the various analog tape formats – I embraced in-the-box mixing last century – I do ask my students to take a step back from the one-instrument-at-a time, pitch correction, beat detection, plug-in mania and consider recording a live rhythm track – no click, no headphones, just musicians listening to each other and ‘mixing themselves’ on the fly.
The goal is to transfer what was learned in the process back to the Digital Lo Mein. If they decide to buy a used tape machine, well, that’s icing on the cake! There is nothing like an emotion-modulated soaring flange rather than the oscillator driven version – hardware or plug-in – or rolling your own live chamber. And let’s face it, in this economy, for students trying to find their way, the minimalist approach works economically and emotionally – perhaps the ‘discerning listener’ will feel more connected and not quite understand why…
People Will Come, Ray!
We start with four track half-inch tape and a handful of preamps. I give them a little breathing room in that the target is one instrument / one microphone per track, UNLESS we take advantage of a two-input, one-output mixer-limiter (the Altec 1612) to combine Bass And Drums (one mic each) to one track of tape.
But first I show them this video – one cheap omni condenser mic on a drum kit – no EQ or dynamics processing. Just a good drummer, a decent sounding kit and an untreated space. My students call this the “Crotch Mic Technique!” Oh, and this microphone is working extra hard by driving six pre-amps at once.
BASS AMP ONLY
I once was a Bass DI + amp guy until one day when recording a rehearsal, I stumbled upon a trick that has worked ever since. David Trampe is the student bassist on this track. (For this session, we simultaneously recorded to analog and digital formats. This is the digital version.) David played my UNIVOX P-Bass copy through his SWR LA-10 amplifier. I chose what was available – an Shure SM-58. You can pretty much use anything, but I recommend the following.
- Bass cab off the floor to minimize boom-in-the-room
- 8-inch to 10-inch small-speaker cabs for a tight, controlled tone
- Start by EQ-ing the bass amp for a clear, tone (minimize the mud), less bassy than bassists would normally choose (this also applies to live)
- Use any directional mic as close to the speaker as possible to take advantage of proximity effect – this restores the warmth lost by the previous step, it also reduced mud and leakage in the performance area
- Almost any mic preamp and limiter (the latter gently kissing the peaks as needed)
- Once you get this far, tweak the amp EQ as necessary to get as close to the desired tone as possible.
FOUR TRACK FUN
Here are two songs we did in class. Four Rhythm tracks bounced to one leaving three tracks for overdubs.
PICTURES OF MATCHSTICK MEN
ME AND BOBBY McGEE
Live vocal, acoustic and lead guitar overdubbed.
EIGHT OF of 24-TRACKS
FIVE AGAIN (live)
24 TRACKS LIVE (no waiting)
IF YOU WANT ME TO STAY (live)
Many entry level converters only have two microphone inputs, which is fine when you’re working at home or doing live stereo recordings. But with ‘the right bit of clever’ you can convert line inputs to mic inputs with a simple adapter. Several years ago I did this with DigiDesign’s 002 (it has four mic and four line inputs). I currently own an M-Audio 1814 (2 mic inputs).
Inside the adapter shown is a Low Impedance (balanced) to High Impedance (unbalanced) matching transformer- nothing fancy – and likely to saturate with high-level sources – sometimes that’s the ‘color’ you want. Parts Express also has in-line adapters for polarity reverse and attenuators (pads) which are handy beyond this application. Every ‘audio emergency kit’ should have a few.
If you wanna pimp your converter, check out the ‘shiny transformer’ links. (PS: Requires, fine motor skills like metal shop, wire stripping and soldering.)
Shiny High-Performance Transformers
A BOX TO PUT IT IN
I’ve always enjoyed your writing! I’m not really that much of a tech, but I have a lot of old stuff (I mean vintage), and your MIX column gives me faith that I will be able to find someone who can repair my prized gear.
Today I wanted to repair a Pro Jr. input jack, and I am certain that once upon a time you had an article in Mix detailing your repair of one of these. I can’t find it on the web. I hope this isn’t too annoying, but, do you have that article stored anywhere?
Sorry to bug you, and thanks!
I have a Pro Junior that I’ve done some mods to, but I don’t recall anything about the jack. That said, this link below should help! Antique Electronic Supply is very tube amp friendly.
Some things are just good, right? You may not like everything David Benoit has released- me neither, frankly. But “Rue de la Soleil,” from his 1997 CD, “American Landscape,” commands repeated listening.
Ab major, the muted key. David sets this gentle, evocative, touching melody in Ab, then colors it with a snare gently kissed with brushes, and those beautiful finger cymbals. The nylon guitar solo wisely refrains from stepping too far from the gorgeous theme. And the upright bass…
I’ve been to Paris a couple of times, walked down this street, to the best of my recollection. But I can’t say if the wistful image David Benoit paints is redolent… it’s just, well, comforting.
Ed Goldfarb is the shizizzle. Ok, let’s agree that the term, while widely accepted, has to date failed to garner universal acceptance and requires clarification. Ed is gifted as a player (keys, primarily), writer (in many idioms, specializing in a variety of pop influenced styles), arranger, and producer. He’s a kick ass engineer as well; I’ve used him on a number of projects. It’s unusual to find a guy who works primarily in popular forms who has the breadth of knowledge that Ed does. We’ve had lengthy conversations about Stravinsky, early Webern, and the clarity of Mendelssohn’s orchestrations- as well as Albert King and The Allman Brothers.
Over the last several years, while working on a number of other projects, Ed has been writing and recording songs with Jon Seltzer. “All I Want Is To Make You Happy,” the initial CD release from their group, The Sad Truth, can be heard and downloaded at their site, www.thesadtruthmusic.com. Ed, who lives in the Bay area with his wife and daughter, spoke to me recently by phone about the project.
Gary Eskow: “What was the genesis for this record?
Ed Goldfarb: “I had some songs that I’d written for myself, but no idea what to do with them. I started auditioning singers, mostly folks I’d been making records with over the years. Around the same time, maybe nine years ago, I was the Musical Director for “Beach Blanket Babylon,” the longest running theatrical review in the world. Jon was a waiter looking to break into show business. I gave him a song to work on, “War Babies,” and he killed it. He showed me a couple of songs of his that sounded really good and we took it from there.
GE: “How did you go about putting the group together to record this album?”
EG: “Obviously you want the best players on any record you make, particularly when you put in as much time as we did on this one. Lyle Workman, Bruce Kaplan, Barry Finnerty, these players have legendary resumes. Jon also played some guitar, and so did the late Paul A. Fox.”
GE: “Paul’s picture is on the inside of the CD and a Magritte painting (“Le mal du pays (Homesickness”) that features a man with wings is featured prominently on the packaging. Can you tell us something about your relationship with Paul?”
EG: “Paul was my first call guitar player, and he was excited about collaborating with me on this project, so he waived any fees. He auditioned for lead singer, but joked that since he was only half Jewish he lacked the personality to cut through! He played all the guitars on the opening track, “Couldn’t Be Clearer” and rhythm guitar on “War Babies” and “Lay Your Burden Down.”
Sadly, Paul got into a car crash and was gone at the age of 45.”
GE: “Where did you record the album?”
EG: “We tracked most of the material here in my house, including drums. We have a peaked ceiling in our master room that makes a nice recording space. I’ve got a ProTools rig. No board, I just use the mouse.”
GE: “You told me that you used a trick on some of the acoustic rhythm guitar tracks. Can you explain it?”
EG: “I thought it up, but the idea was based on something I read in an interview with someone (I can’t remember who) who had worked with Jeff Lynn on one of the Wilburys records. All five of the players would play at the same time, with everyone using a high quality microphone except for one guy. They’d put an SM 57 on him. Lynn apparently felt that the combination of detailed mics and one (maybe it was even a couple) recorded with a less detailed microphone sounded cool.
“I modified that idea and had several rhythm guitars tracked properly, and then an overdub, which we put in the center of the stereo field, recorded a few cents out of tune. It was hard for the player to record while out of tune, but the effect is really cool, purer than using any time based effect, since you’re not messing with the fabric of the sound at all, just adding some beating. You can hear this effect on “She Breaks My Heart” and “Lay Your Burden Down.”
GE: “My wife was a big Todd Rundgren fan and she says she hears his influence on this record. Is she right?”
EG: “Absolutely! Congratulations to her for picking up on that. This record is, in a sense, a tribute to the great pop records of the 70’s and 80’s.”
GE: “Jeff Saltzman mixed this record. Have you worked with him before?”
EG: “For years. Jeff’s my oldest friend- we met in Saturday school when we were nine years old. Jeff used ProTools LE, and it doesn’t matter what platform he’s on. He’s brilliant. He use a bunch of cool plug-ins and hardware, including Anamod Audio’s
AM670 Stereo Limiter, their recreation of the Fairchild 660. He leans quite heavily on the Waves API plug-in as well.”
GE: “The record was mastered at Sterling Sound, wasn’t it?”
EG: “Yes, Dave McNair did a great job for us.”
GE: “How are you distributing this CD?”
GE: “On a name your own price basis off of our website. At this point it’s all about expanding the base of people who are aware of what we’re doing. The response has been great so far, and we’re extremely encouraged by the feedback we’re getting. We’ve also been experimenting with targeted advertising on Facebook, making our presence know to folks whose musical preferences mirror our own. Through these efforts we’ve gained lots of new fans all over the world.”
Even though we could all see the inevitable with Steve Jobs looking more and more frail as time went on, his passing is sad and shocking. I was watching Anderson Cooper last night and CNN had an excellent special with interviews, archival footage and a timeline of Apple products from the 70′s to the present. His impact on consumers is beyond any other CEO’s in history but he also effected audio production in a big way.
Although I didn’t buy it with making music in mind, my first computer was an Apple IIe I bought in 1983 and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. The green screen was ugly, the 5.25″ floppy was slow and noisy, it had 64 kB of RAM but I still had the feeling I was on the cutting edge. And that’s what Apple products did then and still do now: make you feel good. Whether its feeling cool about having an iPhone in your pocket to show your pictures and videos to your friends, listening to music on the go (oh and there’s that phone call thing too), or running audio software on your Apple laptop, iPad or tower, it’s like being Elroy Jetson.
Although those early computers weren’t as cool for music makers as the Commodore 64 running Dr. T software, Apple quickly started moving toward heftier music production ability with the release of the IIgs in 1986 which included a 32-voice Ensoniq 5503, ‘wavetable’ sample-based music synthesizer chip, 64 kB dedicated RAM and 256 kB of standard RAM.
My first engineering experience with an Apple computer in the studio was when I worked on Kenny G’s Breathless record in 1989. I had helped Kenny put his home studio together and got the call to cut tracks for the project after we got the room up and running. Kenny used Opcode’s Vision running on a beefy Mac (IIci I think) to sequence his tracks which we then recorded onto a Mitsubishi 1/2″ 48 track digital recorder. Later, near the end of the project, Kenny upgraded to Studio Vision which was first product to integrate MIDI sequencing and digital audio editing and recording on any platform. It used Digidesign’s Sound Tools and the rest, as they say, is history.
So what would I say to Steve Jobs if I could sit down next to him and have a coffee? I’d start with thank you. Thanks Steve for empowering me, making me feel good, and professional. Thank you for making me think outside the box, making me a better engineer, journalist and educator. But most of all, thanks for being my hero to the end. At a time when many of my heroes have fallen due to human weakness, greed, drugs and just plain being stupid, you remained a man of integrity until the end. It was an honor to live during your lifetime.
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