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It seems like two formats ago when Radiohead sidestepped typical distribution models for their Pay-What-You-Want model. It was a democratic release for all budgets, offering In Rainbows in ‘good faith’. You were no longer a criminal for downloading music for free, just a dedicated fan… even more dedicated if you shelled out for it. Impeccable music business sense, acute awareness of fan psychology, a ‘heart on the sleeve’ social conscience, undeniable artistry, and a fan base with similar values is why Radiohead can lead the charge towards new business models from the safety of major label backing. This time it wasn’t Radiohead. Just singer, Thom Yorke, and long-time producer, Nigel Godrich, taking a stab at changing the digital tide from the deck of their side project, Atoms For Peace. Abruptly throwing the Radiohead aircraft carrier into a U-turn is harder these days, with its churning wake of back catalogue to contend with, so Yorke used another vehicle to make a statement. What am I talking about? Yorke and Godrich pulled Atoms For Peace’s album AMOK from Spotify for the good of all small-time independent artists who will never make a buck from streaming services. Godrich called it a “small meaningless rebellion”, and “someone’s gotta say something. It’s bad for new music.” The outrage over Spotify centres around the minuscule royalty rates for streaming. I’m not going to do the sums for you. They’re out there. And on face value, yes, they look mighty skint compared to flogging a $20 compact disc (remember those?). But according to Forbes contributor, Tim Worstall’s calculations — who we should probably trust over sums provided by outraged indie musicians — royalty rates on Spotify are better than radio. And the services are roughly similar: Listen ‘anywhere’, ad-supported (except for subscriptions), and no physical copy or download to own. The issue is really about access. Historically, independent musicians had limited access to radio, maybe a bit of joy from local radio and public broadcasters, but zilch chance of scoring airtime on commercial stations. But with Spotify? Well, just sign up to any number of aggregators, and hey presto, you’re playing in the big leagues. The
problem is… you’re playing in the big leagues. And while having your name on the ticket is a start, the air gets thinner the higher you go, and most asphyxiate. Popularity = sales. No matter how you get there, the equation remains the same. The Spotify case gets messier, now we know the major labels — as well as Merlin Network, the rights agency for independent labels — each have a stake in the streaming business. But can we begrudge the record business for trying to snaffle crumbs of the pie after Apple’s gorged itself? But back to Yorke and Godrich. Two days after jumping the Spotify ship in protest, they boarded another: Soundhalo. Co-founded by none other than Barry Palmer from Hunters & Collectors, Soundhalo is a live concert film and audio, production and distribution platform. For the price of an iTunes album, you can download or stream an exquisitely shot, recorded and mixed version of events minutes after the real thing. The latest test pilots throwing their weight behind the beta are Atoms For Peace. While it might seem like a win to have a big player stick up for the little guy, they’ve merely jumped from a low-paying ‘open’ system, to a very closed one only available to artists with enough of a fan base to warrant rolling out an entire film production team. But is there something else here? If we’ve followed Yorke et al down the rabbit hole of letting punters decide what music is worth, should we be trailing them down the video-on-demand route too? The part that got my attention was the parity of cost and accessibility between Soundhalo and iTunes. The difference here is the recorded output isn’t a studio album, it’s a live gig. Everyone’s been saying live shows are the only way any artist makes money these days, but does this signal a wholesale conversion to the live arena (where instead of slaving away in the studio for months just to release a promotional teaser for the live show, an artist sells a copy of the live show instead)? Not saying you need to throw away your ‘day’ job, but when streams of revenue for artists are shifting more to the live arena, maybe studio engineers will have to get a ‘night’ job too. On the plus side, at least it will be easier to get a performance out of the artist.
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GENERAL NEWS IT’S BOOMTIME FOR PODCASTERS Here’s an interesting option if you’re into podcasting, voice-overs or just like a handy microphone-on-a-boom for recording inspired ideas. The Procast Studio Station by Miktek is a high quality USB studio condenser microphone with integrated radio style boom and on-board mixer. The ProCast SST’s mixer section offers two inputs, which can be used to connect microphone or line sources. Channel 1 allows you to use the onboard condenser microphone or select the rear panel 6.5mm instrument/line level input. Channel 2 provides a rear panel mini XLR (note it’s a mini-XLR... unfortunate)
to connect a second microphone, or selectable rear panel 6.5mm instrument/ line level input. Each input features a mic/ line switch, clip LED, a 60mm fader, plus mute switch. There’s a phantom power switch to power an external condenser microphone. The ProCast SST provides no latency direct monitoring, which can be mixed in with the computer playback. In addition, the SST has a second headphone output for producers or additional talent, or you can use the output to connect a set of control room studio monitors. Price: AUD$449. Federal Audio www.federalaudio.com.au
IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD Mickey Hart was an original member of the Grateful Dead for three decades. In the years following it’s hard to categorise his enormous catalogue of music, studies and collaborative projects since it’s all so diverse. For example, with his own Mickey Hart Band, Hart has “sonified” the Universe, the Golden Gate Bridge and the America’s Cup — which means what? On his new record Superorganism, Hart is breaking new ground again by combining music with science and the human body. Hart journeys into the hidden worlds of rhythm within us, his brain wave signals re-imagined in sound using an EEG cap with electrodes
Professional Audio Technology has recently supplied and configured 10 x Lawo Crystal On-Air consoles, three voice booth Crystal frames, a Nova73 HD Core router and a large VSM system to SBS in Sydney. The new system has been supplied, configured and commissioned in two phases with the first completed and the VSM system and the Lawo Nova73 Core router commissioned earlier this year. Now all focus has shifted to the commissioning of all on-air studios and voice booths in Sydney. A crucial and so far successful element of the project was to not interrupt the 24/7 on-air operation of SBS while cutting over to the new system. Professional Audio Technology: (02) 94761272 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Perhaps getting slightly ahead of itself, Tascam has announced the upcoming UH-7000 standalone mic preamp/ USB audio interface, currently in development. Price and official launch date are yet to be figured, but we can say the UH 7000 is based on the design and circuitry of TEAC’s High Definition DACS and Audio Components and will include “two ultra high performing mic preamps designed in an instrumentation amplifier structure.” A standalone mode allows the unit to be used as a mic preamp without the need for a PC and the UH-7000 will have an on-board DSP mixer. www.tascam.com
The JMC Academy has acquired a SSL Duality console for the exclusive use of its students. In choosing SSL, JMC wanted its students to have access to cutting edge, 21st century technology that is industry relevant now and in the foreesable future. Just so no one has missed out on the fun, a group of JMC Academy Alumni were recently invited back to test out the SSL Duality in an intensive music production workshop. Over the two days they had the chance to produce a single for Sydney band, ‘No Art’ and at the completion of the workshop the band were ecstatic with the results.
CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
JMC Academy: www.jmcacademy.edu.au Amber Technology (SSL): 1800 251 367 or www.ambertech.com.au
that can read the throbs and signals of the brain. Hart has also sonified the sounds of stem cells and heart rhythms. To prove it, each night of his upcoming Superorganism tour, Hart will perform a piece featuring the sounds of his own brain while wearing the EEG cap, with the images projected onto a screen so the audience can visualise his brain activity in real time. There is a deeper purpose — Hart strongly believes in the healing value of drumming and rhythm on afflictions associated with ageing, in particular Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and is a long-time supporter of medical research in that field.
Chandler Limited has announced a milestone in the company’s history and to mark the occasion it is… not doing much at all. It’s the 10th anniversary of Chandler’s TG2 Pre Amp/DI, a recreation of the rare EMI TG12428 preamp used in EMI recording and mastering consoles, and developed for use in Abbey Road Studios in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The Chandler TG2 Pre Amp/ DI has become one of the company’s bestselling products and is routinely used by leading artists and recording engineers worldwide, so okay – a heartfelt rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ is warranted. But what about a limited edition release? Signatured units? Just a cake? www.chandlerlimited.com Mixmasters: (08) 8278 8506 or www.mixmasters.com.au
SENNHEISER’S WIRELESS MASTERPIECE X MARKS THE SPOT AT SENNHEISER If you ever get a chance to check out Sennheiser’s proposed new facility it’ll be worth sneaking a shovel into your backpack. Sennheiser has celebrated beginning construction of its planned Innovation Campus at company headquarters in Wennebostel, kicking things off with a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony. The Innovation Campus, which will cost around 20 million Euros, will provide approximately 7,000 square metres of optimum, modern workspace for employees, as well as room for an events venue. For the laying of the foundation stone Dr. Andreas Sennheiser filled a ‘timecapsule’ with documents and products which symbolise the importance of Sennheiser’s innovative company
culture. The contents included a photograph of the three generations of the Sennheiser family, a current annual report, new Euro coins and a daily newspaper — fair enough. However, also included were the classic MD421 microphone, the IE800 ear canal phones and a digital handheld transmitter SKM9000 from the Digital 9000 system. And because every idea begins on a piece of blank paper, pens and paper completed the contents of the ‘time-capsule’. It seems a waste to leave it all buried there, right? You can even leave a thank-you note with the pen and paper. X marks the spot...
Syntec International www.syntec.com.au
Fully Digital Rock Solid RF Pure Audio No Companding NEW MASTER AT TASCAM Tascam is labeling its new DA-3000 high-definition master recorder/ ADDA converter as an upgrade of the DV-RA1000HD, although at first glance there’s a bit of a chalk-and-cheese factor. The DA-3000 has the same BurrBrown A/D converters, but has improved circuitry otherwise and a more modern design. Also, there’s no internal hard drive or CD/DVD optical drive. The DA-3000 has been squeezed down to a 1RU machine designed to fit in any size recording studio, even “replacing a DAT machine.” Replacing a <what>? Oh… right, we remember them. The recorder supports high sampling rates up to PCM 192k and DSD 5.6MHz, with the option of recording to SDHC and Compact Flash cards. Multiple
units can be linked for increased channel recording. Connections on the unit include balanced XLR I/O, unbalanced RCA I/O along with AESEBU, S/PDIF for PCM and SDIF-3/DSDraw for DSD. Tascam has also released the DR60D, an audio recording solution for filmmakers and videographers using DSLR cameras. The DR-60D is 4-track solid-state recorder with high-grade pre-amps, D/A converters and a durable but lightweight structure and shape. This device will fit easily under any camera or into any rig, and record up to 96k/24-bit high quality audio straight to SD/SDHC media. CMI Music & Audio www.cmi.com.au
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SOFTWARE NEWS DRUMLAB GETS THE MIX JUST RIGHT Native Instruments is sitting firmly on the drumming fence with its new Drumlab; an instrument combining the organic, expressive sound of acoustic drums with the power and punch of an electronic edge. Drumlab’s fundamental sound is built on an all-new set of premium drum samples. A kit of 38 individual drums was perfectly tuned and performed by Derico Watson. All drums were recorded in three different rooms to ensure maximum sonic versatility, while high-end modern and vintage recording gear was used to capture the performances on analogue tape. The key to Drumlab’s sound is an advanced layering technique with 80 electronic layers from a range of classic
and modern drum machines all matched, phase aligned, faded and pitched with the acoustic samples. A main screen GUI puts every essential control in one place for drum selection and blending. An effects chain features an optimised drum compressor, Transient Master, Solid EQ, and Solid Bus Comp, plus convolution reverb. If programming isn’t your strong suit, there’s over 900 drum patterns and fills in a wide range of genres and styles all recorded live especially for Drumlab. As always with NI packs you’ll need Kontakt Player. Online NI price is $99 and it’s a 2.6GB download. CMI Music & Audio www.cmi.com.au
KEEP CALM WITH SOUND FORGE 11 Sony Creative Software has released Sound Forge Pro 11 which introduces more efficient recording and processing workflows, plus new signal and effects processing plug-ins. New features of note in Sound Forge Pro 11 include One-Touch Recording — a completely redesigned recording interface — CALM compliant metering (US-based legislation; Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act), and a new plug-in chain interface. You also get iZotope’s Nectar Elements plug-in <<http://www. audiotechnology.com.au/wp/index. php/izotope-nectar-review/>> and improved restore and repair tools also by iZotope with Declipper, Denoiser
Three new offerings from Universal Audio (UA) included in the latest UAD v7.1 version software: Flex Routing for the Apollo Audio Interface allows — no prizes for guessing — greater flexibility in signal routing. Also packaged in UAD 7.1 (and available separately) are the new Millennia NSEQ-2 plug-in and Pultec Passive EQ Collection. The Pultec collection revisits two Pultec EQs — the EQP-1A and MEQ-5 — and adds the HLF-3C filter which gives you 12dB per octave low and high cut filters, providing broad, retro-flavoured tone sculpting. www.uaudio.com CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
and Declicker. There are added waveform display options and input bus effects should your recording artist need a little magic talent during tracking. Although Sound Forge has a solid reputation as an advanced wave form editor it can record up to 32 tracks simultaneously. Sound Forge Pro 11 has some Broadcast Wave File format enhancements — it supports BEXT BWF version 2.0, iXML and includes auto-fill and verification options as well as automatic repair of BWF data. Prices online start at US$399.95, but various upgrade options can save you dollars. New Magic www.newmagic.com.au
Good news for people who prefer buying their software in a sealed box and on a nice, shiny DVD. Melbourne-based Electric Factory (Elfa) has been appointed the exclusive Australian distributor for iZotope, the software developer we’re all familiar with for products like Iris, Ozone 5 and the more recent Nectar Vocal suite. www.izotope.com Elfa: (03) 9474 1000 or www.elfa.com.au
Native Instruments has added the Abbey Road 50s Drummer to its catalogue of Abbey Road Drummer expansion packs. The two kits recorded were an early-50s Gretsch Cadillac Green Nitron and a late-50s WFL (William F Ludwig) kit. Both have a choice of three interchangeable snares. In all, you end up with 20GB of samples. The sampler needs to run inside the free Kontakt 5 player or the full version of Kontakt. CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
Slate Digital’s three Virtual Buss Compressors (VBC) model the nonlinear characteristics of three analogue compressors. The FG-GREY promises a model of the SSL 4000 series bus compressor; FG-RED is a compressor based on the classic Focusrite RED; and FG-MU emulates the classic tube circuitry behind units such as the Fairchild 670 and Manley Vari-Mu. Available as separate plug-ins in your DAW, you can also use them in Slate’s Virtual Buss Compressors Rack plug-in, in which they can be chained, reordered via drag-and-drop of the rack handles, and soloed independently. All three compressors can be had for US$199. Slate Digital: www.slatedigital.com
PLUG IN TO COSMIC HARMONY It was over a year ago we told you about Nomad Factory’s Magma plug-in bundle, which has no less than 65 included effects. With some of them, as you might expect, being a little… let’s say esoteric. The latest plug-in from Nomad Factory is possibly in the same category. Cosmos is an audio ‘sweetening’ plug-in that promises to faithfully emulate legendary audio hardware. It’s also touted as the ultimate tool for sonic enhancement and low-end fattening that will elevate the sound of your tracks to soaring
new heights — you’re probably getting the idea by now. Cosmos achieves all this by using harmonic enhancement instead of traditional EQ boosting to bring out desirable frequencies. It can improve the sound quality of any audio source, including compressed mp3 files, podcasts and voice-over work. Cosmos also features a tunable synth subgenerator that can give your audio a huge boost in low frequencies to fatten bass parts, kick drums and give mixes a thunderous bottom end. Price: $149.
MORE TOOLS IN RX iZotope has announced an impending update to RX, its flagship audio repair suite, which will promote it to RX 3 and RX 3 Advanced. RX 3 is a dedicated restoration and repair application for rescuing old audio or saving otherwisetrashed recordings from the Delete Bin. New features include working up to six times faster, thanks to under-thehood processing enhancements and a redesigned user interface. You can now remove or reduce reverb from audio using the new Dereverb module in RX 3 Advanced. Dialogue can be fixed on the fly with the RX 3 Advanced realtime Dialogue Denoiser and there’s a
spectral audio editor. Undo history has been increased to unlimited. iZotope hasn’t yet finished drawing the line between RX 3 and RX 3 Advanced, so the differences aren’t finalised. Customers who purchased the previous RX 2 versions after July 1, 2013 will receive a free upgrade to the relevant RX 3 version upon release — slated for September. No prices yet except that special upgrade pricing will be available for all other previous RX owners. Both RX 3 and RX 3 Advanced can be used as a standalone audio editor or as a plugins and there’s 64-bit AAX support. Musiclab www.musiclab.com.au
LIVE NEWS NEW JBL PRX700 PA JBL Professional has announced the PRX700 series portable loudspeakers, the next generation in JBL’s PRX portable PA line. It’s more than just a lick of paint and a new badge on the previous 600 series — there’s now a 10-inch model and two self-powered subwoofers; 15-inch and 18-inch. Also in the series are a standard multipurpose 12-inch, 2-way loudspeaker and floor monitor; a 15-inch, 2-way full-range main system/floor monitor; 15-inch, 2-way bass reflex loudspeaker; and a 15-inch, 3-way full-range main system. All the full-range cabinets are powered with 1500W Class D amplification — up from the 1000W in the 600 series.
The input panel on the full-range models offers two balanced XLR/1/4-inch combination inputs and two unbalanced RCA inputs. Other features are a signal presence LED for each channel, selectable system EQ, a mic/line switch for Channel 1 and ground lift for Channel 2. The input panels on the subs add a signal presence LED for each channel, polarity button, Pass Thru button for Hi Pass or Full Range selection, balanced XLR/1/4-inch combo input for both Channels 1 and 2, balanced XLR Loop Thru output connectors and a front LED On/ Off button. Jands www.jands.com.au
SOUNDGRID TO THE EXTREME Waves has announced SoundGrid Extreme, the latest iteration of its SoundGrid protocol for live applications. The most powerful SoundGrid DSP Server so far, SoundGrid Extreme is designed to tackle the heaviest processing challenges and, you should agree, boasts some pretty impressive benchmarks — running over 500 instances of Waves stereo SSL E-Channel or C4 Multiband Compressor plug-ins, with latency as low as 0.8ms. Lurking inside the road-ready 2U chassis is an Intel i7 Extreme microprocessor which allows the SoundGrid Extreme to deliver over 40% more power than the SGS Server One. Waves has also released version 9.5 of its Multirack software — a software host for your Waves
Roger Hodgson is touring worldwide for audiences keen to hear a blend of his solo material and the classics that he recorded with Supertramp. The band uses a Pivitec personal monitoring system controlled from FOH (it can also be individually controlled via iOS apps on stage), and to better accommodate the extra outputs this required, Front of House engineer Howard Heckers has switched to a Digico SD8 console. Heckers also carries a 150m Optocore in case they stick him at the back of the room. Sound all right? Bloody well right! www.digico.biz Group Technologies (Digico): (03) 9354 9133 or www.grouptechnologies.com.au
MXL, which has made its name mostly with affordable studio microphones, has branched out into live performance microphones with the MXL CR77. However, while the CR77 is a dynamic microphone expected to withstand the rigours of stage, the industrial design is a near-replica of the RCA 77C Ribbon microphone to provide that retro look for vocalists. Should be good for a laugh — find a studio with an RCA 77C in its inventory and start throwing the MXL CR77 around. You’ll have to wait until later in the year. www.mxlmics.com Innovative Music: (03) 9540 0658 or www.innovativemusic.com.au
Not so cheap Trick: Cheap Trick has announced it’s sueing the organisers of the Ottawa Bluesfest for the staging collapse in 2011 that had the band fleeing for their lives. On an otherwise still, warm day, a freak wind gust wreaked havoc. After (no doubt) much careful deliberation and precise bean-counting the band has come up with the neat damages figure of $1 million dollars (in best Dr. Evil voice). That’s $400,000 for ruined gear (that’s a hell of a backline) and $600,000 for “special damages”. Very special, we’d say. (Source: Classic Rock Magazine online.)
plug-ins designed to be used in a live mixing situation. Now with the capability to record to two computers simultaneously, it also includes several new features such as an improved streamlined graphic interface for smoother performance and you can load up to 1000 snapshots. Best of all, according to Waves, is the ability to run Waves Signature Series plug-ins, from Chris Lord-Alge, Tony Maserati, Jack Joseph Puig, Eddie Kramer and Manny Marroquin — although beware the latter two are only possible on a MultiRack Native system, with SoundGrid compatibility we’ll assume in the pipeline. Sound & Music www.sound-music.com
BlackBox manufacturer JoeCo has released JoeCoRemote for iPad. The new software app, together with a specially developed hardware interface, enables remote control of both 24-channel and 64-channel BlackBox Recorders and BlackBox Players via iPad. The interface allows all transport functions (Play, Stop, Record) to be remotely controlled from the iPad, as well as providing access to the BlackBox menu structure. The app is free, but you need to buy that required hardware interface. www.joeco.co.uk National Audio Systems: 1800 441 440 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ONE SLICE OR TWO WITH THAT MIX? First up, we have to say, JamHub is a prime candidate for the current fad of baking cakes in the shape of audio hardware. The JamHub has been available for a while, but to recap — it’s a personal rehearsal system for up to seven musicians depending on the model type; Bedroom, Greenroom or Tourbus (multiple inputs per station cater for even more players, if you’re clever) and you get inbuilt effects, individual mixing of each input and a Stage mix control, which is a form of panning. And now (silent, electronic drum roll please) there’s soon to be the Tracker MT16, a digital recorder that can grab
16 channels of audio directly out of your JamHub to capture your jamming genius — or otherwise — onto an SD card or USB thumb drive. The Tracker MT16 also has a wireless internet connection for uploading files to JamHub’s own cloud service, Bandlab, for sharing. And the USB port lets you input the files directly into your DAW of choice. The Tracker MT16 also has its own multiple analogue inputs and can be a standalone digital recorder without any JamHub. Intelliware www.intelliware.com.au
Play. Capture. Stream
NEW TRICKS FROM NEUTRIK Neutrik has announced new DIWA (Digital Wireless Audio) technology and a product called Xirium to provide a digital, wireless, audio network. It’s a fascinating move from a company known for its traditional wired connectors. A four-channel base unit (Xirium TRX) together with mobile transmission (Xirium TX) and receiving units (Xirium RX) constitute the basic Xirium network. And an extension unit can upgrade the network to a total of eight channels. The base units are bi-directional, so unlike traditional wireless setups, Xirium can transmit and receive from the same base unit. Neutrik is labelling Xirium as Plug and Play, with high sound quality, reliability and automatic frequency management promising an easy setup. The DIWA (Digital Wireless Audio) technology runs at 24-bit/48k, and operates in the 5GHz frequency band with 3ms of latency. And the allocation and selection of input and output channels is configurable. Amber Technology www.ambertech.com.au
Side Mic Left
Side Mic Right
Zoom brought brilliant HD video and sound to your movies with the Q3HD. Now, with the Q2HD Handy Video Recorder, there’s only one handheld camcorder with both onboard Mid-Side stereo recording and live streaming capabilities. In addition, the Q2HD features an upgraded camera sensor, enhanced user interface and much more for capturing and sharing great looking videos that sound better than ever. 1080P HD • 4x digital zoom • Onboard editing • 24-bit/96 kHz linear PCM sound • Analogue mic gain • Compatible with 64GB SDXC cards • HandyShare software included • Two Year Warranty when purchased from Authorised Australian dealers
BRING RECORDS TO
In 2008, Laura Escudé became one of the first Ableton Certified Trainers. It wasn’t by accident that Escudé began proselytising on behalf of the progressive software. She’s an early adopter who has made a business of putting the ‘live’ into Ableton Live. Electronic Creatives, Escudé’s music technology consultancy, employs six people that design, build and operate custom live show solutions for a client list that includes Kanye West, Herbie Hancock, Garbage, Bon Iver and Cirque Du Soleil — the kind of clientele with large demands and no room for compromise. Suffice to say, she’s a doyen of her craft. Laura is a performer herself. As a violinist — her main instrument — she writes and performs cinematic, textural music, as heard on her 2010 album Pororoca. She also leant her violin to Kanye West and Jay-Z’s album Watch The Throne, and played live on West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy tour. Escudé, the producer, remixes artists like M83. And, performing as Alluxe, crafts uptempo hiphop with EDM-influenced music. It doubles as a technical testbed for her day job — using Ableton Live and a range of controllers and triggers to loop, treat and tweak live violin, samples and synths, combined with video and lasers controlled via Ableton. Then, of course, there’s that day job — CEO and Creative Director of a consultancy that implements the newest technologies and techniques in electronic music performance for premier artists. Escudé has a lot of strings to her bow.
KEEPING ON TOP
Escudé’s hatful of roles keep her away from her native L.A. much of the year. When I catch her, she’s in New York working on her new live show and PR schedule for Alluxe’s upcoming EP and music video. The video was filmed in Prague, with art direction and choreography by Czech-born Yemi A.D. She and Yemi met working on Kanye West’s live show, which Yemi choreographed, along with Kanye’s video for Runaway. In an artistic quid pro quo, the two are trading expertise: “I produced Yemi’s EP,” explained Laura. “So he choreographed and art directed my music video. We had an amazing time in Prague breaking into some abandoned warehouses and buildings. The landscape is very beautiful. I think people will be very surprised but engaged because this video has amazing dancing and aesthetics. It’s an innovative piece of art.” The theatricality of the video plays on Escudé’s mind as she dreams up yet more technical solutions to creative problems. She’s already working towards running video from Ableton, and controlling lighting and lasers from her Ableton Live Sets, and she’s always thinking of ways to expand: “DMX conversion is on the top of my list of things I want to accomplish in the next couple of months,” she says. Artistic goals and physical practicalities both influence Alluxe’s current live rig. Livid Instruments gear features heavily in the mix, including an OhmRGB controller customised by Electronic Creatives collaborator Henry Strange.
“Henry is a genius and he is always coming up with these ideas for cool controllers,” said Laura. “He had the idea to incorporate coloured LED strips in the sides of the OhmRGB, then he upgraded it and made them addressable. So I now have MIDI clips in Ableton Live that are triggering the lights around it.” Laura has incorporated a lot of dummy clips for control of internal and external devices into her Live Sets. “I have a million different MIDI clips in my Live set that look really strange,” she said. “For example, note-in velocities correlate to either the colour or the position of the LEDs around the OhmRGB. If you want them to change really fast, you have a lot of notes dialled into one lane and have that looping, morphing and changing.” Livid Instruments Base is also making regular appearances on Laura’s stage. It’s a 32-pad, nine touch-sensitive slider, eight-button controller with extensive control over its internal coloured LEDs. “It has pressure sensitivity and I can do some really cool programming with it for the lights. It’s got those great slider strips, which look and feel fun live because you can bring up five faders with one hand. I’m a big fan of all the Livid Instruments gear.” FEET COME IN HANDY
Playing violin, however, takes both hands, so Laura has employed a couple of different options for foot control. The Pok foot controller by X-Tempo Designs is wireless, keyboard mappable
VOX FX IN A BOX
Real-time vocal effects control is one of Laura’s specialities, which she often carries out with a Wii remote connected to an Ableton signal chain. How does this fit in with a traditional live vocal signal chain? “Typically, the signal comes to me, then goes to the monitor console and then to FOH,” Laura elaborated. “The idea behind what I’m doing is to get the sound the artist wants into their ears. It’s taking a bit of control away from FOH and monitors, but it helps everyone because I’m paying attention to details they might not have time for while they’re mixing. To be there and manipulate things in real time adds a very cool element to the show.” There are a variety of effects that Laura will apply to an artist’s vocal, sometimes replicating an effect from an album and often developed closely with the artist for the show. “Sometimes I’ll use AutoTune, sometimes delay, distortion, pitch shifting or slapback. I’ll do delays on a certain syllable or improvise with the artist a little bit.”
A glimpse into an Alluxe Live Set
and runs on batteries. “It’s like having a qwerty keyboard for your feet — it’s a great controller,” enthused Laura. “I’ve recommended it to many people. I worked with Herbie Hancock last year and now he’s using a Pok and an OhmRGB.” Laura has also used the SoftStep from Keith McMillen Instruments. It’s USB-powered, weighs just 1.3 pounds [just over half a kilogram – Ed], and has 10 pressure- and touchsensitive buttons that can send out either MIDI or OSC. The buttons don’t provide the reassuring ‘clunk’ that other pedals do, but it’s loosely the equivalent of having the more well-known QuNeo at your feet. The practicalities of airline travel have also weighed in on Laura’s rig: “As a travelling musician I’m always trying to keep my baggage weight under 50 pounds [22kg], so I’ve given up my foot controller when I’m travelling. I have a custom script on the OhmRGB that changes button colour according to the Ableton Looper state. If I’m in Record mode the button turns red, if I’m in Overdub it turns orange and if I’m in Playback it turns green.” ELECTRONIC CREATIVES
The artistic possibilities created by the tech of Laura’s live performances has captured the attention of a broad range of artists. As more of them sought her advice and knowledge to enhance their own shows, the Electronic Creatives consultancy was born. Based out of L.A, the team’s six programmers, producers, engineers and all-round creative geniuses, including Laura, are bringing the new generation of performance possibilities to major tours and cutting-edge cult artists alike. Laura is passionate and articulate in her vision for the new artistic possibilities afforded by programs such as Ableton Live. Escudé: “There’s been a ProTools-style playback operator on a lot of major tours for the last 20 years. It’s a left-to-right style of playback with backing tracks being played and not much else. Now, with the advent of Ableton Live and more ‘on-the-fly’ types of technology, I’m trying to show different artists in the touring industry what can be done. It doesn’t have to be the way it was before. You can do it — you can loop your vocals, you can tweak a filter and change audio effects in real time. It’s my mission with the company to bring a more creative live show to the touring industry.” Electronic Creatives has worked with the world’s biggest touring acts, Lady Gaga and Jay-Z are also clients. Able to understand music, tech, performance and operation, the crew offer a personal service far beyond ‘playback technician’ and almost become an extension of the artist themselves.
HANDING HERBIE A HAND POK
It’s not just the over-the-top arena spectaculars of a Kanye or a Gaga that benefit from this kind of technology. Laura has had the pleasure of working with living legend and 14-time Grammy winner Herbie Hancock. How did she approach working with the maestro? “I showed him my live set to begin with — violin and live looping. He got some ideas from that based on my techniques. So we built on what I do, ideas that he had previously and the controllers that he already owned. I then introduced him to the Ohm and the Pok. He’s so open to technology. He’s very hip to everything that’s going on now.” Laura went on to help Herbie build a new setup for his dynamic live shows: “He moves around a lot during his shows, so he has two stations. He has a keytar, he’s doing live vocoding, he’s doing looping; there’s so many different elements. He also likes to change keys in the middle of a song sometimes. We went with one setup front and centre of the stage and another further back. It was challenging to program but very cool — wherever he was on stage, everything was always synced, even if there were different controllers being used. Wherever Herbie went on stage, he immediately knew where he was in the Ableton Live Set.”
“When it came time to take my solo live set to the next level I was referred to Ableton Live sonic scientist Laura Escudé. Since she is a musician and producer herself, we started with her showing me some of her techniques and then I brainstormed and built upon those. This lead to a brand new way of performing for me, utilising all kinds of new controllers and software, allowing me to be very improvisational. It was very easy to work with Laura because she gets what I do from an artistic perspective and has the technical knowledge to pull off my unconventional ideas. It was a pleasure for me to work with her and I will again as my live set continues to evolve.” — Herbie Hancock
T here’s been a left-to-right ProTools-style playback operator on major tours for the last 20 years… It doesn’t have to be the way it was before.
BACKGROUND IN CHECK
Outside of the realm of straight concert performance, global circus phenomenon Cirque Du Soliel brought Laura to Las Vegas for tech design and music programming on Viva Elvis and Iris. Cirque playback engineer Mike Atwood had developed a simplified graphic interface for Ableton called ‘Mat4Live’, intended to provide a straightforward overview of a whole show for musical directors.
‘Craziness in the background’ has become Laura and Electronic Creatives’ speciality. This summer touring season in the US, Laura and her team have been doing shows with Solange, Kanye, The Weekend and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Not to rest on their laurels, Laura is constantly drumming up new business: “I’m pitching designs to different tours. I’m really looking for artists and organisations that want to do something different. It’s happening with the smaller, more experimental artists but I feel like at a very high level these big tours aren’t hip yet to what can be done. Some of them want to do regular playback and that’s fine, but my passion is the more experimental side of things. I want to work with artists to create something that’s more interesting and engaging on stage.”
“In the kind of massive Live Sets that Cirque Du Soliel run, there can be 64 tracks, all these transitions, fade outs, and a lot of different things that need to be programmed in case something happens in the show,” said Laura. “There are a lot of elements you’re worried about — if something doesn’t move in time or a performer doesn’t make their trick. You need to be able to hold and loop what’s happening in the music.” Mat4Live translates all of the in-depth programming that’s happening in an Ableton set of this complexity and condenses it into a simple user-defined graphic that displays the name of the song, and different parts of the song as specified. Control of each song and section can be mapped to a MIDI keyboard note or any other MIDI controller. Laura: “This is great for any musical director new to Ableton Live. And even if they aren’t, it’s a great way to deal with a show. You can be looking at just the song or section name and control it via your interface without seeing all the craziness that goes on in the background.”
Electronic Creatives also builds shows that don’t need its specialised talents to operate. Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver, known for his achingly beautiful acoustic ballads, doesn’t come to mind when you think of electronic music. Laura helped Justin and his live band build an Ableton Set that incorporated their keyboard patches to be played via MIDI controller, and song-by-song vocal effects for Justin’s voice. The rig went out designed to be operated by a crew member pressing a single button at the start of each song, changing both vocal and synth presets. Similarly Garbage, which counts production heavyweight Butch Vig in its number, employed Laura to help translate their detailed album work to the live arena. “I set up different MIDI program changes in Ableton Live so all their Line6 guitar processors would change settings in different parts of the song, which they thought was really cool. I ended up opening for a couple of their shows in L.A.” The band took the setup out on the road, operated and maintained by their crew. Being an expert in the program, it seemed timely to asks her impression of the new features in Ableton Live 9. “I love the audio-to-MIDI conversion, but the Glue compressor is my favourite,” she said. The community of Max For Live developers releasing patches has also become a treasure trove for her experimentations: “A lot of the Max For Live effects and instruments people are coming up with are brilliant. I’m getting more and more into digging for that stuff on the internet. There’s a lot there; it’s a great program.” Alluxe’s new EP is due out August 8: www.alluxemusic.com
After years of baulking at the use of computers in our live show, the Ableton system Laura designed for us has completely changed my opinion. Ableton handles everything we need it to and we’re still just scratching the surface of what it can do. As opposed to our old setup, I actually get excited about making changes to our live show now! It has left the hardware samplers we’d been using in the dust on every level. It’s more flexible, more usable, and way more enjoyable!” — Joe Lester, Silversun Pickups Photo: Michael Walsh
TIMELESS BEAUTY IN
ASYMMETRY Karnivool and producer Nick DiDia embrace each otherâ€™s differences to stay off the beaten track on new album Asymmetry. Story: Mark Davie Photos: Kane Hibberd
Guitar tabs are notorious for containing little more timing information than the odd bar break, but tabs for Western Australian prog rock band Karnivool’s tunes reach a new level of ambiguity: Strings of numbers, squiggles and slashes, with no time signatures, breaks, or points of reference in sight. One ‘helpful’ guitarist posted a string of riffs with just a couple of minute:second signposts along the way, while another blazed away a non-descript wiggle of numbers till there was a definitive 4/4 to latch on to, then promptly went wild again. It’s a hallmark of the band: Their ability to switch in and out of complex, compound, even irrational time signatures without so much as breaking a sweat. But for guitarist Mark Hosking, it’s completely natural. So much so, he couldn’t even tell you what he’s playing in. “We just don’t think in time signatures,” said Hosking. “When we released We Are, there was quite a bit of internet talk around whether it was in 12/8, 6/8, 4/4, or if it changed halfway through, and were the verses
different to the chorus? That blew me away when I heard that. I just don’t hear it like that, it seems very straight to me. “Feel is way more important than what time signature it’s in. 4/4 is the most obvious, and easily grasped by humans, but it doesn’t always convey what you want to convey. If you’re doing something in 7’s, you feel it in 7’s for a while, and then it starts to feel normal. If you go back to 4/4 or something straighter, it feels jarring.” Karnivool’s recent album Asymmetry celebrates this kind of left of centre beauty. And complex time signatures are just one the abnormal forces Karnivool rubs against common ideas to create something entirely new. NAILING IT FIRST TIME
Asymmetry was recorded with producer/engineer Nick DiDia at Studio 301’s Byron Bay digs. But prior to arriving there, the band had wrangled together four or five songs in their Perth demo studio. It’s the first time the band has had their
own place, a slice of factory space they’ve divvied up between a control room and medium-sized live room. Based around an iMac, ProTools, a couple of 002s, and some outboard preamps, it allows the band to lay down ideas in what amounts to a process of trial and error. “We have preproduction sessions where we pull songs together,” said Hosking. “Then turn them around on their heads, completely disintegrate them, scratch them up and find the best parts that we like.” Mining for gems can be a painful process, and Karnivool records are an ordeal, in the way that great records often are. “It’s a shitload of fun, but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s very challenging,” said Hosking. “We just don’t leave anything undone.” Over in Byron, the band settled in for more pre-production with DiDia, building the songs up piece by piece. It can take a while for even the band to reach a consensus as to what makes a good Karnivool song because there’s no consistent structure. “I guess the only prototypical thing that always happens is someone has an idea,” said
Karnivool’s rolling approach to arrangements was different to how DiDia usually likes to work. “Arrangement-wise, I try to have the songs way more together when we’re tracking it,” he said. “But it was a conscious decision by everybody to do it this way. There were some songs we worked out as we tracked them.”
Hosking. “It could be an atmospheric sound, could be a bass line, could be a drum line. A lot of it stems from drum and bass lines that Steve and Jon [Stockman, bassist] have rapped out together and then either Drew [Goddard, guitarist] or myself add an idea to that. “Once you’ve got those three elements — drums, bass and something else — that generally starts the evolution of a song and from that point on it builds quickly. Then you stop, look at it and go, ‘That’s terrible!’ And it starts at zero again. That may happen five or six times before you start to get something you like.” Inevitably, the litmus test for a ‘good’ Karnivool song is consensus. Whatever makes the people involved in the project happy goes, even if it takes years to get there. Hosking: “Some of our songs have taken two years to like, some have come together in two or three months. Every song is different and every song has a different key motif or starting point.” One of the benefits of setting up in preproduction mode at 301, was it allowed DiDia the freedom to nail down his sounds very early on. With Karnivool, the process revolves around inspiration, so being able to capture material as it was being formed allowed the band to hear what was and wasn’t working in a close proxy of how it would sound on the record. “We weren’t really keeping anything,” said DiDia. “But we had the ability to listen to everything in a much better atmosphere than your typical rehearsal hall.”
The rule became: Record everything. If something good came out, DiDia would mark it and keep rolling. “The guys were really present too,” said DiDia. “After a take, they’d yell into the mics, ‘Hey can you mark that thing I did halfway through?’ It might have been something unexpected they would incorporate later into their main parts, or we’d just use the one we caught at that moment.” A byproduct of piecing the songs together live was some atmospheric material, a lot of which ended up as neatly connecting ambience between Assymetry tracks in the grand prog tradition. DiDia calls them happy accidents. “In some cases,” he said. “Not everyone knew exactly what they were doing, so they’d be searching a little bit, and there would be noises and sounds happening while we were tracking the song.” Once the beds were down, most of the guitars were overdubbed again, as the songs slowly started to bed down. Despite this free-flowing approach to arrangements, there wasn’t a lot of minute editing in post. DiDia just kept it to what he calls ‘tape edits’. “Because it’s the way we used to edit on tape,” he explained. “If you like a section, you copy it onto another bit of tape and use it twice. As opposed to getting in and moving snares and kicks around.” DIFFERENCE MAKER
The means of getting to an arrangement wasn’t the only way DiDia and Karnivool differed. DiDia also likes to set project time limits for efficiency’s sake. “Some of the guys in the band would continue working and changing things whether they had five weeks or 50. It’s just in their nature to do that, whereas I’m not that way. I’m more, ‘hey, we’ve got this long to do it, let’s get it done!’ It’s not necessarily rushing — still taking time to experiment — it’s just being efficient and not wasting any time.” The third difference was a more live approach. Not that Karnivool had specifically gone away
from live sounds, but DiDia felt the new record could definitely lean more that way. DiDia: “I suggested the record be a little more live sounding, more of them in the room. I thought Sound Awake was really great, but after hearing them as a band, it wasn’t enough of ‘them’. It may have been one of the reasons they wanted to work with me because generally I track bands live and it carries that sort of vibe when it’s all done.” The partnership between band and producer wasn’t entirely contrasting, but the force of a few opposing ideals certainly helped shape Asymmetry, capturing the spirit of the album in its process; that two differing ideas rubbing against each other can produce something better than sticking to the middle. BARE BONES
The layers of a Karnivool record, and really, any prog rock record, would seem to suggest there’s excess to be found in every corner of the recording process. But in reality, DiDia started out with a bare bones version of his normal recording setup. “Maybe five mics on the drums, which are an old AKG D30 on the kick, Neumann KM184s on the overheads, a Shure SM57 on the snare,” said DiDia. “I start there and
4/4 is the most obvious, and easily grasped by humans, but it doesn’t always convey what you want to convey
EDGE OF AGGRESSION
DiDia has done a lot of records in his time, but his engineering of hard rock records by Rage Against The Machine, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam demonstrate an uncanny ability to capture a band’s aggressive edge. “It’s the way I was taught to make those kind of records,” said DiDia. “The drums are a good example. If you listen to the drum tracks by themselves after the mix, they sound really over the top and roomy. I was taught a lot of that room was going to get sucked up and that distortion is going to be calmed down by anything that’s thrown on top of it. “So there are two things. One, you try to make your arrangements as sparse as you can in order to make those elements stick out. But at the same time you have to overcompensate. I learned on tape. And a lot of the time you didn’t have the luxury of unlimited tracks so you had to bounce things together knowing they’d be used that way in the mix. It was important to always overemphasise any reverb or aggressive tones, because when other things get piled on top in the mix stage it all inevitably gets toned down. If you have tones you think are good but aren’t over-hyped or aggressive, when you get to the end stage it all sounds a little dull and not as exciting as you want it to be.” AT: And have you hit on key sounds or pieces of gear that give you that tone in the first place?
add tom mics and things as we go. The guitars are always SM57s and Neumann KM86s on the cabinets. All pretty normal. I tend to find that those things tend to capture what’s going on in the room really well so it doesn’t always sound the same. It depends on the sound that’s coming out of the room. And that depends on the players and what they’re playing more than anything else, especially drums. “I try to end up with the drums sounding like a single instrument, rather than a collection of 10 or 12 different things he’s hitting. And that usually starts with the overheads — sometimes it’s the room mics — to try to capture the instrument as a single piece. You add other mics as you need, just to make sure things are loud enough in the balance. “Like most great drummers, Steve was really good at balancing himself. You use that to your advantage and add little things here and there, sometimes you need to turn up individual instruments within the drum kit to make them present enough. But in general, if you just listen to the drum tracks by themselves, it sounds like a drummer in a room. That’s generally what I try to go for.”
Nick DiDia: I’ve discovered that I’ve become a bit of a pedal snob. I have a bunch of amps and guitars, but they always have their own pedals. We’ll get a sound through a pedal board and listen to it, then bypass the pedals entirely and plug it into the amp and nine times out of 10, the amp sound without the pedals has a lot more depth to it. It sounds more present, deeper and warmer sounding — more like you’re standing in front of an amplifier. Most guitarists hear that difference, so then it becomes a matter of figuring out what pedals you need for the sound you’re trying to get. And if you can get it without the pedals you do that. With Karnivool, we experimented using pedals either in different orders or different places in the amp, because some of the newer amps have effects loops in the back of them as opposed to just putting it before the preamp. But generally, the less pedals the better. Even if it’s a ‘true bypass’ pedal, it’s not the same as plugging right into the amp. AT: Do you re-amp and double those guitars? ND: I’m more into getting it right when you track it, and recording all delays and reverbs. We have this old AKG BX20 spring reverb up in the ceiling of 301 that really sounds great on guitars and sometimes we would just print that along with the guitars. I generally use it on the microphone side before it went to tape or ProTools. I remember reading an interview with Brian Wilson where he said they would always print the reverbs because there was something different about how the microphone hit the reverb as opposed to coming back off tape.
The reason we used to do it that way was because we didn’t have enough tracks. Now that we have so many tracks available it’s really easy to do and you can sort it out later if you need to. JUST PRINT IT
AT: How far do you take the ‘just print it’ philosophy? ND: Generally, if I have two mics on a guitar cabinet or even two amps running one sound, unless it’s a specific stereo sound I’ll always print the combination on one track, not the separate microphones. But a lot of the sounds ended up stereo. We would use one track for whatever microphones were on the cabinet, so if there was an SM57 and a KM86 on a cabinet, they would go to one track. And the track on the other side would be the room mic. If you’re standing in the room and you hear the sounds bouncing off the walls, that gets lost on the close mics. But there is a certain sound you get from the room that people are used to, because that’s the way a lot of microphones have been used on guitar amps over the years. I like the idea of having a separate room mic that you can move around in the stereo field to make the guitars seem like they have more depth. AT: In the same way as the drums, are you using a lot of that room sound? ND: I try to record everything the way the console is set up in Byron: it’s an old Neve that has a 24-track monitor section, which would have been your returns in the old days. I try to leave those at zero and print all my levels so I don’t have to move those. That way, when it comes to mixing time, you set everything at zero and it should sound like the record with a just a few little adjustments here and there. So a lot of times I’ll just print the room mics really low, because I know I only want a little bit, and print them in the stereo field where I want them to be. AT: And does this train of thought carry over into how you record the other instruments? ND: John had a couple of different cabinets we went through. And I have an old Fearn VT3 DI. It’s a big tube DI that just works really well with bass. So we would record a clean DI before all his effects; and then his amplifier, which would be effected; and then a separate amp that would have amp distortion. He could either use it throughout the entire song or turn it on and off in certain parts with a line switcher. We mainly used a Neumann U47 and he would just sing out in the room. Ian [Kenny] is such a great singer. When we were tracking he’d sing into a Shure SM7 in the control room, because it was easier to get isolation. We used some of those vocals, but he didn’t necessarily have all the finished lyrics when we were tracking, so he’d have to re-sing them. But had the lyrics been together, we could have easily used his tracking stuff. Just one of those guys.
It was important to always over-emphasise any reverb or aggressive tones, because when other things get piled on top in the mix stage it all inevitably gets toned down
CHASING THE VIBE
AT: Do you use many effects to exaggerate the live vibe? ND: Other than the AKG spring reverb, I also used an EMT plate, and a Lexicon PCM60, which is a really simple reverb Lexicon made prior to the PCM70, which is more of an overall effects unit that has delays and all kinds of stuff in it. The 60 is really simple, it has plate and room in a couple of sizes and I used that pretty exclusively on the drums, but occasionally on vocals too. For delay we have an old Ampex machine we use as slap and tape delay. I also have a Watkins Copycat which is basically an Echoplex with four or five tape heads and different selectors on it. For longer delays I used the UAD plug-ins version of the Lexicon 224. And then I have a bunch of old crappy digital delays I’ll use occasionally. AT: How big a part does compression play in drawing out the vibe? ND: I’ll compress a little going in to tape, usually just a pair of Universal Audio 1176s on the rooms, Teletronix LA3As on overheads and I’ll use an Empirical Labs Fatso on the stereo sub where I send all the drums and parallel compress them. There’s compression on vocals going in and a little bit coming out. And then I have a two-mix compressor from an SSL. It’s not compressed as much as we used to do it, but there’s some in there. I try to record most of it to tape so it sounds the way I want it to sound without having a bunch of outboard running all the time.
AT: Is it only out of necessity that you compress on the way in? ND: It used to be out of necessity as you only had a certain number of compressors so you had to do it on the way in. But when you print it as you go, it informs all your other decisions about how everything else is supposed to sound. The benefit is two-fold really. For one, the band hear what they have down, and the other reason is, it’s hard for me to know what the drums are supposed to sound like if I don’t know what the bass and guitars are sounding like. So I don’t really record in a vacuum, recording the drums by themselves and then figuring out what the guitars and bass are supposed to sound like over that. Which is why I guess it sounds like a band when it’s done. Because the idea is, it sounds like a band when we start. SIGNATURE MIX
AT: Do you have to mix any differently given there’s often not a typical verse/ chorus/bridge structure? ND: It’s just a case of doing several passes as an entire song and then going back and zeroing in on certain sections. I was taught that those initial mixes — like the first time a band plays a song — can have spontaneous things you may not do if you think about it too much. Sometimes there’s a roughness to them that suits the song and the style. So we captured all of the rough mixes, and instead of trying to copy them, I would sometimes actually use the instrumental
monitor mixes, or parts of them, or it might be half and half, or even just using it as a guide. It was different song to song. AT: With them jumping in and out of different time signatures, is it important for you to know exactly what meter they’re playing in? ND: I grew up with Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd and King Crimson. It seems very natural to me. It’s funny, I’ve been reading some of the comments about We Are, and everyone is talking about the time signature and discussing where the ‘one’ is. And I don’t have any problem bopping my head to that song. It’s a tribute to Steve, but also to how the band writes, that it’s easy to listen to without thinking about time signatures. That’s one of the things the great prog drummers had; Bill Bruford, Phil Collins, Allan White, they could play something intricate and difficult, but it would have a groove to it. I remember reading Bill Bruford say he didn’t think of anything in time signatures, he’d just follow the song and the lyric. It’s that way with Steve. I’m sure he knows, because if something came up he’d instantly say, ‘No, that’s a bar of 15 and then it goes back to 7,” but when he’s playing he’s just playing. He played to a click, just not a time signaturedependent one. But occasionally we would need the meter to set delays and things like that. Most of the time I could figure it out, but sometimes I just had no clue and would have to ask, ‘That’s a what? Count that for us.’
Kraftwerk has been gigging in surround for decades. But never anything like this. Story: Christopher Holder
This isn’t so much a story about a Kraftwerk gig, as it is a story about an entirely new way of mixing. Love ’em or hate ’em; whether you care if Ralf and Florian have broken up or not; or whether you thought Tour de France was better than their ’70s output, it doesn’t matter; Kraftwerk are, in some ways, simply the hosts… the carriers… the ones with the nerve and the music to give this new way of presenting live sound a red hot go. Back in Issue 89 Robert Clark wrote a rather excellent article for AT. It was how a new immersive surround sound processor called Iosono was used at the Sydney Opera House to virtually replicate the sound of a huge ensemble in an orchestra pit… when the musicians were actually playing in another room of the building. Iosono used a process licensed from the Fraunhofer Institute called wave-field synthesis (WFS) to take a whole bunch of sources (56 microphones in the case of the Die Tote Stadt opera) and then route them, after passing through its algorithms, to a whole bunch of speakers to produce a stunningly authentic replication of how the orchestra would sound if it was actually there. It was an awesomely clever trick. But in one respect, a tad regressive. A little like those ‘real dolls’ Clive James would carry on about. Why spend so much time and energy on attempting to replicate the look and feel of a real human, when an actual human is superior in every regard? The Die Tote Stadt opera [and I urge you to go and have a look at the Issue 89 story again] had a perfectly legitimate excuse: they couldn’t shoe-horn the outsized orchestra required for the performance into the Joan Sutherland Theatre pit. But it did pose the question: what could you do with the Iosono system if your aim wasn’t to recreate an acoustic space? What if you could let the imagination run wild and, erm… let rip?
OUT OF STEP WITH LEFT/RIGHT
Well, it turns out that d&b’s Ralf Zuleeg is way ahead of us. Ralf (d&b’s Head of Education and Application Support) has been an enthusiastic advocate of Wave-Field Synthesis (WFS), and for some time has been exploring the rock ’n’ roll possibilities for its application. Ralf Zuleeg: “System design with a classic left/ right PA has gone as far as it can. It’s very good compared to what we had even 10 years ago, but sound engineers are becoming frustrated with its limitations. The dilemma is this: the sound engineer can only mix to stereo, and move the musical ingredients forward and backward, and side to side.” Ralf enlisted the cooperation of a nightclub in Stuttgart as a crash test dummy, fitting it out with the surround speaker system and Iosono brain, and has invited bands in to see and hear what it might be like to mix their live sound in a totally different way. One of those bands was Kraftwerk. With the Stuttgart club as a testing ground, Kraftwerk’s FOH Engineer, Serge Gräef, immediately grasped the possibilities. Using an iPad interface, Serge could grab a source and move it around the space. Or he could introduce reverb through the system in a dynamic manner; rolling it up and down the hall. As Serge Gräef said: “This is not surround sound; it’s something far more sophisticated that immerses the audience within the performance.” Subsequently, Kraftwerk has been working its way around the globe performing a show that combines 3D images with immersive surround
It’s another level of creativity; it’s a big playground and lot of fun to work with it
Kraftwerk’s front truss, packing a left/right d&b V Series array with a further four T Series arrays.
MORE THAN ‘SURROUND’ Wave Field Synthesis (WFS) was developed by the Fraunhofer Institute (possibly best known for developing MP3 compression). The Fraunhofer algorithms are licensed to Iosono and run on its IPC100 processor. The key difference here is: 5:1, 7:1 and the like, work best with the listener in the proverbial sweet spot. With WFS, however, every listening position within the audience can be a sweet spot.
sound. It’s a heady blend of art and music that’s just as popular with festival goers as it is chardonnay sippers. Which all gives you some context as to what was recently achieved at the Sydney Opera House, where Kraftwerk played to packed houses during the Vivid Festival. But spare a thought for the Sydney Opera House tech staff, Jeremy Christian, and Rich Fenton, who were a little blind-sided by an initial Kraftwerk technical rider that vaguely referred to a ‘surround system’. Suffice it to say, they had little idea as to the rabbit hole they were about to jump down. A call was put through to d&b’s Australian reps, NAS, which came to the party in a big way, and as Head of Sound AV Services Jeremy Christian puts it: “That’s when the craziness started.” FAT LADY SINGS (WITH PA)
The Sydney Opera House’s Joan Sutherland theatre is predominantly for opera and ballet. The theatre packs a ‘vocal’ PA comprising a Meyer Sound M1D proscenium array. It was about to have an extreme PA makeover. After sending Ralf Zuleeg a CAD file, a system design was devised comprising left/right arrays of d&b V Series either side of the stage with no less that four additional T Series arrays in between — forming a formidable curtain of PA above the stage. At stage level Q10s matched
the array positions above as ground fill. From there a d&b T10 speaker was positioned every three metres around the theatre — 24 in all. Four additional T10s were employed as extra fill, amounting to 28 individual sends of T boxes in the venue. No, the theatre isn’t built for this type of retrofit. Jeremy describes how finding speaker points for the stalls wasn’t too difficult but the dress circle was more of a challenge: “We had to pull lights out of the ceiling, drop steel rope through the cavity and hang speakers from the roof. It was ‘interesting’, shall we say.” Seven V Subs were also ground stacked under the Kraftwerk riser and an additional d&b InfraSub were positioned left and right of stage. It’s a low-profile design masterminded by Production Manager, Winfried Blank
Felix has programmed a Midi Bridge for the Iosono system so Serge and the musicians are able to control the position and type of the sound source. It’s the vital link in making dynamic mixing in WFS surround a reality. In addition to what the musicians are doing from stage, Serge has three possibilities available to him: for some songs the position information is supplied by a timecode-synced computer with Cubase running automation tracks. For the other songs Serge has programmed the position information as MIDI commands into snapshots in the Avid Profile console. Finally, he has two iPads running Lemur software connected to the system to allow him to control any and all positions live, and to monitor the data sent by the musicians.
On stage, the four Kraftwerk musicians have computers loaded with virtual synths. The artists control the positions of the sound sources via a massive MIDI network.
So what’s it like to ‘pan’ with the iPads? Well, if you were to manipulate the GUI you’d notice the multiple loudspeaker sources are all distributed well outside the ‘four’ walls of the theatre. In effect, you’re panning around ‘virtual’ sources set back from the speakers. Felix: “The tighter curve of a closer wavefront is what gives us precise positional information, by pushing it further out, it arrives flat like a plain [distant] wavefront.”
Why MIDI? That’s where Felix Einsiedel comes in. Felix was hired as the ‘WFS guy’ and has been working with Ralf Zuleeg extensively in making WFS more than a set ’n’ forget spatial emulator.
The Lemur iOS has been heavily customised by Serge — it has been a long process of exploring what Lemur could do and Felix programming the MIDI bridge to make it happen.
MUSIQUE NON STOP
So that’s the PA. Now it was time for the band to load in. Let’s run through the setup:
IN THE MIX
Mixing with Iosono is clearly a lot of fun. Observers note that Serge took his job of screwing with the audience’s heads very seriously indeed. AT: It sounds like the possibilities are limitless, but I’m guessing there are some mixing no-nos? Serge: You can’t have sounds flying around the room all the time — or you’ll lose the impact of the big moves. And there are some things you simply can’t move around the room without losing focus or the mix falling apart. For example, you can’t move percussion around in the general course of the song — as you’ll lose the focus to stage. Similarly, you can’t have the beat in the back and the bassline at the front. It won’t sync, thanks to the speed of sound through the air — it’ll throw the timing out.
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AT: How has your approach to dynamics and effects changed? Serge: Traditionally I’m doing a lot of bus compression with the Waves L3 Multimaximiser. But now I control the dynamics on a channel-by-channel basis with C6 multi-band compression. I’m using many more plugs now than I did before. From an effects perspective, I have a bus out of the Profile for all the effects, which I position in normal stereo, and occasionally I’ll send a reverb to the Upmix as well. AT: What’s Upmix? Serg: Upmix, is an Iosono function that allows you to route reverb into the processor and Upmix makes that reverb work in your room given its acoustic properties and the number of speakers you have in the space. For example, Fritz [Hilpert, of the band] is often sending snare reverbs into the Upmix and the reverb comes from every speaker in the system. But it’s not just playing back the reverb, there’s an algorithm in the box that’s analysing all the room info — the pre-delay and other parameters along with timing delays on each speaker that controls the imaging in the room. It also means you can move that reverb around the room. AT: What reverb and delays are you using?
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Serge: I’m working with TC’s VSS3 as my reverb. For delays I’m using H-Delay from Waves, or I’m using Native Instruments’ Reaktor.
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AT: Reaktor? Okay, this sounds like it could be interesting!
Serge: Right! I program eight tap delays and every tap has its own signal output to Iosono. I’ve built a control interface for Lemur to decide whether the delay is in 4ths, 8ths or 16ths of a bar via a tap tempo button. My song’s tempo is always set in the console’s scene automation but I can switch it manually on my interface to decide if it’s controlled from the desk or via tap speed on the iPad. I have a ‘multi-ball’ element in the delay, with eight balls, and I control every position of every repeat on the delay. I’ve got a high-pass and low-pass filter available for each tap and I have built in feedback of 200–300%. AT: Sounds insane. Serge: Well, unfortunately, there’s no song where it fits! I’m using it on Planet of Visions for one move around. But I built it because I can and it’s good to explore what’s possible.
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AT: Sounds like the system has got your creative juices flowing?
SOUND TEAM Sound engineer Kraftwerk: Stefan ‘Serge’ Graefe Application Engineer d&b: Ralf Zuleeg, Iosono & Interface Programming: Felix Einsiedel Sydney Opera House Audio Supervisor: Rich Fenton Sydney Opera House Production Manager: Chris Burn Sydney Opera House Head of Sound AV Services: Jeremy Christian Sydney Opera House Audio Technician: Jan Rosenthal
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Hanging with Lemur: Sydney was the first time Serge used his Avid Profile automation to trigger all the start positions for each song. The console snapshot contains all the audio settings for the song (as per usual) and then a further three snapshots to describe X/Y positions (via MIDI control change messages) and a fourth to call up the correct Lemur interface for the iPads. Serge would probably take the MIDI control further here, but there’s a limitation on how many MIDI commands can be saved into one snapshot. Practically, what this means is, when the Next button is hit on the automation it automatically links the four additional MIDI snapshots via the Profile’s Events feature.
Serge: It’s another level of creativity; it’s a big playground and lot of fun to work with it. IOSONO: AT A PUB NEAR YOU?
AT: Does a system like Iosono have a more mainstream future? Serge: If you’re talking about regular stereo panning, with Iosono the image is much clearer — because of the discrete nature of the outputs there are no masking effects from the electronic summing on the desk. AT: Okay, so take a vocal sound as an example: how would Iosono make life easier on a regular gig. Serge: I put Ralf ’s [Hütter] vocals right where he’s standing on stage. But it’s more than that. If I want to localise Ralf precisely to that spot his wavefield position is discretely in the corresponding speaker above his head. But that’s obviously a bit restrictive for a vocal. So I will push his vocal back further and that’s where more speakers get involved… AT: … closer to what’s referred to as a ‘flat’ wavefront — ie. from an infinity point? Serge: Yes, a flat wavefront describes a sound source that is far, far away, with more speakers involved. So for vocals I pick a point source then move it back a little to get more speakers involved.
AT: So you’d suggest a system like Iosono matched with more speaker positions above the stage would have wider application?
KRAFTWERK’S TRUST IN QUAD’
Serge: I think so. Having a row of speakers on the front truss — just for stereo panning — would improve many shows. Take theatre as an example. You can’t do conventional stereo panning so much in theatres. But with Iosono you could. You have the stereo position, but it’s not just about level it’s the use of delay that pulls the image to one side or the other.
Long-time technical accomplice and current Production Manager, Winfried Blank, describes Kraftwerk’s fascination with concert surround: “We started in the late ’80s with a quad sound system, which effectively meant adding two stacks in the rear of a venue for some sound effects. The music of Kraftwerk is perfect because there were many sound samples — think of the car moving off in Autobahn or the bicycle sounds in Tour de France — that benefitted from being panned through the room. It put the audience in the thick of the song. “Over the years we added more elements to the show including video and now 3D video. The current setup entails four musicians, four keyboards with control equipment and four screens in the back of the stage. “Of course, Kraftwerk hasn’t been the only band to pioneer concert surround. The Who’s Quadrophenia is one notable early example, while Pink Floyd has also used quad surround speakers for many years. “In combination with a good sound system and well designed placement of the speaker in the room there’s little doubt this ‘surround sound’ adds a higher quality of emotion and feeling. For example, the sound of a train arriving in the back of the room will grab your attention, or the sounds pushing up the Pyrenees on a bike will leave you breathing more heavily.”
LEAD MYSELF INTO THE FUTURE?
It’s worth noting that manipulating the panning isn’t totally instantaneous. There’s a 41ms latency, as the Iosono brain frantically does the maths. This means panning moves need to be made smoothly and methodically, not like a scratch DJ. Felix Einseidel points out that 41ms represent 12m of travel time for sound, which is more than workable in a large performance venue such as the Joan Sutherland Theatre. The result is an unnaturally natural immersive sound. Audiences note that the audio is simply ‘there’ without any discernible source. You’re actually in the mix, and surely there can be nothing more exciting for a FOH mix engineer than that.
Having the right stuff to attract a client can amount to any number of things: A body of past work, word-of-mouth references, chance meetings… they might just like the way you dress. But being able to pinpoint the brand of mics and system used to record their favourite album? Priceless. Ben Gurton, professional trombone player and lecturer at the Australian Institute of Music (AIM), was on the hunt for the right engineer to record an album of Euro Jazz when he sought a fellow lecturer’s advice. Catching up with Greg Simmons (AIM Audio Engineering lecturer and founding AT editor) in the student lounge, Gurton played him a 24-bit/96k version of The Hoff Ensemble’s A Quiet Winter Night. Simmons donned a good pair of headphones and took a listen. When he was done, Gurton asked him if he could make an album that sounded just like it. “Sure,” said Simmons. “But you’d need DPA microphones and a Pyramix system recording in DSD or DXD.” Gurton laughed and flipped to the album’s liner notes, which read, “Recorded with DPA microphones and Pyramix DXD.” BUILDING THE PYRAMIX
The next step was attaining a Pyramix system, which aren’t in as ready supply as the average ProTools rig. When the first option fell through, they got in contact with Ross A’Hern, which was a bit of a double-whammy. Not only did he own a 24-channel Pyramix system, but he’s also one of the pre-eminent jazz recording engineers in the country. The team was really starting to take shape. Next: finding somewhere to record.
HOLDING ONTO RESOLUTIONS Ultra-high resolution can be more than purist boffinry; it can inspire performance. Greg Simmons and Ross A’Hern discovered this little surprise when recording Ben Gurton’s Euro Jazz album. Story: Mark Davie Photos: Alan Le & Conan Tran
Gurton had written a lot of the pieces for Prelude To A Scene with a specific reverb in mind. Namely, the rich, long reverb of Australian Hall at AIM. “Music that would work in it would have to be of a slower tempo and also the dynamics/ volume of the music needed to be relatively soft,” said Gurton. But as it turned out, he couldn’t get access to the hall anyway, and had to look for a second option. “The reverb was fantastic,” said Gurton. “I would have loved to record there — maybe next time. I spent a few weeks trying to find a completely silent church with a Steinway; it seems they don’t exist!” After a tour of the sanctuaries, he ended up at Studios 301 in Sydney. It fulfilled the requirements for rich reverb, just a tad drier, and also had a grand piano that scored the tick of approval from the album’s pianist Brendan St Ledger. Gurton was sold. THE PRICE OF INSPIRATION
The album was tracked using the ultra-high resolution DXD format at 24-bit/352.8k, which is a high-resolution version of PCM, and a close approximation of DSD without the processing hassles (see Downstream From PCM sidebar). It was all recorded through the preamps on
THE ROOM The main stereo pair were two DPA 4006TLs with nose cones fitted to make them almost text-book perfect omnis.
A’Hern’s 24-channel Merging Technologies’ Horus interface, which sat on top of the formidable Neve 88R console at 301 — itself relegated to an enormous monitor controller and headphone system. Opting for the higher resolution offered by DXD was more than simply an exercise in technological purists patting themselves on the back. What became obvious to Simmons, was the positive affect higher fidelity had on the players. The impact on the recording experience was undeniable, even for a bunch of old-hand session musicians who’ve heard it all. Simmons: “The very high resolution sound offered an unexpected surprise: The motivation it gave the musicians every time they came into the control room to listen. The quality and ‘reality’ of the sound was a regular talking point among them. It raises an interesting question: regardless of whether there is enough demand in the market to justify investing in such high-resolution technology, what price will you pay for inspired and motivated performances? “It doesn’t matter if the recording is played back on a high resolution format or not; an inspired performance is an inspired performance. You can have that on a wax cylinder! The trick is creating an inspired performance in the first place.” Gurton concurred: “When the musicians came into the control room to listen to takes they were universally very happy with the sound. To their ears, the captured sound was what they hear from their own instruments acoustically day in, day out; year in, year out. We weren’t looking to record hyper-realism, we were merely trying to capture everything that happened in that space at that moment. “The difference between standard resolution and DXD became very obvious in the mixing stage at Ross A’Hern’s Chapel Of Sound studio. Ross had set up an option to listen to a downsampled 44.1k stream on his desktop monitor send. We referenced this throughout the mixing process. The difference was quite amazing; the soundstage collapsed in and the instruments became less tangible in their presence. I found it especially noticeable in the cymbal decay and top end of the piano.” TEXTBOOK PERFECTION
With ‘reverb’ and ‘honest capture’ the catchcries of the session, room mic choice was a big consideration. Simmons opted for a pair of spaced DPA 4006TL omni microphones fitted with nose cones (a DPA option for the mic), placed high and between the five musicians. He chose an omni polar pattern because he wanted to retain all the low frequency information in the ambience; the 4006TLs with nose cones fitted are almost textbook perfect omnis throughout their frequency response and at any distance.
PIANO The piano lid was removed to help it excite the room’s reverberant field. Taking the lid off changes the tuning, a little sharp in this case according to the piano tuner, who corrected it. Getting rid of the lid also results in a cleaner close-miked sound, free of pesky lid reflections, which can produce comb filtering and a kind of ‘munchy’ sound in the midrange if you’re not careful. Two DPA 4041s were placed above the hammers. The 4041 is a large diaphragm omni with a very distinct and focused HF boost on axis. Due to the large diaphragm (a genuine B&K capsule, by the way) it has a relatively poor off-axis response. Collectively, these traits make it excellent for close-miking acoustic instruments. The focused HF boost on axis allows it to be placed further away than most other mics, to capture a fuller sound of the instrument with good LF response, but the on-axis HF boost makes it sound much closer. Any closer than this, and the HF boost on axis would create two ‘hot spots’ in the sound, leaving a dull sound for the keys in the middle. A DPA 4011 cardioid was placed in the crook of the piano, to capture a solid, warmer monophonic sound in case it was required later.
We weren’t looking to record hyper-realism, we were merely trying to capture everything that happened in that space at that moment
SAXOPHONE Julian Gough tries not to sway too much around this combination of a Neumann M149 in cardioid and a Royer R122 active ribbon.
TROMBONE Composer Ben Gurton plays his trombone into a combination of a Coles 4038 ribbon and DPA 4011 cardioid.
DRUMS The drum kit was mainly captured using a Royer SF24 stereo Blumlein ribbon overhead, supplemented by a Neumann U47FET on kick. That was the original setup, but after a listen, Simmons added a large diaphragm DPA 4041 tube mic to help clarify the snare and hats. Baffles were used to surround the back and sides of the kit in order to ‘focus’ the drums towards the main stereo pair.
Directional mics, on the other hand, typically start to roll off the low end response at distances more than 30cm from the source. The compositions also demanded more focus on the reverb than the sound stage. “If I’m trying to capture a small ensemble such as a string quartet — where there are only a handful of sound sources to spread across the stereo soundstage — I’ll use a coincident pair such as MS or Blumlein, because those techniques excel at pinpoint imaging,” explained Simmons. “But when I’m trying to capture the feeling of the space itself, I’ll go for spaced omnis every time; the subtle low frequency phase differences between the channels creates a sense of immersion within the space.” It also afforded Simmons the ability to place the musicians so they had direct sight lines, but still create the stereo impression of a jazz band playing in front of you. “A spaced pair of omnis has no front or rear side, which means you can place an ensemble on either side of the pair and get a stereo image,” said Simmons. “So we placed the piano, drums and bass on one side of the spaced pair, and placed the trombone and sax on the other side but a bit closer. To the listener, the effects is as if the ensemble is playing live with the piano, bass and drums forming the backline, and the trombone and sax standing in front.”
DPA, ALL THE WAY
“I’m a big fan of DPA microphones because they’re very clean, very clear and very accurate,” said Simmons. “They have an excellent off-axis response, which means they maintain their polar response across a wide bandwidth. Most mics are true to their polar response at 1kHz but not at other frequencies, so sounds arriving off-axis don’t have the same tonality as those arriving on-axis — they’re usually duller. That makes the captured sound appear to be roomier and perhaps even muddier. DPAs don’t do that due to their excellent off-axis response; it’s one of things you pay bigger money for when buying good microphones.” He isn’t a complete snob though, occasionally you’ll catch him ‘schlepping’ it with the likes of Neumann and Coles. On trombone he paired a DPA 4011 cardioid with a Coles 4038 ribbon to get a tonal blend, while the saxophone didn’t have a DPA on it at all — opting for a blend of Neumann M149 in cardioid and a Royer 122 active ribbon. Blending the two different microphone flavours on each instrument helped achieve unique tone blends without any EQ. NEVE HEADPHONE MIXER
Simmons collected a variety of open back headphones to run out of the gargantuan Neve headphone mixer. Jazz musicians will often
DOWNSTREAM FROM PCM Simmons: “PCM is the form of digital audio we use every day. WAV and AIFF files use PCM, as does CD and the defunct DVD-A. DSD, on the other hand, is an entirely different method of encoding audio signals. It is not compatible with PCM systems; you cannot load a DSD file into ProTools and expect to work on it. It requires very different (and somewhat more difficult) signal processing mathematics to work with DSD — which is one of the reasons it has not taken off sooner. “Prelude To A Scene was recorded and mixed in 24-bit/352.8k DXD, which although it is sonically similar to DSD, is actually linear PCM. “Until this project I was never a believer in using sampling rates above 96k. I had read and understood Dan Lavry’s paper about this some years ago, and I regularly use it in my Audio Technology 5 classes at the Australian Institute of Music. Lavry’s argument that there was no sonic benefit sampling higher than 96k made perfect sense to me, and, as Lavry pointed out, sound quality could in fact go downhill when sampling above 96k. “The newer converter technologies used in the Horus have changed my mind. It really has to be heard to be believed; tinkling piano sounds remain crystal clear, cymbals are smooth and airy, and double bass is remarkably solid and ‘grounded’. “As I understand it, PCM converter technology has come a long way since Lavry’s paper and have it on good authority that the problems he described have been tackled and overcome.”
Ross A’hern (middle) and Greg Simmons (right) zen out listening to the superlative quality of A’hern’s Pyramix system running DXD at 24-bit/384k.
DOUBLE BASS Double mics for double bass: The DPA 4011 cardioid gave a lovely sound, but was perhaps a little ‘light’ at this distance (about 30cm). The DPA 4015 wide cardioid, being halfway between an omni and cardioid, had a much warmer sound but without the articulation of the 4011. Although not usually part of Greg’s minimalist aesthetic, the combination sounded ‘wonderful’.
record as an ensemble without headphones. Simmons still wanted the musicians to primarily hear the sound of the space — which would bleed through the open-back cans — reinforced for extra focus with a mix of close mics when required. While not for everyone, it had its advantages for Hamish on drums. “As soon as he put the headphones on, he could hear Brendan on bass a lot better and the whole rhythm section snapped in,” said Simmons. “And towards the end, Julian, the sax player started wearing headphones as well. When saxophonists play, they tend to swing backwards and forwards more than a lot of other instruments, so being on mic is quite important. Once he started wearing headphones, he was able to keep his own distance under control.” ALL IN THE BALANCE
NEED TO KNOW
At the end of the 301 session, Simmons rigged up a ‘reamping’ system for the horns. He had a suspicion their directionality hadn’t excited the ambience in the room mics as much as the drums and piano, especially on a few key tom sections. So he wanted to capture a replay of each from their position in the soundstage. The idea was sound, but in the mix, A’Hern’s TC Electronic reverb made it easier to achieve the ambience Gurton was after. “We used very little processing in the mix,” said A’Hern. “And there was no processing used on the recording at all: Mics straight to Pyramix via Merging Technology’s Horus I/O. For mixing, I sent analogue auxiliary feeds to my TC Electronic 6000 reverb (running at a relatively low-res 96k) and back again, for a small amount of extra reverb, but other than that, there was little if any processing used on the tracks. We did EQ the
room mics a bit (a dip at around 300Hz) to reduce the resonant frequency of Studios 301’s main room, and added a little bottom to the Neumann U47 FET kick spot mic, but that was about all.” There wasn’t much processing going on, but critical to the mix, as always, was a good balance. For Simmons, A’Hern and Gurton, balancing such high resolution recordings was an eyeopener. Simmons: “We were talking about changing levels between instruments of 0.25 of a dB. And the three of us were agreeing unanimously — it was quite clear. It wasn’t about moving a single fader by that much and hearing the difference. It was things like balancing the two trombone mics — a quarter of a dB difference between them made a big difference to the tone. A lot of the parts are played in unison by two players, and you could also hear a big difference in a quarter of a dB when balancing the trombone up against the sax. “People will probably laugh about 0.25dB difference, ‘As if! I’d like to do a blind test on that.’ Well all I can say is, there were three of us there making very clear decisions as to which one was better…” Prelude To A Scene will be available from www.bengurton.com
MIXING WITH PYRAMIX Ross A’Hern: “Having worked with DXD on this project, there is no doubt in my mind that working at such a high resolution makes a positive difference. However, with this system, you are starting from a very high base, and the differences between resolutions are not immediately apparent. There is certainly something unusually satisfying and nourishing about what you are listening to, but it is hard to quantify what those differences are until, after listening for a while, you switch back to a lower resolution version. “We deliberately set up two monitoring paths during the mix session for this purpose: feeding the analogue output of the DXD session and a split of it through my second Pyramix system via Studer I/O running at 44.1k, to two inputs of my Grace 906 monitor controller with levels of the two mixes carefully matched. It’s when you compare the two directly that you really notice the difference. At the lower sample rate, the soundstage snaps to a smaller frame size (literally like looking at a picture that suddenly shrinks), and everything flattens and hardens slightly. “Of course, resolution isn’t everything. But with all other things equal, I would prefer to work at this resolution all the time. From a practical standpoint, there is also the issue of how to deliver music recorded at this resolution to the consumer. Apart from SACD, which has a limited following, and is perhaps struggling as a format, I am not sure whether there is any widespread interest in DXD as a download format, especially as it takes up eight times the space of a CD resolution file. “Reassuringly though, after several years of embracing mp3 convenience, there seems to be a growing awareness, at least in some enthusiastic circles, that high resolution is needed if you want to get realism and emotion (other than anger) from your music. The NBN and faster streaming rates will facilitate this, as will the growing proliferation of media players with decent converters, which are geared for a broad variety of file formats. There are already numerous online music providers, offering high resolution file downloads. If there is interest (and therefore a buck) in it, someone will provide it.”
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Melbourne producer, Myles Mumford, has been helping Swazi artists have a voice on the issues killing their nation. Story: Mark Davie
The prototypical Western ‘struggling artist’ has nothing on the Swazi musician. In Swaziland, getting airtime isn’t the issue, having enough fuel to get to the studio is. And lusting after esoteric gear isn’t a luxury enjoyed when you have to rent a guitar to play. But there are bigger fish to fry in Swaziland, and musicians are playing a key role in getting the message out. IT’S INFECTIOUS
The Kingdom of Swaziland is a small country bordered on three sides by South Africa. Its other neighbour, Mozambique, is over the Lebombo Mountains to the West. The waistline of the country is relatively slim, at 130km, holding a population over a million. It’s one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world, in the company of Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the Vatican City. It means that King Mswati III has a hand in choosing not only the prime minister, but a portion of legislators in both chambers of parliament, the Senate, the House of Assembly, and a number of Special Interest parliamentary positions designed to balance views that can deliver conflicting messages. While the Education Minister declares a moratorium on talking about sex in schools, the Minister for Health is handing out condoms to children. Which exacerbates another defining characteristic of Swaziland — the unfortunate distinction of having the highest percentage of HIV infection in the world. The United Nations and UNICEF quote the overall infection rate between ages 15-49 as 26%, putting it at the top of their list of infected countries worldwide. It’s a big number, but when you look at the more sexually active bracket of 18-49, the official infection rate for women is 39%, and 32% for men. Made all the more staggering based on the fact that only 40.1% of the population actually know their HIV status. There are all kinds of disastrous statistics that could be laid out here, but the message is clear. HIV is literally killing Swaziland. It ranks right at the bottom of most life expectancy lists — CIA, World Health Organisation — at around 47 years of age. POVERTY SPREAD
It’s not helped by incredible poverty. Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, which are very good at controlling the effects of HIV infection, are available free of charge in Swaziland. But poverty makes a simple thing extremely difficult. It makes travel to get the drugs an impossibility for many, and even if they could, having the food necessary to take with the drugs is far from guaranteed. An article in the
Guardian quoted a Swazi MP claiming he’d witnessed impoverished patients mixing cow dung with water just to get the ARVs down. The problem is exacerbated by a long history of polygamy. King Mswati III has 14 wives, and his father King Sobhuza II, had over 125 wives during his 61-year reign. Likewise, traditional Swazi men aspire to having more than one wife, and now there are a lot of informal partnerships. It’s common to not be married, but have four or five partners. And because of poverty, those women also have multiple partners, often to help pay the bills. All the while, safe sex and condom use are seen as only for people that are — for lack of a better word — sluts, resulting in an enormous amount of young pregnancies. You can quickly see how the spread of HIV is out of control. A REAL DAY JOB
For socially-minded musicians, there’s no greater issue to sing about than the one that’s tearing down their nation. And Myles Mumford is helping their voices to be heard. The Melbournebased producer has been living in Swaziland for almost a year with his wife Tegan, working with Australian Volunteers International (AVI) for the local Lusweti Institute for Health Development Communication. “Tegan and I were both thinking about living overseas,” said Myles. “She wanted to go and do development work, and I thought I’d have a year-long holiday for the first time in 15 years. Sit around, make music and have a good time!” Tegan is a social worker whose work on early onset of psychosis with Orygen Youth Health meant she was a little more acclimatised to her role with Save The Children, but Myles’ new lifestyle was a real culture shock — for the first time in his life he had a 9 to 5. “For somebody who has worked their entire life as a freelance musician/producer,” said Myles. “Getting up at 7:30 to go to work five days a week is killing me!” Not that he’s complaining too much: AVI has set he and Tegan up in the relative luxury of a decked-out thatched roof cottage; the Italian embassy is really an Italian restaurant run by the ambassador; and he’s bumped into the US ambassador at a concert, who had no security staff and was happy to riff on radio and the country’s prospects of vertical change. On the flipside, getting a good coffee is downright impossible. RIDING THE WAVES
Initially, Myles’ role was to help set up the first community radio station in Swaziland, but he soon found that was a misnomer. Mainly because it’s illegal. Legislation has been in front of the government for the past 13 years to open up the licensing process. It’s happening, he says, but not on his watch. Luckily there is already a community radio initiative he’s been lucky to work with: the Lubombo radio project has been granted just four one-day licenses to broadcast the King’s birthday celebrations in 13 years of trying for permanency, but the people are dedicated to make it a long-term reality. “They’ve just put through the Electronic Communications Bill, which has been discussed for the past 13 years,” explained Myles. “Once it’s actually gazetted, becomes law and discussed exactly how it’s going to operate, then community radio will be possible. You’ll be able to apply for a community radio licence, you’ll be able to be rejected for a community radio licence, and you’ll be able to appeal and have scope for legal recourse to it.” In other words, even when it becomes law, getting a license isn’t going to be a walk in the park. It may seem unconscionable to sucker someone halfway across the world to dump them into an impossible situation. But there’s a reason pushing for radio licensing is so important to Lusweti, Lubombo, and others trying to get a message out. In Swaziland, radio is the only way to do it. There are two nationally broadcasted stations, one in English, the other in the native siSwati tongue. “Swaziland is a bilingual country,” explains Myles. “Most people speak both siSwati and English and oddly you’ll get people who speak more English than siSwati, especially the youth.” Both national broadcasts are 100% government controlled, and serve as its mouthpiece. The only other radio station with special leave to operate is the Voice of the Church, which broadcasts entirely Christian content for the over 90% of Swaziland who identify as Christians.
Other than that, news sources are limited. Both major papers are in English, so if you have low literacy skills and no money, you’re not going to read it. The only Swazi TV channel is broadcast via South African cable, but it’s low quality means hardly anyone watches it. Everyone listens to radio because it’s affordable and batteries make it accessible even in remote regions. If you’re on radio, you have the ear of the people. NO ROLE, TO ON A ROLL
For the first couple of months, the reality of not having a defined role set in for Myles. After contemplating leaving, things started to fall into place. There are two categories of volunteers with the broader AVID (add ‘Development’ to the end): AYAD is for young professionals under 30, while AVI recruits experienced professionals to fill specific key roles. Myles is with AVI. It means Myles is one of the top five producers/ engineers in the country, quite possibly the most experienced at this point. But any sense of ego, dangerous colonialist ideas, or grand Nelson Mandela-scale reform are met swiftly with reality. “It takes you about 10 minutes to have that kicked out of you,” said Myles. “Because as soon as you get here you realise that they’re intelligent
people, their culture is diverse and while there’s plenty of stuff that really shits me about this country, there’s also stuff that is fantastic and I’m going to really miss. Only then you begin to realise, ‘There is stuff I can do here.’” ONLINE LIFELINE
Myles has just wrapped a three-month-long, weekly radio show in English called Wize Up, and has a siSwati one running until November. Both are youth-targeted talkshows about sexual issues. And later in the year Myles will help create 32 x 15-minute episodes of a radio drama targeted at adults. He’s also been recording local artists for the Lubombo community radio initiative to not only spread the message, but give local bands exposure and hopefully raise some funds. “Lubombo has all these local musicians in bands and no way to record them,” said Myles. “Or if there is a way to record them, it’s really expensive. So I went out there for a weekend and recorded nine of their local bands, doing two tracks each. It was a blast. It was something they could never afford and the likelihood of them having someone come out and do that is really low.” The recordings will be made available on Bandcamp, to hopefully generate a bit of income for the musicians. Myles: “They earn very little, and don’t get paid anything for playing music. They have to rent their instruments to play them. It’s crazy! “If we sell the albums online for $10 and 50 people buy them in Australia, that’s 5000 of the local currency — a month’s salary for a good job over here… huge for them! They’d be able to buy some of the instruments rather than borrow them all the time.” And it’s not as though they’re renting a Stradivarius either. Myles: “Those instruments were so bad — every cymbal was cracked, nobody had a drum key, and the drums were recorded in a circular hut with the weirdest resonances.” The limitations didn’t hamper his enjoyment though. “If anything,” said Myles, “it benefits our current musical practices. Go out there and see how a guy plays the cheapest bass with the shittiest strings and makes that thing absolutely rock. I would never see that kind of playing in Melbourne. “Nothing is going to hone your skills like doing completely live recordings in that environment and still make them sound listenable… all without any editing. The only things that are overdubbed are vocals and some electric guitar.”
They don’t earn anything and they don’t get paid for playing music. They have to rent their instruments to play them. It’s crazy!
Myles found he also needed a completely different microphone technique when recording siSwati because the language uses consonants foreign to English. Myles: “‘C’ is a ‘tik’ sound, ‘Q’ is like a click sound, and there are some shockers —‘Mgc’ makes a consonant that is like a lip smacking sound. There’s this big dynamic range because the pops really stand out. A lot of it I have to correct in post because trying to discuss microphone technique through a technical language barrier is kind of difficult. One of the things I do is put the microphone at a 45 degree angle, facing up at the person, and they sing over the top of it. That seems to work okay.” SWAZI STUDIO
Also on his list of to-dos has been to build a studio. The Australian High Commission’s direct action program sent over about $13,000 to build what will be the nicest studio in Swaziland, bar the national radio station’s — which has a ’70s Studer 900 series in a cupboard and a single AKG C12 reissue, neither of which anyone can access. Myles: “The musicians walk in and they’re stunned. They haven’t seen anything like it in Swaziland. I’m training a bunch of people, so when I go they’re going to be making music for Swaziland, by Swazis. At the moment, if you want a good album, you have to go somewhere else. “I think the nicest microphones I’ve seen are Samson C01 condensers or Behringer B2s. I brought two Rode NT5s with me, two SE 4400A large diaphragms, and my UAD Apollo. And when I got here and saw how poor the equipment was, Cris Stevens from Federal Audio graciously sent out a Miktek C7 large diaphragm condenser and two of the handheld PM9 dynamic microphones, which were a massive boost to the studio.” GONE RURAL
Another of Myles’ projects, his first, was to record a CD for Gone Rural — an organisation working with women who weave baskets that are sold internationally. It’s a for-profit organisation with an NGO arm helping those same women with health, income generation and management, and a variety of other research projects. According to Myles, everyone sings in Swaziland. “I’ll be sitting at my desk in the office and somebody will swing into song for five minutes. It’s beautiful. I went out there and recorded these groups of women with just a portable recorder and my little Rode NT5 stereo recording setup, which my
father-in-law helped me build. I did all the recording sessions for free. Now they have an asset they can keep selling.” OFF THE CHARTS
One of the artists Myles works with is Bholoja. Bholoja is one of the most famous musicians in Swaziland, a local hero, the Swazi John Farnham. People constantly stop him on the street to thank him for his music. But can you imagine John Farnham not being able to afford some of life’s necessities, let alone studio time? “Poverty is something everybody experiences,” said Myles. “But there aren’t any real strategies for dealing with it.”
organisation he’s been working for, Lusweti. The album will lyrically address the issues surrounding the HIV epidemic; including the intergenerational gap. Previously, older generations used to counsel the younger about sexual issues, and Lusweti wants to see that happen again. “It will be local artists addressing these issues, so it’s not so preachy. Swazi’s love music, so music is a great medium for getting out our message. “A couple of the artists are already creating material around these messages. What I’ve been doing is discussing the issues with them and allowing them to ferment their own ideas around it. Specifically sharing some of Lusweti’s research so they can actually see the realities of the situation rather than just making stuff on their own projection of what society is like. “It’s one thing to say HIV is a bad thing in this country, but it’s another thing to say, ‘What are the numbers? How badly does it actually affect people long term?’” Hole in Her Heart by Qibho and Sandsizo Beautiful woman and a mother of two
In 2007, Alliance Française paid for Bholoja to record a seven-track album of his signature Swazi Soul in Paris. It’s a beautiful recording downloadable from his website (www.bholoja. com), but it hasn’t provided him with any real income. Myles: “Sadly, we have no copyright control in Swaziland. So Bholoja gets played on air craploads, but makes no money from it.”
Finds no life or love, finds pleasure in a bottle of beer Who takes care of her children coz she’s gone everynight? Trades her body to every rich man that she finds at the bar
Bholoja’s predicament became even clearer for Myles when they were building the studio. One of Bholoja’s tunes came on the radio while Myles was talking to one of the builders about how Bholoja would be recording there. Myles: “He said, ‘Oh great, I really love his music.’ But when I asked him if he owned Bholoja’s album, he said, ‘Oh no, I can’t afford it.’ It’s 10 dollars, and he can’t afford the music he loves…” While the financial reward is low, chart success is there for the taking. Myles has got a track charting at number seven with a local hip-hop group called The Prodigal Sons. “That’s my first actual Top 20 success,” said Myles. “On radio stations I’ve had Album of the Week, Showcase Album of the Week, E.P. of the Week, Track of the Week, you name it. But I’ve never had anything in the Top 20. Not only did I have to come to Swaziland to get a 9 to 5, I had to come to Swaziland to get a Top 20 hit!” LYRICAL LICENSE
One of the last things Myles plans to finish before he heads home is another album for the
She’s got a hole in her heart She’s got a hole in her heart She’s got a hole in her heart (and let the people say) God save her please Yesterday I caught a glimpse of her Said a prayer as she passed, “let her peace occur.” Coz what I glanced at was a piece of her Shattered, ashamed and the pain can’t release your curse. She’s been everywhere trying to find the missing pieces of her heart She’s travelled everywhere trying to find more love more love more love PRESSURE CHANGE
“Someone hilariously said once that I change the pressure in the air,” said Myles. “That’s what I do for a living.” It’s true, that’s what he does. That’s all any of us musicians, engineers, producers, really do. Push air around. But when you think about it, that’s what Swaziland needs right now, people to put the pressure on. And Swazi art, music, lyrics… they can all help pressure Swazi culture to change.
PC AUDIO Why not fill your audio toolbox with a set of free utilities? We root out some of the most useful for the PC engineer. Column: Martin Walker
Over the years I’ve collected quite a few PC audio tools and utilities that have been sporadically useful, at other times, proved invaluable, and occasionally become firm friends that I end up relying on every day. Some are now many years old, yet carry on proving their worth, but many are free or donation-ware. Here’s a short list of some that I’ve found particularly useful. MixMeister’s BPM Analyzer (www.mixmeister. com/download-bpmanalyzer.php) is a utility that displays the tempo of any audio track you drag and drop onto its interface, it can even list the tempos of an entire folder of audio files. I can’t understand why every audio editor doesn’t include something similar. It provides readouts to two decimal places, can export its results to other applications, and has never let me down. If you want a more mathematically-based tempo utility, try Thomas Wolf ’s DelayTimeCalculator (twodev.at), which lets you type in a tempo, frequency, or note length and see all the related data, but also has a tap tempo button so you can click along with a track. Another incredibly handy tool from Thomas is PluGView, billed as ‘a little insight into your DAW projects’. Originally starting life as a basic utility that displayed what VST plug-ins and how many instances of each you’d used in any Steinberg Cubase/Nuendo project (including any that were now missing from your computer), it’s since added compatibility with projects created with Ableton Live and Cockos Reaper. You don’t need the original DAW to be installed (just explore the project file you’re interested in with PluGView), so it’s also a great way to find out what plug-ins you used on an ancient project when you no longer have that DAW installed on your latest computer. It even runs off a USB stick, making an ideal companion when you’re visiting other studios! While on the subject of VST plug-ins, developers do get occasional complaints from users if they don’t provide a standalone version of their software instruments as well as the plug-in
version, but there’s really no need for them to take the time, trouble and expense of creating their own standalone application when there are simple host utilities already available that let you run any VST instrument in standalone mode. My favourite is Herman Seib’s Savihost (www. hermannseib.com/english/savihost.htm), which is probably the simplest to use of all, and created for the sole purpose of automatically loading exactly one VSTi. It’s extremely quick to load and light on system resources, is available in both 32bit and 64-bit versions to suit whichever format of softsynth you’re using, and also supports ASIO drivers for low latency during performance. You just unzip the Savihost file into the same folder as the DLL file for your VST Instrument (for example Omnisphere.dll), then rename the file Savihost.exe to the name of your instrument (so for this particular example it would become Omnisphere.exe). Finally, double-click on this renamed file and your instrument will appear in all its glory. Just use Savihost’s Devices menu to choose your MIDI input device and audio output device and you can start playing, but even if you don’t have a keyboard controller on hand you can download a different version of Savihost that includes its own software keyboard that you can play with your mouse. I’ve used Savihost on quite a few occasions over the years, and not only for playing softsynths as standalone applications. It’s also a very useful tool if you have any problems running a particular softsynth in a DAW, since you can use it to check that the synth is installed and running correctly without all the extra paraphernalia associated with sequencers, editors, and so on. As before, Just drop the Savihost file into the same folder as the problem synth DLL, rename it and then double-click on it. If the synth works properly in Savihost then any problem is most likely to be with your DAW. The other advantage of its renaming process is that you can have multiple instances of Savihost in one vstplugins folder, each launching a different standalone synth.
Finally, MIDI-OX (midiox.com) is a utility that I’ve used every day for many years, and one I couldn’t imagine being without. Described as ‘the world’s greatest all-purpose MIDI utility’, the latest version is 7.0.2, but its development started way back in 1991 as a much simpler program named Midimon — the name changed once none of its original code remained intact. MIDI-OX is an essential tool if you run into any MIDI problems, since its comprehensive displays of MIDI data to and from any of your MIDI ports can reveal many otherwise inscrutable issues such as data being sent/received on the wrong MIDI channel, or the most common error — no MIDI data at all! You can also use it to filter out extraneous data from MIDI streams such as timing clock and active sensing that can otherwise clog the system. It’s a great way to load/save banks of sysex data (even on ‘tricky’ hardware synths such as Korg’s Wavestation that require large buffers to avoid data corruption). However, for me its most important feature is as a makeshift MIDI patchbay, intercepting incoming data streams from my MIDI controller keyboards and modifying them in various ways, such as massaging velocity information so each keyboard ends up with similar ‘feel’ and velocity/aftertouch values, and merging data from one keyboard into the stream of another so I end up with one single combined MIDI stream that can be accessed from my various DAWs. The final ingredient for this MIDI smorgasbord is a virtual MIDI driver. Some have fallen by the wayside in recent times, but one that still runs beautifully under Windows 7 and 8 is LoopBe1 (www.nerds.de/en/loopbe1.html). Just install this and you’ll find an extra MIDI in and MIDI out port when you reboot, so you can route the combined output emerging from MIDI-OX to your sequencer or softsynth. Perfect!
HEARING DOUBL E When Matthew Gray is mastering in his new studio, he’ll hear a different room to what his speakers do. It’s all from the mind of next-gen acoustician/studio designer Thomas Jouanjean.
Story: Mark Davie
Thomas Jouanjaen’s studio design philosophy is relatively simple: Make two rooms in one. Okay, it sounds simple. He separates the ‘church’ and ‘state’ of engineer and loudspeaker, and never the twain shall meet. Mull on this: If you could design a space where you were absolutely sure every sound emanating from your speakers was exactly as their designer intended, what would that room look like? There would be no outside noises to contend with for one, and no surfaces to reflect the initial sound back into that room. It would look like boundary-less space, without the vacuum. Dead as a doornail. But plop your ears in the same situation, and you’ll go batty in minutes. Walk down the corridors of a concert hall, or strap two pieces of foam an inch from your ears if you’re having trouble conjuring up the image. It’s disorienting to be in an environment that dead. Your brain feels uneasy when it’s not receiving feedback your body is actually in the room, like a horseman with his head cut off. We feel most comfortable in environments somewhere between acoustically dead and riotously loud. For instance, a loungeroom has a combination of hard surfaces, bookshelves lined with gloriously diffusing literature, and sound absorbing sofas covered in throw pillows. You can easily hold a conversation without feeling like
you’re in a padded cell, you might even have a nice B&O stereo… but it’s useless for critical listening. Thomas’ contention is, to get the best performance out of the speakers and the engineer, they each need to effectively ‘see’, or hear, different rooms. His Front To Back (FTB) mastering suites and control rooms are the outworking of this philosophy. HEADING NORTHWA RD
Thomas’ practice, Northward Acoustics, has grown busier as audio professionals have cottoned on to his way of thinking. Like most inventors/ designers he started out as a frustrated musician and sound engineer, who always had an interest in acoustics. He eventually studied business at university, but the bug bit him again and he dropped his MBA for a degree in acoustics and vibration engineering, immersing himself in the science of psychoacoustics and Head-Related Transfer Functions (HRTF), and starting his own company in Brussels, Belgium. At first, he was designing rooms by the book, swallowing the paradigm of reflection-free zones hook, line and sinker. But the more he thought about it and ran into problems he couldn’t overcome, he began to realise studio designs that didn’t treat the source and the listener differently were fundamentally flawed. Hence, the development of the FTB protocol.
Since 2001, Thomas has managed over 100 projects around the world, some of his latest jobs include mastering suites for Dave Collins in Los Angeles, and coincidentally, Manley Labs’ listening room in the same facility, Red Bull Studios in Paris, and the Noisia Studios in The Netherlands. Probably his biggest breakthrough moment was the Amsterdam Mastering room in 2009, which was his first official, fully-certified FTB, ground-up studio design. The FTB certification is a set of rules Northward created that each of its designs has to meet. Thomas: “We have a minimal frequency response standard. We have to be within certain boundaries, especially in the low frequencies. We must have an Energy Time Curve that shows a certain slope and a certain decay of the energy in time. It needs to show that both the speaker to room response, and engineer to room response are what they’re supposed to be. And we give a guarantee on that.” THE FRONT TO BACK PROPOSIT ION
More importantly, though, is the result of these calculations, and their affect on the mix. Thomas: “To prevent any colouration occurring in the speaker-to-engineer relationship, we work with the equivalent of a non-environment — the speakers don’t see a room. It’s a very dead room in that sense. But you don’t want that for the engineer because it’s uncomfortable. You need to
a bed of care fully io bun ker was cast on are the old fitout, the stud Obeche wood diff usors (lef t) After ripping out the e tim the By ve) am. (abo tment in here. calculated BSW Reg ufo out . There’s a lot of trea king stic ely bar y’re the ts, hanging off these pos
put the brain of an engineer at rest, not in ‘stress mode’. When you go into auditory ‘stress mode’, which is an unconscious and automated process, your brain will substantially influence the way you hear — you will emphasise environmental cues, perception of high frequencies, low frequencies, delay and reverb. Hence, you need to feed the brain the right amount of information about the environment, so we can put our hearing system in its ‘neutral mode’ — a bit like selecting our flattest ‘internal EQ’ setting. “To do that, we use self-noises — the noises that you make while working or talking in the room. We basically use surfaces that are not seen by the speaker to feed back interaction and artificial cues, triggered by these ‘self-noises’. That’s why the front wall is always reflective in our design so your brain gets some environmental data out of your interaction with it. “The diffusers in the ceiling and at the rear do the exact same thing. They are meant to interact with you and not the speakers. Everything is built around the fact that, for the speakers, there’s one room, and for the engineers there’s another.
Matthew Gray Mastering commissioned Thomas to bring his brand of studio design to Australia for a completely new mastering suite in Brisbane. “His whole design principle attracted me because the room I’m in at the moment is a little bit on the dead side,” said Matt. “And if you’re not careful, you can overcompensate by adding more liveliness in the high frequencies of the mix. Thomas’ designs have ambience that sounds natural, but also very well controlled.” Francis Manzella, who designed the extremely well-respected Sterling Sound Studios, was also on Matt’s radar. But Thomas’ enthusiasm for pushing boundaries fit well with Matt, not to mention Thomas worked to fit within the budget. Though as anyone that’s watched Grand Designs will know, having a locked-in budget or time frame is only setting yourself up for disappointment — especially when the designer has to translate his ideas into prices, materials, and labour he’s never worked with before. “We did some numbers and had an idea of roughly how much it would cost, but in
Diffusion Reduces Confusion
them almost invisible to the speaker — Thomas: “The way the diffusers are placed and designed makes just enough to the engineer when he k feedbac we can barely see them in the Energy Time Curve. They brain just enough information that he primal the feeding You’re . process ious unconsc very a it’s but talks, d and is at rest.” absorbe ely complet not it’s that feeling, the of e acknowledges the presenc
reality it has cost a lot more!” said Matt. Basic construction timber was in odd sizes for Thomas but workable, and Rockwool was in ready supply. However, there were other materials completely unavailable in Australia. “The main insulation that Thomas likes to use is called Homatherm,” said Matt. “We had to get nine pallets of that sent over from Europe in a container because there wasn’t a product sold in Australia that came close. I’m glad we did, because once the walls were lined with it I could straight away hear the difference between listening to the previous Rockwool layer, and the final Homatherm layer. It doesn’t sound as dead as Rockwool.” Another hard to source material was the diffusor wood. Thomas likes to use Ayous wood, known as Obeche in Australia, because it is lightweight and stable. It’s pretty scarce, and an alternative could have been Jelutong, but Matt managed to track down some Obeche in Melbourne — enough to laser cut 874 blocks’ worth. Also, the studio bunker was decoupled using another European product called BSW Regufoam, which Thomas used because he’s more acquainted with its performance and confident of the final results. One of the biggest hurdles was the labour. Matt found himself the right builder for the job, but problems occurred when Matt brought anyone else in to lighten the load: The standards invariably dropped, and the builder had to go
(above) Stu dio de sig ner Th omas Jou anjean is pre tty hap py abo ut the result s, bu t noone is hap pier tha n Ma tt Gray about his new dig s, even without the im pe nding fab ric coveri ng (le ft).
back and fix issues, which inevitably cost more. Matt eventually just stuck with the original builder, and the whole project has simply taken longer (the builder equated it to one man building a six-bedroom house with a couple of labourers). In the end, Matt said, “I just wanted it to be right, to be built as best as possible and we certainly got the right builder for that. He’s done an amazing job. The building’s within ±4mm of square, and that’s at eight metres diagonally across. It’s a very accurate build.” REAL-W ORLD RATIOS
Thomas doesn’t have any strict ratios he works within, his designs are never copy/paste. He would rather get the most out of a building’s floor plan, and finds golden ratios tend to be of limited use in the real world. Thomas: “In theory you want the room to have a certain ratio but once you start to put treatment in it and work on the inner shell geometry, those ratios go out the window.” He does however have a few considerations for studio owners to consider, and helped Matt find the right building. Matt: “Different properties would come up and I’d send the details to Thomas — dimensions of the space, what it’s made out of — and he’d give me feedback. We kept doing that until we found the right property and he could say, ‘This is perfect. It
calculates very well. There are no compromises in the design I can do for you in this space.’” Thomas: “There are minimal dimensions required for us to fit a room in, because of the amount of treatment that comes in and the geometry we need to fit. Another factor was the loadbearing capacity of the building. These rooms are extremely heavy — a floating control room is anywhere between 60 and 70 tonnes!” The final choice was an industrial unit with 6.5m ceilings, dual slab, reinforced concrete walls, and dimensions that would happily contain what Thomas classifies a medium-sized room. FALLING INTO A BIG TRAP
The first step to achieving a room that measures flat is to eliminate modal response — in the case of studios, the modal response is the way the dimensions of the room willl influence its frequency response due to interaction of sound with the room’s boundaries — in a way, its dynamic properties. A floating studio bunker is a must. Thomas always uses a floating concrete slab that also supports the rest of the structure. If the budget can stretch to it, he’ll use a custom spring setup, but in the case of Matt’s studio it was a calculated amount of BSW Regufoam that under load would give the floor a natural resonant frequency under 10Hz (he estimates 7Hz). The
reason for that very low natural frequency is, you don’t want the floor to resonate at any frequency played back by the speakers. Once the outer and inner shells are built, you need to manage the low frequencies in the room. In the case of Matt’s studio, there’s a total of eight layers of different absorbing materials and membranes that make up the rear wall, forming a massive bass trap, with nothing coming back at the speakers. Thomas: “It’s not only the back wall. It’s the side walls, the ceiling — everything is a massive bass trap. We use geometry to redirect the energy a certain way so we don’t have to use side walls that are a metre thick as well; they can be reduced to about half a metre. We tend to force the energy towards the back wall and absorb the bulk of it there. The side wall absorption will cut off at about 50–60Hz, then the back wall is the one that will go all the way to around 20Hz. “The order of treatment differs with every project. It’ll depend on where the pressure zones are, and what kind of frequency we need to treat — some will have the Rockwool visible first, others Homatherm. Homatherm is interesting because it bridges the gap between the efficiency of Rockwool and the efficiency of membranes, which are very low frequency systems. Even thought it has a rather high resistance to flow, it’ll still absorb
“We get all the data we can from the manufacturer,” said Thomas. “In the case of Duntech, it was difficult. But I spoke to other engineers who had used them and could help me understand how they function — for example, they have specific dispersion characteristics. Then we estimate how the speaker is going to behave, though we can’t foresee freak behaviours. We’re pretty open to every brand, and we’ve worked with just about everything, but we also have a black list of those that do exhibit freak behaviours.
down to about 100Hz without any problems, but will have a hole at one point where Rockwool will keep absorbing. It will pick up again where the Rockwool stops being efficient enough, but it is its mechanical behaviour that picks up, not the resistance to flow anymore. It starts to behanve like a membrane.” SPEA K UP ON CHOIC E
Speaker choice is a big deal for a mastering studio and because they are the belle of the ball Thomas must get intimately acquainted with each set. Thomas has a longstanding relationship with ATC speakers, he has them in his own studio and designs with them when he can. But he knows that the engineer’s frame of reference is the most important consideration. So he’s happy to work with most high-end speaker manufacturers, including the Australian-made Duntechs that six part of10:46 working on for the EMA_AT94_HR.pdf 1 better 10/04/13 Matt’s been iour. behav their l mode to has he first, years. But
“When flush-mounting speakers, we have spring the in them g holdin decoupled nacelles systems front wall, which effectively stops any mechanical transmission from the speakers to the walls and structure around. It cleans up the bass response in no subtle manner. In this configuration, dispersion is also optimised. Flush-mounting is the best you can get.
“In Matthew’s room we used what we call ‘quasiflush-mounting’, with the free-standing speakers sitting right up against the wall on decoupled platforms. We need to keep the environmental cue of the front wall intact, so we must keep it reflective. But we don’t want the bass build-up and we don’t want the energy right at the back of the speaker to interact with the wall and bounce back into the room. So the wall has a density that varies, and the area right behind the speaker is a complex membrane. It will absorb the energy right at the back of the speaker and let the rest of the lower frequencies go through to the big bass trap behind. “Whatever residual low frequency interaction or build up you have with the front wall will be quasi-minimum phase. The variation is so small, you can barely measure it. All in all, you have a behaviour that is quite close to in-wall mounting with only a few variations in it, keeping the front
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ETHERNET AUDIO INTERFACE SYSTEM Next time your corporate mates suggest your studio business might benefit from some time spent networking you’ll be able to tell them you’ve got it covered. Thanks RedNet!
NEED TO KNOW
Review: Andrew Bencina
PRICE RedNet units range in price between around $1900 and $3000. Contact your local RedNet dealer for a competitive quote.
PROS Turns any networked facility into a potential recording complex.
CONTACT Electric Factory: (03) 9474 1000 or www.elfa.com.au
Dante core makes any RedNet system highly expandable.
Seamless integration with existing ProTools HD systems and other digital interface formats.
SUMMARY RedNet doubly hacks away at expensive analogue multicore and obsolescence plaguing audio devices reliant on endangered on-board and external data interfaces. While RedNet’s driver and control software features fall short of its No portable ultra-low-latency Dante non-networked rivals, seamless integration with ProTools HD interface for laptops, tablets... and and other digital audio formats means you can still explore new Mac Pro RedNet without giving up your existing platform. A neutrality Dante limitation on intra-device of tone and commitment to depth and reality make the RedNet routing reduces flexibility of RedNet 3 preamps and converters a perfect all-round performer. The only trick will be working out how to integrate your treasured collection of audio colours with this audio web that reaches out to every corner of your studio, home or office. CONS Software and driver integration currently lacks features and flexibility of many popular audio interfaces.
Focusrite’s RedNet product line is the first ethernet audio interface system based on the Dante protocol to make a significant play for the recording studio market. Dante is an IP and ethernet-based digital AV network technology designed to eliminate the bulky point to point wiring requirements of analogue systems. The product of Australian company Audinate, Dante has become a popular standard in live sound and AV installations and the protocol is licensed by over 60 companies for use within digital mixers, stage boxes, loudspeaker processors, wireless microphone systems, amplifiers and matrix systems. RedNet relies on Dante, incorporating their hardware within each interface, so you’re not just buying into audio over ethernet but rather a specific protocol for achieving this end. Dante imposes no limit on the total number of channels that can be present within a system — this will be restricted by the capacity and stability of the network. Any one Dante device, or link, is limited to 128 I/O at 192k (256 at 96k, 512 at 48k) over a gigabit connection. Over fast ethernet (100Mbps) the available channel count per link is reduced by over 90% (12/24/48). RedNet however doesn’t seek to push these limits and even the lowlatency PCIe card has only a maximum 64 I/O channels at 192k. Multiple interconnected gigabit devices can stably achieve latencies of well under one millisecond if all devices and the network are configured correctly. CISCO INFERNO
Not surprisingly, if you want to get the most from any ethernet audio system you’ll need to ensure that your network is in order. While not particularly demanding, the network spec required for the stable use of RedNet devices is a step above general home and office use. Minimum requirements include a managed gigabit switch and the use of Cat5e or Cat6 (preferred) cabling. To quote the Focusrite FAQ, “Dante makes use of standard Voice over IP (VoIP) protocols and utilises Quality of Service (QoS) switch features, to prioritise clock sync and audio traffic over other network traffic.” Don’t worry if this is all a little over your head — I myself am a network dwarf — just check the network specifications for RedNet before you buy. In my experience, any gigabit switch classified as smart (read ‘affordable managed solution’) or managed will do the trick. To be safe, I stuck with one of the models specifically approved on the Focusrite website, picking up a ‘smart’ eight port Cisco SG-200 for about $140 new. With my desktop taking up two ports (one for RedNet control and the other for low-latency audio) I’m left with room for six other RedNet/Dante devices or gigabit links. A modular installation may choose to install a switch in every rack/room and then interconnect them at another central switch or in series. With each individual cable having a maximum limit of 100m, the breadth of any network will be gamechanging for many in music production. I did read one warning against the use of switches relying on external plug pack power supplies (the SG200 is one of these) as they may be responsible for audio artefacts or clicks. I did not have these problems but that’s not to say it won’t be an issue. SWITCHING OVER
Setting up your network for Dante is easy — with a few provisos. The beauty of the protocol is that it can happily operate over the same network on which your file transfers and internet traffic are humming. In practice you’ll need to make sure you get your switch and other network hardware (routers, firewall etc) correctly configured in order to avoid incorrect prioritisation of data streams. Setting up the Cisco switch was simple enough; with a few configuration notes gleaned from the RedNet FAQ. In the case of my home studio it was then just a case of connecting everything into the switch and voila! I also tried to replicate a quick daily setup in a friend’s facility and the process wasn’t quite so stress free. In this case however, removing the modem/wireless router from the network conversation settled things immediately so we could get on with work until we had time to tweak the configuration. Focusrite does recommend that, where possible, you use a dedicated audio network and this will certainly
RedNet 1 (top) and RedNet 2 (bottom), let you choose between 16 and 32 I/O.
make life easier. Dante is not compatible with wireless networks but I did manage to transmit a steady stereo audio stream over a particularly shonky ethernet over power setup. Latencies were blown all the way out to maintain audio stability at sample rates above 44.1k but for non-critical remote monitoring requirements (a green room or lounge) it was a pleasant surprise. RedNet makes use of Apple’s Bonjour ‘zero-configuration’ service for automatic device discovery and identification. If you’re on Windows, iTunes will have generously installed Bonjour for you. I have noted online discussion of some conflicts between Bonjour and Windows 8 systems so this may be something you’ll need to resolve before moving forward. Following network configuration all that remains is to install the Dante controller and RedNet Control software on any computer that will be managing the system, and Dante’s virtual soundcard (DVS) on any computer that will be transmitting/receiving audio without the aid of the RedNet/Dante PCIe card. Theoretically, installing the PCIe card is just as easy. If you’re looking to achieve sub-3ms latencies you’ll definitely need it (which may be a problem for those based on a laptop or looking seriously at the new ‘slotless’ Mac Pro). Requiring at least a PCIe x4 slot, Focusrite does recommend using your first x16 slot if it’s available. On my Windows 7 system, this slot was already take by my graphics processor. Configuring other slots for high speed performance via the motherboard BIOS was straightforward but achieving stable operation less-so. It did take some card movement and reconfiguration before I achieved peak performance. When you’re not quite there you’ll know about it; with audio drop outs and driver instability an issue. There are six devices that currently make up the RedNet family, here’s a countdown: SIX...
Is a MADI bridge offering a single optical or coaxial MADI I/O in a 1RU rackmount chassis. It adds 16 channels of digital I/O at 192k (32 at 96k, 64 at 48k), Word Clock I/O, and sample rate conversion. FIVE...
Offers similar digital connectivity (both 96k and 48k max out at 32 I/O) in the standard 2RU RedNet chassis; this time to a ProTools HD system via DigiLink. FOUR...
RedNet 4 is really the key to any RedNet system. An eight-channel remotecontrolled mic pre, it can go anywhere in your network, or even side of stage, to return your analogue sources to the recording hub. For most, this will be the first taste of RedNet you sample. Mic inputs are via XLR only, while line inputs are made available via d-sub (DB25) connector — unfortunately you don’t get to make your own choice between them. Two front-panel DI inputs are also selectable on the first two channels. Gain is adjustable in 1dB steps between 8-63dB. Front panel controls offer perchannel editing of 48V phantom power, gain, input source and analogue high-pass filters (-6dB at 65±3Hz, 12dB/octave). All of these controls being replicated in the RedNet Control software for remote adjustment. Disappointingly, for such an ample front panel, metering on both the hardware and software interface is limited to a single multi-colour LED/indicator per channel. Also, all buttons are a little clicky, so even if you’re in the room with performers you may choose to edit things
from software. At present, RedNet Control provides no option for external MIDI control so you will be stuck using the mouse. They have however, employed digital-controlled gain change using zero-crossings to make any adjustments sound as smooth as possible. You’ll notice I haven’t made mention of any outputs; because there aren’t any — not even a headphone send! While frustrating, I suspect this is entirely due to Dante’s restriction on intra-device patching (even if they were available you couldn’t configure the box with direct outputs). This places RedNet uptown in the studio interface market as most tasks will require multiple components. They do sound pretty damn good though. Using transformer-isolated microphone splits I compared the RedNet 4’s preamps and DI inputs to those of a Universal Audio 2108, Phoenix DRS-1 and a channel of Quad Eight MM-312. On a range of sources (Fender Precision Bass DI, classical guitar, electric guitar and baritone male voice) the RedNet was always in the running. Unlike many interface preamps, it had a relaxed sound, avoiding hype in the upper mid range and any fizzy air. In contrast, the bottom end was solid. When it came to select tracks for a quick mix, the RedNet got the nod for the nylon string guitar. While never sounding cloaked, the fingerpicked performance was captured truthfully without instant demand for EQ to attenuate the stringy-ness that can often prevail. If I had to use only the RedNet, I would feel like I was trading off some depth and dimension offered through the combination but I wouldn’t be let down. THREE...
RedNet 3 is a 32 I/O digital audio interface featuring eight ADAT I/O (ports 5-8 mirror 1-4 at sample rates 48k and below, becoming active for SMUX operation at 96k and 192k), eight-channel AES/EBU via DB25 connector, two-channel coaxial SPDIF and word clock I/O. I experimented with the RedNet 3 in between my existing RME PCIe interface and ADAT converters as a means of integrating audio over ethernet into my current system. While this was largely successful, again the intra-device patch limitations of Dante do restrict some interesting possibilities. While recording tests under full RedNet operation showed solid syncing of my external converters over ADAT, there was a sample offset between the RedNet and RME channels (as you’d expect) so this is worth keeping in mind if you intend to mix and match. TWO...ONE...
The RedNet 1 (eight I/O) and 2 (16 I/O) are the workhorse ADC/DAC components of the RedNet system. Delivering Focusrite’s most advanced 24-bit/192k audio conversion to date. It’s difficult for me to go into too much detail in this overview but further information is available here (global.focusrite.com/thesound-of-rednet) for those interested. Analogue line I/O is again catered for by eight-channel DB25 connectors. Particularly in the case of the RedNet 1, this seems a little short-sighted, as
Choose your poison: digital or analogue. The rear of the RedNet 3 (top) and RedNet 4 (bottom).
the 2RU chassis would seem to provide ample panel real estate for some XLR, TRS or combo connectors. In an install situation when boxes may be shifted around on a regular basis there is certainly an advantage to the inclusion of dsubs, but the omission of more commonly used connectors will probably cause frustration for some. Two global calibration levels are switchable via software (+18dBu or +24dBu) but there were times where I would have loved independent control over the calibration for A-D and D-A and indeed some form of fine level trimming to match other devices or analogue meter calibrations. Again, like RedNet 4, the metering is limited; but this is unlikely to bother you if all of your converters live in a machine room. I thought all of the converters used in the RedNet components sounded classy. In blind ABX testing with a few different converters of comparable expense they performed well without standing out. Indeed, a commitment to transparency rather than any particular aesthetic of analogue enhancement was a key tenet of RedNet’s design philosophy and on this front they’ve succeeded. REDNET IS GO
Configuring your RedNet system for use in your DAW, or as a standalone signal transfer system, is as simple as colouring in squares on the Dante Controller’s matrix to connect Dante transceivers and receivers. There is no signal monitoring incorporated so at times tracking down that input can get a little confusing (especially when ADAT SMUX is involved!). Using the PCIe card, I found that only channels patched in the controller appeared as available I/O in my DAW. The Dante Virtual Soundcard driver can be easily enabled or disabled when required and in its ASIO mode I found it to be really solid. My own studio machine has gigabit ethernet on-board, and I was able to achieve stable multichannel performance and relatively low latencies even without resorting to the PCIe card. Channel count is limited however and while, to me, the latency felt far tighter than the supposed 4ms limit it’s possibly not a viable permanent solution where live monitoring is critical. With my PCIe configuration sorted, I was able to record 24 channels of 96k audio with stable monitoring at well below 1ms latency. Sample rate, buffer settings and clock assignments are all located in the RedNet Control panel and you’ll probably want to keep this open most of the time. Running RedNet under ASIO, it
wasn’t possible to just jump around between programs using different sample rates willy nilly as I normally do and occasionally this caused short term confusion. I found the lack of Dante matrix metering, intra-device patching and any software mixer meant that ultimately my preferred method was to continue using my everyday interface and driver with RedNet integrated via RedNet 3’s digital interface. If you’re a ProTools HD user or already have a MADI interface this is what I’d currently recommend. In a perfect world, I’d love to see a new Focusrite Saffire Pro Thunderbolt/ USB 3 interface that included a Dante link. Alternately a new custom RedNet Thunderbolt/ USB 3 interface (RedNet 7? aka ‘Brains’) with expanded driver functionality, word clock I/O, MIDI, eight channel ADC/DAC, two mic pre/ DIs, headphone output and critically dual Dante links for sends and returns. With two of these you’d be ready to rock and roll tape anywhere. I SEE RED
For those committed to the Dante digital media networking platform Focusrite’s RedNet range is an obvious choice to augment your work flow. From painless live recording to concert mixing in the box; RedNet and Dante expand the options for mobile musicians. Check out the case studies (global.focusrite.com/rednet-case-studies) for more ideas. For everyone else, RedNet opens up new possibilities for the flexible use of existing networked spaces and a more efficient way to access currently installed resources. If you’re based in-the-box, your existing audio interface’s software may still offer greater flexibility and functionality but with RedNet components designed for direct integration with ProTools HD, MADI, ADAT and AES/EBU systems there’s no reason why you can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to tape, RedNet can be used to connect any room with an ethernet link to your main studio, allowing the use of your primary recording hardware for capture of sources in distant performance and rehearsal spaces. For institutions looking to break ground on or upgrade a large installation, the connection of performance, recording and broadcast facilities through existing network infrastructure may be temptation enough. For smaller studios the current requirement for additional units to create a flexible set-up may make RedNet a little less attractive/affordable. Either way, you’ll need to be particularly fond of the colour red.
AUDIO-TECHNICA SYSTEM 10 DIGITAL WIRELESS SYSTEM Audio-Technica’s System 10 plays out in the Wild West of the radio spectrum, but has the diversity to handle the tough situations.
NEED TO KNOW
Review: Mark Woods
PRICE Starting at $399 for a standard bodypack or handheld system CONTACT Technical Audio Group: (02) 9519 0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org
PROS Easy to use
CONS Noticeable latency
Not real strong
High handling noise with mic
SUMMARY Audio-Technica’s System 10 digital wireless system manages to overcome the pitfalls of operating in the 2.4GHz band with plenty of diversity, making it a costeffective, easy-to-use contender.
Audio-Technica’s new System 10 digital wireless system operates in the ISM (Industrial, Scientific & Medical) 2.4GHz range of radio frequencies. The advantages of working in this range include international compatibility, lack of government regulation and freedom from interference from TV and DTV signals. On the flipside, the same band hosts a wide range of devices including Wi-Fi routers, wireless phones and mouses, Bluetooth, microwave ovens and cardiac pacemakers. This makes it a very crowded frequency range, which creates its own issues (see ‘Everybody’s Favourite Band’ sidebar). Designed as an easy-to-use, eight-channel, entry-level wireless system the System 10 range starts with the ATW-R1100 receiver and a range of body-pack and handheld transmitters. Unlike analogue-based UHF, System 10 is a digital system. It operates at 24-bit/48k resolution with a quoted 20Hz-20kHz frequency response, 109dB dynamic range and better than 0.05%THD. The in-line, switching power supply works with voltages between 100-250V. ON THE RECEIVING END
The ATW-R1100 receiver is housed in a stylish plastic case that doesn’t feel very strong, but receivers usually sit somewhere out of the way, so you wouldn’t expect it to cop much rough treatment. It’s a familiar size, lightweight, and designed so multiple units can be securely stacked on top of each other (despite a warning in the manual to keep receivers at least 1m apart from each other for best performance). Connections are made on the rear panel with a balanced XLR and an unbalanced ¼-inch jack socket for output to a mixing console, and a small but easy-to-use rotary volume control. A handy summary of how to pair the receiver to a transmitters is on the bottom of the receiver. The adjustable antennas are mounted on the front panel that also contains a small window displaying the system ID number, and two buttons that are used to change the channel or pair the receiver to a transmitter. One of the main features of the System 10 is its ease of operation; straight out of the box the transmitter is paired to the receiver and the exact operating frequency is selected automatically. If multiple units are being used each unit will select a clear frequency as it is powered up. DIVERSITY IS THE KEY
As the possibility of interference from other devices is quite high, the System 10 plays a sophisticated game of cat and mouse to dance around any potential problems. To maintain signal integrity, it employs three different measures to avoid dropouts between transmitter and receiver; frequency, time and space diversity. Frequency diversity uses two different frequencies to send the data, Time diversity sends packets of data at different times and Space diversity uses two antennas on each transmitter. If the unit is experiencing interference and runs short of error-correction while being used, it
can change the operating frequencies of the transmitter and the receiver on-the-fly. The frequency shifting is silent so the user is unaware of any of this backstage processing. During my testing I didn’t hear any interference and couldn’t induce any audible artefacts by simultaneously using the System 10 in close proximity to mobile phones, Wi-Fi, or setting the receiver on top of a microwave oven. The only clue that there is some time-consuming processing going on is the inherent latency of the system. Testing with a round trip latency program revealed a consistent latency of around 4ms. This is quite high for a fairly simple device (it’s higher than most digital consoles) and while it’s not an unmanageable length of time on its own, when combined with the latency of a digital console and/or other digital processors it could result in a total latency long enough to be audible and distracting for a performer using in-ear-monitors. There are two transmitter devices in the System 10 range; the ATW-T1001 UniPak belt-mounted transmitter and the ATW-1102 handheld microphone. The ATW-1001 UniPak has a locking 4-pin connector with a short lead that accepts either a guitar (or instrument) cable, a headset microphone, a black or beige over-ear microphone or a clip-on lavalier microphone. It’s a pleasing shape with the stuff you need handily placed on the top of the unit. The antenna is short, the four-pin connector is recessed, the off/ on/standby soft-touch button is easy to feel and the multi-colour battery level indicator light is easy to see. The front cover slides off to reveal the battery compartment and a small button used to activate the pairing function. Also included, in its own little holder, is a small plastic screwdriver that can be used to access the recessed level control. Any small screwdriver will do when/if the supplied one gets lost. A good-sized and strong metal clip secures the unit to the user’s belt. The UniPak transmitter is made from the same plastic as the receiver and at 100gm without batteries it’s light enough, but doesn’t feel impenetrable… I suspect it would survive being dropped, but not stood on. SWITCHING TO HANDHELD
The ATW-1102 handheld microphone is probably the same. The long body is light and while it’s comfortable to hold, it’s not very well balanced with the weight biased towards the capsule end. To turn the mic on you hold down an unlabelled soft-touch button on the bottom of the mic body for a couple of seconds. A small screen on the side of the mic body indicates the channel number and a green light lets you know it’s on (it turns red in standby). Once it’s on, pressing the button on the bottom instantly toggles between on and standby… which is handy as the handling noise is quite pronounced. It’s not a problem when you’re using the mic as you tend to hold it quite firmly but it is noticeable moving it around in your hands when you’re holding the mic in-between singing or
The System 10 plays a sophisticated game of cat and mouse to dance around any potential problems
talking. Wireless mics are often turned off, or muted, when not being used and this switching arrangement works well. It requires a definite action to turn the mic on or off. And when it’s on, the instant switching to get to and from standby means you’ll only miss a couple of words if you forget to release it from standby mode… rather than half a sentence while you wait for the unit to turn on. The ATW-1102 handheld microphone uses a dynamic capsule with a cardioid pattern. The voicing is well-suited to vocal use, especially spoken word. The high-frequency response is not exaggerated and it doesn’t emphasise sibilance. A frequency response plot is not included but it sounds like there’s a gentle presence lift in the high-mids and a roll-off of the low frequencies. It works best when you’re right on the mic where the proximity effect helps to give some body to the sound. The proximity effect is wellcontrolled, it’s not boomy, and the mic is very good at stopping plosives. The response pattern is wide across the front of the capsule with sudden deep nulls at 90 degrees off-axis. Even though it’s pretty much an omni pattern at low frequencies it’s resistant to feedback with no particular frequencies wanting to take off easily when used with loud stage monitors. It also felt very stable; I used the mic in several busy locations and didn’t encounter any drop-outs or glitching.
Output power from the transmitters is 10mW and it provides for an operating range quoted at 30m if there are no interfering signals. I tested it at further than that, and through walls, and found no loss in quality until the signal drops out completely when it reaches the end of its range, rather than gradually getting softer or cutting in and out. This is plenty of range for most shows although some of the outdoor shows in rural settings that I do sometimes see the MC wander to the other end of the football field or further. The System 10 is not aimed at the top end of the music market (where latency is most likely to cause problems) but it’s great value for money and will appeal to users who want a simple-to-use system that can simultaneously run up to eight signals. It would be perfect for corporate presentations or public meetings where there might be a few people on stage taking questions from the audience. The 24-bit/48k converters provide sufficient fidelity for most music acts and the UniPak beltpack transmitters would provide a reasonably-priced entry into the world of wireless stage instruments. The triple-checking diversity system should ensure stable transmission in the increasingly crowded 2.4GHz frequency range.
EVERYBODY’S FAVOURITE BAND Wireless guru, Steve Caldwell, gives the skinny on what to be aware of when using the 2.4GHz band for real-time audio: The 2.4GHz ISM band is essentially a non-licensed, self-managed block of spectrum. And there are three main differences that set using this band apart from the other class licence bands (such as the traditional <700MHz band). RELIABIILITY With the increase in popularity of this band, along with the complete absence of proactive spectrum management (all collisions are avoided or more likely ‘corrected’ with retro-active measures) comes the very low reliability aspect. As just about every mobile phone and laptop computer is using this band to search for active SSIDs (Wi-Fi access points), the band is very noisy. This makes for quite an unreliable ‘real time’ connection, as is expected of a radio microphone. Internet connections are a completely different matter, no-one really cares, or even knows if their browser takes an extra 20ms to download something. Also, some units that use this ISM band are incompatible with, or unaware of other digital packet service protocols also being used, so either take hits to themselves, or even adversely affect other services in the band. PROPOGATION Wavelengths in this band are very short and extremely directional (consider that a microwave oven uses 2.45GHz), only penetrating less dense objects. This also makes for an extremely poor realtime connection. Even in the 500800MHz band where radio mics are traditionally used, there are propagation and multipath issues, however as equipment in this band is mainly analogue, and real-time in its transmission nature, steps such as diversity systems can be instigated to maintain much more consistent coverage. Propagation in the 2.4GHz band is a lot poorer from a physics point of view, coupled with the fact that the radio microphone systems used in this band would be of a digital packetised nature, and would be a lot more expensive to manufacture with any sort of diversity system that didn’t add too much latency. LATENCY This is the killer of the modern professional radio microphone and wireless in-ear monitor systems. Most artists cannot deal with any more than about 5ms of latency between what they vocalise into their microphone, and what they monitor in their ears. Notably, this is a lot less than what is acceptable with a standard stage wedge system (as 5ms is equivalent to about only five feet), possibly due to the extremely isolated nature of the IEM system. Considering that most systems these days use some form of digital desk, and maybe a digital audio transport that both add latency, any extra latency added on top of this from a digital radio microphone can bring the overall delay up by at least a factor of two. Until the technology exists whereby the latency of the transmission is reduced to sub-millisecond levels, I don’t foresee widespread adoption of 2.4GHz systems in the high-end professional sector. That said, the three things that systems using this ISM band have going for them are cost, ease of setup, and, being digital, there is no compansion after the AD conversion.
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CLEAN CONTROL The face of the Lyra 2 is a very clean and uncluttered layout, with two high impedance instrument inputs, headphone output with a dedicated level control alongside a larger master output level control pot. This continuously variable pot includes a surround of green LEDs to let you quickly see where the level control is set, and with a push-click, mutes the main outputs. Other than that, there’s simply some metering for analogue outputs one and two, metering for the digital I/O, and a power button.
BUILD OF QUALITY Physically the unit is a two-thirds width, single rackmount footprint. Construction is remarkably sturdy with solid sheet steel and hex head screws used throughout. Power is supplied to the unit directly via an IEC cable with the power transformer being built in.
PRISM SOUND LYRA 2 Singing the virtues of Prism Sound conversion isn’t hard. But as it becomes more affordable, it’s worth everyone listening up.
NEED TO KNOW
Review: Brad Watts
PRICE Lyra 1: $2140+GST Lyra 2: $2935+GST CONTACT CDA Pro Audio: (02) 9330 1750 or www.cda-proaudio.com
PROS Astounding audio quality. Fantastic microphone preamps. Expansive feature set. USB 2.0 connectivity works with all platforms.
CONS Software requires some fine-tuning.
SUMMARY Prism Sound’s Lyra brings superlative conversion and sound quality even closer. Well worth a look if you’re in the market to upgrade.
USB GOES ANYWHERE The USB port connects to pretty much any computer. At present, software support extends to fully fledged desktop and laptop systems, with ASIO drivers for Windows (32– and 64–bit), and Native Core Audio on Mac OS X, with Windows WDM drivers for Vista and later becoming available soon. Being natively compliant with OS X, I simply plugged the Lyra 2 into my Mac systems and the Lyra appeared as a sound I/O option in 10.5.7, 10.6.8, and 10.8.3. In fact, being a USB Audio Class 2 interface, the Lyra devices are also supported natively in Linux and Android operating systems — pure compatibility. Being USB-based (rather than Firewire like the Orpheus) I see no reason why Prism Sound wouldn’t venture into strapping Lyra up to iOS in the future.
BRIDGING DIGITAL The rear of the Lyra 2 is far more indicative of the unit’s resources, with wordclock BNC connectors, RCA S/PDIF I/O, the ADAT/TOSlink ports, and a somewhat mysterious ethernet port — Prism Sound plans to release support for Audio Video Bridging in the future, but for the moment it’s non-operational. For the uninitiated, Audio Video Bridging, or ‘AVB’, is an emerging IEEE 802.1 networking standard for time–synchronised, low–latency streaming of both audio and video over ethernet. This ethernet port is absent from the Lyra 1 in case you’re wondering.
ANALOGUE INS AND OUTS Analogue I/O includes four 6.5mm balanced jack outputs, two 6.5mm jack inputs for inputs one and two, which can also be accessed via two XLR microphone inputs.
Prism Sound is a name synonymous with high-end audio reproduction. For years the company’s audio test and analysis products such as dScope, and the Sadie DAW application and hardware, have been go-to systems for audio recording and production specialists the world over. In more recent years, Prism Sound’s Dream range of AD and DA convertors, and Maselec analogue mastering processors have also risen to the top shelf of the recording and mastering chain hierarchy. However, access to this world of high– end capture and reproduction isn’t cheap, and in recent years the company has managed to squeeze its technology into more affordable units such as the much acclaimed Orpheus Firewire-based recording interface.
For review purposes I’ve been furnished with the Lyra 2, which would certainly be my pick of the two as it offers eight-channel optical ADAT/ TOSlink ports with SMUX support for four channels of up to 96k, as opposed to the Lyra 1 only supporting stereo via the TOSlink port. The Lyra 2 also offers RCA S/PDIF and the option to output this signal as AES3 using an RCA to XLR adaptor, and dedicated wordclock BNC ports. For the extra $800 or so I’d advise shooting for the Lyra 2 for expandability’s sake — especially if you intend to integrate the unit into a mastering setup. The Lyra 2 also offers two mic preamps whereas the Lyra 1 only offers a single microphone pre. The same applies for instrument inputs. Again, go for the Lyra 2 if recording is your game.
–108dB at –0.1dBFS (0.00040%). Gain ranges from 10dB to 65dB in 1dB steps, and unlike the Orpheus, the Lyra units include switchable –20dB pads on the mic preamps. In an era where microphone output levels are continually increasing, this addition is advantageous to say the least. No more resorting to in-line pads with additional connectors and components. Incidentally, the Lyra 2 includes an M-S matrix for direct connection of mid-side mics or non-matrix endowed mic preamps. And of course, there’s 48V switchable phantom power.
TO THE NTH PERCENTILE
When it comes to output of the analogue variety, THD+N is –106dB (0.00050%, -0.1dBFS) and a dynamic range of 115dB with the same high and low frequency roll-off characteristics as the line inputs.
This year, Prism Sound has upped the affordability ante with the Lyra family of devices — two USB-based interfaces exhibiting the top-notch conversion abilities you’d expect from Prism Sound. In fact, the Lyra devices sport the same front- and back-end audio conversion quality as found in the Orpheus. Not bad when you consider you can jump in with the Lyra 1 for about half the price of the Orpheus, and the Lyra 2 for a couple of grand less (the Orpheus retails for around $4800).
Being the highbrow set of convertors it is, it’s worth recounting the specifications for the Lyra 2. Firstly, the analogue line inputs offer THD of –111dB and an astounding noise/distortion level of 0.00028% at –0.1dBFS. That’s 28 tenthousandths of a percent people. Like I said, an astounding figure. LF roll-off is –0.05dB at 8Hz, and HF roll-off is –0.05dB at 21.1kHz. Dynamic Range is 116dB. The microphone preamps are equally impressive, and are no doubt derived from the Maselec heritage. THD+N at +10dB gain:
Lyra uses the same CleverClox dual digital phaselocked loop (DPLL) circuitry as the Orpheus so you could feasibly use Lyra 2 as a high-quality master clock for the rest of your digital gear. Analogue inputs also offer individually-selectable Prism Sound ‘Overkiller’ peak limiters — the same system employed as on the ADA-8XR and Orpheus. The Overkiller threshold automatically follows the operating line-up level selection (+4dBu or -10dBV). These are ideal when recording drums. Unlike many
audio manufacturers, Prism Sound aren’t shy with specifications, and you can soak up further technical information on the Prism Sound website.
Quite a leap considering the pygmy steps made in audio quality these days
Monitoring and routing is comprehensive. With Mac and Windows operating systems, a mixer control panel is provided. Apart from zero latency monitoring for recording scenarios, the mixer also allows instigation of the transient smoothing Overkiller, as well as some tasty features on the input channels such as channel phase, 80Hz high-pass filters and the ability to instigate an RIAA EQ curve for turntables. There’s no stone left unturned here — the Lyra 2 provides all the professional recording and playback features you’d expect from such a device. My only annoyance with the mixer control panel is with operation of the on-screen knobs. These require ‘rotational’ movement of your mouse pointer rather than linear movement, and there’s no preference box to change this. To my way of thinking this is a highly unprofessional mode of operation, requiring the operator to look at the screen while making panning or balance adjustments. I’d proffer Prism Sound change this as soon as possible. SOUNDER THAN A POUND
Without question, the Lyra 2 sounds astoundingly good. And I really mean astounding. As much as I didn’t want it to, the Lyra 2 sounded lightyears better than my ageing Benchmark DAC1. Obviously this is to be expected as the Benchmark is getting quite long in the tooth now — it’s been
eight or nine years in the market. The thing is, I wasn’t expecting such a dramatic difference. I was expecting a subjective 5% betterment in reproduction, but to my ears the Lyra 2 goes a good 10-15% improvement in audio quality. That’s quite a leap considering the pygmy steps made in audio quality these days. The Lyra 2 positively shines, with clear, un-smeared and startlingly tangible top-end. The bottom end is resoundingly solid and forthright, and dare I suggest, warm. Consequently, the depth of stereo image is undeniably ‘real’ and I honestly heard more in some very familiar recordings than I’d experienced before. Snares were far more cohesive, without the ‘grain’ I now hear from the Benchmark, and vocals appeared far more ‘in-front’ of me. Oh, and cymbals, so much more detail. I was hearing anomalies in commercial recordings I’d never been aware of previously. In all honesty, you must hear the Lyra to appreciate just how much better audio reproduction can be. To be fair, at this price point, the Lyra devices won’t suit everyone’s budget. But I believe Prism Sound has managed an extraordinary feat in bringing such high-end technology to this pricepoint. For those chasing a pristine recording chain, sublime reproduction for mixing and mastering and arguably the upper echelon of audio interfaces, the Lyra 2 should be placed at the top of your list. Audition immediately. You won’t be disappointed.
LAST WORD with
Way back when I was in a band in school — like most sound guys I had a bit of the muso in me. I built a rehearsal studio and a little recording studio out in Moorabbin, called the Jam Tin [coincidentally with AT’s Founding Editor, Greg Simmons]. In 1980, this band from St Kilda called The Ears came in [the famously disastrous band in Lowenstein’s movie, Dogs In Space]. They asked if we knew who could mix their gig: “I’ll do it”. Melbourne sound engineer and international live mix legend, Bruce Johnston, has seen it all. He’s mixed most of the biggest bands in Australia for decades but found real fame as the FOH mix engineer for Oasis. Johnston Audio has been a mainstay of the Aussie rental scene for years and more recently merged with Jands Production Services to form JPJ.
I was a naïve suburban kid from Oakleigh, and St Kilda was pretty foreign to me. I was just a long-haired surfie that stumbled into the new wave punk world. So that was the hook-up. And I’d never mixed a live band before. Backstage after the gig, people were coming up and saying, “Man that’s the best sound we’ve ever heard.” They even paid me 20 or 30 bucks, and I thought, ‘This is alright’. The band’s next gig, literally two days later, was supporting INXS in front of 2500 people. Collin Ellis, who’s still going strong, was mixing INXS, and he started telling me, “This is your cue button, these are your buttons to your groups, this is…” “I just want to mix, I don’t know what any of this stuff means.” That night the band told me they were going on tour for six weeks and I said, “okay”. The live industry was huge back then. My live mixing record back then was 14 bands in one week. For about six years I mixed just about every band there was in Melbourne. After that I mixed Big Pig, along with the likes of Boom Crash Opera and Real Life. In the early days, my wife came with me on these tours and we slept two up on a bunk in a bus. If anyone has ever been on a tour bus then you know how skinny we must have been! I got married on tour. It makes for a good long-term relationship I’d say, if you’ve got a good woman that understands what you do and you’re not in each other’s face 24/7. Come the ’90s I knew I needed some rock ’n’ roll cred to break into the big Australia scene. So I started hounding the Divinyls… like really hounding them. And, sure enough, as soon as I got the Divinyls, I secured the Hoodoo Gurus gig and Diesel – Diesel got really huge in ’91; we were carrying a semi trailer on pub tours. I also got the Crowded House gig through sheer persistence. A lot of people think that gigs just come to you. But if you want to mix a band, you’ve got to go and get them. After Crowded House pulled the pin I mixed Midnight Oil. I had all the Midnight Oil albums and my mixing vision for them was massive drums and loud vocals. It was the only band that I really struggled with, because I was a fan. After the Oil had finished I started to mope. I’d done all the big Aussie bands, and I thought I was toast! Then the phone rang
at 3:30am one night. “Oasis has just sacked their sound guy and they need someone on the 9am to Auckland tomorrow!” “Oasis, Oasis?!” It was a total bolt out of the blue. “What number am I on that list, tenth?” “No, I rang you first”. The Oasis setup was totally out of control, the guy had about nine microphones on Noel’s guitar rig — one on every amplifier. Everything was out of phase. But they were telling me not to rock the boat, just finish the tour. My first gig with Oasis was in front of 20,000 people outdoors and everyone came up to me after the gig saying they’d never heard the band sound like that, ever. They’d never even heard Guigsy (rhythm guitarist) play, let alone the keyboards. After a year’s break their first gig back was in Japan and it sounded terrible. I went backstage and of course Noel inevitably asked, “How did it sound?” And I thought, ‘oh well, here’s my test’. “Look it sounded crap mate. I think it was the worst sound I’ve ever done.” To my surprise, he said, “we were so jetlagged, it was probably our fault. Here, have a beer.” I remember thinking at the time that I was probably the first guy to ever tell him the truth. And from that moment on I’ve gotten on really well with them. The Oasis gig is probably responsible for the main growth in Johnston Audio. Because I’d been mixing bands over the years I’d slowly built up a little PA. I started with a JBL Modular system and then bought a Meyer MSL3 rig from Troy Balance. But because I was mixing bigger bands my PA was never good enough to use on the tours I was mixing. I finally borrowed a heap of dough and bought a PA. I got to meet a lot of international sound engineers on tour with Oasis. They’d catch up while in Australia and they’d use my PA. That paved the way for Johnston Audio to expand massively. My next big idea was to start another company putting PAs into venues and asking them to pay on a pay-as-you-use basis. I approached the Enmore in Sydney and offered to leave my best PA in there. It went from there, and it worked. During that time I also built Hothouse recording studio in Melbourne. We built it, wired it, and opened it without telling anyone. I really liked Hothouse. I’d mix bands in there all day and then run down to The Corner and mix three bands live, then head back to the studio and mix down. I was way better in the studio than I was live. But the live gigs were paying my bills, and I ended up shifting away from it. I know it’s a weird thing to say, but I actually never did it for the money back then. I mean, you want to get paid for what you do now, but when you’re 20 and you’re on the road with the band, it doesn’t matter what money you’re getting if you’re having a good time.
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