NEW HORIZONS A behind-the-scenes exclusive at LEWITT ahead of the company’s 10th anniversary
An overview of pro audio’s self build DIY culture
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ENGINEER PROFILE Abbey Road’s John Kurlander on working with The Beatles
Quested V2104 monitors and Zoom F6
10 Pro Audio DIY Audio engineer Matt Sartori lifts the lid on the pro audio industry’s self build culture
Sound Design AMI hears from award-winning Sea of Shadows sound designer and re-recording mixer Bernhard Zorzi
Company Profile Colby Ramsey visits the HQ of Austrian manufacturer LEWITT to preview the company’s new flagship microphone
Engineer Profile We speak to veteran recording engineer John Kurlander about his experiences and memories working with The Beatles at Abbey Road Studios
Live Profile Guillaume J. Schouker reports from the Les Francofolies’ 35th anniversary celebration
30 Quested V2104 monitors 32 Zoom F6
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AMI November 2019
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Let it be
here are few in the audio world who had the privilege of working with The Beatles, and even fewer who were lucky enough to sit in on their sessions at the fabled Abbey Road Studios, their musical home. John Kurlander – who speaks to AMI in this issue as part of the Abbey Road album’s 50th anniversary – is one of those people. John was assistant engineer and tape op at the studio in 1969, and here he opens up about his experiences and memories working with the Fab Four, George Martin and Geoff Emerick. This month’s cover feature also marks the celebration of a big milestone, this time for Austrian microphone manufacturer LEWITT. The company recently invited AMI to its headquarters in Vienna to look, feel and most importantly hear its new flagship studio microphone, the release of which will coincide with the company’s 10th anniversary in 2020. In fact, there’s a nice range of features gracing the pages of AMI this month, including a special live report from the Les Francofolies festival, which has been described as the equivalent of the Cannes film festival for French music. This July not only saw the national anniversary of the 1789 French Revolution, but also marked the 35th anniversary of the creation of the Francofolies Confederation that aggregates six independent music festivals around the world. Elsewhere in the issue, I speak to producer, multi-instrumentalist, and composer/arranger Tony Succar – the man charged with producing the album ‘The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson’ – about his new recording studio, which he built in order to have as much control over the project’s sound and production as possible. Meanwhile on page 15, we hear from PhD student Dora Filipovic about being the first recipient of the PMC Sound For The Future scholarship in association with the Audio Engineering Society. Dora has worked as a sound designer on more than 20 award-winning feature films, documentaries and short films including ‘Glances of Closed Eyes’, a documentary she created about blind and visually impaired people who use sound to introduce the viewer to their way of life. The film won national and international film festival awards for best film and sound design. We have two reviews for you to get stuck into this month; these are Quested’s V2104 – the latest model in the company’s V-Series range of active, powered, studio monitors – and the Zoom F6, which is said to be the first professional field recorder to feature both 32-bit float recording and dual AD converters. But before all that, don’t snooze on our three opinion pieces which you can find over the next few pages, and include a nice piece about pro audio DIY culture – you might just learn a thing or two. Enjoy the issue!
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TECHNOLOGIES EVOLVE, VALUES REMAIN. 01 AMI May19 FC_Final.indd 1
Size matters â€” performance counts.
Huge expectations meet a compact design. Performers find this mini bodypack transmitter neither heavy nor conspicuous. Technicians appreciate an easy set up and proven reliability. The digital SK 6212 is now heralding a new era. This mini bodypack provides 12 hours of operating time and its intermodulation-free transmission concept enables more reliable channels, even in congested frequency ranges. Meet the next generation of an industry standard: sennheiser.com/SK6212
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Soundwhale launches new platform for audio collaboration We recently caught up with founder Ameen Abdulla to find out more...
oundwhale is a remote collaboration solution for audio post and music production that allows users to create content and exchange ideas. Users with little or no audio experience can connect with voice talent and musicians and record them directly in Soundwhale, while more experienced users that want to edit, mix, or produce can connect and stream from external software like Pro Tools. The company’s founder, Ameen Abdulla, has been in post production for almost 15 years doing long format television, film and advertising, recording voiceovers, mixing etc. He comes from a musical background – playing in bands and in clubs – eventually getting into production, playing a lot with MIDI and synthesisers and recording other artists. “I eventually wound up in post production because I needed a way to justify all the gear I’d accumulated!” he recently told AMI. “After a while I had clients all over the country and they would want me to mix their shows, but they would want to go into a local studio because they haven’t got time to do the whole emailing back and forth thing,” Abdulla said. “I was super frustrated in that scenario and what I wanted to do was be able to create something that would have every single application in one place. I wanted to create a platform that actually translated everything you’re working on inside the studio so that someone else can work with you, whether it’s synchronised picture, using MIDI or high quality audio. “I think if you target post with something like this, you can target everyone,” he added, “because post production effectively sits at the top and if you’ve got the technology then you can accommodate everyone.”
ABOVE: Soundwhale’s producer interface
So how is Soundwhale different from other solutions like this on the market? Firstly, you don’t need three of four different softwares to achieve results. “A lot of the clients I have aren’t studio people, they just want to call up a slick, easy-to-use interface and be able to see and hear what their film or advertising spot is,” said Abdulla. “Ease of use, and being able to streamline using just one piece of software to connect an entire part of your studio is key. It’s on macOS, so you can connect anything that your operating system would recognise as an audio client and stream from any kind of software or hardware.” The recent launch was a success, and whilst everything had in fact been ready since January last year, Abdulla most recently got back from IBC in Amsterdam where he was keen to gauge interest from the market and get people signed up for the betas ahead of time. “We’ve had a decent amount of users sign up so far – I think people just want to test it out and see if it does what it claims to do,” he said. “I’ve been using this with my clients doing post production mixes for some time now. Because of Soundwhale’s flexibility, it’s like a set of tools that you might be using in a totally different way to the next user,” Abdulla concluded. “My intention was not really for podcasting, but we’ve had huge interest from that area of the market, because if you’re interviewing somebody remotely then it actually splits the podcast into two channels – interviewee and interviewer – and you can then export that into Pro Tools to cut it up. It’s very convenient in that sense, and I think I’m going to be surprised by a lot of the ways it ends up being used!” www.soundwhale.com
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We need to talk about money Dom Morley offers his thoughts on how freelance audio professionals can maintain productivity and make the most of their downtime...
et’s face it, most of us reading this article enjoy a good chat about gear. I’m a freelance producer and engineer so I do admittedly spend most of my time hunkered down in my studio on my own, but when I do get a chance to get out and chat to colleagues and contemporaries it’s not long before the conversation turns to gear we love or hate. The latest compressor plug-in that looks suspiciously like an 1176 (but is it as good as a real one?) or a new DAW bug that’s giving us all headaches, or old war stories about lining up 24-track tape machines. While this is all good fun, the most constructive conversations that we could have would be more about how we earn our money rather than how we’re planning on spending it. Us freelancers are all entrepreneurs (whether we like it or not), so let’s embrace that and not be afraid of more business-focussed dialogue. We can also be more honest about downtime (we all get it) and what constructive activities can be used to fill that time. So, I’m going to get the ball rolling by discussing some things that I have found useful in negotiating more than a decade of freelancing.
Getting booked and getting paid This is all the same process for me. I don’t have a manager (that’s another conversation), so I have to keep my involvement in administration light and efficient. If I’m talking to a client about booking in some work and we get to discussing dates, I say that I need 50 per cent of the project cost to book any dates in. If this hasn’t been paid then there’s a risk that the dates they want will go to someone else that does pay this deposit. This is also nonrefundable as I’ll be turning down other clients and other work on the days that have been booked. I stress that this is the only way I can keep all the balls I’m juggling in the air, and I just don’t have the capacity to deal with multiple holds. I’ve not yet found any who has a problem with this approach. I suspect if I did then this person wasn’t really serious about booking time anyway, otherwise the fact they pay 50 per cent up front wouldn’t be an issue. I then ask for the final 50 per cent once the final mixes are done, just before delivery to mastering. I know this is sometimes a hard thing to control, but here’s what I do and it works for me. For a long
time I’ve mixed into a small amount of limiting. It’s the last thing on my mix bus chain and I put it on when I start automating faders. This means the dynamics of my mixes are mostly retained through mastering and there tends to be no big surprises at that stage. I make sure that clients know that the mixes that I send through for approval have this limiting on and so are not suitable to send to mastering. Once the final mix is approved, I print one without the limiter and that’s what the mastering engineer receives. After a while I realised that this process has a useful business angle too. I now only send through the unlimited version when I have the final 50 per cent fee in my account. So, the client receives full quality WAVs to approve throughout the mixing process, but if anyone wants to pull a fast one and disappear before paying the final 50 per cent then they know they don’t have the right files.
Dom Morley is a Grammy Award winning engineer and producer. Over a 20-year career, he has worked with artists including Adele, Sting and Amy Winehouse, and producers including Phil Spector, Mark Ronson and Tony Visconti.
Making the best use of downtime Although I’ve been fairly fortunate with steady streams of work, I – like everyone else – have occasional periods of downtime. These can be as mentally challenging as they are financially, so it’s important to fill them with meaningful endeavours. What you choose to do really comes down to your skill set, studio availability and interests. I fill downtime by making sample packs. I have a wall of modular synths (it’s not an addiction, I can stop anytime I want...) and some nice recording kit in my studio so it’s easy for me to get some great synth sounds and package them up in a way that people want to buy. I’m also involved in education, with lots of guest lecturing around the country and abroad, as well as a part time gig tutoring the Masters course in music production at a leading UK conservatoire. On top of that I run a website at themixconsultancy.com that offers in-depth mixing advice tailored precisely to a clients needs. I hope these points have been of some use, but more than that, I hope they inspire a conversation next time you are chatting with some other freelancers. And if there’s any ideas you think I’d like then please get in touch! n www.themixconsultancy.com
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DIY: Necessity is the mother of all inventions Audio engineer Matt Sartori lifts the lid on the pro audio industry’s ever expanding self-build culture...
Matt Sartori is a highly qualified audio engineer and audio product designer with expertise in the design and build of music recording studios from concept to full operation.
istorically speaking, the recording industry is based on self build tools: most of the original pro audio units developed were born out of the necessity to accomplish a task, whether it was to amplify a signal, compress it, mix it or treat it in any way. Recording studios in the late 60s and early 70s used to design their own equipment and mixing consoles – think of the likes of EMI, Helios, Columbia studios in the US, Trident Studios or Universal Audio, some of which then sold their products to the market and created a company out of it. Perhaps the best example of a product born out of necessity and experimentation is the ubiquitous 1176 peak limiter, designed in 1967 by engineer/producer/designer/studio owner Bill Putnam. He started experimenting with the idea of using FETs as voltage variable resistors for gain-control devices, effectively creating the first ever single gain reduction element solid state compressor: thus the 1176 was born. Similar was the approach that Colin Sanders OBE took. He was a designer and installer of electrical control elements for church organs and when – at the age of 22 – he realised that nothing he
could find on the market was appropriate for his personal-use Acorn Studios in Stonesfield, Oxfordshire, he decided to design and build a sophisticated computer control system for his mixing console. Solid State Logic was therefore born, starting the revolution of mixing console automation and effectively creating the job description of “mix engineer”, previously only known as balance engineer. Unfortunately over the past 20 years the recording industry has experienced a continuous shrinking of production budgets which have affected all segments from pre-production to recording to mixing and distribution. As a result, the historical big recording studios have shut their doors, sold their assets (most of which are vintage) and a lot of smaller studios have entered into the market. The limited number of these original vintage units and the increase in demand from both the users (engineers and producers) and collectors have driven their prices through the roof. Does anyone remember “The Dark Side of the Moon” EMI TG1234 MKIV console that was predicted to fetch $700,000 on an auction at Bonhams last year, but ended up being sold for a record $1.8M? This console is now owned by Prime Studio in Austria. It’s not all doom and gloom. This shift in the market has made these units impossible to acquire, forcing producers and engineers with smaller budgets to buy clones, replicas or – thanks to DIY – build their own. The DIY fever started in the early 2000s when the then unknown “prodigy-pro” group DIY Forum began experimenting with well-known vintage circuits and offered PCBs, Gerber files and an online BOM to source the components. One of the pioneers in this movement is Jakob Herald (aka Gyraf Audio) who was the first one to take the stock 4000 series SSL compressor and transform it into a standalone PCB that could be housed in a 1U rack. Fast forward 15 years and the “do it yourself” fever has turned into a massive kit-based (all parts included) industry that spans from simple passive Direct Injection boxes all the way up to tube microphones, summing interfaces and modular consoles. The list of pro audio businesses thriving off the DIY market is
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Opinion too long to mention here, but the likes of CAPI, Sound Skulptur, Drip Electronics, Audio Maintenance Limited, JLM Audio and MakeProAudio have certainly made an everlasting impression on users simply by offering high quality easy-to-build kits based on more expensive and unattainable vintage units. All these enthusiast DIYers have formed strong groups, sometimes in
"The most adventurous and inquisitive individuals could learn how to repair their own equipment, helping to minimise the need for repair workshops” forums or Facebook groups such as the ProAudio DIY where they all share ideas and solutions for their builds.This has developed a strong sense of community where the sharing of information and experience as opposed to restricting access to circuits and knowledge is vital to maintain a strong DIY culture. Of course it does not stop here. DIYers turned into companies such as analogvibes or DIYRE, who are always hosting events and workshops around the globe such as Studioszene in Germany. Since 2018, the Audio Engineering Society has been working with the Audio Builders Workshop Boston (MA), introducing DIY to producers and engineers through their workshops. These events involve masterclasses on best practices while using the workbench and electronic measurement instruments, circuit explanation and modification, and the assembling of supplied and dedicated products, all while engaging with a generation of musicians that are capable not only of writing, recording and mixing songs, but now also building their own tools to achieve that. The pro audio section of the “do it yourself” world is just one small part of it; the web is populated with musical instruments, amplifiers and speaker building forums and communities, all of which share the same philosophy: DIY for non boffins. This is absolutely remarkable and brings us completely full circle where the creator of the content also builds the tools to actually create it. I am a huge supporter of DIY for a bunch of reasons: • It is an amazing way of learning new skills and how units work from the inside, which even if you don’t read schematics you are still building something that will allow you to better understand how things operate. • The most adventurous and inquisitive individuals could learn how to repair their own equipment, helping to minimise the need for repair workshops and technicians who are becoming few and far between. • It is fun and therapeutic. Who would not want to lock themselves in the workshop to sit down and build a unit that can then be used in the studio? No prior knowledge needed – just a bit of dexterity with the soldering iron and
organisational skills to follow the build guide. • It allows you to own otherwise impossible or expensive to get units, such as a Neve 2254 or 1073, a UA 175B, or a Fairchild 670. This comes with a big disclaimer: loads are called but few are chosen, remember to double check every component and wiring before powering your unit up in order to pass the “smoke test” and avoid the frustrating situation of having to work backwards and check for wrong component placement after you have installed them on the board. In the past this has lead time and time over to people giving up and parking the project up indefinitely. Luckily this is not so much the case anymore as most DIY manufacturers offer kits, but my recommendation is to always put a multimeter across each component before populating it as there is always the chance that an odd component could have slipped through the cracks and ended up in the wrong bag. Happy DIY to everyone, until next time. n www.scopelabsuk.com
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Sound for Theme Parks: from production to mixing Grand Central Recording Studios’ Mike Hill and Steve Lane reveal how they produced and mixed immersive audio for Lionsgate Entertainment World in China...
Mike Hill is Head of Production at GCVRS, Grand Central Recording Studios’ immersive department.
BELOW: ‘Mockingjay Flight: Rebel Escape’ is a next-gen 3D motion simulator
Mike: From the off it was obvious this was going to be a very special project for myself and Grand Central to be part of. A brand new indoor theme park in China aimed at teenagers, designed to capture this generation’s attention with the use of intuitive, interactive technology. That new theme park was the much hyped, Lionsgate Entertainment World in Zhuhai, and we were briefed to design and mix immersive audio for four of their cutting-edge rides. This project was exactly the kind of thing I’d been hoping for. We’d be working with a group of globally renowned companies, meaning that the entire thing was extremely well organised and meticulously thought out from the beginning. Each of the four rides utilised a different audio system, each presenting its
own challenges for our team to overcome, and so it gave us an opportunity at every corner to learn and experiment along the two year production process. The theme park industry is going through an exciting time, with many parks being built or refurbished with new, immersive technology in mind, and none more so than Lionsgate Entertainment World. Whilst implementing Virtual Reality (VR) on to pre-existing rides can create a whole host of issues, we were lucky enough to work on two rides in this project which were purpose built from the ground up for this technology. ‘The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride’ was a VR ride featuring state-of-the-art motion bases and custom designed headsets, whilst ‘Gods of Egypt: ‘Battle for Eternity’ was the world’s first purpose-built VR rollercoaster. Whether it’s before, during, or post a ride experience, it is always vastly improved with the use of well-designed immersive audio, and within a VR-based ride the importance of great audio is far superior. Immersive audio is widely considered by industryexperts as providing over 50 per cent of the user’s experience in VR, and therefore appropriate time needs to be given for sound teams to get the most out of it. A large amount of time is often spent implementing the tech for these installs (which of course it should be), but unfortunately it is often the case that the same amount of time is not given to the designing and mixing of audio for the 360º content. Thankfully for us, the creative agency Thinkwell Group, and their media supplier Framestore, both understood the need for highend immersive audio across all of their rides. We were brought in at a very early stage of pre-production, and stayed close to the project until the very end, resulting in final live mixes for the rides on-site in Zhuhai, China. The Lionsgate IP’s were always going to offer up exciting, cinematic moments for each of the rides, from the intense buzzing of giant tracker-jackers breaking out of the screen in the 3D Motion simulator, to the grotesque screeches of the fire-breathing snakes in the VR rollercoaster. We’re thoroughly proud of all the sound designed and mixed for these groundbreaking new attractions. Residents and visitors of Zhuhai are in for one hell of a ride!
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Opinion Steve: At the very start of the project, it was imperative for every party to be aligned on exactly how the final project would work, and how we wanted it to make people feel. I believe this preparation was vital to the ultimate success of what we produced. The briefs for the four rides we received were each unique from one another, and each ride brought a new challenge with a different audio playback system in place. This was a dream for me and the GCVRS department, who had been looking for a practical way to apply the cutting-edge technology and intuitive techniques we’d been working on since launching. ‘The Twilight Saga: Bella’s Journey’ was a dark ride telling the story of Twilight’s protagonist, Bella, and packs in a lot of storytelling and emotion using animatronics and the latest in project and VFX technology. The ride used a combination of setups including surround speakers above the screens, mono pendant speakers above the track, as well as a set of stereo speakers onboard each ride vehicle. Due to the very nature of an indoor, enclosed dark ride, audio bleed is always the biggest challenge when it comes to mixing. It was essential to mix live on site for final delivery, as no matter how much preparation you do in the studio beforehand there will always be a great deal of massaging, compromising, and re-designing required to make it right for every vehicle on the ride when running at full capacity. ‘Gods of Egypt: Battle for Eternity’ was a purpose-built VR rollercoaster which featured customised Pico headsets with Sennheiser HD-25 headphones. The SPL output of a rollercoaster can be quite high, which meant the biggest challenge for us was ensuring the audio could be heard, yet kept dynamic enough to creatively tell the story. It needed to have the main action points punched out, while not losing some of the quieter moments. This process was helped by the great choice of headphones and the relatively isolated indoor environment. ‘Mockingjay Flight: Rebel Escape’ was a 3D motion simulator in which riders make a daring escape from the utopian city, The Capitol of Panem, set within The Hunger Games IP. For this thrilling, cinematic attraction we advised on a custom speaker setup similar to a 7.1.2 playback rig and by matching the positions and EQ curves of our studio speakers to the ride specifications created by AV experts, Kraftwerk, we were able to emulate an accurate representation on the final playback system before we even arrived on site. This meant we were able to achieve 70-80 per cent of the final mix before even flying out to Zhuhai, and saved us valuable time on-site. ‘The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride’ was a multiplayer VR simulator in which riders embark on a motorbike journey featuring werewolves and vampires. Each vehicle is mounted on a motion platform featuring an intuitive VR headset system, a butt-kicker, and a hyper-directional binaural soundbar. We were able to receive one of the binaural soundbars early in the project and created our own mock-up version of the ride vehicle. This allowed us to closely monitor how our real-time sound design integrated into the game engine and how it translated through this unique sound setup. Lionsgate Entertainment World gave us a fantastic opportunity to put our new immersive studio through the wringer. The
56-channel studio has been built with flexibility in mind and gave us the opportunity to accurately emulate each of the rides here in London before we even stepped foot in Zhuhai for the final mixing. It made those final stages on-site relatively straightforward and helped us achieve fantastic results in immersing visitors with sound at this extraordinary new theme park. n www.gcvrs.net
Steve Lane is Technical Lead at GCVRS, Grand Central Recording Studios’ immersive department.
BELOW: ‘The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride’ in VR
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AMI-FEB19-SOUND MARKETING:Layout 1 06/02/2019 15:05 Page 1
A journey in sound AMI speaks to PhD student Dora Filipovic about being the first recipient of the PMC Sound For The Future scholarship in association with the AES...
K loudspeaker manufacturer PMC recently established the Sound For The Future Scholarship in association with the Audio Engineering Society Education Foundation, whereby a $5,000 prize will be given annually to an audio engineering graduate who is also a member of the AES. The AES Educational Foundation was established in 1984 to encourage talented students to enter the profession of audio engineering. The first recipient of the PMC Sound For The Future scholarship is Dora Filipovic, a PhD candidate in Digital Media Arts at the University of Surrey in the UK. Already a graduate of the University of Arts in Belgrade, Serbia, Dora has won numerous awards for her sound design work, including four for creative contribution from Radio Belgrade. Over the past seven years, Dora has worked as a sound designer on more than 20 award-winning feature films, as well as many documentaries and short films including ‘Glances of Closed Eyes’, a documentary she created about blind and visually impaired people who use sound to introduce the viewer to their way of life. The film won national and international film festival awards for best film and sound design. AMI recently caught up with Dora after she was awarded the scholarship: Could you tell us about some of the sound design projects that you have been working on recently? Lately, I have been working as a sound editor on feature films and as a sound designer on documentaries and short films from Serbia and the United Kingdom. ‘Glances of Closed Eyes’ was for my Masters studies at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, Serbia, where I was both director and sound designer. The next project will be for my PhD studies at the University of Surrey in the UK, a piece of sound design and immersive media
work which I am using to explore, understand and share children’s experiences of sight loss. How did you first get involved in audio? I have always loved watching films and going to film festivals in my country. Curious about what is happening “behind the scenes”, I found out about this profession and various things you can do within the sound department. Luckily, the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade has the Department for Sound Recording and Design, where I learned and practised my skills from one of the best sound designers/professors in the Balkan area.
ABOVE: On set for short film “Scotland Therapy” by Bojan Brbora ABOVE LEFT: Dora Filipovic (Photo by Angelina Kacunkovic)
What was your initial reaction to being the first recipient of the new PMC/AES scholarship? I was honoured that I received this scholarship, especially being its first recipient. I was also very excited when I saw my picture with the AES logo and read the news about the scholarship on the Audio Media International website. It is a $5,000 prize and to receive it you have to be an AES member, have successful completion of an undergraduate degree program (typically four years) at a recognised college or university, show commitment to audio engineering (or a related field) as a career choice, be accepted or with a pending application for graduate studies leading to a masters or higher degree – or an internationally recognised equivalent – and send three recommendation letters To what extent do you expect the scholarship to help you with future projects and your career going forward? With this scholarship, I will use it to cover the tuition fees for my PhD studies at the University of Surrey. I am also looking forward to meeting the team from PMC Speakers and new colleagues who must have interesting stories to tell and great ideas to share. n
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Ear to the ground AMI hears from award-winning sound designer and re-recording mixer Bernhard Zorzi, who recently worked on the critically-acclaimed documentary Sea of Shadows from executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio...
ABOVE: Bernhard Zorzi
ernhard Zorzi has lent his expertise to numerous projects ranging from documentaries to film and television, most recently designing the sound for critically-acclaimed documentary Sea of Shadows. The film follows a team of dedicated scientists, conservationists, undercover agents and the Mexican navy as they put their lives on the line to save the endangered vaquita porpoises from being hunted to extinction by the Mexican drug cartel and Chinese poachers. Directed by award-winning Austrian director and cinematographer, Richard Ladkani, Sea of Shadows was acquired by National Geographic after it premiered at Sundance where it won the Audience Award and was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema – Documentary. Bernhard previously worked with Ladkani on The Ivory Game, for which he received a Golden Reel Award nomination for Best Sound Editing from the Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE). AMI recently spoke to Bernhard about his background and his overall approach to sound design...
How did you first get involved with sound design for documentaries? My first experience working on a documentary was for the Austrian TV series, Universum. The best part about collaborating with the directors of this show was their first-hand knowledge about sound in nature. Their input, combined with my own observations from being outside and studying the environment, taught me a great deal about how to rebuild naturalistic soundscapes, as well as engineer them to fill multidimensional spaces such as surround sound. Working with Richard Ladkani along with my favourite rerecording mixer, Michael Plöderl (Blautöne Studios in Vienna), is not only a pleasure and fun – since we’re practically family after working together on The Ivory Game in 2016 – but we also have a highly effective and inspiring way of working together. There seems to be a good balance of experimenting and decision making which keeps the flow going to generate a soundtrack that
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supports the narrative of the film, and at the same time pulls you in and wraps you into its world. Could you provide us with some details of your workflow/ approach in designing and mixing the sound for Sea of Shadows? Since the film had to be prepared and mixed for Dolby Atmos, I started creating my sound design natively in this format, working with 7.1.4 beds and the individual objects. Just like with The Ivory Game, the main task in sound design post was to maintain and reproduce the original soundscape of the locations as closely as possible. I therefore used as much of the production sound as I could in order to build my surround ambiences; I used key sound elements typical for each setting in the film, and then carefully combined them with compatible layers from my own sound library in order to flesh them out. I actually used a lot of spectral editing and restoration tools to pull the original sounds from the production sound. I always try to establish an interaction between my sound design and the music of a film. I was already familiar with the composer Scott Salinas’ style from The Ivory Game. So for example, I used different styles of drone sounds in a particular pitch, some rhythmic elements like impacts or just organic textures with a musical element – mostly with a bending pitch – to wrap the sound design around his music, making transitions smoother but also with the goal of making the rhythm of picture and sound layers more homogeneous. What unique challenges are you presented with when mixing sound for films shot on location with animals and varying landscapes? What is your approach to solving these challenges? I wouldn’t say that there is a general approach for me, since the material you get from production is so different depending on budget, location and many other things. I would say that spectral editing – as mentioned before – became a very important part of
my work. Analysing the production sound, finding characteristics and details, and isolating key elements are essential for me to get familiar with the scenery, locations and people. Furthermore, it sets the frame for creating the film’s soundtrack. At the same time it is of great importance to stay attentive and find useful sounds in every type of recording which you can get from shooting the movie. If you look into voice or field recordings, or even the soundtrack of a camera or another device that was in the right time and place, you could find that one sound you so desperately needed, that the director talked about all the time emphasising its uniqueness and importance.
ABOVE: Behind the scenes during production of “Sea of Shadows” (National Geographic)
From your perspective, why is it so crucial to place emphasis on the sound design of documentaries – such as Sea of Shadows – that attempt to convey such an important message? What part does the sound play in conveying an emotional response from the viewer? As explained before in mentioning some ideas about how to approach a film’s soundtrack, I like to think that a documentary’s thread of information combined with its narrative structure can not only be supported by sound as a tool of exposition but also as a vehicle providing a more visceral layer of story-telling, like music for opera does through its use of leitmotifs, moods and temporal structuring. Not only can it help to deliver those messages more easily, it can also keep them in people’s minds, giving them more time to reflect and elaborate on upcoming thoughts, sometimes resulting in a better or different understanding of the matter. Compared to our visual perception, the hearing mechanism directly feeds into the brain’s limbic system responsible for processing emotions. That makes the use of sound fundamentally important to convey an emotional response from a film’s audience. It also underlines the necessity for a considered and cautious approach when it comes to connecting sound with picture, especially in the genre of documentary film. n
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A perfect ten As part of its 10th anniversary, Austrian manufacturer LEWITT is soon to introduce what it describes as a truly unique, ‘revolutionary’ flagship microphone. Colby Ramsey recently took a trip to the company’s headquarters in the heart of Vienna, Austria, to get an exclusive first listen of the new model, which has been a decade in the making...
en years is not a very long time when talking about the lifespan of a business, yet it’s a long enough period of time in which extensive change can and may occur. This has certainly been the case at LEWITT, which is gearing up to celebrate its 10th anniversary next year with the launch of a new flagship microphone. But while the microphone won’t be unveiled until 2020, LEWITT recently carried out a very focussed R&D process with the LEWITT Sound Survey, inviting everyone with a passion for sound to play a crucial role in its development using an online tool. Here, end users – who were entered into a draw to win one of the flagship microphones – were asked if they could hear the difference between various sound characters and which they prefer, allowing audio enthusiasts at every level to get involved in the “creation of a new microphone classic.” At the end of September, AMI was very kindly invited to LEWITT’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, and was given the chance to speak to its team of audio specialists, including CEO and founder Roman Perschon. The prototype of the new flagship microphone offering had been completed just one week before our visit. “That was our challenge from the beginning,” says Perschon of the Sound Survey. “To find out what sound people are looking for. We wanted to really interact with our closest network here in Vienna – recording engineers and studios – as it can be quite difficult to nail down exactly what users are looking for in a sound.” One really important thing is that LEWITT does all the electronics and microphone designs itself, so if something needs to be changed then it can be done without delay. With the company’s 040 MATCH model for example, and as explained by head of product and marketing Moritz Lochner, “the measurement is essentially built into the microphone, allowing for quicker adjustment and automated measurement with audio precision software, which in turn allows for quicker production and therefore cheaper costs.” Keen to find out more about what makes him tick, I sat down for some traditional Chinese tea with Roman Perschon – the company’s founder and CEO – in his office. “I always had a passion for music and audio gear,” he tells me. “As a teenager I started out building my own speakers which are the ones you see over here [in my office]. It was a fun project and they sound horrible compared to today’s standards, but back then they were loud and did the job!”
Hungry to learn, Perschon decided to go and study electronics. He then worked at AKG, which he says was an interesting time for him: “At one point I thought to myself, there can be more interesting, more innovative, better-sounding microphones, and shortly after this I had the opportunity to found LEWITT,” he says. “In the early days it was difficult of course. We were only a handful of dedicated, very skilled people – a group of people who I was very lucky to find actually.”
ABOVE: LEWITT founder and CEO Roman Perschon
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ABOVE: LEWITT’s new studio at it’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria
LEWITT started out with a huge portfolio, introducing 16 microphones at the 2010 NAMM Show. Since then, it has further developed its lineup and in recent years has been quite successful indeed. “So I find myself in a sweet spot here, because it’s not a big corporation where all the great ideas get swallowed up in corporate structures,” Perschon explains. “At the same time, it’s not a boutique company, so we have the team and the skills to really take on complex engineering processes.”
Sitting pretty After some time at LEWITT’s HQ, it quickly became clear to me that it is a great environment to work in and bring ideas to life. Roman’s team is diverse, to say the least, with a number of very experienced people from all different walks of life. “This makes it a very fun place to work, and is also the main reason why we can do our own designs,” he tells me. “Nothing we do is a copy of a copy – it’s all our own designs and we develop everything from scratch, which allows us to follow a very user-focussed approach. When we start a project, from the very beginning we invite recording engineers and musicians to sit down at the table and try to lay down what it is really about. How we can improve, how we can innovate, and it is these kinds of conversations that give us a really good understanding of the challenge ahead. Obviously then it’s our task to translate that into
technical requirements and documentation, which then becomes the foundation of our projects.” Being able to get in touch with the local and global audio community in this way is clearly very helpful and fruitful for LEWITT. At the same time, having a team of capable people who can bring its ideas to life is absolutely crucial. Our conversation soon moved on to the kind of trends that Roman has been seeing in the microphone market of late: “First of all you have the global players, and what they do is basically reinvent their classic and legendary products,” he says. “Then there’s a part of the industry which tries to imitate these legendary, vintage microphones. I really didn’t want to go down that path, and instead wanted to do something new, something innovative and I wanted to do my own designs. I didn’t at that time see the need for another company doing another imitation of a legendary microphone. This was always an important thing for me, because I always want to bring true value to the end user – there is no other way to stay in it for the long haul.” It’s an ever changing industry which has seen a lot of the big studios going out of business and a vast market of YouTubers, podcasters and bedroom recording guys emerge, which is the reason why LEWITT always wanted to make its products available to a broad audience. “That is also why we didn’t focus on going
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towards a boutique brand approach,” Perschon adds. “We wanted to offer the best performance to price ratio, and make our products accessible to a large audience. That’s why in recent years we have introduced products like LCT 040 and 140, which are incredibly affordable, high quality microphones.”
The right time It actually took LEWITT quite some time to distill the right product idea. Its first years were spent bouncing back and forth suggestions about what it could be, “but we eventually got to the point where we could define it in great detail, make sure that we’re not doing stuff for the sake of it, and confirm something that really benefits our audience,” remarks Perschon. “Including them in the development process was very important and although it took time, it was a pleasurable thing to do.”
While the development of LEWITT’s new flagship mic has been ticking away in the background, in the meantime it has of course developed the LCT Series, learning more and honing its capabilities to share improved versions over the years. The new flagship model benefits from all of these processes and experiences. “Now we are at the point where it just feels right to introduce, and it just so happens that it coincides with the tenth anniversary – I’m really looking forward to getting it out there!” There definitely seems to be a bit of a startup feel about the company and its people. Everyone in the office is excited for the future and really wants to get behind the brand, and it is a priority of Roman’s to keep it this way: “There’s a good reason why corporations have all these corporate processes, but I hope we can stay away from this as long as possible and maintain this startup vibe, because it’s such a nice environment to work,” he tells me. “It’s not employees, it’s colleagues and friends and it makes it really fun to be here.” So upon reflecting on a decade of business, what does the next ten years look like for LEWITT? “I think there are a lot of opportunities out there that one could focus on, but at this point in time I am really excited to introduce the new model,” Perschon reveals. “It’s been ten years in the making and it is such a pleasure to finally see this come to fruition. It’s definitely a big one for us, and very much defines what we are as a company. It offers tremendous freedom to the end user to adjust the sound in a very meaningful and enabling way. It is a cutting-edge technology product, and will be available at a very good price-performance ratio as well. It ticks all the boxes and it’s basically the essence of what LEWITT is and wants to be – it’s a dream come true actually!” n
ABOVE: LEWITT’s Moritz Lochner and Roman Perschon in discussion LEFT: LCT 640 TS multipattern studio mic
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A piece of history To coincide with the 50th anniversary celebration of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album, AMI spoke to veteran recording engineer John Kurlander about his experiences and memories working with the Fab Four, George Martin and Geoff Emerick...
hen I was a kid, I lived around the corner from Abbey Road and actually went to school in that neighbourhood. When I was about 13, which would’ve been in 1964, my class got invited to what was then EMI Studios to do some sound effects for a spoken word BBC Drama piece. We went into Studio Two – The Beatles’ stuff was set up at the far end of the room. We were allowed to look but not touch, and for us at the time this was an amazing thing in itself. When it was time to leave school at 16, I wrote to all the studios in London (there was a lot of them at the time). EMI invited me to come for an interview, and three days later they offered me a job. Six months on and unbeknownst to me, I found out that this had been an elaborate fix by one of my teachers, so I had a connection with the studio without even knowing I had one! I quickly learned that all the engineers there, including Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald and Ken Scott, had all started at 16, exactly the same as me. At the time, they really wanted people with no prior experience, and instead opted for those with raw ability or those whose “face would fit”, so I was incredibly lucky.
I worked with Geoff in 1968 and did tape op for him. The most notable thing that we worked on together was the The Zombies album Odessey and Oracle. At the beginning of 1969 he said we’re going to do another Beatles record, and what was to become the Abbey Road album was a bit of a comeback for him. We had other assistants on the floor because there were a lot of sessions – sometimes two running concurrently – but I would say that I was probably involved in the bulk of the material. All I remember at the time was that it was a hugely important gig. The tape itself could be very volatile – it was on open platters and not on coated spools, so when you were spooling backwards and forwards there was always the risk that it could fly up and completely destroy itself. That’s a risk of the job that you’re aware of anyway, but when it’s a Beatles tape that could potentially do that then there’s a lot of pressure. The main thing that was on my mind was just to stay calm and do the job. At the time I didn’t really have any experience at all, but what occurred to me later on was that – when we did Abbey Road on a new EMI solid state mixer,
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instead of a valve one that was used on other records – some of the micing things that Geoff did were quite different to what had been done before, and he was adapting his workflow quite significantly, especially going from four to eight-track. When eight-track arrived it made life a whole lot easier – no copying or reduction when you wanted extra tracks. Growing up with it, I always loved the EMI gear, and it’s great to see companies attempting to recreate it now. It’s quite the compliment. The main thing, which is very relevant, is that in the last ten years or so there’s been a revival of emulating the gear from that time. That’s essentially the complete opposite to what The Beatles wanted to do, which was to move forward and do something that hadn’t been done before. They would never say, “what was that guitar sound that we had on Revolver?” or “what mic did we use on Sgt. Pepper?”. They had no trepidation about mixing on a solid state mixer that they’d never used before. In fact it was quite the opposite, and they were continually embracing new ways of experimenting with sound. There was a technical department who would actually build the equipment for the band upon request, and would tailor make solutions to meet their musical needs. Every week they would build a new box – just a chassis with a few wires – and then test it out. The outcome was basically that they invented new gear as they went along. I think this whole process of constantly moving forward was a major part of what I learned while working with them. For some of the tracks, Ringo would put teacloths on his drums (which a lot of people did afterwards) in order to achieve a particular sound from his toms and snare. Watching that process develop was amazing. I believe that the equipment that we were using at the time was for the music being made at the time. The music, the equipment and the timeframe are very much locked together. The question is, if you’re making something that’s contemporary and very 2019, do you want to take advantage of everything that’s brand new or do you want a recreation of a past tool? It depends entirely on what sound the artist is going for.
Something that’s nice to do – and something I often do now – is just start with a blank sheet of paper and choose your methods as you go along, which is what I think The Beatles were always doing. People have asked me, “how do you do a 1960s mix?” and I’d say the first thing to do is put a stopwatch on when you start, and finish the mix within an hour at the most, because that’s what we used to do. Admittedly we were only working with four or eight tracks but a lot of mixes were done very quickly as you went along – that spontaneity was always part of the process as much as the equipment. Despite working at EMI with such a huge band, it went unsaid that you didn’t ask for autographs or act like a fanboy, you just act like a professional. The problem with that is, some of the most notable things that happened you wouldn’t want to talk about again, and I think my most notable memories are things I would rather not talk about for various reasons! I didn’t know it was their last album – there was always a lot of pressure not to screw up, but I think if I’d have known this, I’d have been incredibly paranoid about the whole thing because of the added gravitas. I stayed on staff at Abbey Road for the next 30 years and these years were a huge part of my life. I was in the room that summer when they decided to change the album name from Everest to Abbey Road (the studio was of course called EMI at the time). That July they were going to fly to the Himalayas and take the cover photo in the snow with the mountain in the background, but things were running late and they really wanted to stay in London to complete the record. I was actually there on the session when someone made the suggestion to just go out in the street the next day, take a picture, and call it Abbey Road. In that one decision, it changed the complete history of St John’s Wood and northwest London forever. I feel like the nostalgia of working on the sessions and what happened day-to-day is almost marred by the fact of being there when the whole history of the building was changed! n
ABOVE: Kurlander in 1980
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Iisalmen Sanomat archive
The Sonic Reference since 1978. Four decades ago we set out on a mission to help our customers fulfil their dreams by offering them the most truthful sound reproduction possible. Along the way we‘ve constantly been inspired, helped and encouraged by our employees, our users and our partners. So in our anniversary year we’d like to thank every single member of the global Genelec Family – past, present ... and future. Here’s to the next 40 years.
Vive la musique Guillaume J. Schouker reports from the Les Francofolies music festival’s 35th anniversary celebration, which took place this summer...
hen French radio personality Jean-Louis Foulquier founded the very first Les Francofolies music festival in July 1985 in the city of La Rochelle, on the South West of France bordering the Atlantic Ocean, one never could have imagined he was sowing the seeds of what would become a confederacy under the label Francofolies 35 editions later. 14 July 2019 was not only the national anniversary of the 1789 French Revolution, but also marked the creation of the Francofolies Confederation that aggregates six independent festivals around the world, in La Rochelle, Montreal, Spa, Blagoevgrad, Reunion Island and New Caledonia. They all share
the same passion and their love for music, gathering public around French-speaking song and all in all offering the very best sound for each and every artist. This summer, from July 10-14, an audience of 150,000 faithful festival-goers made this year’s edition of Les Francofolies in La Rochelle a total success once again. No less than ten concert halls and venues of different sizes are spread around the town of La Rochelle, offering the opportunity to enjoy listening to artists performing live in all sorts of different locations. Formerly called La Grande Scène de Saint-Jean d’Acre, the main stage has now been renamed Scène Jean-Louis Foulquier, in memory of Les Francofolies’ founder. Rental and show engineering
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ABOVE: French rock artist -Maka Matthieu Chedid
company Fa Musique – a subsidiary of Groupe Dushow – has supplied not only the audio equipment but also its top-end expertise since the 2006 edition. “I often say that it’s the equivalent of the Cannes film festival for French music,” mentions Frédéric Kerdekachian – aka “Kerdé” – president of Fa Musique. “We welcome a large part of the profession, which is a great challenge but also a time for technical exchange and know-how. The work consists precisely of always seeking to improve, and above all to follow the evolution of
technologies and our business in general. Every year is different. Set changes in 15 minutes with interludes are daily feats.” A Yamaha CL5 mixing board is placed on the front-of-house position, plus a Midas PRO1 digital live sound mixing console. Fabrice Leblanc, sound technical director at Fa Musique, explains: “More and more artists are coming with their consoles and we must be very attentive to the crowding in our regulated spaces. We only use our reception consoles on the main stage for two or three artists; the standard and compact side of the CL5 overtook the other criteria.”
LEFT: Fabrice Leblanc (L) and Frédéric “Kerdé” Kerdekachian (R)
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Live Profile Leblanc adds, “The PRO1 console serves as a matrix, in that it is a central element of the sound system. Midas’ audio quality allows us to guarantee the integrity of the signal from the host console to the speakers. It is also used to mix the interludes between each headliner. “For artists travelling without their own console, we had two CL5s at our disposal, one on the front-of-house position and one for monitoring. After moving from the era of analog consoles to the era of the all-digital, we no longer provide a reception console. Today, we mainly manage signal transport, HF frequency management and broadcasting. “For the third year, we deployed the d&b audiotechnik GSL system for the main stage, with the special feature of having controlled directivity over its entire bandwidth, including the bass,” Leblanc outlines. “The result, combined with array processing, is a high degree of homogeneity of the coverage, even outside the 80 or 120° of the announced coverage, as the mask effect has disappeared. Array processing allows a homogeneity of the tonal balance at 100 meters. The very good control of directivity over the entire spectrum is an immense asset given the difficulty of the site and its rampart, which is so important in the acoustics of the site. Another advantage of the G-SL system is its weight-to-capacity/audio output ratio, which eliminates several scenographic constraints. “The sound reinforcement system consisted of L-R clusters totalling 20 GSL8, four GSL12 in main, six SL-SUB hanging behind and nine others in line under the stage. The front of the stage was covered by four V8 speakers spread over the proscenium. Loudspeakers were amplified by 23 d&b D80, the equalisations and delays managed by them without an external machine. The presence of the proscenium and the advanced stage requires us not to cover this area, hence the absence of a central cluster. “The GSL Series is a very innovative system – the new spearhead of the d&b audiotechnik brand. The innovations brought by d&b are particularly decisive for a stage like Scène Jean-Louis Foulquier. This year, the back tier has been enlarged, so we installed an eight GSL8 abseil along the rampart to allow optimal listening in an area already difficult to cover because of the rotation of the stage. The signal control and transport network was also provided in Dante by a DS10 Audio Network Bridge from d&b audiotechnik, and the matrixing of the various sources (artist consoles, video control room, interludes) was entrusted to a Midas PRO1 console.” Stage monitors that were used included 16 d&b M4 2-ways, six V8 passive 3-ways and four V-SUB as sides, along with two Q7 passive 2-ways, two Q-SUB as drum-fill, and 12 D12 amplifiers. Among the artists who performed on the main stage during the five days were Patrick Bruel, -M- (Matthieu Chedid), Zazie, IAM, Christine & The Queens, Soprano, Gaëtan Roussel, Deluxe, Aya Nakamura, Lomepal, and The Blaze. Kerdé points out: “I am proud of the work accomplished by our teams, they give a lot of energy and heart to offer the best sound system and the most attentive welcome. Each year has its own surprises in store. The teams are in place, everyone knows their position and the Francos organisation well, which does not prevent
us from integrating younger technicians regularly into the team. “Yann Ragault, the festival’s technical director, Frédéric Charpail, founding member, and Morgane Fountaine Motteau (director) communicate regularly with us, and involve us in their thoughts on the evolution of the site. The festival team is very attentive to the quality of the sound; they will not make any concessions and the result must be there. I approach the festival every year with serenity and concentration.” Leblanc adds, “The sound must always be there. The way we look at it inevitably changes: we do not approach it as a one-shot redundant operation, because there’s a new or unusual place in which we work every week. “After ten years at the Rockstore in Montpellier welcoming many artists from all over the world, I too have travelled extensively throughout France on tour or performing for Fa Musique. This route has allowed me, apart from revising my geography, to see all the facets of the profession, as well as many concert halls and working methods.” When asked about the reasons for the choice of and loyalty to Fa Musique, its team and its technical director Fabrice Leblanc by the organisers of Les Francofolies festival for 14 consecutive years, Groupe Dushow president Eric Alvergnat replies: “Competence, kindness, and respect,” while Les Francofolies president and festival director Gérard Pont, Jean-Louis Foulquier’s successor as head of the Francofolies since 2004, reveals: “Because Fa Musique produces good sound within a reasonable budget and we have an excellent working relationship.” Kerdé concludes, “I don’t know if our sound and light professions are industrialised nowadays. We are indeed seeing a real increase in the number of shows, and therefore ever-increasing volumes of services. In this sense the live industry is doing well. However despite this apparent good dynamic, there is a very fragile financial balance; technical needs are increasing but budgets are generally declining.” n
ABOVE: Les Francofolies 2019 in La Rochelle
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Latin fever Charged with producing the album “UNITY: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson,” Tony Succar opted to build his own studio in order to have as much control over the project’s sound and production as possible. Here, Colby Ramsey speaks to the producer, multi-instrumentalist, and composer/arranger to find out more about his background and new recording facility...
How did you first become interested in music/pro audio and when did you decide that you wanted to pursue it as a professional career? My musical interest began at a very young age. My parents are musicians, so there were always many musical instruments in the house and they would regularly have band rehearsal in the living room. I started playing drums with my parent’s band at the age of 13, and eventually started to do wedding band gigs, private parties etc. I would say I actually started my professional career outside my parent’s band when I turned 18 and began my studies at Florida International University, where I completed my Bachelors and Masters degree in Jazz Performance.
To what extent does your experience as a recording artist influence your work as a producer? Being a recording artist and producer are two different types of roles, but they both share many things in common. I started off as a recording artist – I mean I’ve always produced my own records, however other artists didn’t start to call me until I had enough under my belt to actually show the public. I was the guinea pig, meaning I learned a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and risked a lot with my own productions to keep growing as a producer. But the most important thing is that I treat every production as the “most important” record ever. You put 100 per cent mind and soul into it, and that’s what being a recording artist does to you:
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you treat it as your own. If you ever lose that passion, then you’re not in the right business. How did The Unity Project first come about? I began The Unity Project one year after Michael Jackson passed away. An agent called me to do this Halloween gig with my band and asked me to play Thriller, so I had the crazy idea to do a salsa arrangement to the song. I wanted to impress the people, so I went all out. People went crazy that night after we played it, so that’s when I decided to record it and do other songs from MJ’s repertoire. Five years later, I recorded over 100 musicians, ten big latin stars like Tito Nieves, La India, Jon Secada, and produced a live concert PBS Special that featured Sheila E. and Judith Hill, among others. I also signed the project with Universal Music and we reached number one on the tropical billboard charts. It did well on the iTunes and Amazon charts as well, and we continue to tour all around the world with the project. When did you decide to build your own studio, and why did you opt to go down this route? I decided to build my own studio two years ago, and went down this route because I definitely wanted to have complete control over the sound of my next album and future productions. I also never wanted to have any time issues – a lot of which usually arise because you have to depend on the availability of studios or whatnot, and that sometimes causes delays in projects. I like to work pretty fast, and those are all benefits of having your own place. It’s called Unity One Studio, and we’re based out of Miami, FL. However, I’d say the main thing is that you can do whatever tweaks you want at whatever time... to the room, to the gear, and every puzzle piece makes a difference. It’s always great to keep upgrading, to keep progressing on the sound, being able to manipulate certain things to obtain different types of sounds for different productions. For a producer, I think there’s nothing better
than to have your own personal studio for your disposition.
ABOVE: Tony Succar’s Unity One Studio setup
What pieces of audio equipment are you using in your studio and what are your favourite items of gear? My current setup consists of a Mac Pro (trash can model) running Avid Pro Tools | HDX + HD I/O 16x16 Analog. In terms of mic pre’s, I have a dual channel BAE 1073, (4) API 512c’s, and the Earthworks 1024 zero distortion pre-amps. I also have a Universal Audio LA-2A compressor. In terms of mics, I have a wide selection of mics and brands: Neumann U87s, AKG 414s, Earthworks DK7 kit, and an array of LEWITT, Sennheiser, and Shure mics as well. I’m all wired up by Wireworld cables, while my studio desk, stands, and racks are all On-Stage. In terms of my speaker monitors, I use the Sceptre S6 from Presonus, and I also use their Fadeport and Monitor control system. All acoustical panels and diffusers in my live room are the Pro Series panels from Auralex, but my control room is all GIK acoustics. As for my power control – which is extremely important – I have the P-2400 IT 20 Amp Power Conditioner and a PL PRO-C Power Conditioner to provide surge and voltage protection while keeping everything quiet. My favorites are definitely my Furman gear – power is so important! And as a percussionist, I truly love my API 512c pre-amps – I think those are the best pre’s for percussion by far, I pretty much use them on everything. How do you plan to utilise your studio to its full potential in the future? Could you tell us about any future projects you have planned? Right now, I’m working on a big band album that is in the pipeline to launch during the second quarter of 2020. I’m recording a lot of brass in the studio, testing out different mics and different room setups to get that bigger brass sound I’m striving for. I want to expand the facility very soon as well, building a Studio B. It’s busy times, so I’ve got to just keep expanding! n www.tonysuccar.com
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Quested V2104 Alistair McGhee gets his hands on the latest model in Quested’s V-Series range of active, powered, monitors…
he Quested V2104 monitor is the result of a builder’s cock up. It seems that the builder delivering a multi room complex mis-measured and the resulting monitor space was too small for the planned installation of the desired Quested S6R monitors. Undaunted, Roger Quested – reaching for his monitor shrink ray – came up with the V2104. It is a small monitor, petite even, bijou maybe. If you buy the red finish they come with a carry-case option – these are portable monitors! The last digit (or two digits) in a Quested monitor’s moniker give you the diameter of the bass driver. So that would be four inches or a hundred mm. Like I said, bijou, and of course not going to shake your windows with boombastic 50Hz bass. Both drive units are new to Quested and each V2104 is powered by a class D amp, keeping size under control. For reasons I’ve never really been able to fathom, Quested never
Key Features n Ultra compact class D monitor
n Accurate nearfield for use in all studio applications
n Can be configured as part of a multi-channel system
n Option to add LF extension/sub with additional products
RRP: £1,089 crossed my path in BBC world. Plenty of old school Rogers and Spendor and Harbeth, PMC and ATC. Even latterly Genelec, but no Quested, which is a shame really because what drives their monitors is very much the traditional BBC virtues of accuracy through painstaking engineering. Quested have a very focused lineup of monitors. The S Series is the entry point, the V Series the top shelf and the passive H Series for all of us who can’t face retiring our power amps.
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When Stuart Down from Quested brought the box over the threshold, I thought it was a one box per speaker gig. Not at all! Did I mention they are small? Just over ten inches high, five inches wide and six inches deep. So small in fact the mains input is on a cloverleaf cable (supplied) to save space on the back panel over a standard IEC connector. Also on the back panel is a level trim and a combi jack/ XLR for the input. And that’s it – no digital input, no USB input, no DSP. Which, at the risk of sounding like a luddite, I’m fine with. At this price point I want all my money spent on the basic building blocks. The V2104 powers up on the front panel which is cool, as is the low key blue ring mounted LED around the brand identifying Q emblazoned on the power button. Blue turns to red 2dB before you clip the amp. The V2104 is front ported and has protective filters with minus three dB points at 45Hz and 30kHz. And just in case you are taking notes, the crossover point is at about 1700Hz. So to the experience and first what you don’t get. You don’t get low bass. The V2104 is minus two dB at a hundred hertz and minus six at 88. That’s just the laws of physics applied to the size of the driver. However look again at the specs, a hundred hertz to 19kHz plus or minus two dB – these are monitors not toys. The V2104, which is not that much bigger than the ubiquitous Fostex 6301, delivers monitor quality above a hundred hertz. And like all good monitors you need to be careful what you feed them. The V2104 has proper monitor ruthlessness when it comes to revealing shortcomings in your source. Badly recorded, ham-fistedly mixed or overcompressed material sounds just as bad as you would expect and indeed
demand from a monitor who’s first duty is always honesty. If I’m doing it wrong I need the monitor to tell me. And the Questeds, despite their diminutive dimensions, are monitors – well recorded material shines. The top end in particular has an easy naturalness that is never tiring. The mid range is full of detail allowing you to dig into your mix when you need to perform audio surgery. The V2104s sing. Actually the comparison with the Fostex 6301 – a single drive unit (four inch) classic – is instructive. The 6301 is active, bullet proof, much loved and found in broadcast vehicles and studios everywhere. The Fostex is an excellent problem solving talkback or check loudspeaker, but unlike the Quested it’s not a monitor speaker – you don’t want to make subtle mix decisions on the 6301. And for small boxes the Questeds go surprisingly loud; I was almost flat out on the DAC to light that red ring and the air was moving. So what about the bottom octave or two? Well Quested have a couple of sub solutions and you’ll need them if you’re diving below the 100Hz line. The V2104s are not going to give you epic scale, but I tell you this: above a hundred hertz they won’t hang you out to dry, and you can mix with confidence. If you need to pack your monitors with you, if you ever carry your gear, if you record in back rooms, under stages, in vehicles or if you just want bijou monitoring, check out the V2104s and prepare to be pleasantly surprised. And raise a glass to incompetent builders everywhere. n www.quested.com
ABOVE: The red version of the V2104s come with a handy carry-case
The Reviewer Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television.
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Zoom F6 Alistair McGhee tests out the Zoom F6, the first professional field recorder to feature both 32-bit float recording and dual AD converters for superior dynamic range...
s a middle aged man I have many hats. And this week I have taken most of them off to Zoom, having spent some time with their new F6 recorder. It is both a natural evolution of Zoom’s F Series and an exuberant implementation of leading-edge audio technology in a tiny, affordable package. Let’s start with the brightest, shiniest light of the F6. The inputs, six of them, each on Neutrik XLRs and each with a full mic preamp. The input’s party trick is that each one has two analogue to digital converters – yes count them, two each! These converters are able to separately deal with loud signals and quiet signals: their outputs are then cunningly combined and the resulting digital signal is
Key Features n 6-channel/14-track field audio recorder/mixer
n 6 discrete inputs with locking Neutrik XLR connectors
n High quality mic preamps with up to 75 dB gain and less than -127 dBu EIN n Switchable +4dB inputs with mic/line options
RRP: £625 encoded in a 32-bit float file. The idea is that you extend the dynamic range of your recording path to the point where clipping becomes very, very unlikely.
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The F6 has a dynamic range of 131dB and to put that in perspective my AKG 300B microphone has a sound pressure limit at 132 dB. The F6 then has enough dynamic range to capture most of life without having to fiddle with input gain or worry about limiters or clipping. Now those who have been paying attention will know that dual ADC inputs have been around for a while; Zaxcom led the way with Neverclip followed by Sonosax, both of whom have well established products in the marketplace, at a price. And the scene is hotting up with the new Sound Devices MixPre 2 series also on board with multiple ADCs. However, the Zoom brings the technology to a new level of affordability in offering six of these inputs at a very attractive price. In practice the dual ADC function and the 32-bit float file format are available as a package. You select the 32-bit float option in your Rec parameters and, low and behold, your input gain trim is now greyed out and the dual ADCs are engaged. The theory being there is now no need to set the approximate gain in trim because you are able to capture the entire dynamic range of the signal due to the extended dynamic range and the floating point file format. You can still adjust the ‘level’ on the six front panel encoders but you are effectively moving the signal up and down in the digital domain post the mic amp and the ADC. The result is freedom from worrying about setting your trim level or limiters or clipping. Now, you can clip the system – my Neumann BCM 104 will accept 138 dB with no pad engaged. Put it next to a crash cymbal and hit it with a gorilla, the F6 will politely tell you that you have exceeded the system parameters, plus 4 dBu at the mic input. Actually even with the gorilla, looking at the recorded waveform, I couldn’t see much ‘squaring’ of the signal. The point is now the only time you need worry about overload is pretty much the same point at which your mics will also be at or close to overload. In 32-bit float you can’t use the limiters and are restricted to 96kHz, but you can use the F6 as a normal 24 or 16-bit recorder at sample rates up to 192 and set the input trim in the normal fashion. The mic amps are the same as in the F4 and F8, offering 75 dB of gain and low noise. If you want you can record in dual file formats – 16 or 24-bit linear and 32-bit float and you always have the option of recording a L/R mix so the F6 is technically a 14-track recorder.
And there’s a lot more to the F6. I have and love a Zoom F4; it’s a great bit of kit but it is not without shortcomings. The screen is monochrome and a bit drab; the F6 has a bright colour screen. The F4 has only four proper mic inputs; the F6 has six full fat mic inputs and the dual ADC, 32-bit float option. The F4 has time code but no back up battery so if you power down over lunch you’ll lose your time code settings; the F6 cunningly adds the RTC to time code when restarted after switch off. The F4 has digital limiters and the F6 has what Zoom call hybrid limiters – looking at the block diagram they still look digital to me but in action they are very effective. And remember that the 32-bit float option makes limiters moot. The F6 has a Sony L series battery sled on the back and this is a real bonus. My aged L batteries (left over from a 744T!) last hours and hours and hours. I left the F6 recording a couple of tracks with phantom mics and 12 hours later it was still happily recording, with power to spare. You can also power it with four AAs or via the USB C port. It works as an audio interface on PC, Mac and iPad and there’s an optional Bluetooth dongle for the iOS control app and wireless time code, along with a Zoom FRC-8 hardware controller with linear faders. There’s even ten monitor setups available on the headphone control. Hang about though, I still have the odd hat on. The form factor of the F6 is very much designed with DSLRs in mind. It is tiny – my eyes are old and fingers fat! All menus are on four buttons, and we miss the F4’s encoder with push selectivity. I’m not sure about time code on mini jack, though in mitigation the F6 includes pull up and down sample rates for 24fps. The F6 has only a single on-board record medium – SD card – which is behind the L series battery, though I should say the F6 can function as a USB interface while recording. It also has MS and Ambisonic options on record and built-in automix. Now we are used to the idea that recorders will get smaller and more fully featured, but by any standards the F6 is an exciting product. It’s not a universal solution nor is it trying to be. It is ridiculously portable – with six mic inputs and a decent L series battery it will run all day, easily. The dual ADC and 32-bit float tech make tough jobs much, much easier, and for most situations this is simply set and forget. To misquote Chief Brody, ‘The Zoom F6 - you’re going to need a bigger hat!’ n www.zoom-na.com
The Reviewer Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television.
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Pro Spotlight In each issue of AMI we feature an audio professional from a range of disciplines to find out how they got started in the industry and what they’ve worked on. This month we speak to producer, mixer and regular AMI contributor Dom Morley... it’s covering a whole wall now (it’s not a problem, I can stop buying modules any time I like!), but actually it’s probably my Neumann 310 speakers. That’s the bit of gear that I use the most and I love them. What are some of the challenges that you face in your job? There are the obvious ones like being a freelancer and working in a creative environment, but one I wasn’t expecting was how difficult it can be to work on your own for long periods of time. I do a lot of mixing and find it very rare that people come down to the studio for it (which I can understand - I was an assistant for a few years and can confirm that mixing is not a spectator sport) so I spend an awful lot of time working on my own. After a few years I started to find this quite stressful, without realising that the isolation was the reason for my stress! Eventually the penny dropped, and that was a big early motivator for me to get out of the studio once in a while and get involved in education. Now I have regular dates in my diary where I’m speaking to lots of people and I find the balance much better.
ABOVE: Dom Morley
What do you do? I’m a producer and a mixer. I try to keep my professional life as varied as possible though, so I also tutor for the MA course in Music Production at Leeds College of Music, run a website called The Mix Consultancy, deliver guest lectures at universities, and make sample packs too if I have any spare time! How did you get into the industry? Literally knocking on doors. I went round dozens of studios with the line “I’ll work for nothing and I make good tea”. Eventually someone let me in and I got by on housing benefit and jobseeker’s allowance until I managed to ditch the “I’ll work for nothing” bit of that. The producer I was helping during my work experience put me in touch with the chief engineer at a studio called DEP in Birmingham and I got a paid gig there. I was an assistant/house engineer for a couple of years before I moved to London and got a job at Metropolis in Chiswick. I moved up the ranks there until I went freelance about 12 years ago. What are some of your credits? Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black” is the biggest one for me as it’s the one I won a Grammy for, but I’ve also made records with Adele, Sting, Mark Ronson, Nick Cave, Richard Ashcroft, Lemon Jelly etc... What is your favourite item of audio gear and why? If you looked at my studio you’d probably say my modular synth as
What was your favourite project and why? It might seem like an obvious answer because of how well it did, but the Amy Winehouse record. It was an album that really found it’s audience, and the most disheartening aspect of this job is when you work on great albums that – for a myriad of reasons – don’t find their audience. That, and the fact that the sound of the record was a big part of it and obviously that was my bit, so that’s very pleasing as well! What industry professional inspired you the most to do what you do? I think you’d probably have to go back to the record that inspired me to get involved in music in the first place, which was The Pixies ‘Surfer Rosa’. After I heard that album I started a band, then I got into recording my band, then I ditched the playing bit and followed a career in recording. So ultimately it’s all Steve Albini’s fault! What’s the best bit of advice you can give anyone trying to break into the industry? Get out and get networking. And that’s important whether you’re breaking in or established, and in any industry! It’s certainly not something I’m naturally good at, but I force myself to do it and it often brings out unexpected results. Secondly, I’d say that it’s best to be open to any opportunity that comes your way. The industry is constantly and rapidly changing, so being flexible is the best way to give yourself a chance of longevity. It’s great to work towards goals, but also be prepared to follow where the opportunities lead. n
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