Distributed in 94 countries, Mix is the world's leading magazine for the professional recording and sound production technology industry. Mix covers a wide range of topics including: recording, live sound and production, broadcast production, audio for film and video, and music technology.
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.
I don’t shill for products, but I’m a huge fan of Broadway Big Band. I just got an e mail blast saying that SONIVOX has dropped the price for the full product by $900, and taken $200 off the lite version.
If you’ve been thinking about popping for this product, now seems like a good time to pull the trigger.
Authentic Guitar 2
149 pounds (approximately $197 US dollars)
Authentic Guitar 2 Lite 79 pounds (app. $105 US dollars)
purchased through website (musesamples.com) via PayPal
Once upon a time I spent six hours a day practicing the “classical” guitar-a term that always sounded lame to me. The great Fred Hand was my teacher. Naturally, I tilt my head whenever someone mentions a nylon string plug-in. Authentic Guitar was released in 2008, but I just got around to checking it out. The Musesamples website doesn’t provide a lot of background info on the product or the company itself, which is located in The Netherlands
So, how good is this product? Very good. A multitude of samples have been well recorded on a high quality instrument, and produced by folks who clearly know the guitar literature. Hit this link (http://musesamples.com/mp3demos/musicdemos/index.html) and listen to the virtual performance of Tarrega’s “Lagrima.” A technically unchallenging piece, “Lagrima” is one of the first chestnuts that aspiring players dig their teeth into. Sounds amazing, right? Hector Berlioz said that the guitar was a miniature orchestra, based largely on the variety of colors that can be pulled from it. A good guitarist is constantly moving his or her hand away from the basic position over the sound hole to create different shadings. Ponticello (by the bridge) is the most important of these variants, and AG2’s “metallic” patch is a clear attempt at providing this functionality. Musesamples took the time to record separate ponticello patches and the effort goes a long way in enhancing the realism of this product. Tasto (near the fretboard) is presented, as are espressivo and “molto” espressivo patches. They sound good!
Downloading plug-ins from a manufacturer’s website can be a harrowing experience, but I had no problem installing Authentic Guitar 2. The product will run on a Mac running OSX 10.5.8 and beyond, or a Windows computer running XP, Vista, or 7. Windows 7 is my operating system, so I installed the 64 bit version of AG2.
The folder structure of this plug-in is straightforward. Nested within the main folders are four sub folders (Basic Patches, Advanced Use, Strokes & Rasgueados, Left Hand and Right Hand Sound). Within each bank switching between sounds can be handled by key switching or midi controllers. My only criticism of Authentic Guitar 2-and it’s a fairly substantial one-is that the user can’t create banks of his or her own that contain the samples needed to achieve a specific performance on one midi channel. Musesamples says that loading time is an issue, and they suggest that you call up three instances, on separate midi channels, to cover the bass, accompaniment and melody areas. We can adapt to this method of working, but it’s not ideal.
Notwithstanding this shortcoming, I give Authentic Guitar 2 very high marks. It’s well recorded and includes all the obvious articulations and many that only an experienced player would know about. If you’re looking to recruit a “classical” guitarist or want to play bossa solos in the style of Jobim, Authentic Guitar 2 will fit nicely into your studio. I strongly suggest that you hit their website and check out the demos… they’re convincing, right?
In an era where the return on dollars pumped into the traditional university system has become questionable and the internet has made long distance learning easy and affordable, enter Peter Alexander. Actually, Peter, a seasoned music industry vet, has been working as an educator for some time. He invites you to visit his website, www.alexanderpublishing.com.
When did you first become interested in teaching?
I don’t think I became interested in teaching per se, but rather in studying and how people learn, and out of that, developing materials that enhance and speed up the learning process.
The process started in college when I asked myself the question, “How did the great composers teach themselves?” I asked that question because I was frustrated with having a different teacher and a new set of “rules” every semester. As I began reading composer bios I discovered a set of results driven books. What started as a personal learning quest grew into Alexander Publishing.
At this point I had the books and a pattern of the learning styles of the great composers. What was surprising was that from Bach to Jerry Goldsmith nothing had changed. The learning styles patterns were rock solid consistent for how composers learned the craft. The top two skills that emerged were butt power and the developed skill of self-instruction.
Butt power means the ability to sit a desk doing focused work for hours at a time. Self-instruction is the art of being able to understand how to teach yourself and apply what you learn. These are the core critical skills for making it as a composer, even a film composer. The learner that develops these skills puts himself on the road to long term career success-in music, and in most any field.
What does the full progression of Alexander University training entail?
Alexander University is the corporate name, and Alexander Publishing is the publishing imprint for the books. Alexander Publishing has in development a complete self-directed training series in counterpoint, harmony, orchestration and recording.
We have enough texts published in our Professional Orchestration™ series so that a school can offer either a minor or major in orchestration. Volumes 1, 2A and 2B are the beginning vocabulary for orchestration. The advanced How Ravel Orchestrated: Mother Goose Suite and Professional Orchestration: A Practical Handbook Series is pretty much graduate level work. I also have enough harmony and counterpoint to cover two semesters each for those subjects plus Music 100.
If a person was interested in buying the vast materials offered on your site, what would you recommend they start out with?
If it’s orchestration, they can start with one of our home study bundles that includes the book (or books depending on the bundle), workbook, MIDI files/MP3s from the Vienna folks, and tons of audio. The entire package, which can be accessed via the link that follows, is less expensive than either of the other main orchestration texts.
Who was the first great orchestrator? Bernstein said that Beethoven was a poor orchestrator-was he right? What do you think of Mendelssohn as an orchestrator?
The French composers of the 1800s thought that Gluck and Weber were among the first. I think you have to keep in mind that every generation usually yields a great composer who pushes both composition and orchestration to the next steps. Bernstein’s comment makes for great press. But look at the giant leap from any Mozart symphony to Beethoven’s First then the Ninth, which Wagner, after hearing, got a copy of the score and copied note for note to learn from Beethoven. Beethoven’s 3rd and 5th overwhelmed Berlioz. Berlioz, rather than writing symphonies as we traditionally know them, writes programmatic works in a symphonic format like Symphonie Fantastique and Harold In Italy. From there we leap to Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky in Russia, later Mahler in Germany, then certainly Debussy and Ravel in France, and later Copland in America.
Each of these greats benefitted from both improved musicianship and better quality musical instruments, especially the standardization of the valve brass for trumpets and French horns.
Are the techniques required to capture the “Hollywood” sound different from orchestrating concert material in any way?
Are you talking about the Hollywood Sound derived from Beethoven, Berlioz, Bizet, Borodin, Britten, Copland, Debussy, Dukas, Mahler, Prokofiev, Puccini, Ravel, Resphigi, Rimsky-Korsakov, Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams, and Wagner?
Or are we talking about the recording/production answer for defining the Hollywood sound which includes Altiverb, Bricasti, Lexicon, TC Works and Waves?
Or are you talking about the new Hollywood sound derived from samples, melodic themes, percussion, and ambient textures?
The so-called Hollywood sound changes every generation, sometimes twice within a generation depending on the composer, and how each approaches dramatic scoring. An excellent overview for seeing this is Tony Thomas’ book, Music For The Movies.
Is there a “typical” profile to the students you attract?
I don’t really think of our customers as students since most are adults. We look them at as people who have a desire to learn, so it’s a broad age range.
What kind of interaction with you or another teacher do students get when they “enroll” in Alexander University?
There’s no enrolling. I have two online seminars we’ve tested for several years. My current approach is first you buy the seminar, which are now being populated with video classroom-like instruction materials. After that, if you want to study privately, I connect the learner with a composer. Over Skype and email they engage in a mentoring relationship. But the learner has to be able to read music and score read to take advantage of this.
What’s the difference between orchestration and instrumentation?
Instrumentation is first and it’s where you learn the range, mechanics, and coloristic issues within each instrument’s range break. Orchestration is the act of taking a completed work and translating it to orchestra. Instrumentation is learned by seeing how the technique was scored and from that building a list of scoring techniques.
Can today’s sample libraries be used to teach orchestration effectively?
Sample libraries are a great tool which is why we cover MIDI mock-up insights in our books and new Writing For Strings course. But it has to be balanced with attending live concerts, watching orchestral DVDs, and lots of listening.
What software do you use on a regular basis in your music studio? For me, it’s Cubase 5 and Finale 2012. I may be neurotic, since a disk has never crashed on me during a session in all the years that I’ve been using music software, but I back up my files every 15 minutes or so to a drive on my system other than the one I’m currently saving to-just in case.
Cubase has an a Preference that lets you direct the application to make back ups while you work, but only to the folder that your project sits in. Finale has no automatic back up provision at all. What’s up with that?! I spend an annoying amount of time migrating between disks to execute saves in my back up folder. Ok, not a tragedy, I admit that, however…
It should be easy for developers to add in the option to save back ups to a drive you designate at the beginning of a session. Folks… please think about implementing this functionality!
The three of you who regularly read my posts (ok, maybe it’s just a pair!) have heard me mention Baron Raymonde on several occasions. Baron’s a monster alto player-check out his site, www.saxbaron.com. Wait, a link to “Dream Girl,” a track I wrote for him several years ago is right there, sitting on his home page.
Baron sent out an e mail blast a few weeks ago saying that he’d be playing with a blues harp player, Big Nancy, and her group, Supreme Court (don’t get me started) on March 30th at a club called Roxy and Duke’s in Dunellen, New Jersey. Hey, that’s only about three miles from my house-I had to go!
I’d never heard of Roxy and Duke’s, but it’s a very cool venue, put together by owners who clearly have a lot of love for soul music, rock, and the hallowed days of the Fillmore. Big Nancy, who hails from these parts, draws a big crowd. Check out her site (www.bignancy.com); Nancy has a sterling resume, she commands the stage, and she blows the hell out of the harp.
The band really tore into the blues/R&B book. But the best part was when a woman approached and asked me to dance. I couldn’t wait to come home and tell my wife Jerri about it-I knew she’d be proud of me!
Seriously, if you’re a blues fan, check out Big Nancy’s schedule. She’s got all the Little Walter licks down cold, plus more than a few of her own!
I’m a big fan of continuing education, and the commitment iZotope (www.izotope.com) has shown to providing video tutorials on a continuing basis is impressive. The company just posted a series of new tutorials on RX2, and you’ll find links to them at the bottom of this blog.
Ozone 5, a mastering platform that holds eight separate tools, is a product that can seem daunting to the mere musician, but I’ve decided to dive in. Matt Hines, an iZotope tech guru, has graciously agreed to walk me through the process of mastering one of my own projects.
“4,3,2,1” is a four movement work for full orchestra; the conceit is that it’s a symphony written backwards. The first two movement are in the can-all realized with samples, mixed and mastered by my good friend Ed Goldfarb. Shoot me an e-mail if you’d like me to send them to you. When the work is completed I’ll post all four movements on my site.
I just finished “2.” My job as a mixer is to create rough mixes that let Ed know exactly what I’m hearing regarding balance and placement in the stereo field. I spend a great deal of time adjusting midi velocity levels to insure that individual instrument faders can be set and forgotten about to the greatest extent possible.
Ed doesn’t need me to master these rough mixes, but I thought I’d play around with Ozone 5 for the fun of it. The orchestral mastering preset did an amazing job out of the box, but I sent my stereo file (24 bit, 44.1kHz) to Matt to get his ideas. Matt sent me back a file with extensive notes on what was required and the steps he took to improve the quality. Of course, this is jumping the gun. Ed always looks at the large picture and carves out frequency ranges in individual instruments to achieve the greatest clarity and depth.
I’m going to study Matt’s notes, listen to his mastering job, and then take a stab at mastering this rough mix myself. It will be my mid-term paper! When it’s done I’ll post audio clips. Don’t feel bad if you have to fail me-someone has to sit at the bottom of the bell curve!
It’s rare that I point you, dear reader, back a second time to a product I’ve already posted a blog on-even rarer when I’m having problems accessing its complete feature set. Electric6ity, the outstanding electric guitar plug-in from Vir2 Instruments (www.vir2.com) is so good, and such a pleasure to play, that it’s worth the virtual ink.
I logged quite a bit of time playing rock and blues on my trusty 1963 Gibson SG back in the day. I piped this baby (which I’ve never been able to force myself to sell) through a Fender Deluxe Reverb which I bought from my junior high school pal Jon Pousette-Dart.
Head on up to the Vir2 site and check out the videos and tutorials. This is one of those plug-ins, however, that demands that you spend some time with the manual. Key switch combinations need to be studied and memorized if you plan to maximize its potential. Broadway Big Band, another favorite, is similar in this regard.
I’m finishing up the third movement of a four movement symphonic work, all executed within the computer. The first two movements of “4,3,2,1” are mixed; when all four are in the can I’ll post on my website and refer you to them. “3” has a detailed, written out guitar solo, a perfect test for Electri6ity. After auditioning several guitar/amp combinations (using Native Instruments Guitar Rig in place of the internal amps that ship with Electri6ity but are no way comparable to the high end amp modeling software that’s currently available) I settled on the sampled Lipstick guitar. I fed this track through Guitar Rig’s “Jeff at Ronnie’s,” tweaking the overdrive, and then double tracked the part using GR’s “Carlos in Europe” preset, a beautiful emulation of the clean Fender sound I grew up with.
A note of caution: if you aren’t a guitar player, please don’t go crazy with what you believe are the coolest whammy bar-like effects and endless hammer on riffs-they’re boring. Craft good lines and Electri6ity, coupled with a primo piece of modeled amp software, will transport you to guitar god heaven!
Now for the cautionary note. As I dug back into this software I noticed that some of the key switches weren’t functioning for me. For example, pinched harmonics are a great inclusion and accessing them should be a breeze. No go. I even uninstalled the software, reinstalled it from the original disks, and went to the Vir2 website to download the latest version of the plug-in, but I haven’t solved the problem yet. I just got a new set of disks and plan on installing them soon.
Bottom line: Electri6ity is one of those plug-ins that is addictive. It’s extremely well thought out, recorded to the highest standard, and a blast to play.
I just downloaded “The One: The Life of James Brown” (R.J. Smith) onto my Kindle, and preparing to delve into this biography has got me thinking. Our world is so different from the one that The Fabulous Flames and the young James Brown lived in. Segregation conferred a moral authority that gave men like James Brown and the incomparable Malcolm X the power to influence our culture in ways that seem to have evaporated.
Young people-white college kids at least, whose ranks I eventually joined-were amused by the theatrics of Abby Hoffman (though few actually read “Steal This Book”) and instinctively understood that the academic arguments of Tom Hayden and the rants of Paul Krassner revealed genuine fault lines in establishment thinking, but it was the anguish and rage that Malcolm, James Brown, Huey Newton, and other emergent black leaders brought that was, in many cases, the animus that caused these students to close down college campuses and change the course of a war.
What spiritual compass does the Occupy movement have? The right has brilliantly marginalized poor people. They simply do not exist in our culture. There is no rallying point, no locus of righteous anger around which to gather and sustain a counter culture movement. Sure, blacks and Latinos swell the ranks of the underclass disproportionately, but we have “Sanford and Son-” excuse me, got caught in the time machine for a moment, Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne.” How dare the left suggest that even a trace of bias exists in America today?
I’ve spent quite a bit of time working in prisons over the last several years. The course I developed uses music as a lamp that helps us mine for connections between cultures that on the surface might seem to have little in common. The recidivism rate in New Jersey is about 74%. That means that many of the guys I work with will be coming back into the system, as I jokingly tell them “to do graduate work.” Maybe-just maybe-if he buys into the idea that without Mozart’s “Don Giovani” there would be no “Scarface,” or comes to feel that Ado Annie, the second lead in “Oklahoma-” a good girl with a naughty streak-is, in a way, Rihanna’s grandma, one of them will feel comfortable seeking out broad horizons upon his release, a place where a good job can be found, perhaps. Along the way-if he comes to understand that Stravinsky and Shakur, artists from radically different times and backgrounds-were dealing with the same set of human emotions, he might change the world.
My studio is ringed with album covers from my youth. I’m looking up at a King release, “The Unbeatable James Brown and the fabulous flames.” Wow, the cover proclaims that the record is brought to us in VIVID SOUND! I can hear the opening cut, “Try Me,” in my mind. The track starts out with a splice of an MC introducing the band at a live event:
“Ladies and gentleman, without no doubt…. the-e-ese are the JBs!”
Audio wars rage on. But is the conflict between the sublime (196khz!) and the crappy (96kbps) based on the state of mp3 files as they truly exist in 2012? Or have compression schemes advanced to the point where artists and connoisseurs can-if they’re willing to strip themselves of prejudice-appreciate the quality of programming that is delivered to a standard that’s inferior to the current CD specs? Don’t ask me-I’m just the piano player! But if you need to shuttle pint size audio around the internet and want to weigh the alternatives before you apply a compression scheme, the Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec plug-in (www.sonnoxplugins.com) is an absolute must have.
We’ll get into the details in another blog (it is almost 6 pm on a Friday night, and I’m looking forward to a martini!) but here’s my experience to date, in a nutshell. I loaded up about a dozen stereo files, from different eras, radically different styles and ensemble sizes, and spent about half a day listening in the sweet spot and on earphones. Without a doubt, the tracks dictated which compression scheme was most desirable. Sinatra’s gorgeous version of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” remained virtually intact at 128 kbps. Why? I don’t know, but it sounded to me like this recording, made in 1955, had a narrower stereo image than later recordings, and I noticed that (along with low end material) the collapsing of the stereo image was the most profound change that mp3 encoding introduced.
Audio that had many transient attacks-percussion based grooves, for example-was more resistant to encoding, but here’s the deal: I found no recording that suffered immense squashing when subjected to mp3 encoding of 320kbps. Sure, when I pressed the Diff(erence) button I could hear what had been removed. But listening over my Adam A4’s I had a very hard time detecting the original from the mp3 dropped at 320kbps, regardless of the material. And we haven’t even gotten into lossless schemes!
There are lots of cool features in this plug-in; one of them is the feature that lets you test yourself to see how often you’ve been able to distinguish the original from the cheap brand imitation. Off line encoding is another. If you need to critically balance file size and audio quality on a case by case basis, the Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec is a tool you must have.