Archive for February, 2012

Poetic Wax

See and hear early analog technology in action.

Continuing with the topic of using recording devices as filters, it’s time to relive the glories of early analog recording and hear how it transformed sound. The video clips within this link are from a recent AES-sponsored educational event where Suzanne Vega had the chance to record to wax cylinders at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park. Seeing and hearing the recording process reveals a number of things that might not be apparent otherwise.

First, check out how far into the horn she has to sing. Granted, she doesn’t have a particularly loud voice, so she probably has to put her head farther in than, say, a gospel singer who has more projection.

Then, listen to how the resonance of the metal horn insinuates itself into the timbre of her voice. Basically, they’re recording her singing into a resonant can.

Finally, check out the second half of the second video where they play the cylinder itself. We get to hear her song with all the scratchy, hissy, warbling artifacts one would expect from the wax format.

But what we’re really treated to is an A/B test between a digital recording of Vega singing (albeit, one that was synchronized to video and data compressed when it was posted online) and the wax cylinder playback (similarly digitally recorded and compressed). Notice the frequency bandwidth reproduced from the cylinder, as well as signal versus noise. Will future generations similarly listen back to our data compressed recordings and marvel at how lo-fi the sound was in the early days of web delivery and satellite radio? You’re darn right they will.

In the last few decades, a number of artists have recorded to wax and transferred the results to digital for aesthetic reasons, such as They Might Be Giants.

However, one of my favorite artists working in this realm is London-based musician Aleks Kolkowsky, who regularly records musicians to wax cylinder. Have a look and listen to what he’s done at

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Mics as filters, and whether having too much gear is a distraction

Since the end of the NAMM show a few weeks ago, I’ve had the opportunity to do a number of microphone comparisons on a variety of subjects (vocals, acoustic guitars, drums, amps, reeds, electronics, percussion), and I’m continually reminded that mics are, in fact, filters. In other words, transducers provide a seemingly endless way to alter sound (when you want them to, of course).

Last night’s session involved solo acoustic guitar—a Recording King RNJ-16—miked up with a Cloud JRS34 active ribbon mic, an Electro-Voice RE320 dynamic, an SE 2200a II large-diaphragm condenser, and a Grundig GDSM 200 stereo dynamic mic from the ‘60s. Much of it was sent through a Universal Audio 4-710d preamp/converter, which offers the ability to dial-in a mix of solid-state and tube preamp sounds for each channel. This setup offered seemingly endless tonal variety, which I would’ve explored if it weren’t for the time limits in getting the job done!

While I go into a bit more detail about the subject of mics-as-filters in the upcoming print version of the Robair Report in Mix magazine, I wanted to point you towards a few online examples worth considering.

First is a quintessential Led Zeppelin track, “Houses of the Holy,” which showcases a couple of unique guitar tones captured by Jimmy Page. You don’t have to be a fan to notice that the intro is one of the strangest guitar timbres ever recorded.

Is this the sound he reportedly recorded by lowering a mic into a bucket? I keep hearing that anecdote but I can’t find the source. Anyone know for sure?

The other link I want to share is of the American Mavericks interview with composer Pauline Oliveros, whose imaginative uses of sound in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s extended to mics as well as electronic music generators. Here she discusses how she used cardboard tubes with mics to filter sound, as well as using her bathtub to generate ambience.

I have yet to hear an impulse response of a bathtub, but I imagine someone has created one.

10,000 hours vs. 15 minutes

These days, with so many reverb and delay plug-ins available, adding ambience to your music is trivial. In fact, there is so much low-cost music-related gear, that it’s hard to find the time to really exploit it all. Meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so in the software realm: As we’re forced to upgrade our platforms more frequently (annually for Apple users), some part of our system will become legacyware with each OS upgrade, whether it’s because a DAW or plug-in developer isn’t able to offer an update or because it has gone out of business.

So, there’s a lot of fun stuff to explore, but less time to do so. For example, iOS apps are often so inexpensive that it’s almost impossible to avoid downloading them. But is having access to an enormous amount of inexpensive stuff a distraction from actual music making? How many people do you know who buy new gear on a regular basis—soft synths, hardware processors, whatever—but don’t put in the 10,000 hours required for virtuosity on any of them? Is that model even viable anymore?

It wasn’t that long ago that pro-quality gear was prohibitively priced for non-professionals. Consequently, budding engineers and musicians built their own equipment or found creative ways to explore sound without spending much money (hence Oliveros’s method of filtering and obtaining reverberation). You designed or reworked something to fit your aesthetics, rather than purchased something built around someone else’s tastes, which you might share to some degree. Today, much of the DIY craze is a result of a market that is saturated with predictable and bland sound devices. And simply putting a chain of stomp boxes after a ROMpler or SM57 is not enough to create a unique sound. Circuit bending or hacking into the hardware, however, gives you a fighting chance to find something of your own.

Now imagine building an instrument from the ground up that sounds exactly the way you want it to and fully serves your musical imagination—for decades. How many guitarists can you think of that have played the same homemade instrument their entire career?

Why Did The Oscars Sound SO Bad?

I’m not sure about your local broadcast, but my audio for the 84th Annual Oscar Ceremony was awful. For me it started at Billy Crystal’s monologue with the feed sounding like a everything was pushed through Avid’s Lo-Fi plugin, and the problems continued throughout the show.

My reality check came after I discovered Oscars Audio Guy (@BarrettTryon) as he heckled from Twitter saying: “We used tin cans this year to offset Billy Crystal in HD,” he wrote. “Anyone have some more string we can borrow for mic cord?” ran an article about him as did Tryon’s home town website Tryon commented from Facebook that the Academy wasn’t amused by the spoof as they suspended him and had Twitter yank his account.

UPDATE: The Buzz Continues! Variety has just posted an article online, as did Leslie Shapiro at Sound and Vision Magazine and Barrett was just interviewed by Vanity Fair. Also, a Twitter site has gone up to “free the O…. Audio Guy from Twitter jail.”

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The Music of Randy Newman

Our ancestors divvied up tasks for a good reason: the practice of going out to club lions while the wife stays in the cave with the kiddies established a model that’s provided time apart to centuries of married couples. Survival of the species depended on it! There are examples of successful marriages that include a working relationship, however. Submitted for your approval, Roseanna Vitro and Paul Wickliffe.

Paul ( is well known to Mix readers. The one time owner of Skyline Studios in Manhattan, Paul moved his production studio to his home in central New Jersey in the early days of the ADAT revolution. He’s continued to work from home as a mixer, mastering engineer and producer since that time. Paul and his partner, Eric Troyer, are the owners of Charleson Road Studio, a recording studio located a few miles down the road.

If you don’t know Roseanna, head over to her website ( and check her out immediately! Great eyes, right? The cognisanti have known for years that Roseanna is a supreme song stylist. With the Grammy nomination (Best Jazz Vocal Album of 2011) she received for her latest release, “The Music of Randy Newman,” (Motema Records, www.motemacom) her reputation is likely to grow.

Roseanna and Paul co-produced this venture. I spoke to Paul recently about the experience. “We pretty much co-produce all her records. Working with one’s spouse has its moments, as you can imagine, but it’s a great experience. We’ve been married nearly 30 years and have achieved a level of creative intimacy and honesty that goes well beyond the typical producer/artist relationship.  Passions can run high, but they are rooted in artistic conviction rather than a professional tug of war.

“Recording an album of Randy Newman songs was my idea; his work has been largely ignored by the jazz community and that gave us an opportunity to bring something fresh to this outstanding material. Roseanna’s Southern roots brought an authenticity to her performance.

“Generally speaking, my job is to make sure that her vision gets across to a broad group of listeners. I try to stay out of the way, but there are times when I’m compelled to let her know when something she’s doing isn’t right for a general audience.

“If I feel that she’s got a better performance in her then I have to push-and be willing to take the heat! Again, the commercial aspect is something I have to keep in mind regarding the performances of Roseanna and the other musicians. Each of them is intensely focused on their individual performances. Sometimes a musical line will get tossed in that’s a bit far afield, too hip for the room. Other musicians might love this stuff, but if you’re making records for musicians you’ll never make any money!

“Roseanna did an album of Ray Charles songs (“Catchin’ Some Rays: The Music of Ray Charles”) a couple of years ago that was pretty successful for her. We both love Randy Newman’s work, and she decided to record a CD of his material. As with the Ray album, our process was to have Roseanna focus on some of the lesser known material, songs that are just as powerful but haven’t received as much exposure. Randy’s a great story teller. Getting back to the point about corralling in the players, I wanted to make sure that his stories were never obscured by excessive filigree.

“Roseanna’s been working with Dean Johnson (bass) and Tim Horner (drums) for many years. She’s done a couple of records with our good friend Kenny Werner playing piano. Mark Soskin loves Randy Newman’s work, though, and so he seemed like a natural fit for this project. I worked on a record with Sara Caswell (violin) and Fred Hersch, and she’d been out here at the house, which is where Roseanna got exposed to her. Roseanna’s manager Jeff Levenson also thought that Sara might be good for this project.

“Sara’s a brilliant musician. She has an emotional depth that’s awesome, unparalleled in my view. We wanted to keep the band small, and using a violin in place of a horn made sense because Randy’s roots run through the South. The violin is a kind of a tip of the hat to that region, the country music aspect fit this project nicely.

“Everyone knows that the music industry has changed drastically over the last several years. For most artists CD’s serve as promotional material to bolster performance revenues. We thought about putting this record out ourselves, as many artists are doing. There are distinct advantages to being associated with a label, however, particularly in the area of promotion and distribution resources. Jana Herzen, the head of Motema, is a songwriter, and she’s been a client of mine. Jana expressed an interest in this project, and we were able to work out a p+d (press and distribution) deal with her. Motema’s great, and they’ve put together a rather massive catalog for a young label.

“The Grammy experience was quite interesting. Now that I finally understand how the nomination process works I have respect for it! Essentially there are two rounds of voting, with a review committee in between. For starters, everyone throws into the pre-nomination process. In our category, about 80 submissions were made. These are sent to the members of The Recording Academy, who winnow the pool down to 15. At that point a panel of NARAS board members pick the five they feel have the most merit. These five are then sent back out to the members to vote on. The top vote getter- Terri Lyne Carrington, in this case- is the winner.

“Our next project? We’re discussing that. Roseanna’s currently working on a concert series, “Ballads of Bird,” that will feature the music of Charlie Parker. That may turn into a record, but I can’t say for sure at this time. I do know that we’ll keep working, and both Roseanna and I appreciate all the support and attention that “The Music of Randy Newman” has received.

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iZotope RX2 tutorial

I’m a big fan of continuing education and I really like the products that iZotope ( has been turning out. So do many of you, I would imagine, considering the market share gains that the company has been enjoying.

Izotope has a couple of videos on the ‘net that walk the user through examples that use the RX2 plug-in to rescue damaged audio. You can also download the actual before and after audio files that were worked on and a pdf that explains the procedures. You can even download a trial version of the product if you want to take it for a test ride prior to purchase.

I just spent about an hour replicating the processes that Matt, the tech support guru who cleans up background noise from a clip shot in a park, and the dreaded 60 cycle hum from a guitar track, performed.

Quick take: I was able to clean up the audio nicely, but I didn’t feel that at the end of the process I had gained a fundamental understanding of the concepts. Look, this particular blog is not for you Mix genius engineer-types… to you folks, this is elementary school stuff!

As high quality tools like the ones iZotope is turning out become less and less expensive they will become increasingly available to troglodytes like me. I’m going to keep working at this, and will let my fellow neophytes know how I’m doing- hopefully the teacher is grading on a curve!

Check out the video tutorials here: (reducing unwanted background noise) (rescuing noisy guitar)

Grab the files here:

Let me know how you do!

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Top 10 Pro Tools 10 Questions Answered

Mix recently produced a Pro Tools 10 Webcast that is now available for viewing on-demand. Alongside the presentation, texted questions were being answered live by the presenters and Avid product specialists. Here are the top 10 questions from the the text portion of the program.

Q: What are the new DSPs in the new cards ? Why can’t they work with Accel Cards ?

A: The HDX cards have TI chips, that are ^x more powerful than the old Sharc chips (each). Completely different architecture

Q: Can a project created on 8.0.3cs3 for Windows be moved to a Pro Tools 10 or 10X for a Mac system?

A: Yes, not a problem

Q: So surround requires HD?

A: Surround can be achieved with PT 10 + Complete Production Toolkit or any of the HD family

Q: So we can use Pro Tools 10 HD for example on laptop without the hardware?

A: Correct – if you have Pro Tools HD, you can use the software stand alone using the HD ilok auth to authorize it.

Q: What is clip gain?

A: Clip gain is the ability to isolate a region and add or subtract gain from the edit window on each clip. It is different than automation. Clip gain is pre insert, Automation as at the fader level. They run separately

Q: When is this 1000+dB supposed to happen?

A: With Pro Tools HD Native or HDX, you get 1500+ dB of headroom

Q: I am running 8 HD3 TDM. Can I use the 10 software with my TDM cards, 192s and TDM plugs?

A: Yes, Pro Tools 10 will work with your existing HD Accel system assuming your computer will support Snow Leopard or Lion

Q: My computer only has 4Gigs of Ram and with PT10 you need that just to run it?

A: PT needs 4gigs just to run properly, so I would recommend 8-12 GB, especially with disk cache enabled.

Q: Is Pro Tools 10 compatible with the 003 rack?

A: Yes it is!

Q: I received Pro Tools 9 as a student edition, I was told that I get 4 years of free upgrades. Is this true?

A: Yes this is true. Congrats and thanks for supporting!

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Roger Nichols Gear To Be Auctioned

Sadly, last year we lost an audio engineering great with the passing of Roger Nichols. The family is auctioning off his gear through Sweetwater and ebay. You can view the gear here.

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Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble

When did the fascination for ethnic percussion overwhelm the film scoring landscape? Maybe it was the day Eric Persing made a pilgrimage to the land of mystery and came back with a set of samples that he turned into the hugely successful “Heart of Africa” library. Today, no film composer worth his salt is without a mighty set of pounding drums that can convey a sense of power and awe at the flick of a key switch.

Given the fact that multiple libraries of this nature were already available, I wondered why Mike Peaslee decide to devote the time and energy that went into SOUNDIRON’s new release, Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble. Mike told me that Tonehammer (of which he was a co-owner) developed techniques for recording big drums that he was constantly striving to improve. Mike felt he had at least one more major release of this type in him.

Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble, available as a download from the SOUNDIRON website ( is currently discounted to a price of $179, is the result of these efforts. Eventually, APEwill return to its list price of $199. The full version of the Native Instruments Kontakt 4 player is required.

What a gorgeous sounding library, and extremely well laid out to boot! SOUNDIRON went crazy with multiple mic placement combinations, and to be real it’s going to take me (you too!) some time to compare and contrast them all.

APE weighs in at a hefty 14+ GB, and many of the presets draw tons of CPU cycles, so SOUNDIRON followed the well established practice of offering several different versions of each. The lite ones have a limited number of samples (four) per round robin. They load the quickest (obviously) and I’d recommend that you use them to explore APE. Computers with less than 64 bit operating systems will most likely choke on this material, particularly if you use the heavier presets.

Download the manual from the SOUNDIRON site. It’s fairly clear, but I pointed out to Mike that there are some omissions. For example, the company has a very interesting arpeggiator they niftily name the Uberpeggiator. I get it; it has lots of controls. You can for example, instruct the plug-in to hold the note you’ve just struck, and then add other notes (the same drum sound with different pitches, perhaps, or different instruments) into the arpeggiation cycle. I couldn’t figure out why some notes were going in and out until Mike and Chris (the SOUNDIRON partner who added this feature) explained that if you hit a note a second time you remove it from the cycle- the manual didn’t tell me that!

The bigger presets contain round robin cycles of 12 samples per note. You can also hit the Shuffle button, which introduces a random factor to the note repeats. I can’t believe I’d ever hear the repeat in a round robin cycle of a dozen, but if your golden ears can, knock yourself out with this function.

May I riff here? That is, Riff, as in West Side Story! When you’re tapped to execute a midi version of this classic Broadway score, check out the solo bongos! Damn, they’re good!

As you’d expect, there are controls that allow you to re-pitch and play with filters and eq. SOUNDIRON has also provided some very useful convolution reverbs. These aren’t the Carnegie Hall type, but rather warehouse and garage type environments, plus a bunch of zingy sounding spaces that let you take the drums into some weird and very attractive places.

Multi-drum presets are included and so are some empty templates that you can use as starting points for the creation of your own. APE also ships with a set of Ambience presets that derive from the drums themselves, adding a tonal unity to the package. Of course, you probably own Omnisphere, in which case these sounds may simply become a pleasant diversion.

If you already own a healthy complement of mondo drums you may want to pass on Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble. If you’re in the market for this kind of product, however, APE is a must consider item. The drums are beautifully recorded, the effects are excellent, the interface is first rate… and the price is quite reasonable.

Highest rating.

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What we’re doing in Electronics Class

As usual I arrive, tail between my legs, because I have not kept up my end of the bargain. That said, Part-1 of my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe mods is now in the February issue. Part-1 implies Part-2 and, like Sourdough starter, I am already working on Part-3 even though Part-2 has not yet been put to bed.

Zooming in on a guitar amp with a microphone has a tendency to reveal certain flaws that might not get noticed at rehearsal or at a live gig. As a recording engineer with geek abilities, I wanna know how to make ‘one of THOSE amps’ sound good in the studio, especially when my ‘clients’ are students on a limited budget. It’s not hard and it’s ‘mostly time,’ lol!

Meanwhile, in the first three weeks of Electronics Class, we covered voltage dividers, series and parallel circuits, Ohm’s Law and the Power Formula. Power Supplies and basic soldering skills are currently in the cue. We learned, about half wave, full wave, voltage doublers, filter capacitors and regulators.

When I showed up to class this week, students had drawn their power supply schematics 15 times in prep for a from-memory mid-term exam. Now we can ‘relax’ and stuff some components into the circuit board and solder away. Next week we start JFETs.

Here are some review links from my own site and

Basic Electricity

Voltage Dividers

Series Parallel and Resistor Color Code Test

Rectification Video


Regulation Video

Regulation Homework


JFET Video



Some of these videos are not as well done as the stuff Afrotech does, some of the audio is absolutely horrendous! That said, our minds are all wired a little differently and it’s good to check multiple sources.


This one has terrible audio, but it seems relevant…

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Fractured Guitars

Long a player in the lower priced sampled products market, bigfishaudio established a separate division, Vir2, several years ago. Vir2 products cost a bit more, but they are still very attractively priced and have a luster and feature sets that distinguish them. Fractured Guitars (which can be purchased for $150 as a download by visiting the bigfish site: fits neatly into the Vir2 scheme.

All of the sounds, Instruments, and Multis included in Fractured Guitars derive from one or more acoustic guitars-I think; I couldn’t find any information regarding the source material on the bigfish site. This product operates within the Kontakt 5 player, which is included in the download.

The five categories of Instruments (Chromatic Kits, Tempo Synced, Pads & SFX, Melodic, Drum Kits) fall into two broad categories. The quick attack/release samples have a prepared piano quality that makes for effective rhythmic patterns, while the longer samples have an ethereal sensibility that film score composers will quickly glom onto.

To get the most out of this library you’ll want to distinguish those sounds that have a clear tonal center to them, even though they’re colored with sound design elements that create a dissonant edge. Take one of these sounds, and play an F#m7(no 5th) chord in your right hand and an Fm7(no 5th) chord in your left. The ear tries to hear through the shimmering and is pleasantly confused by the tonal ambiguity. Sounds cool, right?

The effects that ship with Fractured Guitars (reverbs, flangers, etc.) are quite serviceable, and the interfaces that let you control them are well laid out. You can, of course, re-pitch, pan and apply equalization to all of the material.

No sample library worthy of the name would ship without a set of samples that evoke the magic of Jimi Hendrix at his most freaked out. Even though these sounds were all created from an acoustic guitar (again, I think!), the manipulations do include the kinds of sweeps and harmonic excitations that the great master was fond of.

Developers tend to fall in love with the permutations that their products are capable of producing. For me, the number of presets is a bit too high; quite a few of the instruments are variations on a theme that the user could be left to explore on his own. I would also like to see an audition button. As things stand you have to load an instrument and strike a few notes on your keyboard controller to get to know it.

Notwithstanding these minor complaints, Fractured Guitars is a beautiful sounding library that’s worth every penny you’ll pay for it.

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