INSIDE THE HUB Coda Audio
ISSUE 22 | £3.95UK/$6.95 USA/$7.95 CANADA
UNI T Y
ÓLAFUR ARNALDS A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
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#22 From the Editor
“I'm not a chameleon, I want to be known for my style, and what I do...” Ólafur Arnalds
Welcome to Issue 22 of Headliner, featuring an exclusive interview with composer extraordinaire, Ólafur Arnalds. This talented Icelandic musician won a BAFTA for scoring the hit TV show, Broadchurch, and is a highly successful artist in his own right, as well as one half of techno duo, Kiasmos. We chat to Ólafur at London’s Royal Festival Hall about production techniques, musical ambitions, and working closely with Erased Tapes Records, the UK’s leading boutique label. We also have a world exclusive with Pines, one of the UK’s most promising talents. The London-born singer-songwriter - former frontman of The Carnabys - has been recording and producing his brand new material with us in The Hub, Headliner’s new recording space. Pines’ alternative soul sound is sure to raise an eyebrow or two, as is his musical resume - still only 23, he has shared stages with a string of world class artists, from Springsteen to Lenny Kravitz, Kings of Leon to Blondie. We also give you an insight into Pines’ studio workflow. Furthermore, we’re inside three world class recording facilities: Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios for Audio-Technica’s 50 Series microphone launch; Mark Knopfler’s British Grove, where we get the full tour with studio manager and designer, David Stewart; and the one and only Abbey Road, where we sit in on a mastering session with the legendary, and very entertaining, Geoff Pesche. We also hit the road, first with Charlie ‘Chopper’ Bradley, who gives us the lowdown on his time touring the world with Duran Duran, and how in-ear monitoring has become a way of life. Then multi-instrumentalist, Kat Deal, breaks down the highs and lows of touring, while experienced front of house engineer, Rick Dickerson, talks to us about his favourite audio kit, losing his way in the ‘80s, and how telecoms engineering now pays more than touring. Our business interview this issue is with Marc Brunke, founder of German audio networking giant, Optocore. Marc tells us about his musical journey, and talks about some of the huge events that his dynamic company is involved in all over the world. All this and much more inside - we hope you enjoy the issue. Paul Watson Editor
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HEADLINER | ISSUE #22
CONTACT Paul Watson firstname.lastname@example.org +44(0)7952-839296
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Artwork Eli Stapleton Eimear O’Connor
Contributors Adam Protz, Rhona Lavis, Henry Sarmiento, Jon Tessier, Kat Deal, Robert the Roadie
Contents #22 Cover Story
P28 / Ólafur Arnalds 06
SONIC VISTA INSIGHTS
GUNS N’ ROSES
Henry Sarmiento chats to Elijah Ray about life on the White Isle, and making new music.
THE UPS & DOWNS OF TOURING LIFE
Experienced touring musician, Kat Deal, tells us why life on the road isn’t always what it seems.
We speak to the Sunrise Avenue bassist about a new album, and building a great recording studio.
INSIDE CODA AUDIO
It’s off to Hanover to find out about the much talked about tech in Coda Audio’s loudspeakers.
A world exclusive with former frontman of The Carnabys, and his new alternative soul sound.
We have a listen to Lucy-May’s debut album: it’s pop, it’s country, and it’s very listenable.
THE ACCIDENTAL SOUND MAN
Rick Dickerson reveals why making a good sandwich is the catalyst to a rock and roll lifestyle.
WHEN HAVING IT ALL ISN’T ENOUGH
Adam Protz reflects on the major impact that mental health continues to have on musicians.
From Duran Duran to Harry Styles: Chopper is one of the best live engineers in the game today.
COVER STORY: ÓLAFUR ARNALDS
This Icelandic artist is one of the world’s finest composers for TV and film, and is also one half of techno duo, Kiasmos. We chat to the BAFTA-winner about falling into this side of the music business, not taking himself too seriously, and his meticulous production workflow in the studio.
HEADLINER | ISSUE #22
Headliner goes behind the scenes with one of the world’s greatest rock and roll bands.
BRITISH GROVE STUDIOS We get the full tour of Mark Knopfler’s epic West London recording facility.
It’s all about picking the right team for this multi-talented Norwegian singer-songwriter.
BUILDING THE HUB
It dates back to 1420, it’s got a resident ghost; welcome to Headliner’s new recording studio.
These guys didn’t even intend to make music together, but now they have plenty to shout about.
The Optocore founder tells us how a bad experience on stage led to the ultimate lightbulb moment.
THE LAST SKEPTIK
We talk hip hop, life in LA, and sticking to your musical guns with this talented artist and producer.
REAL WORLD STUDIOS
We’re West Country bound to check out A-T’s 50 Series mic launch at Peter Gabriel’s place.
MASTER OF THE HOUSE
A very entertaining trip to Abbey Road Studios to talk to mastering engineer, Geoff Pesche.
Movie producer by day, performing artist by night, but the one constant is the artistry.
GRUMPY OLD ROADIE
This issue, Robert calls for peace, reflecting on some of the horrors the industry has recently faced.
U LT I M AT E P O I N T S O U R C E
Hello. We are the world’s most compact three-way studio monitors, and the first coaxials without sonic compromises. With uncoloured, detailed imaging and incredible on- and off-axis responses, we allow you to monitor with total confidence, hour after hour. And thanks to the ever evolving Genelec Loudspeaker Manager (GLM™) application, we can adapt to even the most challenging of environments. We’re simply Ultimate Point Source monitors, so please excuse us from not keeping a low Finnish profile. We are THE ONES. genelec.com/theones
Sonic Vista Insights Elijah Ray
ELIJAH RAY: SOUL STIRRER Elijah Ray is a prodigious vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. His music crosses multiple genres, from acoustic soul and bumpin’ funk, to pop and rock. So expect not only stirring piano ballads, but symphonic soundtracks, and shamanic, sound healing environments. Our friends at Sonic Vista in Ibiza take a few minutes during a recent studio session to go behind the music. Photography Warwick Saint
Elijah, could you tell the readers a little bit about your musical self? Sure, I am 35, from Portland, Oregon, and I live between Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Ibiza. And I started my musical journey while in my mother’s womb! My parents were both really talented musicians, and they actually met in a band, so even my earliest memories are of music; it’s really my first language. So when did you start performing your own material? I wrote my first song when I was three-years-old. I had this little toy piano, and I remember just exploring the mysteries of the universe on it. I knew right away that music was what I wanted to dedicate my life to; it was clearly the most direct way to communicate the intricate thoughts and feelings I had - way more efficient then just using words. I grew up playing clarinet and sax in a school band, but by the time I graduated high school, I had a pretty decent grasp of the drums, bass, guitar, and piano, and I was starting to sing, and really find my voice, too. I remember my professor pulling me aside, telling me I didn’t really need to be there; he told me if I just kept practising and did my thing, I would do just fine; and that statement really gave me the wings I needed to let go of studying my music, and get out there and start playing. 17 years later, I’m still doing it, and still learning!
Tell us a bit about your music in general, and your current tour... It’s amazing how music brings us together, and connects us. I have been producing and releasing music since 2004, and I’ve appeared in a couple of films that also featured my songs, and somehow, through word of mouth, people just find me, and invite me to come and play. Through this model, I’ve been touring internationally off and on for the last 12 years. It’s truly amazing - all the beautiful places and people that this music has connected me to! This last year alone, I have toured in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, and North America; it’s been pretty non-stop! I’m grateful to have a great team, and I keep everything internal at this point, so I don’t have any recording contracts. It means I really get to design the tour flow the way I want. What brings you to Ibiza so often? Ibiza has become one of my music and spiritual homebases over the years, and it’s largely due to my friendship with you guys at Sonic Vista Studios. Henry and I met in San Francisco back in 2003, where he mixed my first album, The Preamble. I’ve worked with him on multiple projects since then, and have come to know Ibiza as a base for Elijah Ray music. There are very few places in the world I feel absolute creative freedom as soon as I arrive, and Sonic Vista Studios is most definitely one of them.
I’ve written some of my best work there; it’s an entirely inspiring place to be. Good to hear! You’re a big plugin user in the studio - any favourites? I’m actually currently tracking vocals, and one thing I love to do when I’m in the creative process is to throw on some Waves plugins. They’re my go-tos, especially the Tony Maserati ones, because they help me to get an instant vibe happening. So what next for Elijah Ray, then? Currently, we’re putting the final touches on some really exciting new songs I’m about to launch in 2018. I’ve actually never felt this excited before about music - it feels like even after all these years of hard work, I’m only just about to start my musical journey. I am about to launch my ComePassion project, which I can’t wait to share with you and the world! I recommend signing the email list on my website (see link below), so you can be among the first to know when it comes out. That’s really what it’s all about. And a message to all the aspiring musicians, artists, and producers out there: stay creative! The world needs us now more than ever... @sonicvista www.sonicvistastudios.com www.elijahraymusic.com
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The Tour Guide
The Ups & Downs of Touring Life It’s been the dream of most musicians I know to tour. Who wouldn’t want to be paid to travel the world doing the thing that they love? I don’t know many people who became pro in order to play at weddings or birthday parties. We’ve spent countless hours practicing, thousands of pounds buying instruments and equipment, and many days and nights at jam sessions or in studios, all to hone our craft to eventually make a living touring for either ourselves or high profile artists. So let’s get it right. Words Katherine Deal
I believe I, and all the other touring
musicians I know, have got to where we have got to so far by taking risks and saying ‘yes’, even when we weren’t sure we could do it. Talent alone isn’t enough; please never kid yourself that it is. The potential greatest guitarist in the world has probably never been heard by anyone (which is really sad, if you think about it). It is only when preparation and determination meet with networking and opportunity that things eventually come together and tour offers start coming in. See, I always thought touring the world, and playing for artists, would be glamorous; that it was all free designer clothes, private jets, countless cocktails, 2am parties in VIP club areas in Budapest and lots of chocolate fountains in the green rooms (mmm). It can be this - I’ve actually had a chocolate fountain, and went on a private jet this year (yes, I did accidently request a private jumbo jet via my new app in Istanbul - oops!) - but what I’ve found out is that, in reality, most of the time, it’s not so pretty. It’s a 6am flight when you got off stage at 2am the night before, it’s the airline losing your luggage after you’ve already beens tranded in Amsterdam for a night and you have to go straight on stage as soon as you land in Russia (oh, and tonight’s hotel is a 2:45am Russian sleeper-train! Fun!). It’s being away from your family and friends, and being in a totally different time zone from them, meaning even Facetime can’t really keep your love alive (I feel especially bad for my friends who have wives/husbands and children. And it’s being absolutely exhausted, and still having to play your best with no excuses. Oh, and those 12-hour straight rehearsals when you’re playing sax (RIP my soft lips). There are, however, a lot of tips and tricks that make your life easier when on the road and on stage that help
keep the dream alive, and make the most out of what is an incredible experience; from the right IEMs to learning key words in any language Let’s begin with the necessities. Always carry essentials with you, especially if you’re flying: food, underwear, dry shampoo, and gig clothes. Trust me, I learnt this lesson the hard way! Oh, and never put your house keys in your suitcase that you check in (I mean, unless you have £444 to spare for a new lock...). Pre-empt any serious problems by learning specific words in the language of the place you’re going. You’ll be surprised at how essential this is. Firstly, it’s actually pretty fun. Secondly, I’ve managed to escape a lot of potentially difficult situations this way. If you’re allergic to any food (food is a particular issue on tour as most of the time you’re eating for survival and whatever gets put in front of you), then know what it’s called in that language if there’s no native-speaking tour guide with you (Google translate is your best friend). When I got sick in France, the only thing that got me through that doctor’s appointment and onto the stage that night was the fact that I spoke French. When in a country that wasn’t very safe recently, I learnt enough of the language to ensure that when I was alone, I could stay under the radar and not draw too much attention to myself. Sound. There’s possibly nothing more important on a gig (or rehearsal) than the sound in your monitor. If you can’t clearly hear yourself, track or the rest of the band, it’s a potential nightmare. Bad sound leads to uncomfortable playing and just really ruins the gig which is especially bad if you’re on a large stage and the front of house speakers are nowhere near you to be useful. If I can’t hear what’s coming out of my sax or my mouth, then only God (oh, and like, 20,000 audience members) knows what could
The Tour Guide
be happening! The majority of gigs, and even all day tour rehearsals, now use in-ear monitors, or IEMs for short. And when it’s done right, they’re preferable to floor monitors any day. My IEMs of choice are JH Audio Laylas. I’ve had them for about a year now, and would never go back as the sound (a whopping 12 drivers in each ear) is just incomparable to anything else I’ve tried, particularly in the extreme ends of the frequency (the adjustable bass is especially great). From windy outdoor gigs on a boat off the coast of Denmark to DJ clubs in Spain, these IEMs have seen me though a lot. Couple that with a good monitor engineer, and it’s a dream! The sound is so clear and the bass is so great that the vibe in my ears mirrors that if we were just all in a small room killing it, and that’s the goal. As much as you may want to go cheap, don’t: you need a monitor that is reliable, and can handle all frequencies; and one that lets you sound like, well, you. Finally, the thing that you think you’re going to do don’t. Do not go to the after party every night! Survival. You may be the greatest musician (or club dancer) on the planet, but you are still human (sorry to break it to you!). You need sleep, you need rest, otherwise you will get sick and moody, and that’s not fun when having to get on stage every night. Have fun, be sociable, but get some rest, too. In reality, there are a lot of challenges to touring both on stage and during the 99% of the time when you’re not. But when it’s right… there’s nothing quite like it. There’s no greater feeling than standing on a stage in front of a sea of thousands of people in a different county, lifting your arms up to clap and they all do it back. Who else gets to do that for a job?
“ALWAYS CARRY ESSENTIALS WITH YOU: FOOD, UNDERWEAR, DRY SHAMPOO, AND GIG CLOTHES...”
ILKKA RUUTU: MUSIC MAKER
Ilkka Ruutu is a man of many musical talents. Hugely experienced in the world of live sound, both as a live engineer, the audio rental house market, and as bassist in Finnish supergroup, Sunrise Avenue, he is now adding another string to his bow: record production. Whether the two disciplines go hand in hand, or are polar opposites, remains up for discussion, but Ruutu is evidence of the former: his studio is full of superb equipment, and if the mixes we heard ourselves are anything to go by, the future looks very bright indeed. Words Paul Watson Ilkka Ruutu’s studio is located just outside of Helsinki, and is part of what could be described as a musical hub. In addition to his own production suite, there is a large live room he has access to, complete with grand piano, and also a second mix room with controller console, a plethora of outboard, and plenty of quality guitars and keyboards. After getting a quick tour, we settle into Ilkka’s studio. Although he’s not been here for that long, he is no stranger to the room. It’s where Sunrise Avenue’s latest record was mixed, and used to house an SSL console with all the outboard trimmings. Ilkka plays us one of the singles from the band’s latest album, Heartbreak Century, and we take a seat. “It all happened a little by chance, really, Ilkka says, of acquiring this space. “Over the last year, I have been doing this actively.” He goes on to explain that he recently enrolled into a five-day workshop at Blackbird Studio in Nashville, hosted by renowned producer, Dave Pensado. “It involved doing a recording with a band,
“I really enjoyed listening to the Genelecs; the sound is just fantastic.”
and then listening to each other’s stuff,” Ilkka continues. “That was when I noticed I wasn’t far away from the other guys, all of whom have been doing this way longer than me. I have a solid background in sound – and certainly in live sound – but the studio work has intrigued me, and it was at Blackbird that I realised my potential, I guess.” Ilkka was even considering taking a sixmonth school at Blackbird, but opted instead to invest the time and money into his own studio, and gain the experience that way. As far as we can see, it’s certainly paid off. “I have bought all of this kit over the last seven or eight years, just because I’ve always had an interest in this kind of workflow, so all I really had to buy was all the cables and connectors, so it was kind of easy to do in that sense,” Ilkka smiles. The core setup is an Avid controller, and two sets of Genelec monitors: a pair of 8351s as nearfields, and the sizeable 1238s at the back. “Perhaps in the back of my head there has been something telling me I might get the op-
portunity someday to record and produce like this,” he says, and pulls up a mix. “I went to this part time university, you see, which was arranged by the Sibelius Academy, and was 16 days of recording at Sonic Pump Studios. We recorded this Foo Fighters song – The Pretender – it was fun, as we recorded it, and then everyone got to mix it, and like in Nashville, we compared all the mixes.” Ilkka plays his version to us – the mix took just four hours, he says - and it sounds pretty damn good to me. Of course, his main experience is in the live side of the industry, which makes this even more impressive – but perhaps he’s playing down his studio skills? “[smiles] Well, the two disciplines aren’t that far apart, really,” he says. “I’ve got better, and I’ve noticed I am doing some things perhaps a little differently than I should be, so it’s a learning curve, for sure; but I noticed when the band schedule came out that I had proper time to do this, as we weren’t going to be touring all the time, so that’s when I thought, ‘yes, I’ll have a real go at this now’.
Ilkka in his studio with his Genelecs 8351s and 1248s.
If I was out on the road for two years, this definitely wouldn’t work! [laughs]” So it looks like the next few months will be all studio work for Ilkka: “Yes, and I have also been doing sound design for the local high school for music, too – I’ve been doing that for 15 years, actually. It’s a big high school, I know them well, and can ask them to come and record some stuff, and I can really learn that room, and how to capture the grand piano, and whatever. So those are things I am hoping to get a lot more into.” Sounds like a plan. Although this feels like a bit of a passion project, it’s clearly much more than that. Conversation turns to the audio equipment, particularly Ilkka’s choice of monitors. He was the first artist in Finland to invest in Genelec’s flagship 8351s. “I got the 8351s first,” Ilkka explains. “I had already listened to the demos [of the 8351s] when I had a pair of Genelec 8050s. Myself and a couple of friends were listening in the room, and the sound difference between the two was pretty huge, so I just had to get a pair. “The 1238s, I invested in around six months ago. I first became interested in them when I was in Stockholm at what was X Level Studios (now BagPipe Studios – a legendary facility which used to be EMI in the 1950s). It was our first session for our new album. “We then visited Suomellina Studios, and the guys there only use the 1238s; it doesn’t seem to bother them not to have nearfield, either, so I will have to bear that in mind, too.
So I was basically sold on them – the sound is fantastic, and it gives me all that low end I need... which is a lot!” Interestingly, the 8351s have also spent a bit of time out on the road with Sunrise Avenue: “We first used them for virtual soundcheck, which they worked well on, but the front of house guy started to do that with the PA instead, so we moved them to talkback, which was a bit over the top! Now, we use a pair of 8020s for talkback - more sensible! [smiles]” Part of the process when selecting his studio monitors, of course, was out and out listening – to a number of different go-to reference tracks. “I listened to some rock, some R&B, some orchestra stuff, a bit of Madonna from the ‘90s, and, of course, Toto! A bit of everything, really, to cover the whole spectrum. And I really enjoyed listening on the Genelecs. The sound is fantastic. I admit I am a little new to the [Genelec SAM] software, so I am still perfecting how I want them to be in terms of the high frequencies; this tilt thing they can do is very interesting - the calibration, basically, which we will soon perfect. And it’s nice software: very easy to use, and very configurable. Because I love my low end, and always want more of it, the software is normally a little light, so I normally have an automated one, my one, and then an uncalibrated one, and I then compare the three sounds.” The Sunrise Avenue sound is very accessible: quality pop music, driven by
acoustic guitars and nice vocal melodies. The band regularly tours arenas across Europe, and is particularly successful in Germany. At the time of writing, they’re about to embark upon what you could call a curveball tour. “We are doing a small club tour this time, which is new,” Ilkka grins. “The smallest place is in Copenhagen – just 150 people, so the tickets sold out in 90 seconds! We haven’t been to Denmark before, but it’s so close to Germany, so they jumped on that. Then the biggest venues will be 1,500 to 1,700 people. Then in March, we’re back to the arena shows in Germany, and perhaps Switzerland, too.” Ilkka records all the band’s live shows, and can now come back and mix them here on his Genelecs. As we have a listen to the first single through the 8351s, I ask him what the expectations are for the new album: “Well, you never know in this industry. The biggest single we’ve had achieved 23 million plays, and the latest one has had over 750,000 plays in a few weeks, so that’s a pretty good sign, I guess.” For sure. And when he’s not on the road, of course, he’ll be busy producing music in here. “Definitely,” Ilkka says, with a broad smile. “I have 32 channels, and I’m linked to the live room, so it’s perfect. It’s great sounding, and I have the ceiling height, too, which is nice.” We wish Ilkka and his band all the best with the new album, and out on the road. @SunriseAveBand www.genelec.com
INSIDE CODA AUDIO
Twenty years ago, Svetly Alexandrov had an idea – a concept which, he believed, if implemented correctly, could lead to radical new standards in terms of sonic quality and sound reproduction. Now, dozens of patents later, and with a seriously strengthened global workforce, his forward-thinking company, Coda Audio, is ready to put its stamp on the loudspeaker market; and if its technology is anything to go by, in a very big way. Photographs Thomas Mittelmann
VETLY ALEXANDROV GOT THE BUG FOR AUDIO after playing in bands, and not being satisfied with the sound on stage. One thing led to another, and eventually, a company was born. Based out of Hanover, Germany, Coda Audio arrived in 1997, and has been ISO-certified since 2007. The core of its manufacturing is carried out in the Coda factory in Alexandrov’s hometown of Sofia in Bulgaria: drivers, mechanics, voice coils, you name it – all the core elements that go inside each Coda product are made there. “It was more like fun at the beginning,” admits Alexandrov. “But we really started Coda [Audio] six or seven years ago; that’s when we began to create the brand.” Now, the plan is to become the number one choice in sound systems for audio professionals around the globe, from major touring applications to installs, theatres, and houses of worship. It’s a hell of an ask, one might say, but Coda has a series of curveballs in terms of philosophy, outlook, and most impressively, its technologies. The company is under no illusion that conventional methods will cut it – and one thing these guys are not is conventional. “We needed to invest in people and machines, and that’s a heavy investment. But it means we have the control of the quality, and ultimately, we can realise almost every idea because we don’t need to speak to external suppliers,” Alexandrov says. “For example, the pins for the line array. I had three meetings with pin manufacturers; people buy them, but never produce them.
I tried to explain what I wanted, but in the end, I thought, ‘let’s do it ourselves’. With every other speaker manufacturer, you take the pin out, and put it back in – it’s easy to lose them. But our pins always stay in position: they can be locked in or out, but they can’t be lost! This is what I wanted 10 years ago, but no one does it, even now!” There are plenty more little ‘touches’ that Coda applies to its boxes, all of which are highly beneficial to touring teams and crews: vents that keep water out, connectors on front and back of subs to make cardioid setups easier, and custom dollies for easy manoeuvrability and setup, the list is long.
Unique may be an overused word in this business. Game-changing definitely is. But when you have a proper look at Coda Audio’s many proprietary technologies, it’s difficult to keep your jaw off the floor. It’s easiest to let Alexandrov do the talking. “First and foremost, we use technology that we built and designed in house, and it is very different to our competitors; for example, all high frequency transducers are with ring diaphragms instead of dome diaphragms, which I’ll come to in a second,” he says. “We then have our Planar Wave technology, whereby the driver produces a Planar wavefront without transforming a spherical wavefront coming from a compression driver, like almost every other speaker manufacturer. We do this in just one driver design, which itself produces a planar wavefront.
Ed Sheeran plays through a huge Coda AiRAY system in Singapore.
Technology Inside Coda Audio
Coda’s DDP driver (below), and ring diaphragm versus a traditional dome.
“Then there is DDP (Dual Diaphragm Planar-wave-driver), another unique technology. Normally with a big line array, you see lows, which could be double 12-inch speakers; then four small speakers for mid range, maybe 6.5inch; and two or three compression drivers for the highs. But this never gives you a really good directivity; you’re using some small mid range drivers which aren’t efficient. So what we did is put mid and high range in one relatively small transducer with very high efficiency, and as a result, we get 12-15dB more headroom.” At this point, Alexandrov uses an interesting analogy: the electronics industry in the early ‘50s, where you had big circuit boards with different electronic components and transistors, and then someone managed to put it all into a small package, which caused an electronics revolution. He wants to create one in acoustics. “It’s the same principle, really: our package is much, much more efficient,” he insists. What this means, I am told, is that Coda is able to reduce the size and weight of its big systems by around 50%, while actually increasing performance, which sounds pretty crazy to me. “[laughs] In the early days, a computer was a building... I was in such buildings! But now it’s more powerful, and all in one box. Traditional loudspeaker technology is a building, and we tried to do that same thing with our technology: get it into a smaller, lighter format, yet more powerful and efficient. So this is what we have done using DDP.” Then comes DDC (Dual Diaphragm Curved-wave-driver), a similar technology, but with a bit of a twist. “With DDC, we don’t produce a planar wavefront, we curve the front, and we have the technology to do so,” Alexandrov states. “Normally you have a compression driver, and you have a horn, and the horn makes the directivity - 90- by 40-degree, for example - and it always produces some kind of distortion to
reshape the wavefront. With the DDC, we can shape it in the way we want. Take our small format APS speakers as an example: the wavefront is already produced with 20-degrees, we don’t need to reshape it and add distortion, and it’s much more precise, so when you put more APS together, they perform as one single cabinet; there is no interference between them because of the principle of how it works. Already in the transducer we produce the wavefront we need, so we just add another piece, and another.”
The Driving Force
But it’s Coda’s compression driver technology that’s probably the most mind-blowing – it’s the core of everything, Alexandrov says: “The conventional dome diaphragm design is very old; it was designed and invented in the ‘20s, and until today, almost all drivers are working like that. There are new materials, so you can increase power handling and performance, but the design hasn’t changed.” “The problem with a dome is, you have a voice coil, it moves, and then a mechanical wavefront starts to move and reflect back, creating distortion; the diaphragm itself is actually larger than the wavelength. So let’s say a wavelength at 10kHz is 34mm, but the compression driver is a three- or four-inch voice coil: at 4-5kHz, it already starts to be incoherent and unstable, as the wavelength is smaller than the physical size of the diaphragm, which means it’s very hard to transform that energy into acoustical energy. So what happens is, some pieces of the diaphragm will start to resonate at 10kHz, 11kHz, and so on. What a transducer engineer will do to fix that is essentially like putting a band aid over the fundamental problem: he’ll search for materials, perhaps put some coatings on the domes, but it’s all cosmetic. You still have the problem, which people have put up with for years.” And Coda has the answer?
“We do. We put in a ring diaphragm, where all of the pieces of the diaphragm are very near to the voice coil. What that means is, when the voice coil moves, the diaphragm moves as a piston, because the wavelength is larger than the diaphragm itself, so we can constantly accept the wavelengths without any distortion – it results in the purest audio you can get.” But isn’t the ring diaphragm a considerably smaller diaphragm than the dome diaphragm? “Actually, no – we have two diaphragms on the ring one: one inside, and one outside of the voice coil, so we actually have a larger diaphragm than a dome,” Alexandrov reveals. “But still, all of the pieces of the diaphragm are very close to the force, which is the voice coil; and this is how we tune the diaphragms: the higher frequencies are produced only from one diaphragm, and on the lower range, both are working in phase. “This has helped us to increase the frequency range of the driver, as we are actually driving two diaphragms of two different sizes with the same voice coil.” As I try to compute this, Alexandrov begins to talk about sound quality, and why we as humans perceive something to sound good, and not so good. Not entirely sure where he’s going with this, I decide to sit back, and listen on. “An engineer measures frequency responses, and with modern DSP, you can tune all speakers with the same frequency response. It could be a €100 or €10,0000 speaker, but with the same frequency response – so why does one cost 100 times more? Well, frequency response is obviously not sound quality; you measure some distortion, perhaps they even have the same distortion, or even a speaker with more distortion sounds better. But why? This is the intermodulation distortion, which is very important, and difficult to measure; the coherency, which are the resonances of the diaphragm; and the time domain. We mostly measure the electrical domain, and the acoustical domain;
Chris Marsh at his DiGiCo SD7.
but in the middle is the mechanical domain, which is not well researched, and distortion and resonances happen there, also. “With a dome diaphragm, you need to use special materials like titanium or neodymium, which are light and strong, but because it’s a long distance from the voice coil, you still need to use some heavy stuff. There are two different ways of designing this: some companies use light aluminium domes, which are better, but when you apply a bit more power, they produce distortion, and everything gets crushed; other companies take slightly thicker titanium domes, which is more stable, but heavier, so you can apply a bit more power, but you have other problems, because of the moving mass. Because the distance to the voice coil is very short, we use very thin and strong polymers, which means the moving mass is less, and efficiency is high. We don’t have any driver less than 35% efficiency, and we can be as high as 50%, compared to 15% from the competition. Because of this efficiency, we have applied less power to achieve it, too.”
So each part of the Coda pie acts like a domino to the next. I ask Alexandrov to explain a little more about intermodulation distortion. “Normally, engineers are measuring distortion with sweep signals, then you measure harmonic distortion, second harmonic, third harmonic, and so on. But music is not like that. The sweep is always one tone at the same time, whereas music is always many tones at the same time; and these many tones are behaving differently in the mechanical domain, therefore we want to see what’s happened in a real music application. “So we apply three tones at the same time, very close to each other, on a small one-inch high frequency driver. As the tones are so close together, as the diaphragm tries to produce this, it gets stressed, and unstable. This is a small dome, high end tweeter, which is used in very high end products.” And how do the results differ compared to the ring diaphragm? “On the dome, we can see second and third harmonics, and high order harmonics – that is the suspension. You can see the second harmonic is almost the same on both readings, so that means it’s a well designed dome driver; the third harmonic is higher, though, as the dome has one suspension, and we have two suspensions, and we can tune it fine, so our third harmonic is very nice; and here in the high order, they are almost not measurable in the ring diaphragm, yet here is where the dome becomes very unstable, and produce things which are not there.” Which basically shows that human ear has masking effects at certain frequencies. It also shows that subharmonic distortion is much more audible to the human ear, which brings Alexandrov to another example: “If you take a subwoofer, apply 50Hz with 120dB, then apply a second tone at 100Hz with 100dB, which means it’s 10% distortion, and you then switch off the 100Hz, you will not hear it. Why? Because they are close
to each other, and it’s inside the mask. So we are sensitive to high order distortion, yet we are not even able to hear low order distortion. This means many people think the second harmonic distortion is not a problem - even that it sounds good, as it’s a second harmonic, and it’s one octave. But that is not true! It’s because it is a low order distortion, and normally it’s inside the mask of the human ear. “If you listen to low level music, you won’t hear the distortion, but you won’t hear the fine details, because they are low energy, high level harmonics. So when people listen through any Coda system, they often hear stuff they’ve never heard before, and they’re don’t know why! The same goes for engineers: if you are mixing from scratch, that’s one thing, but if you come in with an existing multitrack or playback, the mix you were doing is masking problems you were trying to fight with, so when you first put it on a Coda system, it doesn’t necessarily immediately sound better, because you mixed it with that distortion.” We head to the demo room for a presentation: first, the little APS (Arrayable Point Source), which in themselves pack an incredible punch and carry; then a point source setup, which blows me away – especially when I am told the subs aren’t yet switched on (what?!) And then the very mini TiRAY, which is surely too small for a line array, isn’t it? Evidently not – it’d easily fill any Apollo/Brixton type venue, and some. Finally, the ViRAY, which I am reminded is the ‘medium sized’ Coda system. The mains alone are extraordinarily clear, and rich; and when the flown lows are added, it’s as if sub is filling the room, when actually, it’s not. When the subs are implemented, it’s almost a frightening experience: I keep backing further away from the system, not because it hurts, but because the kick drum is literally right in my face, and could punch me between the eyes at any minute! Oddly, this doesn’t change the further I go back – up to maybe 30 metres. SPL feels the same, and the sonic experience is identical no matter where you walk in the room. The only system I don’t get to hear is Coda’s flagship AiRAY, but if the recent Ed Sheeran show in Singapore is anything to go by, which was mixed by Chris Marsh on a DiGiCo SD7 through a huge AiRAY system, it’s apparently even more incredible sounding. This, I have to say, is pretty difficult for me to compute! And stranger still, post-demo, I have zero buzzing in my ears, and don’t feel any fatigue whatsoever. It’s funny. When digital consoles first came out, they were poor, got better, and are now amazing, with one or two firms clearly dominating the riders. That hasn’t really happened in loudspeakers since the ‘90s. Yes, there are plenty of good new systems out there today – and Coda would be first to acknowledge that - but you could argue that no company has really grabbed the reigns since. Maybe these guys will finally rock the boat. www.codaaudio.com
INSIDE THE HUB 01 Headliner
Jack Mercer (AKA Pines) is former frontman of much revered West London rock and rollers, The Carnabys, a band whose stage presence and live performances earned them tour and festival slots alongside a string of major artists: Springsteen, Blondie, Lenny Kravitz, and Kings of Leon, to name a few. In February, the band went on hiatus, but Mercer has been hard at work - and we at Headliner have been on hand to help. Over the last six months, we have been recording, producing, experimenting, mixing, and, of course, drinking with this talented 23-year-old, helping him develop what has become his ‘Alternative Soul’ sound. Meet Pines... Words Paul Watson Photographs Jack Hughes & Tom Precey
he Carnabys are probably the most committed unsigned band I’ve ever seen, and absolutely tight as a drum; fantastic musicianship, good songs, and a lead singer you can’t take your eyes (or ears) off. Terrific range, full of dynamics, and jumping around like a madman for the most part. Proper rock and roll. The Pines project is a polar opposite of The Carnabys – but it’s also somewhat of a musical evolution for the artist. I’m sat in ‘The Hub’, Headliner’s recording studio, alongside the man himself, after just completing a mix session on our new Genelec 8341s. But before we get technical, I want to find out a bit more about the man behind the music. “The name Pines comes from my Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE),” opens Pines, sipping on a Guinness. “TLE has a lot to do with your memory, and I believe there are memories in my head that I can’t access on demand, but sometimes, if I am having a partial seizure, I get these kind of images in my head that I think I’ve experienced before; and I get these overwhelming feelings of déjà vu and nostalgia. “When I was a kid, my parents took me to New Hampshire, which is full of these big pine trees, and although I don’t remember a thing about it, as my TLE started to develop, sometimes I’d have this scenery come up in my head of those trees. I can’t pull it on demand, sometimes it’s just there. Hence the name Pines.” Spooky stuff. I ask him if his TLE is a hindrance in terms of creativity – but if anything, he seems to embrace it. “It’s always helped me imagine things, especially in the studio, because it’s like painting a picture, isn’t it? And each of the songs we’ve produced, I have given them colours: they’re either green, purple, orange, or blue,” he says. Any particular reason? “[laughs] I really don’t know, it’s just the colour they are, and the way my mind works! And if I look deeper into it, there are certain parts of the songs that might
be different shades of that colour, or they might be a different colour altogether that changed the shape and the colour of the song. But all those little overdubs we add, I’m always using the colour scheme in my head; it stops me going off on tangents, basically, and it’s always helped me with arranging tracks on an album, as well.” What Pines is describing is essentially synaesthesia – a condition he also suffers from. I say ‘suffer’, but again, it’s all put to good use in terms of positive musical creation. “I only found out I had it when I was at the ICMP at a lecture, and it was on synaesthesia,” Pines explains. “I put my hand up in the middle of the lecture and said, ‘I think I might have that’, and a few people turned around and said, ‘this guy’s chatting shit’; but up until that point, I genuinely thought that’s how everyone thought, so it was a strange moment. It’s also to do with how you lay things out – there is a clear layout in my head when I think of numbers, too, and again, I don’t have a clue why.” Pines is convinced that his synaesthesia and epilepsy are linked, but is adamant that, if he could switch it all off tomorrow, he wouldn’t. “If someone said, ‘take this pill, and you won’t have epilepsy tomorrow’, then I wouldn’t take it, because it’s a part of me, and it helps me create things; and it’s something I can access that no-one else can. I feel it kind of sets me apart.”
Pines describes his new sound as ‘Alternative Soul’. It’s all about that soulful voice he’s fortunate enough to possess, but the tag also works pretty well in that all his songs are very much heart and soul, too. I ask him to take the Headliner readers through this new musical chapter. “I don’t think you can take a break in this industry unless you’re Adele or Ed Sheeran, so I decided to do something on my own,” Pines says. “It’s been a big adventure, going from Headliner 17 Headliner 02
“It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s imperfect, and that’s what I’ve always loved about music.”
indie rock to this, and now that we’ve added brass to the tracks, people can definitely hear that soul element. We used an Audio-Technica 5047, which is incredible; it’s now a more mature sound than classic indie rock.” The Pines demos were initially done in my apartment – no acoustic treatment, just some solid audio kit. It was first and foremost about capturing the performance. “It’s always been about the voice, the melodies, and the nice warm, clean guitar tones,” Pines insists. “We’ve been using Reaper, which is an amazing DAW with so many layers that we seem to be uncovering as we go; and the audio interface from the beginning has been the RME Babyface Pro, which is just such a quality piece of engineering. The unit is incredible, and the sounds we get out of it are great. “When we got hold of an Aston Microphones Halo reflection filter, it made that apartment feel like a little vocal booth – I know that’s the whole idea, but honestly, what a difference that made, and what separation we were suddenly able to achieve. At that stage, we were pretty much mixing on the Audio-Technica M70s, as the room was pretty reflective; and having that consistency of sound was important, both of us listening to exactly the same thing the whole time - and the mixes were starting to come out pretty well, too. We made those initial demos because we wanted to do demos, whereas now, we’re making records.”
In a twist of fate, just as the project needed to go up another level, Headliner secured its first musical hub, taking over the first floor of an ancient old inn over in rural St. Albans, and turning it into a professional recording space. 18 Headliner
“When the studio happened, it was a whole other step up. There is strange work afoot, but I’m not complaining,” Pines laughs, referring to Mr. Luck, our resident ghost. “It’s funny, as most of the recording was done in that apartment, and we’ve not had to redo any of it; it’s just much easier finding the right EQ now we have a truthful room. I actually can’t wait to record in The Cave (Headliner’s hybrid room, coming in 2018) – maybe we’ll pick up Mr. Luck in the recordings? [smiles]” Pines wasn’t involved in any of the production with The Carnabys, whereas now, he is always chipping in: “I’m learning what it takes to bring a song from 0.6 to 1.0,” he smiles. Indeed. “There is still a lot I need to learn about the EQing and mixing, and the sonics in general, but from where I was a year ago, it’s light and shade.” When it comes to processing and EQ, the go-tos are Waves plugins - even for the guitars, which was initially a very alien way of working for Pines. That soon changed. “My live setup is going to be my Epiphone into a Fender DeVille valve amp, and a proper old school Boss pedalboard - chorus, digital delay, tremolo,” Pines explains. “But I don’t have that amp yet – and the sound direct into the Babyface was so good, just adding a little reverb, compression, and EQ [from the Waves SSL E Channel and RVerb] kind of worked for me. “From there, we started experimenting with all the [Waves] GTR stuff, which is incredible. We’d create virtual amp and stomp box setups, which did the job great – and from there, we uncovered other gems like the CLA Guitars – incredible stuff we managed to add to the source sound. It’s difficult not to get carried away, but once you’re over the initial excitement of
what you can do with them, you do kind of reel yourself back in..!” And the Waves element doesn’t end there. In addition, CLA Vocals and the H-Delay (usually used in lo-fi mode) are firm favourites. “It’ll be the first time I’ll be thinking about how to replicate the sounds live from the studio, rather than the other way around,” Pines exclaims. “What I love is how accessible and easy to use the Waves stuff is – you’re suddenly in a position to do these amazing things at the click of a button, and in many cases, you don’t know what it’s going to sound like, but suddenly it transforms the whole track. It feels like it all has a mind of its own, which I love.” For all acoustic guitar work, a quite unique recording approach was adopted, discovered quite by accident: “We did a live acoustic guitar recording direct into a Lectrosonics PDR recorder with a custom hard-wired DPA 4061 mic, and the results were stunning - so much so that we ended up using it for all the acoustic guitars.” To clarify, the audio capture was done using the PDR and DPA setup, then exported in hi-res via the SD card in the PDR, and dropped direct into the DAW. A bit clunky, perhaps, but the results spoke many volumes. “There was just something about the richness of the audio when we listened back via the PDR. Incredible, really. I am told it’s to do with the quality of the preamp inside the little box, but whatever it is, it’s pretty amazing! “I mean, we didn’t even need to EQ the guitars at all, as the source sound was so fantastic. You not only get the warmth, but also that great percussive element in the top end. A fullness of sound, but with a sparkle on the top, if that makes sense?”
“The music industry is one of the strangest things on the planet...” TRYING NEW THINGS
So experimentation has most definitely been a key part of the process. And that’s also what led Pines down the keyboard playing path: “I am the first to say I am the world’s worst keyboard player, but I am always jumping on the Nord 3 HP, as you can just create something out of nothing; the Hammond and the piano engines in the Nord are amazing to me, and with the inbuilt effects such as the delay, the reverb, the tremolo, and so on, you can just dial something in, and you’ve suddenly got a sound. Normally we go from a preset, and tweak it to our own liking – you can get something pretty epic in about 30 seconds.” Strings were also something Pines didn’t necessarily think would work with this new sound – until he was introduced to Spitfire Audio, that is. “I was blown away by that stuff,” Pines laughs. “And the work the London Contemporary Orchestra have done with Spitfire is... [pauses] I’m surprised more artists don’t know about it. I know these libraries are primarily for composers, but honestly, what we have achieved with the LCO library has been absolutely inspiring. The way you can get surgical with the sounds, get inside the players’ heads, almost! Brilliant. “For songwriters, this stuff is priceless, especially if you spend a little time working with it. It’s a complete game-changer for me, especially for an artist that has no backing yet, with no label or no budget – being able to use something like that without having to fork out on a string section is fantastic. “By the way, I’m not saying a string section shouldn’t get paid – they absolutely should! But to be able to start out and have an orchestra in the palm of your hand is incredible – especially one that Jonny Greenwood works with!” Conversation turns to the music industry as a whole, and how some artists are compromising their art to gain success. Pines understands this,
but is baffled by some of the ‘songwriter’ tags currently being thrown around. “If Ed Sheeran can be cynical enough to write one song specifically designed for Radio 1, why can’t I? I get that – it’s business. We’re playing a game, aren’t we? But songwriting as a whole? It’s like cooking – and too many cooks and all that... “I’m not naming names, but when you have seven different writers or producers on one track because Mr. Record Exec or whoever has decided everyone needs a slice of that pie – that is bullshit. It takes one to three people to write the best song in the moment, you don’t need any more than that... Actually, three is a push.” Quite a trend, though, isn’t it? I explain that I have wandered into ‘writing sessions’ – again, naming no names - where six people have been trying to find out what rhymes with X or Y. It’s not songwriting for me, either. “Well they shouldn’t be a songwriter, should they?” Pines states. Fair point. “And this is where the publishing splits have gone stupid. People seem to think – and I still don’t get this – that if you’re in the room while a song has been written, that you’re entitled to a credit. No you’re fucking not! If you contributed X amount to a song, then you’re entitled to X amount. “I don’t want to start cutting people up, but I do think it’s sometimes far too easy to get a credit on writing a song. It’s like vultures.”
Pines has a long and prosperous career ahead of him – I wonder what he’d change in the industry to make that a bit easier to accomplish? “I think it’s more something that needs to change with the general public; it’s when there’s a stupid amount of people producing a song, and it becomes a number one, and the public don’t realise that everyone’s put in a point seven of the effort. At the end of the day, you’re buying a product to listen to, and you should find out who’s written it, not just who the puppet is on
the front cover. And what do you think of the Headliner studio? We think it may be the oldest building to currently house a professional studio. “When you first hear it’s a studio above a pub, it’s hard not to be sceptical, but when you go in there, you realise there is some fantastic gear in there, and it’s beautifully treated in terms of acoustics. And, of course, it’s haunted! I’ve heard people talking, and I know you have – and they’re not there... or are they? [smiles] It’s kind of apt we’re using Reaper... What a great name for a ghost!” No comment! Finally, how would you describe the Pines sound in one sentence? “It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s not perfect, and that’s what I love about it, and what I have always loved about music. You might end up at someone’s flat at the end of a night, someone puts on a record and says, ‘can you hear Keith Richards cough at the end of this track?’ And it gives you shivers. And that’s what I love about music that is imperfect.” And the industry as it stands? “The music industry is one of the strangest things on the planet; it’s like sprinting in the dark: you’re either gonna hit a brick wall, or you’re gonna find the door. It’s changing in that we’re now earning more money from streaming than ever, whereas it was on its knees a few years ago because of streaming, so you never know what’s going to happen. For that reason, I take every day as it comes, because there is no formula. It’ll happen, it’s just when.” Indeed, it will. Headliner will be keeping close tabs on Pines - expect brand new music in January 2018, starting with a live showcase in London. www.waves.com www.spitfireaudio.com www.lectrosonics.com www.audio-technica.com 19 Headliner
Album Review Lucy-May
LUCY-MAY LITTLE BY LITTLE .
Lucy-May first arrived on the scene in 2013 with debut single, Paper Heart, which reached Radio 2 playlist status; and her debut album, Whirlwind, came highly recommended by HMV. Now she’s back, with a complete catalogue of fresh original material in the shape of her follow-up album, Little By Little, which she’s co-produced with Greg Fitzgerald. First and foremost, Little by Little is very easy on the ear. Lucy-May’s smooth vocals are not so dissimilar to that of Texas’ lead singer, Sharleen Spiteri – and that becomes more evident as the record goes on. There’s a touch of Gabrielle in there, too, and even a smidgen of KT Tunstall, in parts, neither of which are unwelcome influences, of course. Furthermore, some of the songs on this record definitely feel like hits, not least the title track, which is one of the definite standouts. New is another Headliner favourite: a great chord structure, velvety acoustic guitars, and tight as a drum vocal harmonies; and Better Off Now offers more of the same, but with a country twist, which is where Lucy’s roots ultimately stem from: plenty of slide guitar, and lyrics such as ‘love is champagne ‘til the glass gets shattered / but I like rosé anyway’ are sure to bring a smile to the face. We can all relate! There’s also a bit of a Beautiful South vibe happening here, and that’s not a bad thing, either - the poppy production throughout is also a no-brainer, though it’s nice to see a reggae-infused track like Rich rear its head in an album which is predominantly full of straight-up pop songs. Tracks such as I Don’t Wanna Miss You, and Over Before It Started would fit seamlessly on any Texas album (hence the Spiteri comment earlier); Mixed Emotions is a real tear-jerker; and the record’s closer, Long Goodbye, is a warm, believable, soulful number, in which Lucy-May sings straight from the heart. All in all, lovely stuff. Little by Little is a great collection of nicely structured, well performed pop songs, with some cracking vocal harmonies, a country twist, and enough musical diversity to keep it interesting from start to finish. We suggest you have a listen. @LucyMayOfficial
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THE ACCIDENTAL SOUND MAN
Rick Dickerson never intended on being a sound engineer, but when he took a job at a rehearsal studio in South London during the early ‘80s, he discovered he was pretty handy in front of a PA system. Dickerson takes a trip down memory lane, offers some sound advice (literally), and talks us through his favourite mixing consoles. Words Paul Watson Rick Dickerson’s first love was always playing the guitar. Second was recording, but live sound never really crossed his mind as a career, until a bizarre request came from a band’s tour manager. “I was working in Clink Street Studios [in Southwark], making sandwiches, and an Irish band called Les Enfants, who’d just signed to Chrysalis, were in,” Dickerson recalls. “Their tour manager came up to me and said, ‘nice sandwiches; by the way, can you do a gig tonight at the University of London student union?’ [laughs] “I said, ‘why would you want me to do that? I’m not a sound engineer, as such,’ and he said, ‘well, whenever the band come in, and you’re here, the PA seems to sound wonderful and loud, they can hear themselves, and they have a great day’s work – and the sandwiches are great, too; when anyone else is doing the job, the PA squeals and howls all day, and the sandwiches aren’t very good, either!’” So Dickerson went to the University of London, and did the gig, where he met TourTech founder, Dick Rabel, who offered some engineering tips to remember:
“I said to Dick that I hadn’t done live sound before, and he said, ‘these are the things you need to know, mate: one is, you’re in control; and two, if you know what one channel strip of controls do, you know what they all do.’ He also said, ‘music ain’t broke, so don’t try to fix it.’ All those things stuck with me, and helped me carve out a career.” Dickerson says he wasn’t a particularly good engineer at the beginning, but the fact he instilled confidence in Les Enfants was enough to get him through that first show. He can’t have done too badly on the night, though, because soon after, he found himself out on the road. “Next thing I know, we’re on tour supporting Paul Young,” Dickerson explains. “I remember meeting a guy called Rory another real character. He had what looked like pictures of fish drawn on his graphic equalisers, which I found odd. I asked if they were fish, he said no, and I said I couldn’t see any way those pictures could be enhancing the sound whatsoever. With that, he said, ‘have a look at this’; he opened his rack, and low and behold, out of the whole rack of graphics,
hardly any were dialled in, but all the lights were on. I said, ‘why do you have all this kit around you, then?’ And he said, ‘well, it does me one huge favour: it justifies my exorbitant fee!’ [laughs] I have never forgotten that, and actually, the more stuff you put into a signal path, the worse it gets, not the better.” Dickerson went on to work front of house for several major players including Tina Turner, and Del Amitri, and more recently, he is somewhat of a production multitasker: it’s not unusual to see him work front of house, manage the tour, spec all the kit, and even drive the tour bus (albeit reluctantly).
Dickerson has been a fan of DiGiCo consoles since the company released the D1 and D5 models. He ‘avoided digital like the plague’ all the way up to the days of the Yamaha DM2000, but the arrival of DiGiCo changed his way of thinking. “The only one I liked [before DiGiCo] was the [Yamaha] M7 when it first came out, as it was more analogue in its approach, as every fader was available to you, and you could
SHOWTIME: Rick at his DiGiCo
“DiGiCo desks are totally transparent...” select channels easily, and edit on a touch screen. But I still didn’t like the sound! “But when the D1 and D5 came out, it all started to change. This is when I was working for Matthew Herbert. DiGiCo became my specced desk, and I got quite a lot of them, too, first the D1, then D5. I was touring around Europe at the time.” The arrival of the SD Series took the game up another level for Dickerson. He has worked on most models in the range over the last few years, on various shows and tours. “When I was on [the touring production of ] That’ll Be The Day earlier this year, I would have liked to have moved to DiGiCo, but we didn’t have the budget. We had an [Allen & Heath] iLive, which does a decent job. Now I’ve left the show, they’ve bought an SD12! [laughs] And they love it. From what I can see, it’s a great board, and it comes with a DMI slot in the back, so they are communicating via Dante. I saw the crew on Monday night down in Truro, and they seem over the moon with the console. “DiGiCo desks are totally transparent, they don’t sound ‘phasey’ at all, like some other digital boards, and as for the multi-band compressor, what can you say? That is where it’s at. It’s one of the quickest and easiest to use multi-bands, and you can hear what it’s doing when it’s doing it. It’s subtle, but you can hear it. I have to say, I was quite bowled over by it when I first used it, and it’s now a go-to for me at every show. Another thing is the I/O, Dickerson says: “Even on the SD11, which is incredible,
considering its tiny footprint. And the DiGiCo I/O is vastly expandable thanks to the SD racks. But the real standout feature for me is the quality of the preamps; they are very, very good – sparkly and clean, just how you want a preamp to be.” As long as everything else in the audio chain is ‘high-end’, Dickerson will usually work at 96kHz. “If I’m running a multi-channel show on an SD10, for example, then it makes sense to do that, as it’s cleaner audio, and less noise when you add it all together,” Dickerson says. “It’s also worth noting that it’s a great sounding board with nothing on it! If you pull out all the EQ, and just listen to it, it’s actually a very good preamp, and very good sounding desk. “If I’m doing a festival run, or any big band stuff when there’s 30 odd musicians to work with, because you don’t have a lot of time, it’s very quick and easy to get great sounds right out of the box, so to speak. As long as you have your gain structure correct, just whip the cursor through the channels and take all the EQ off, and that’s actually a good starting point. “Every EQ and every rig has its own characteristics, but if it’s a well set up PA, and you trust the guys to do that job, normally you find the EQ doesn’t need to be extensive, anyway. You can get away with taking it off, and just tweaking things if need be. If I’m doing festivals, I will normally punch out the EQ and then re-save the show with no EQ on it – maybe a little on the kick drum, but that’s it – and when you go on to the next festival,
if you run out of time, you’ve got a soft patch you can load in from the channels coming down, and off you go. “So again, you’re on the case right away. That’s another beautiful thing about DiGiCo: you often hear people fumbling around, and things changing through the first few numbers, but you want to be up and running with the rest of the horses when you start; that’s the way I do it, and it works for me, certainly with any of the DiGiCo boards.” Dickerson says he will also reference with his trusted JH Audio JH16 IEMs: “I wanted something that I could use to do a virtual soundcheck while other people are doing something else, and the JH16s give you the feeling of a PA system. They’re big, bold, and they have depth: exactly what you would expect from a good PA, but without the rumbling in your loins! When I heard them, I knew it was reminiscent of the sort of thing I want to stand in front of. Superb bit of kit.” I ask Dickerson to leave us with some kind of an audio anecdote. He laughs, and says: “Never, ever stop listening. Listen to everything, and everybody, because opinions are all valid... to a certain extent! That’s the job of a sound engineer: to listen. And don’t fix it if it ain’t broken. A lot of engineers want to fiddle about, and it’s not necessary. It’s not rocket science, we’re just making it louder! Oh, and remember, the most important person in the crew is the person who signs the cheques!” www.digico.biz www.jhaudio.com
Comment Adam Protz
WHEN HAVING IT ALL ISN’T ENOUGH Words Adam Protz It’s certainly been a tough period for musicians and music lovers alike, after losing two icons in quick succession: Soundgarden’s legendary lead singer, Chris Cornell, took his own life; and two months later, on what would have been Cornell’s birthday, Linkin Park’s frontman, Chester Bennington, also died by his own hand. The two artists were close friends. Besides all the grief surrounding these events, there’s also been a very noticeable disbelief among people. How can it be that these men who achieved their dreams, and seemingly had it all, be afflicted by such a sadness? It’s a very complex issue, and it needs discussing. Amongst the outpouring of tributes from the rock community, a number of musicians offered their wisdom amidst the tragedy. Following Bennington’s suicide, Hayley Williams of Paramore weighed in on Twitter: “Artists are people compelled to bring beauty into a world that can be so dark. Makes sense, then, that artists are always conscious of darkness, and maybe at times made more vulnerable by it? I don’t know. Life can be relentless. My heart hurts for Chester’s family, band, friends, and fans.” It’s certainly an insightful, perhaps even fresh perspective from Williams. Could it be said that Bennington was constantly revisiting those dark places he’d had to live through, by always singing about them so openly on stage? That he was almost attracting more darkness into his life? Perhaps. However, a number of experts on depression and anxiety have expressed that openly expressing emotions, whether it be writing them down, talking with a friend or therapist, or singing about them in songs, is a very powerful way to release them. It’s pure catharsis through music. This is not to say that Hayley Williams was putting forward the view that Bennington should have kept it all bottled up inside, and sang happy clappy songs instead. What she’s getting at is the idea that musicians, and creative people in general, are more likely to suffer from melancholy,
and even clinical depression, as was the case with both Cornell and Bennington. It’s been said before, and it’s being widely discussed once more in the wake of these deaths. It’s been the inspiration for so much incredible art, throughout history. But what of all the people who simply can’t comprehend the notion that anyone could live their dream, amass millions of fans, and still be deeply unhappy? Well, this of course stems from our culture of celebrity worshipping - a worship that is born from the seemingly unattainable lives that celebrities lead. It’s the great misconception that when you get from A to B, all your problems will melt away. And that’s been demonstrably not true. There’s a great quote from actor, Jim Carrey, that says: “I think everybody should get rich and famous, and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer.” This is a tough pill for some people to swallow, but in many cases of musicians and other people achieving fame, depression can even worsen after becoming successful and wealthy. How can that be? Well, because after a temporary boost of happiness, many actors, singers, whoever it may be, quickly discover that these physical, material achievements weren’t the secret to everlasting happiness after all. And that can be the most crushing feeling of all — the thing you strived towards for so many years didn’t give you what you were hoping it would. I’m not for one second telling you to sack off all your hopes and dreams. Quite the opposite. Just take with you the knowledge that it’s gratitude for the smaller things that will keep you contented and starving off those demons. Just appreciating things as they are, in this moment. And if you’re ever going through depression, please do talk to someone, and know that it will pass. And let’s all hold the music of Soundgarden and Linkin Park in our hearts. It’s the least we can do for two men who suffered so much, but gave so much more.
“Could it be said that Chester Bennington was constantly revisiting those dark places he’d had to live through, by always singing so openly about them on stage?”
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CHARLIE BRADLEY: MONITOR MAN
It was the early ‘90s when Charlie ‘Chopper’ Bradley first got into the audio biz. Originally, he wanted to work in either film or TV, but he got the bug for audio after working club nights with live bands. The rest, as they say, is history. We sit down with Chopper to talk mixing dos and don’ts, industry sticking points, and how to keep one of the world’s most notable touring bands happy for a decade and more. Words Paul Watson “It was always going to be film or TV production for me, and I actually went to a TV production school for a while, but having dabbled in it, I found it really boring, and realised it wasn’t really what I was looking for,” opens Chopper. “I had worked in a nightclub that had live bands play every night while at college, and one of the guys there used to tour in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so basically brought me the core skills there. This was 1992, and that’s what hooked me into the life of rock and roll, wanting to see the world.” It’s been a fascinating journey for Chopper, and touring life seems to have been good to him over the years. I ask him what the standout moments have been so far. “That’s a tricky one,” he admits. “When I got the Massive Attack tour, that was very special; it was the first time I had a major client that I was a huge fan of prior to getting
the gig. So I guess I would have to say mixing someone like Annie Lennox was very special - and then you have the crazy shows in weird or special places, so Buckingham Palace, for example, or on a Caribbean island, or the mega-yachts...” A hard life, eh? One of Chopper’s longterm gigs is Duran Duran: 11 years and counting, and it’s still as strong a show as ever. “The Duran guys are all about moving with the times, as you will see from the decades of music they have made,” Chopper explains. “From a live perspective, they have always been good with, and encouraged the use of new technology - anything that improves the show, be it audio, lighting, whatever. “When I first started with Duran back in 2006, they were on a mixture of IEM and wedges; we mixed a few odd shows like that, but when the time for a new tour came
around, I had a chat with everyone, and persuaded them to all try giving IEMs a try, and we honestly have never looked back.”
Chopping & Changing
“We altered a lot of things for the last Duran world tour: we updated our backline, moved from the original ‘80s keyboards (which were always causing grief ), and re-sampled everything, and now we use MIDI controllers on stage,” he says. “It’s actually more authentic to the records now than it ever was. We also moved over to the new Avid S6 console, which again, was a huge step in audio quality. “I’d talked to JH Audio a few times over the years about using their products, and as it happens, while we were talking about all the changes and upgrades we wanted to make for the upcoming tour, Kevin Glendinning
Mixing monitors for Duran Duran.
CHOPPER WORLD: enter at your peril!
“The sound is very physical with the Roxanne, and the clarity in the high end is amazing...” [artist relations for JH Audio] called me, and said, ‘hey buddy, how about you give our new Roxannes a go?’ “We had been pretty happy with what we were using before, to be honest, but Kevin dropped me a demo pair, and I was simply blown away; Roxanne was everything I’d been hoping for. We are always striving to improve, so when looking at a new ear piece, it needs to be good. Clarity, depth, and punch in the lows, and all the other things we want. Simon [Le Bon, Duran Duran frontman] was an instant convert, and the rest of the band loved them, too, so we went ahead and had some custom sets made, and the results were even better with the custom fit. The sound is very physical: the lows, and even subs, are very obvious, and the high end is amazing.” Another big thing is the width and depth you can achieve in your mix using Roxanne, Chopper says: “Again, this comes from the quality of the drivers and crossovers; it’s the amazing detail you get, and how things just sit a little better in the stereo field without getting lost in some midrange mush. The ability to change the ‘sub’ crossover went down well with the band, too; and when you listen to the production on their records, you will know why. [Bassist] John Taylor was over the moon! His first comment was: ‘it’s like having a PA in the room; if I didn’t know better, I would swear
we had sidefills in here!” High praise, indeed. So at this point, Chopper and the band have the big three components perfectly in place: an upgraded backline; upgraded console and preamps; and the final piece of the audio jigsaw, the introduction of the new IEMs. “It’s given us a really huge step up in our onstage experience,” he confirms.
So what about dos and don’ts in terms of working monitors. Any tips for any budding Chopper in the making? “Creating a great IEM mix is about understanding a bunch of different things. What happens to the audio when it leaves the desk is key; it gets squashed, transmitted, and then expanded again at the pack, so when you’re building a mix, gain structure is important, along with understanding where to place things in a mix for them to be both heard and perceived,” Chopper insists. “A simple thing like panning a BV or second guitar slightly further round can give more clarity without it being turned up; of course, EQ plays a part here, too. But always, always monitor from a pack, never from the headphone output on the desk, otherwise you really are not hearing what the band will ultimately hear. Again, with the Roxanne, the separation and clarity really gives us another
level in the mixes onstage.” And any do nots? “I guess never presume anything,” he smiles “You learn on the road that something can and will always break or not work at some point, no matter how careful you are, or how many times you check it. So have spares ready: packs, IEMs, not just a spare vocal mic. I use a couple of matrix mixes on the desk into two ‘spare’ mixes; this enables me to send anyone’s mix from stage to a totally new pack on a new frequency. So if we are having trouble during a show, you are killing two possible faults in one go. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is wrong when the artist’s signalling to you, so you need a fast fix.” And finally, if you could change one thing about this industry, what would it be? “I wish people would go back to buying records, and supporting the artists they enjoy listening to,” Chopper says. Hear, hear! “Without an income, artists can’t create new product, especially new and emerging bands. I think the days are gone of a band who tours for 40 years, unfortunately; we seem to be in a disposable society where an artist’s shelf-life is measured in near months, sometimes.” Food for thought, indeed. Keep an eye out for Chopper in the coming months, where he’ll be mixing for Harry Styles’ debut tour. www.jhaudio.com
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS 01 Headliner
Ólafur Arnalds is a film composer, solo artist, and one half of techno duo, Kiasmos. He won a BAFTA for scoring ITV’s hugely popular series, Broadchurch, and hit UK screens again via Channel 4’s Electric Dreams. We are at Royal Festival Hall, where Ólafur is headlining the Erased Tapes is 10 festival. Words Adam Protz Photographs Alex Asprey
he Royal Festival Hall is a stunning building, originally built for classical music. The Houses of Parliament and the London Eye are just a short walk away, and the River Thames provides the perfect backdrop, especially on a sunny day like today. “I’ve scored two episodes,” Ólafur says of Electric Dreams. “Harry Gregson-Williams is someone else who’s scored a couple, also. Each episode is huge, way too much for just one composer to do the whole series. But this show is going to be huge.” With a star-studded cast, there’s no need to take that with a pinch of salt. And it can only increase Ólafur’s burgeoning stardom. I say burgeoning, because if anything, Ólafur is already too well known for someone who composes instrumental music. Alongside the likes of Nils Frahm and A Winged Victory For The Sullen, he is one of the artists who has made it cool to listen to music with classical instrumentation again. His discography is in double figures now, and he recently released a remastered version of his debut album, Eulogy for Evolution, on Erased Tapes Records, who also happen to be celebrating a 10th birthday. I ask what his relationship to his first record is now. “I don’t know, to be honest,” Ólafur says, in his gentle Icelandic accent, a little hint of strain in his voice. “I know we’re all trying to sell it and stuff, but I was so young. I know people like it, and I don’t think it’s bad, but there are lots of parts where I look at it and think, ‘dude, stop being such a fucking teenager!’” Considering Ólafur was a teenager when he first wrote these pieces, perhaps he’s being a little hyper-critical. “Of course! But I have to be! [laughs] When I listened to it before sending it to Nils [Frahm] to remaster it, I just couldn’t stop myself from opening up the recording sessions and fixing the mix a little bit,” Ólafur says. Frahm does much
of the mastering for Erased Tapes’ artists himself. “That process was interesting, opening up session files from 10 years ago. Some of it was ridiculous, but some of it was charming, in a way. There was a lot of stuff I could do back then that I couldn’t do today. Back then, there was no pressure at all. This was a total hobby. I was just writing songs, not really with the intention of releasing them.” The story of how Ólafur began writing his trademark piano music is mad, to say the least. He actually comes from a background of drumming for metal bands — the last one he was involved with went by the polite name, Fighting Shit, who managed to be booked on a tour with metal heroes, Heaven Shall Burn. Being a fan, Ólafur gave them a demo of some prog-rock he’d been making at home. Suitably impressed, the band commissioned him to write the intro and outro tracks on their next album, but using only piano and strings. These two voicings went on to be the main sounds he has worked with since, and it really has gone well for him. I ask if he is aware of how insane that is. “I don’t think it’s mad,” Ólafur says. “Because then I would be mad, and I don’t think I’m mad [laughs]. I was actually doing this stuff, although much simpler, from when I was 14-years-old, so I was doing both at the same time. But I did Eulogy for Evolution, and people really liked it — I got all these opportunities to go on tour, and have it become my job, which is something I could never do with the punk stuff. I was just pushed in this direction; and I’m glad, because I wouldn’t have lasted too long in that scene.” I ask if he had any expectation for his first piano album. “Not at all,” he confirms. “I didn’t know if anyone would listen to it, I would think, ‘who is the crowd for this?’” You could certainly argue Ólafur created the crowd, alongside the more mainstream Ludovico Einaudi. “I was just trying to do film scores, and hoping this album would open some doors. But I didn’t do a film until five years later. Coming from Headliner 29 Headliner 02
“Spitfire knows if they leave those imperfections in, it will feel more human. It comes naturally to them, and that’s what makes them great.” the punk DIY scene, I worked really hard, and did everything myself. I proactively contacted loads of promoters in Europe, and booked my first tour without an agent or anything. So no expectations, but a lot of hard work!” Perhaps the most inspirational thing about Ólafur Arnalds is that it appears as if he’s designed his life the way he wants it: one portion of a year he’ll be scoring a film, next he’ll be touring dark lit techno clubs with Kiasmos, and then back to the genteel for the next album. “I have consciously not gone too far in any one direction,” he says. “When I did Broadchurch, and got the BAFTA, the show got a lot of attention, and the offers came flooding in. I think it’s a subconscious thing, but whenever people come at me like that, I’m like, ‘no, I’m going over there to make techno now.’ “I never let people close me into a certain direction. I think I do it subconsciously, because I don’t want to be doing films all year, but I also 30 Headliner
don’t want to be on tour every day for a year, either. My agents don’t always like it, because once the hype starts building, I go elsewhere!” It is a swings and roundabouts situation, as Ólafur confirms my suspicion that he has received offers for amazing film projects that he definitely would have taken, if he hadn’t turned his focus elsewhere. “You have to learn not to care too much, and remember that if it came once, it’ll come again.” I’m also curious to know if Ólafur has received offers for film and TV projects which he felt he wouldn’t be the right fit for. “Yeah, there has been some of that,” he says. “That’s been a learning curve, to realise I’m not a chameleon, and I don’t want to be a chameleon. I want to be known for my style, and what I do. I don’t want to be known as the guy who will do a funk score, if the film needs that. Give it to the funk guy! [laughs] It’s been a case of getting my team on the same page: don’t pitch for jobs that I’m never going to be able to do.”
KEEPING IT REAL
With Kiasmos set to tear the Royal Festival Hall a new one tonight, I ask how things are in the techno camp. “We’ve been touring all summer, and there’s a new EP coming out,” Ólafur says. “We don’t usually play these kind of seated venues! But it’s great to be able to do that.” It’s perhaps only possible due to Ólafur having one foot in the classical world. “But it has grown very fast, the Kiasmos project. The EP is out in October, and has remixes from our favourite artists, Stimming, and Bonobo. I feel like there’s a great energy around Kiasmos at the moment, and we’re getting a lot of opportunities, with people we
look up to coming to us.” Despite seemingly leaving Erased Tapes in 2013 when he signed with Decca Imprint Mercury KX, Ólafur hasn’t really gone anywhere. Kiasmos still release with the London label, and his first album reissue will also be on Erased Tapes. At the time, his announcement on Facebook spoke of remaining part of the family. And here he is, four years later, headlining the Erased Tapes is 10 festival. The fact he’s stayed true to his word, and that he clearly remains close friends with label owner, Robert Raths, and the artists, goes to show that the label has a very special community aspect unlike any other. “There really aren’t many record labels like that anymore,” Ólafur says. “Maybe 4AD, Warp. There’s a handful of labels that can have that effect. Where, if people like one band on the label, they like them all. Erased Tapes is a great label in that sense. It’s small enough that things are personal, and you don’t have to worry about someone else taking all the resources. That can happen with major labels, or situations where the whole team just quits, and then a new team comes in. Erased Tapes is based around a very specific person, and Robert is not going to leave. He’s always going to be there, and we can trust him. He is moving a lot of units these days, but it still has the indie label feel.” Ólafur, and his friend, Nils Frahm, truly have created a sound, one which is starting to become the go-to piano sound in the music industry. I mention to Ólafur that quite a few people I’ve recently interviewed have mentioned that they deliberately make their piano stools creakier, to achieve the Erased Tapes style of sound (thanks to albums such as Felt by Nils Frahm, and Living Room Songs by Ólafur). Including
people on the very opposite end of the musical spectrum, like Rou Reynolds of Enter Shikari. “I find it funny when people do that deliberately,” Ólafur says. “Because that’s never what we did, we just didn’t give a fuck! [laughs]”
IN THE STUDIO
Since his humble beginnings as the drummer of Fighting Shit, and writing piano music in his spare time, Ólafur has now built himself a mothership of a studio back in Reykjavík. I’m keen to know about his composing process, and how all of the kit fits into that. “I work with Pro Tools all the time,” Ólafur says. “I have my tech converters, a few of them, to have enough channels. Most of my gear is vintage preamps and compressors, which I’ve spent a lot of time finding, and looking for. 1950s tube preamps, and stuff like that. It’s the same with the microphones. Normally, I would start by improvising on the piano, until something nice is coming along, or until you find something you feel you can expand on.” So it’s a more physical process? “Usually, yeah. What appears in my head tends to be a structural idea, like, ‘I want to do a song where the piano is doing sixteenths!’ It’s almost never a melody, but more an idea I can sit down and find the right notes to fit into it. It’s very improvisational at the beginning.” Ólafur then takes a whole host of these ideas, and condenses them down, until he has a piece in which a few of the ideas fit together. “I then go to the computer and start arranging,” he explains. “I get started with the Spitfire Audio libraries right away. Also, I sampled the piano I have at home with the Spitfire guys, so I now have my piano at home, and on my computer [laughs]. The samples don’t stay in the final product; it’s for arrangement purposes, getting the structure of the song.” Having now worked with Spitfire Audio to bring out his own composer sample pack, the Ólafur Arnalds Composer Toolkit, he has formed a great relationship with the company.
In fact, quite a few of the Spitfire guys have come along to see the show tonight. “I started using Spitfire in 2011, when they just started,” Ólafur says. “There was only one string library out — they’ve brought out many new ones since then, but I’m still using the same one! I actually pirated it [laughs]. At that point, they were very small, but made a very good product. They weren’t necessarily the best company in the business then, but they definitely are today. “That’s not to say I haven’t used other libraries; I’ve just never liked them as much. Spitfire have a special approach to everything that no-one else seems to get. When Native Instruments sampled the Una Corda (the piano created by Nils Frahm and David Klavins), it sounded good, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but you look at the interface, and you see there’s a slider where you can turn up the creaking chair, and even turn off the piano. It just feels really constructed, it doesn’t feel natural to play it. Spitfire are just like me and Nils in the beginning; we weren’t trying to make the chair creak. “Spitfire aren’t trying to make their libraries imperfect, but they know that if they leave those imperfections in, it will feel more human. It comes naturally to them, and that’s what makes them great at what they do.” Ólafur’s process differs, depending on if he’s working on a film, or one of his own albums. “If I’m working on a film, I’ll send the arrangement with the Spitfire samples to the director,” he says. “That way, if they want changes, I can still change it easily. When everyone’s getting happy, I’ll start replacing the samples with the real instruments. You then get an improvisational element to adapt to the real instruments. That’s when the magic happens. “My interface is a Mytek,” he says, “and I have a bunch of Siemens preamps, which are 1950s, and Austrian. For EQ plugins, I use the FabFilter a lot, and Slate also. A lot of it is done out of the box, as well. I have the 1178
Compressor from UA, which is a stereo version of the 1176, and I have two Teletronix LA2As - a lot of the compression is done in those. I have the Plate Reverb, which I prefer to the plugins, and in terms of microphones, I work a lot with Neumann KM84s and 83s — the 83 is just the omni version. I have the U47 also, to record piano, that’s all.” For a musician who has an album titled For Now I am Winter, and is associated with the colder climate of Iceland, his future is looking powerfully bright. After the huge popularity of three seasons of Broadchurch, and making time for Kiasmos, it’s finally time for his first, full-length solo LP since 2013. “Me and Janus still have a few more Kiasmos shows in the Fall,” Ólafur says. “But apart from that, I’ll just be writing the new album, until next Spring or so.” I ask what on earth we should expect. “[laughs] It keeps changing! This album has been long in the making, even before Island Songs!” Ólafur is then whisked away to have his photo taken with the Thames as the perfect backdrop. Later that night, the Kiasmos set is totally unforgettable. One song in, he picks up the mic and declares, “Let’s turn the Royal Festival Hall into a rave!” Everyone duly obliges — huge numbers of people ditch their seats, and pile into the aisles, throwing all kinds of shapes. Two girls are stood on their seats, sunglasses on, and filming throughout. It’s a rapturous spectacle, the likes of which the Southbank Centre probably won’t see again; and it’s all thanks to another unique success story from the diminutive island of Iceland. Here’s to many more seasons of Ólafur Arnalds. www.olafurarnalds.com www.spitfireaudio.com
Guns N’ Roses
Not in This Lifetime
GUNS N’ ROSES Ron Schilling started working with lighting equipment when he was in second grade, and he knew even back then that he was destined to make a career out of it. Currently, he is out on the road with legendary rock and rollers, Guns N’ Roses, whose Not in This Lifetime tour sees Axl Rose reunited with Duff McKagan and Slash. Headliner investigates.
“With 3,800 cues, it’s sometimes difficult to check every single one!”
Photographs Sound&Lite Magazine “A friend of mine was working for Upstaging, and I got hired for 10 days to help prep The Eagles’ rig, back in ‘94. I never left,” opens Schilling, when asked about his early days in the business. “I remember the very first show I did; that was Violent Femmes, and it was done off of LCD controllers. It was the first time they’d ever had moving lights. I remember being so nervous, but thankfully, the LD thought it went well.” The hire bid for this Guns N’ Roses tour was thrashed out by two major firms, and at the end of the day, it came down to the production manager. When the lighting operator left for another tour, Schilling had
the opportunity to take over the role on top of his crew chief job. “Before I was involved, there were meetings with the creative team,” he explains. “There was a week of pre-vis, then another week with the rig and the band. It all seems to have gone down pretty well.” A tour of this size doesn’t come without its challenges. I ask Schilling how he deals with everything that is thrown at him, so to speak. “Well, touring all over the world, and getting different rigs, isn’t easy,” he admits. “With 3,800 cues, it’s sometimes difficult to check every single one! [smiles] But I have a good team around me, and we do tend to
make it work every time.” Schilling has a strong working relationship with GLP, and the manufacturer’s products are all over this show. Much of the reasoning for this is not just about the quality of light, but the fact they’ve never, ever let him down. “GLP make a very reliable LED product, and we’ve taken them around the world twice; in that time, we’ve had to fix less than a handful,” Schilling reveals. “So we use 133 GLP X4s in the seven pods, which are definitely the standout lighting pieces. They’re a very versatile light that we use in every song to keep the stage looking interesting. In a stadium, one wouldn’t make a difference, but
Guns N’ Roses
Not in This Lifetime
“The first person who can come up with a true LED spot will turn the market around...” having 133 up there makes a huge impact!”
Designing the Show
The lighting design comes courtesy of Phil Ealy, who was the LD for Guns N’ Roses back in the ‘90s, and is now the show designer, too. Ealy first encountered them as a local band back in the ‘80s before catching the last part of Appetite for Destruction, and then production designing the Use Your Illusion tour. The current rig is made up of the seven pods with the GLP X4s, 18 GLP X4 Bar 10s, plus a number of Robe spots and wash beams, and Martin Atomic strobes. “I love the way you can get so many different looks out of the X4 fixture, and the output is great,” Ealy says. “I knew they would be a perfect fit for the pods [on Guns ‘N Roses]. Also, using the X4 Bar 10s rather than the original concept of X4 Bar 20s means I can get that bit more movement out of those fixtures, as well.” From a practical perspective, Ealy knew that the X4 would also be able to cut through the
video element at such high trim: “At the same time, the X4 Bars’ zoom feature provided the ability to wash the drum and key risers, and then tighten up and give us the beams for a number of different looks. It meant we were ultimately able to create unlimited looks in the programming process.” As Schilling and I continue to discuss the tour, he cites every single member of the crowd jumping up and down during Paradise City as a consistent standout moment. So while we’re at it, what about his most memorable career moment to date? “That would have to be the day I became a professional lighting guy,” Schilling smiles. Although the relationship Schilling has with this industry is a very positive one, I wonder if there are any elements he would change? “I think one universal set of worldwide guidelines for industry standards would be a brilliant thing,” Schilling declares. “It’s difficult to know what the governing guidelines are in each country, as they’re all different.
“Also, because technology is advancing so fast, everything needs to keep up with everything else. So consoles, data protocol, and distribution all needs to keep up with the technology. And what about trends - what could potentially change the game in the modern day lighting world? “Well, LED is most definitely the way to go,” Schilling states. “And I think the first person who can come up with a true LED spot will turn the market around.” Food for thought, there. We wish Ron and the team the very best of luck for the remainder of the North American leg of the tour, which comes to a close in LA at The Forum on November 29th. For more information on GLP fixtures, or to grab a ticket for the Guns N’ Roses Not in This Lifetime tour, check out the links below. www.glp.de www.gunsnroses.com
BRITISH GROVE STUDIOS
In 2002, Mark Knopfler set out to create a studio that would be ‘a monument to past and future technology’. The result was British Grove Studios. Located in its namesake mews in Chiswick, West London, it is as impressive on the eye as it is on the ear; and thanks to an extraordinary team and work ethic, it’s one of the world’s leading facilities. Studio manager, David Stewart (also the man who helped manage the studio build), gives Headliner an exclusive tour. Words Paul Watson | Photographs Simon Camper
Builder’s tea and digestive biscuit in hand, David Stewart and I begin our tour of British Grove in Studio Two, the smaller of the studio’s two control rooms, and it’s looking particularly worked in. “Yeah, Mark [Knopfler] is in at the moment, this is kind of his day off, but he’ll be back tomorrow; normally it’s a bit cleaner than this,” Stewart smiles, as I look in awe at the miked up guitar cabs, and some kind of Wurly, which looks like a work in progress. The centrepiece of this room is an immaculate API Legacy console. “It’s a lovely desk, and in fantastic condition. We have configured it, and customised it, as our rooms were designed as surround rooms, so we commissioned a surround panel, remoted the patch, and made a few other modifications to fit it into this room.” Out into the corridor, there are an array of Studer tape machines, most of which came from Master Rock in Kilburn when it closed its doors. “These Studers are 30 to 40 years old, and required a lot of work, but we have gone
STUDIO TWO: The epic API console with all the trimmings.
through every card in each of them – and there are three cards per track, so that’s quite a lot! Each of the cards has half a dozen capacitors and circuit chips, and we replaced all of them on all six machines,” Stewart explains, as I try to do the maths. “Quite often, we run two [Studer] 16s together, and they’re now fantastically reliable. Oh, and we’ve also just got this up and running [ushers me towards a classic Studer J37]. It took a while to get it in working order, but it was worth it.” As we make our way to the ‘scary room’ (the rack room), Stewart explains that the studio’s stunning Bösendorfer piano was also acquired from Master Rock. Wouldn’t mind having a tinkle on those ivories, I think to myself, as he opens the rack room door. “So this is where it all happens,” Stewart says, as I eye racks and racks of kit. Where to begin?! “The Studio One rig is 88 I/O – and these are all Prism Sound converters; we then have 48 I/O – again, all Prism Sound - for Studio Two; and then we have a print rig, so you can record to that, also.”
British Grove’s relationship with Prism Sound dates back to 2005, when the studio started working its first sessions: “I think on those sessions we ran with the Apogees, but, of course, we needed another system to bring into play when we got to open Studio Two; we needed another suite of converters, and that’s when we came to the Prism Sound kit – we now have 24 units, so not an inconsiderable amount! “We had a requirement for top quality converters, and after evaluating several, we came to the conclusion that Prism Sound offered the best we could get at the time and our opinion hasn’t changed. And more than that, we also have a number of Prism Sound two-channel converters, which are also fantastic, and some Lyras, which are great for location work. But more than that is the willingness of the Prism Sound team: whenever we have any problem, they work with us to get it resolved, and you really can’t put a price on that. They have saved the day on several occasions! “I know the Prism guys also have a new
Eric Clapton in the zone in Studio One.
“We ultimately have to be versatile and flexible...” product line due to come out, and we will migrate to that – but we will take our time in doing so, the reason being we are constrained by our patch system. We have a multitrack system where you can route any machine from any desk, or record to multiple machines into Pro Tools, but at the same time you can be recording into tape.” So if an artist is tracking, he or she could be routing through a multitrack, and into Pro Tools, and the studio will be able to handle all of that with the multitrack patch. I think... “[smiles] Yes, and that’s because it’s on multi-pin connectors, and that determines the size of our Prism Sound I/O,” Stewart confirms. “We tend to work in 24s, so our units are currently eight in, eight out, and because of that physical infrastructure, we’ll take that forward, because it works with tape machines and the modern stuff. We ultimately have to be versatile and flexible.”
Best of Both Worlds
All of this sits with Knopfler’s original aim to create something that boasts the best of old and new technology. As well as all the Prism Sound kit, there is an abundance of additional gear, including a spectrum analyser, all the recall amps and power supplies for the Neve console in Studio One (we’ll get there shortly), and some epic reverb plates. “It’s essentially a workstation patch,” Stewart explains. “We record on Pro Tools on Macs generally, and they all appear here, and you can steer any of those to any particular
workstation. Normally there are two screens and a keyboard and mouse, which we have to steer to a particular workstation. It’s a custom thing, so you can’t buy it in a shop, you have to come up with it and make it work. “The thing is, the run from here to the furthest workstation is a good 35 metres, and it’s okay to run DVI that length for a PC, but for the Macs, they interrogate the stream, and wait for a signal to come back, so actually, the run is more like 70 metres. Try sending DVI that long, and see what happens! [laughs] In addition, there is a clocking patch and a video patch, plus data for reverbs and plates: “You can see what the plates are doing, basically,” Stewart says. “We then have a customised headphone monitoring system, which I commissioned, and had built for us; that gives us eight mono and two stereo, so each musician can control their own balance and apply a bit of EQ; and we have reverse talkback, too, without taking up half the desk to do that.” British Grove does a lot of work to picture, too, so there is a picture matrix where picture can be fed in and routed into any particular screen, so the conductor and musicians can see it, and it can all be monitored in the control room with time code. “Then we have our reverbs - the classic stuff,” Stewart continues. “[Lexicon] 480s, a 224, and a 300, that’s a standard package. Then we have a couple of Bricastis (built by the guys who used to be at Lexicon). We also have one Lexicon 960, and a couple of
TC Electronic units in each room, which are also fantastic. Then we have this Larc LR4; it allows you to have one Larc that controls four Lexicon devices. It cuts down clutter!” Without getting super-technical, there is also an Internet data patch, and a dedicated fibre connection which analyses clock signals, UPSs for the studio’s telephone system, a security system, and a building management system, which lets the team monitor everything in the building. What a room!
On arrival in the largest of the rooms - Studio One - I’m not sure which of the four (yes, four) consoles to focus on! The obvious is the epic Neve 88R – a 96 frame beast with 96 channels - but there is also a 1960s REDD.51, and its successor, which is the TG 12345. Then there is another analogue desk that I can’t put my finger on. “That is an RCA consolette, which predates all of them,” smiles Stewart. OK, that explains why. And they’re all in working order? “Oh absolutely. They’re all on the patch, and in this session, it looks like all of them are actually in use, right guys?” Two young technicians give a quick thumbs up, and get back to their Pro Tools sessions. “As with everything, prep is the key,” Stewart tells me. “These two desks are born of an era that in order to manipulate them into a modern environment in terms of output levels, and impedance, we have to match them. Then it’s very easy to deal with, and we send them 35 Headliner
THE SCARY ROOM: British Grove’s rack room is truly extraordinary.
“We are so fortunate to have a core of fantastic guys, and you are never better than your staff, ever.” to whatever recording medium, be it tape or computer.” Although Knopfler records all of his material at British Grove (why wouldn’t he?), his vision from the very beginning was for it to be run as a commercial operation, and Stewart and co. are most definitely testament to that: an array of huge artists have come through its doors, and continue to do so. “The Rolling Stones did their Black and Blue album here a couple of years ago, and have been back twice since,” Stewart reveals. “We also do string pickup days for films, and we did all the vocal pre-records for Beauty and the Beast, and we just did Mary Poppins Returns. We have done some fantastic music mixes, too; we did that for Gravity, which was the first project we did in 7.1.” To clarify, 7.1 is now achieved in Studio One through a very cool, bespoke track system which holds four surround speakers to complement the front three. It was another of Stewart’s ideas, implemented to ensure every visiting engineer’s needs would be catered to.
We enter Studio One’s stunning live room, which is set up for Knopfler’s current recording project: drum kits, piano, an entire keyboard rig, and much more. Even some handwritten lyrics, which I wisely decide not to attempt to steal. “We have a series of booths around the perimeter on a sliding track door system; it can be set up as one, two, or three booths, or you can just take the whole lot and let the 36 Headliner
space out. So if you have a big string section, and you have some brass, but you don’t want the brass too loud in the tree, you can set them back. The idea was to give versatility; and to expand on that theme.” Smart thinking. Furthermore, all the British Grove staff are full-time, and highly qualified, which helps on all fronts: “It’s a modern luxury, but it’s essential, particularly with all this esoteric gear. The RCA console, for example, we spent 18 months getting up to our standards so it performs. That needed lining up to the correct level, and was a lot of work. It had to be re-housed, and the less said about the power supply, the better! It had several valve circuits, so we had to create that new supply from scratch. That kind of work wouldn’t be easily doable without a core staff.” According to Stewart, it’s these guys, and all of the musicians involved, that are the true royalty of this studio. I ask him to tell me a little more about how he got into the wonderful world of recording. “Well, Mark [Knopfler] and I met through his management company in the mid-’80s, when they were out on tour; I worked with one of two management partners, looking after Mark’s guitar tech at one time, and I’d been a freelance front of house guy as well – I started out at Turbosound, years and years ago,” he says. “So they wanted me to go out on the Dire Straits tour in 1985, to guitar tech for Jack Sonny, but I had been out touring for five years non-stop anyway, so I said no; and I had an in with Steve Lipson, and I was going
to go out and do a project with a ZTT artist, but it didn’t happen. Then I got a call one day, and I was asked to sort out a Paul Brady tour, and overnight, became tour manager, front of house, and bus driver! After that, I was asked to tour manage Mark’s Notting Hillbillies, so I did. And to cut a long story short, I worked on Marks’ stuff, and ultimately ended up here!” Sliding doors, eh? We make our way back downstairs, and take a seat in what is the studio’s chill out area: sofas, an upright piano, and plenty of natural light. “When you’re in the studio, it can often feel like you’re in a bunker all day, so we wanted something that was a foil to that,” Stewart tells me. I can relate to that! Before I leave, I ask him if he can share a standout moment or two from his time at British Grove. I can almost see the memories ticking over as he leans back in his chair. “At one point, we had The Stones in Studio One and Eric Clapton mixing in Studio Two; and Eric went and played on one of those Stones sessions, so that is one that stands out,” he says. No kidding! “And then those Gravity sessions were amazing. All the sessions throw up different things, and require different disciplines, and different ways of working, and that is why I have full-time staff. We are so fortunate to have a core of fantastic guys, and you are no better than your staff, ever.” Nicely said, sir. What a pleasure it was getting a real insight into this stunning facility. www.britishgrovestudios.co.uk www.prismsound.com
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Here Come the Girls
K-SYRAN: HERE COME THE GIRLS It’s lunch time at the Groucho Club in London’s busy Soho district, and I’ve just sat down for a white wine (and potentially some food) with Norwegian playwright turned singer-songwriter, K-Syran. At the time of writing, one of her tracks is sitting at number 32 in the Billboard charts, so the timing is good. Headliner investigates. Words Paul Watson
K-Syran started out as an actress, graduating out of RADA in London. In 2015, she took her own play, Breaking the Silence, to New York. It was then nominated for Best Play at the London Summit, organised by Angelina Jolie and William Hague. Impressive stuff. And acting still plays a major part in this artist’s life: K-Syran will appear in the forthcoming feature film, Effie, as well as in a new UK comedy series, Head. She has also been cast in a second feature film as joint lead with Tamsin Greig. But K-Syran’s incredible stage and screen
achievements don’t mean to say music hasn’t always been in her blood. Quite the opposite. She was writing songs at seven-years-old, but has really only taken musicianship and songwriting seriously over the last 12 years or so. Now, she has an album ready to go, a US tour, and a very strong all-girl team behind her. I ask her to tell me more. “For me, it’s all about being creative,” K-Syran smiles, as our wine is poured for us, by a rather chiselled gentleman. “I tend to draw inspiration from everywhere: in my car, at home, wherever, really. When it comes to
writing music, that’s something I do from home [in Norway], whereas all my recording is done in a studio in Switzerland with my engineer and producer, who is also female!” In terms of process, in the studio, it’s a relaxed environment, but also a place for total focus - K-Syran is an artist that knows what she wants, and, it seems, how to get it. “First, I’ll usually improvise a bit, and try to put together a melody, then see what works best, and what doesn’t. Then, when I am in the studio in Switzerland, it’s a real comfort. I will write my lyrics and melodies, plus I also have producers that send me different material, and
Here Come the Girls
“I would like Intimacy Records to be a label for someone who likes a strong female team behind them.” ask me to put a melody or lyrics to it.” K-Syran also isn’t adverse to a co-write or two - it’s another string to her bow: “Writing with somebody else can also be very inspiring. I actually find everything musical a wonderful, creative experience.” Although K-Syran is certainly not anti-men, she does have that ‘girl power’ element to her workflow. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I suppose? “Exactly! The women in my team are wonderful to work with, mainly because they are so proactive, and I have full trust in them,” she says, with clear passion. “And actually, that is the reason I started my own record label, Intimacy Records. They were ultimately the inspiration for that.”
First and foremost, K-Syran’s musical goal is to get to where she wants to be herself as an artist, but once that’s found its feet, she is very keen to use Intimacy Records as a platform to help other artists realise their dreams. “I would love to help other women,” she
admits. “But it’s not just a label for girls! I must reiterate that! [smiles] But, with a female core team, to be able to bring on other women would be a great achievement. “So I would like it to be a label for someone who likes to have a strong female team behind them, basically. That is the master plan.” K-Syran’s record, Smoke in My Veins, is really nicely put together, and showcases her powerful voice. At the time of this article going to press, K-Syran will have just about completed her US tour, where she’s booked up to play a series of solo shows. “First, I’m in New York City, then Miami, then it’s Las Vegas and on to Los Angeles. I’ve also been nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award, so that will be a fancy affair,” she says. There is something extremely refreshing about K-Syran. She doesn’t big herself up at all, really, which, if you look at her back story, speaks volumes about this artist. She nurtured her voice as lead vocalist for a number of eclectic bands before going solo, too - including a jazz group based in
Montreux, a hard rock band in Geneva, and rock and roll outfit, Daje Zik. And as a solo artist, her first two singles, You Don’t Love Me Anymore, and Heartless (both remixed by Mark Loverush) both reached the top 10 in the UK Dance Charts during the first week of their release. Not bad, eh? It does seem, however, that this has all been a warm up, and it’s only now that the real musical work begins. Am I right? “Well, I think it’s really about keeping a complete focus on the future now,” K-Syran says, quite diplomatically. “Everything is ready to go, I definitely know what I want, and I have the drive and experience; and crucially, I now have the right team behind me to help make it happen. Now I just have to do it!” We hope K-Syran’s American adventure was a great success. Look out for a follow-up when she returns from across the pond, and in the meantime, check out the link below - the album is well worth a listen. @Ksyran www.ksyran.com
BUILDING THE HUB
Since June, the Headliner team has been busy putting together a unique recording space, above an ancient inn in the heart of St. Albans. Here’s how we did it. Photographs Marley Hart
The last time I attempted to build a proper recording studio was about 15 years ago. I was in a touring band at the time, and we needed somewhere to record our demos, and rehearse. We found a lovely old barn to rent on a local farm, and aside from making what seemed like a million horse riding enemies due to our decision not to sound proof the place (at all), all things considered, we didn’t do too shabby a job. We had 24 tracks of digital via two AKAI multitracks (a DR8 and DR16, connected to external SCSI drives), a 16-way snake, and a 24-channel Soundcraft Ghost analogue console. But times have changed, haven’t they? For this project, we didn’t quite have the budget for an SSL Duality, but saying that, although having a beast of a console would be incredible, for our workflow, and to keep things as compact as we could, creating an in the box environment was definitely the way to go. First things first, we had to plan it all out. We sourced our space, which is part of a creative hub above an old inn in the heart of St. Albans which dates back to 1420 - so not only does a lot of history come with it, we think it may be the oldest building out there to house a professional recording studio. We had two rooms to work with, so called on a few of our musical friends to come and take 40 Headliner
“The guys at GIK Acoustics helped us transform what was an empty, reflective space, into a great sounding room.”
a look. After lots of discussion about what we should do with each space, we decided to turn our smaller room (pictured above, before and after) into a control room, and our larger room (currently a work in progress) would be a great ‘hybrid’ space: it’s big enough for a small band, and got a nice enough natural acoustic not to have to go too crazy on the treatment. The two rooms will be linked up in early 2018.
The Proper Treatment
Unlike the larger space, the control room was incredibly reflective - and the side wall was pretty thin, too. We soundproofed that with rockwool, and got in touch with GIK Acoustics to spec out the room with regard to applying professional sound treatment. I knew a little - but only a little - about reflection points and the like, but getting GIK involved was an absolute godsend. Essentially, they helped us transform what was once an empty, reflective space, into a great sounding control room - and more impressive still, they did this purely by me sending GIK’s David Shevyn a few photos of the space to study, some basic room measurements, a couple of short phone calls, and one amusing video over WhatsApp involving a white mannequin in a haunted room. The less said about the last bit,
the better..! Because our control room is rectangular, David suggested the best place to set up would be to face the window. The biggest problem he envisaged was low end issues due to the roof being so low. With this in mind, he suggested corner bass traps. Bass will build up at any boundary: a wall, a floor, a ceiling; and corners are efficient, because they are the ends of two or three boundaries. Putting bass traps in as many corners as possible would improve low end decay times, frequency response, and imaging, so we ordered four GIK Tri-Traps. We then covered the window with a bespoke 1x1m, four-inch-thick GIK panel, to help balance the room. Next, back wall bass treatment. The back wall can be responsible for large peaks and nulls, not only in the low end, but in the mid and upper frequency range; and unlike corners, it is a single boundary, therefore requires different types of treatment. So we agreed that a single bass trap would work here
Reflections & Other Issues
Treating early and first reflection points is essential to avoid issues with stereo imaging and comb filtering. In short, these are any reflections reaching your ears very shortly after
the direct sound, and they can generally create an inaccurate listening environment, and are located along the side walls and ceiling. David suggested some GIK 244 panels, and advised we create a ceiling cloud, also using 244s, which provided a little extra low absorption. Next up, the front wall. David cited two reasons as to why we may treat this area: first, to combat SBIR (Speaker Boundary Interference Response); and secondly, if we were unable to treat the back wall. In our case, we could treat the back wall, so we just placed one GIK Impression panel on the front wall. That, with the bass trap across the window, seemed to do the trick nicely. Finally, we had to look at high and mid frequency reflections, which cause flutter echoes. What’s a flutter echo? Basically, these are created by any two flat, hard, opposing parallel surfaces. So, depending on the size of the room, we can use absorption, diffusion, or a combination of both to tame these reflections. With all this in mind, David decided that one more set of panels should be enough here, so we went with the GIK 4A Alpha Panels.
What was nice about working with GIK - aside from the fact their kit speaks for itself - was the professionalism and attention to detail given throughout the project. I was also amazed that all of this was essentially done remotely - I would have laughed out loud had someone told me a few months ago that I would be putting all this stuff up myself, but I did. Well, I didn’t, necessarily - I need to thank my dad, and Will Hughes, the landlord of The Boot, for doing all the tricky bits. But ultimately, they helped make the process pretty straightforward - and the
difference it’s made to our room is staggering. The real litmus test would be playing some of my new mixes to my mate, Barry Grint, of Alchemy Mastering. Barry had helped me out with some of my early mixes before we had the studio, which were carried out in my open plan apartment. Not an ideal place to mix music, but actually, aside from him having to take a chunk of low-mid out of the tracks, Barry was genuinely surprised that the mixes hadn’t been done in a professional studio. I’ll take that! Barry recently came and had a look and a listen to the new room, and was immediately impressed. A few days later, I sent a few mixes across from the Pines project I’m working on, and they were a massive improvement. So it’s definitely working!
All the Kit
At the core of The Hub, ‘phase one’ (prior to connecting the hybrid room to the control room) is a MacBook Pro running Reaper, which we’re big fans of, mainly due to its intuitive interface, and ease of use. In terms of interfaces, we’ve been using an RME Babyface Pro, which is tremendous: it’s rugged, very clean, and warm sounding, so there is no noise at all. We would like to get a couple of Neve 1176s (wouldn’t we all?), but for now, our AKG C414 XL II, or Audio-Technica 5047, straight into the Babyface Pro, is great. We’ve also brought in the Waves Mercury bundle of plugins - some incredible sounding bits of kit in there, and particularly versatile, too. Our most monumental leap has probably been upgrading the studio monitors to ‘The Ones’ by Genelec: a pair of 8331s and 8341s, both of which are a delight to mix on and work
with: zero fatigue, you can hear everything (and more!), and most impressively, I find myself mixing as I go, all the time, without even realising it. As soon as I calibrated the room, and listened to some reference tracks, I was making improvements to mixes in minutes. In terms of keys, we have a lovely Nord 3 HP which we use for all piano and Hammond type tones, and the compact and quite brilliant Roland System-1 plug-out synth, which is full of amazing tones and effects - whether you’re after an airy pad, or something raw and dirty, this will do the trick. What’s also cool is, you can jump in and get something happening right away, or dig deeper and spend time really nurturing your sound. Our master MIDI board is a Roland A-800, which is superb: easy for transposing (when you get too scared of the black keys!), and a nice enough weight so you can ‘feel’ any piano you might want to track, yet not injure your right hand when getting over excited on the organs. It fits nicely under the desk, and has plenty of options when it comes to dynamics - crucial in most of my projects, as I’m often composing and playing in strings parts. The mod wheel is getting a lot of action, too. We’ve also got an AKAI MPK Mini, which is superb for programming loops, especially on the go. The Hub is a pretty unique space, and we can’t wait to open it up to the public. Anyone interested in getting involved in a project, or just fancies coming along to have a look, drop me a line: email@example.com www.gikacoustics.co.uk
The Vile Assembly
THE VILE ASSEMBLY British punk-rock band, The Vile Assembly, could be described as the whistle-blowers on unjust society, their purpose being to say what they feel needs to be said through the universal language of music. Their debut album, Fattened by the Horrors of War, is quite the eye-opener. Released last month, it’s bold, brutally honest, beat-driven, and melodic. Headliner digs a little deeper.
The Vile Assembly is made up of Mark Wainwright, Mark Webb, and Paul Mason, a tight-knit trio of songwriters, musicians, and producers who, until this point, had little desire to make music. Their musical journey began three years ago when fate dealt its hand in a small café in New York City: the three lifelong friends embraced an evening of reminiscence, and found themselves locked in a united agreement that something had to be done about our inhumane ignorance of world issues.
Although the guys had owned a music studio in Liverpool for two decades, they’d never even contemplated making music of their own until this conversation spurred on the conception of The Vile Assembly. The seeds of this band’s ethos were planted more than two decades ago, but lay dormant, waiting for the right time and agenda for their opinions to find a voice. A vocation to be a poet, Paul Mason (the band’s lyricist and vocalist) found everything that happened in the world as vile. Simple as that! So out of choice, he opted to
“Make no mistake, this record is quite the political rollercoaster...” live on the streets of Liverpool for a month so that he could experience destitution firsthand. With no gap or respite, he repeated the experience in San Diego. The result was horrendous, but it inspired a batch of poems, the main one being The Lonely Tramp in Liverpool. The poem was written from a grassroots street level: a first person view of what life on the street is like. In 1995, the poem led to Paul’s induction as the International Merited Poet of the Year in Washington, with the poem being read out by Johnny Cash. His feelings expressed, Paul
The Vile Assembly
“These lads are all for ripping up the rule book, and using song as their messenger; their ultimate aim is to incite positive change both individually and nationally.” continued writing in private, but got swept away with the rigours of everyday life, working with the two Marks to run their music studio, and other businesses. Many big names passed through their facility in Liverpool including INXS, Beverley Knight, and Kids on Bridges, to name a few, but never once did the boys ever contemplate making music of their own.
Make a Change
Now, in their own words, it’s time for change – and that intent has resulted in the band’s debut album, Fattened by the Horrors of War. The Vile Assembly’s sharp lyrical approach suggests (to say the least) that it might well be time for a change, and that every single one of us, should we want to, has the power to make that a reality. These lads are all for ripping up the rule books, and using song as their messenger; their ultimate aim is to incite positive change both individually and nationally. And make no mistake, this record is quite
the political rollercoaster. The debut single is Suicide Feast, a punchy pop song woven with stark, cutting lyrics, highlighting society’s desensitisation to the major homeless problem on Britain’s streets; Gone puts the spotlight on the harshness of our system, exposing the fact that if the system wants you to disappear, then it will, without any remorse or hesitation; and Last Century Man calls three of the world’s most influential men to task: President Trump, Prince Charles, and the Pope. And there’s plenty more where this comes from: the cynical Cunning Man is a vibrant serving of rock and punk, and raises an eyebrow at those who hold the purse strings; how they’ll apparently go to any lengths to dip their fingers into the pot that we all work hard to pay into. Revolving Door, on the other hand, could be described as a poignant message to us all, a warning that we’ve devalued our humanity and human status, no longer evolving, but instead, revolving – spinning in constant circles, so to speak.
It’s extremely thought-provoking stuff, that’s for sure! Fattened by the Horrors of War is not for the faint-hearted, but it is available now on Vile Records. For more information, head to the band’s website below. www.thevileassembly.co.uk
MARC BRUNKE: INNOVATOR
One night, sometime in 1990, a young musician became so frustrated with his stage sound, he took it upon himself to fix what he saw as a fundamental problem. This lightbulb moment took six years to come to fruition, but it was worth it, because in 1996, Marc Brunke founded Optocore, the company to deliver the world’s first fibre optic multicore, and now one of the leading audio networking manufacturers on the planet. We sit down with the man himself, to find out more. Words Paul Watson “I was supposed to be a musician; that was the first plan,” opens Marc Brunke, adding that he studied music as well as electronic engineering. “I composed music, I played in bands, did lots of gigs, but I also worked for various electronics companies, so as usual, on the music side, there wasn’t much income, so the electronic engineering was my income!” A sign of things to come, perhaps. And fittingly, Brunke’s audio lightbulb moment happened while he was on stage. “We had a gig, I was playing saxophone, and we had a very bad experience with a multicore, so the sound engineer was having a lot of problems at the desk,” Brunke recalls. “There were broken channels, lots of buzzing, and we even had some Russian long wave broadcast coming through the system [laughs]. As we waited an hour for the sound engineer to fix the issue, I was thinking, ‘it’d
be more professional to do this over fibre.’” This was back in 1990, but Brunke was already familiar with fibre optic technology, as he’d used it on jobs with telecom companies. Quite the rock and roll story, though. “Yeah, and a couple of weeks later, I asked the professional guys who the companies were that were making fibre optic snakes, and it turned out there were none; all the professional musicians I spoke to were all, ‘wow, would this be possible?’ And I said, ‘yes, why not?’ And that’s how it started. So the musicians urged me to do it, really.” So the following year, Brunke started work on the snake. But it was no walk in the park. “You have to remember there was no Internet, no smartphones, there was nothing. Wow, how did we survive? [laughs] There was also no A/D converter. So basically, there was a lot of groundwork necessary,” he explains.
“So what I did for the first generation of Optocore was an analogue modulator fibre optic system. This worked, and was good, but the dynamic range wasn’t so good – it was about 75dB, which was OK, but not good enough for professional sound. So then I started to work on digitising the signal, which is now, of course, the standard process. So really, the first working systems that were fully stable came out in 1996.”
Ahead of the Game
This was essentially the beginning of Optocore, as we know it today, and 1996 also saw the company secure its first sale. “The first system actually went to Poland,” Brunke says. “It was a broadcast van, and it was for the papal visit to Poland – and at this time, it was a Polish Pope, so they made a huge effort to get things right, so they
LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES: Optocore at the helm, as usual.
GAME-CHANGER: Bringing fibre to the masses.
“There is definitely a lack of education, and I would like that to change.” invested in a fibre optic system. It was the first fibre optic system the world had ever seen.” A major landmark – but there were many more to come. Brunke tells me about a couple more of his standout Optocore moments: “One of the most prominent has been the collaboration with DiGiCo, where we put a network card directly into the console; and also, DiGiCo is a successful brand, and a good part of that success is a stable network “The other one would be in 2004, when we were invited to do the sound for the Olympic Games – the Summer opening ceremony in Athens. Since then, we have done every Summer and Winter Olympic Games.” And in terms of growth, it seems to be happening in pretty much all sectors, right? “Every market, yes,” Brunke confirms. “Networking is getting more and more important on its own, so in some cases we just wait for the requests. We started in the live market, and now pretty much every live gig is done with Optocore. It’s either together with DiGiCo, or with one of the many other console manufacturers we support. “I would say in the live market, we’re on 98% of the shows. But then we moved into other spaces for networking, the most prominent of which is the theatre market, where our small modules are very popular. These days, theatre has the same requirements as live shows: they want real live audio, and
that is something I don’t believe you can do over Ethernet, because like live shows, latency matters a lot. So we are now very strong in theatre. Then there’s broadcast: we are in NBC in New York City, we work with the main Swedish TV stations, and a couple of broadcast houses in Germany. This is a growing area, as well. Intercom is another.”
Trends & Changes
I suggest to Brunke that the terrible live gig he experienced back in 1990 really was a godsend, to which he laughs, and replies: “I guess it’s one of those things! Fibre optic just seemed so obvious to me, and I couldn’t believe I was the first person to think about doing it! I thought, ‘there must be smarter people out there than me!’” I ask Brunke what trends he is currently seeing in the audio industry. “The biggest is diversification: 20 years ago, a customer combined devices so they could make a show, but now, a customer comes to you with an idea, and demands a solution. And because of the technology available, you can cater to special needs much quicker than you used to be able to. So today, a customer can come to you and say, ‘I have a vision’, and can force manufacturers to follow that vision. This is especially true for the larger customers: every two years, when we sign off for the Olympic Games, I get a call: ‘Marc,
here is a challenging thing for you: I want this, and this, but it’s never been done before!’ So I say, ‘no problem, we’ll make it happen.’ So it’s more of a customer-led industry, now.” So if Brunke had to change one thing about the business, what would it be, and why? “There is definitely a lack of education, and I would like that to change,” he says. “This is a small industry where you need to find your own way, and there is always is a long pay back cycle, so when you invest, it needs to run for 20 years. “Many people still use analogue copper, and they’re all: ‘yeah, there is humming and noise, but it worked 20 years ago, so why change?’ “Also, there is currently a marketing hype for IT-based systems, but this is already old-fashioned technology. “Optocore is far beyond that, as we have the technology to integrate everything in a smarter way: you can have Ethernet for control, but then you can put audio and video on top of that, or on the same fibre. It’s new technology, but it’s slow for people to adapt to. “I kind of have a habit of being 10 years ahead of the game [smiles], which on one hand is a good thing, as we always have the latest technology, but at the same time, it’s hard for people to understand. But that, I believe, is really the next big thing.” www.optocore.com
The Last Skeptik
Music Is a Diary
THE LAST SKEPTIK: MUSIC IS A DIARY
Corin Douieb, AKA producer and all-round musical artist, The Last Skeptik, has just got back from a ‘holiday’ in Los Angeles. “LA is the kind of place where you end up having ridiculous meetings with people, just from being there,” he tells me, in a contemporary London accent. These holiday meetings may have been unplanned, but that’s not to say they aren’t earned. Despite grime dominating the UK rap scene for some time now, Skeptik has carved out his own path with a more hip hop oriented sound. Words Adam Protz Skeptik been on the grind since 2004, and he’s just released his sophomore album, This Is Where It Gets Good — an interesting title, seeing as things seem pretty darn good for him already, at least from the outside. “I’ve just been doing all the promo for that,” Skeptik says. “It’s out on my label [Thanks For Trying Records], so I’ve been doing all the admin stuff, which is really satisfying for the OCD part of me! And getting together the live show for the launch party.” With hip hop not always being the most prevalent rap sound for music lovers in the UK, it’s interesting to consider what led The Last Skeptik towards the bluesier side of rap and production. “My dad was super into prog-rock, and my mum was into female folk singers,” he explains. “So I grew up listening to them. My mum would always play the piano,
too, so I always had music around, and inspiring me. “When I got to school, I had my brother play me West Coast hip hop, and Sway introduced me to a lot of music, too – we went to school together, and formed a great friendship. I grew up listening to Tupac and DJ Quik; and with production, I always focused on listening to the beats, the sampling, and the super funky stuff. I just wanted to know how the hell they made it! Going to the music rooms at school with Sway, just doing music with someone like that was huge for me.” Having both gone on to have successful careers in music, there is a strong parallel between Sway and Skeptik’s sound. Sway has always pushed a sound that isn’t really grime, but is still resolutely UK-sounding, and the same goes for The Last Skeptik.
“We both come from a similar place,” he confirms. “Sway is similar to me in the sense that he’s inspired by everything, a very eclectic taste. And I don’t like to be confined to any box for making music. I just like to sit down and make whatever comes out. We all have so many facets to our personalities — one day you can be super happy, then the next day, super aggressive, or even depressed. I think we’d be doing ourselves a disservice to not represent that in the music. Music is just a diary of what we’re going through in life.” But why is it that Skeptik has seemingly stayed away from grime, currently in its golden era? “I definitely toy around with the sound,” he admits. “Because I’ve got so many sick grime MCs around me, who come round all the time. I have got a load of unreleased grime beats, but it just hasn’t felt right yet. As a
Skeptik: “I definitely toy around with the sound.”
The Last Skeptik
Music Is a Diary
Skeptik: “It’s always fun to get people out of their comfort zone.”
“I don’t like to be confined to any box for making music.” producer and an artist, you never want to seem like a bandwagon chaser! I’ve always loved grime since I was buying Wiley twelves as a kid. But I’ve never been a grime expert. I was always UK rap and US rap. Whenever I have a grime MC in my studio, they always pick a hip hop beat, which is sick. It’s always fun to get people out of their comfort zone.”
While most producers are content with being listed on a tracks’ credits, or using a sample in each track they make, which announces they’re behind it, Skeptik has instead made sure he’s recognised as much as an artist, alongside the rappers and singers who you hear over his beats. Many of his tracks are listed as The Last Skeptik ft. Scrufizzer, for example, or whoever it might be. He’s also sort of the opposite of Wiley, in the sense that he always turns up to his video shoots, and makes an appearance. “I just like being part of the process,” Skeptik says. “Because it is such a unique sound, I like to own it. I’m very proud of it. And to be honest, when I collaborate with people, a lot of the time, that’s them saying they want my name in it. “Like when I did my joint EP with Dream Mclean, that was meant to be his EP, but he said, ‘nah, I want your name in the title!’ But
it is important as a producer — you shape the entire sound. When I work with rappers, we always hash out ideas together, and I then shape the whole thing when they leave. So I think it does make sense to have my name on the song.” Skeptik then runs me through his setup. “At the heart of it is Logic 9, on my MacBook,” he says. “And then my speakers, which I’ve had for so long, but they’re so perfect, because they have such a neutral sound — my Tannoy 5As. Then I’ve got my Focusrite mic pre, which is really good, and cheap for recording vocals. “I’ve got a RØDE NTA-1 mic, which is a great standard mic to record on, but it can come across as quite tinny, if you’re recording straight into your soundcard. But going into this rack, Focusrite Trackmaster Pro, it really adds a warmth to the vocals. That rack goes into my MBox 2, which then goes into my laptop.” With the new album, This Is Where It Gets Good, Skeptik has taken on the daunting task of making a hip hop album that is sample free, instead working with a whole host of orchestral musicians: horns, woodwinds, and strings. “It’s all live,” he confirms. “I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by talented, incredible people who share the vision. My
violin player, my harp player - they’re a dream to work with. Everyone just comes round, and records my mad professor ideas of what I want them to do. “I kind of end up recording them the way I would a rapper: getting a take of them playing something I’ve written in my head, and then get a take of them playing what they think they should be playing. I make sure to get a take of them closing their eyes and playing whatever their heart tells them.” Besides heavily promoting his new record, it’s business as usual for Skeptik, working with a plethora of artists from different genres, including an EP with Doc Brown. Having learned of his affinity for the orchestral, it’s not so surprising that he has cinematic ambitions for the future. “I definitely want to score an actual film,” he says. “I’ve got some amazing screenwriter pals in Hollywood, and I keep pestering them to get their films picked up! That is the dream, especially if it was with a writer or director I really like, who I could sit down with.” With The Last Skeptik being one of the most exciting writers and collaborators in the business today, a happy Hollywood ending might not be far off for him. www.thelastskeptik.com
REAL WORLD STUDIOS: A-T 50 SERIES LAUNCH There are some locations that have the wow factor, and Real World Studios is one of them. Located in the sleepy village of Box, just outside of Bath, this facility is world famous, and owned by Genesis founder, Peter Gabriel. Commercially, it’s as active as it’s ever been, and the facility’s client roster is right out the top drawer: Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Tom Jones, Guy Garvey, and Paolo Nutini have all made records here recently, just to name a few. For 24 hours only, I’m a resident at this epic studio (room 6, four-poster bed, and my own sink), and along with 50 plus media and studio owners from around the globe, it’s going to be a day of flitting between Real World’s Big Room (control) and Wood Room (live) to listen to Audio-Technica’s 50 Series microphones. So let’s dive in. Words Paul Watson
HE SUN IS SHINING, THE SETTING COULDN’T be better, and after I drag myself away from the mesmerising waterfall adjacent to the Big Room, we are underway with a bit of a meet and greet, followed by a very nice lunch (albeit vegetarian). People have travelled from all over the world to be here today for the 50 Series launch. For the most part, we’ll be based in the Big Room, which boasts Real World’s legendary SSL console as its centrepiece, accompanied by oodles of analogue outboard. The 50 Series comprises three high end studio microphones, the AT5040 studio vocal microphone, the AT5045 instrument condenser, and the latest member of the family, the flagship AT5047, which may look just like the AT5040, but there’s a bit more to it than that, as we’ll soon find out. After a welcome to the company, and a video message from Audio-Technica’s Kazuo Matsushita (whose father founded the company back in the ‘60s), it’s time for
the first live performance in the studio’s Wood Room. We are ushered to the room’s balcony area, so we’re looking down on the musicians; and you can tell instantly that it’s a beautifully treated room with a great acoustic, so we’re going to be in for a bit of a treat. Furthermore, Real World’s resident engineer, Oli Jacobs, is at the helm when it comes to mic placement and audio capture, so he’ll treat this just like any other Real World session, giving us as transparent an opinion as he can of the kit. Just another day to him, which is just what we want. First up is Kweku Mainoo, who’s recently returned from a musical trip across Africa. Oli has positioned an AT5047 on vocals, and an AT5040 on Kweku’s acoustic guitar. I notice the artist is a little further away from the source than I’d like, but who am I to argue? As Kweku starts doing his thing, it also becomes apparent he’s pretty light on the strings (no pick in sight), and his voice is
Real World Studios A-T 50 Series Launch
“The AT5047 is slightly more universal; the AT5040 is perhaps more for the purist.” pretty gentle. It’ll be interesting to see how this sounds back in the Big Room later on. For his next song, Kweku moves onto the African harp, which looks equally as difficult to play as a regular harp! Oli has miked this up with a clip-on ATM350a and an AT5045 instrument condenser. We admire his playing, a round of applause erupts, and we return to the Big Room to hear the results.
Back In the Room
As Oli pulls up the first track – guitar and vocals – he explains that he is playing it to us as recorded, dry as a bone. It sounds incredible. Then, he tells us he’s slightly lied, and admits he couldn’t resists a tickle of compression on the vocal, courtesy of an LA2. But so what. First impressions? Wow. As we listen through, it’s just incredibly warm, and extremely honest sounding. I really can’t believe the tone of the guitar, especially considering how Kweku hardly seemed to touch it. It’s still right in your face. I wonder what it sounds like strummed? Epic, presumably. Oli A/Bs the vocal and the guitar for us, and despite the inevitable spillage between the two - as is the nature of any live recording – there is still a separation of sorts. Oli seems very impressed, too, and I get the feeling if he wasn’t,
he would tell us! Next, he pulls up the African harp recording, first just the ATM350a signal, which, being a clip-on, comes with a bit of noise, which Oli admits he ‘kind of likes’. Then he plays us the AT5045 signal, which is as true and pure as you could hope for. Again, it’s terrific audio capture, and Oli seems equally as impressed as I am. Next, we are given a brief history of A-T, from its humble beginnings back in 1962, all the way up to present day. What’s particularly interesting is the presentation by Edward Forth on artist relations – an eclectic roster of bands and artists ranging from Royal Blood and Enter Shikari, to sound artist and composer, Nick Ryan, Hungarian piano prodigy, Peter Bence, and Italian sound artist, Chiara Luzzana, all rely on A-T kit for their workflow. Also, James Bay and his production manager provide a short video interview on how key the company’s AE5400 mic has been since he and his band started out. Fascinating stuff. We are then taken through the microphones in detail: namely the differences between the AT5040 and AT5047. The AT5040 spec is hugely impressive in itself, of course: 5dB self noise, and a staggering signal to noise ratio of 89dB. But to understand why the AT5047 was made, Audio-Technica insists, we need to
understand ‘the dark side’ of the AT5040. Sooner or later, when you put a loud signal in front of the AT5040, if your input is not good enough (let’s say you don’t have a 72-channel SSL, for example), this mic will start to resonate, and will drain too much current, so everything kind of breaks together. “In other words, it’s a diva,” smiles, A-T’s product manager, Alex Lepges, a little tonguein-cheek. “However, what you do get from the 5040 is a very pure signal; you just have to know how to treat her.” With the AT5047, Audio-Technica has ultimately increased the impedance [to 150 Ohms], and installed a transformer output, which was actually developed in-house. A transformer mic has a different tonality to a non-transformer mic, of course, but the big question is: when should we use an AT5040, and when should we use an AT5047? In short, pull out the AT5040 when you want to capture in the most natural possible way; and if you want something a little more versatile, grab an AT5047, with the wider dynamic range. The 5047 is slightly more universal; the AT5040 is perhaps more for the purist. So now it’s time for the next live performance of the afternoon, from the Chris Woods Groove Orchestra - and what a band this is. We head
“Much like myself, the band are astounded by the warmth, and the overall tone of the recording.”
back to the Wood Room, and this time there are four musicians below us: Chris himself, guitarist; a tabla player; a double bassist, and percussionist on a marimba and a hang drum, the latter of which is a tuned instrument, which looks like it might have been stolen from Area 51. Oli gets the guys to do a quick run through, but he has positioned the 50 Series A-T mics on past experience: what he knows might work well, and where. “Stabbing in the dark a bit, to be honest,” he tells us, which gets a laugh. From what I can make out, he has an AT5040 on guitar and hang drum, an AT4080 ribbon mic on the marimba, an AT5047 and AT4081 ribbon on the double bass, and a stereo pair of AT5045s on the tablas. He reiterates how beautiful sounding this room is, then disappears back to his console.
The band plays for a good 20 minutes, and they are tremendous – to say Chris Woods feels this music is a wild understatement, and it’s a genuine privilege to witness him perform. For the finale, Kweku Mainoo joins them for some ad-lib vocal overdubs, which is a nice touch, too. Back we go for the final time to the Big Room to listen to the results, and first up, we all demand to hear the tabla player’s solo – it was absolutely insane! And the AT5045s do it justice, too. The room responds with rapturous applause, and we move on to the full tracks, of which Oli has created a rough mix for each, again, with just a smidgen of compression, and a touch of reverb, which he dials in and out, to demonstrate pure source sound versus slightly processed. As an audience, we are all blown away, but when I glance over at Chris Woods and his band, I notice their jaws are almost hitting the floor in unison. Audio-Technica have understandably clocked this, and marketing man, Tim Page, heads over with interview mic in hand to ask them what
they think. The universal response is one of entire shock that what they are hearing is the sound at source, with next to no processing. Like myself, the band are astounded by the warmth and overall tone of the recording. Kweku Mainoo is particularly enthusiastic: “I was blown away by the purity of what the 50 Series mics captured. Normally I would request reverb on my vocals, but in this instance, I was happy with the natural sound of my voice. Also, I would normally need four mics to get a clean sound when recording the African harp, but not today. I’ve definitely added these mics to my musical shopping list!” So, it’s every box ticked, then - and what better way to finish the day off than a dinner and glass of red wine or three in the Real World dining room? Post-meal, a few of us head up to the local pub for a nightcap, where Tim Page summarises the event nicely: “I wanted to showcase the 50 Series studio microphones in a unique location that captures their natural sound and diversity on a variety of world instruments. The concept was a journey from voice to ear: a behind the scenes look at the mics to understand who the designers are, how the mics are made, and a chance to experience their sonic quality first hand. “Real World’s history and reputation as the centre of world music recording was perfect for this event. There is a sense of mystery about it in that many high profile artists record there, but not many people have the opportunity to visit, so it was definitely the right place to go.” I make my way down to breakfast the following morning, and after a coffee or three, I feel it’s safe to get back in the motor. All I can think of on the way home is, ‘how do I blag myself a pair of those AT5047s?’ Watch this space... www.audio-technica.co.uk
AT5047 Premier Studio Condenser Microphone
Building on the AT5040â€™s breathtaking purity of sound, the new AT5047 combines the four-part rectangular element of its predecessor with a transformer-coupled output to create a mic with exceptionally wide dynamic range and remarkable versatility. This is purity transformed. audio-technica.com
MASTER OF T THE HOUSE Geoff Pesche has been mastering records ‘every other day’ since 1980. For the last 11 years, he’s been based at Abbey Road, where he’s worked his magic on a plethora of eclectic albums, singles, and EPs. We sit down with the man himself to discuss the amazing resurgence in vinyl, the importance of a top notch turntable, mastering online, and sketching ships and trains for Katie Melua. Photographs Christian Marot
HERE ARE TOO MANY GREAT ALBUMS TO mention that Geoff Pesche has left his mark on, but to give you some kind of an idea, he’s mastered records for Coldplay, Gorillaz, Kylie, Pulp, Dire Straits, Lily Allen, and Blur, just to name a few. He started out at Tape One, and went on to work at Utopia, Masterpiece, and Townhouse before settling at Abbey Road in 2006, where he now shares a room with fellow mastering man, Christian Wright. “Mastering is like hairdressing,” opens Pesche, with a smile. “Christian and I have two very different styles, so there are lots of people who work with him, but won’t even get in a lift with me, and vice versa. “It’s really all about repeat business; I often won’t see an artist for four years. For example, I’ve only met Kylie twice, but I’ve been working with her since 1995; and why would Katherine Jenkins come here for the day when she can go to Wimbledon?” We start to chat about some of the records that Pesche has worked on; two obvious classics are Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, and New Order’s Blue Monday, though 75 percent of the stuff he does today is for unsigned artists. “These guys have got a fanbase, and sell everything on their websites, but 20 years ago, that wasn’t the case – you’d earn your money from major label work,” Pesche explains. “Our tie with Universal now is our only mainstream major label provider; I used to do four records a week for Parlophone, and A&R would be in here all the time, marching in and messing you ragged, but
because of the Internet, and being able to send .wav files instantly, they just listen to it in their offices. You don’t see them anymore, just bands and managers.”
The Mastering Evolution
Mastering is the last stage in the process where you can alter the tonal balance before the record or CD is manufactured. It’s the link between studio and manufacturer - the last stop. But it hasn’t always been that way. “Years ago, every label would have a guy in a white coat who’d receive the tapes, line them up, and cut the records; it was just a copy job, and that was that. But some time in the ‘60s, someone – I don’t know who, exactly – was working as a cutting engineer at a label, and decided to go out on his own. He went and bought all the kit, equipped a room like this, rang everyone, and said, ‘look, you can now have a say in how your record is cut’ – and that was bread to heaven, really,” Pesche explains. “That’s how it happened, and then it dominoed. Someone set it up here in London, too, an indie cutting room, not affiliated to a label, bang in the middle of the West End. It became a bit more rock and roll, as it was then client-driven; and now it’s a pivotal part of the process. “Nobody making a record correctly skips the mastering, and if you think about it, so many artists are mixing in Pro Tools or Logic from their home setups, so they don’t need a recording budget, so that means there is a mastering budget. And why not get someone with loads of experience telling you there isn’t enough top on your mixes?”
Geoff Pesche Master of the House
“nobody making a record correctly skips the mastering.” In the age of mixing in untreated sonic environments, however, it’s generally the low end that is wrong in the mixes Pesche receives: “I actually end up taking low end out - I’m not applying it, so that’s changed a bit.” Conversation turns to vinyl, and its wild resurgence. It’s a great thing, of course, and it means Pesche’s cutting lathe is as busy as ever. “Let’s say I come to work 15 days a month,” he says. “In 2006, I would use the cutting lathe three shifts a month, now I use it every day. I am cutting 10 Barry White seven-inch singles this afternoon, for example. I’ll often have lacquers all over the sofa, taking them out of the tin one by one - just like I would have done in 1980! The room was the same, the record blanks were the same... totally retro!” It’s refreshing to hear, and Pesche clearly loves working with vinyl. In fact, it was only because he was such a record fan that he got into this business in the first place. Now, he says, it’s given him a springboard into retirement: “Vinyl is back, and it’s gung-ho!”
Turning the Tables
As vinyl is so prominent again, record players are a key part of Pesche’s workflow in the studio. A cutting lathe is essentially the best record player in the world, of course, but his new Technics SL-1200G turntable comes very close. “The records are cut on this [points to lathe], which is the best vinyl equipment for playback and cutting, but at home, you don’t have it – it could be anything from Aunty Glad’s Dansette to the more basic turntable we have over the other side of the room,” Pesche explains. “I have to cut things that will play on this and that, so we need a domestic setup – but that is too far away from the quality I need, so I needed a better turntable. Now we have something here that is genuinely almost as good as the lathe in the new Technics SL-1200G.”
So the process is: play the test pressings on the lathe, then play them on the Technics SL1200 turntable, then on the cheap turntable; and if that sounds good, you’re in the ball park? “Exactly. Then I’ll take it home, play it on my own Technics turntable – which I got for my 21st birthday, and it’s still working perfectly 36 years later! So that is the chain of checking.” I ask Pesche what makes a great record player. “When people come in, I say, ‘see that turntable over there?’ And they say, ‘is it a 1210?’ I say, ‘kind of, but it’s the new one’. I ask them to put their hands under the front of it and lift it, and they say, ‘bloody hell, that’s heavy!’ So my point is, it’s all about a stable platter. You have a moving mass that’s very rigid, and that’s so important. It’s the aluminium brass topped platter that gives this deck its heavy weight.” “Secondly, it needs to have great connectors, which the SL-1200 does, and it has a completely new motor mechanism, so there’s no round flutter or rumble. If it was pony, I would say it’s pony, believe me! And it’s built like the older Technics turntables were. Totally rock solid. “It also has a great arm, which is crucial. So it’s all those things, really. Cartridges are apples and oranges, but when you put the needle on a record, there should be no laterals, and this hardly moves, so Technics got the arm spot on. A turntable has to be able to play the record, and give a fair representation back to the amp. It mustn’t colour things. So ultimately, the SL-1200 is a great reference turntable; we knew that after a month, and it’s now very well used.”
Pesche is working almost exclusively in the analogue domain, barring the odd limiting plugin ‘to make stuff super-loud’. At Abbey Road, it’s the EMI transistor consoles from 1972 that are the real game-changers in all three of the mastering rooms, he says:
“The [EMI] desk sounds lovely; this is the stuff the plugins can’t really replicate; some people say it’s the crown jewels, and you could say it keeps us in clover here. And why would you want to go digital if you have this?” That said, in terms of tape versus .wav file, Pesche says that, ‘the file is the way of life now’. “When we were on the cusp of Pro Tools converters getting really good, I did a job for a fella in Greece with a big budget. He brought the half-inch tapes and the files with him, so he wanted to do it both ways,” Pesche recalls, adding that this hasn’t happened again in the last 10 years. “So I run the tape through, catch it, run the file through, catch it, just with my settings. He took away two CD reference copies: one of the analogue sources, one of the digital. “He emailed me the next week and he said, ‘use the digital’. When we did an A/B with the files, the digitals were so close to the tape and all this nonsense about analogue warmth... It was still heard within the file because we were going through this console, it’s analogue! And I’m sure some of these tape plugins that people have embraced must be doing something, because there are high end guys using this stuff.” At the heart of Pesche’s operation are a couple of trusted Prism Sound units, which have been his go-tos for a number of years. “All the Prism Sound gear came in with me, as I wanted that as a side chain; I do everything through the [Maselec] MLA-2 compressor,” Pesche says. “If you go to a mastering room with racks and racks of gear, you’re probably chasing your tail; there is an old saying, ‘beware of the man with only one gun, he probably knows how to use it’. So this desk, and a little bit added on, is enough for me to get something out of an evenly balanced mix. I’m lucky; I apply sugar on top down my wires, with good converters front and back; it’s enhancing the stuff just going through the signal path. Analogue stuff is what
“ultimately, the technics SL1200 is a great reference turntable.” people like. It’s an electrical circuit, so it’ll change it, but it’s making the right changes, and it’s transparent.” As conversation turns to the heritage of Abbey Road, and the tech team that keep all the vintage kit in tip-top shape, Pesche mentions a project he recently undertook with studio veteran, Lester Smith. “Lester and I spent a year working with Waves, developing a vinyl plugin, which gives you the actual sound of the rack; signal comes out of the desk, into the rack of transistors, and it’s amplified so much, it shouts at the cutter head, and it etches the music in,” Pesche explains. What did that entail, exactly? “A lot of work! We spent a year with Waves cutting tones. We cut this Jason Mraz track about 75,000 times; I was singing the bloody thing in my sleep! Then we got four different cartridges, and played it all back into their system. With the plugin, you can specify what kind of cartridge it sounds like, and it’s all controllable within this plugin, which you can put across your mix. It’s gone off, big time.” Although several of Pesche’s best musical anecdotes are unprintable, I can share one amusing story he told me involving Katie Melua: “Katie is a lovely girl. We cut a record with Mike Batt fairly recently, and she said, ‘Geoff, we have got to do the inscription’, and I said, ‘OK, what do you want?’ She said she wanted me to draw some things for her... [pauses, and smiles] I said, ‘OK, but you do know I got unclassified for art at school?’ Anyway, she writes something on paper in Georgian – I can do that – and then she drew a train, a ship, and a car, and a pillar box – but she drew them beautifully, like a sign writer. I went white! I said, ‘I can write it in, but the artwork? No chance!’” Pesche reaches for a pad of paper and begins to scrawl. “So I drew a boat that looked like this, a ship like this, a train... a fucking train! [laughs], and the pillar box. So I’ve done this in miniature in the record, and she said, ‘oh, it’s so beautiful!’ And that’s on the record. It looks like a child’s done it. But she was happy, so that was the main thing!”
Before I leave, I get a chance to watch Pesche in action; he pulls up a file that has been sent to him via Abbey Road’s online mastering service, and offers to take me through the process. “First, I audition the file, decide what needs doing, make it louder, then record it – after that, I zip it and send it back,” he says. “I then create a project for it somewhere else, and I have a source I can return to, should there be any changes. I can then do one amendment, that’s the golden bit; the artist might ask me to chase the fade, or something, so it’s a direct interaction with me, which is what they want.”
Pesche has two SADiE systems running: one for playback, one to record, and ‘all this analogue’ in the middle. “Within the first minute of the audio, I will have an idea how to treat it,” Pesche predicts, taking a look at the file. “This is a nice loud 48k file, but it looks like it’s had some processing. Often, people think you have to send something loud to mastering. You really don’t!” So in the ideal world, you’d want a bit more headroom? “Yes I would,” he says. “So I would imagine there might not be much to do with this. It’s over use of mix buss compression, probably. OK, here we go... I don’t know what we’re gonna get here, remember..!” With that, he plays the file. It’s got a kind of R&B vibe going on. “I know straight away that it’s too boomy,” he says, about three seconds in. “So I’ll look at some stereo compression first, and I’ll use the Prism MLA-2 for that, to try and get it down louder before I do the A-D conversion. But it’s quite loud as it is, off source, so if we look at the source levels on the meter, it’s already high. It’s almost one of those where I turn it down and then turn it up again, which is crazy. This file has come in too boomy, so what he can’t do is take away the boominess in the way I can.” Pesche turns focus to his Prism Sound Maselec MEA-2. “This is my parametric EQ I’m working on now, as it’s still too boomy, so I need to take some of the sub out,” he explains, doing so in seconds. “OK, now I can show you before and after – this allows me to switch between the two. I’m not finished quite yet, but I am close.” The difference is remarkable, but what’s most impressive is the speed he’s done it at. Half of that is him knowing his room so well, of course. “It’s so subjective, mastering. He might get this back and say, ‘but you’ve taken all the bass off!’ And then we’re having a fight about it. But the reason is, if you play this on a streaming box, or a phone, or anything small, the low end will saturate everything. So taking the low end away, I’ve opened the curtains – I’m adding clarity,” he says. “I didn’t need to add any top; sometimes it’s just subtraction. I think this guy is going to like level, so I will go quite hot - as loud as I think this genre should be - and then I cross my fingers. It’s better to have a reasonably loud undistorted master than a crushed very loud one. If he wants it louder, I can go another 2dB extra, which I will get through a plugin, but I think we’ll be OK here.” With that, I big Pesche farewell, still chuckling to myself about all those stories that I can’t publish. Unless I can persuade him to write his memoirs, and let me edit them. Now there’s a thought... www.abbeyroad.com www.technics.com
Award winning mastering. Now available to everyone. abbeyroad.com/onlinemastering
SARAH MCGUINNESS We meet Emmy-nominated British producer, director, composer, and screenwriter, Sarah McGuinness, who has stepped into her musical alter-ego, and recently released her debut album, Unbroken, on November 3rd.
Sarah McGuinness is a woman on a musical mission to thrill – and if her track record is anything to go by, that’s exactly what she will do. Essentially fusing vision with sound, each track on her debut album is accompanied by its own mini movie, which is kind of fitting when you consider her career to date. By day, this artist is best known as Sarah Townsend, who is an internationally renowned movie director, producer, and screen writer for TV and the big screen. Perhaps her most notable works are Emmy-nominated documentary, Believe,
and multi-award-winning, Noma: Forgiving Apartheid, which tell the inside stories of funnyman, Eddie Izzard, and Noma Dumezweni, the acclaimed actress who shot to fame with her portrayal of Hermione in the hit new Harry Potter play. By night, however, the music takes over, and Sarah McGuinness leaps into action. Immersing herself in the glamour and intrigue of the ‘50s and ‘60s silver screen, she slips on her stilettos, slicks on the eyeliner, and morphs into her sassy, singer-songwriter alter-ego. McGuinness admits it’s somewhat of a previously unseen inner core she’s putting
out there, and describes the move as ‘plucking at snapshots of her real life, and delivering them in a melodical fashion.’ Steered by English producer, Ed Buller, whose credits include Suede, Pulp, The Raincoats, and The Courteeners, Unbroken is dramatic, and quite compelling to listen to. The first single, Don’t Let Our Love Go, is soulful and vibrant, whereas a track like Pack Your Bags boasts more of a big-band feel. Then there are the inevitable mellow numbers - in this case, Kiss You Better and Wake Up, where McGuinness’ vocals sit nicely on top of bold, defining beats. Miss You, on the other hand,
“I write, or contribute to, the soundtracks for everything I film, just as I visualise every song I write.” has a bit of a James Bond vibe going on, and does conjure up an image or two of mystery. According to McGuinness, all these songs are really a record of her life: “That’s why it took a long time to do,” she tells Headliner. “Writing them was a lifeline when things were tough, as each of the melodies and lyrics became mantras while I was working on them. It was something I needed to do after years of procrastination.”
The album was recorded in Dean Street Studios with Guy Barker and his orchestra, before being produced and mixed in California over a 12-month period. The Ed Buller working relationship was key in the process, McGuinness explains:
“I’ve known Ed since the ‘90s, when he was supportive of my music, and we discovered we shared a love of John Barry’s film scores. For years, we discussed putting my songs, and that style, all together in an album, but life got in the way. Then, after several false starts, we finally began a year ago - he in Los Angeles, and me in London.” I ask McGuinness how much of a challenge it’s been wearing both hats at the same time. “Its all just creating, really,” she insists. “The music and the imagery are from the same source, and I write, or contribute to, the soundtracks for everything I film, just as I visualise every song I write. I’ve been trying to do this for years, but lacked the confidence to put it all together until relatively recently. Now, developing the videos for the stories feels like the logical conclusion to the work
I’ve done.” I am intrigued as to what McGuinness would constitute success in terms of her music, considering how much she has achieved in her day job. Her thinking is refreshingly honest, and straightforward: “I think success would just be to see people getting enjoyment and affirmation from any of my songs, really. They are meant to be emotional, and unapologetic; and everything I now feel is important, rather than hiding what you feel all the time. It would be great to feel that they’ve been useful.” The debut album, Unbroken, from Sarah McGuinness, is available now on Right Track Records, through Universal. www.sarahmcguinness.com
GRUMPY OLD ROADIE
Keep On Touring Do you really want to blow up concerts now, you demented little fuckers? Have you really thought this one through? For whatever misguided reason you may have for targeting innocent concert-goers, don’t you realise that you’re also including the show support staff and technicians in your blanket campaign of misguided hate? These are people that work for any act, in any venue, with the sole aim of bringing a faultless show to its audience. These are people that will work for Morrissey for fuck’s sake! Even Van Morrison! Anything, for the sake of the show. Relentlessly pushing the boundary forward to make the world of entertainment a better place for all. So you blow up all the staff, kill loads, and leave loads without arms and legs, so there’s no support industry left at all? So when Bin and his Laden Ladies want to go on tour to preach some hate, who’s going to set up the stage? And the smoke machines? There will be no show. Then there’s Omar Bakri and the Bakri Door Babes. When he’s released from jail for good behaviour, he’ll want to raise funds, and going on tour will be the way to do it. Not if all the lighting designers and sound engineers have been murdered. And if you’ve killed all of the techs, you’re fucking screwed, mate! It’s all a bit ‘cutting off your head to spite your face’. The truth of the matter is that there is no god (sic). The sooner the world wakes up to this, the better. Our industry is pretty resilient anyway, and I don’t think religion plays a big part in it. Sure, there are some guided souls (my opinion), but generally, I don’t think you’ll find too many copies of the New Testament or Koran on a tour bus. Then again, you don’t have to be particularly religious to be a good person. Even without the very real threat from terrorism, the entertainment industry is already peppered with disability. From the performer’s point of view, the Performing Rights Society has a Member’s Fund to give both moral and financial support to members that have fallen on hard times. This is funded from within the organisation, and I know for a fact that it’s helped many unfortunate people get their proverbial acts back together. In the touring fraternity, the PSA (Production Services Association), via its members fund, offers a similar lifeline to that offered by the PRS. So help is out there, should you need it. It’s a fact of life that shit happens, so it’s reassuring to know that help is out there when it does. So to all of you lovely production related people out there: caterers, drivers, video, lighting, audio, stage, backline, and local crew, tour managers, production managers, stage managers, managers, and artists - stay safe, and stay touring!
“It’s a fact of life that shit happens, so it’s reassuring to know that help is out there when it does...”
Photo: Paul Gärtner | Design: Bertil Mark
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