Archive of the MixSounds Category

Take That, Frankenstorm!

At about 1:45 this morning power coursed through the veins of our home’s electrical system. Lights flashed! The television spoke! Last year we went without power for nearly a week, and this time, according to our town mayor, it would likely be longer. Hurricane Sandy, however, forced us to deal with candles and Kindle light for just two days. What a blessing (quiet, don’t awaken the grid gods-the system could collapse again)!

So many in our state of New Jersey suffered and continue to endure profound losses, including the deaths of loved ones. We’ll let the climate gurus argue about global warming and its possible effect on this catastrophic storm and the one we endured exactly a year ago. Of course, when spikes send us looping off in unexpected directions we tend to hold onto to the things that matter most. Family first… fortunately ours was ok.

Then,,, ah, music! I was rewriting the last movement of “Not Forgotten: Three Scenes For Violin and Piano” when Sandy struck on Monday. Like countless others, Jerri and I climbed into bed quite early that night,,,before 9 p.m. We read and were about to fall out when I grabbed a flashlight and headed down to the basement, where my studio is located. I sat at the upright piano and worked on the piece for another 45 minutes or so. What a pleasure!

It was easy to imagine Beethoven, who (according to legend) sat up in his death bed to shake his fist at a raging storm, doing the same thing.

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VSL Releases MIR as a plug-in

Virtual composers-check that, living, breathing composers who use samples to create orchestral music recordings-have a wide pallet of tools to choose from, including those offered by the Vienna Symphonic Library. Three years ago VSL released the Vienna MIR (Multi Impulse Response) mixing and reverberation software. The idea behind MIR was fairly radical: to move beyond convolution reverb and help the user place sounds in a three dimensional space. The implications for surround sound mixes are obvious, but even in a two dimensional stereo environment the presence of the MIR plug-in adds a perceptible increase in depth perception. See what I mean? Wait-strike that last, pitiable attempt at word play.

A severe limitation came with MIR, however-it was only available within the closed VSL environment. VSL has rectified that situation by releasing MIR (which comes in two flavors: MIR Pro and the lighter Vienna MIR PRO 24), as a plug-in. All major formats (AU, VST, RTAS, and AAX) are supported, which means that mix engineers working in both audio post and music now have access to MIR.

No cost trial versions of this product are available at the VSL website (www.vsl.co.at) and you can also access data on the company by visiting their American distributor, Ilio (www.ilio.com).

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Avery Thompson On The Rebound!!!

You may recall that in March of this year I posted a blog on 15 year old Avery Thompson. Avery’s the son of Josh Thompson, a guitar virtuoso, accomplished song writer, and music producer whose colleagues include George Benson, Joe, and Alicia Keyes.

The Thompson family was sitting pretty until a bomb exploded beneath them in early 2012, when Avery was diagnosed with t-cell leukemia. Hoping for the best, Avery’s folks took him for treatment at Manhattan’s Sloan Kettering Cancer Center-and prayed a lot.

Good news! Avery’s affliction is in remission. Currently being home schooled while the family and doctors monitor the returning strength of his immune system, Avery has had to put his passion for basketball on hold, but he’s been mining his musical talents, and the first recording that shows the depth of his talent, “Balla Can’t Ball,” is available on iTunes and Spotify.

This is a very strong record. Written by Josh Thompson, David Pic Conley, and Avery Thompson, it features an impressive set of vocal tracks by Avery. Josh performed all of the instrumental parts and handled production chores out of Tallest Tree Studios, his home recording environment.

Check this kid out when you have a few minutes.

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Pink: Janis’ Spiritual Daughter?

They’re different of course; Pink exudes confidence, a power that, frankly, was once considered the exclusive province of males. Janis was a fragile flower waiting to wilt. But does a kinship of some kind connect these two artists across the generational divide?

Listen to “Try,” Pink’s new single. It’s good, right? And so strong! Now dial up “Piece Of My Heart.”

“Each time I tell myself I think I’ve had enough, ah but I’m gonna show you baby that a woman can be tough.”

How, by letting this bastard mistreat you endlessly and somehow being able to endure the abuse?

It’s hard to believe that Alecia Beth Moore, aka Pink, has already sold 70 million singles, a figure that places her “way up yonder, baby” as James Brown would say, in the pop pantheon. And she’s done it by putting the world on notice that she’s no fool (“Stupid Girls”), has a social conscience (“Dear Mr. President”), and is a lady willing to put her sexuality on the line-and go toe to toe with anyone who might have a problem with it (“Slut Like You”). Of course there’s also the classic “Get The Party Started.”

Talent is singular, and there’s no reason to doubt that Pink would have accomplished big things in whatever circumstance she was dropped into. Let’s also give a shout out to Janis Joplin, an outsider at a time when not being a cheerleader, or an A student, or a classically pretty girl meant you had nowhere to go. If you were unable to tuck away the pain, or mascara on a cheery face to gain the acceptance of the popular crowd, well, who were you, anyway?

Put your hands together for a young woman who bared her frailties when “girls” weren’t encouraged to do so. Janis might have been lost, but the courage she showed, the willingness to put her anguish on display-even if she had to choke a bottle of bourbon and stuff a handful of amphetamines down her throat to make it through the night-paved the way for Pink.

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Steve O Chimes In

In a blog posted several months ago I asked why console manufacturers haven’t integrated third party plug-ins into their design structures. Steve Oppenheimer, a long time industry veteran and current Public Relations Manager for PreSonus Audio Electronics sent me an e mail that led to a conversation on the subject.

Steve O: “The most obvious reason that digital mixers don’t have an architecture for hosting third-party plug-ins is that there is no standard OS for digital mixers, and a variety of CPU chips may be employed.  With DAWs, you can count on AMD or Intel chips and Windows or Mac OS X. To support digital mixers, a plug-in company would have to write its software to each digital mixer’s CPU chip and custom OS, and that’s not likely to be financially worthwhile.

“A digital mixer that ran plug-ins directly would probably be a far more complicated beast to operate. That’s exactly the opposite of what most engineers want, especially for live desks, where you need to make your moves quickly and don’t want to get lost in menus and layers.”

GE: “Do you think that stability would be affected if third party software was introduced into a console?”

Steve O: “The mixer would almost certainly be less stable. In the studio, that would be a drag but probably no worse than a DAW wigging out. However, in a live environment, where many digital mixers find a significant user base, instability could bring down your entire show with disastrous results.  It’s one thing when a DAW crashes; it’s quite another thing when the FOH mixer crashes. Fortunately, a better solution is likely to reach the market in the next few years.”

GE: “I’m sensing the rapid approach of a sales pitch.”

Steve O: “At PreSonus, we spend a lot of time thinking about these issues. If the digital mixer is also a multi-channel interface with low enough latency that you can run a DAW with standard plug-ins, in real time, on a connected PC or Mac, then you can accomplish the same thing, and more elegantly at that because you would have all of the advantages of the DAW without creating special versions of the plug-ins. The mixer would not have to become more complex to operate because the plugs would run on the computer DAW.

“For example, the PreSonus StudioLive series has low enough latency that you can run a computer-based DAW with plug-ins, in real time, for use in live shows. Engineers use it this way often. It works because in a live setting, a few extra milliseconds of delay are usually not noticeable. But the latency is not low enough for use with real-time plug-ins in the studio, where you will notice those extra milliseconds. 

“However, advances such as Thunderbolt should help immensely because audio can move through that immense pipe much faster than it can through FireWire 800 or USB 3. We’re not there yet but I think interface manufacturers will lower latency sufficiently to run real-time, computer-based plug-ins in tandem with digital mixer/interfaces in the relatively near future.

GE: “In your opinion, therefore, would it be a mistake for console manufacturers to spend time and money attempting to integrate third party plug-ins into their boards?”

Steve O: “Yes, the solution you suggest would be prohibitively expense and is likely to be obsolete before it reached the market.

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A Few Thoughts On The Passing Of Andy Williams

Andy Williams shuffled off the mortal coil yesterday at the age of 84. To many he was a dusty specimen, a relic from an ancient era. Others, of an earlier generation themselves perhaps, saw Williams as a second tier crooner, a pale imitation of the true luminaries- Frank, Nat, Tony- who laid the smack down and defined the times in which they lived.

But this native of tiny Wall Lake, Iowa was his own man, and the imprint he made on the entertainment industry was singular. The handsome possessor of a winning, ever at the ready smile, Andy Williams is best known for performances that expose the poignant side of the human experience; “Moon River” and the theme to “Days of Wine and Roses” come to mind (both from the pen of Hank Mancini) but others, including Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” (lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer) tickled the same spot.

Things could have gone differently. Williams only reached the top of the Billboard charts once: the utterly lame Elvis impression he committed to wax on a tune called “Butterfly,” somehow captured the public’s heart in 1957. From then on Andy Williams steered away from copping other singers and developed his own style, which he took for a long ride. There was a string of popular 45′s, including “Can’t Get Used To Losing You,” a #2 hit in 1962, and the many television variety programs and multiple Grammy Award shows he hosted throughout the 1970’s. At least 18 of his albums went Gold.

Sure, Andy Williams copped out late in life and opened the Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri, but what the hell-he’d already had a great career.

Take it easy, Andy.

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Our Day Will Come

In late 1962 “Our Day Will Come,” a song written by Bob Hilliard and Mort Garson was released on Kapp Records. Its authors preferred an established lounge singer but agreed to let the unknown Ruby & The Romantics, a group based out of Akron, Ohio, take a shot on the condition that if the track failed to gain traction Kapp would recut it with the great… Jack Jones! The original version of “Our Day Will Come” reached #1 on Billboard Hot 100 chart in March 1963 and never made its way into Jack’s throat.

Bob Hilliard enjoyed success writing lyrics with a number of prominent pop composers, including Burt Bacharach and Jule Styne. His body of work includes “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” immortalized by Frank Sinatra on his classic album of the same name, and “Any Day Now,” a song recorded by several artists. The most popular version of this Burt Bacharach melody was released by Ronnie Milsop, the country singer, in 1982.

Composer Mort Garson received early training at Juilliard. After serving in the Army in World War Two Garson quickly established himself as a go to composer, arranger, pianist and conductor for a bevy of mainstream singers, including Doris Day and Mel Tormé.

The early 60’s were a transition period in the history of popular music. The eruption that would come when The Beatles emerged from The Cavern Club was around the corner, but even before their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 writers and arrangers had looked to build on the formula that Elvis and others used so effectively. George Gershwin may have been the first American composer of popular music to imbed rhythms from outside the European culture into his work, but the trend had escalated by the late 1950’s and early 60’s. The forceful grooves of Rhythm and Blues- still known to many as “race music”- were placed on a symmetrical grid and served up to middle America by Elvis, Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson and a host of other entertainers.

This same formula would be used to great effect in the 60’s, when the many and varied clave rhythms found in Afro-Cuban music began showing up in simplified form on pop recordings, including “Our Day Will Come.” The spare and effective arrangement also features vibraphone, an acoustic guitar, and the Romantics themselves (George Lee and Ed Roberts, tenors, Ronald Mosley, baritone, Leroy Fann, bass) who gird Ruby Nash’s lead alto but wisely avoid climbing into its range.

But, ah that Hammond part! Has the sound of any instrument ever more effectively outlined and embellished a recording than the swirling cascade created by Roy Glover? Perhaps Donald Fagen was thinking of it when he laid down his own magnificent organ performance on “Walk Between The Raindrops,” the track that concludes “The Nightfly,” a masterpiece that in 1982 was Fagen’s fond look back at an earlier, simple time.

Over the years a number of artists have covered “Our Day Will Come,” including Amy Winehouse, who recorded it shorty before her death.

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A Shout Out To Leroy Anderson

Generations are born predisposed to dismiss their predecessors. Maybe that’s why organized religions emphasize the importance of respect for one’s elders-they don’t want to be forgotten! “The Miseducation Of Lauren Hill” caused quite a stir once upon a day, but ah, kids… do they listen to her today?

Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, when the pop universe was splitting up and being reassembled as a vehicle for the counter culture movement, a guy named Leroy Anderson was still very much in vogue.

Born in 1908, Anderson was a New Englander through and through. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and Harvard and began writing the light orchestral pieces that would define his style early in his career. Anderson’s work came to the attention of Arthur Fiedler, the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, who became a champion of the composer’s music.

Anderson’s first hit, “Blue Tango,” recorded in 1951, was the first instrumental to sell a million copies, but his most popular pieces are “The Syncopated Clock,” and “Sleigh Ride.” Listen to them! So witty… and happy! Echoes of Johanne Strauss II, the Waltz King, dot Anderson’s musical landscape, but his was American music to the core, with shards of jazz and the influence of the great song writers of his time, particularly Gershwin, on display. Could light music like this capture the public imagination today?

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Rust 3 Review

Rust 3
available as a download or on DVD; approximate weight: 3.5 GB
$89
www.soundiron.com

Let’s make this simple. Are you looking for interesting “found” samples that can be used in place of traditional drums to help you create unusual percussion tracks? Do you have $89? If you answered yes to both of these questions, stop reading, head over to soundiron.com, and purchase that company’s newest release, Rust 3.

The first two installments of Rust centered on drum like sounds as well; with 3 the goal was to present a series of big, bass-centric samples resplendent with overtones (which can be filtered out). The results are stunning. But be careful- it’s easy to fall into a trap and rely on the sonic depth of these samples, add just a pad or two, and kid yourself into thinking you’re creating music of your own. The trick is to integrate these sounds into a language that’s uniquely yours.

Soundiron has developed a user interface that they offer on many of their products; if you own other libraries they’ve created you’ll be up and running in no time. The manual is also straightforward and easy to follow. But these instruments are not traditional, and trying to understand how they can be manipulated takes a bit of time. A better idea is to simply dive in and start making music; if you have even a rudimentary understanding of the classic synth ADSR envelope, feel comfortable working with eq controls, and like to have experiment with convolution reverbs you’ll be tweaking presets in no time.

Rust 3 instruments are divided into four folders: Effects, Ensemble, Master and Sustains. Did you ever make a trip to Waco, Texas, home of the Branch Davidians, who went down in flames, courtesy of the US government in 1993? I did, and the sound of the “Lonesome Corral Windsong” preset took me right back to the fields outside the entrance of the compound.

The concept of the Ensembles eluded me, since they seem to offer individual instruments. I queried the guys at Soundiron about this and got back a reasonable explanation. Multiple sounds are used to create these ensembles, but Soundiron used its own artistic sensibility when they built “instruments” that don’t exist in the real world. They created a sonic pallet that spreads across the keyboard, but it’s not as if clarinets line up for a few octaves and flutes take over. Play around for a while and you’ll get the picture. The Sustains have lots of powerfully held sounds, and the Masters, particularly the Mega Mixers, present the user with presets that combine multiple sounds in ways that the boys at Soundiron feel represents the best of the best.

The Uberpeggiator is just what you’d expect: an arpeggiator on steroids. Soundiron has incorporated this feature into earlier releases, and it works extremely well inside this product.

Times change. Thirty years ago I was introduced to songwriter Tom Bahler, the author of numerous songs, including “She’s Out Of My Life,” which was a huge hit for Michael Jackson. I went to his house in LA and he pointed out that the Synclavier sitting in the corner had provided the opening gong sound effect for MJ’s hit “Beat It.” That piece of hardware cost about 100k. Rust 3 has about a dozen closely related sounds that are vastly superior.

Like I said, you might want to consider dropping $89 on this product.

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Craig Sharmat

Staking a claim in one quadrant would be enough for most musicians, but Craig Sharmat has managed to achieve success both as an artist and as a composer of commercial production music. A gifted guitarist, Sharmat’s latest single, “A Day In Paris,” is currently nestled in the Top Ten of Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart. His work in a variety of styles (head on up to scoredog.tv and have a listen) is featured on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” “America’s Most Wanted,” and many other television shows, and the tracks he contributes to music libraries can be heard throughout the world. Sharmat is also one of a handful of composers who helped take orchestral emulations to a high plane. We spoke earlier this week.

Gary Eskow: Given the width of the styles you write in, do you ever feel like bursting at the seams?

Craig Sharmat: Actually, I often find it a relief. If I’ve been writing jazz all week I often can’t wait to get back into writing for some of my crime shows or what ever else might be requested.

Growing up, who were your major influences? I hear echoes of Jon McLaughlin.

CS: I love McLaughlin but never felt I had the facility to play like he does, so I went after players who seemed more accessible. I don’t believe there’s a “best” of anything; motivation comes from many great players. I found those who fit where I thought I could go-George Benson, Larry Carlton, Robben Ford and Pat Metheny, to name a few.

GE: Is there a common thread to the music you write? If so, how would you describe your musical personality?

CS: There may be a common thread, but if it’s there it’s based on the habit of what I hear; it’s not like I’m trying to achieve that goal. In fact, it’s almost the opposite; if I said something before I try to not to say it again.

GE: Do you continue to study? If so, what music are you studying at this time?

CS: I always try to improve. I listen to many scores, other composers, and study scores where available. I also teach Spud Murphy’s EIS method which keeps me constantly thinking about theory and possibilities I may have left dormant.

GE: Any new toys in your studio in the last several years? What software do you rely on? Please give a brief description of your project studio.

CS: I recently bought a harp guitar which is way cool and the new Fractal Axe-fx guitar processor (I had the last version too). I’m running Logic as I have for many years now. I have four computers-a 12 core Mac Pro is my main machine. I have two pc’s, which I turn on when I need extra sounds and don’t want to push the Mac too hard. I also have a Mac Book Pro; I use it when I hit the road and want to take a setup with me.

GE: Do you often work in other studios?

CS: Not often. I do work at Ocean Way in Nashville when recording real orchestra for Warner Chapel. Most musicians I know have their own studios, so if I need a player I usually just send files and we converse from there.

GE: Do you have a “stable” of musicians and singers you work with?

CS: I do, though not many singers as my work does not call for that very often.

GE: How would you describe the current state of the music industry, both on the record side and with respect to commercial music production?

CS: I work in my own bubble so I can only speak of the areas I’m involved in. Other jazz artists tell me that their living has taken a serious hit in recent yers. That may be, at least in part, because many radio stations have pulled away from the smooth and traditional jazz formats. I hear complaints on the music production side also, but I have many friends who are doing well. I personally have no complaints. It seems that there are more jobs available than ever before, but fewer high end ones. Cable TV has cut into the bigger TV budgets simply because people don’t watch the prime networks as much as they used to. Cable has created a huge industry for other music. If you ask me my opinion-and it seems you have!-more people are able to make a living, which to me is better than having just a few who receive more.

GE: Have you checked out services like Topspin and Nimbit? Do you plan on selling your material directly, or do you have a label?

CS: I am signed to a small independent label, Innervision Records.

GE: Tell us a bit about “A Day In Paris.” When did you write it? Where did you record it? Who are the players?

CS: I had been producing “Gypsy Jazz” tracks for a library, and for myself, for years. One day I thought, “Why not record a hybrid smooth jazz track for commercial release?” I had not heard a track which really captured the gypsy jazz thing and incorporated an R-B feel. I wrote the song early in 2012 and hired Rayford Griffin to play drums, Benedikt Brydern (currently touring with Yanni) on violin and Peter White, the smooth jazz guitarist icon to play accordion. He did a great job.

As of today, “A Day In Paris” has landed in the top 10 of Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart. I might as well promote my upcoming album “Bleu Horizons,” which the single “A Day in Paris” will be on. I’m hoping to release this album later this year, but it may be delayed because of the holidays to early 2013.

GE: Anything else we should know about Craig Sharmat?!

CS: That’s more than I usually say so I guess not! I’m glad I chose music as my profession. If one is dedicated you can make a career in the business, and I can’t imagine a better way to make a living.

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