Archive of the MixSounds Category

A First Look At Nimbit

Not saying I’m hip, but of course I’ve been following the new pathways to fame and fortune that have opened up since the decline of the old model; bands can’t expect a label to fork over 40k, so they have to track on the cheap and immediately move into self-promotional mode. It’s just that I didn’t think I’d be traveling down this road myself.

For the last several years I’ve recorded a couple of projects (on average) per year, which I’d float up to my web designer’s FTP site, along with copy. He’d embed this material into my site. Unfortunately, great guy though he is, Paul’s gotten behind on things, and that got me looking around for alternatives.

A couple of weeks ago I received a press release from Steve Oppenheimer… come on, you remember Steve O, right? Steve’s now working for PreSonus, and the release he sent indicated that PreSonus acquired Nimbit for an undisclosed sum in July of this year. The idea is simple: give Studio One users the ability to take a project directly from DAW to download using the promotional tools that are part of the Nimbit package. I thought I’d take this concept out for a test drive, and for the last 24 hours I’ve been trying to get myself up to speed.

For starters, let’s acknowledge that Nimbit is not alone in this area of the industry. CD Baby has been around for some time, and Topspin started out as a distribution platform for major labels and has a client list that includes some pretty impressive names, to name a pair. My limited experience does not allow me to evaluate Nimbit against any other product. That having been said, I’m jazzed by what Nimbit has to offer, though the high marks aren’t without a caveat or two.

Nimbit comes in two flavors: free and unfree. The latter gives you some extra options, but most users will start out taking something for nothing and slide over to the paid account as their user base (and income) grows. Getting started is easy. You upload a picture of yourself, or your band, write a descriptive paragraph, and begin to add tracks and albums. Boom, you’re in business!

Note that you are required to upload wav files-mp3’s are not accepted. Why? It appears that there was some internal debate over this issue. At the end of the day the position that some artists only have mp3’s, which therefore require two additional conversions (mp3 to wav back to mp3 by the folks at Nimbit) was deemed weaker than the alternate line of reasoning: Nimbit wants to insure a high level of quality on the mp3’s posted on their site, and therefore needs to take care of all the encoding themselves. You may grumble if you don’t have wav files of all your material, or if you own the Sonnox Fraunhofer ProCodec, which lets you tailor the reduced file format to suit the specific track you’re working with, but if you want to work with Nimbit you’ll have to play by their rules. Parenthetically, Nimbit says that they’re acquiring wav files with the future in mind: one day they hope to offer downloads of a higher quality that will command greater fees for their users.

A second area of concern for me (which, I’m told, is being addressed at the present time through the development of a series of tutorial videos) is the relative paucity of information explaining how Nimbit can best be integrated into Facebook and other social media platforms. Sites like this one should, ultimately, liberate artists from the need to pay web designers and wonk heads to build platforms; they should come in packages so easy to assemble that “a 10 year old can be up and running in no time!” I expect that Nimbit will soon have a series of online tutorials that will walk the user through these processes.

I haven’t gotten deeply into the customization aspect yet, but I did note that it’s not easy to format copy in any of the entry fields; I’d like to be able to personalize this area. Carl Jacobson, the extremely knowledgable Nimbit exec who answered a number of questions for me, pointed out that those who understand html encoding can in fact add underlining, italics, and other text formatting to the copy. I do get the impression that Nimbit is in a fluid developmental stage, looking to improve the product, so if you’re a user, don’t hesitate to give them feed back… I did!

These concerns aside, the artist page that Nimbit offers is beautiful and highly professional in appearance. You can charge whatever you want for your work- or give it away- and Nimbit makes it easy to track your sales and monitor your growing fan base. The company makes money in several ways; Nimbit takes 15% of the cash you take in from sales, they offer the paid version of their service, and they also have a retail business that includes CD creation.

Would love to hear from any of you who are using Nimbit or another product of this kind.

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Marvin Hamlisch

Marvin Hamlisch and Mick Jagger were contemporaries, though it’s hard to believe anyone has ever mentioned them in the same breath. A supreme example of the artist who reaches Olympian heights by pressing writing and performance skills into a unique mold, Jagger’s larger than life image contrasts directly with the effect that the mild mannered Hamlisch, who was 68 at the time of his death, inspired. How will the world judge his musical legacy?

A bespectacled youth, Hamlisch was a gifted young pianist who first attended the youth division of Juilliard at the age of seven. While practicing the masters he was also dialing in pop radio stations. By the age of 21 Hamlisch had already written a song, “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” (lyrics by Howard Liebling) that the out of tune young crooner Lesley Gore turned into a hit, thanks in large part to the production values imparted by Quincey Jones. Several years later Hamlisch scored his first film, “The Swimmer.” For the rest of his life Hamlisch’s career was a mixture of film and Broadway work, with dollops of performing and conducting dates thrown in for good measure.

Raised in an era of rebellion and rejection, Marvin Hamlisch developed a style based on older models; Harry Warren, the first composer to move fluidly between Broadway and film, comes to mind. His film scores lack a distinctive voice, but this work, which reveals jazz, pop, and classical influences, is inventive and technically sound. The songs that emerged from some of these films- “Nobody Does It Better,” (lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager), “Through The Eyes Of Love” (lyrics by Melissa Manchester)- are among Hamlisch’s stand out compositions, and they reveal (particularly “Nobody Does It Better”) an individual way of incorporating blues phrasing into pop melodies. The most famous song to have emerged from a film he scored is, arguably, “The Way We Were,” (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman). Straightforward and poignant, this melody, beautiful, confident and secure, became a huge hit when Barbara Streisand, the star of the movie, released it in 1973.

In all likelihood, the music he wrote for the long running Broadway hit, “A Chorus Line,” will probably resonant most powerfully when future generations remember Marvin Hamlisch. The show ran for over 6,000 performances (a record until “Cats” came along), and had a number of catchy tunes, including “One,” the song that jumped out of “A Chorus Line” and into the imagination of the wider public.

If you’re looking to tip your hat and send Marvin Hamlisch off in a way that he’d appreciate, make yourself a drink, sit in a comfortable chair, and listen to “The Informant,” the piano solo from the film of the same name, which was released in 2009. Jaunty, breezy, well constructed, this solo places a fine coda to the career of Marvin Hamlisch, a gifted composer whose music brought joy to millions.

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A Question For The Engineers

I’ve often wondered why the encroachment DAWs have made into territory formerly occupied by digital consoles hasn’t been met with a forceful response by console manufacturers. Not saying that it makes sense for a board to include MIDI code, but why hasn’t the old recording model- a console with multiple patch points that accept hardware signal processors- been replaced with an on board protocol similar to Audio Units or ASIO, that would let boards host plug-ins within their architecture?

Of course, I’m no expert in these matters, but it seems like the Waves SoundGrid Impact Server comes the closest to realizing this concept in live applications. I’d be quite interested to hear from engineers on this one… if you use a digital console in your studio or on the road, would it be a benefit to be able to load plug-ins from different software companies directly into your board?

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A click track for ETHEL

Digital audio workstations have been around for so long now that we tend to forget how much easier they’ve made the music production process-at least I do. Do any of you remember how hideously difficult it was to create click tracks that allowed for precise scoring to picture? I forget the author’s name, but in my early years in the business there was a bible of sorts that every film score composer had to have. It laid out all the various tempos and how they relate to sprocketed film measurements-geez, I can’t even remember what the relationship was between beats and this unit of film.

Some would argue that the ability to import film into a DAW, locate hit points quickly, and create cues that match picture with ease comes at a cost; at times the creation of grand themes designed to gird a film’s underlying construct is sacrificed to a sonic commentary that matches picture on a moment by moment basis.

Whatever, it’s still cool to have precise control over the tempo of a piece of music. Over the last two days I’ve been working with the tempo function in my sequencer, Cubase 5, in a way that’s new for me. ETHEL (www.ethelcentral.org) is a ferocious machine. Highly respected in New York City, its home base, and far beyond, this 15 year old string quartet champions new music. Composers whose influences include rock, pop and soul stand a fair chance of getting their work read by the group. I was fortunate enough to have them run through a quartet of mine, “The Amazing X-Ray Machine,” and I’m happy to report that we’ll be recording this piece in just a few days.

Ralph Farris, the group’s violist and Artistic Director, initially heard a midi mock up of this piece. Roughly eight minutes in length, “The Amazing X-Ray Machine” has a base tempo of 144 beats per minute, but a number of sections are to be played either more slowly, or faster, and there are several accelerandos. After playing the parts in my sequencer I spent a fair amount of time adjusting the tempi to get the feel right.

Of course, real players differ from their midi counterparts; when I had my one (and only) rehearsal with the group on Monday we changed some of the tempi, which I marked on my score. I didn’t realize this, but ETHEL often records to a click track, and they asked me to build a midi map for the session.

Interesting. I went back to my sequence, reset the tempi, played around with the ramps from one tempo to another, and then added three additional midi tracks. This is a fast piece with many changes of time signature, so a simple, steady quarter note click was not in the cards. I placed a side stick on all downbeats and a closed hi hat on the strong pulses within the measures (one and four, for example, in a measure of 3+2/8). Ralph asked me to mark the downbeats of each section with a separate sound, and so I added triangle hits where needed.

The group will be rehearsing the piece again before our session, so I dropped these three tracks and e mailed an mp3 to Ralph. To insure maximal flexibility, I then exported the sequence containing only the percussion parts as a standard midi file and sent it to Daryl Bornstein, the remarkably talented musician/engineer who will be running this session, to make sure that it opens correctly in Pro Tools. It does, which means that he’ll be able to replace the sounds I used with appropriate substitutes. If we feel that a section needs to be played faster or slower it will be easy to adjust tempo on the fly.

Poor Max Steiner! Sad Dimitri Tiomkin! Imagine how these giants of the past would have enjoyed using these tools!

NOTE: Tom Lynn, of Audio Pro Berlin (www.audioproberlin.de) pointed out that I erroneously changed the gender of Christa Wolfe in my last blog. Ms. Wolfe wrote the libretto to “Cassandra,” the wonderful piece written by Michael Jarrell. Thanks for the correction, Tom.

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A Package Arrived Today

The new world order-who would leave it and return to the past? Or, as Smokey Robinson once said, “Love’s a hallway with so many doors. Which one did I go through that made me yours? I want to close it up and never again leave from within to go back where I been.” (“Point It Out”).

A few months ago the New York Times reviewed a concert that included a piece by a French composer I’d never heard of named Michael Jarrell. The only piece of his on Spotify is a one hour plus work for narrator and orchestra called “Cassandra.” I was mesmerized by this music-you will be too, I bet. Author Christa Wolf recasts the story of the Trojan princess. He twists the past, future and present, and Jarrell goes all the way down the well with him.

I was mesmerized by the recording (Kairos, KA10012912). The actress, Astrid Bas, is spectacular. The coolest thing about this music, for me, is the way Jarrell integrates a couple of samplers with the traditional orchestra. They add a prog rock touch to the work that makes it completely unlike anything else I’ve ever heard.

Thanks to the good old internet I was easily able to find Jarrell’s publisher, (Edtions Henry Lemoine) and order the score. It came today… fabulous!

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Them From “A Summer Place”

Max Steiner… what a talented little dude he was. A whiz kid, Steiner was accepted as a pupil by-check this out-none other than Johannes Brahms. During his teens he also studied under Gustav Mahler. It’s safe to assume that Steiner had his counterpoint and orchestration chops together before he left Vienna and arrived in the USA while still in his early 20’s.

Along with Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Dmitri Tiomkin and Alfred Newman, Max Steiner created the blueprint for a Hollywood scoring style whose influence continues to be felt to this day. Highly dramatic in tone, marked by orchestral forces that feature large string sections, many of these early scores showed the influence of the late 19th century masters, Brahms in particular. Steiner’s most memorable contribution may be “Tara’s Theme,” the nearly over ripe, string-centric piece that nailed the weepy longing for the good old days (let’s leave slavery aside for the moment) sentiment at the core of “Gone With The Wind.”

In 1959 Steiner was tapped to score “A Summer Place.” Starring Richard Egan (a man’s man!), Constance Ford (what a prude) as the parents of a (nearly) chaste Sandra Dee…forget the plot; just say that this flick introduced the viewing public to the hunky Troy Donahue and was quite successful.

The composition that came to be known as the “Theme From a Summer Place” was a leitmotif called the “Molly and Johnny Theme,” used in the film to amplify the excitement, danger, and melancholy surrounding the characters played by Dee and Donahue. How perfectly Steiner captured this nexus of emotions… and so economically. Did anyone ever squeeze more drama into the plebian I,VI,II,V harmonic structure that girds the A section of this piece?

There are about two zillion versions of this beautiful theme, but the two most popular were recorded by Percy Faith in 1960, and The Letterman (with lyrics contributed by Mack Discant) five years later. Percy Faith is an interesting player in the history of the recording business. Dismissed by many as a lightweight, the Godfather of Easy Listening music managed to capture the collective imagination for over a decade.

Faith’s recording of the “Summer Place” theme, which won the Record of the Year Grammy Award in 1961, was the first movie theme and first instrumental to achieve this distinction. By the way, Faith, Elvis and The Beatles are the only artists to have the best selling single in two different years-this record and his arrangement of The Song From Moulin Rouge were hugely popular.

Percy Faith kept the core of the film arrangement intact, but made several important changes. For starters, he transposed the piece up a fourth. This transposition replaces the darker tone with a breezier sound. Faith also chucked out the lame backbeats on two and four that define the original as a composition in 4/4 featuring triplets, a rhythm that weighs down the forward motion somewhat. His arrangement has a true 6/8 feel that helps move the track along. Finally-I’ll wait while you instantiate Spotify and call up both versions-take a listen to the bridge. In Steiner’s version the second half has a melodic line that awkwardly outlines the tri-tone; Faith smooths the line out in a way that’s much more natural. The Lettermen and all other versions that I’ve heard use this construction.

What an era, defined in part by stories like the one detailed in “A Summer Place.” Sex, it’s bad, it’s fun, kids think about it once in a while but know that it’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

Ah, the good old days.

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Me and The Pearl

If you’re a basketball fan of a certain age you have no difficulty conjuring up images of Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. His signature style, characterized by fluid jukes and shots that would be awkward coming out of the hand of almost any other player but were always under his command helped turn Monroe into a legendary guard, voted one of the 50 best players of all time in 1996.

Earl’s professional career began in Baltimore, but he was a member of the New York Knicks when I ran into him at the McBurney YMCA in the summer of 1974. Pearl looked slight on television next to the burly men who clogged the paint, but when he walked into the gym that day dressed in gray sweats he cut quite the figure. Shooting alone at a corner basket, like the other five or six guys in the gym I turned and stared. I approached him. The next several minutes changed my life.

“Excuse me, can I rebound for you?” Without looking in my direction Monroe responded, “Ain’t my basket,” which I interpreted as a warm invitation to share some on court time. Pearl drained a mid range jumper, I threw a bounce pass which arrived at his mid section. Another shot, another pass delivered correctly. Now he’s holding up his right hand, letting me know where he wants to receive the ball. Now he’s going farther away from the basket, faking out an imaginary defender, turning quickly and driving to the hoop. He’s so fast!

How fascinating to be that close to greatness, to study it under the microscope! With his back to the basket you could sense that Earl knew if he was 28 feet four inches from it, a bit closer, or slightly farther away. He had radar, a complete understanding of where his body stood in relation to the other objects on the floor. When he missed a shot Monroe would come in for a lay up and I’d push the ball back to him. Then it happened. An outside shot glanced off the rim. Earl trotted in, took a lay up… and tossed the ball to me.

Would you be nervous, getting ready to shoot before Earl Monroe? I wasn’t. I had a pretty fair jumper from 15 to 18 feet or so, but I went slightly beyond my range and swished the first shot, and then another… and another, and three more before I missed my seventh shot. I completed the ritual by running in for a lay up. Pearl fed me the ball and put his hand up for me to drive around. After it dropped in the bucket I looked around and the few people who’d been in the gym just a few minutes earlier had grown into an enormous crowd, all shouting at Earl, wanting a piece of him. Startled, I slipped out of the gym without saying a word. I looked around and saw Monroe heading towards another door.

A lesson was available to me that day, and I took it. I wasn’t nervous because I wasn’t trying to impress Earl Monroe, myself, or anyone else. I was simply drinking in the experience of being close to greatness, and from that moment on I’ve never known writer’s block or had a fear of failure. It doesn’t matter who’s holding the ball, or the talent… if it’s not you, or me, someone’s going to be bringing it; the gift is always there.

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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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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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