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King Gizzard’s Lo-Fi Gut Feeling
The Final Frontier: How to Capture Space & Ambience in your Mix
It’s About Time: 20 The Avalanches’ Wildflower
The Hall That Does it All: CKK Jordanki’s Acoustics
Audio-Technica ATM230 Instrument Microphone AT 8
ISSUE 35 CONTENTS
Jimmy Barnes Goes Soul Searchin’
Coach Hugh: 46 Matching Mics to Preamps
Arturia Keystep Controller
MOTU 624 & 8A INTERFACES Motu has released another two mobile interfaces, both with Thunderbolt and USB3 connectivity for Mac and Windows. The 624 and 8A boast ultra low latency performance (1.6ms roundtrip at 96k with Thunderbolt) with DSP-driven mixing and extensive AVB/TSN networking features as on the flagship 1248 and 16A interfaces. The 624 has 32 channels of audio I/O, and the 8A has 34. USB class compliant firmware support connection to any iOS device with a standard camera connection kit. ESS Sabre32 DAC technology provides 123dB dynamic range on the balanced analogue outputs,
and the DSP gives you console-style mixing with 48 channels, 12 stereo buses, and 32-bit floating point effects processing including analoguemodelled EQ, compression and reverb. You can even use the 624 or 8A as a standalone mixer with wireless tablet, smartphone or laptop control. The Ethernet port lets you connect another Motu AVB interface for more I/O, or connect straight to an expanded AVB/TSN network with multiple interfaces and computers. Audio Chocolate: (03) 9813 5877 or www.audiochocolate.com.au
ANTELOPE AUDIO ORION32 HD Antelope Audio’s latest addition to its Orion series of audio interfaces is the Pro Tools HD-compatible Orion32 HD — 64 channels of audio via HDX or USB3. It’ll also run with Pro Tools Native, or any other DAW. Like other Orion interfaces, you get Antelope’s acclaimed clocking technology and FPGA real-time effects modelling capabilities with near-zero latency. In addition to HDX and USB3, Orion32 HD also has MADI, ADAT and S/ PDIF connectivity, plus 32-in/32-out analogue I/O via DB25. The monitor outputs are borrowed from Antelope’s Pure2 mastering converter for excellent
analogue signal integrity. The interface’s routing and mixing software for both Mac and Windows has Antelope’s colour-coded routing matrix and an alternate matrix-style view to simplify routing. It also features moveable and resizable panels so you can make the best use of your screen real estate. Taking just 1U of rack space, the Orion32 HD offers a whopping amount of I/O and audio quality in a small studio-friendly footprint. Audio Chocolate: (03) 9813 5877 or www.audiochocolate.com.au
KMI K-BOARD PRO 4 Keith McMillen Instruments’ new MPE-compatible K-Board Pro 4 comes pretty close to being a direct competitor to the Roli Seaboard. It’s a four-octave MIDI controller with multiple dimensions of control and touch sensitivity in each key. Keith McMillen says, “We wanted to reclaim all of the powerful synth parameters that you can rarely access in performance and put them under your fingertips where you can play the heck out of them. Start with the familiarity of the classic keyboard and make it more responsive to take advantage of multidimensional expressivity.” The keys on the
K-Board Pro 4 are made from a patented Smart Sensor Fabric silicone material, each of which independently outputs touch-sensitive XYZ data that can be mapped to any parameter. The keybed consists of discrete keys, unlike the Seaboard which is more of a continuous ribbon-like keywave. The K-Board Pro 4 Kickstarter project has exceeded its target, so we should see the product start shipping late 2017. CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
JOECO’S LATEST BLUEBOX JoeCo has debuted its most affordable BlueBox workstation interface yet — the 24-channel BBWR24B interface/recorder. In the studio, the BBWR24B’s built-in recording capability forms a unique backup service that ensures you don’t lose your source recordings. The 1U 19-inch rack unit has 24 balanced line inputs, 16 ADAT Lightpipe inputs, and 24 balanced outputs and supports audio resolution up to 24bit/96k over USB 2.0.The host interface supports both Windows and Mac with a locally generated zero latency monitor mixer.
The JoeCoControl app lets you customise your I/O routing and setup. JoeCo Managing Director Joe Bull: “The BBWR24B, particularly when used with the expanded control and customisation options of the updated JoeCoControl app, is an extremely powerful but affordable solution for interfacing with your DAW, recording in the field and ensuring that none of your recordings are ever lost, even if the power fails.” Gigpiglet: (02) 9698 9292 or email@example.com
dLIVE C CLASS Allen & Heath adds to the dLive product family with a compact range of surfaces and mix racks called dLive C Class. It’s founded on XCVI, the same 96kHz FPGA core which drives the flagship dLive S Class mixers, and also shares its DEEP processing architecture. The new range includes the ultracompact C1500, the first 19-inch rack-mountable dLive surface. Another two twin-screen control surfaces, the C2500 and C3500, join the ranks. The C Class surfaces use the dLive Harmony UI with gesture touch control via 12-inch capacitive
screens and colour-mapped rotary controls. There are three new MixRacks in the series — CDM32, CDM48, and CDM64. These provide capacity for 128 inputs with full processing and 16 dedicated stereo FX returns, plus a fully configurable 64 mix bus architecture with full processing on all mix channels. Each surface and rack has a 128 channel I/O port supported by an array of networking cards. Technical Audio Group: (02) 9519 0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org
QSC SINGLE-BOX CARDIOID SUB QSC’s newest family member is the K Cardioid subwoofer. Typically cardioid subwoofer configurations are obtained by stacking two subs on top of each other in opposing directions. The K Cardioid Subwoofer represents a first-inclass single-box powered cardioid subwoofer solution that’s targeted to the entertainment and installation markets. With innovative design, 1000W Class D QSC amplification and advanced DSP in a single compact enclosure, the new sub has dual 12-inch long-excursion drivers arranged
in a 6th order bandpass chamber. These elements combine to produce 15dB more output at the front of the cabinet than at the rear. The cabinet is designed to be highly portable with aluminium handles and rear-mounted castors. Two M20 sockets are provided to accept a 35mm speaker pole in either vertical or horizontal deployment of the sub. The K Cardioid Subwoofer is expected to have a street price of US$1399. Technical Audio Group: (02) 9519 0900 or email@example.com
ONLINE SHOOTOUT HIT www.gearshoot.com Conducting gear shootouts is hard work, we should know, it’s what we do for a living. Probably the hardest part about it is selecting which particular pieces of gear you’re going to shoot out against. You typically can’t do it all. Gearshoot is here to help. It’s a website created by Kiwi audio engineers designed to be a central station for all manner of audio shootouts. If you’ve read about the ins and outs of a piece of gear but haven’t had the chance to audition it for yourself, Gearshoot will pit one piece of audio gear against another in realtime. Chris Chetland, one of the guys behind Gearshoot, has a scientific background and knows the ins and outs of conducting a ‘scientifically accurate’ experiment. He came up with the idea of creating a website that uses a number of pre-selected audio tracks and runs them through as many bits of gear as possible, with the utmost care to maintain consistency. The effect of inevitable variables is nullified by keeping them the same across all audio files — for example, using identical conversion for every test. It’s been over two years in the making. Countless days have been spent meticulously feeding pieces of equipment with audio tracks according to strict guidelines. The enormous amount of gear that’s been tested is either from the guys’ own collections, Auckland’s audio engineering community, overseas studio visits, national distributors, or even manufacturers themselves. And the list is still growing, with new plug-ins, converters, compressors, EQs, reverbs and more being tested all the time.
It’s no small task organising such a massive library of 320kbps .m4a audio files so users can quickly compare the gear they want. Gearshoot does this exceptionally well. With a step-by-step approach, you can create your own playlist by selecting both the sources and gear you want to compare. Pre-made playlists give you a taste of what the site is capable of. Head over for yourself and scout it out.
Gearshoot was developed by a team of five — Chris Chetland, Luke Finlay, J.D., Huia Hamon, and Callum McDougall. The boys work out of Kog Mastering Studio in Auckland, NZ.
MANIPULATOR FROM INFECTED MUSHROOM It looks like the plug-in development thing is growing on Infected Mushroom. After collaborating with Waves to release Pusher earlier this year, the electronic duo has now put out a beta version of a new real-time vocal manipulator aptly named Manipulator. This time the chaps worked with Polyverse Music and is their second with plug-in created with the company, with the first being I Wish. Manipulator is designed to warp the sound of vocals and melodic instruments beyond recognition, or subtly add character to a
performance. It can even be played via a keyboard to control pitch on the fly, as well as introduce a slew of other effects to your tracks. It’s all about giving you creative ways to take a natural voice and transform it into ethereal choirs, guttural granular textures, twisted robotised voices, or some other mashed and mangled tone. The plug-in’s algorithms are based around pitch, formant, harmonics shifting, MF, and grain alteration. Available in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
ELEMENTARY OZONE iZotope has launched Ozone 7 Elements, a nifty mastering tool that’s more affordable and streamlined than the full-blown Ozone plug. Designed to simplify the mastering process, Ozone 7 Elements will help you get quick results with an approachable user interface but still the same powerful audio processing Ozone 7 users have come to love. Presets let you get in the ballpark of the sound you’re going for, and you can further shape your master with high-impact macro controls. Gerry Caron, Chief Product Officer
at iZotope, says, “At iZotope, we want to make audio production accessible to all musicians, at every level of skill and experience. With Ozone 7 Elements, we’re making that possible for newcomers. By providing a more affordable, easyto-use approach that lets you stay hands-on, we hope to help everyone feel more excited about their final master.” Electric Factory: (03) 9474 1000 or www.elfa.com.au
STRUMMED ACOUSTIC 2 Native Instruments Strummed Acoustic 2 is out now, and it joins the Session Guitarist series to complement the original Strummed Acoustic instrument. The new version brings samples of two vintage acoustic guitars — a six-string Martin and 12-string Guild — plus more strummed patterns and new performance controls. Strummed Acoustic 2 runs in Kontakt and the free Kontakt 5 Player. There’s a nice contrast between the two guitars. The Martin produces the warm, mellow tones of a mahogany body from an instrument that was
originally built in 1934. The jumbo 12-string Guild, produced in the late 1960s, delivers a more full, bright and articulate sound. The new ‘Separate Bass’ feature lets you add custom bass lines or add extra low notes to chords to create slash chords. And with Tap Rhythm Finder, you can dictate the groove of a strum pattern by tapping it into your keyboard. Strummed Acoustic 2 adds over 50% more content than the original. CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
PRO TOOLS 12.7 Avid has officially released Pro Tools 12.7, and if you haven’t already downloaded it you’ll find it waiting for you in your Avid account. The update brings with it a bunch of tools with a focus on music creation. You get 2GB of new loops from top sound designers at Loopmasters, and the new Soundbase addition introduces a fast new way of browsing and experimenting with sounds using descriptive tags. Producers, rejoice! Pro Tools 12.7 also offers
Revision History which non-destructively keeps track of your creative angles. That means you can experiment with different ideas, take notes on each, then jump back to another version, all within a single self-contained session — no more ‘Save As’ or ‘Cmd Z’ every time you want to try something new. Another fantastic feature is the ability to change fade shapes in the Edit window using keyboard shortcuts.
WHAT PRODUCTION COMPANIES ARE SAYING ABOUT X2 THE X2 LINE ARRAY IS QUICKLY ESTABLISHING ITSELF AS THE QUICK TO SET-UP, GREAT SOUNDING, COMPACT SYSTEM THAT MATCHES THE PERFORMANCE OF BIGGER AND MORE EXPENSIVE LINE ARRAYS. “I walked the room, and everything sounded smooth, both on the floor and up in the stands. The X2 system from Electro-Voice is really efficient and balanced, which makes it easy to get that thick, dirty sound that ZZ Top fans expect to hear.” - Joe Keisser, ZZ Top FOH Engineer.
“I really like the new hydra technology. All we need to do is a quick set-up of the system, adjust the DSP once – and we’re ready to go.” - Richard Jaggy, Free Power Eventtechnik, Switzerland.
“It’s a really great system, really well voiced. I feel that X2 has a great dynamic range; it’s got more dynamic range than its predecessors.” - Pat Kearney, Powa Productions, Australia.
“Electro-Voice was definitely on my radar, but wasn’t necessarily my first choice. But when I had a chance to hear the X-Line Advance at an EV Road Show in Dallas, I was blown away. It sounded at least as good as the big-dollar systems from other companies out there, and at a significantly better price.”
- Dave Hallock, Mountain Town Music, USA.
“The X-Line Advance is an extremely versatile system with a great weight-power ratio! A unique quality that other systems do not have!” - Paolo Ponzoni, Sound Flavours, Italy.
“It sounds great right out of the truck with no tuning. Really warm, clear and punchy acoustics. I hardly had to touch the mixer. I am also impressed how a system smaller in size matches larger line arrays in performance.” - Chris Neal, Eclipse Lighting and Sound, Australia.
Bosch Communications | 1300 026 724 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.electrovoice.com
FENDER ’55 TWEED DELUXE UAD-2 Plug-in Review: Greg Walker
Much attention has been paid to the preamp side of Universal Audio’s Unison technology. But what of that humble DI jack on the front panel? It’s equally Unison-equipped, and UA’s latest Fender ’55 Deluxe Tweed plug-in goes as far as the company’s gone to show it can squeeze as much bleeding-edgemeets-vintage mojo out of a DI as it has previously achieved with a mic preamp. Two years in the making, UA has emulated every bit of valve goodness and circuitry in one of the all time classic amps. While the original Fender Deluxe was the epitome of simplicity with its single tone and volume controls, UA’s version offers loads of possibilities for those who love to tinker. First up, the gain structure can be adjusted via the Apollo Hi-Z channel input and this is followed by a choice of four differently attenuated amplifier instrument and microphone inputs (there is also a patch cable in the GUI for hot patching one channel to another). Further downstream, primary gain is available at the amp’s actual volume control, a ‘normal/line’ toggle switch damps down the overdrive factor, and finally, a master output knob. The amp’s tone control is complemented by a choice of five classic go-to guitar cab microphones — two dynamics, two ribbons, and one condenser — any two of which can be placed on or off axis and blended together for just the right amount of body and crunch. Another nice touch is the choice of three different speaker emulations. The original Jensen breaks up very quickly and has a glassier top end while the JBL and Celestion varieties offer cleaner options and slightly different tonal weightings. I currently have three Fender amps in my studio — including great ’70s and ’60s models — and I use them a lot. Naturally, I approached this plug-in with the suspicious curiosity that many guitarists out there would no doubt share.
CONTACT CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or info@ cmi.com.au
PROS Vivid sounds & expressive playability put most other company's amp emulations in the shade. Lots of gain structure & tonal options
CONS Top end can sound a little brittle at times (Hey, it's a Fender!)
again you have to watch the top end doesn’t get too brittle at higher gain settings. The full bloom of the bottom end was a real highlight of the sound as was the nature of the break-up at more moderate settings. Does it sound good? Yes, it does. Is it the same as having an amp moving air in the room with you? No, it’s not. But that’s fine, the UAD-2 Fender ’55 Tweed Deluxe is a plug-in designed to take the hassle out of running an amp. It also happens to be one of the best amp emulations ever released. The sounds on tap here can drastically expand your studio’s possibilities and rescue your arrangements and mixes from the limitations of your equipment and/or room. If you’re lacking vintage Fender tone, it’s a lot cheaper than shelling out thousands for the real thing. Even with my collection of vintage Fenders, this plug-in will definitely find it’s way into my mixes, and not just on ’50s and ’60s orientated material. Once again, UA has made something I didn’t know I needed!
SUMMARY UA does this kind of thing better than just about everyone else. The emulated vintage Fender sound hangs together at all kinds of different settings. It’s a plugin that gets your musical juices going. The ’55 Tweed Deluxe sits well in mixes, has its own distinctive sound and doesn't cost $4500 from your vintage 'dealer'.
NEED TO KNOW
I have used amp plug-ins before but rarely do they make it into my final mixes — unless they’re doing something whacky to complement other ‘real’ guitars. In use I found the Fender ’55 Tweed Deluxe surprisingly vivid straight out of the box, and being an amp emulation that really wanted to head for valve overdrive territory, I was happy to indulge. Playing a Gibson SG through it brought out a lot of tubey top end crunch which really shone on lead lines and melodic parts. Full tilt bar chord riffing initially brought out too much trebly grit for my taste but things got a lot smoother once I opted for a ribbon mic in the GUI. Changing things up with a lower output ’60s Kay hollow-body I quickly entered the territory I had hoped to explore with this plug-in; namely ’50s blues/jazz semi-broken up tone. After a bit of patient fiddling with the gain structure I got some great solo tones and (probably for the first time in my life) found myself playing really expressively through an amplifier plug-in! Fender guitars absolutely sing through this thing, though
Fancy five 20-tonne slabs of concrete and brick moving over your head? That’s how Fernando Menis controls the acoustics of CKK Jordanki Concert Hall. Story: Mark Davie
Architects must hate it when client’s change their mind. Say the brief was to build a retirement home for a sexagenarian couple — a well-considered, modernist abode with all the mod cons a long service leave payout can buy. The architect goes ahead and designs a smaller, easily maintainable home with only a couple of rooms and plenty of wall space for their pre-war art collection. No one mentioned room for the extended family rocking up on the weekend, or the raucous grandkid sleepovers on Friday nights, until the design was already done. Fernando Menis, principal of Spanishbased firm Fernando Menis Architects, seems to handle those kind of last minute requests well. Menis won a 2008 international ideas competition for the new CKK Jordanki concert hall in Toruń, Poland under the direction it would only be used for symphonic concerts. When the post-competition design process started — the time when sketches are turned into accurate drawings — the city decided it actually wanted more than a home for the Toruń Symphony Orchestra. It wanted to be able to house all manner of theatre, opera, musicals, concerts, even conventions and television shows. Knowing that a static hall could not cope with such a varied program, Menis went back to the drawing board. He is a student of acoustics, specifically as it relates to the behaviour of concrete. It’s been a heavily researched topic around his office over the last 12 years. They call it ‘liquid stone’, because it allows them to define specific geometry via formwork that controls early reflections. Another material Menis has become AT 18
intimately familiar with is ‘picado’, a mixture of concrete and chopped up brick which forms an irregular surface for high frequency diffusion (2kHz and above) that Menis says is “very difficult to achieve with other materials.” It softens the hard specular reflection of hard flat surfaces, smoothing out the sound of orchestral early reflections. He attributes the idea to a ‘rationalised’ [archi-speak] version of what Baroque architects would do with décor and ornamentation. The use of picado was a win-win for the design. The heavy concrete and brick surfaces minimise low frequency absorption to deliver fullness in the low end, but it also fits in well with Toruń’s World Heritage Site-listed red brick Gothic buildings. MLS (Maximum Length Sequence) diffusors have also been integrated in the movable walls to avoid acoustic glare. That would have all been, relatively speaking, putting lipstick on a pig if Menis’s design was still
a standard hall. However, the CKK Jordanki is anything but standard. The subterranean appearance of the hall is reinforced by its asymmetrical geometry, which “contributes to a completely diffuse reverberant field and a good sense of envelopment, making the audience feel surrounded by sound,” said acoustic design engineer Pedro Cerdá of i2A acoustic & Audiovisual Engineering. “Each surface was carefully sized and oriented in order to enhance lateral reflections and provide a strong spatial feeling to the audience.” To do that, they literally built 1/50th-scale clay models, layered the inner surfaces with aluminium foil and shot laser beams into them. They repeated the process eight times, analysing the reflections, then refined the final shape with computer 3D modelling. The main acoustic feat, and what sets CKK
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T30 (s) Ceiling in lower position, acoustic banners deployed T30 (s) Ceiling in upper position, acoustic banners retracted
Jordanki apart from a typical concert hall is its operable ceiling. We’ve seen some pretty jawdropping concert hall acoustic feats over the years. In our own backyard, Hamer Hall’s recent addition of operable wings above the stage helps acoustically reinforce different-sized ensembles. Menis has taken that approach with the entire hall. The ceiling is comprised of five gargantuan movable panels that look like meteorite chunks floating in space. Each panel has a surface area ranging from 80 to 140m2 with five anchoring points to hoist it a distance of between 3-5m. With steel skeletons and concrete coating to ensure enough density for the desired acoustic performance, they weigh between 11 and 20 tonnes. By moving the panels individually, the volume of the space can be transformed from a large 8200m3, with a reverberation time of 1.85s (T30, 1.78s when occupied), to a reduced volume of 6800m3 when the ceiling is at its minimum height, knocking down the reverberation time to 1.35s. The panels aren’t interlocked, so the space above and below them is coupled to a degree, adding another opportunity to control the acoustics with retractable acoustic banners in the upper volume. When they’re fully retracted it becomes a lively reverb chamber that adds a fuller reverberant tail. With banners deployed, it further dampens the reverberation time down to 1.2s at the ceiling’s lowest position. “It covers the entire range of possible activities,” said Menis. “1.85 seconds for symphonic music, 1.6 seconds for opera and 1.2 seconds for theatre.” Even with all that malleability, Menis hasn’t sacrificed quality when the hall is used for that early intended purpose — symphonic music. “The intense and innovative acoustic work achieved by Fernando Menis in this concert hall makes it a real ‘world leader’ among buildings of this type,” said Victor Pablo Pérez, conductor of the Symphonic Orchestra of Madrid. “Throughout my experience of all these years, I have never met an architect getting so involved and studying this field so hard in order to achieve good acoustics.”
The Avalanchesâ€™ second album, Wildflower, took 16 years to put together, making the mix process as nostalgic as the samples on the record. Story: Mark Davie
Way back when, at the turn of the century, The Avalanches were on a roll. The group had struck a groove with their first album, Since I Left You, extracting the nostalgia scavenged from op shop vinyl bins and black and white movies into imaginary scenes full of heartwarming triggers. What’s more, their eclectic sample mashups were actually great songs. The key sampled phrase from half-mental single Frontier Psychiatrist, ‘That boy needs therapy’, became as hardwired into the turn of the century alternative zeitgeist as a Destiny’s Child melody was for the mainstream. Madonna name checked them, Questlove put Since I Left You on his list of 10 favourite albums of all time; the Avalanches were poised to capitalise on the success. While the juices were still flowing, core member Robbie Chatter presented the others — including sole remaining co-contributor Tony De Silva — with a CD-R of jams; like talking points for the new record. “I was thinking, ‘This is great, we’re going to have a new album done in no time,’” said Chatter. “There were so many great new tunes on there. We probably could have taken that as the basis and released a record.” “I guess we got sidetracked,” downplayed De Silva, in likely one of the biggest understatements you’ll ever hear. It took them a whopping 16 years to finally release that follow up album, Wildflower. It wasn’t because the songs weren’t good enough to make the cut. The basis for the song Saturday Night Inside Out was the first track on that CD, and its core was strong enough to survive those 16 years intact. “It was the first we heard of the new Avalanches stuff, and it ended up being the last song on this new record all those years later,” recalled De Silva. CIRCLING THE FINISH LINE
Finishing art can be difficult, and releasing it can be even tougher. Self doubt took an early hold of Chatter who became suspicious of anything that came too easily. “All those tunes came so effortlessly,” he said of the early CD. “I thought they couldn’t be any good because I wasn’t really trying. Then, of course, you try really hard and it’s over thought and overworked. You learn the hard way.” It’s an incredibly long time for a song to sit around, so how do you keep it going for that long? “You don’t,” explained Chatter. “You forget about them, and then over time the good ones make you remember them.” Over that length of time, everything gets recycled as a sample, whether it was picked from an op shop bin or not. “On Sunshine, Tony played Kontakt parts and I cut them up, then we forgot about the song for a few years.” said Chatter. “We came back to it and it formed a small section that became the song. We looked at it — Tony’s Kontakt parts with my samples — as a new sample that would be turned into a new song.” In many ways, the huge gap between records is conceivable when you consider the detective work required to craft a similar album. Watching countless black and white movies to find footsteps with the right amount of click, and perfect amount of clack, only to seat them as far in the background
as they can go, requires the patience and attention to detail of a scale model maker. Heap sickness and financial woes on top of the process, and it’s a wonder it got done at all. Even after a weekend gig at Splendour with 20,000 people bopping along to Frankie Sinatra, it still hasn’t quite hit the guys. “I still feel like we haven’t had that moment of, ‘far out, it’s actually done,’ said Chatter. De Silva agreed, “It’s a gradual sinking in.”
out of an op shop bin. “We’re not really precious or elitist about finding rare stuff,” said De Silva. Which is partly due to inflated market rates for vinyl, explained Chatter: “There came a period where op shops started getting pilfered by a lot of second hand stores and selling them for good money. Everything just kind of dried up and it was hard to find really cool vinyl from op shops anymore.”
TIME TAKES TIME
It’s been 16 years since Since, and technology has come along in leaps and bounds, yet not a whole lot has changed in The Avalanches’ camp. Back in 2001, right after the release of Since I Left You, AT caught up with ex-member Darren Seltmann to talk about how the album came together (Issue 17). At the time, he was bullish about the technological advancements the group would make given the momentum of the first album. The entire debut album had been composed on Akai S2000 samplers and a beige Mac G3 using a copy of Opcode Systems’ Studio Vision. Despite it being an obsolete software package even back then (Gibson had bought Opcode in 1998 and ceased development of Studio Vision a year later), Chatter was still using the prehistoric DAW to compose early parts of Wildflower. It meant they had to call up tech Chris Scallan to help lug in some 20kg CRTs just to get the songs off the old warhorse. Most of the album was sampled and arranged into Akai S5000s, which was an upgrade made early on after Since’s success. In the decade and a half since, the guys did collect ‘better’ gear and amassed considerable home studio setups. Yet as time ebbed on, four or five years after the first album, the gear acquisition trend started retreating in the opposite direction. “To be brutally honest,” said Chatter, “we ended up running out of money and selling all our stuff!” “As years went by, it was like, ‘Do we really need that beautiful D to A converter or do I want to pay the rent?’” concurred De Silva. “By the time we had the record compiled, we both just had a laptop each,” continued Chatter. “I was still mixing on a pair of $30 Logitech speakers I got from Dick Smith! It’s the ideas and the feeling that really matters and not much else.” Over the years, they also tried Logic and Ableton Live, but ended up relying on Pro Tools as they’re DAW of choice because it was “so solid for audio.” The samplers remained a key part of the workflow because in the early days, Pro Tools didn’t sound as good and wasn’t as easy to use. “We’ll definitely distort and overdrive samples, especially drum hits,” said Chatter. “You can resample inside the sampler so they’re maxed out as they’re coming out of the S5000’s outputs. Like an MPC, they have a nice sound if you’re overdriving out of them.” SAMPLE SIZE SHRINKING
While The Avalanches haven’t really needed to make a major technological leap to keep producing music, the availability of samples has changed dramatically. These days, the pair are probably more likely to get a sample off Youtube than dig it
It’s about building up the atmosphere of the record, tiny piece by tiny piece. Tony would go on week long benders sampling street sounds from movies just to get the right hiss
“You got all these second hand shops charging $30 for vinyl,” said De Silva. “We’re like, ‘Hey I wanted that for 50c dude!’” Once the samples are safely ingested, the process of ordering them into a searchable database is an arduous task that Chatter and De Silva have largely moved away from. They used to amass large personal sample libraries in their S5000s, but “it just got to the point where you get sick of saying, ‘okay, I’m going to go through every sample and try find that one,’” said De Silva. Similarly, Chatter had massive libraries of samples, but he got over it too and now just keeps a playlist of songs and movie atmospheres he’s thinking about sampling in his iTunes library. “You keep samples and sound in the back of your mind that might fit,” he explained. “The best stuff we do is in the moment. If Tony decides he loves the texture of a sample and flips or reverses it, all of sudden you’ve got the seed of a song like Colours.” “Then it’s handed over to Robbie,” continued De Silva, “he’ll go into crazy dot painting mode and it’ll just become this immensely layered, beautiful piece of music.” “It’s intuitive, not random,” explained Chatter. “I get to know the structure of a track, not in a real technical sense, but I instinctually hear the chord changes. One section feels more minor and another feels more major. After doing it for a long time, you know where samples are more likely to work as you’re dragging them in.” Finding the right sample takes time, and even if it fits on a melodic level, there can still be reasons it may have to be replaced or worked over. “We tend to naturally tune samples as we go,” said Chatter. “Occasionally we’ll have a great song, but as you’re mixing and listening to it more and more, there’ll be a section that grates. We’ll sit down and listen to what’s wrong with the section, and realise there’ll be three or four samples that are clashing or out AT 21
(left) Tony Espie reclines on Sing Sing’s outboard rack for one of the last times. (above) Some of the outboard gear in Sing Sing’s SSL room that Espie used to bring Wildflower’s thousands of elements together.
of tune. Sometimes the instruments in old ’60s recordings are out of tune with each other, and that’s why it’s annoying.” “It’ll become a question of whether we can get the bass in tune or the other instrumentation in tune,” said De Silva. “We’ll tweak it little bit by little bit, until we find the way where it feels most right. There’s a couple of things on the record where it’s not quite right, but it works.” Other times, De Silva would just play or sing a part in. “It’s almost like playing what you wish you could find a sample to do, but can’t,” said Chatter. “Tony played a lot of melody lines on this record, with Native Instruments’ Kontakt sounds, like Mellotrons and strings. He’s got a really good voice, so he would occasionally sing guide melody lines for the collaborators, and he’d also do Beach Boys-style layered backing vocals in songs like Kaleidoscopic Lovers.” De Silva: “I would just sing lines then Robbie would cut them up, reverse them and spray them around. They’re all not in their original places, he just puts them there and it ends up sounding amazing. We also might find a cool piano sample, spread that across the keys and use it to play melodies. It’s a sampled sound, but something you’re playing yourself.” “We record stuff any old way,” said Chatter. “I recorded some of the percussion and drum sounds on Kaliedoscopic Lovers years ago and just AT 22
kept them as a library. Blending samples with live instrumentation is more about the selection of sounds and the way you place them in the stereo field, and also the performance.” DIRTY ATMOSPHERE
The soundscapes are just as key to The Avalanches’ aesthetic as the core parts of the songs. It may seem like a hodge podge approach of slapping generic film walla on a timeline would work, but Chatter said that’s almost never the case. Rather, they have to have a clear picture in their mind of the world they’re trying to create for them to be able to finish a song and build the right atmosphere around it. “That’s what the last couple of years was; bringing the atmosphere of this record to life,” said Chatter. “All the voices, or people yelling, or a car door and a dog barking. It all gives this feeling, the sounds signify a feeling and give emotional cues of a day in the life of a city. It’s about building up the atmosphere of the record, tiny piece by tiny piece. Tony would go on week long benders sampling street sounds from movies just to get the right hiss.” For Wildflower, they envisioned “a run down city that reflects the hard life,” explained Chatter. “But there’s still beauty in there, and it comes from a kid’s perspective. Even the Chandra record we sampled for Subways, there’s a freedom at that age. Those records aren’t perfect, but they have an unbridled,
‘do it anyway’, ‘give it a go’ kind of attitude.” As they were pulling the songs together, they would imagine the makeup of the walla and find elements to suit. it would typically start with De Silva’s street ambience. “We’d loop a bit of hiss from a quiet point in a movie as a background, then layer in footsteps, car doors shutting, someone coughing, someone whistling in the background. We’d imagine someone busking on the corner, or kids skipping rope in the park, subway stations, things like that, and use reverb and delay on the voices to create a space. We definitely wanted to have a three dimensional soundscape, so putting someone coughing up close then placing some chatter to the right that feels like it’s further away.” COLLABORATE & LISTEN
One major difference between Since I Left You and Wildflower is the addition of some real life collaborations, which came about in a variety of different ways. “Some would just be fans, others our A&R guy Glen would contact,” explained Chatter. “It was a process of Tony and I carefully listening to people’s voices we loved and sampling their existing material to see if they’d tonally fit with the track. Mercury Rev was a big influence on Since I left You, that crazy, psychedelic noisy top end and crazy flutes. He [Jonathan Donahue, singer] had been a part of our DNA, so it was a logical collaboration [on Colours, Harmony and Kaleidoscopic Lovers].
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A lot of his sound is gain, knowing where to put the gain into the channel as opposed to the EQ or compression. One unit’s output might give you a certain type of gain that tonally leans a particular way (top left) Robbie Chatter takes his turn on the SSL, switching between the main monitors, NS10s and his boombox. (above) The mix for Frankie Sinatra spread out on the SSL.
Another collaboration, If I Was a Folkstar, “was another song on Robbie’s essential mixtape of 2001,” explained De Silva. “I did a few little tweaks to it here and there,” said Chatter, “but it wasn’t until I sent it to Chaz [singer from Toro y Moi] and we got the vocal back that it became a song.” There were others like the raps from Camp Lo on Because I’m Me, Danny Brown and DOOM on Frankie Sinatra, and Biz Markie on The Noisy Eater. All of them came in from different studios, recorded in varying quality, in a similar way to the samples used. Mix engineer, Tony Espie, had to figure out how to sit the rappers in the music as if they’d always been there. Counterintuitively, the most well recorded vocals weren’t necessarily the easiest to work with. “The Camp Lo one was recorded quite hi-fi, so we had to fur it up a bit by closing it down on the console,” he said. “We used the LA2A as well. Finding the right balance takes a while because you want to be able to hear them but not have them stick out like a rap or modern vocal.” CLOSING DOWN ON THE MIX
Closing it down on the console, meant taking the tracks into Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne and pushing them through the SSL 4000G+ console’s summing architecture to get specific levels of saturation. Since I Left You was partly mixed in the same room, but while that album took six weeks to AT 24
mix, it was four years from the time Wildflower was first called up on the SSL to when it was released. “Since I Left You was arranged before we started mixing,” said De Silva. “Every track sounded exactly like it did on the record before we went in. We just mixed them and polished them. On this record we jumped into the studio with an unfinished record. We just knew if we didn’t book in studio time we wouldn’t finish.” From the outset, the three of them had a discussion about how they wanted the mix to sound. It had been 16 years since the first album, and they had to reach a whole new audience while satisfying their existing fan base. Chatter: “Before we started mixing, we talked about what makes a record work in 2016, but was still warm and inviting.” Espie: “We decided we wanted a record that sounded aesthetically the same as Since I Left you — timeless, classic and vintage — but had a modern slant so the kids who hadn’t grown up with the band wouldn’t think it sounded like some old ’70s record. “99% of listeners hear the feeling, not the technical aspect of the music. On the other hand, we live in the modern world where the demands are high in respect to loudness and clarity. It’s about balancing modern clarity and level with a nice tone your ear wants to switch on to.”
Espie grew up in the studio system, his first gig was an assistant at Studios 301 when it was still on Castlereigh St. It was 1983, only a few years after shirts and ties were no longer mandatory, but you still had to pass the tea into the room without crossing the threshold. He’s been recording and mixing projects at Sing Sing for well over a decade, and is no stranger to the sound of analogue. As budgets decreased he realised he’d have to transition most of his mixing work to an in-the-box workflow, but wanted the two to be comparable. He began by taking home mixes he’d done on Sing Sing’s SSL and try to recreate the levels of saturation with plug-ins. He flipped between endless chain combinations, experimenting with how far he could push each device and where to place them. He found a particular affinity for Softube’s plug-ins, even the free Saturation knob, PSP Vintagewarmer also became a go-to. “It pulls sounds forward without sounding over hit,” said Espie. “If you set it right, you can get it to ‘lo-fi’. My ears and brain have heard analogue my whole life, so I knew what I wanted to hear. I never came up with a definitive solution. The song tells me how much saturation it needs. You can hear if it’s been recorded through beautiful preamps, as opposed to a soft synth coming straight out of a computer.” He did come down to a rough basic workflow that would typically involve setting up one
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saturation device on each channel; potentially parallel chains for blending smashed drums and bass; group masters with a touch of saturation to pull them together as a group; lastly, he’d experiment with saturation on the master if necessary. “It might just be the tiniest little bit that pulls the whole lot together,” he explained. “It’s what the summing part of the consoles used to do.” All that’s to say there’s a reason why The Avalanches mixes went through the SSL, and it wasn’t for a big console workflow, it was to gel thousands of samples together with subtle amounts of saturation across the board. THE OG MIXES
The first stage of the Wildflower mix involved Chatter and De Silva extracting the songs from their samplers into Pro Tools and doing rough balances. Once in the computer, Espie would run the major samples and key parts of the song out to Sing Sing’s outboard gear like the Shadow Hills mastering compressor, Neve 33115 preamp/EQs, or through the desk to put a little ‘fur’ on it. The goal was to think about the song as a whole and bring cohesion by “smushing it all together and make it sound like songs as opposed to lots of interesting sounds,” as Espie put it. “A lot of the individual sounds didn’t need processing. It’s about 95% samples, which means all the sounds had already been recorded, mixed, mastered, pressed onto vinyl, recorded back into a sampler, processed in the sampler and converted into Tools. Before we even started mixing, it’d gone through 10 different processes.” Once Espie had printed the individual colouration, he began what became known as the ‘OG mixes’. Even though Since I Left You was mixed over a fairly quick (by The Avalanches standards) six weeks, it was still a pain to recall the console and outboard every time the band wanted to switch to a different song. This time, after the initial treatments, Espie set the console head amps and faders to unity. Any fine tuning of balances was done in Pro Tools. Then, with all the tracks spread out over the console, Espie set up a single VCA in Pro Tools to control the overall level hitting the desk. He would used the VCA to overdrive the channels slightly as well as driving into the master bus — which had an Avalon 747 strapped across it — to help pull the elements into the same place. Espie tends to use saturation more than EQ for bringing out parts in a balance. “I use EQ more for subtracting than adding,” he said. “If I use the right gain structure between channels, groups and master, it’ll come into focus and hit a sweet spot. Reductive EQ helps figure out the voicing so each part find its own spot. I was talking to Joe La Porta [Wildflower’s mastering engineer] about that. He said a lot of his sound is gain, knowing where to put the gain into the channel as opposed to the EQ or compression. One unit’s output might give you a certain type of gain that tonally leans a particular way. When I’m mixing in the box the last two or three hours are spent adjusting the gains until everything comes into focus and blends better.” THE SATURATION SITUATION
Pushing the various stages of the console’s summing architecture into saturation delivered AT 26
three other results besides finding the sweet spot. First was the ‘smush’, a way of gelling thousands of samples together by adding a common harmonic element. Espie: “It’s the sort of music that can be too wild if it’s not balanced and edited properly. There were a lot of violent transients in the samples, so the console came into its own controlling those.” Secondly, it was a means of sweetening the top end. Some of the samples had nasty top end that had to be forensically cut out, but the console also helped shape the overall tone. Espie: “We’d done a lot of experimenting and found the tone we wanted to hear, with a super sweet top end, was created by shutting it down on the console as opposed to trying to EQ it out. Say it was a nice clean hi hat, a furry ride, or the top of a keyboard sample, the top end would be different on each song. We had to find a way of making them all sound similar enough to sit on the same record even though they’re completely different.” Lastly, the process was designed to add harmonic weight to the low end. Espie also set up two parallel chains, with an ELI Distressor on one and Fatso on the other. He could then send particular elements to them from Pro Tools and blend them back in. “We wanted to add a lot of weight in the bottom end,” explained Espie, “because a lot of the samples were thinnish from the filtering in the samplers.” These OG mixes happened in 2012, and were used as references for the rest of the process. “During that first phase we got the main essence of the songs and the mixes done,” said Espie. “Over the next two or three years, we’d open them up to see if we’d drifted off track or were better than the OG mixes.” Mixing The Avalanches’ material takes an unheard of amount of time simply because there’s more possible permutations than usual. “With a ‘normal’ mix of drums, bass, guitar, vocals, there’s only a certain number of ways it can sound good,” said Espie. “Whereas there’s thousands of ways these samples can sit together. In an average song, there would be 30-40 tracks of main parts, and then about a hundred tracks of birds tweeting, car doors shutting, people walking on the street.” Over the next few years, the workload shifted mostly to Chatter, who would work on refining and automating the OG mixes. “Robbie’s a genius at pointing your focus,” said Espie. “You’ll get comfortable with a groove, then all of a sudden it’s gone and there’s something in its place. The session looks like its full of slugs crawling across the screen, because everything was automated. Virtually every sound, once it entered the mix, wouldn’t stay the same. Within a bar or two it would be either panned, level changed, filtered, EQ’d, swept, had an effect added, something like that. When it’s running, your brain doesn’t ever switch it off. Even kicks would be different levels on every beat, panned and filtered the tiniest little bits. When that happens across every single sound, it sounds alive rather than static.” A year later, like a patient requiring a new prescription, Chatter came back to Espie (or ‘Tone Loc, The Funky Cold Patina’ as they called him) for another round of treatment through the console. Espie: “We’d do passes, driving it harder and harder, then take it home and listen. We’d line them
Virtually every sound, once it entered the mix, wouldn’t stay the same — either panned, level changed, filtered, EQ’d, swept, had an effect added. When that happens across every single sound, it sounds alive rather than static
up in Tools and switch between them. Some songs just went through once, others needed three or fours times through the console. It could be pushing into the headroom of the console and the master bus only half a dB, up to four dB in a single pass. We put tape over the meters and just used our ears.” MIXING BOARD TO SOUNDING BOARD
Over the next couple of years, Espie was the band’s sounding board. He estimates he spent hundreds of hours of listening to Chatter’s mix variations at home. “They wanted someone they could trust who’d go on the journey with them,” he said. “They could go on a million different tangents and I’d be there at the end to keep an eye on it and keep referring to the OG mixes. My role was keeping
Tony De Silva working on Wildflower with a couple of stalwart pieces of gear — a laptop and an Akai S5000 sampler.
that original vision in mind, but with the wildness. They’d continually get whittled down to where the main elements were clear, and there’d be just enough atmosphere without being too much. Sometimes Robbie would send us tracks without any atmos, just alternative blends of the crux of the track. We’d have differences of opinion, but we’d always tend to end up in the same space.” “He’d pull us up if we were going down the wrong track,” said De Silva. “We can get lost in the composition and arrangement of a track. He’d walk into a room and say something like, ‘I love it, but it’s way too bright.’” “Because there are no rules, it’s more important to find someone who understands the aesthetic, whose company you enjoy and can spend a lot of time with to go on the journey together,” said Chatter. “His ears are really in tune with what we want. He’s amazingly important in that way.” Throughout the mix, they were also sequencing the album. There was twice as much material as what ended up on the album, and a lot of that vetting process came down to what songs fitted
together. Each mix session, the boys would listen from the beginning and work their way through, making sure the songs complemented each other. Then, once the tracks were 95% completed, another process began of joining the main tracks with shorter bridging compositions. Espie and Chatter deliberately left the end of each song open in case something needed to be pushed or pulled to tie in with the new part. It’s like joining planks of wood together to make a table. First you have to line the pieces of wood up to judge which grain lines look good next to each other, discarding any with distracting imperfections. Only then can you join them together, and run a plane and sander over the whole tabletop to get a nice smooth finish. Once they’d finished the album, Espie did a fake mastering job to send to the label. The Avalanches had originally been signed to Modular, but moved to XL after it fell over. The label literally hadn’t heard a thing, so the response was critical. “I sent it all off and it got the big tick,” said Espie. After that, Espie recommended a few mastering engineers to Chatter, who eventually went with Joe La Porta.
“They clicked over the phone,” said Espie. “Not everyone gets this music, but Joe grew up with hip hop and the NYC scene; he gets J Dilla and De La Soul, people that have made records from samples before. Robbie sat with him because he needed to be guided through it. Every little bit had to be separately mastered then edited together.” Espie reckons this is the last time he’ll have this much time and budget to work on a record, counting himself pretty lucky to have been involved. Indeed, it’s probably the last mix he’ll complete in the analogue realm at Sing Sing, with the iconic Melbourne studio due to close in May next year. It’s the end of an era, but not of The Avalanches. Espie is hopeful a new record won’t take as long as the last, especially, “now they’ve got the taste for it. People like the record, which is validating. They’ve realised they can actually do it and don’t have to constantly live up to something in the past.” For now, it seems the fact they’ve finished it will still take some time to sink in. No rush.
From modding microtonal guitars, to scrunching up a VHS master tape, and recording at Daptone in Brooklyn, psych rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard will do anything and go anywhere to get creative. Story: Mark Davie
I’ve been tracking King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard since early 2012. The closest I’ve come to cornering the seven-headed beast was a routine studio tour of Paul Maybury’s Secret Location Sound Recorders, where the Gizz had been holed up the week before. It’s the perfect Gizzard nest, with enough room to sprawl out across the defunct textile factory floor. I mustn’t be a very good tracker, because King Gizzard’s breadcrumb trail is a non-stop buffet. In the four years since my almost encounter, the band has released a whopping eight albums! The latest is Nonagon Infinity, which may or may not be their latest release by the time this goes to print. Rumour has it, there might be four Gizzard albums released in 2017. Prince was prolific; these guys are dropping more tasty treats than Hansel and Gretel. I finally tracked down lead singer and head Gizzard, Stu Mackenzie, for a chat while he was hiking the mountains of Utah as a bit of R ’n’ R before a non-stop 30-day tour of the US. When he arrived back home in Brunswick East, he invited me into drummer Eric Moore’s Flightless Records’ headquarters, where King Gizzard have fashioned a studio out of the remainder of the first floor tenancy. There’s not much too it, a handful of stud walls covered in carpet tiles, rugs on the ground and a makeshift wall of office dividers that distinguishes the control room from the live room. This is DIY. LEGEND OF DIY
That’s always been the broader legend surrounding Gizzard; that they’re a psych-rock collective with such a fervour for DIY you’ll just as easily find them with a Stanley knife gritted between their teeth as a guitar in their hands. In many ways, the myth holds true. Drummer Joe Walker has been recording Leah Senior at Gizz HQ, Ambrose Kenny-Smith and Cook Craig are in another Flightless band The Murlocs, second drummer Moore runs Flightless, and Stu works full-time on Gizz, producing and recording their music via any medium, including reel-to-reel analogue tape, direct to digital, even VHS. Still, despite Gizz’s army of creative go-getters and a habitable recording space, the band has always displayed a healthy habit of bringing in outside contributors. For instance, producer/ engineer Paul Maybury has been a constant collaborator, and Secret Location is like a second home to the Gizz. Likewise, Jason Galea, who dreams up all the artwork for the band has a space at Flightless HQ. Even across the ocean, the band has a relationship with tape op and engineer Wayne Gordon at the home of Daptone in Brooklyn, New York, where the band recorded most of Nonagon Infinity. It’s famously hard to get into the Daptone studios, either you’re on head engineer Gabriel Roth’s radar, or a friend of a friend. “We were in New York a couple of years ago and had some songs and time,” said Stu. “We managed to get an inside phone number off a friend of a friend so
we just called up and explained what the go was. We were all intimidated at first because it was prestigious and they’re complete analogue nuts. We didn’t have very cool gear at the time; I had some ’80s Peavey combo amp. They’re such downto-earth, awesome crew though. We’ve recorded there a few times over the years. They have a pretty similar aesthetic or view of what recorded music should be.” Daptone is what Flightless and Gizz might look like in a few more years. Both built their own studios, both record their own material and both independently release their work. While Daptone has become a modern soul mecca — with Amy Winehouse recording there and neo-soul revivalists Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings essentially resident artists — Flightless has become the East Coast home of Aussie experimental psych rock. The West Coast is well catered for by Tame Impala et al. There’s no one style or record King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard make. Sometimes gear and recording format has an influence, other times the concept behind it, and occasionally a crop of songs that don’t suit any other album end up together, which was the case with previous album, Paper Mâché Dream Balloon. It has a more acoustic bent — with heavy use of the flute — and was recorded and mixed digitally, which contributes partly to its relatively ‘hi-fi’ sound. “I don’t know if your average person would call it hi-fi,” said Stu. “But it’s the only record we’ve made that’s not tapey. There was some fork in the road where it could have gotten really warped, wobbly and saturated. But I deliberately didn’t want to rely on effects and weird sonic shit.” Mikey Young from Eddy Current Suppression Ring mixed the album, and he sent back mixes that were “pretty clean, and it just felt right.” In the same year, they released Quarters, featuring four extended jams that each come in at an OCD-appeasing 10 minutes and 10 seconds. Stu mixed that one… onto VHS. “I opened up a VHS machine, and it’s like a mini reel-to-reel,” explained Stu. “The sound on VHS is actually pretty hi-fi if you have a new tape. I ended up mixing that whole record to VHS, which was a cool experiment. You can hit the tape pretty hot and get a nice saturated sound. After that, you can rip all the tape out of the VHS then crinkle it, step on it and warp it. When you wind it all back in and play it, you get some pretty cool sounds. That’s where all the wobbliness of that record comes from. “I love experimenting with tape. It’s so fun how it’s a real, physical thing and you never know exactly what’s going to happen. There’s an element of immediacy and maybe a little danger in there.” MICROTONAL IMPROVEMENTS
As well as messing around with different technologies, King Gizzard are constantly putting themselves in unknown musical territory to see what comes of it. On the walls of the studio are a collection of guitars and basses the band has been experimenting with for the upcoming record. They’ve been re-fretted with microtonal positions
so they can’t play in a traditional Western voicing. There are a few constants though. Stu loves Electro-voice mics, he has piles of 635 omni directional mics lying around the place, and “for a pretty long time I’ve used an Electro-voice RE-20,” he said. “It’s the best microphone I own by a pretty long way. The diaphragm is pretty far in it so you don’t really have to use a pop filter. You can get a really in-your-ear, straight-up, true sound. I use one for kick drums too so it’s a good combo mic. It’s got similarities with a Shure SM7, but the SM7s are more bass-heavy, they sound more like modern radio whereas the RE-20 sounds like ’70s radio.”
I opened up a VHS machine, and it’s like a mini reel-to-reel. I ended up mixing that whole record to VHS
On the other hand, some things have been constant in their absence. “I haven’t added reverb to a Gizz record for a couple of years,” reckoned Stu. “If you can record something in a space which has a general room sound, you can saturate it enough so it sounds like it has reverb. I do have one of those big yellow Danelectro Spring King pedals, which can be pretty cool as a studio tool. That’s that sound on Hot Wax that keeps coming in, I was just punching one of those.” Nonagon Infinity was primarily tracked at Daptone because Stu felt like the record should come together as a seven-piece live project. “I just didn’t want to have the responsibility of making sure mics sounded good and having to start the tape or hit record if we did it digitally,” noted Stu. They then recorded most of the overdubs in their own studio, and re-recorded some undercooked songs — Big Fig Wasp, the jazzy part of Invisible Face and the intro and outro to People Vultures — at Secret Location. Each record seems to either start with or come around to a specific intention; Nonagon Infinity was to be their heaviest record. “It was a bit of an ambitious project, a lot of mental energy went into it,” said Stu. “We wanted to experiment with different time signatures and make a never-ending record with all the songs interconnected, not only at the start and the end but recurring themes within them. “On top of that we wanted to record it as a group which should probably make it easier, but seems to make it harder for us. We’ve been accumulating these songs over the last 18 months, and there was a lot of rehearsal.”
(clockwise from top left) Stu’s outboard rack with Sebatron VMP-2000e dual mic pre, a Yamaha E1010 analogue delay and a Radioman compressor; the Soundcraft FX16ii mixer he uses as a hub for the tape machine; plenty of harmonicas, Yamaha’s new reface mini-keyboards and Stu’s favourite mic, an EV 635a; the Tascam 38 eight-track reel-to-reel.
THE DAWN OF THE WIZARD
Stu never imagined King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard would still be here today, or ever have really formed into an entity. It started out as his own pet project, a rambling jam band in high school that spent a year playing together and making ‘silly demos’ before recording anything. His first recording setup was a computer with one of those plasticky, grey gooseneck mics. Stu remembers his friends all had them, and they “sounded absolutely awful, but it was this magical thing.” He was 15, and could record sound on sound with his copy of Cubase in Windows 2000. He was hooked. Later, he got an Mbox, a Shure SM57 and a harmonica mic, which was the gear he mainly used to record their second album Eyes Like the Sky. He’s also had various other devices; an eight-track Zoom digital recorder, a four-track cassette recorder. Even back then, when lo-fi was really the only level of quality available, he was drawn to the aesthetic. “I can’t think of a time when I’ve been drawn to anything contrary to that,” figured Stu. “Even around that time of discovering the computer mic setup, I was pretty deeply into the ’60s garage hole. There’s this temptation to make AT 30
things sound super-subby and super-toppy, but I’m more inclined to make things sound boxy. It’s more of a things bouncing off your ears in a small room vibe. It sounds counter-intuitive, but to me it’s a bigger scope to explore than the quest for the most hi-fi or 20Hz to 20kHz-filling sound. It’s more of an exploration to see what you can do inside that box rather than fill it. “I still labour over music but in a different way. I’m not tweaking a kick drum for two hours, like some people do. It is quicker in a lot of ways, but it’s also pretty easy to make lo-fi music that sounds bad. At the end of the day you’re trying to capture that feeling of your ears compressing at a loud concert. It sounds like it’s distorted because it’s loud and your brain is in this state of trying to comprehend what’s happening. Being able to capture that in a way that sounds right when you listen to it in headphones on the bus is hard to do in hi-fi.” Nowadays he has a Tascam 38 eight-track reel-to-reel connected to a Soundcraft FX16ii 16-channel analogue console, Sebatron VMP2000e dual preamp, Yamaha E1010 analogue delay, and a Radioman compressor. It all eventually ends up in Ableton Live — if he’s not
recording direct to digital — via an RME Fireface 800, with KRK Rokit 8s and a Presonus Monitor Station for monitoring. EAR COMPRESSING GOODNESS
To reach the zenith of saturation required to capture that ear-compressing feeling took multiple stages. “There’s saturation on every degree of this record,” noted Stu, which began at Daptone. The studio is religiously analogue, with everything ending up on an eight-track Ampex 440 tape machine. “Recording a 7-piece on an 8-track because means you get a track each,” said Stu. “The eight lines were made up of three guitar lines, two tucked under the Rhodes and another under the piano with a mic on each, a bass DI, and a single ribbon over the right shoulder and kick mic either inside or a little bit out for each kit. Cav used the house kit and it was kept as two tracks. We pieced Eric’s together, which took half a day to get right, and it was summed down to one track. Ambrose had the final line, which was either harmonica or keyboard. It’s somewhat limiting, but also liberating doing everything like that. “It’s pretty dead in there, and they’ve got baffles, but it’s a small room and naturally gets
At the end of the day you’re trying to capture that feeling of your ears compressing at a loud concert… that’s hard to do in hi-fi
(left) Gizzard has modded a bunch of guitars with microtonal fret changes for the new record (right) one of the hybrid drum kits Gizzard uses.
pretty clonked together, so there’s lots of bleed. Everything’s in the red and pretty compressed on the tape. It was almost a battle to gain some level of clarity on the record. Then once there was enough clarity, we’d blow it all back out again so it was just the right amount of wrongness.” MR BADGER STEPS UP
Being a King Gizzard collaborator just requires one thing; that you get it. That you’re completely fine with phasing a stereo master, or printing the mix to a roll of VHS tape then scrunching it on the floor if that’s what the aesthetic requires. Mixers have to leave any notion of ‘doing it the right way’ at the door. Ignoring any voices that suggest ‘6dB of gain reduction is my limit’ or ‘that’s too much saturation.’ Those are just roadblocks on the way to ‘the sound’ for Gizzard. Mix engineer, Michael Badger, has mixed a handful of Gizzard tracks over the years, including a few off In Your Mindfuzz. “He fully gets the vibe; there are a lot of people who wouldn’t get it at all,” said Stu. “He did an amazing job. It’s good working with him because I’d just go over to his house and we’d sit there and mess with stuff. “Are you supposed to do that? Put tape saturation plug-ins on stuff recorded to tape?” Michael Badger asked, half facetiously, when we talked about the Nonagon Infinity mix. He’s subscribed to the Tchad Blake school of thought, “I always approach things like there’s no rules, just do whatever it takes to make it sound how you want it.” Whether it’s layering tape saturation on tape saturation, rolling off drums at 5kHz, or vice versa, adding a sample to
a Daptone-recorded kit for a bit more low end thud. Michael can testify to the speed of King Gizzard’s operation. “Stu is the fastest musician I’ve worked with,” he said. “You’ve got to keep on your toes to keep up. When you’re working with Gizzard, you don’t have time to re-think anything, it all happens in a blur.” The sessions at badger’s Jaya Jaya Studio started off with Stu finishing the lead vocals in a veritable flash. “He did all nine tracks in about four hours,” recalled Michael. “Then he went away and did overdubs, and I’d mix it into the stuff he’d recorded in America.” While he was toying with the idea of sending tracks out to hardware, Michael ended up keeping the entire project in the box because of the tight deadline. This time — unlike In Your Mind Fuzz, which Michael mixed a few songs on — Stu didn’t apply overarching effects like chorus and flanger across the master. It was a decision Michael thought a good one, allowing Nonagon Inifinity to come across more brutal. However, even though Stu had brought in Megadeth as a reference, asking ‘How metal can we go?’ It still took him a while to get used to how brutal Michael’s first mix of opener Robot Stop actually was. Michael: “When I sent it to Stu, he said, ‘I need to listen to that again.’ A BED OF EIGHT TO LIE IN
Michael quickly gelled with the idea of mixing a bed of only eight tracks. Having less tracks to play with is a big positive when mixing a Gizzard song. “There’s so much going on in the tracks you just need to find space for all the chaos,” said Michael. “Luckily, apart from track two, the album was
sounding pretty similar. Once you got it up and running, good songs mix themselves.” Track two, Big Fig Wasp, was recorded at Secret Location, and was relatively more hi-fi than the Daptone material. “There was a lot more top end,” explained Michael. “The way they recorded at Daptone was pretty old school and sounded like something recorded in 1970. There was little bit of EQ matching, especially on overheads, and on that one song I could absolutely smash the snare if I wanted to as opposed to not having a mic on the snare from the eight track sessions.” Overall, he really enjoyed mixing the songs recorded at Daptone. “A lot of the time I was knuckling out sounds I didn’t like, then go back and make subtle changes,” he said. “I’ve probably never tried getting such a big drum sound out of two mics before. I duplicated the kick on one of the kits and added a really low end sample. At the time, I was really obsessed with Tchad Blake. I watched about every interview there is of him on the net. And he encourages people to stop worrying about being so authentic and old school. If you think you need a little bottom end in the kick, then mix in a sample. It puts a little thud in there to make the kick really pump through. “It’s always hard working out what you’re going to do with two drummers. Do you pan them hard left and right? We made the decision early on they needed to be a little separated. Even though they do the exact same thing, one seems to lead and the other drummer follows. On most of the songs, we got rid of one of the kicks and put the lead drummer’s kick right up the middle. I had the lead AT 31
(clockwise from top left) A Devi Ever Torn’s Peaker sans knobs; the Fender amp sits right behind the front ‘wall’ of the control room; Gizzard pedal boards get used hard.
drummer, Cav, a little cleaner. I used Decapitator’s punish button on Eric’s (second drummer) overhead and pushed it out to the right. I was using it more for brutal effect. “PSP Vintage Warmer 2 is one of my favourite plug-ins, it gave the drums good punch and glued it together. I don’t usually, but on this record I used the Waves C4 multi-band compressor on the master bus because I didn’t want to compress the top end. There was already a lot rolled off between 8-10kHz, particularly on the drums, some from 5-6kHz. I wanted it to be more of a thuddysounding drum kit, without any splashiness in the top end.” The bass was DI’d, which produced a warm, fuzzy clean sound that Michael instantly got to work on. “I ran it through a Softube bass amp and Decapitator,” he recalled. “I ran it out to a parallel bus with a chorus effect on the bass between 500Hz and 1kHz to get some really cool stereo width. On some of it I used a stereo flanger. With the two drummers being quite big and full, I needed the bass to be wider, rather than straight up the middle. I always had to keep in mind that Gizzard release on vinyl, so you have to be a bit careful when you put low end on the side. Michael had only just picked up the Soundtoys bundle of effects plug-ins before mixing the album. As well as loads of Decapitator, the first time Michael opened the Little Alterboy plug-in was for a vocal effect at the start of Robot Stop. Besides the Soundtoys plugs, he used Waves Kramer Tape, UAD’s Pultec Pro EQ on a few things and the AT 32
Shadow Hills Industries mastering plug-in, which has become his, “go to on the master bus, run really gently. From my experience using the hardware at Sing Sing, Universal Audio has done a great job of emulating that sound.” The guitars were treated to a diet of PSP’s Microwarmer and Decapitator to make them even more crunchy and distorted. “It’s great with Stu, he just plays me a couple of old school metal tracks and says, I’d like it to sound more like this.’ Then he lets me go with it. There are six guitar overdubs that come in and out of the track, and I needed to make sure they slot in nicely. They have a metal pedal on some of the tracks, so if you’re cooking too much it can take up all the space in your ears.”
The way they recorded at Daptone was pretty old school and sounded like something recorded in 1970
CONNECTING THE INFINITE LOOP
The final hurdle was to collect all the tracks together into a recurring loop, which Stu and Michael tag teamed on. Michael: “He would send me roll back of 30 seconds before the song would begin, and then an extra 30 seconds or minute at the end of the song. When I sent him the mixes, he’d then paste them together where he wanted one track to fade into another. It was the reason I wanted to mix from track one to nine. I needed to get the flow of it. “A few of the songs were done at Secret Location, so the interlude bits had a slightly different sound, which I liked, because it gives your ears a break. The first mellow song on the record is Mr Beat, and that’s track five. I was worried with the first four tracks being so chaotic that track five would be a bit late for an ear break. But the slightly different
sounding interludes and changes in sonics from song to song felt like a little break for your ears.” While Michael was flat out, things weren’t moving quickly enough for Stu. “I got a bit pedantic with this record because it was such a long time in the making and it started driving me insane,” he said, which still didn’t stop him from fiddling with the final mixes once and for all. “He’d send me a mix back, then I’d realise I wanted to add something, so I’d put his mixes back into my session and add things in. It caused the record to be really out of phase in some spots which the mastering guy thought was pretty funny! It also added to the blown-outness as well; there’s a fair few layers being saturated.”
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We clear the air on how to hear ambience and get the most out of what’s already in your studio space. Tutorial: Michael Carpenter
As audio engineers, we interpret the concepts of ‘space’ and ‘ambience’ in different ways to most people. We may use similar definitions — cold and harsh, or warm and intimate — but we’re not describing proximity to a heater, we’re talking about sound. Ambience is manifest in our productions through the use of delay, reverb, room mics, spill, even psychoacoustics. They all contribute to a creative representation of space; whether it be trueto-life, or a fictional, stylised re-moulding of an environment as an effect. They’re also some of the most powerful and profoundly influential tools in our creative arsenal. In this tutorial, I’ll cover the importance of understanding and using the space in our recording environments to create depth and dimension in our recordings. I’ll also look at the importance of spill, bleed and leakage; briefly discuss some of the electronic manifestations of ‘real spaces’; and touch on mic techniques suited to capturing particular senses of space and ambience. AT 34
LISTENING SPACE For anyone familiar with my previous tutorials on drum and guitar recording, you’ll know I’m a big believer in conceptualising and researching your recording projects ahead of time, then planning the recording stage accordingly. The good news is, all you have to do for homework is spend some time listening to music! You’ll soon start to hear how ambience is manifested in different ways. Here are a few examples to acclimatise your ears to analysing space if they aren’t already. When the Levee Breaks — Led Zeppelin A classic case of a great drummer with incredible groove playing to the mics and using the space effectively. This is all about a big space, lots of distance (mics positioned up the banister of a circular staircase), and compression. It’s also a great example of a big sound that isn’t loud in the mix — a very important factor. (For bonus points, you could listen to the drums in D’yer Mak’er by the same band.) Heroes — David Bowie This is a classic example of multiple distant mics, gated at different thresholds to open up incrementally as Bowie’s lead vocal grows in intensity. The technique plays with the listener’s perception of the narrative’s intensity and the artist’s proximity. For bonus points you can listen to Stage Fright by The Band, which employs a similar technique that gives the impression of certain lines being doubled.
Twist & Shout — The Beatles My Baby Left Me — Elvis Presley I could have listed thousands of similar songs where the sound of the whole ensemble excites the room enough to add substantially to the production’s energy. In both cases, I imagine the sound of the minimal close mics would have been relatively tame (this can be heard in The Beatles example by isolating the left channel of the stereo mix), but the spill and bleed pouring into the vocal mics gives the track all the vibe you can ask for. It also helps to have a great sounding ensemble. While I could add that a great room makes a difference, I believe most rooms have a character that can’t be ignored. Rather, they should be embraced. That’s How I Got To Memphis — Solomon Burke Almost the opposite mode to above and one of my favourite examples of a ‘real’ recording. It has the qualities of a very small room; probably a lounge room. I’m guessing three mics were used, none of them particularly close to the instruments. You can hear Solomon’s voice bleeding into everything, and it captures the intimacy and dynamic nature of the performance perfectly. [see The Role of Spill/bleed sidebar].
Scar Tissue – The Red Hot Chilli Peppers I could have noted ‘any Rick Rubin production after 1990’, as the opposite of what this tutorial covers. There’s almost no ambience or width to this recording. Everything is close and upfront, almost claustrophobically so. Even the drum overhead mics are relatively low and focused. The effect is a great sense of punch and presence. Deciding when not to use space is an equally important consideration in my world. Keeping key elements like lead vocals or drums bone dry can make a big statement when dictating your production aesthetic. NOTE: This list is a warmup lap; we’ve barely even rolled up to the starting point. So keep listening to get a sense of the ambiences and spatial sounds you like, then research what they are and how they were achieved.
All This Time — Sting I’m not sure there’s a lot of natural ambience going on here. However, it uses delays, multiple reverbs and psychoacoustic techniques to give a wonder-
ASSESSING THE DESIRED RECORDING SPACE
There’s great power in not only capturing the sound of people playing together, but the sound of the room getting itself worked up while the ensemble plays
ful sense of depth and width. The reverbs and delays are classy, rich and relatively neutral, which maintain the class of this production.
How can you tell if your space will record well? It’s actually a lot easier than you might think. We’ve all been in countless acoustic spaces throughout our lives, and though you may think you haven’t paid attention to what they sounded like, if I say ‘concrete parking station’, ‘bathroom’, ‘school hall’, or ‘wardrobe’ you would have a pretty good idea of the ambience in those spaces. With focused listening, you’ll easily get a sense of the spaces you’re hearing on albums too. Initially, listen out for a few very specific details. Firstly, get a sense of the size of the space. The giveaways are the reverb time and the density of the sound. A long, boxy space may indicate a longer, narrow room
with a lower ceiling, while a big, open neutral space may allude to a wider space with higher ceilings. The second element we want to focus on is the tone of the space. Is it bright and splashy, or muted and unobtrusive? The former suggests harder surfaces like tiled or wooden floors and harder wall surfaces, while the latter implies carpet or rugs, and curtains on the walls. However, remember that there are also big muted spaces — for example, some churches — as well as small, bright spaces like bathrooms. The third thing to listen for is whether the ambience is being excited by single instruments in the way drum room mics are, or the collective spill of multiple instruments. With this investigation underway, we can start matching ambiences to our desired production
THE ROLE OF SPILL/BLEED If you’re in any way a fan of the history of rock or pop music, or even music styles and genres that use minimal microphones like folk or classical, it’s critical to understand the role that spill or bleed plays in creating the overall sound you’re hearing. Quick ‘just in case’ primer: Spill, or bleed, is when the sound from one source ‘spills’ into the microphone of another source. You’re essentially creating a composite sound; combining the
primary source coming from the direction the mic is pointed, the bleed from adjoining sounds, and the sound of the room leaking in. This last bit is important, because the ambience you’re creating via this bleed is coloured with the tonal traits of all the instruments interacting with the space then returning back into the mics. One of the most appealing things about spill is that it actually gives us a more realistic represen-
tation of how we hear ensembles. At times, as recordists we tend to focus on the idea of ‘isolated sounds’ so we have more control in our productions. However, there’s great power in not only capturing the sound of people playing together, but the sound of the room getting itself worked up while the ensemble plays. Even subtly adding it into your mix can add a sense of dimension.
aesthetic. There are two ways to go from here, and we’ll look at both. We’ll start by looking at potential recording environments, whether they’re particular studios or other unconventional spaces. Of course, we may not always have access to the exact spaces we’re hearing in our head, so it’s also important to understand the different post production reverb and delay effects available [see Reverb & Delay Options sidebar]. When assessing potential recording spaces, it’s not hard to get a sense of what they sound like. A VERY GOOD FRIEND OF MINE ONCE TOLD ME THAT THE BEST WAY TO KNOW HOW A SPACE WILL BEHAVE IS BY TALKING IN IT. We’re used to how our voice sounds in every
environment we’ve been in. Our brain has built snapshots of those so we can quickly recognise the ambient quality of spaces against previous reference points. And, yes, a hand clap or two helps as well. You can then formulate a plan using your ambient research: imagine how a drum kit would sound; conceptualise where you’d put the band members; envision how to use qualities like distance and spill to achieve the ambient energy you’re after. Take in anomalies, like the hard surfaces of windows and funky-shaped corners, as potential ambient ‘points of interest’. Look around for deader points in the room you may be able to partition off to have a variety of recording spaces. The possibilities are endless, but they need to be focused, which is difficult if you haven’t done your homework. RECORDING THE AMBIENCE
Now the fun starts! Capturing ambience can be as easy as recording whatever mic you have plugged in onto a vacant track, all the way through to advanced stereo miking techniques. The one thing you need is distance: sometimes a little distance, and sometimes a lot! There’s a few things to keep in mind when thinking about distance, and how microphones ‘hear’ space. The first is whether we need the ambience to be captured in stereo or mono. A COMMON PROBLEM IN MANY TRACKS I GET SENT TO MIX IS THERE’S TOO MANY STEREO AMBIENCE TRACKS. FOR CERTAIN PROJECTS, THAT CAN SOUND AMAZING, BUT IT OFTEN GIVES THE EFFECT OF ‘CLOSING UP’ OR CONFUSING THE STEREO IMAGE. Many times I’ll either just use one
channel of the stereo pair, or sum them to a mono bus (checking for phase) and pan them in a similar place to the source. The simplest example I can give is with drums. We often want our drums to feel immersive and emulate how it feels to stand in front of a drum kit in a room with sound engulfing you from all angles. A stereo miking configuration is the way to go for that result. I’ll usually use an XY or ORTF configuration to more closely emulate the single perception point of the stereo image, though a widely spaced pair can be effective for giving the drums a larger-than-life sense of width [see Stereo & Distance Techniques sidebar]. On the other hand, we may want our drum room ambience to add substance and power straight up the middle of the mix. A single large diaphragm condenser in omni mixed in with the close mics — or automated in and out of sections of the mix — can effectively augment the power of the drum sound. AT 36
While you may think a reverb plug-in would do the same thing, there really is nothing like a bit of real ambience
REVERB & DELAY OPTIONS There are so many great, and relatively cheap reverb and delay plug-ins out there. However, it’s important to understand a few basic differences. Spring & plate reverbs — Mechanicallyproduced reverbs where a signal is sent to a box of various sizes to excite either a set of springs, or a large metal plate, causing them to vibrate. The sound of this vibration creates the ambient effect which can usually be adjusted in length and volume and sent back to the mix. Chamber reverbs — This denotes sending a sound to a speaker(s) in another space, then recording the space with microphone(s) and returning that ambience into your mix. Traditionally, studios had rooms buried in the basement that were all patched in and ready to go at all times. It’s not unusual to ‘re-amp’ tracks by sending a dry recorded signal back into the recording space to add a more realistic ambience to tracks. The drum sound on Nirvana’s In Utero is a great example of this.
Digital reverbs — Using synthesis to create reverbs has been around for a long time. This took off through the ’80s and many claim that Lexicon pretty much perfected it in the late ’80s, to the point where Lexicon reverbs are some of the most ‘copied’ reverb applications in the plug-in world. [Read Michael Carnes’ Last Word columns in issues 115 and 116 for an alternative view from the ex-Lexicon gatekeeper – Ed.] Convolution reverbs — The ‘sonic fingerprint’ of a space is captured either by using a broadband single impulse and recording it, or a sweeping tone, and then having that sound ‘decoded’ by your convolution reverb. What you lack in flexibility at times, is made up for by a (literal) world of possibilities, with easy access to both making your own impulses or finding them online.
tape machine was used and constantly recording over the same tape introduced various degraded artefacts (like tape wear, tape saturation and tape modulations) to the delayed signal. Add in the necessity for the signal to go through multiple electronics and gain stages in the round trip, and the chance of the delayed signal sounding like the original was unlikely — in a good way! Bucket brigade-based analogue delays also exhibit similarly attractive qualities of degradation. Digital delays — On the other hand, digital delays promise a perfect returned signal. While this can be true, people have become a little thrown by the sound of perfect delay. For some people, they consider this the only way to use delays, while for others, the sound of a coloured returned signal is more suited.
Tape & analogue delays — The traditional mechanical form of delay was made by running a signal to a tape machine and monitoring the output from the playback head. Often a lower quality
TRY THIS: If you thought ‘re-amping’ a space is too difficult or arduous, think again. It can be really easy. It may be as simple as turning your studio monitors up in your ‘control room’, and recording it back through a mic or two onto fresh tracks (make sure the mic outputs are muted to avoid creating a feedback loop.) Another option is to run a long cable from your output (even a headphone output can work in a pinch) to a powered wedge in another room. Our common area at Love Hz Studios is a big old warehouse with a corrugated tin roof. It has a really lovely reverb time around 0.6-0.8s. We have a couple of large diaphragm condensers upstairs and occasionally we’ll solo some virtual instruments, just the snare and toms, or lead vocal, send them out to a powered monitor in this space and record the roof mics onto some fresh tracks in our session. It’s a sound that no reverb plug-in can truly capture, and usually only takes about five minutes to rig up!
I often record guitar amps in the same room the vocalist ends up singing in. More often than not, while the guitarist is tracking I’ll notice the vocal mic compressor’s VU meter dancing around and wonder what’s coming through the unused vocal mic. Opening up that channel I’ll hear an interesting combination of over-compressed ambience and tonal phase anomalies. This can work really well mixed in with the original signal, or, if it sounds too weird, I’ll go and move the position of the vocal mic — maybe point it up in the corner, face the glass, or change the pattern to omni — remembering to be vigilant with its phase relationship to the close mics. It can often give the guitar sound a subtle sense of size when a little is mixed in with the track, or more power when
automated-in in sections. (Have a listen to mid- to late-period Queen records for that slightly ‘honky’ ambient sound on Brian May’s guitars.) Another fun option is to put up a stereo mic combination to enhance or augment a lead vocal. I regularly use a ‘fixed point’ stereo mic, like the Rode NT4, Studio Projects LSD2 or AEA stereo ribbon a few metres in front of a lead vocalist, recorded on separate tracks. When mixing, it can be a really effective way to introduce a tonal point of interest (as in Heroes by Bowie) or give a more immersive vocal tone (as in the Solomon Burke example). A little bit of conceptualising and planning ahead can pay big dividends come mix time. Also, don’t be scared to use whatever room you have as a reverb chamber. Soft synths and virtual
instruments can often come to life when you send them back out of your studio speakers and ‘re-record’ their ambience on a fresh set of tracks. Don’t mic them too close though — maybe even point the mics in the other direction so you’re not getting much of the direct sound and capturing as much ambience as possible. While you may think a reverb plug-in would do the same thing, there really is nothing like a bit of real ambience. Plus, there’s something cool about hearing your own space mixed into a track for eternity. Lastly, one of the most memorable learning experiences I had in regards to recording studio ambience was on my friend Kate Martin’s debut record about six or seven years ago (we even did an article on it in AudioTechnology). While Kate AT 37
STEREO & DISTANCE TECHNIQUES Firstly, a little reminder for those who haven’t placed mics in the distance recently. Higher energy/higher frequency sound loses more of its energy through the air than longer waveforms. So the first thing we perceive happening at distance is a loss of HF — that’s why when you hear a concert from a distance you mostly hear the bottom end. This effect can make the midrange frequencies seem accentuated, which can be useful, or not. Be careful with cymbals in room mics though — they can sound more ‘clangy’ in the mid range than higher fidelity. MONO OPTIONS
0° -5dB -10dB -15dB -20dB -25dB
Spaced Pair (or AB) — This involves two omnidirectional mics spaced about 60cm apart, pointing in parallel to the source. Though the distance between the mics usually varies with the ‘size’ of the sound source. Beware of spacing wider than this, as your stereo pair will exhibit a ‘hole’ in the middle. This may be exactly what you’re after, as the close mics may provide the focus, while the ambient mics provide the width. Alternatively, place a third omni mic in the middle, mixed down below the left and right one to give the centre of your image more focus.
Blumlein Pair — This consists of two figureeight mics crossed over in an XY fashion. This allows the two capsules to essentially be in the same point of space and allows precise stereo imaging. It’s great for capturing smaller ensemble and the space with just a pair of mics. To Musical Ensemble Cardioid M
Omnidirectional — An omni pickup pattern isn’t only useful when you want to record four people clapping around one mic; there’s way more to it than that. The omnidirectional pickup pattern doesn’t exhibit proximity effect. It also has a much longer sonic ‘reach’ than a cardioid pattern as the integrity of the bottom end and the general detail of the mic stays intact over a longer distance. These are especially useful qualities for distance miking.
ORTF or XY — These are two different techniques using directional mics that I believe give a more realistic stereo image, though are not as ‘wide’ as a spaced pair. An ORTF configuration involves placing two mics at an angle of 110 degrees with a gap of 17cm between capsules. XY configures the two mics at between 90 and 135 degrees to each other, with the centre of one capsule directly above the other (coincident) to eliminate phase issues.
MS (Mid/Side) — This involves using a cardioid mic pointed towards the source for the Mid channel and a figure eight mic above or below it and rotated 90 degrees to capture the Side information. Once recorded, you can duplicate the side microphone and flip its phase to create a stereo side channel. By changing the blend of the two side channels against the mid channel, you can vary the perceived width of the stereo image. Mixing in just the Mid channel renders a mono signal, while just using the Sides results in wide stereo, allowing for an entire gamut of post production flexibility between the two. There’s more — The list of stereo mic techniques goes on: Near coincident XY, Jecklin Discs, NOS, dummy head mics, ambisonics, even phased arrays. Read our Issue 115 cover story on classical legend, Tony Faulkner, who’s had phased array techniques named after him, to go deeper into the field of stereo capture.
Ribbon mics — Part of the reason people use ribbons as ambient mics is they can soften the midrange of ambient sounds, as well as not being easily overloaded at a distance. Ribbons also generally take top end EQ really well, so it’s not unusual to add a little bottoms, scoop out a bit of the high mids (between 2-6kHz) and add a fair amount of air (around 10kHz shelf) to really make your ambient mics sound great.
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TIP: If you’re working in a smaller space and assume this article isn’t for you, you’re wrong. The feeling of space can be achieved in many ways. Spend time listening to how sound bounces off the reflected surfaces in your room. Glass is always great for capturing a different tone. I love putting mics in corners. Occasionally I’ll push a pencil condenser right up against the base of my lava lamp just to see what it does. My favourite trick is to tune an old bongo to the key of the song, leave it on the floor a few metres away from the drums, and put a mic in it while recording the drum kit. Even if the sounds don’t give a huge sense of space, you can always insert a reverb plug-in on the channel and set it to 100% wet. What this is essentially doing is using the tonal qualities of your unusual miking and extending them artificially to create a sense of space that might be a perfect means of giving depth to an overdub. TRY THIS: Don’t be scared to point the microphone away from the sound source, especially when combining the ambient mic with a close mic configuration. I particularly love this approach with harder sounds or hand percussion like tambourines. By pointing the mic away, you remove some of the harder transient tone and capture a diffused sound that is part original tone but mostly reflection. This is a really simple way to create depth. For bonus points, you could pan the close mic hard left and the ambient mic hard right. You’ll be amazed at how immersive this effect can be!
would be conceptualising an overdub on piano, guitar or percussion, I would walk around the room listening to how the sound was reacting to the space. It was amazing how moving my head down to the floor, or up to the ceiling, or facing away from the instrument would dramatically change the tone and the perceived effect. Once I found a place that spoke the best, I’d put a large diaphragm condenser in that spot. Often when mixing, I’d ignore the close mic and just use that sound. It was an effective way of creating space in the mix, and giving overdubs a distinct ‘composite’ sound. The moral of the story is to expand your creative processes on the back of all your listening homework. Experiment with unorthodox miking positions in your space. With our unlimited track counts these days, it’s not a big deal to spend a little bit of time moving a mic around and recording it to another track to blend in with the original signal. Examine the tonal and ambient benefits of different microphone pickup patterns. See what a ribbon or dynamic mic will sound like instead of a condenser. Point the mic in the other direction to the sound source, and treat it as spill. All of these things will help enhance the perception of space in your productions. AT 40
NO AMBIENCE IS AMBIENCE TOO
When I first started engineering, it was at a time when dry sounds didn’t exist on record. It was pretty much mandatory that you’d have a reverb on the snare, as well as room mics. The lead vocal always had a reverb and possibly a couple of delays, then you’d have another couple of reverbs and timed delays for special effect moments. I remember that all changed with Blood Sugar Sex Magic by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Wildflowers by Tom Petty. Both albums produced by Rick Rubin, and both albums were largely devoid of artificial ambience, though you can spot an occasional mono room mic on them. This introduced the era of ‘dry’ mixing — where heavier compression and tonal choices took over from default reverbs. I loved this development and embraced it wholeheartedly. From a production point of view, even this complete lack of ambience can create its own sense of space, in a roundabout way. Things become a lot more focused in the stereo image. While you lack depth of field, you are creating a more precise sonic and spatial image. Then when you do introduce a room mic, it can have a massive impact. In essence, the sound draws you in by appearing so close, and
can create a sense of intimacy, or power that is not to be dismissed. I’ve had a lot of success with juxtaposing an ambient sounding instrumental track with a dry, compressed vocal, placed front and centre in my mix. IF YOU OCCASIONALLY INTRODUCE A LITTLE OF YOUR STEREO VOCAL MIC ON SPECIFIC WORDS, OR SECTIONS OF THE SONG, IT FOOLS THE LISTENER INTO FEELING LIKE THE SINGER DIPS IN AND OUT OF THE ‘SPACE’.
THE FINAL FRONTIER
As you can see, there are a zillion variations on spatial techniques to explore. Remember to start by really listening out for how engineers have incorporated ambience on records – both old and new — whether it be real spaces or using plug-ins and automation. The idea of creating both real and hyper-real impressions of ambience has never been more achievable than it is now. You just have to be creative enough to capture it. Michael Carpenter is a record producer/multi instrumentalist/singer-songwriter type, working out of Love Hz Studios in Sydney. He can regularly be found with his ear in a corner in his recording space.
Jimmy Barnes teams up with veteran producer Kevin Shirley in the hope of creating a world-class soul album. Not too hard when you’ve got Elvis’ band in the studio. Story: Preshan John
“Jimmy was so awesome singing. He puts 110% into every vocal, every time. He’d come out of the vocal booth drenched in sweat and it’s like, ‘You’ve sung it twice! That’s not a real job.’ But he’s without the shadow of a doubt, the most devoted, passionate professional I’ve ever met in my life. He blows me away, I think he’s such a superstar. And scarily, a nice guy too.” AT 42
With a discography chock full of names like Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Dream Theater, Aerosmith, Cold Chisel and Journey, Kevin ‘Caveman’ Shirley wasn’t expecting a soul record to be next on the job list. When Aussie rocker, Jimmy Barnes first asked Shirley if he wanted to make a soul record with him, Kevin replied, “Ummm… yeah?! But if we’re doing this, we’re gonna do it right.” Shirley went on to immerse himself in soul music over the next several months — something he reckons has changed not just his playlist, but his life. “I wanted to really understand it,” he said. “To get in the heads of the people who wrote these songs, this music.” Having worked with some of the most memorable rock bands of the ’90s, there’s still a humble and infectious passion in Shirley for music — however it comes, whatever it sounds like — and he’ll take authenticity and quality over
any particular genre. It was with this mindset that he approached Jimmy Barnes’ album Soul Searchin’. For the most part, the album was tracked live because Shirley is a big believer in the magic that happens when good songs combine with good musicians — two things that weren’t lacking with this record.
WATCH THE VIDEO We also recorded Shirley reminiscing about the tracking sessions — check it out the video here www.audiotechnology.com.au/wp/index.php/jimmy-barnes-goes-soul-searchin/
“The dog in this picture represents the old His Master’s Voice (HMV) gramophone company, and it’s in the corner of RCA Studios A in Nashville which is a legendary old studio that Chet Atkins used to own. It’s a wonderful studio and we just recorded Jimmy’s new Soul Searchin’ record there. It’s one of those studios that’s not pretentious, not precocious, not precious, none of those Ps. This studio you can have people walking around you, someone doing a vocal, someone tuning over there, and there’s this really cool, relaxed environment. I think it comes through in the music when you’re not working in a sterile environment.”
“This is Elvis Presley’s original band called the Memphis Boys. We cut four tracks with the Memphis Boys and they were amazing. They’re all in their seventies or eighties and play live. We have a little bit of instruction beforehand — you know, here’s what we’re doing, this is what we’re looking for — and that’s it. These guys are so good you had to make sure you get the take before they know the song so well they kinda get bored with it. They still have to be looking a little bit themselves.”
Kevin recalled semi-sarcastically requesting “an iconic guitar riff at the start of this bit” from Memphis Boys’ guitarist Reggie Young, who promptly answered with a guitar riff that delivered the goods.
“This is an old classic songwriter. Michael Rhodes, my favourite bass player who played bass on the album, came and said to me, “You know, Dan Penn is my neighbour.” I’m like, “I don’t know Dan Penn.” Anyway Dan came into the studio that day, he’s a big guy with overalls, truck hat and a toothpick in his mouth. We cut Dark End Of The Street, and he says, ‘Hey, I wrote that song.’ Then I said, “Ok guys, let’s cut another song, let’s do Rainbow Road.” Dan’s sitting in the corner and he says, ‘I wrote that song too.’ We were all like, what? Anyway we have a bite to eat, then there was a song I had found called Mercy Mercy. I played it to them and Dan says, ‘I wrote that song too.’ My hairs all stood on end. So we cut three Dan Penn songs and he was there for it all.”
“That’s Reggie Young’s Stratocaster, and he got B. B. King to sign it. That’s his main Strat so it’s kind of notorious and famous for that signature. His guitar sounds unbelievably amazing.”
“That’s Gene Chrisman, Elvis’s original drummer. He’s become like a modern drummer now so he wants to cut everything with a click track, while of course they didn’t back then. So we cut Suspicious Minds, because who doesn’t want to cut Suspicious Minds with the band that originally played the song. “It comes to the middle section where it breaks down, and Gene’s worked out if he keeps the tempo the same but plays it halftime it kinda has that feel — but it didn’t feel quite right. Then Bobby yells out, ‘We never did that half time, we just followed Elvis down.’ You’re sitting there listening to these guys talking like Elvis was the other artist. It was fantastic.”
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e r k a m h c t a M
Matching microphones with the right preamp is not as hard as it looks, especially with our online calculator. Tutorial: Hugh Covill
One of the many hats I wear is owner of a small cottage microphone business. Part of the business’ value proposition is that I have a personal conversation with all of my customers. One common line of questioning surfaces half a dozen times a week centred around ‘Which preamp do you recommend?’ On one hand, there are completely subjective answers to that question; pulling together preferences for sound, quality, tone, etc. With thousands of microphone preamps ranging in price from under $100 to over $10k a channel, there’s no common price-to-performance formula you can follow to help make that decision. However, you can compare technical specifications of preamps and microphones to find out whether they match well. This ‘no maths required’ primer is your Babel fish for translating the seemingly foreign languages used by manufacturers to describe their preamps and mics. FISHING FOR COMPLEMENTS
Technical specifications between preamps and microphones don’t ‘speak’ the same language. Microphones use SPL as a key descriptor while preamps use volts. Before we stick a fish in our ear and swallow some specs, let’s define what’s most important to ascertain: • Is there a chance the microphone output can overload the preamp’s input? • Both the preamp and the microphone will have a self noise specification. Will the preamp add noise to the microphone’s performance? • Will the preamp supply enough gain? Now let’s look at an abridged microphone and preamp specification side by side, identify the key information required to answer the above questions and explain the terms involved. GLOSSING OVER THE DETAIL
First, let’s scan through the microphone’s technical data. Operating principal states the type of microphone transducer — i.e. ribbon, condenser, dynamic, etc. Polar pattern describes the directional character of the microphone. An omni-directional microphone has a theoretically spherical pickup pattern around the microphone at all frequencies whereas a cardioid exhibits good rear rejection. The microphone manufacturer will AT 46
typically provide 2D polar plots to demonstrate the 3D directional character of the microphone. Something to bear in mind is that (like most measurements in audio) polar response is frequency dependent. Frequency response refers to the range of frequencies reproduced for a given amplitude (level) variation (usually ±3dB). The microphone may well pickup/reproduce a much wider range of frequencies than this but typically they will be at a much reduced level. The microphone manufacturer will typically provide a Level vs. Frequency graph that illustrates the frequency response. Sensitivity is one of the key means of understanding a microphone’s compatibility with preamps. A microphone converts sound pressure fluctuations into very small ‘mic level’ voltages in the millivolt range. Sensitivity is the least ambiguous microphone specification because it is governed by a standard. The standard is to apply a 1kHz sine wave at 94dB SPL (one Pascal), then measure the output level voltage and express it in millivolts per Pascal (mV/PA). To express it another way, if you apply one Pascal (94dB SPL) of pressure to the microphone it will produce 20mV, so the sensitivity of the microphone is 20mV/ PA. Once you measure a voltage, this can be expressed as a decibel by calculating the change in voltage between 20mV and .775V (the voltage referenced as 0 on the dBu scale). The result is -32dBu, meaning the microphone’s sensitivity can be expressed as either 20mV/PA or -32dBu. Some manufacturers express sensitivity in dBu, others mV/PA, while some provide both. Microphone sensitivity is expressed in negative dB units because the voltages of mic level signals are all well below the 0dBu reference voltage. Rule of thumb: Sensitivity trends downwards the further the dB value falls into negative territory. Impedance is beyond the scope of this primer. However, almost all modern audio systems use what is often termed a ‘voltage matching’ topology comprising low impedance outputs and high impedance inputs (sometimes called bridging inputs). The rule of thumb is the input impedance is a factor of 10 — i.e. 10 times the output impedance. Without muddying the waters, this method allows for (almost) no change in voltage from output to input. Typically microphone output impedances will be low, <200Ω nominally is typical. Equivalent Noise Level is the self noise of the microphone, essentially the microphone’s noise floor. It is defined as the SPL that will create the same voltage as the self-noise the microphone will produce.
Microphone – Neumann KM184
Preamp – API512c
Acoustic Operating Principal
Pressure gradient transducer
Maximum Input Level
20Hz - 20kHz ±3dB
Maximum Output Level
30Hz - 20Khz
Equivalent Noise level
Equivalent Input Noise
It’s usually expressed in dB SPL (A weighted); you want this to be low especially for recording quiet sources. Anything under around 18dB (A) is a good number. Maximum SPL defines the highest SPL the microphone can handle before the signal becomes distorted. Put another way, it’s the maximum acoustic input the microphone can handle before the voltage produced becomes distorted. It’s usually expressed as a dB SPL @ .5% THD (total harmonic distortion). This just means the point where the distortion can be measured, not heard. Beware specs without a specified THD; they’re meaningless. Also be aware that some manufacturers will use higher THD — 1% or more — to yield a higher maximum SPL. Some manufacturers will provide both the SPL level where .5% THD occurs but also the point at which the signal from the microphone will actually clip (becomes a square wave). On the Preamp side, expect to see these specifications. Gain is the amount your signal level can be increased. If you are working with mics that have low sensitivity such as ribbons, you’ll need more gain. Passive ribbon designs might exhibit a sensitivity of -50dBu. In that case, you’ll need 50dB of gain just to amplify the signal back to 0dBu. Ideally 65-70dB of gain (above the noise floor) will be required to comfortably amplify this signal remembering that running the gain pot at maximum results in maximum noise. Bear in mind this is the worst case scenario. The gain required to amplify a signal is dependent on how loud that signal is acoustically. You’re not going to need a huge amount of gain for a drum kit or guitar cab as the microphone is converting the high acoustic SPL into a similarly high voltage. A gentle classical guitar piece, however, might need scads of gain. Equivalent Input Noise (EIN) is a measure of how much noise the microphone preamp is adding to the microphone’s signal. It’s measured at output with a dummy load on the input (150Ω resistor) and the gain at full (bandwidth specified). Good numbers are around -122dBu to -130dBu. As EIN is input and gain related you can clearly see the relationship between noise floor and cranking the gain. Take the above example of the ribbon microphone with a sensitivity of -50dBu. If the preamp EIN is -130dBu then you have 80dB of signal-to-noise at the preamp input and cranking the gain from here increases the signal and noise proportionally. It’s important to note that EIN is an
un-weighted measurement – more on this later. Maximum Input Level & Maximum Output Level are simply the maximum signal level in dBu where the signal goes into distortion (clipping). The maximum input level is of particularly interest when matching microphones to preamps — you don’t want your microphone to comfortably produce a voltage that clips the preamp input! MAKING SENSE OF SENSITIVITY
Okay, so now that we have defined what all the various technical specifications mean let’s apply them to matching a microphone with a preamp. In table one I have highlighted the key descriptors in red. There are two key things that we can determine from the specifications. Will the microphones Max SPL number generate a voltage at the preamp input that will clip the signal? And, will the inherent noise of the preamp add to and degrade the microphone’s signal once it’s connected to the preamp? Delivering on my ‘no maths’ promise I’ve created an online calculator which means you just need to connect to the inter-web and input some numbers listed on your product specifications sheets, saving you the pain of staring absentmindedly at a 20*log equation! Check it out at audiotechnology.com.au/micmatchingcalculator
Firstly, the calculator allows you to convert mV/ Pa to dBu — just punch the number from your microphone specifications sheet into either input area to view the conversion. Next, input your microphone’s Max SPL and Mic Sensitivity (from the spec or previous conversion) and the calculator will tell you the maximum voltage produced at the microphone’s output, which will be the maximum voltage it can present to the preamp’s input. Compare this with the preamp’s Maximum Input Level to determine whether the preamp can accommodate this level. Let’s have a quick look at the specification table and input those numbers into the calculator. The Neumann KM184 lists a Max SPL of 140dB SPL with a sensitivity of 12mV/PA, which when inputted into the calculator yields almost +10dBu. The API preamp lists a Maximum Input Level of +8dBu, so in the worst case scenario the KM184 will be overloading the preamp input by a whole 2dBu. Bear in mind this is the worst case scenario. If the sources you are likely to record are significantly lower level then you most probably
should be fine. However, if you intend to record rock drummers and searing electric guitars then you may well want to consider a preamp with a bit more headroom. Lastly, you can enter the microphones ENL and Sensitivity and it will yield the microphone’s self-noise level in dBu. You can then compare this number with the preamps EIN. The numbers from out table lists the KM184 as having an ENL of 13dBA and a sensitivity of 12mV/PA, which yields a self-noise of -117dBu. The API preamp lists its EIN as being -129dBu so it’s not adding any noise to the mic’s performance. It’s actually a little more complex than this (the ENL is an A weighted measure) but as a rule of thumb try for a preamp’s noise floor 6-10dB below the microphone’s self-noise. WRAP UP
Audio engineering is a balancing act between art and science. This primer looks at the science side of the equation. On the art side of the equation your ears are the great arbiter. They determine whether a piece of gear, or combination sounds good. A technical specification won’t tell you that. This ‘no maths’ primer on comparing the compatibility of specific microphones and preamps is a good ballparking tool for the science side of the scales. Just use the online calculator to make comparisons. As with most of my primers, I’ve skated over complex detail in pursuit of the bigger picture. There are myriad ways manufacturers can skew the figures and the detail is often in what is not included. Many premium microphone manufacturers will provide very detailed specifications that quantify how the measurement was performed. Something like EIN 125dBu, 20kHz bandwidth, maximum gain under 150Ω load is best practise. At the other end of the spectrum you’ll see numbers specified without any quantification, like EIN 125dB. Numbers without any quantification provide less reputable manufacturers with plenty of wriggle room to massage the results. EIN for example will yield quite different results for different gain settings. I’ve left out dynamic mics which often won’t specify noise at all (SM58 as an example) because it is inherently really low and linked to impedance. There is no standard for specifications and you’ll often see dBV referenced — but you can easily do the dBu to dBV quick-step (dBV = dBu + 2.2, see my last Issue 104 primer on the decibel). Caveats aside, I hope you find the specification Babel fish useful. AT 47
PARKWAY STUDIOS Townsville-based guitarist Mick Lockhart has spent much of the last 20 years on the road as a guitar player for a who’s who of Australian country. However, now with a young family and a whole bunch of space on his property 15 minutes North of Townsville, he decided to build a high quality, well-proportioned studio in his backyard. 18 months ago, Parkway Studios became a reality. The studio consists of a good-sized live room, with a nice neutral tone and ambience, a great sounding, spacious control room, with two wellisolated booths attached – one for vocals and the other for acoustic instruments and amps. There’s lots of ceiling height and the rooms are really well lit and laid out. The studio is built around an Amek Recall RN56 console. Lockhart says, “It's a beautiful old board that sounds fantastic, is really functional for tracking sessions and is easy to get around. I love it EMA_AT111_[Print].pdf 1 28/07/2015 more and more every day that I use it.” The studio
recently upgraded to a full blown Pro Tools HDX rig, with 32 ins and outs. It’s configured so up to 32 channels can go into the well spec’d iMac via a combination of console and outboard preamps, with 16 returns coming back to the console, making it easy to configure headphone mixes to the various recording spaces. Monitoring is through a pair of ADAM A7xs and a pair of Yamaha NS10s. The microphone collection is also pretty healthy, with the familiar Neumann, AKG and Sennheiser stock you would expect (Lockhart’s beloved vintage KM84 collection is enviable), with a few selected mics by Australian mic companies Rode and OPR Microphones. The studio has a beautiful Sleishmann house kit, all miked up and ready to go, and Lockhart’s collection of amps (Matchless, various vintage Fenders and Marshalls), pedals and guitars (he estimates there’s 100 usable guitars on the It makes the studio a great creative 9:37property). am hub, attracting both local and interstate visitors.
Indeed, in his 18 months of operation he’s already racked up a few country number ones with Billy Bridge and Rebecca Lee Nye from Melbourne. Lockhart adds, “Being 15 minutes north of the city (Townsville) and having a nice big block of land, it instantly feels calming for the clients when they arrive; we have a big bar area, a spa and pool-table to relax around. We record live bands, solo artists and pretty much anything else that can make a noise! “Country, Rock and Pop are our big markets with the sounds we get. We have great sight lines from both iso booths through the control room and out to the live room, and with the big analogue console it's fast and simple to route the monitoring to our personal mixers in each recording room so you'll always have a great sound to play along to! The studio was built with with two main things in mind; great sound and spacious comfort.”
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PC Audio Where should you install your VST plug-ins? Fear not, as we explain VST2 and VST3, and how to sort out any confusion. Column: Martin Walker
Most PC musicians could not imagine a world without VST real-time plug-ins. I was already writing about music technology in the years BP (Before Plug-ins). While there were various off-line effects available in WAV file editors for effects such as reverb, filtering and echo, alongside more standard treatments such as normalisation, fade-ins and fade-outs, their audio quality was rarely on a par with the most budget hardware effects units available at the time. Furthermore, you had to wait at least several seconds before all their calculations had finished before you could hear the sonic results. This all changed in late 1996, when after the first audio plug-ins were released utilising Microsoft’s ActiveMovie technology (subsequently renamed DMSS, or DirectX Media Steaming Services), followed by Steinberg’s very own VST (Virtual Studio Technology) interface specification in 1996. Steinberg’s release of Cubase 3.02 included the first VST format plug-ins, but by early 1998 Wavelab had added Steinberg’s new VST format plug-ins alongside the existing DirectX ones, and the scene was set: slowly but surely the crossplatform VST format overtook the resolutely PC-only DirectX plug-ins in popularity, and a whole new world of creativity began to emerge from a host of software developers, alongside Steinberg themselves. VST2 & VST 3 STANDARDS
The VST spec was upgraded to version 2.4 in 2006, adding MIDI input support so that VST softsynths could be created, the first one being Steinberg’s own Neon in Cubase VST 3.7, and for a very long time this was the standard adhered to by almost every developer. VST 3.0 was launched in 2006, supporting dynamic I/O so that plug-ins could switch from mono to stereo to surround format as required, with side-chaining as standard, and the ability to stop using your CPU when no audio was passing through a particular VST plug-in. VST 3.5 was released in 2011, adding note expression for a more natural playing feel. However, despite all the VST3 improvements, and Steinberg’s discontinuing of maintenance and finally distribution of the VST 2 Software Development Kit, many third party developers continue to develop new VST 2.4 products, largely because various other DAWs (besides Steinberg’s Cubase) still don’t support VST3 plug-ins. Here we find ourselves in 2016, and I’m still AT 50
noticing plenty of musicians who are very confused about where their VST plug-ins should get installed on their PCs, concerned that some plug-ins don’t appear within their DAWs after installation, or get their 32-bit and 64-bit versions in conflict. This is perhaps not surprising, as while Steinberg wants everyone to move over to VST3 (whose plug-ins all get installed into your C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3 folder), with VST2 plug-ins it seems that every developer wants to install them into a different folder. Steinberg prefers C:\Program Files (x86)\Steinberg\VstPlugins and C:\Program Files\ Steinberg\VstPlugins for 32-bit and 64-bit versions respectively, while other developers either use the more generic C:\Program Files (x86)\VSTPlugins and C:\Program Files\VSTPlugins, or create their own named folder in the format C:\Program Files (x86)\‘Developer Name’\ VSTPlugins and C:\Program Files\‘Developer Name’\VstPlugins.
vstplugins-32;C:\Program Files\Common Files\ VST3” so it picks up all my 64-bit VST2, 32-bit VST2 and VST3 plug-ins, across these three folders. Different DAWs will do this slightly differently, but thankfully most do allow multiple folders to be added at any time, if you find some of your plug-ins are missing after a new install. If on the other hand you want to reorganise plug-ins already scattered across a host of manufacturer default folders, you may simply be able to drag their relevant .DLL files into your desired folder (remember, one for 32-bit, and another for 64-bit ones, to avoid DAW confusion). Then change the file path location in your DAW to point to the new folders. One or two may require re-installation from scratch (particularly those with Windows Registry entries or associated sample libraries), but the majority of your plug-ins should be re-scanned and correctly recognised the next time you run your DAW(s) or WAV editors.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The most thorough way to get all your VST2.4 plug-ins to appear within your DAW is to carefully point each install at your chosen folders; one for 32-bit versions and the other for 64-bit ones. Then the next time you run your DAW any new plug-ins found in these designated folders will be scanned and added to your existing plug-in list. Yes, it’s a bit of a fiddle if you have to point to your chosen path each time you install, but many developers remember the two locations between installs, so when you install second and subsequent plugins from that company your two chosen folders become the new default. If you want them on your C: partition then C:\Program Files (x86)\ VSTPlugins and C:\Program Files\VSTPlugins are probably the most sensible and easily remembered locations, but it’s quite possible to locate them somewhere else. For instance, I’ve created a special V: partition on my SSD with folders named V:\ vstplugins-32 and V:\vstplugins-64, so I can keep all my plug-ins together in one place that’s protected even if I have to reinstall Windows from scratch. If your plug-ins are already scattered across multiple folders, the trick to getting all of them to appear within your DAW is to add each and every one of their folder filepaths to the appropriate section of your DAW preferences. For instance, I use Reaper, where in the Preference, Plug-ins, VST plug-in paths dialog I have “V:\vstplugins-64;V:\
You may find particular applications require slightly different treatments. For instance, I have one 64-bit vstplugin folder seen by both Reaper 64-bit and Wavelab 64-bit. Reaper 64-bit uses its own internal bridge to deal with 32-bit plug-ins so I also point to another folder of older 32-bit plugins, used by Reaper alone. In contrast, Wavelab needs any 32-bit plug-ins to be bridged manually (I use jBridge), so for the few 32-bit plug-ins I need to use inside Wavelab 64-bit I have a separate 32-bit folder only pointed to by Wavelab. It’s a bit convoluted but works well. By the way, if anyone is wondering why some developers still insist on installing both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of their VST plug-ins, even when you only want one or the other; basically, there’s still so much confusion out there among users about the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit plug-ins and their requirements that a lot of developers make sure that both versions are always installed at one and the same time, as this can seriously reduce support calls and irate customer emails. I kid you not! Occasionally a DAW can get confused if it finds identically named 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the same plugin, but if you’re sure you know which is the most appropriate for your setup, just delete the other .DLL file and re-scan. Good luck!
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Controller & Sequencer There’s a good chance you already have a MIDI controller sitting in your studio, but does it do as much as Arturia’s tiny KeyStep? Review: Preshan John
Arturia has worked hard to ensure KeyStep isn’t just another MIDI controller. Its built-in arpeggiator and sequencer gives it a useful creative edge when making music, jamming with mates, and performing live. Second, it speaks more than just MIDI. KeyStep has CV I/O for connection to your analogue synths — a useful feature if you’ve wanted to control your VIs and modular gear from the same unit. KEY COMPONENTS
Build quality is second to none. The keys feel pleasantly squishy but can take a decent thrashing. I’m not a fan of mini-keys but for whatever reason the KeyStep didn’t really bug me — probably because it’s unashamedly a synth controller and not trying to be a hammer-action set of ivories worthy of Beethoven’s Fifth. Besides that, the starting note of F always feels a bit random and aftertouch requires some muscle. But again, don’t hold back. It can take heavy-handedness. Touch-sensitive ribbon pads control pitch bend and modulation. If you’re normally the wheels type like me, don’t worry, KeyStep’s sliders feel natural and let you do everything you could with wheels or joysticks, plus more — you can jump directly to a different pitch or modulation setting by touching a position on the pad. ARP-ING ON
NEED TO KNOW
If you’re looking for fun, look no further than the arpeggiator. It’s super easy to nut out when you’ve got so few controls in front of you. Switch the left-most lever to Arp, hit the Play button, hold down some notes, and behold, an arpeggio. You can vary the swing amount and gate time by holding Shift and pressing the appropriate key on the keybed.
PRICE Expect to pay $199 CONTACT CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org
PROS Easy arpeggiator Intuitive Polyphonic sequencer CV connectivity is a useful option
The Hold button is accessibly placed below the Arp/Seq switch to prolong chords when the keys aren’t depressed. All the popular arpeggio patterns are available with the Mode knob, and the Time Div control adjusts the subdivision of the arpeggiated notes. Remember to have this on the correct setting before kicking off your loop to get the most out of the other subdivision options mid-performance — i.e., if you’re looking for 16th notes, set the knob to 1/16 and then adjust the tempo knob to suit. Being able to dial in a numerical BPM value would’ve been useful here. Press the Shift button while toggling the Time Div knob to avoid triggering all the in-between timings. If the arpeggiator doesn’t float your boat, try the sequencer for a second shot at endless merriment. Arturia’s attention to detail and flair for producing innovative functionality shines. Take one look at KeyStep and you’d probably assume its sequencer is only capable of stock ’90s Casio keyboard progressions. Nope — this tiny controller actually lets you get pretty deep into the art of sequence building. KeyStep can store eight sequences, each of which can be up to 64 steps. Its polyphony allows up to eight simultaneous notes with each step. You can input notes by hitting Record and play them in with the switch set to Seq. There are
CONS Numeric BPM option would be nice
heaps of ways to customise a sequence right at the note-input stage, so it pays to have a good read of the manual. You can back up your sequences to Arturia’s MIDI Control Center software, which also gives you options to do deeper configurationtype stuff with your DAW/VIs, etc. CREATION STATION
There’s so much more functionality crammed into this little thing — like clocking it externally, syncing a network of gear via the DIN jacks, compositional tools when paired with MIDI Control Center and, of course, controlling analogue synths using the CV outputs. There’s effectively four modes in which KeyStep can be run, dictated by the little dipswitches on the rear which tell the unit whether it’s a master or slave device, and to what. To be honest, I didn’t expect the KeyStep to enhance my creativity as much as it did. Its ease of use and ‘get-out-of-the-way’ controls meant I came up with some out-of-character parts, simply because I could. I mean, who arpeggiates a glockenspiel for an ambient track? But this little keyboard’s inviting workflow made me want to arpeggiate or sequence whatever I possibly could — it was just so easy and fun. And more importantly, it inspired creativity in ways I wouldn’t have explored without it.
SUMMARY The built-in arpeggiator and sequencer plus the option of MIDI and/or CV control make the KeyStep a surprisingly full-featured tool, not to mention its tiny form factor and solid build. Perfect for the producer on the go, the vintage modular owner, or the VI newbie.
AUDIO-TECHNICA ATM230 Hypercardioid Dynamic Instrument Mic
Audio-Technica’s little mic that could, can handle the job on most instruments, but loves the beat of the tom.
NEED TO KNOW
Review: Mark Woods
Audio-Technica has always made a hyper-cardioid dynamic microphone that was tough, sounded fat and wouldn’t overload. The first version was the PRO25, part of the PRO Series range released in the early ’80s. Originally designed as a kick mic it used a rare earth (neodymium) magnet to help achieve its high output level and fast transient response. Next was the ATM25, much the same mic but re-packaged for the Artist Series released in the early ’90s and sold for twice the price. It was discontinued about 20 years later but came back briefly, as part of a special edition range to celebrate AudioTechnica’s 50th anniversary in 2012. The new
ATM230 sees the return of a hyper-cardioid dynamic mic to the Artist Series range, this time designated as an instrument mic, with toms as the recommended application. The main spec that has changed from the ATM25 is the more attractive retail price. The technical specs remain the same as it has ever been. The ATM230 retains the caged look introduced with the ATM25 but it’s more compact at only three inches long. Missing the familiar red stripe of its predecessors the twotone black grille/grey finish on the metal body is modern and unobtrusive on stage. It’s a solid little thing. The steel cage’s unyielding layered
CONS Grainy high frequencies
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PROS A proper tom mic Aggressive sound Build quality
grille and the way the integral stand-mount locks to the body makes the mic feel like a hammer in the hand. It’s more likely to hurt the drumsticks. TIGHTENED UP TOM SOUND
The ATM230 arrives with the same sonic qualities as its predecessors and just a couple of minor updates. The overall character remains but the frequency response is a little more linear across the mids and the pronounced proximity effect of the earlier models has been made less boomy. Handling noise is better too. It’s not a mic you’d choose for its airy detail but the low end response makes up for it. Like the original
SUMMARY Audio-Technica’s latest hyper-cardioid instrument mic takes the headway made by its predecessors and packages it all in a very unobtrusive body. Of all its recommended uses, the ATM230 is a powerhouse on toms. It may not have the most extended frequency response, but it can handle a whack of level and a whack from a drum stick while kicking your mid section in the guts.
it reaches deep down. The frequency response is quoted as 30Hz-12kHz and it’s essentially flat to below 40Hz. There’s a presence peak around 3kHz for a bit of crack on the toms but it’s not the most accurate above this and rolls off quite sharply from around 8kHz. It’s not dull to the ear though and in a direct comparison, the ATM230 sounds crisper than its forebears. The ability to isolate an instrument in a noisy environment, with lots of other mics close by, is where dynamic mics earn their money. Condenser mics sound great and they’ve got all the shiny detail but they can’t grab a tom and push it forward like a good dynamic mic. The ATM230 has a very tight hyper-cardioid pick-up pattern and it’s even at all frequencies. Moving around the mic, it’s remarkable how much the level drops around the side and right behind the mic. It’s not the sort of mic that is likely to need to explore gain before feedback but it’s very stable if it does gets cranked in the monitors. I have several of the original PRO25s and ATM25s still in regular use. They’re my long-time first choice for live toms and I’m not alone. When I use them I often get comments from other sound mixers who hold them in high regard as well. They always nominate toms and brass as the best applications. The ATM230 is the same. It works beautifully on jazz kick drum, but for rock it may miss the low peak of the modern kick mics. It works well on snare drum but may not be bright enough without adding EQ. On toms however, the combination of fast attack and powerful low-mids is just right, they seem to come straight at you and rarely need any EQ. The same qualities mean it works just as well with percussion; not so much on picked or shimmering instruments but the skinned, dynamic ones. It’s just the thing for anything from bongos to congas, and my favourite, the bodhrán, where the small size means the mic can get in close to the skin but won’t be damaged when it gets knocked… as it inevitably will. People think I pick on the folk music scene but I’ve found they’re the most likely by far to trip over leads and bump mics with their instruments. Brass is the other favoured application and saxophone is good too. The slightly scooped mids work with the added body lower down to fatten them up. The tight pattern helps isolate the individual instruments in a section and the size is great if they’re close together. Also, you can get right on them. It won’t worry the mic if it’s halfway down the bell and they’re blowing to bust.
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Guitar and bass cabs are the other two approved applications. Again, high volume is no problem. Bass cabs seem to overwhelm some mics and can sound bloated, especially mics with lots of proximity effect. The ATM230 is thick but un-fussed and used in close you can really hear the speaker working, rather than the box booming. Same with guitar cabs where the added warmth, accurate mid-range and absence of shrieking highs prove a good combination. Condensers pick up too much, vocal mics don’t go deep enough…toms need their own mics. The ATM230 is sort of a general-purpose instrument mic but really it’s a well-priced, kick-ass tom mic that can take a pounding. And after using it I’m adding snare to the list of other recommended uses. Audio-Technica do details well. The mic package includes a thick, padded carry case with a proper zip. Thoughtfully included is an Audio Technica AT8665 plastic clip-on drum mount. Not only does it save a mic stand but it gives you a use for the supplied ¼-inch to ½-inch thread adaptor, finally. I’m in two minds about clip-on mounts and I’ve found some drummers don’t like them. A 300gm mic on a clip-on can affect the sound and balance of the drum, and there’s the risk of marking the rim, but they can be handy if you’re short of stands. The adage, ‘when you’re on a good thing, stick to it’ applies here. The ATM230 continues the tradition with just a tweak or two to bring it up to date. High-quality construction, professional looks and a modest price for a microphone I can guarantee will last a long time. I’ve told the story before about my two PRO4L vocal mics given to me by Smeer — who screamed lead vocals and played great guitar for thrash punk band Depression — in 1987 as payment for a recording of the band. When I got the mics they looked like they’d been used as drumsticks or involved in riot control. But they sounded very good and I used them for years on toms and occasionally vocals. They still work today nearly 40 years later. Nice one Audio-Technica.
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It took 16 years to complete, but scrupulous samplers The Avalanches finally released the follow-up to everyone’s favourite album Since I Le...