Archive for June, 2012

Vivace

Vivace
199,90 Euros (app. $250)
Score (pdf) 99,90 Euros ($125; 50% off with purchase of Vivace or Tutti)
purchased through Sonokinetic website:
www.sonokinetic.net

Education… I can’t get enough of it! There are several reasons why composers working in film and television will want to consider picking up Vivace. My favorite feature is the way it serves as a teaching tool-but we’ll get to that in a moment.

If you aren’t familiar with Sonokinetic, go to their website and check out some of the videos they’ve posted. Sonokinetic has carved out a unique place among sample libraries, with a combination of ethnic instruments and orchestral textures in particular that are reasonably priced, well recorded, and brimming with personality.

Using the Sonokinetic download application, I found it easiest to download both the 16 and 24 bit versions of Vivace. I don’t use 16 bit files when 24 bit versions are available, so I simply deleted the 16 bit samples when the download was completed. You probably already have the free version of the Native Instruments’ Kontakt 5 player; if not, head up to the NI site and grab that as well.

Sonokinetic released a product called Tutti in 2011. Ripe with clusters and dark, atonal figures, Tutti worked its way into the tool shed of many top LA composers. Vivace, intended as a complement to the earlier library, has a number of moody cues, but is generally lighter in tone.

The content of this library (which tempo syncs to your host) falls into eight distinct categories. Runs, transitions, stabs, chord patterns, aleatoric material-it’s all covered, in four bar phrases. DFD (direct from disk) patches are also included for those working with limited RAM.

As you would expect, key switches let you select patterns and move through the chromatic scale for each of the patterns. A number of the patterns were recorded with several variations; key switches make theses alternates available to you as well.

A mixer is included. You’ll be able to isolate individual groups (strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion), but note that the Tutti ensembles, part of the bonus material from the earlier library, have considerable bleed between the sections. With the Vivace material you can balance the choirs, add eq, affect the balance of the three microphone groups (balcony, Decca tree, wide) and goose the reverb or pull it back.

The best part of Vivace, for me, is the fact that the scores to these extremely well written cues are available to you in two forms. If you can deal with their tiny size you’ll do fine studying the pop up scores that come with the application. If you’re serious about getting the most out of this product, however, I’d urge you to consider dropping another $63 on the full pdf version. It’s one thing to have a set of dramatic sampled cues at your fingertips. Even better is to learn how they’re built so that you can write original cues of your own. The Sonokinetic team knows what they’re doing; the parts are detailed, with the kinds of written instructions and special notation you’ll need if you plan on going into the recording studio with live musicians to create the kind of suspenseful cues that have been with us since the days of Bernard Herrmann.

Speaking of Herrmann, Expressionist Patterns B is perhaps my favorite set of Vivace presets, among many terrific ones. Call this baby up, invoke any one of the cues… Psycho revisited!

Conclusion:
Well written, recorded and programmed.
PDF score a real bonus.
Five stars

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Tracking “Dispatch From The Killing Floor”

Most would agree that Walt Whitman’s “Leaves Of Grass” is a great example of American literature; some go beyond that and place it in the pantheon as one of the finest pieces ever written in the English language.

At the suggestion of Richard Danielpour I set four poems from “Leaves Of Grass” (“Year That Trembled and Reel’D Beneath Me,” “Look Down, Fair Moon,” “Hushed Be the Camps Today,” “Reconciliation”) for baritone and piano several years ago. This week Richard Hobson, a featured baritone at the Metropolitan Opera, and Ron Levy, highly regarded as a piano soloist, an accompanist, and a member of the Palisades Virtuoso trio, regarded “Dispatch From The Killing Floor” at Bicoastal Studios. Speaking of BiCoastal…what a drag, Hal Winer will be closing it down and “taking his talents” (as LeBron James would say) to Los Angeles over the course of the next several months.

Daryl Bornstein sat at the board for this session, but he did a lot more than set levels. A singer himself, Daryl is an outstanding musician who possesses an ability to get inside a score like few people I’ve seen. No wonder. Besides working with the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the Boston Symphony and Jazz at Lincoln Center, Daryl’s served as Audio Producer, Sound Designer and Mixer producer for many television events, including productions featuring the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and Chicago. He’s also a member of a barber shop quartet. When Daryl started communicating with Richard over the talk back system about vocal technique, I made the brilliant decision to keep my mouth shut! In short, I showed up ready to produce the session as I routinely do when my own material is being recorded, but quickly realized that I could afford to take a step back and let Daryl take over.

     Recording small ensembles can be tricky.  I asked Daryl to outline his process. Here’s what he had to say.

    “I used two pair of microphones on the piano during this session.  The high pair (left) consisted of a Schoeps CMC6U/MK21 Subcardiod-Wide Cardiod.  This is essentially an omni with a ‘forward preference.’ The second mike was a Schoeps CMC6U/MK4.  Not only does this give me the choice between and omni and a cardiod when mixing, but the two mics combine to create an entirely different, and very useful sound.The low pair (right) are identical to the ones I just mentioned. The Schoeps CMXY 4V compact stereo microphone, forms the Mid Array.

    “I placed a Neumann M149 in Wide Cardiod mode on the vocal and three
additional Schoeps mikes (CMC6UMK21 Subcardiod, CMC6I/MK8 Figure 8 and
CMC4 Cardiod for the MS Array).  Finally, I captured the room with a pair of Neumann KM83 Omni microphones.

    “This is, admittedly, an excessive number of microphones for a simple piano and voice recording of what is, essentially, a contemporary classical art song cycle; a catch 22 of sorts comes into play during a session like this one.  When tracking (as opposed to working on a live broadcast) I tend to give myself a number of options for mixing. This allows me to work more quickly, though it has the potential downside of adding time to the post production process.
 
    “The bottom line for me is to make sure that we can move as quickly as possible during tracking to conserve the artist’s energy.  Nothing sucks the life out of a project faster than spending hours comparing microphones and microphone placement.  If you have the option of tracking several microphone choices simultaneously, you may save time, keep the artist “fresh,” and end up with a better end product.
 
   “While I prefer “omni” in most cases, having a coincident cardiod available affords me greater reach and/or isolation if I need it in certain passages while mixing.  I cut my teeth recording direct to stereo.  There is a lot to be said for committing to a mix.  Not only is it a great skill to master, but it saves a tremendous amount of time in post production.
 
    “That said, if today’s affordable, portable multi-track technology had been available ‘in the day,’ I am sure that I would have taken advantage of it.  The vocal ‘array’ is essentially two MS arrays plus a large diaphragm tube mic (for color). The MS arrays provide options for creating space around the vocal.  I tend to blend several microphone patterns together rather than rely on one. There are those who will object theoretically to this approach, and I don’t disagree with them-theoretically.  In practice, however, this method works well for me.
 
    “With the exception of direct to stereo archival recordings which will not be released commercially and do not require post production I now track everything at a minimum of 88.2 kHz/24 bit.  My decision to record at a higher resolution than 44.1/24 was not based originally on the usual argument for better sound quality, but because the record labels I work with are now requiring both 44.1/16 and high resolution files.  Mastering engineers also prefer higher resolution files.
 
    “After years of resisting the move away from 44.1/16, I have joined the ranks of the converted (no pun intended). Given the dramatic drop in cost of storage media, I see is no reason not to record at high resolution unless one is limited by processing power of their DAW.
 
    “There are no shortage of options nor opinions on how best to record “classical” piano and voice. My choices are driven by 1: the type of music being performed, and the specific needs of the composition 2: the quality and type of acoustic space  3: the quality of the piano 4: the ‘size’ of the voice 5: the needs of the artists regarding communication (i.e.: do they need to be closer to one another than I would like for isolation purposes), and 6: the amount of time I have to experiment with placement.
 
    “More specifically, will I record with the piano lid off or on.  If on, on the high stick, the low stick, or on a custom  “recording stick”?  Will I place the singer facing the crook of the piano (with the lid on or off), or “behind” the piano with the lid up, and with sound absorbing material on the lid to reduce reflections?  Am I looking for a roomier sound or a closer sound?  How much isolation do I need relative to details in the composition?  Are the performers first rate, able to nail a performance, or will they need “help” in post
production.
 
    “In the studio I seldom have the singer face away from the piano, as they would in a performance. I am more than willing to give up a bit of isolation to allow direct and continuous eye contact between the pianist and the singer.
 
“I like to have the studio ready to “roll tape” when the musicians walk in, so it is necessary to have some knowledge of the composition before setting up. While I often track piano with the lid off when recording piano and voice or instrumental soloists at Bicoastal Music, some pianists have a difficult time adjusting to the reduced bass they hear without the lid on. Not knowing the pianist, nor the composition, I decided to set up with the lid on to avoid possible problems. Also, I chose to have the vocalist face the piano and sing towards the open lid, rather than setting him up on the “back side” of the piano singing into the top of the lid, which would have provided more isolation. Again, not knowing the musicians, I thought it best to create a familiar setting for them — similar to what they would have in a concert recital.
 
“Often, I don’t add the third array to the piano. I use it more for jazz and pop than for classical. But again, not knowing the dynamic range of the piece or the size of the singer’s voice in advance, I chose to add the array. Better safe than sorry. The specific microphone choices are based on my personal past experience and on practicality. I used mics that I know, and that I also happen to own.
 
“As it turned out, the composition had a wide dynamic range as did the singer. I placed the vocal mics closer than I would for an operatic solo recording, but much further than I would for a jazz or pop vocalist.  My initial guess was close. So close, in fact, that I didn’t change the mic position other than to raise them about six inches to clear the music stand higher, which Richard wanted higher than I had set it.
 
“Aside from using arrays of mics rather than single mics in the hi and low positions on the piano, the mic positions were a variation on what I believe is a standard technique for recording classical piano. I chose to be a bit closer than I would if recording solo piano to achieve a bit more isolation from the voice.
 
“All of this was in an effort to create an environment which allowed the musicians to work comfortably, and allow me to capture a great performance of a new and exciting work.”

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Mysterious Pro Tools Feature Explained

The odd-looking Pro Tools feature I blogged about last week has been cracked by Pro Tools Ninja-at-large and CRAS instructor Phil Nichols.

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Tired of planned obsolescence? Roll your own.


Recently, there’s been a confluence of articles about the obsolescence of everyday electronics (whether planned or not), thanks in part to last week’s announcement of the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Check out the article at Wired.com by Kyle Wiens, “The New MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable”.

It reminds me of how quickly music-making technology changes, often right out from under our hands and feet. Remarkably, an article addressing this very subject appeared a few weeks earlier in the Classical music section of the New York Times, “Electronic Woe: The Short Lives of Instruments” by Allan Kozinn. In light of Apple’s announcement, it’s also worth your attention.

Near the end, Kozinn writes “If I were a period-instrument maker looking for expansion ideas, I would keep an eye on this. I’d buy up and recondition old-fashioned metronomes, Farfisa organs, Buchla and Moog units, Atari computers and every generation of Mac I could find.”

Kozinn is seemingly unaware of the current resurgence in DIY electronic music, whether it’s through hacking and circuit bending or working with a perf board and an Arduino, not to mention the renaissance of analog modular analog synthesis. The Arduino platform, alone, continues to introduce curious artists of all ages to electronic instrument design (among many other things). And if I were to meet Mr. Kozinn, I’d suggest he spend some time with Nicolas Collins’s excellent book, Handmade Electronic Music. It’s a refreshingly down-to-earth guide to exploring sound with everyday materials. If you don’t already own it, find a copy immediately and give yourself the gift of a weekend afternoon to rediscover the joys of manipulating electrical current for its own sake.

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CD vs Vinyl

I integrate records into all of my classes – including electronics. One of my students brought in a recently pressed Vinyl LP by Dutch Artist, Arjen Lucassen, that included a companion CD.

http://www.arjenlucassen.com

While I don’t know whether Arjen’s mastering engineer attempted to reconcile or embrace the differences between the CD and vinyl, I know for sure that my students preferred the record.

The CD was obviously brighter than the LP – about 3dB brighter on the outside and about 4.5 dB brighter on the inside. (I calibrate my preamp and cartridge to a DIN test record.)

Unlike digital, the many varieties of analog have their challenges, in this case getting high frequencies to the disc as well the ability to play them back. Way back in the day, producers tended to place less aggressive songs at the end of each side. As recording and playback technology improved, inner diameter high frequency response and distortion became less of an issue, but it never went away.

I do know that Neumann monitored cutter head temperature, cooling the voice coils with Helium. A simple “S” could raise the temperature and a high-frequency limiter was integral to Neumann’s cutter amps to keep over-the-top high frequencies in check.

All during the quarter I played a wide range of music to give students a feel for what records sounded like back when I was a college student. From Gentle Giant to Johnny Guitar Watson, Herb Alpert to Weather Report, Frank Zappa to Frank Sinatra and Les Paul to Todd Rundgren – we covered alot of basses (and trebles).

I was surprised when one album in particular resonated with them – Johnny Guitar Watson’s REAL MOTHER FOR YA (circa 1976 or 1977) – apparently because it gets played at a bar where two of them work part time. Despite the impossibility of comparing vinyl in a controlled environment to a digital (mp3?) version played through a bar system, one student was insistent that the digital version did not hold a candle to the EMOTION he felt in our control room. If you don’t know this recording, it pushes the limits of bottom- and top-end on a record for that time.

To assist my students in their quest to emulate the sound of vinyl, I always take the opportunity to review frequency response curves of popular mics. I favor using less hyped dynamic and ribbon mics along with a more selective use of condenser mics as part of a ‘balanced approach’ to managing high frequency content.

Condenser mics typically have a 6dB lift somewhere between 5kHz and 12 kHz. Many dynamic vocal mics have a substantial presence peak between 5kHz and 8kHz. Lately I have been favoring the less obvious studio mics – like the EV-635A and the RE-50 – because they are OMNI (no proximity effect), have about about half the presence lift and a gradual 6dB per octave roll-off above 10kHz or so.

Ribbon mics have an either smoother upper mid-range response, and while I would love to be able to afford a Coles 4038, a Royer or any of Wes Dooley’s recreations, I have been very happy with what I can afford – the Cascade FATHEAD and VINJET are remarkably versatile.

Back when I was a college student, the difference between albums at home, versus the same song on the radio was substantial. But radio compression gradually became part of the mixing and mastering process until we got to the this century’s version of the Loudness Wars.

I imagine that the reverse is true for modern engineers in training. When they record real instruments, the resulting understated ‘organic’ sound must be a bit disconcerting – so far from how they imagine the final mix to sound.

I try to encourage student engineers to resist the temptation to over process for as long as possible, emphasizing live performance and arrangement during recording and balance via automation as a foundation to building a mix.

It’s a common and often repeated theme…

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Gino’s Big Adventure: Building a Personal Studio, Part 12

A Studio Reflects How We Work
(The twelfth installment of a multi-part series about building a personal studio, originally posted at emusician.com on January 27th, 2011.)

If you can judge the health of the economy by the NAMM show, our industry seems to think we’re moving towards recovery. I base my own judgment on the schwag I get: In a good economy, the inside of my suitcase resembles a NASCAR when I come home, with tons of branded goodies that I pass along to my kids and students; When times are tough, I’m lucky to leave the show with a guitar pick.

This year, I flew home with a dozen t-shirts, several cloth bags, and, yes, a handful of plectrums. But looking at a more realistic set of measures, this year’s NAMM show was a biggie. Attendance was an all-time high and there was no shortage of new product announcements.

Remarkably, I didn’t come home with the post-NAMM depression I usually feel after several days of non-stop hype and hyperbole. First, it didn’t seem like the usual race to the bottom, where companies announce tons of me-too products at ever lower price points. Instead, there seemed to be a move towards innovation and quality, with an increase in startups and smaller companies showing useful and well-built gear.

More importantly, I felt there was a renewed emphasis on creativity—music making, engineering, songwriting—rather than just collecting or upgrading. Many people talked about how they work and what they can improve upon with what they have. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re no longer dazzled by talk of 192kHz sampling rates or pure analog signal paths. People are making great music—and great sounding music—on an iPad, for goodness sake: That’s a wake-up call for many. As Frank Zappa once said, “Shut up and play your guitar,” or whatever your main axe may be.

TCB
As a tech journalist, my main interest has always been the educational side of things. I like helping people get the most from their gear, rather than promote the seasonal upgrade cycle. With that in mind, I was honored this year to be invited by EM Editor Mike Levine to be on his NAMM panel “Maximum Output from Your Home Studio” along side Carmen Rizzo and Alessandro Cortini. Twice nominated for a Grammy, Rizzo is a producer/engineer who has worked with Trevor Horn, Seal, Coldplay, Alanis Morissette, Supreme Beings of Leisure, and Paul Oakenfold, among others. Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Cortini has collaborated with Nine Inch Nails, Ladytron, Muse, and Christina Aguilera. I was in impressive company.

Levine had prepared a list of questions that covered various aspects of the personal studio, such as setup and workflow, and near the end of the hour we took questions from the audience. What struck me most about the discussion was how much each of the panelists differed on basic subjects like mixing, the use of DAW templates, or the sound conditioning and isolation that we have in our studios. It was a clear reminder that a personal studio is, well, personal. Each of us sets up our space based on what we need and how we work. If everything comes together, the workflow and ergonomics successfully support our creativity.

Rizzo’s studio, which is no longer in his home, is far from soundproof, but that doesn’t bother him. He said that if a vocal take is interrupted by sirens or a fly-over, he simply waits for the noise to subside before starting again. He’s fully prepared to track and mix in that room, even though it hasn’t been designed for either purpose from the ground up. He set it up so that it sounds good to his ears, based on his years of experience, and then he gets to work.

Cortini’s home studio is even more humble. In the interview I did with him for EM, he noted that he sold his Fender Rhodes because he didn’t have the space for it—his basement studio at the time was too small. He had boiled everything down to the barest essentials, getting the high-quality sound he wants in the least amount of space. For example, he uses a small, lunch-box size set of Tonelux modules as the front-end of his DAW.

He and Rizzo are comfortable mixing their own projects inside the box, using controllers rather than a mouse when they need to move faders and knobs, and neither of them uses DAW templates when they begin a song. Both of them said they were interested in starting fresh with each project, which is clear when you look at the innovative artists they’ve worked with.

By comparison, both Levine and I use templates in our DAWs when we need them, because they help us quickly capture a musical idea before it disappears. That way, we don’t have to start from scratch and create the various tracks and effects buses we normally want. Of course, a template goes out the window if we work with someone for the first time, but otherwise it comes in quite handy.

Point, Counterpoint
I definitely share the overall aesthetic that Cortini and Rizzo have of being open to inspiration and not getting set in your ways. Ironically it was the fact that I had recently built a studio that seemingly put me on the opposing side of our discussion.
After answering questions about the design elements of my new space, it started to feel as if I was advocating for purpose-built studios with expensive features like custom windows and wall treatment. But in my case, I had the rare opportunity to piggyback a tracking room onto a general remodel, so I decided to fulfill my specific needs rather than follow the dominant studio paradigm you see in all the books about designing your own studio—tracking room, mixing room, vocal booth, storage closet.

(Fig 1: The tracking station and laptop table move easily anywhere in the room, allowing for maximum flexibility.)


Flexibility is a priority in my space, as is isolation from the outside world. Unlike the others on the panel who work primarily with electronic sources, much of my interest is in capturing acoustic sounds, and the prevalence of leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and UPS trucks in my neighborhood made it tough to track the quieter instruments without some sort of motor noise sneaking in.

And although I’m just as happy to mix in the box on projects that I need to get out the door quickly, I would rather mix the releases I care the most about in a well designed, sonically tuned studio, preferably with a second set of ears that I trust so I know the results will translate on any playback system.

But when I started this project, I wanted to be able to both track and mix in my studio, which is why I chose the path I did. At this point, the main gear areas are on wheels so I can move them anywhere in the room, such as my mobile tracking/monitoring station and laptop table (see Fig. 1) and portable preamp/effects rack (see Fig. 2). All I have to do is unplug the power and audio cables from the stand-mounted speakers and wheel the mobile station to where it’s convenient or out of the way, depending on the circumstances.

(Fig. 2: In the modular-synth corner, you can see the small rolling rack where I’ll install my preamps and effects processors.


Although I have yet to figure out which angle makes the most sense in terms of positioning my gear for mixing (so that I get the least amount of room-related frequency artifacts), I have some ideas on how to make it work. Once I find the sweet spot for the monitors and any conditioning required, I’ll attempt to make things as portable as possible, so I can set it all up at precisely the right position when needed, then put it away when it’s time to start the next project. As you can see by the empty racks, I’m still in the unpacking and wiring phase.

Table of Contents
Let me leave you with a bit of advice I took away from our panel discussion. The topic of hard-drive storage came up during the Q&A: The more projects we do, the more drives we seem to accumulate. Consequently, you need to find a way to easily identify what’s on the drives. Carmen Rizzo’s excellent suggestion is to print out a screenshot of the drive contents and tape it to the outside box. That way, as you’re looking for something, or if you were to find the drive won’t boot up, you’ll be able to ascertain its contents easily.

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Gino’s Big Adventure: Building a Personal Studio, Part 11

Tips From A Pro: Installing Tie-Lines
(The eleventh installment of a multi-part series about building a personal studio, originally posted at emusician.com on December 9, 2010.)

My studio inched closer to completion around Thanksgiving when the tie-line panels were wired up. Everything went smoothly, thanks to quite a bit of pre-planning.

Before the structure was even framed, I consulted with Ann Dentel, a musician and composer who currently teaches at the Expression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville, CA (see Fig. 1). Ann has 15 years of experience installing wiring in studios, and I asked her early on in the remodel to help me figure out the best way to connect my studio with other parts of the house.

(Fig. 1: Ann Dentel prepping a cable before she solders it onto the panel. The red device is for heat-shrinking the tubing.)


I took a gamble in picking the rooms where I wanted to direct the tie-lines. I was betting that the newly raised ceiling in the living room would provide a decent live space when it was done, and that the garage and adjacent storage room would be good echo chambers (or, at the very least, would provide interesting ambient spaces for re-amping). So far, I’m very happy with the way the living room and garage sound with acoustic instruments, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to get the panels installed and start recording.

When I first started talking with Ann, she suggested I install a 1-inch-diameter PVC pipe in the wall between the upstairs studio and each of the three rooms we were linking to below. She was happy that we had a straight run and that there were no bends or curves (she will explain why in a moment). And by thinking ahead, I was able to keep the pipes at a reasonable distance from the AC lines.

Because the panel in the living room is going to be visible, I didn’t want it to be too conspicuous. So I kept it to 10 channels—eight XLR and two TRS connectors. Same with the garage. I figured I would be using an 8-channel interface for most of the recording I do. (The storage room has a simple 2-channel panel.)

By the time Ann arrived last week, the openings for each PVC pipe were easily accessible and the panels were waiting to be soldered up. In a few hours, everything was wired and ready for installation.

Because many of you will want to do the wiring yourself, I asked Ann to share some tips for installing audio cables between rooms in a house or studio.

What’s the first thing a person should consider when running tie-lines?
If you’re running cable from one room to another and you’re putting it through a pipe of some kind, you have to make sure the cable can be pulled through the pipe. That means you don’t want squishy, soft jackets around the cable. You want a hard, smooth jacket. You can feel the difference just by holding the cable.

How many cables can you can get through a tube that size?

You can easily run a couple of 24-pairs [a snake or bundle containing 24 individual cables], or maybe four 8-pairs. But it depends on the cable, among other things. I don’t think it matters how many you put in there, as long as there’s room for the cables to pull through easily.

Is it easy to maneuver the cable through a pipe that has bends in it?

No, it’s not. Try to have a straight run whenever possible. What you don’t want to do is run pipe that has 90-degree turns in it, because it’s harder to pull the cable through.

What do you do if you can’t avoid having a bend in the pipe?

It’s critical that you use cable that has a smooth, hard jacket, because it’ll pull through easier. If its soft, it’ll get stuck, and it’ll tear the jacket. Then you have to pull it out and buy a new cable—not something you want to do.

The best thing to do when you install the pipe is to put a string through it. Tie the end of the cable to it, and then tape it down with electrical tape or gaffers tape so that the string that you’ve tied around the cable doesn’t come off. Then you pull it through.

If you’re pulling three 8-pairs through the pipe, do you use several strings?
Use one string. You just hold them together and do all three at once. There’s a special knot (I don’t know the name of it) that I learned long ago where the harder you pull, the tighter the knot becomes, so that the knot doesn’t come loose. You can do the research to find a knot where the tighter you pull, the tighter it gets.

Then you tape, with electrical tape usually, the three cables together in one big bundle that hopefully doesn’t have a blunt end—it should have a sort of pointy end where the string comes out so you can pull it.

(Fig. 2: Eight XLR jacks wired. Notice the tubing that keeps the wires from shorting against each other. Also visible are the white cable ties used for strain relief, so that no single solder point has pressure on it.)


Are there specific things to avoid when running cables in a wall, such as running parallel to power lines?
People run audio cable parallel to power cable all the time and get away with it, but it’s kind of a dangerous game. Even though it’s in a separate pipe, you could potentially have a capacitive coupling and get noise induced into your audio from the AC. So if you don’t have to do that, don’t do it. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, but it’s better to avoid it because once your audio cable and AC are in, trying to fix the problem is expensive.

And absolutely do not run the audio cables in the same conduit as the AC.

You also have to think ahead and plan the size of panel you’ll need. The more cable you have, the larger the panel, right?
Not only do you have to determine how big the panel is, but how much space you’ll need behind the panel for the wiring to come out of the hole and be able to spread out to connect to the different jacks. You need two inches free behind it, for the full size of the panel, so that when the cable gets broken out to different points, there’s room.

Can you recommend any parts or cables that are stellar?
Standard, pro-audio cable. Belden and Gepco products are made in the States. They make industrial cable that has the smoother outer jacket that I was talking about, which you can pull through conduit without a problem. Canare and Mogami are both excellent companies, both Japanese, more expensive, but they make really great cable. They don’t have the same hard outer jacket, though, so you have to be a little careful.

In your studio, we ran Mogami and Canare, but we were running one 8-pair (Canare) and one 2-pair (Mogami) in a 1-inch pipe. There was lots of room and it was a straight run.

Don’t buy something you’ve never heard of, in terms of the cable or the connectors. Buy standard, well known brands. The ones you don’t know about, you don’t know about for a reason. Neutrik and Switchcraft connectors are both quality connectors, for example.

(Fig. 3: The finished panel with the cable going through a hook in the wall for strain relief.)



What other suggestions do you have for musicians who want to install audio cable between studios?

Get advice from contractors. If you’re going to put a pipe in a wall, make sure that you know what you’re doing. Don’t just run a conduit through a wall without finding out what’s in the wall. That seems somewhat obvious.

Measure things carefully, especially the length of the cable. Make sure that you don’t cut a cable that’s too short—measure long, keep it long. You can always cut it down. If I measure a 14-foot run, I’ll cut a 17-foot cable. I’ll add three feet, total, for a short run. Some people will add more.

It also depends on what you’re doing with it. If its just going to a panel that’s right there, that’s plenty of slack. But if you’re talking about going from a pipe over 10 feet in a room to a console, then you want to really be careful. Make sure the cable can reach the console and that you can break it out the length needed to connect it to whatever it’s connecting to. So add five or six feet.

Can you share any tips on soldering and assembly (assuming that we already know how to solder)?

Obviously, the solder points need to be good solder points, otherwise they will fail. That’s always where stuff fails—at connection points.

And always think about strain relief. You don’t want a situation where there is any strain on the solder points on the connectors, because that’s a failure. It may not happen tomorrow or next week, but it could happen next month.

If it’s an 8-connector panel, I take tie wraps and tie the wires together where they come out from the connectors (see Fig. 2). It’s not really tied to anything, but because the cables are connected together in this way, when you pull on the cable, the strain is dispersed.

(Fig. 4: Close-up of the strain relief for the 8-pair and 2-pair cables.)


You’re pulling on all eight connectors at the same time, instead of just one.
Exactly. So if you unscrew the panel from the wall and pull it out, it’s not going to put strain on any specific solder point. I also put a hook in the wall behind one upstairs panel for strain relief because I was worried about the weight of the cable pulling it down (see Figures 3 and 4).

At the end of our chat, Ann reiterated the importance of consulting with or getting advice from somebody who has done the work before. Among other things, they can show you ways to prep the cables and keep things from shorting against each other so that you don’t have to learn those lessons the hard way.

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Gino’s Big Adventure: Building a Personal Studio, Part 10

Commence Tweaking
(The tenth installment of a multi-part series about building a personal studio, originally posted at emusician.com on November 24, 2010.)

Balancing sound and functionality—that’s the trick when you build a personal studio. In my case, the room needs to be an inspiring place to rehearse, record, and compose, as well as serve as a comfortable place to write and hang out (hence, the windows, because I like natural light).

Windows take a bit more work than walls when it comes to sound isolation, but we overcame that hurdle. Now, I can watch the neighbor mow his law from my one-story perch, and just barely hear the low-end sounds of the motor. It’s well below the ambient noise level for recording, and that makes me very happy.

We put a lot of wall and floor mass between the inner studio and the outside world for this very reason. So even though the room is not yet in a state where I can move in, we’ve met at least one of my criteria: a high degree of sonic separation from everyday noise pollution.

The Leak
In Bobby Owsinski’s upcoming book, Studio Building on a Budget, he asks you to imagine that water will seep in anywhere a space or crack appears in your studio. That’s because sound works the same way. You can put as many layers of drywall up that you want, but if one of the seams isn’t sealed properly, or if there’s a gap at the bottom, sound will leak in. This is a concept I’ve been aware of throughout this project, and I’ve been reminding the tradesmen at every turn to make sure they seal all the gaps, even the ones that no one will see (the idea being that, in case of a failure in a caulked seam, there is redundancy built in). They’ve been on top of it, and the results are obvious.

A couple of days ago, however, I stepped into the studio where my contractor was installing bookshelves and he greets me by saying “I can hear everything you say downstairs in the living room.” He points to the small hole in the wall where a PVC pipe, loaded with cable to create tie-lines, leads downstairs. The pipe is wide open at either end.

Great. We haven’t even wired them up yet, and already the tie-lines are trasmitting sound.

We’re finally at the stage where the tie-line’s jack panels can be soldered on to each end of the cable snakes in the PVC pipe and then mounted on the wall. But before we mount them, we’ll have to add some acoustic conditioning in the pipe, as well as try to further isolate and decouple the PVC from the building itself.

But I notice a pattern that has appeared; the time of tweaking has begun.

Discoveries
In fact, it started two months ago, when I was playing an electric guitar through a tube combo amp a full volume in the dining area. At that point, we had just moved in and I was exploring the sound of each room.

While I chugged away on an E chord, something started rattling—something high up in the kitchen. At that point, I was too distracted by the fun of hearing an Orange amp cranked up in the living room to investigate the source of the noise, but I made a mental note that I’ll have to do so in an organized way before I can do a real session downstairs.

First I have to give the studio upstairs a rumble test, to see what rattles, which I hope to do over the long weekend with an amplified electric bass. The air exchange vents were recently installed, and although they’re set in there tightly, I want to see if they’ll make noise.

(Fig. 1: The diffuser, ready to be filled with books and LPs.)


Mixed Media
Returning to the sound vs. function discussion, the 12-foot bookshelf on the north wall is meant to act as a diffuser, once it’s filled with LPs and books (see Fig. 1). The north/south walls are parallel, with windows on the south wall directly across from the bookcase, so any reflections from the glass will get diffused by the uneven surfaces of all the treeware I’ve collected.

But with the wall and ceiling design, there’s plenty of absorption and diffusion going on around the room, as I’ve explained in earlier chapters of this blog. In Figure 2, you can see the fabric-covered walls before the wood was attached. That part of the installation only took about a day and a half.

(Fig. 2: Fabric on the walls covering the insulation.)


Putting up the wood, however, took nearly two weeks. In Figure 3, note the three different widths of the wood, which is a pattern we kept consistent throughout the studio. We started with a stack of 1×8 fir boards, which were then cut to width and length as needed. Installing the ceiling boards was particularly tricky, as you can see from the opening shot.

(Fig. 3: Ceiling detail of the wood installation.)

At this point, the room has a fairly short decay, with a slightly longer resonance in the lowest frequencies. I’m already wondering what kind of bass build-up I’ll get in the corners (of which there are seven) once I get a band in there.

The to-do list now includes finishing the electrical outlets and installing the tie-lines (next week), then installing the lighting tracks and finishing off the surrounding part of the doors (the following week). Once that’s done, I can start plugging things in and checking for line noise in the AC, and exploring the sonic characteristics of the room itself. I already have a couple of projects queued up, and I can hardly wait to get started.

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Venus Symphonic Women’s Choir

I’m a big fan of Soundiron (www.soundiron.com). They create edgy sample libraries that are well recorded, fairly priced, and generally include some clever programming features. These guys clearly have a passion for choral ensembles; Venus, the women’s choir we’ll be taking a look at today, joins Requiem, and the newly released Mars men’s library. You can also buy an 80 MB snippet of Venus and Mars for $10!

Venus runs on either the full version of Kontakt 4 or Kontakt 5. If you’re fortunate enough to own Kontakt 5 you’ll be able to take advantage of its time stretching features when working with the chants that are included in Venus. The full version (27 GB) of this library is available as a download from the Soundiron site for $399. I know, the idea of downloading content fills you with dread. Don’t worry, Soundiron’s download app is easy to use. Don’t forget to back up your content, however. When your drive crashes, as they all eventually do, you’ll want to be able to import this library (and others you may have purchased via the web) quickly. If you prefer, you can order a DVD at the same price, plus shipping and handling.

Venus captures the sound and syllables of liturgical material derived from two sources: the classic Latin that composers for hundreds of years have been basing settings of the Mass on, and Russian Orthodox. You’ll rely on the latter when you’re tapped to score “Red October 28.”

True legato is a must have in most libraries today, and it’s especially critical to a vocal library. As expected, Venus handles legato superbly, and I really like the way that the interface allows the user to morph between two vowels using a midi controller. Shortly after installing the library I asked myself the obvious question: how well will Venus reproduce the vocal line featured so prominently in the theme to the original “Star Trek” television show?! I found the track on Spotify, listened a couple of times to get the melody down, and then called up the patch “Legato Two Way Oh-Oo.” With one hand on the keyboard and the other on the fader I’d assigned to morph between the two syllables I was able to nail this line. Beautiful! Lush, natural sounding, and an excellent legato on the wide interval (minor 7th) that the line begins with.

The Phrase Builder, which lets the user construct a maximum of 16 phrases (each containing up to 16 syllables) is easy to use; you’ve seen this kind of step sequencer in other programs. Balancing the syllables that feature hard consonants with those that sit on open vowels will help you construct a performance that mirrors the phrasing of your melodic lines.

Venus has some excellent effects patches, including clusters and the girls going crazy with shrieks, laughter, and more-think of a teen slumber party gone wild. Soundiron also created some nice pads and synth-like textures from the source material that can be used out of the vocal context; Gambiences All, for example, makes a nice spaced out organ. Ligeti freaks will glom onto Stoboyuform Mod-layer, which features a detuned set of voices. The Mod Wheel sounds like it opens up a filter when you want to make the sound freaky.

After recording the choirs Soundiron isolated soloists and tracked them. Spend some time blending these girls into the group. Doing so will add depth and texture to your tracks.

Venus includes a convolution reverb (and an eq package), but don’t think it’s a semi-worthless add on. It’s very good, use it. Several other Soundiron libraries offer raw wavs of these impulses; this lets you load them up in Altiverb or your other convolution reverb of choice and take advantage of the extra controls that these dedicated plug-ins offer. The wavs add some extra weight to a library, so Soundiron held off including them with Venus. If there’s sufficient demand they will be offered as a bonus at some point.

If you have a need for a women’s vocal library I’d strongly suggest that you head up to the Soundiron site and listen to the demos they’ve posted.

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Gino’s Big Adventure: Building a Personal Studio, Part 9

The Sound of Near Silence
(The ninth installment of a multi-part series about building a personal studio, originally posted at emusician.com on October 28th, 2010.)

(Detail of how the wood slats are arranged on the studio’s walls and ceiling.)


That was weird!

Suddenly the studio was dead—no audible sound reflection whatsoever.

Last week, two-thirds of the room treatment was applied to the walls of the studio. Up to this point, the room had been exceptionally reverberant, and I was getting used to the sound as I played various instruments in there at night when the builders went home.

It took a day and a half to install the wood framing that would hold the Owens Corning 702 insulation to the drywall (see Fig. 1), another day and a half to secure the insulation (see Fig. 2), and a final day or so to install the Guilford of Maine FR701 panel fabric using a staple hammer (see Fig. 3).

Fig. 1: The frame the holds the insulation. Notice how it outlines the complex shapes in the ceiling.


The result is a nearly anechoic space. Remarkably, the five windows don’t add that much reverberance when judged by ear. Of course, if I was to do a computer analysis of the studio at this stage, I’m sure it would show the effects of the windows in various frequency ranges. But at this point it sounds dead. To quote the cartoon character Cathy: “Ack!”

Fig. 2: Here’s how it looks with the insulation added.



Got Wood?

The next step in the process is to install wooden treatment to the walls, which will add acoustic character to the room. I chose fir because of the look and price, and because it’s relatively easy to work with.

Note that there is a 2-inch space between the alternating 1×4, 1×6, and 1×8 slats, where you will be able to see the light-green panel fabric. The result is a combination of diffusion and absorption that should create a balanced acoustic signature.

The main purpose of the studio is to provide a space for recording and rehearsing. I purposefully didn’t design it to be a multi-room studio with separated mixing and tracking suites because there wasn’t enough overall space available. Once you slice up a large room into smaller ones, and then put in the sound isolating walls, the multi-layered flooring, and the ventilation, you can easily wind up with several walk-in closets that require a lot of acoustical treatment to make them sound good.

My interest is in having an open space that is sonically isolated from the outside world so I can record acoustic instruments as quiet as a koto or shakuhachi, yet have enough space to track a set of drums or loud guitar amp and be able to place a room mic a few yards away.

At this point, with the newly treated walls, I still have a distance of 18 feet from wall to wall, and approximately 29 feet from one corner to the other, yielding a maximum of 37 milliseconds of time difference depending on where I place the room mics.

To the left of the entrance is a 7.25 by 9.25 utility closet that has untreated walls and, consequently, very live sounding. I plan on using it as a miniature control room on those occasions when I need to be out of the main tracking space, but I’ll also experiment with using it as a reverb chamber.

Fig. 3: Finally, the fabric is stapled on.


And after spending a few full days in different parts of the house, I’ve come to the realization that I can use the hallways and stairwell as alternative live spaces: we have wood floors throughout the house, which offer up a number of really nice room tones. It’s also fairly quiet in this place, as long as one of the neighbors isn’t using the leaf blower or lawn mower. Fortunately, the studio successfully blocks that kind of noise pollution.

Today the wood is being installed, and I’ll have photos of the process in my next blog.

A closer view of the insulation.

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