Archive for May, 2012

ETHEL

I’m thrilled to report that ETHEL, the Manhattan based string quartet, will be recording “The Amazing X-Ray Machine,” a quartet I wrote several years ago with them in mind, next month. Our mutual friend Hal Winer, owner of BiCoastal Studios, where ETHEL tracked several selections from their most recent release, “Heavy,” (Innova Records) made the connection. The group also recorded at Kaleidoscope Sound, located in Union City, NJ.

I sent Ralph Farris, the group’s violist (and, along with cellist Dorothy Lawson, a founding member) a MIDI demo I recorded using the VSL Solo Strings collection a few weeks ago. Ralph liked it and asked me to send him a full score and parts. The group read through the piece on Monday. Two days later Ralph and I were sitting in an outdoor cafe across the street from the Minskoff Theater making a few changes to the score before the matinee performance of “The Lion King.” Ralph’s been in the pit for that show since it debuted on the Great White Way in 1997.

If you’re interested in learning more about ETHEL, or would like to listen to cuts from “Heavy,” head on over to the group’s website (www.ethelcentral.org).

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DIY Equal Loudness Curve

Have you ever shrugged off an idea that seemed too simple? Sure ya have, and about a year ago, I did too.

I had this idea to record a frequency sweep from 20Hz to 20kHz and then automate playback to reflect the sum of my system’s ability to reproduce and my ability to hear that range. I did the test, it worked as expected and another distraction came along…

When several student mixes were suffering from Bass Management Issues, I pulled this exercise out of the hat and did it in class. The resulting ‘automation curve’ mimicked the essence of the Equal Loudness Curve and the student response was phenomenal – the point was finally driven home.

There are a few ways to do this test. If your DAW has a SINE WAVE oscillator, sweep and label the octaves – 20Hz to 40Hz, 40Hz to 80Hz, etc. (details below) – so you’ll always know the range you’re listening to.

In class, I recorded a manual sweep sine oscillator, then made a copy of the recording so one track would feed a frequency counter and another fed the monitoring system – the track being automated.

STEP-1a
Set the Studio Monitor level to where it normally lives (should be at least halfway up).

STEP-1b
Set the global automation at minimum across the entire frequency spectrum

STEP-2
Be sure the automation level is all the way down before looping between 2560Hz and 5120Hz. (3kHz to 4khz is the ear’s most sensitive frequency range, where the fire alarms are.)

STEP-3
Adjust the automation level until this region becomes audible, add automation points if needed.

STEP-4
Loop the 20Hz to 40Hz region, and adjust the automation level until this region is audible. Repeat through each octave up to 20kHz, adding automation points if necessary.

Step-5
Zoom out and confirm that the automation levels emulate the essence of the Equal Loudness Curve.

20Hz – 40Hz
40Hz – 80Hz
80Hz – 160Hz
160Hz – 320Hz
320Hz – 640Hz
640Hz – 1,280Hz
1,280Hz – 2,560Hz
2,560Hz – 5,120Hz
5,120Hz – 10,240Hz
10,240Hz – 20,480Hz

Pretty much all Audio tutorials start with the Ear and the Equal Loudness Curve. Everything in between the sound source and the ear – from microphones to electronics, monitoring systems to acoustics – is covered in some detail.

One reason the mixes that result from these ‘lessons’ do not often reflect the depth of understanding and discipline required to pull off a respectable rough mix – what I like to call ‘a foundation to build on’ – is that professionals spend years learning by successive approximation, by listening on many systems, by making mistakes and knowing how to stay within the limitations and by pushing the boundaries to expand the possibilities.

To teach such ‘accumulated knowledge’ requires many hands-on exercises, each one a small step in the process. Whether you are a student, an educator, an enthusiast or a professional, I think you’ll find this exercise worthwhile. I plan on starting all of my classes with it. Let me know how it works for you.

Eddie

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“Birthday”

I’ve blogged about Andrew Lubman before. A.L.’s one of those guys who travel the wedding circuit scene in NY; one of the special ones whose playing and singing make you take note instantly. He’s good—very good. When he’s not working as a Mac computer tech in a school district (his day job) or performing for the Glitterati, you might catch Andrew in a recording studio adding to his catalog of spot on Beatles re-recordings (the latest is “Birthday”). The videos can be found on YouTube (type in AllYouNeedIsLub) as well as his website (www.AndrewLubman.com) (you can also listen to a number of Andrew’s original songs on this site). Besides nailing the vocal performances and playing all instruments himself using copies (or near copies) of those used on the original tracks, Lubman does a very good job of engineering and mixing these songs. I asked him to share his techniques with us.

Mix: What kind of research do you do before you track?

Andrew Lubman: “First and foremost I do a lot of critical listening to the original recordings. That means headphones, listening to the left and right channels individually (but fed into both ears), seeking out outtakes and alternate versions (live versions if applicable), and listening to the individual channels from surround mixes (“Anthology” DVDs, “Yellow Submarine” DVD, “Help!” DVD, “Love” surround mixes). Three books form a collective Beatles bible: “The Beatles: Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn, “Beatles Gear” by Andy Babiuk, and “Recording The Beatles” by Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan. That last one is on the more expensive side ($100), but worth every penny. Another indispensible source of knowledge is the web community at www.BeatGearCavern.com–a great bunch of gear-heads and Beatle-heads.”

Mix: Do you have a basic philosophy regarding recording songs from The Beatles catalogue”

AL: “I try to emulate microphone placement based on what I hear on the original recordings, and go with condenser or dynamic where appropriate (I don’t have an extensive/expensive mic collection). I try to use similar model guitars as what’s on the recording (or at least guitars with the same type of pickups). I don’t use sheet music, as I’ve found that what’s out there isn’t accurate (some of it isn’t bad, just not 100 percent). Besides, part of the fun is figuring out the parts for myself!”

“I lean on IK Multimedia’s “TRackS” plugin, Waves reverb (usually a plate reverb), and Native Instruments’ “Guitar Rig.” I decided not to use any MIDI/synthesized/sampled emulations. I want to be able to show what was used on the original recordings, as well as how it was used. For all of my videos, I feel there should be an educational component, perhaps uncovering a mystery along the way.”

Mix: What do you hope to achieve with this ongoing project?

AL: “These videos are a complete labor of love, and take a long time to create. This is due in part, to the time it takes to find some of the instruments and equipment to borrow or rent. Also, I have little free time, so the recording and editing process takes place over a long period of time, in little dribs and drabs. The positive feedback that I’ve received is very rewarding, so thank you to everyone who has taken time to comment on the videos. I have many more in the works. I would love it if something came of these, whether in the form of work, recognition from respected people in the music world, etc.”

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Using Finale’s play back engine

For the last several years Finale has shipped with a subset of the Gary Garritan sample library. A play back engine allows the user to select instruments and hear the score performed through the application. To be honest, I had a somewhat snooty attitude regarding this aspect of Finale, believing that since I own tons of samples and meticulously craft my midi demos to take advantage of every articulation I own, play back within Finale served no purpose for me.

What a mistake! I wrote a string quartet several years, “The Amazing X-Ray Machine,” and the midi demo I created just found its when into the hands of Ralph Farris, the violist who is a member of the wonderful quartet ETHEL. The group just released a new album, “HEAVY,” and the reviews are coming in strong… head up to their website, http://www.ethelcentral.org/, and check them out.

Ralph liked “X-Ray” and e mailed me to say that the group is having a new music reading session in mid May and he’d like to have parts to hand out to the other members. I wanted to take another look at the score and make some slight revisions before sending, and this time, instead of performing the changes into Cubase, I simply let Finale read them down for me using the Garritan strings that ship with the app. It was great! Who cares that the pizzicato and harmonic sections are all played with the same legato patch? I got a real feel for how the new music works without having to go through the labor intensive process of key switching using my libraries. Plus, play back lets Finale act as an editor, finding wrong notes that you might have missed.

If you’ve had a superior attitude regarding playing back scores through Finale, lose it!

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Endless Analog Bows New Products

Endless Analog has released a new range of products aimed at those wanting to get into CLASP without breaking the bank. The new products are CLASP 8, CLASP 16, Machine Matrix, and Machine Matrix I/O. The 8 and 16 are scaled down versions of the original CLASP so those with more limited analog track counts, don’t have to pay for 24 channels. The Matrix provides 8 channels of audio. The Matrix I-O provides an additional 8 channels per unit. All the gear works together to allow users to jump between tape machines, and use 8 (or more) channels at a time, depending on how many I/O boxes are purchased.

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Me and James Blunt

It makes no sense… me, my age, James Blunt, his; but not only do I love “You’re Beautiful;” I consider it my own personal property, and here’s why.

It must have been 1978. I was on the subway in Manhattan, saw a young woman-not classically beautiful, but a queen, a treasure I wanted to know… and I said nothing. I vowed that if I ever saw her again I’d approach her.

Unbelievably, it couldn’t have been more than a month later, I’m walking down 79th St. and Columbus Ave. and there she is, wearing sandals, a loose fitting dress (it was during the Summer), and looking beautiful… like an angel with a smile on her face. I made my move, told her my story, asked if I could call… of course she said no… maybe if I had a mandolin in my hand, or said that my life was brilliant…

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John Mayall

Culture wars… this belongs to you, that’s mine, you can’t have it…what a waste! Taken to the extreme of course, we end up with fanatics who take the game up a level-our rules obtain, obey them or die. The Taliban, sure, but let’s be fair, how about the orthodox fellas in Tel Aviv who believe they have a pipeline to Maimonides that no one who fails to keep kosher can tap into. Not wanting to start an argument, mind you; when my kids were Bar Mitzvahed I read the Torah from cover to cover-twice each time-searching this magical document for something that would spur a thought.

Jagger, McCartney, and many others, including the great bluesman John Mayall, don’t seem to possess the exclusionary gene. They imported the blues while young, took possession of it, and added their own spices to the stew. Mayall, now a ripe 78 years old, continues to plow the fields; if you’re a fan in Ottowa, Ontario, Buffalo, NY, Ridgefield, CT., or a host of other cities in North America head up to his website (www.johnmayall.com) and check out the group’s summer touring schedule.

Bluesbreaker fans know that E.C. first gained international fame as a guitarist who combined breathtaking technique with a composer’s ability to pare away all but the essential in Mayall’s band while he was still a pup. The great Mick Taylor took Clapton’s seat a few years later, and the group suffered no decline of inventiveness when he did-go back and listen to Mick’s playing on “Snowy Wood” if you need confirmation. Over the years a number of fine musicians have worked their way through the Bluesbreaker line up.

Mayall auditioned retirement a few years ago, but it was a bad fit. A long time resident of L.A., it seems that Mayall still has rambling on his mind. If we’re keeping score, put John Mayall in my column-but feel free to count him as one of your own as well.

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