/Tall Pine Records: API Legacy in Poland /Dean Street Studios: Atmos with PMC /Resolution Award nominations
/PreSonus ioStation 24c: desktop control /Liquidsonics Cinematic Rooms: lush space /iZotope Neoverb
/Source-Live Low Latency: remote heaven / Emika: solo piano to electronic symphony /Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound
V19.5 | Autumn 2020 | £5.50
XxxxxIsham Mark Xxxxxxxx Xxx
Easy on the eye. Easy on the environment. Introducing RAW, an eco-friendly reimagining of our most iconic studio, AV and home audio models. Featuring a distinctive, recycled-aluminium MDE enclosure design, RAW loudspeakers require no painting and less intensive finishing than standard models. The result is a unique design aesthetic that allows the raw beauty of the aluminium to shine through. And because it’s Genelec, you know it will sound as good as it looks – in any setting. We will be donating a percentage of every RAW speaker sold to the Audio Engineering Society’s fundraising initiative – helping this much-loved organisation continue its valuable work throughout the current COVID-19 crisis.
For more information visit genelec.com/raw
26 V19.5 | Autumn 2020
News & Analysis 5 6
Leader News News, studios, appointments 12 New Products 19 Resolution Awards 2020 nominations 50 A Day In The Life Thor McIntyre — Sound installation artist & sound designer — often seen found abseiling from a tree
Columns 14 15 16 18
Business UK government inquiry: does streaming pay artists fairly? Sound Opinion Real World engineer says make LUF not war Crosstalk Rob Speight talks to iZotope RX8 manager Mike Rozett More than a waveform Hit’n’Mix Infinity — a new way to store and edit audio with note, harmonic, frequency, and amplitude information 41 Playlist Resolution’s inspirational guitarists: R.I.P. Eddie Van Halen
26 Mark Isham A prolific composer: $4bn movie gross, over 400 movies & TV shows, 200 albums, 100 nominations and 57 awards 32 Midge Costin A movie about sound for movies! We talk to the woman who made it 36 Emika Crowd-funding an electronic symphony, deejaying and classical piano scores 38 Tall Pine Records Forest views with API Legacy — a purpose-built Baltic coast studio 42 Dean Street Studios The famous Soho facility upgrades mix room to Dolby Atmos for Music with PMC
46 Source-Live Low Latency Remote-recording Vienna’s Synchron Stage Orchestra in surround, with creatives in seven countries — game changing software
REVIEWS 20 21 22 23 24 25
PreSonus ioStation24c SSL 2+ interface AKG Lyra & RØDE NT-USB Mini Warm Audio Bus-Comp Liquidsonics Cinematic Rooms iZotope Neoverb
46 Autumn 2020 / 3
EDITORIAL Editor Nigel Jopson firstname.lastname@example.org
CONTRIBUTORS George Shilling, Jon Thornton, Dan Daley, Dennis Baxter, Danny Turner, Russell Cottier, John Broomhall, Simon Clark, Mike Aiton, Bob Katz, Bill Lacey, Piper Payne, Tim Oliver, Erica Basnicki, Catherine Vericolli, David Kennedy, Phil Ward, Rob Speight and Gijs Friesen
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Dream another dream
ur cover interviewee Mark Isham said — “In the first two weeks of the pandemic we decided to build my dream studio” — and it’s a constructive theme other music makers have also followed. In this issue of Resolution we profile two facilities: the fantastic purpose-built Tall Pine studios in Poland, and London’s well-know Dean Street Studios, who on the 7th October opened the doors to their new installation of a state-ofthe-art Dolby Atmos Music mix room in Studio 1. Meanwhile Salvatore Addeo (pictured above) of Aemme Studios, Lake Como (Resolution V18.1), decided the extra time confined to his control room might offer the perfect opportunity to start an indie record label — ‘Casette Musicali’. Our Remote Production special, (free to read at https://bit.ly/Resolution-Digital-V19-3), has clearly inspired some changing workflows. Resolution contributor, recording engineer, producer and imaginative electronic boffin Russell Cottier has been working all over the world from his Liverpool studio. “I’ve been on a remote session with Australia all morning, I’ve got a French one now for a few hours via AudioMovers and Zoom, short break then I will be working on a project for a client in Nashville,” Cottier confirmed.
In this edition, dubbing mixer and sound designer Mike Aiton details the testing and debut of Source-Live LL. The new low latency software from Source Elements allowed Mike to conduct a VO session 19,000 miles across the globe — with barely 2 frames of delay — game changer! Turn to page 46 to read all about Mike’s proof-of-concept session, recording the Vienna Synchron Stage Orchestra, and the making of a 40min documentary about the software and recording for October’s ‘Virtual AES Show’ Technical Program. “Life will change, and perhaps dramatically,” I wrote in this page for our March edition. The problem is, human beings often do not enjoy rapid change. The live performance industry, accustomed to being the top music moneyspinner for the last 30 years, is suffering. The current reality is that we cannot have mass attendance events. This doesn’t mean that other distanced live events cannot or will not happen. Let’s try to think more about how we can help our live colleagues adapt, think ‘outside the venue’, or completely change the current industry model into something new that can work right now. Recorded-music veterans remember the shocking moment when our physical CD sales dropped off a cliff-edge. We just have to keep moving, pivot the client base, and think with a 21st century mindset.
Autumn 2020 / 5
ISE postponed to 1-4 June 2021
After a period of consultation with the industry, and the impact of the on-going pandemic, Integrated Systems Events has announced that ISE, scheduled for 2-5 February, has been postponed and will now take place in Barcelona 1-4 June 2021, alongside a virtual offering. Additionally, ISE will launch RISE Digital, a regular programme of content and networking events which will run throughout the year and support the live show. “From our many conversations, it is clear the industry can’t wait to get back together doing business face to face and we are committed to delivering an engaging and safe in-person ISE in 2021” said Mike Blackman, MD Integrated Systems Events.
SMPTE 2020 esports ‘Game On’
An interactive and immersive remote technical conference experience is planned from November 10-12. Throughout the three-day experience, attendees can join live technical presentations, practical hands-on training, keynote presentations, product and technology demonstrations, roundtable discussions, and virtual panels. One event day will focus on the convergence of esports/gaming, media technology and the unique requirements of the thriving esports industry. Experts from the Audio Engineering Society (AES) will offer a program examining the impact of changes over 2020 on future audio workflows, with case studies adding further perspective to the discussion. “The SMPTE 2020 format actually gives attendees many more options for taking in amazing content and social events. In reality, this year’s conference will be much more accessible than if we hosted the event in downtown Los Angeles,” said Kylee Peña of Netflix, who serves as SMPTE 2020 program committee co-chair. 6 / Autumn 2020
‘In da Club’ producer chooses Genelec Mike Elizondo’s credits range from 50 Cent, Eminem and Mary J. Blige to Carrie Underwood, Twenty One Pilots, Ry Cooder, Fiona Apple and more. He lives and works in a state-of-the-art studio just north of Nashville. A key component of his new setup is his pair of W371A Smart Active Woofers and 8361A Smart Active Monitors. Other gear at the newly-built space includes an SSL 4056 E/G console, a Neve BCM10, an Ampex MM1000 tape machine, an eight-track Scully 280B tape machine and an Endless Analog CLASP tape-to-digital converter. “Initially, I figured the Genelec 8361As and the W371As would be my mains, and I’d rely on a different set as nearfields, but I’ve ended up using the Genelecs for both applications. I remember when we got the monitors set up, and I brought up some of my go-to test mixes and favourite albums to listen to, and I just instantly felt like I was immersed in this music. The low end is important to me, and the low end felt punchy and defined and not at all muddy.”
API 2448 for La Resistance, Puerto Rico API distributor La Resistance, located in Carolina, Puerto Rico, added a 32-channel API 2448 recording console to their well-equipped demonstration facility, which doubles as a professional studio. This is the first 2448 console to be commissioned in Puerto Rico. Engineer Earl Brown (Bob Marley) was the first to demo it and “immediately fell in love with,” says Manager of La Resistance Dennis Morales. “Since then we have been very privileged to have top recording acts come to record, including Latin artists Cultura Profética, Daddy Yankee, producer Sergio George (Marc Anthony) and international artist Akon.” The API-equipped control room is connected to a live room with an 18-foot ceiling, as well as to a vocal booth, and a piano booth with a Yamaha mini grand.
KBS TV upgrades with Lawo IP mixers KBS, South Korea’s public broadcaster, has upgraded TV production facilities at its HQ in Seoul with IP technology from Lawo as part of an extensive renovation project. The installation, which includes two Lawo consoles – an mc²96 Grand Production Console and an mc²36 ‘all-in-one’ mixer – is part of KBS’ move to a completely new IP-based production workflow. The mc²96 and mc²36 mixers are native IP consoles, with RAVENNA / AES67 built in for industry-standard networking, flexibility, scalability and efficiency. The new setup includes Lawo DALLIS stagebox interfaces and a Nova routing system. System integration was provided by Lawo’s Korean partner, Dong Yang Digital. The 88-fader mc²96 boasts more than 300 DSP channels plus SoundGrid integration, and is the first large-scale digital mixing console deployed to mix concerts at KBS. The 40-fader Lawo mc²36 mixes live studio performances and also serves as sub-mixer and backup mixer for the mc²96.
Miloco adds Arda Recorders, Portugal Comprising three studios, plus a mixing room and a separate mastering room, the Porto studio complex was designed and built from the ground up with the goal of providing artists with the best possible environment for creating and recording. The flagship Studio A is built around a vintage Neve 8068 console, with an incredible 155m2 of recording space housing a beautiful Fazioli grand piano. Apart from the Pro Tools Ultimate HDX plus Apogee Symphony 48 I/O, Ampex MM1200 24-track and a Studer A80 enable working to tape, plus a large selection of outboard. Studio B features a Rupert Neve 5088, and Studio C is a powerful writing and programming room. All the rooms have access to Arda’s extensive backline and microphone collection.
Brian Sullivan has been named CEO of broadcast services group NEP. With 30 years experience in the broadcast sector, Sullivan has held roles at Fox Networks Group, Sky Deutschland and Sky UK. Most recently he served as senior advisor to the consumer, tech and media teams at McKinsey & Company. Prior to McKinsey, Sullivan was president of FOX Networks Group, where he directed streaming strategy and platform and FOX’s direct-to-consumer business. At Sky Deutschland he was responsible for a major turnaround of the business, built through improving customer experience, introducing on-demand entertainment and live sports streaming services. iZotope announced Dr. Jean-Marc Jot will join as vice president of research and chief scientist. As a member of the research team reporting to CTO, Jonathan Bailey, Dr. Jot will lead the company’s efforts in advanced scientific research. Jot joins iZotope from Magic Leap, where most recently he was vice president and head of audio & media. He previously served as senior vice president and head of research & development at DTS, as well as research fellow at Creative Labs and research scientist at IRCAM. Jot will oversee the audio research team and drive the company’s advanced technology strategy and roadmap. Sony Music Group announced the appointment of Tiffany R. Warren to the newly created role of executive vice president, chief diversity and inclusion officer, as part of its commitment to diversity and equity in the workplace. Warren will work with Sony Music Group’s global recorded music, publishing and corporate divisions to expand the company’s on-going equity and inclusion activities and policies. Most recently, Warren served as Omnicom’s global chief diversity officer. She created and implemented the Omnicom People Engagement Network (OPEN), a diversity, equity and inclusion framework. In 2005, Warren founded ADCOLOR, an organization that champions diversity and inclusion in the creative industries.
Autumn 2020 / 7
APPOINTMENTS Integrated Systems Events announced the appointment of Jo Mayer as its senior director of marketing. Mayer joins from EasyFairs, a leading pan-European multi-format event organiser, and has over 20 years’ experience in trade shows, conferences and B2B publishing. She was pivotal in delivering award-winning campaigns for Easyfairs, Nineteen Events, Clarion and UBM working on flagship brands across a variety of sectors, including ICE Totally Gaming, Ecobuild, IFSEC and Confex. In her new role, Mayer is responsible for overseeing the company’s marketing and content strategy across multiple platforms in the run-up to its flagship event, Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) in 2021, and beyond. Riedel Communications has promoted Peter Glättli to director of research and development. Reporting to founder and CEO Thomas Riedel, Glättli will assume responsibility for Riedel’s five main development hubs, aiming to advance the company’s IP-enabled hardware and software solutions. Glättli moves into his new role after two years as head of R&D in Riedel’s Zurich location, where he led teams in Switzerland and Germany to develop advanced audio engine technologies. Prior to joining Riedel, Glättli had been head of development for Studer/Harman International since 2012, where he was responsible for development of the Studer and Soundcraft product lines of audio mixing consoles. The Audio Engineering Society’s Board of Governors (BoG) has elected Brecht De Man to assume the role of AES director beginning January 1, 2021. Currently serving as a governor of the AES, De Man has held various roles within the Society and continues to work as a sound engineer, educator, and member of the AES Education Committee. De Man will replace Alex Case (past president and membership committee chair) as one of two BoG-elected Directors and will serve on the Board of Directors through December 31, 2022. De Man holds a PhD in Audio Engineering from Queen Mary University of London’s Centre for Digital Music.
8 / Autumn 2020
New ‘Experience Center’ at Genelec US Designed by the late world-renowned studio architect and designer Fran Manzella, the US Experience Center serves as a mix room, a theatre and a research and test centre. The new space is configured to handle formats from stereo to surround to immersive 9.1.6 through a range of Genelec’s Smart Active Monitors (SAM). The new Center joins existing Genelec demonstration facilities in the U.K., Germany, China and India. The installed speakers demonstrate the breadth of Genelec’s product line, which
offers solutions suitable for any size listening space. Three 8351Bs are installed for L-C-R, four 8341As support the left and right side and rear channels, and six more 8341As are located overhead for the front, mid and rear height channels. A 7370 subwoofer handles low-end extension for the overheads, while a 7380 sub handles LFE and manages extension of the centre, side and rear channels. Two W371A Smart Active Woofer Systems are located left and right and are paired with the main left and right 8351B monitors.
CEDAR DNS One for Adverse dialogue
SSL ORIGIN installed at Catalyst Studios
Production sound mixer Dominic Castro worked on the award-winning 2020 Adverse — starring Mickey Rourke — dealing with very noisy environments like air conditioning, fridges and restaurant equipment, and city noise off-set. “It’s important to me to maintain the integrity and quality of the sound, and CEDAR DNS One was my noise reduction choice for the dialogue bus, as well as some individual tracks. It’s very smooth and transparent and it leaves dialogue sounding natural, not gated and loaded with artefacts like I’ve found with other noise reduction plug-ins.”
Catalyst Studios has installed the first Solid State Logic ORIGIN console for a UK commercial studio. The 32-channel SSL mixer was unveiled on October 7th and replaces Catalyst’s 1990s MTA 980 mixer. Studio owner Andy Bowes says “We’re really happy to have installed a console from a world class manufacturer like SSL. This opens up new opportunities for the studio, freelance engineers and producers to add a touch of class to their recordings at an affordable rate.” Located in St.Helens in a refurbished school building, the studio boasts Genelec 8050 monitoring, Pro Tools HD1, outboard from Amek, Calrec and Neve and offers a remote mixing service.
_AudioFuse Studio The new studio reference An 18-in/20-out desktop interface like no other that includes our Creative Suite of monster plugs. Pristine preamp clarity, ultra-low noise and a staggering 119dB dynamic range. Class-leading connectivity, including USB-C, MIDI, S/PDIF and Bluetooth. Advanced monitoring, low latency performance and a tactile control panel that puts creativity first. Sometimes only the best will do.
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NAB 2021 moves from April to October
The US National Association of Broadcasters has moved the 2021 Las Vegas NAB Show to October 9-13 2021. NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith issued a statement on 9th September confirming the news. “Moving NAB Show to October means we are considering alternative 2021 dates for NAB Show New York, held annually in October,” Smith announced. “On the plus side, the 2021 Radio Show will co-locate with NAB Show in Las Vegas, as will NAB’s Sales and Management Television Exchange, and there is opportunity to add additional partner events.” 2021’s Radio Show had originally been slated for New Orleans. Manufacturers will have to re-think plans, as NAB is traditionally the event where new products and upgrades are announced, which are then ready to go to market around the time of IBC.
Sam Toyoshima designs Tokyo College of Music
“The studio is used by students who major in the Fine Art/Film Scoring course, and needed to be capable of recording an entire orchestra” explains TCM lecturer Hideaki Sano, “since we have a concert hall and other large performance spaces on campus, we wanted the studio to make efficient use of these facilities.” To ensure the best possible results, TCM turned to world-renowned acoustician, Masami ‘Sam’ Toyoshima. The API Legacy AXS-equipped studio has immersive monitoring comprising Genelec 1234A, 1238AC and 1238DF smart active main monitors in a 5.1.2 immersive configuration, with 8351A coaxial monitors for stereo nearfield monitoring. “Genelec monitors have the same sound even when the playback volume is low”, says Sano “that’s one of the benefits. And the fact that it has become the industry standard is the key to our choice.” 10 / Autumn 2020
Live crew help from #WeMakeEvents
#WeMakeEvents is an international movement to highlight that the live events sector urgently needs support from local governments to survive the COVID-19 crisis. Recently announced fundraising events include a one-off live streamed show from 1D band member Niall Horan at London’s Royal Albert Hall on November 7th 2020, raising money for Niall’s touring crew, and supporting the launch of a brand new initiative #WeNeedCrew. Another live stream event ‘An Evening With Amy Macdonald’, at 7pm UK time on November 1st, will donate all ticket profits to #WeMakeEvents. wemakeevents.com Meanwhile, a grant scheme has been established with donations from Amazon Prime Video, BAFTA, BBC, Sky Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and ViacomCBS. On September 22nd, the Film and TV Charity announced a new Covid-19 Recovery Fund that will distribute up to £2m to UK film, TV and cinema workers who have been hit hardest by COVID-19, helping to sustain them and their careers through and out of the pandemic. www.filmtvcharity.org.uk
Lectrosonics go hot air ballooning on the The Tonight Show When it comes to wireless, sound recordist Jack Goodman gives ‘on air’ a whole new meaning. One recent gig involved capturing audio for rapper and singer Dominic Fike, who jumped out of a plane to reveal his new album What Could Possibly Go Wrong and chronicled the adventure in the YouTube video ‘Dominic Fike Presents: Fight or Flight’. Another was a segment for the August 19 episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, in which musical guest Trevor Daniel lifts off in a hot air balloon mid-performance. For both, Goodman needed to capture audio before, after, and during Fike’s descent and
Daniel’s ascent — with no interruptions. For Fike’s video, he turned to the Lectrosonics MTCR miniature time code recorder to supplement his kit of UCR411a receivers paired with legacy UM400a transmitters. On the Tonight Show, seamless recording of Daniel’s performance was accomplished with an HMa plug-on transmitter and wideband Venue2 receiver. “Both times, the results were like I was next to the talent hardlined directly into the recorder without even using RF,” said Goodman. “Everything worked so well — range, audio quality, time code, the split mode — that when the shoots were over, I just bought the gear.”
SHOWS & EVENTS FOR ALL TO SEE BroadcastIndia, [Digital]
NAMM, Believe in Music [Digital]
Cine Asia [Digital]
Prolight + Sound
High End, Munich
Inter BEE, [Digital]
Infocomm India, [Digital]
SMPTE 2020, [Digital]
11-14 January 2021
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Your creative expression has no boundaries— and neither does PreSonus Sphere.
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©2020 PreSonus Audio Electronics, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Studio One is a registerered trademark of PreSonus Software Ltd. Notion is a registered trade mark of PreSonus Audio Electronics, Inc. Other product names mentioned herein may be trademarks of their respective companies.
New products The essential briefing on the latest hardware and software Lectrosonics
A compact, dual-channel digital wireless receiver offering double the channels of the UCR411a in the same sized package. Compatible with mono transmitters from the D-Squared line (DBu, DHu, DPR) and is capable of decoding signals from Lectrosonics’ stereo transmitters like the DCHT and M2R. The $3,395 unit is backwards-compatible with Digital Hybrid wireless transmitters. The DCR822 features Vector Diversity technology (advanced True Diversity), two front ends per audio channels, a wide 144MHz frequency band, 24-bit/48kHz resolution, and a rugged housing. Setup is easy with the on-board RF spectrum analyser and SmartTune functions that quickly find interference-free operating frequencies. Settings are sent from the receiver to the transmitter via IR, at the press of a button. The AES 256-CTR encryption with four types of key policies ensures transmissions are secure. Two TA3M audio output jacks can be independently configured as mic-/line-level analogue outputs or as two-channel AES3 digital outputs. Key feature: the on-board SDHC recorder is capable of recording .WAV (BWF) files while the transmitter is sending wireless signal, making it a truly useful backup option. The DCR822 will be available worldwide from Lectrosonics authorised UHF dealers, MSRP: $4,740
Merging has announced the official release of major new versions for all their software range: Pyramix, Ovation 9 and VCube 9. The new ANEMAN 1.2.3 version is included with releases. All customers under ASM are therefore entitled to a free upgrade, and should have received their new keys. The big news is that Pyramix 25th sees the integration of Dolby Atmos workflow, specifically aimed at immersive music production. Merging Technologies has worked closely with Dolby to not only have full communication between Pyramix and the Dolby Atmos Renderer, but also to bridge the gap between the Dolby Atmos 7.1.2 maximum bed size and the traditionally bigger bus sizes used by Immersive Music Pyramix users. By detecting when a user is mapping the bus-based channel to an object, Pyramix sends the correct metadata to the Dolby Atmos Renderer to emulate a speaker. This is particularly relevant for owners wanting to translate native mixes using more than two height channels (5.1.4, 7.1.4) and using wide speakers (9.1.4, 9.1.6). Pyramix also automatically detects Dolby Atmos Renderer input channel names in order to facilitate mapping in Pyramix.
Pyramix 25th Anniversary
The AVB-D16 is a plug-and-play $599.95 endpoint that bridges AVB and Dante networks. This 16-channel I/O box includes one AVB port and two Dante ports — primary and secondary — featuring asynchronous sample rate conversion with precision clock isolation for reliable hardware sync. The AVB-D16 supports 44.1kHz and 48kHz sample rates for both AVB and Dante, and 88.2kHz and 96kHz sample rates for Dante alone. Multiple AVB-D16 devices may be connected to increase channel count. PreSonus has identified a need to interface their StudioLive III mixers, stage boxes and monitor boxes with the world of Dante, protecting their customers’ investment.
A smaller version of the miniature CMC 1 U amplifier, reviewed Resolution V18.7, where Simon Clark concluded: “Constructed to Schoeps’ usual high standard and compatible with all the existing modules in the Collette range – lower current drain, higher maximum SPL, smaller and easier to conceal, superb build quality.” The further reduction in size has been achieved by using the same miniature Lemo connector as in Schoeps’ CCM series. The CMC 1 L is just 25.5mm long (1 inch) and weighs just 28g (1oz). Operating at 48V phantom they can handle higher sound pressure levels than before (135dB SPL with the MK 4 or MK 41 capsule) while consuming less current (2mA). The CMC 1 L is available now with Lemo-to-XLR adapter cable and miniature stand adapter at a list price of €729 ($919), as well as in other sets to be announced. The CMC 1 K version with attached cable will be available in early 2021.
Josephson Engineering are shipping their new C705 studio microphone, with a version of the large singlediaphragm condenser microphone capsule used in the acclaimed C715 microphone, (but cardioid only) and with a high output transformerless discrete circuit adopted from their C700 and C716 microphones. The housing parts (aside from screens) are made by Latch Lake Music Products in Eagan, Minnesota, case-hardened using ferritic nitrocarburizing, using the same metal finish as their wellknown micKing stands. The remainder of the microphone, including the capsule, is made in the USA at Josephson Engineering’s factory in Santa Cruz, California. The C705 will be available at $2,550 MAP
12 / Autumn 2020
CMC 1 L
Rupert Neve Designs
A true convolution reverb with “the flexibility and control of a classic algorithmic reverb”. Using technology developed alongside the University of York’s Dr. Jez Wells, 3D Impulse Responses are analysed, decomposed and re-synthesised to create new authentic spaces. This ensures a small footprint for the IR library and enables configuration of “limitless combinations of spaces with just a few adjustments”. The IR panel enables changes to the frequency response of real spaces by equalising the reverb model and altering the frequencydependent decay rate. Unlike traditional convolution reverb, Paragon does not use static IR. Paragon’s crosstalk feature “creates a sense of liveliness”, and allows users to produce surround reverb from mono or stereo sources. It also offers the control and flexibility to determine how reverb from each channel interacts with another, which can be useful for dialogue intelligibility. In addition to its Atmos application, Paragon is well-suited to creating immersive reverb in mono, stereo and surround formats. NUGEN say Paragon is ideal for recreating the authentic sounds of real spaces and manipulating IRs, while still maintaining true convolution characteristics. Paragon is currently available for $599.
Neve’s first Analogue-to-Digital converter: the MBC Dual Path A-D Converter and Limiter. MBC includes a fully-featured analogue limiter, 24-bit/192kHz conversion fed by selectable ‘Analog Drive’ paths for tonal versatility, high-resolution metering, word clock I/O, analogue XLR inputs and simultaneous AES, S/PDIF, and TOSLINK outputs. The newly developed Analog Drive circuitry allows the MBC’s converter to be fed by either a class-A transformerless path for maximum transparency, or by purpose-built interstage audio transformers with the company’s own variable Silk Red and Blue circuitry to control harmonic content and drive saturation for a wide variety of tonal enhancements. The MBC’s Compound Active Release Analog Limiter section has a class-A line amp stage with up to 20dB of gain, adjustable threshold and release controls, and an insertable high-pass side-chain filter fully sweepable from 20Hz to 250Hz. “The challenge here was to design a limiter that could act as both a musical sculpting tool exceeding the quality of available plug-in limiters, while also being able to act as a transparent safety limiter for tracking” say Rupert Neve. Four reference level calibration standards from -14dBFS to -20dBFS can be selected to match external devices and are implemented with high-precision resistors and relay-controlled stepped attenuation. Two 22-segment meters provide level metering of the input to the converter stage. Now shipping worldwide, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $3,999.
MBC Master Bus Converter
VST Connect Pro allows online collaborations with Cubase Pro 9.5 or Nuendo 8 or higher, Steinberg say multi-track recordings can be streamed “directly to the workstation in premium quality”. New video streaming functionality allows users to record audio from musicians, vocalists and speakers using the freely available VST Connect Performer standalone application (now also including video playback). VST Connect Pro 5 is available as download through the Steinberg Online Shop, with a retail price of €199.
In 2018 the Bettermaker Mastering EQ (reviewed Resolution V18.1) was voted winner in the EQ category by our readers. Now the Polish experts of USB-controlled analogue hardware have partnered with Plugin Alliance to bring us a plug-in recreation of their original 232 dual-channel equaliser. With the original Bettermaker team at the helm helping to ensure its authenticity, notable features of the EQ232D plug-in include five EQ filters, including two classic Pultec sections and two high-pass filters, plus four parametric filters with wide frequency ranges. Bettermaker EQ232D is available (as an AAX AudioSuite, AAX Native, AU, VST2, and VST3) at an introductory price of $229.99 until October 31, 2020 — rising thereafter to MSRP of $299.00.
V12 plug-ins let you resize — with five GUI sizes — up to 200%! You can also customise different default sizes per plug-in, to have them open in whichever dimensions you prefer. With V12 you can also find and audition presets instantly using the new preset browser. You can now search presets by text, filter them by name, and quickly audition on the fly while playing your track. V12 also adds retina-ready graphics to all Waves plug-ins. Owners of Waves’ premium Platinum, Horizon and Diamond bundles who update their bundles to V12 get three bonus plug-ins added to their bundle without extra charge: LoAir, Submarine, and the Smack Attack transient shaper.
VST Connect Pro
Autumn 2020 / 13
UK Gov Streaming Enquiry New developments for online music
Spotlight the pie-slice
Players love you…
US streaming up 5.6%
Campaigners in the UK have been calling for the government to step in to the debate about musicians’ streaming royalties. On 15 October the ‘Economics of Music’ streaming inquiry was announced, to be undertaken by the British Government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, to analyse business models operated by streaming firms like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and YouTube Music. Music streaming in the UK brings in more than £1bn in revenue with 114bn music streams in the last year, however artists can be paid as little as 13% of the income generated. The Committee will also consider whether the government should be taking action to protect the industry from piracy in the wake of steps taken by the EU on copyright and intellectual property rights. The inquiry is seeking the perspectives of industry experts, artists and record labels as well as streaming platforms themselves. You can submit evidence until Monday 16 November 2020. DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight MP said: “While streaming is a growing and important part of the music industry contributing billions to global wealth, its success cannot come at the expense of talented and lesser-known artists. Algorithms might benefit platforms in maximising income from streaming but they are a blunt tool to operate in a creative industry with emerging talent risking failing the first hurdle.” Musician Tom Gray launched the #BrokenRecord campaign earlier this year, calling for a government inquiry into streaming. A YouGov survey commissioned by the campaign found that 77% of consumers believed that streaming services underpaid artists.
Nathan Apodaca, a labourer at a potato warehouse in Idaho, went skateboarding — videoed himself for TikTok — and generated 59.1m global streams for Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit Dreams. Fleetwood Mac found their streaming up over 200%, and downloads increased by 1,000% in the two weeks after the video clip went viral. The video kicked off a ‘Dreams Challenge’ with people making their own videos on TikTok. Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood even made videos to the song. The song reached #1 on iTunes, climbed to #6 on Spotify’s US chart, and re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 (October 17) at #21 — charting for the very first time since its original release. Dreams has been listened to more than 230m times in two weeks across streaming services, social media, and radio, according to Warner Music Group. Kevin Gore, president of global catalogue for WMG said: “It’s exciting for us to think about a whole new generation of fans discovering Fleetwood Mac and expressing themselves through this iconic song… This phenomenon shows how evergreen hits can have the same impact, the same virality, as the biggest songs of today, especially when streaming has erased the boundaries of geography and genre, bringing music of all eras to fans of all ages.” Music is central to TikTok, and in April signed short-term deals with all three major labels, plus Kobalt and BMG on the publishing side, having agreed a deal with indie label body Merlin in January. In July the controversial platform finally inked a multi-year licensing agreement the US-based National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), who had previously threatened legal action.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) released its mid-year 2020 report showing growth in paid subscription streaming more than offsetting revenue declines in other areas. First-half 2020 revenues increased 5.6% to $5.7bn. Paid streaming subscriptions are the engine of growth, increasing by 24%, growing revenues for first-half 2020 by 14% versus first-half 2019. With advertising markets slowing due to the COVID-19, growth in ad-supported streaming (the ‘free tier’) slowed dramatically. Physical sales were also affected by the pandemic, falling 23%. RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier said: “These are historically difficult times: the live music sector is shut down; studio recording is limited; and millions of Americans are out of work across the broader economy. While we’re pleased that the years of hard work and resources we’ve invested in streaming are driving growth in paid subscriptions, today’s report demonstrates just how much work remains to achieve a sustainably healthy music ecosystem for both music creators and fans. We must continue working to help sustain live music and venues, support gig workers and session musicians, and ensure fair pay for music on all digital platforms.” Throughout 2020, RIAA say it has worked for measures supporting sectors of the music community most deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the landmark CARES Act, the RESTART and SOS Acts (to keep local venues alive), and legislation to solve the ‘mixed earner’ issue limiting the reach of unemployment assistance for independent artists and session players.
14 / Autumn 2020
Sound opinion Tim Oliver
Make LUF not War!
War is over, come out of the jungle…
uch like the Japanese soldiers holed-up in the jungles of the Philippines 29 years after the end of World War 2, not knowing the war had ended, there are clearly quite a few mastering engineers, mixers and artists holed up in studios around the world in a similar state of unawares or denial over the ‘Loudness Wars’. It’s not 29 years mind, probably not even 29 months but the shift from CDs to streaming has all but killed off the need to pin the waveform to the ceiling. It was fun while it lasted, but all good things have to come to an end. Now that the majority of music is consumed by streaming, and the streaming platforms have adopted the broadcast MO of making subjective volumes as even as possible for the listener (apart from the ad breaks!), the rules of the game have changed. For anyone who’s been asleep for the last few years, the streamers use loudness normalisation — an average volume relative to a standard target level. And this is achieved using a measurement called LUFS — Loudness Unit relative to Full Scale. Full scale is 0dB so LUFS are always a negative value. LUFS can be a momentary absolute level in which case they’re the same as dBFS but the LUFS measurement we’re talking about here, referred to as ‘integrated’, uses a standardised algorithm based on subjective listening tests that takes frequency into consideration (because we hear different frequencies of the same level at different volumes — called ‘K-weighted’) to measure the average subjective level of a track. The streamers have a target loudness and all audio will be gained up or down to meet that level. If you had just woken up, I hope I haven’t sent you back to sleep with all that tech.
To some it’s an infringement of civil liberties, like average speed limits on motorways — you can no longer race from one camera to the next and slow down momentarily to pass them. To others it’s a new found freedom to fully realise the dynamic intensity of a mix without it disappearing beside a pumped up monster. Quieter sections allow crescendos to come out more and appear louder in the moment than the monster next to it that is flattened from beginning to end. Of course you still have to cater to an estimated dynamic range of the listening environment, but I reckon even that is getting bigger for various reasons: proliferation of noise cancelling headphones, quieter car interiors, and sadly, momentarily quieter pubs and bars. And you still have the creative consideration around the sense of energy that compression can impart when used effectively and balance that against the loss of dynamic range. But back to LUFS and even with the complexity of the algorithm measurement that averages a number of overlapping sections and discards a percentage of the lowest and highest, there’s got to be some winners and losers and some ways of beating the system surely? I’ve been having a broad listen across Spotify to see if
/ www.loudnesspenalty.com offers a drag-&-drop LUFS analyser (Resolution V18.3)
anything stands out, be it individual artists, individual songs or specific genres to try and find something that can give us a clue as to how to work the system. My general expectation was that drum heavy tracks would suffer and light acoustic songs would flourish but this didn’t span out as a rule. For example, Nick Drake fares pretty well but Leonard Cohen seems shy and retiring by comparison. The former is less dynamic but Leonard’s loud bits on say, Hallelujah or Suzanne, aren’t as loud as Nick’s on Pink Moon. Early Ed Sheeran is similarly small on his first acoustic-led album and Joni Mitchell is all surprisingly flat by comparison both when she’s on her own and when the full band are at it. There’s no science in these assessments, just me with a couple of pairs of headphones, which also might affect the subjective response to levels.
Too much midrange
FFRRs like The Killers, Kings of Leon, Kasabian all of which are pretty squashed and have a lot of upper mids seem to fare pretty badly, although the wider the stereo the better, which might seem obvious but is surprising in its impact. ‘Sex on Fire’ seems generally a lot louder than Noel Gallagher’s ‘In The Heat of The Moment’, mind you, the mix is a lot worse! Most surprising is how strong down-tempo hip-hop, trap etc. is by comparison to these other genres. Where the production is predominantly bottom end and vocal with sparse instrumentation and little mid-range, the subjective volume is clearly ahead of the game. The same applies to tracks like the latest Gorillaz release with Elton John and Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’. And the bass-and-vocal aspect doesn’t just apply to down tempo tracks: Billie Eilish’s album When We All Fall Asleep… is particularly loud by impression throughout, and although this production similarly consists mainly of muted low frequencies and vocals, a lot is up in disco-tempi land. What this production also has is extreme stereo imaging, with nothing much going on other than flanks and central, which is a similar observation to Kings of Leon v. Noel Gallagher. Again I’m not doing any measurements here, just listening at a constant volume across a range of genres. What I’ve learnt mostly is that the LUFS algorithm does a very good job on the whole and any disparities are minor. But like Dave Brailsford’s success in cycling (with meticulous attention to detail and multiple minor improvements), a producer who’s aware of the reproduction process should be able to improve the chances of success by increasing the impression of volume. And definitely no drugs involved!” Autumn 2020 / 15
Crosstalk Rob Speight
AI Captain Super-powered processing Machine learning and AI
16 / Autumn 2020
dialogue is now being looped and recorded on people’s iPhones because actors don’t want to come into studios anymore. But once COVID had happened, now you’ve got all kinds of people who are doing recording over Zoom and on iPhones. It just exploded. So, we pushed harder to really get something that could help people recover bandwidth limited audio. We also want to make sure that we can support people in remote work situations too. So there’s more thinking about that going into the future,” Rozett said.
Top-mid photo: Soundtrap on Unsplash
hen Superman flew around the world to reverse its spin and in the process reversing time and saving Lois Lane, some said it shouldn’t be done; others gasped in amazement. Still others said, well if she hadn’t had done whatever it was she had done to get into that situation, her being dead that is, he wouldn’t have even had to attempt the feat in the first place. In the new world order, which finds engineers, designers and talent working from home, many baulked and said it shouldn’t be done. Producers and directors gasped in amazement as software called CEDAR Studio or iZotope RX saved many a recording session. Others moaned that if they had recorded it correctly in the first place we wouldn’t even be in this situation! With the much trumpeted release of RX8 recently, I wanted to talk to the wizards at iZotope and see if I could understand more of what made them tick. Unfortunately they fixed that and so I had a chat with Mike Rozett, principal product manager of repair & edit software instead. I wanted to know if the current pandemic had caused the company to change their development priorities or did they just know something we didn’t, and had been hiding new modules like Spectral Recovery in their back pocket? “One of the things we had started work on before COVID, but became much more important was spectral repair. That’s a great example of processing that we were working on initially because people had told us that
/ Rob used RX on voiceover recorded in a closet
The thing that fascinates me about Spectral Repair and other modules within RX is that they use both machine learning and AI. The development team fed the algorithms lots of lossy audio to enable it to understand the characteristics of the sound: “It takes a look at where the content stops, in a lot of cases you’re getting stuff that stops at 4kHz, 6kHz or 8kHz,” explained Rozett. At this point the AI cuts in, “It’s able to make decisions about what it thinks it should fill in above the hard limit. And then it does two things, what we call high frequency replacement. So it’s replacing stuff above the cut off in the bandwidth content, but it’s also looking for holes in the waveform,” he continued. Now to me holes in the waveform can mean one of two things. Either it’s the frustrating dropouts that occur in streamed audio or I’m having an existential crisis… and currently it could be either. But my personal brain-mode is of no consequence, what is of consequence is that the software continues to learn: “So it’s been trained on the concept of analysis and recreating high frequencies, but it works in that you can feed it stuff that it’s never ever heard before, so to speak, and it knows how to handle it. That’s the power of machine learning,” Rozett concluded.
/ Can batch processing be used more extensively?
Of course, with the dark nights closing in and the fact that I never leave the confines of my small studio, the paranoia started to kick in. Before I had even begun to really form the question of the machines taking over, Rozett read the aforementioned dropout in my brainwave and explained: “And then there’s people who are like, what I really want is one button that I can press. And that’s incredibly difficult, but we’re always looking down the road for those kinds of things. Can there be a one-click or a two click thing that really sweeps through and gets you — what, 85% or 90% of the way there? And then you tweak and move on.” Not wanting to go deeper into my psychosis (I had enough of that watching Terminator: Dark Fate recently) I posed the question, how much more processing is actually possible in the audio realm? “I get asked that a lot, both outside the company and also inside the company. Have we done everything we can do? The answer is there’s a ton more stuff we can do. And the categories that I can round these things up into is automation. A lot of times dialogue editors and people who are editing podcasts, anybody who’s handling speech and dialogue, are dealing with an initial set of problems that they always have to work through. A lot of those things repeat so often that we’re always looking for ways to automate that sort of clean up and repair process so people can get to the storytelling and the performances. They’re not having to spend an endless amount of production time working like crazy to do just clean up and recovery before they can even get to which voice am I using? Which actor sounded great?”
recorded in a closet over multiple days with multiple variations of EQ and reverb (even though it’s the same person, same place and same microphone apparently — don’t start me) — the amount of extra time I could sleep suddenly becomes very appealing. Yet, solutions don’t always come in new shiny technological packages. Even Rozett admitted that iZotope has seen users going back to basics or applying modules to audio in ways they were not designed for: “We’ll find that people often take processing that we’ve really optimised for speech and then they’ll stretch it to other areas like — can I use this on a sound
effect that might not be in the greatest form? Can I use this on music? And sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. Something optimised for dialogue is going to handle drums, guitar and bass very differently, but I’m always fascinated how people push things in different directions… off label uses that we haven’t specifically designed for.” Ultimately, it appears to me at least, that the machines are not going to take over. The world will continue to revolve. Crappy audio will continue to exist and thankfully if iZotope or CEDAR can’t fix it — then I know a man who can… he’s Super!
Can batch processing be used? But it doesn’t stop there. Questions are being asked such as whether it is possible to target specific parts of speech such as ahhhs and umms? Can batch processing be used more extensively? “Let’s say you’ve got 60 hours of documentary interview with the same few people in the same locations. The problems you’re going to come up against over and over are around how that person speaks, or what mic was used, to where they were recorded? Can we use artificial intelligence and machine learning to sweep through and do source separation where it’s needed to get the voice away from the background noise? Can we do that in such a way that we can knock out certain sounds but some you still have to deal with manually? That combination of automatic processing and assistive technology, things that can help you get the result you want, are extremely powerful,” Rozett postulated. The combination of batch processing and automatic identification of problems (that helps tune batch jobs processes) would be such a time saver, for me at least. The 60 hours of documentary footage is a perfect example, but tracking or voiceover Autumn 2020 / 17
Technology Martin Dawe
More than a waveform A new way to store and edit audio along with note, harmonic, frequency, and amplitude information
oday, the most common method of transporting audio to a listener’s device is as a compressed waveform — the raw data that describes the air vibrations produced by an instrument or vocal cords. This is the simplest way to store audio in a computer, as little processing is required to pass sound from microphone to RAM to speaker. However, is it the best way? A philosopher once asked, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”. After all, the falling tree is simply producing vibrations from hitting the ground, and these can only be perceived as sound when heard by a listener. In a similar way, the vibrations in a song’s waveform do not illustrate the intentions of the composer until a human brain perceives it as music. Waveforms are effectively an encoded transport medium for audio, and even when viewed on screen using spectral analysis, without special training, they represent little in the way of what we hear as notes and passages of music. In our minds, we are able to reimagine melodies, and even a child can sing an improvised harmony along to a favourite track. When using a computer however, these simple human feats are difficult even when using the most advanced waveform manipulation tools. A method of storing audio in a way related to how humans perceive audio would provide more meaning and enable more dynamic and powerful editing control. This is one of the reasons we created the Rip
18 / Autumn 2020
audio file format and accompanying technologies. Rip files do not contain waveforms, but instead, highly detailed note, harmonic, frequency and amplitude information. To illustrate how different Rips are from existing formats, if we want to quickly create a harmony, it is a simple matter of copying the relevant notes and adjusting their pitches. No complicated, slow or energy consuming processing of waveforms occurs — the pitches of the notes are simply updated, as if they were MIDI. When we want to play back the audio, notes are converted into sine waves and output to the speakers as conventional waveforms. Parallels can be made with the brain converting notes we want to sing into air vibrations, with the use of vocal cords and other anatomy. To support the Rip format, we invented the Ripper. Comparable to the way our ears and brains convert oscillations transmitted from a source into notes and melodies, the Ripper analyses a waveform, locates the notes and harmonics within, and generates a Rip file that sounds identical to the original when played back. The first tool to utilise the power of the Rip format and make possible a wide range of advanced audio editing tools is Hit’n’Mix Infinity. At its simplest, individual notes (colour-coded according to instrument or layer) are displayed in a piano-roll format. These can be clicked and dragged, selected, copied, shifted up/down in pitch, stretched in duration and so on, all
without opening a single menu. Since the user works with the core components that audio is composed of at a perceptual level, we call this technology Atomic Audio Editing. The possibilities go far deeper than this, providing tools ranging from editing the individual harmonics of notes, to cloning different audio attributes between sounds. They can be invaluable for professional music production/remixing, audio clean-up/ restoration, sound design and other common sound editing, ‘mix fix’ and engineering-related tasks. For Pro Tools, an AudioSuite plug-in is included so that selected audio can be processed and updated in place. Most other DAWs can open up Hit’n’Mix Infinity as an external sample editor for the same workflow. Cubase/Nuendo’s Direct Offline Processing Plug-in also lets audio clips be edited directly from the project folder. What’s more, we’ve made it possible to access and manipulate the contents of Rip files with powerful Python scripting tools. We are hoping that many so-called RipScripts will be written by our coding-savvy users for the entire community to take advantage of! A free, 1-month trial Hit’n’Mix Infinity trial is available from: www.hitnmix.com Tutorials: www.youtube.com/user/HitnMixVideo/videos Martin Dawe founded Neuratron Ltd in 1993 and their highly regarded PhotoScore music scanning and AudioScore music transcription software is used by composers, publishers and musicians worldwide. Hit’n’Mix Ltd was subsequently formed in 2010 to support the new Rip technology.
AWARDS 2020 REWARDING QUALITY AND INNOVATION
Vote now for the Resolution Awards! The nominations for the Resolution Awards have been drawn from an exceptional panel of industry experts and practitioners. The nomination is our accolade — now it’s over to our thousands of readers to vote…
espite the challenges and delays of a global pandemic, manufacturers have continued to develop new and innovative products. Our nominations include both high-tech AoIP equipment and artisanal custom-builds, encompassing the (sometimes esoteric) recommendations from our panel of producers, and drawing on the detail and results from recent reviews by our professional contributors. For the tenth anniversary 2019 Awards, we increased votes more than ten-fold by opening the voting process to our digital community — audio pros who receive our email newsletter, issuu.com readers and our wider Facebook and social media community. This year
we’ve simplified further, with a single destination for readers to submit their choices. Navigate to the URL below, complete your choices on the voting form and click ‘Submit’. We maintain fairness by only allowing one vote per IP address (the numerical label assigned to each device connected to the internet) — the voting page can only be submitted once per reader — so be sure to register all your choices before clicking the submit button. Voting for our 11th annual Awards will close at the end of November, and the winners will be announced in a special digital Winners Supplement, and in the Winter edition of Resolution.
AWARDS 2020 NOMINEES ANALOGUE MIXER/SUMMING DEVICE AMS Neve 8424 API 2448 BURL B32 Vancouver Solid State Logic ORIGIN
Bettermaker Mastering Equalizer Drawmer 1974 Manultec Orca Radial Q3
CEDAR Cambridge v13 iZotope RX8 Merging Pyramix 25th PreSonus Studio One 5
Antelope Audio Orion Studio Synergy Core Arturia Audiofuse Studio Crane Song HEDD Quantum PreSonus ioSTATION24c
Avid S1 Lawo Ruby Radio Mixer Softube Console 1 Fader Solid State Logic System T V3.0
Bettermaker Bus Compressor McDSP APB-8 Analog Processing Box Rupert Neve 5254 Dual Diode Bridge Compressor Warm Audio Bus-Comp
AEA KU5A DPA Binaural Josephson Engineering C705 Schoeps CMC 1
Adam Audio T8V Genelec 4430 PSI Audio A14-M v3 Quested V2104
Leapwing RootOne Liquidsonics Cinematic Rooms PSP InfiniStrip sonible smart:reverb
API 312 Mic pre Grace Design m201mk2 Millennia HV-316 Neumann V 402
AMS RMX16 500 reverb CEDAR Audio DNS 8D Eventide Blackhole pedal Lawo Power Core MAX
iZotope Spire Studio Lectrosonics DCR 822 Sound Devices MixPre-6 II Zoom H8
TO VOTE: www.resolutionmag.com/resolution-awards-2020-vote/ Autumn 2020 / 19
PreSonus ioStation 24c NIGEL JOPSON enjoys a hands-on experience of noise/hiss on quiet vocal recordings is refreshing. The maximum input level at min. gain (+16dBu) is also 3-6dB better than many competing desktop interfaces, and the resulting lack of overload benefits instrument amp recordings.
his feature-packed interface and control surface first caught our eye back in January at NAMM in Los Angeles: the controls from PreSonus’ FaderPort V2, together with a 2x2 USB-C audio interface. Two XMAX mic preamps and 24-bit, 192kHz A-D/D-A converters, headphone and line outs. Another eye-catching feature is the price: just under the magic $300 point in the US, and typically around £260 in the UK. For around £100 more than the FaderPort, what do you get? Two mic/line inputs on Combo-XLRs with 48V, two balanced line outs on TRS with level and mute, a headphone amp capable of driving supposedly ‘difficult’ cans like Sennheiser HD600, and a source-playback balance control. One of the main annoyances with entry-level interfaces is their pathetic amount of preamp gain. The ioStation is truly unusual in offering up to 80dB of mic or instrument gain. The dynamic range (>107dB A-wtd, min. gain) and harmonic distortion (<0.007% 1kHz, min. gain) may, on paper, be matched by competing units; in actual operation, however, the ioStation can be used with the input gain at 50% or less, and the lack 20 / Autumn 2020
This is not the D-A for a mastering engineer, but I compared to my benchmarks (ten times or more expensive) and a couple of similarprice D-As. The problem with budget D-A is that cluttered, loud mixes get ‘shouty’ — then you don’t mix guitars loud enough; also, bass may be less than solid — then you mix too boomy! Andy Wallace’s mix of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is a tough test, and I’m pleased to report on the ioStation it sounded round in the bass, with slightly recessed upper mids and a feathery top end. A-B testing between converters, it seems ioStation had been voiced for energy-intensive rock; its sound will encourage attention to detail at the low end, and not force unwarranted cuts around 2-4kHz. Certainly very usable in the context of a production room or edit suite. PreSonus encourage product registration in order to download Studio One Artist software, plus content including Ableton Live Lite, tutorials from Melodics, 6 virtual instruments, and 9 plug-ins. I downloaded the Universal Control App, which updated ioStation with the latest firmware. For Windows users, Universal Control allows management of ASIO driver settings, and enables ‘loop back’ — for example to record audio from a video game for a livestream. By default, ioStation controls are configured for PreSonus’ own excellent DAW, Studio One (review, Resolution V19.4). For use with Pro Tools (HUI) the Next button is held while powering up, and then the Touch button pressed. For Logic (MCU) the Next and Mute buttons are pressed. The controls operate in a straightforward manner: Fader, Solo, Mute and Arm function for the highlighted track. Transport controls work as expected, with an added bonus: pressing and holding the Loop and Rewind button simultaneously sets the Logic cycle start point at the current timeline position, and pressing and holding the Loop and Fast Forward buttons simultaneously sets the cycle end point at the current timeline position. Anyone who learnt their trade using a tape autolocator is going to appreciate this.
Robust buttons & smooth fades
When the Pan button is illuminated, the central encoder on ioStation’s surface is track pan, when the Channel button is illuminated, the
encoder and Prev/Next buttons move between mixer tracks. I’ve always found moving around the Logic mixer particularly tedious on laptops, and the ability to race down a huge session’s faders with the encoder was great! I also found I could move around Logic’s mixer without staring at the screen too much (always a blessing), because the fader ‘clicks’ as it zips to a new position, giving the clue that you’ve moved 4-tracks to the right (or whatever). Talking of faders, I was particularly impressed with the smooth curves this 100mm motorized fader generated. I’ve never been a fan of the wonky and wobbly level moves generated by many encoders, but even when this baby was in Touch mode to update, the resulting level drives were pretty smooth. My favourite function, and saviour of my much-hammered laptop keyboard, was definitely the Scroll feature. Of course, on a pop song you’ve put your markers in… but being able to zip back and forth through the song bars with the encoder, or shuttle back and forth in increments with the Prev/Next keys, was a real winner for me. I am a tape-era engineer, and my first thought when transitioning to working entirely ‘in-the-box’ was to rush out and buy a large multi-fader control surface. Like many of my peers, I followed a familiar arc with ‘surfaces: disappointment at discovering they didn’t quite do what it said on the tin; rage at the amount of money wasted, and finally, resignation to work entirely with mouse and keyboard. What I discovered with the ioStation 24c was that it wasn’t so much the faders I’d missed, but the classic transport controls, and a better method of scrolling and selecting track functions (especially on a laptop). Combined with nice preamps for quick overdubs and a serviceable D-A, the ioStation makes a powerful case for it’s position on your desk. With it’s well-made illuminated controls, and at a super price-point, the ioStation 24c is a winner.
Truly useful control functions, robust controls instantly configured for all major DAWs. 80dB of mic/instrument gain from 2 preamps. Amazingly good value.
None at this price, although if it stays on my desk I’ll need to start using a left-hand mouse!
Solid State Logic SSL 2+ RUSSELL COTTIER takes a look at a 2-in 4-out USB bus-powered desktop interface
giant of the audio world has had a little baby it seems. The past few years has been interesting for Solid State Logic with a move from the encouragingly unaffordable to the relatively attainable. Success of products such as the XL desk and Matrix has clearly pushed SSL to expand its product range towards the more financially-manageable end of the market. Firstly it is worth noting that the 2+ is essentially the more featured sibling of the SSL 2 and offers MIDI I/O on DIN sockets and two headphone feeds. The unit itself is a nice compact size with controls on the slanted top panel. Definitely a wiser choice for a desktop type interface than using the front panel. The rear of the unit houses all the I/O so you can keep your desk space clear. This was actually surprisingly ergonomic without leaving a spaghetti of cabling across your computer area. There are two combo XLR/TRS sockets for the inputs, a pair of TRS sockets for Monitor output and four phono sockets that provide the discrete outputs 1-4. Whilst one could justify phono as useful for the semi-pro, I suspect this may have been a measure to allow the unit to be built to size and more importantly, to budget. Was this a problem? Not really, in fact it encouraged me to hook up the 2+ to a cassette 8-track machine that I had sitting in my studio for some fun audio processing. The MIDI DINs seems fine quality and allowed me to set up a nice little mobile rig with my Yamaha DX9 and V50 workstations.
USB only? No problem!
Finally there is a Kensington lock socket for anti-theft measures and a USB C socket that also provides all the
/ Handy for hardware synths — MIDI I/O on DIN sockets
power to the unit. USB C and USB A cables are provided. This was the point that I started to get curious as to how SSL managed to run a unit with low noise floor specs from 5V USB bus power alone. Stepping up the voltage for phantom power is a fairly trivial task as the current draw is relatively low but what kind of wizardry are the two preamplifiers, six line outs and two headphone amps using to get all that action from only 9 Watts maximum supplied by USB sockets that predate 3.1 standard? It certainly does provide enough power to run even a drum recording session with headphones up to max. I did some test sessions on an old windows laptop with USB 2.0 and the 2+ behaved impeccably. The front panel of the unit is a light brushed metal look with screen print that matches the look of other SSL products, though the unit is obviously made of much lighter materials than a Fusion for example. The front panel is dominated by a large blue SSL-style knob for the monitor level and there are knobs for gain on each of the two input channels. The right side of the panel offers knobs for input/USB audio mix, phones A and phones B levels.
Red glowing 4K buttons
Each input channel has buttons for 48v, line and a Hi-Z mode that can be engaged in line mode. The channels also have an LED level meter that usefully flashes in the red area when phantom power is applied, though there is no continuous indication of phantom apart from the button position. The pre-amps sound very respectable for a budget device and I managed to make some great recordings on them. I was initially filled with scepticism when I saw the channels’ red glowing 4K buttons, but actually again these are surprisingly usable. They add a high shelf boost and some saturation to model the EQ, VCA and bus compressor distortion of an SSL 4000 series console. These worked great for drums, guitars, and even bass DI but overcooked the top end a little with certain vocals. The input mix knob can be used to mix between the two mono input signals as a feed and the USB audio device output. This of course gives latency free monitoring. I found this to
be far less hassle than hitting submenu after sub-menu on my expensive studio interfaces. The Stereo button next to the mix knob allows the two inputs to be used as a stereo pair and forces a pan in the output mix. The four output channels allow phone mix B to be assigned to one of two stereo output feeds. The benefits of a separate headphone mix all powered by one unit are more than obvious on a location recording. SSL tells us that the 2+ uses AKM converters chips capable of up to 24-Bit 192kHz, the input A-D converters sound very good, but what about the D-As? Well they are perhaps not quite up there with my studio converters, but they sound good and I had no qualms about running a recording session and mixing a record on them. Mixes translated well and the outputs sounded nice and clear. The unit retails at £239 (inc VAT) and you get a production pack software bundle including SSL Native Vocalstrip 2 and Drumstrip, Native Instruments Hybrid keys, Pro Tools First, Ableton Live Lite and various samples. This unit will definitely be a game-changer in this price bracket.
VERDICT PROS Ergonomic layout. Bus Powered including two headphone amplifiers. Preamps sound very useable. CONS
Phono Sockets are less than ideal. Easy to overuse the 4K button!
Autumn 2020 / 21
AKG Lyra & RØDE NT-USB Mini NIGEL JOPSON compares two cost-effective USB mics
SB microphones have been in great demand since the start of the COVID pandemic. Production companies rushed to deliver them by post to sports commentators, narrators, reporters and actors isolated from recording facilities. USB usefulness is obvious — all you need is the cable which comes in the box. We thought we’d test two class compliant plug-and-play 24-bit mics, from manufacturers familiar to readers for their studio models.
I was quite keen to try the AKG (street price £130) because it had several features which seemed to set it apart from the USB pack: variable polar pattern, sample rates up to 192kHz, and the ability to work with iOS devices. The latter feature turned out to require additional 5V power via a lightning-USB3 camera adapter (Apple MK0W2ZM/A) — not quite as portable as I thought! The hefty AKG case design, while paying homage to large diaphragm classics such as the 414, in fact contains four back-electret capsules, two angled slightly away from each other and forward facing, plus two rear-facing capsules similarly angled. AKG call this an Adaptive Capsule Array. A rear four-way rotary switch selects between pickup patterns depending on application — most ‘podcasting’ USB mics do not have the ability to record both host and guest in a 22 / Autumn 2020
balanced manner. The rotary switches between Front (a sort of wide cardioid), Front & Back (I hoped would be figure-eight, turned out to be omni), Tight Stereo and Wide Stereo. The Tight pattern was similar to something like a Sony ECM-S959C; it makes the mic a bit more versatile for instrument recording. The Wide is pretty extreme — as in ‘hole in the middle’! It could be useful for two-person interviews if angled sideways, as the Front & Back setting is rather too Omni unless located in a ‘dead’ room. There’s headphone gain, pattern indicators and a mute button on the front, with gain on the back of the mic below the pattern switch. Lyra has at least 6dB more gain than the average USB mic. The Lyra sound character is quite scooped in the midrange, with the characteristic top-end expected from a low-cost back-electret. The substantial and photogenic Lyra stand puts the AKG at almost exactly the perfect height for speech on most table-tops. Both AKG and RØDE could have improved their mics by providing better capsule isolation/suspension. The AKG, however, is more likely to be used on its substantial desk stand, whereas the NT-USB Mini easily detaches from its magnetic fixing to mount on either a conventional stand via a supplied adapter, or on the ‘Anglepoise-style’ RØDE PSA1 Swivel Mount Boom Arm.
RØDE NT-USB Mini
When the Australian company introduced the Mini (street £90) I must admit I didn’t see the point: RØDE already make the NT-USB — albeit larger, without the built-in pop filter — and £50 more. However, as you can imagine I’ve been on many Zoom-style calls recently, whenever I’ve heard a nice voice sound I’ve asked which computer mic was used — you guessed — the Mini! The first tonal impression is lots of midrange — completely different from its larger NT-USB sibling, which is fuller with a more extended top end. Once you get within six inches of the Mini you immediately hear the USP of this USB — it’s like the famously radio-punchy Electrovoice RE20! Get close to the Mini and you’ll find yourself talking like a DJ — it’s not a hi-fi microphone — but it has ‘the sound’! The headphone gain is substantial for a little device — capable
of driving Sennheiser HD650. The gain control doubles as a push switch which (unlike the AKG) mutes the ‘low-latency’ mic signal to the headphones. I think this is potentially more useful than a mic mute, as it offers the operator a quick way of only hearing program; after all, you can always move one can off your ear to hear yourself. Quite sensibly, considering application, the Mini has a fixed sample rate of 48kHz. The Mini headphone amp is better than many plug-and-plays, and it had notably more extended bass than the standard headphone outputs of 2014 and 2016 MacBook Pros I used it with. One important point is that it is possible to connect two NT-USB Minis — without any additional hardware — on both Mac and PC. This is an incredibly useful feature, and it works seamlessly. On a Mac, the input/output device is simply selected as ‘2x NT-USB Mini’. Track inputs, in Logic Pro X for example, can be individually selected as 1(2xMini) or 2(2xMini). The Mini makes voice easy to mix with music and has that ‘radio punch’ — the proviso being it has to be positioned close to the mouth — if on its stubby table stand, it works best directly in front of the chest angled up. The choice between these two USB mics is easy, in the end. If singing, or acoustic guitar or round-table discussions may be recorded, the AKG Lyra is a flexible option. If you’re buying a USB mic for one-person-one-mic radio/podcast use, the NT-USB Mini is a real winner.
VERDICT PROS PROS Mini has the winning ‘radio sound’ for spoken voice, Lyra is more versatile for music recording. Ability to use two Minis seamlessly via USB is clever and useful. CONS
Both desk stands could be better isolated.
EXTRAS RØDE PSA1 Boom arm (£65). AKG ‘podcaster essentials’ bundle (£249): Lyra, AKG K371 headphones, Ableton Live 10 Lite, Berklee Online introductory recording course. www.akg.com • www.rode.com
Warm Audio Bus-Comp
Masters of hardware homage turn their attention to a British ’80s icon GEORGE SHILLING (also an ’80s icon) takes a look
ince 2011 Warm Audio of Austin, TX have built up quite a range of studio outboard based on classic designs, marketed at bargain prices. The Bus-Comp is no exception. Subtitled a ‘2 Channel VCA Bus Compressor’, the inspiration behind this model comes from the legendary SSL E/G compressor. That much-loved design has of course already seen plenty of re-creations and adaptations by third-parties. The SSL became the sound of pop music during the ‘80s, and its characteristics are imprinted on our collective cultural psyche; it endures today in myriad hardware and software forms. Warm Audio’s take aims to authentically copy the original, and adds a couple of extra features. The inputs and outputs are helpfully provided on both XLRs and TRS jacks; some costs have possibly been shaved here — they’re not Neutriks, but the XLRs latch positively and all have gold pins. Additionally there is a single Side-Chain Input using an XLR socket — just like SSL’s own outboard G Series Compressor. In fact, Warm Audio’s Bus-Comp faithfully includes almost all the settings and controls of the original SSL desk and outboard versions. There is an authentic looking black gain reduction meter on the far left, usefully illuminated with bright white LEDs in the bottom corners. It behaves much as anyone familiar with the SSL would expect, with perhaps a little bit more of a bounce. The knobs are logically laid out in the same order as the 1U SSL. Continuous Threshold from -20 to +20 (thankfully no annoying centre detent), There is a familiar six-position Attack rotary switch, then Ratio adds a couple of extra settings, so you get 1.5, 2, 3, 4 and 10. The lowest setting in particular is a useful addition if you want to be
gentler. Release has the expected settings from the useful 0.1s fastest to the great sounding Auto setting.
Then there’s a whole new knob: HPF. The manual oddly states what an HPF does without explaining the sidechain, but it behaves as expected, rooting out the lows from the detector circuit. Frequencies are 30, 60, 105, 125 and 185Hz (and OFF) and it works a treat, preventing the low end wreaking havoc with stronger compressor settings. Finally there’s a Make-Up gain knob with a range of 0 to +20dB. Big square pushbuttons light up yellow when depressed: Compressor on, External Side-Chain, and Engage Transformers. This plops US-made CineMag transformers into a discrete circuit, changing the character from neutral to flavoursome. Finally, on the far right is the Power rocker; far better having it here than putting it on the rear like the SSL does. Authentically following the original SSL, the Threshold varies with Ratio, so that increasing Ratio actually usually delivers less compression. I gather this slightly odd behaviour was a deliberate design implementation in the original to allow better comparison of different ratios. As with any SSL or clone it is easy to make things pump or grab in a slightly undesirable manner. However, having the lower 1.5:1 Ratio and the provision of the HPF both mitigate that in many situations.
precision test equipment, I can’t be sure, but it certainly adds magical enhancement in almost all situations. Most obviously there is added richness to the juicy upper mids where the ear is most sensitive, a sense of scooping out some wallowy muddiness lower down the spectrum, and a tightening up of the bass end. This is a great USP for the Bus-Comp of which Warm Audio are clearly proud: there is even a small CineMag logo printed on the rear panel, although oddly not on the front where you might expect it next to the Engage button. The High Pass Filter also gives the Bus-Comp a big advantage over standard SSL compressors. Setting the filter to 105Hz for a complex yet rocking band mix (with shouty vocals, raucous guitars and beefy drums), with fast release and a lower Ratio of 1.5 or 2:1, CineMag transformers popped in circuit and Threshold set to have the meter waggling around -4 and even heading close to -8 of gain reduction, things glued magically. The Warm Audio did everything expected of it to lend the mix an exciting and rich flavour. The build quality is good. The silver knobs are a little utilitarian, and I’d have liked a line down their barrels to avoid the parallax that can occur when lining up settings. But everything seems solid, and there’s no reason to think this wouldn’t stand the rigours of daily studio use for many years. Anyone familiar with this type of compressor will not be disappointed, despite the price tag being a very small fraction of the official version. This is my first hands-on experience of a Warm Audio product and if they’re all as good as this, I’m a big fan.
I spent quite some time punching the transformer circuit in and out, trying to work out what it was actually doing. Without
VERDICT PROS Incredibly cost-effective (£649) authentic replica bus compressor with bonus HPF sidechain and transformer enhancement. CONS
No lines on knob barrels.
www.warmaudio.com / Side-Chain with HPF prevents the compressor from overreacting to low-frequency content
Autumn 2020 / 23
Liquidsonics Cinematic Rooms JON THORNTON is impressed by lush spaces and multichannel control of reverb propagation
iquidsonics’ Seventh Heaven plug-in (review Resolution V16.4) turned a few heads when it was released. An impressive emulation of the Bricasti M7, it really shifted the goalposts with what is possible with plug-in reverb. The company have now turned their attention to multichannel reverb, and at the same time have thought long and hard about the specific needs of the post-production world when it comes to using (or abusing) reverb. The result is Cinematic Rooms. It should be stressed from the outset, that although many of the features and functions are built around a multi-channel workflow, Cinematic Rooms works perfectly splendidly in stereo — and I’d really encourage anybody involved in any form of audio production to give it a demo. That’s because, without beating around the bush, the reverbs are just stunning. Quite why this is could be down to the fact that the reverb engine was developed from the ground up — in part to deal with the demands of multi-channel work, but also to acknowledge that the processing limitations which defined older reverb algorithms are no longer relevant. So with an ‘achromatic reflection engine’ and ‘constant density reverb algorithm’, the intent was to build a best-in-class synthetic reverb.
The reverbs are just stunning
Whatever they’ve done, it certainly works. There’s a lushness to larger spaces that never really sounds synthetic, and early reflection patterns manage to avoid sounding coloured or phasey even when emulating very small spaces or ambiences. Cinematic Rooms is available in two versions — Standard and Professional. And contrary to what you might expect, both are completely multichannel capable — working in channel configurations up to 7.1.6. The Professional version does however feature a wider range of presets and unlocks one of the most powerful editing features for surround work. Fire up a stereo instance to start with, and you’re presented with a crisp, clean interface with an easy-on-theeye colour scheme. The master decay time control is front and centre, with areas for early reflections and reverberation components on the left and right respectively. Below the 24 / Autumn 2020
central decay time are two tabs which switch the UI between EQ controls (applied across the wet signal outputs) and the room definition parameters for both the reflection and reverberation stage. Further tabs in each of these sections switch between groups of these parameters. The UI fits an awful lot in without ever being overwhelming or cluttered. There are some other neat features in the UI too. The whole plug-in window can be scaled in size to suit your screen real estate. Presets can be filtered by minimum and maximum reverb time. And — more useful than you might think — any parameter can be locked to retain its current value when other presets are recalled — very cool for evaluating different presets but fixing the decay time, for example. Switching to a multi-channel instance changes thing up a gear. Whilst the UI stays largely the same, this really unveils the features that make Cinematic Rooms incredibly appealing in a multi-channel / post-production environment. The most significant of these is the ability to scale or bias nearly every parameter differently in different surround planes (available in the Professional Edition only). As a simple example, we might wish to have the overall decay time a little longer in the surrounds than in the fronts. And the UI is every bit as elegant here.
In a surround instance, a small icon showing a pictogram of the channel arrangement appears in the menu bar of the plug-in window. Clicking on this expands a view, that shows this icon (all surround channels — aka the master), together with an icon for each stereo plane in that arrangement. So in 7.1.2 you would get front, side, rear, centre and elevation. Clicking on any one of these, and then editing a parameter will then apply the scaling or biasing to that parameter in that plane. Switching back to the master, and subsequently changing the master value will then keep the proportions of that scaling intact, but allow overall changes. A tiny icon under the parameter shows that it has been edited in a particular plane — useful for keeping track of what you’ve
done. And all surround plane editing on a given parameter or parameters can be quickly and easily reset. The second key feature of note is the control given over the propagation of reverb in space. This can be free — in other words sound heard in one channel will produce reverb and reflections in its channel that will also propagate to all channels. Or propagation can be ‘locked’ to only the stereo plane for that channel, or disabled completely and confined to the source channel only. Together with some comprehensive ways to control the cross-feed for this propagation between channels (and modifying it in each plane to boot), this goes a long way to solving problems of reverb or reflections tracking the pan position of a source. These might sound like small things, but boy do they speed things up. Where you might have fudged a similar approach using multiple instances or multiple reverbs with different routing, it’s now done in a flash. And the ability to apply scaling to nearly every parameter in every plane is eyeopening in terms of sound design and creating immersive sound. Whilst variations of some of these approaches have been around in other multichannel reverb plug-ins (Exponential Audio’s excellent Phoenix springs to mind), they don’t come close to the scale and flexibility on offer here. You’d still have to prise Altiverb out of my cold dead hands for some things — but Cinematic Rooms might well be the only other reverb you will ever need for some years to come.
VERDICT PROS Fantastic sounding reverbs; clever and intuitive user interface; not too demanding of system resources; equally at home in stereo and multichannel workflows. CONS
You really need to shell out for the Professional Edition to get the most out of its multi-channel editing capability.
iZotope Neoverb NIGEL JOPSON gets a reverb assistant
unwound and replaced with more subtle or appropriate plug-ins. But delays and reverbs have been played to with every overdub and double-track, musical choices of vibe and tempo have been made around them, and removing or substituting something which every musician has tuned their performances to is very difficult.
his year has seen an unexpected blossoming of reverb plug-ins, with developers focusing on control features which step outside the normal metaphors of early reflections and algorithm types. For iZotope, who have never had a reverb product, Neoverb represents the first fruits of their April 2019 acquisition of Exponential Audio, well known for R4, PhoenixVerb Surround and Symphony. Neoverb is billed as re-inventing “how a mixing reverb for the modern-day music producer should look, sound, and feel”. Building on the automatic configuration ideas iZotope pioneered with Neutron (review Resolution V15.8) a Reverb Assistant in Neoverb “helps you craft a customised reverb preset intelligently”. When instantiated, the plug-in window is dominated by a triangular central blend pad, which allow mixing (or muting by clicking the apex points) between reflections and two types of reverb. The reverb types can be selected between Plate, Large Chamber, M.Chamber, Room, Hall and so on with small <> buttons. Clicking a right-facing > to the left side of the Pad opens an advanced settings panel where Time, Size, Diffusion, Attack, Crossover and Damping may be adjusted for the reverb, and Time, Size, Diffusion, Angle and Lowpass adjusted for the Reflections. A small quaver note symbol next to both reverb sections and the Pre-Delay syncs Time and Delay to song tempo in the DAW. To the right of the interface are Pre Delay and Modulation controls, and the bottom of the window displays Pre and Post EQ curves.
Send in my reverb assistant
To the left of the preset chooser (logically arranged in ‘Vocals, Percussion, Instrument, Experimental’ folders and so on) is a Reverb Assistant button. When pushed, this displays a simplistic Style slider (Realistic to Dramatic), five Size choices, and four Tone buttons. “Play Audio and begin” the assistant commands at the top of this window. What this actually means is you (the operator) begin adjusting. The assistant’s help is not audio program dependant — you’ll get exactly the same Time/Size/Diffusion settings fiddling with the Assistant sliders
whether the audio is from a beat box or a vocal. Nevertheless, the Assistant window does a great job of shielding users unfamiliar with how controls like Diffusion and Attack might affect their audio, and gives a suitable starting point. The Assistant then proceeds to generate Pre and Post reverb EQ curves, which the user has to click on a button to accept. I’d characterise this reverb as ‘on the warm side of Lexicon’ — hardly surprising, as Michael Carnes, the founder of Exponential Audio, was Principal Engineer for Lexicon on the 960L. In truth, the sound is actually much closer to the Exponential Audio R2. A sympathetic, musical reverb — R2’s ‘Perc Plate’ and ‘Deep Ocean Hall’ — sprang to mind. Neoverb is a sympathetic reverb with a nice solid low end, and a manageable HF diffusion that won’t startle the producer. Mark Ethier, founder of iZotope, said “We started out building products that made sense to us as musicians, not engineers.” The Exponential Audio products, which have fed into Neoverb, are built from a totally different standpoint, targeted towards experienced professionals who understand exactly what they want when dialling up some ambience. As music production pros have shifted to roles as ‘finishers’ of recordings started by musicians, one of the thorny problems faced is the often-impossible task of undoing reverb and delay choices. Unlike the tracking projects of the past, sessions arriving for mixing today have often had the rough mix set in stone for months. Overly harsh EQs can be replaced and carefully sculpted, and ham-fisted compression can be
The extremely simple Neoverb reverb assistant offers ‘slider and switch’ settings more similar to setting tone on a guitar amp than deciding on early reflections on a quality reverb. The triangular Blend Pad offers simple creative tuning with the ability to mix (or mute) between early reflections, medium or large reverbs. The Advanced panel can be left shut, or popped open for tuning later by a mixer. But the master stroke is the final Assistant process, where pre and post reverb EQs are automatically set. Equalising a reverb send and/or return is a quick, easy, broad-brush method of retaining the spirit of an ambience while trimming overly boomy or clattery sound. But almost every musician I’ve watched recording themselves will instantiate a reverb or delay plug-in on the channel they are recording, rather than as a send and return, so this element of Neoverb is a very welcome addition to the plug-in. I can see Neoverb being recommended by mixers to their clients as a reverb of choice, because the risk of ambience drenching-out musical ideas is low, and the option for careful tuning later are many and varied. At the current price of $199 (regular $249) it’s good value, offering a huge variety of spaces — as demonstrated by the naming of the presets — which range from the amusingly-named ‘I can Haas’ through ‘Fat Plate’ to ‘The Abyss’. For connoisseurs of reverb, the overall effect is of individual plating of Lexiconic cuisine, with Reverb Assistant smoothing the path to a Mi-x-chelin star or two. Neoverb is a sweet-sounding reverb, well suited to acoustic and electric instruments, and guaranteed to sit well in most mixes.
VERDICT PROS Sweet sounding, Assistant makes it easy to operate, sits well with traditional instruments. CONS
Maybe not for DJ Smylie.
Autumn 2020 / 25
I think a good score becomes a character in the movie sitting on your shoulder â€” one that you embrace and feel belongs there
Fresh from working on Bill & Ted Face the Music, DANNY TURNER interviews one of the movie industryâ€™s most prolific composers
Photo credits: Photographed by Jake Isham; Art Direction by Tyler Parkinson
merging in the ‘70s as a touring/session musician, working alongside prominent artists including Van Morrison, David Torn, Brian Wilson, Joni Mitchell and XTC, American jazz trumpeter and synthesist Mark Isham stumbled into the world of film composing when a demo for his album Vapor Drawings (1983) attracted the attention of director Carroll Ballard, who hired him to compose the score for the Disney drama Never Cry Wolf. Isham embraced the role and has gone on to record a catalogue of soundtracks over the past 40 years for lauded movies such as The Hitcher, Point Break, Warrior, The Conjuring, Crash, A River Runs Through It, The Black Dahlia — collecting numerous Grammy and Emmy awards, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. If you want the numbers, it’s $4 billion movie gross, over 400 movies and TV shows, 200 albums, 100 nominations and 57 awards. Lockdown has seen Isham busy writing the score for the upcoming Bill & Ted Face the Music and live performing some of his bestknown soundtrack themes via online stream. Take us back to before you were a film score writer. Trumpet was your initial instrument, but why did you segue into electronic music? I came out of school as a trumpet player obsessed with jazz, but my father taught at university and came home one day with a record
/ Isham found an ARP Odyssey in a music store he worked in, and has been an analogue fan ever since
given to him by a friend at the music department who said “this is the future of music!” The record was The Silver Apples of the Moon by Morton Subotnick. Although I didn’t understand it, I was intrigued and it planted a seed. Pretty soon after I heard that The Beatles had used something electronic on their new record and Walter Carlos brought out Sonic Seasonings. From then, I just got obsessed with it.
Your debut album Vapor Drawings was quite cinematic. Did you see your early albums as promotional tools to develop a career in soundtrack? No, I don’t think I ever have. My mother played in the opera orchestra and I used to go to those rehearsals and loved the idea of music helping to tell a story. I’d written some music using traditional Chinese instruments, an ARP 2600,
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Autumn 2020 / 27
new amplifier and Secrets of the Beehive is one that I’ve been playing recently. David’s sensibility is really very close to mine, but he has a whole other world of lyric and poetry that I don’t have. One of our first sessions was one of the most strange and fascinating I’ve ever done. He had Holger Czukay who decided that a Dictaphone would be his new musical instrument and was wandering around scraping a pencil against it during playback. It pretty much sounded like a Harmon Mute trumpet. When David was mixing he said it would be great if that line could be extended, so my first job was to copy Holger’s fake harmony trumpet.
/ In the first two weeks of the pandemic Isham decided to build his dream studio
The idea you can record a high-quality score remotely is tremendously valuable, pandemic or no pandemic Prophet-5 and an 8-track tape recorder. It didn’t get me a record deal, but it made its way to a film director who thought it was great. How did Brian Eno inform your view of soundtrack music and how you wanted to apply yourself to it? With his ambient music in the ‘70s, Brian opened my eyes to a very different way of thinking about music — a new language really. Sonic Seasonings had touched on it, but Eno nailed it with his use of tape loops and reverbs. I never went to music school, but whenever I hear something that makes me feel a strong emotion I always analyse it to learn what
musical techniques are being used to help create that effect. I’ve done it with Miles Davis, Weather Report, Gustav Mahler and Daniel Barber, but also with Eno where it’s not necessarily about the choice of notes but the length of the reverb and what he’s using as a studio tool, because those elements are as important as your choice of harmony. As mentioned, you were also a session trumpeter. You’ve done some particularly outstanding work with David Sylvian. What do you remember about those sessions? It’s interesting you mentioned that because I set up my turntable a while back with a beautiful
/ All modular synths are linked to Logic with an E-RM multi-clock
28 / Autumn 2020
I guess one of the first soundtracks you wrote that stood out for me was Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher. It’s a heavily synthesizer-based score — pre-computer I’m guessing? Everything was running off an FSK tone on a 16 or 24-track, so we’d pick a tempo on two drum machines and my Roland SPX-10 would give me MIDI clock and a click track. I was probably using my ARP, Prophet-5, the Roland MC-4 MicroComposer and an Oberheim Four Voice because that was my ‘band’ for a long time. The film was very black and white in terms of good and evil — there’s not much moral ambiguity. One of the early cuts totally freaked me out, so the director explained it’s about a young man confronting evil and having to decide whether to lie down and die or triumph. Once I got the bigger picture, it became much easier to establish the characters. What else do you remember about scoring those sessions? We just wanted to make Rutger Hauer’s character relentless — almost supernatural. In a sense, that simplistic electronic percussion may have helped get that sense of relentless pounding across. I remember there being two competing companies that had just made these electronic drum machines — one of them might have been an original E-mu SP12, so we had two young drummers programming up different things. It was electronic drum machine heaven, which was very exciting because making film music in that way was a brand new experience for all of us. The public often view score writers as being somewhat peripheral to a movie project, but you worked very closely with Kathryn Bigelow on Point Break? I got hired for that picture because I was the young electronic guy and we were well on our way to producing that — working with Kathryn rigorously. Then she took the film home one weekend and played it to Jim Cameron who basically told her she had an epic here and the music should reflect that with a big orchestral score instead of all this fun electronic stuff, so we suddenly needed to change mid-stream and create a big action orchestral score. Now we were in the trenches together and I had to learn what that all meant.
Some say a soundtrack shouldn’t be remembered because it’s supposed to be incidental to the image. What’s your take on it? If the music pulls you out of the film, away from the story and the emotion, then it’s not doing its job. If it’s just sitting at the back, that’s fine but it also means it’s not doing the potential job it could do. I think a good score becomes a character in the movie sitting on your shoulder — one that you embrace and feel belongs there — but only think that afterwards. Some directors don’t want that, others want the music to engage and that’s what I strive for, because those films are the most fun and challenging. Are you more choosey these days about what you work on, or are projects more demanding than they used to be? As my kids got older I wanted more time out of the studio with the family, but it’s also about the technology. Younger guys use Ableton Live and like that way of making music, so I’ve had to reinvent myself several times. There’s a whole generation of film directors that don’t want big themes; they want the ambient, brooding mystery of big blocks of sound. I came in as the electronic/jazz guy and had to convince people the music didn’t have to be that for me to be a good composer. Several times in my career I’ve gone to my agent and said, look, you need to find me a film they wouldn’t normally hire Mark
Isham for, just so Mark Isham can show the world he’s capable of this type of filmmaking. Have you become increasingly reliant on computer technology as a compositional tool? My very first film score was Never Cry Wolf in 1982, which was mostly written on a Prophet-5 sequencer and an 8-track tape recorder. I came from a generation where the studio was an instrument. That whole idea of bouncing tracks, building up a piece of music on tape and overdubbing has always been a big part of my compositional process. I had Mac computers when 4k was the most memory that anybody would ever need and it’s grown to what I have now — five computers on my writing console and six in another room. It’s a whole new world, but I still feel the ability to put tracks together, sit back, press play and listen is an integral part of my compositional process. I can’t just jot things down on a piece of paper and be confident that’s going to be the right thing. Does the image also have to be present? It doesn’t have to be. Again, over the years I’ve developed the confidence to write away from the image, but I always ask myself what the music has to be married to. After I made a demo for my very first film they stuck me in an editing room where they were literally dragging
celluloid across a head with lights shining through it while I’m pressing play on an 8-track tape machine, so looking at the picture has always been a primary source of inspiration.
AUDIO INTERFACE > > > > >
/ By the age 15 Isham had performed with the Oakland and San Francisco symphony orchestras
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Autumn 2020 / 29
/ Isham at his Steinway, with a Moog Theramin keeping them company
…I’ve had to reinvent myself several times How often do budgetary restrictions require film scores to be made using software plug-ins over hiring an orchestra, for example? We run into budgetary constrictions all the time. With the latest software and sampling technology, the demos can really convince people of exactly what they’re going to get, but I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to put out a sampled orchestral score. No matter how good your samples are you won’t sound like John Williams or the London Symphony Orchestra, so you have to find a solution that will be scaled to whatever helps realise the film on the budget you have. A couple of times I’ve gone to producers and said, look, this film really does warrant an orchestra and I don’t have the money to do it so can you find the money? Sometimes they come back and say, here’s an extra cheque for £30,000, and I’ll be very precise and say that’ll give you 10 violins and 5 violas for this many minutes of recorded music that will sound like this mockup or similarsounding score. How vital is it to have familiarity with one particular DAW? I started off with MIDI Paint, which lasted about six months, then held out with Studio Vision until they sold it to Gibson and the whole thing collapsed. Then I moved to Logic 3 and had a love/hate relationship with it ever since. I think that’s because it’s owned and regulated by a company that doesn’t really know anything about professional musicians. I say that with the greatest respect because we’re pretty lucky to have what they do offer, but the changeover to Logic 10 was really hard because they don’t really tell you what they’re doing when they make a big change like that. Is that process somewhat stabilised by operating Logic together with Pro Tools? Logic drives Pro Tools, so all demos are mixed in stereo or multi-tracked into Pro Tools, which 30 / Autumn 2020
is very stable to picture. On the other hand, Logic’s implementation of MIDI is still superb and I’d never use Pro Tools to write in MIDI because I can’t wrap my head around how they think that works. As you point out, these are very personal opinions that come from years of repetitive use. It has to do with speed and creative workflow; you don’t want these things to stop that idea getting out into the visible universe. Are you excited by the various modern plug-in technologies for sound creation or mixing? We adapted the plug-in host Vienna when it came out five or six years ago and adored it, because via one Ethernet cable your entire plethora of instruments is available. It took some of the strain off Logic because when you’re still trying to find out what a film score sounds like it’s really helpful to have large amounts of instruments available. I’m also a big supporter of UAD and all of their wonderful plug-ins, but while my hardware rack diminishes every day I still hold on to my original LA2A and 1176 compressors. You worked with Isabella Summers of Florence and the Machine recently for the current TV series Little Fires Everywhere. What was the motive for pairing up with an indie rock producer? The idea came from Mary Ramos who’s got to be one of the top music supervisors in the world, and likes pairing interesting people. She wanted to expand Isabella’s appearance in Hollywood and ABC said that’s great but we can’t sanction someone whose never done a high-profile show like this. So we met, got along well and dove in. A lot of times when you put two composers together, one says you do the action stuff, I’ll do the romantic stuff and we’ll meet in a couple of months, but I wanted to collaborate and come up with something that would be greater than the sum of our parts.
Due to the pandemic, I understand you worked remotely on the latest Bill & Ted movie? I was just completing the writing on Bill & Ted when we had to spend a month figuring out how we could possibly finish the orchestral score. In the end we reached out to the Hungarian Budapest Orchestra because there were next to no cases of Covid there, and we could have 40 strings in the room, nine brass instruments the next day, and record woodwinds in various different private studios. We used Source-Connect for the remote audio recording and my mix engineer suggested using the Audiomovers plug-in for mixing, which worked fantastically. I had a live 48kHz/24-bit stereo feed from his mixing desk with no delay here in my studio and was listening to it on my speakers. As a result, I’m not sure I’m going to mix in any other way after this. So Audiomovers isn’t just a stop-gap solution, you feel it has the potential to fundamentally change how film scores are written? Source-Connect has been around for a while, but in tandem with this new Audiomovers plug-in they’ve now brought some serious competition. They’re only going to get better and I think that’s going to help because by the time you’ve taken an entire crew to London to record the London Symphony Orchestra you’ve added $75,000 to your recording budget. An independent film doesn’t even have that budget, so the idea you can record a high-quality score remotely is tremendously valuable, pandemic or no pandemic. The one thing you can’t do at this point is conduct, but I don’t conduct my own film score sessions; the most responsive and efficient thing I can be doing is sitting in the room listening to it. In a similar vein, you helped kick off the virtual Cannes Film Market with a live stream of your past soundtracks. I was impressed that you used modular equipment… In the first two weeks of the pandemic we decided to build my dream studio. My whole back wall of modular gear is completely hooked into the DAW using an E-RM multiclock box because the sync is perfect and you can control every single clock and voltage control input. Then it’s just a matter of how you define predictability in a Eurorack modular system, so I’d have five or six different modules all set up and ready to go and switch back and forth between them. Has modular rekindled your love of analogue? I remember stumbling on an ARP Odyssey when I was cleaning out the stock room of the music store I worked at and have been obsessed with collecting these analogue things ever since. The guy told me to put it in the window and sell it, but instead I decided to pay him a hundred bucks a month and keep it.
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Midge Costin Finally, there’s a movie about sound for movies! KEVIN HILTON talks to the woman who made it
ilm about film’ is a small but wellestablished cinema genre. It divides neatly into two types: fictional films looking at the trials and tribulations of actors, directors, producers and crew; and documentaries detailing either the making of a particular production or a specific aspect of filmmaking. This last category includes acclaimed films on visual effects and picture editing — both of which lend themselves to a filmic presentation — but it’s only now that someone has attempted the more difficult proposition of presenting an examination of sound in the movies. Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, recently released on DVD, is both a history of audio in film and an explanation of how a movie soundtrack is prepared and assembled. The film was directed by Midge (Marguerite) Costin, herself an experienced sound editor with credits on major films including The Rock, Con Air and Armageddon. She now concentrates mainly on teaching, holding the position of Kay Rose professor in the art of dialogue and sound editing at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), where she is also head of sound. 32 / Autumn 2020
Her film features interviews with leading sound designers, sound editors (ADR, dialogue), dubbing mixers, location recordists, Foley artists,
and engineers. Key amongst these are Walter Murch, whose work with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas is subtitled ‘The New Wave’ because Costin believes the early ‘70s was when sound started to come into its own; Ben Burtt, who talks about his work with Lucas and Steven Spielberg in the section ‘A New Force’; and Gary Rydstrom, primary subject of ‘The Digital Age’, examining his contributions to not only Spielberg’s movies of the ‘90s but also Pixar’s ground-breaking animation features. Other notable interviewees from the sound world are Dane Davis (The Matrix), Randy Thom (Forrest Gump, The Revenant), Skip Livesay
/ Anna Behlmer — nominated for 10 Best Sound Mixing Academy Awards — the first female mixer nominated
(Goodfellas and all the Cohen Bros films, interviewed Resolution V15.5), Bobbi Banks (The Incredible Hulk, Selma) and Victoria Rose Sampson, the daughter of Kay Rose (the first woman to win an Oscar for sound with 1984’s The River) and an established and respected sound effects and dialogue editor on films such as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Donnie Darko and The Fifth Element. Through her contacts in sound Costin also secured interviews with directors who have recognised and exploited the power of audio in their films, including Lucas, Spielberg, David Lynch, Sophia Coppola, Christopher Nolan, Ang Lee, Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. Making Waves is not an in-depth dissection of cinema sound technology but it does give a good overview of what is involved and how audio adds to a film. How did you get into film sound? When I came out of film school I wasn’t into sound and didn’t relate it to how a story works. At the beginning I was a picture editor but I took a sound job on a production because I needed the work. That was when I realised how important it was to the mood, character and plot. I went on to be a location sound editor and became really passionate about audio and then went back to USC to teach it. What was the starting point for making this film? I had got the feeling that sound was being left out [of discussions about film] and then I saw an article in which Walter Murch said people didn’t have an awareness of sound. From that I got the idea to make a film about sound in film. That originally started in 2002 but at that time there was no such thing as free use and we would have had to spend a lot of money on clips. It took another two years to get rights for what we wanted to show and then Gary Rydstrom said he would be a consultant and put me in touch with people, so we started up again in 2010. Was it a hard sell? Oh God, yes! Nobody gave us any money, apart from very small amounts from a couple of companies. My sister RoAnn is in finance and she and the other executive producers managed to get funding from independent sources. But it was a hard sell because even though people said they cared about sound they didn’t come up with any money. That also meant we didn’t get too technical, because people thought that might not be entertaining. There were competing technical systems in the early days of film sound, which is fun for people like us to talk about, but it was too much detail. So it was a balancing act. You spoke to some big names in terms of sound people, composers and directors but there is quite a US-centric bias. Was that deliberate or not? It’s not just US-centric but California-centric. I
It was a hard sell, because even though people said they cared about sound they didn’t come up with any money… was excited about doing a whole lot of international interviews, because originally there was an idea of making this into a TV series instead of a single film. But we couldn’t get the budget for that and we didn’t get many New
York interviews, other than Sophia Coppola and Ang Lee. But we did get some big sound people and they put us in touch with people like Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
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Autumn 2020 / 33
/ Walter Murch ‘the godfather of sound design’ (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I-III, American Graffiti, The English Patient… with three Academy Award wins from nine nominations)
the film, when people say to her a guy should do the sound on a big action or war film, her reaction is, “Why, was he in a war?”
/ Ben Burtt recording ‘Pooh’ the bear — sounds which became the voice of Chewbacca
Like a lot of areas in filmmaking, sound has been — and continues to be — dominated by men. You have a section in your film about this but do you think things are changing? There were always women [in this field] but one of the things I did to get more women in was use them for the verité material because there weren’t many supervisors or designers back in the day. Cece (Cecelia) Hall (Top Gun, The Hunt for Red October) said in the ‘70s it was just her and Kay Rose. There are plenty of women working in sound but a lot of the time they get stereotyped into editing dialogue, ADR or Foley. More dialogue editors are co-supervising now, like Gwen Whittle (the Jurassic World films and the new Mulan) and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
(Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, La La Land). If you think about it, there was Kay Rose, Cece Hall, Pat Jackson (Blue Velvet, The English Patient), Gloria Borders (The Godfather III, Forrest Gump) and Dody Dorn (The Abyss) in the ‘70s to the ‘90s. A handful of women essentially. Today we don’t have many more. We have the great Ai-Ling Lee (Deadpool, JoJo Rabbit). Another extremely talented sound designer I interviewed was Kyrsten Mate (Mulan, Ready Player One) and there’s Karen Baker Landers. What I’ve seen is that women will get moved into doing the more traditional women’s or girl’s or children’s movies. But as Anna Behlmer (re-recording mixer on LA Confidential, 2009’s Star Trek and Mulan) says in
You do look at the early days of sound in American cinema and there is mention of people like Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Jack Foley in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s but your film does see the real development of film audio starting from the 1970s onwards. Why is that? There was a quantum leap in sound that was connected with filmmakers getting out of Hollywood and going to northern California in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. People like George Lucas and Walter Murch, who were more aware of sound. And they turned others, like Francis Ford Coppola, on to it as well. Hollywood in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was still working with optical magnetic and each studio had its own sound effects library. The unions also controlled things heavily. There was the story of Richard L Anderson (Oscar winner for Best Sound on Raiders of the Lost Ark with Ben Burtt) not
/ Kyrsten Mate recording welding for Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, Star Wars:episode VII
As screens get smaller and more people watch on their smartphones, sound will be even more important 34 / Autumn 2020
/ Alyson More on the Foley Stage
being allowed to record something because he was outside the union. Later there was the realisation of what surround sound could do. Ioan Allen, who is in the film, was an engineer at Dolby who saw the potential of that and told Ray Dolby he should move into it. And when people like Barbra Streisand heard about it they wanted to use it… but she didn’t realise it was already available. Do you think the successors to systems like Dolby Stereo Surround, Dolby Atmos and other spatial technology, will be the future for cinema audio? Although we don’t go into the technology behind Atmos and other spatial systems, there is a sequence in Making Waves in which we look at a scene from Roma, breaking down the different sounds and where they are panned. Skip Livesay mixed that and said the director, Alfonso Cuarón [who also directed Gravity] was
There are plenty of women working in sound but a lot of the time they get stereotyped really pushing things in terms of surround and immersive. It’s the way it’s going, more immersive. And that’s good for us in sound, it’s fantastic because there are fewer people going to movie theatres but there are better home systems. Headphones are now of a higher quality and
we’re seeing virtual reality coming in, which has really pushed sound. People want to hear the 360-degrees effect and people can get spatial reproduction in headphones now. And as screens get smaller and more people watch on their smartphones, sound will be even more important.
Audio innovations highlighted in Making Waves The Art of Cinematic Sound traces the development of cinema sound from the late 19th century to the present. Ben Burtt comments that the idea of the sound editor evolved during the 1930s. Possibly the first film to feature what we would now call sound design was King Kong (1933). Sound editor Murray Spivack recorded a tiger at zoo and reversed the tape to produce Kong’s roar. Walter Murch highlights the advances made in the 1940s, when, he says, “Some of the biggest innovations in film sound came from radio.” In particular Orson Welles applied techniques he had learned on his radio productions to Citizen Kane (1941). “Every space has its own signature, with reverbs used for different scenes.” Elisabeth Weis, author of The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchcock’s Soundtrack, points out that the master of suspense “essentially dictated a sound script” for his films. Murch cites musique concrete as a “revelation” that informed his attitude towards sound. Once he was working in the business, he says, the Nagra portable recorder enabled films to be shot on the move, allowing filmmakers such as George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola to further break away from the traditional studio system. Inspired by Isao Tomita’s electronic, quad rendering of Holst’s The Planets, Coppola and Murch developed a six-track surround system for Apocalypse Now, which is held up as the “ground standard” for how films are mixed today. Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is released on DVD by Dogwoof Pictures. Trailer: vimeo.com/ondemand/ makingwaves
Autumn 2020 / 35
improvisational artist, and Falling in Love with Sadness comes from those developmental years and putting myself back together again. You seem to flit between the classical and pop/dance worlds, almost as if these projects are nurturing each other? Definitely. The industry has opened up a lot of doors that were previously closed and record companies are investing in the new classical scene and combining it with the pop market. If I was starting again it would be as a composer, whereas 10 years ago it was all about DJing, singing and being a producer/remixer. When I made Klavírní people thought I was bat shit crazy to do a solo piano album. You’re a mother now and I guess any lifechanging experience must throw your processes up in the air. How have you coped? Where do I begin? When you have a baby you essentially become two people. The shift has been hard to cope with psychologically because working as a composer is inward facing and selfish rather than cuddly and romantic. The doctors told me I couldn’t be a DJ anymore and in business meetings record label execs were telling me how their wives had to give up their jobs once they’d got pregnant. It felt like the world was frowning and doubting me.
Crowd-funding an electronic symphony, deejaying and writing classical piano scores — DANNY TURNER learns the benefits of minimalism
t all started in Milton Keynes when a teenage Emika discovered a software program stashed in a school cupboard. Waitressing to buy her first Apple Mac, the budding producer studied music technology at Bath before moving to London to intern at Ninja Tune, releasing her debut electronic album on the same label. Berlin opened Emika’s ears to a nascent underground scene that would infiltrate her production aesthetic. She decided to stay and work as a sound designer for Native Instruments while developing her sound. Improvised piano diary Klavírní (2015) was her first leftfield production, followed two years later by the ambitious orchestral project Melanfonie. In-between, Emika’s released a litany of electronic pop/club releases, but the pull of experimentation is never far. A third classical piano album on the way and plans are afoot to create an ‘eco-friendly’ symphony. Is ‘uniqueness’ something you’ve cultivated or is ‘cultivating’ a style an obstacle to self-expression? Whether you want to DJ or produce, cultivating an approach to how you make music and working out what sound resonates with you is the best foundation any person can establish. Understanding yourself can be a complex 36 / Autumn 2020
process, but you also have to understand technology, which is evolving so fast now. It’s an amazing era to work in. In 2017 you recorded the symphony project Melanfonie. What did it teach you about merging those digital and acoustic worlds? Melanfonie was like homework that I gave to myself. I wanted to prove that I could do a project like that and manage it without having a meltdown. It was a big test for me because it’s one thing to sit on your own with a computer and fantasise about making a big orchestral production with 60 people, but incredibly complicated to get right. We’re often overwhelmed by how all the great composers have been idealised, so it was another test to overcome my classical education and get on with writing it. Did any of that process impact your more recent electronic pop album Falling in Love with Sadness? I was DJing a lot because you can go somewhere and come home a few hours later with a load of money that you don’t have to share with anyone, but I found that the more I deejayed the more I was improvising with no expectation of what I was going to do. That’s liberated me because I’m now a fully
Has there been a creative upside? I already had a lot of creative energy and an insane amount of ideas, but growing a new life inside of you is pure creativity, combined with my artist’s perspective on the world that always wants to flex its creative muscle. My creativity went through the roof, so I’ve got hard drives full of stuff that I don’t know what to do with. I’m thinking of putting it all on Dropbox and giving people my PayPal account. We spoke about your piano album Klavírní, which you’re about to follow with another album of piano instrumentals? Solo piano works is a new avenue I’ve set up for myself, so I’m planning a third one titled Klavirni Temna. It’s a bit like an insurance policy, because I can do this music from home and bank it through the first few years of my daughter’s life, but there’s also certain times when getting away from the computer makes total sense. Your music’s always been quite spacious with few sounds and lots of effects. In production terms, is it more difficult to be simple? I once had a meeting with a record label exec from Mercury and challenged her by asking what she thought when she listened to my records. She said there were too many ideas, which confirmed things I was afraid to confront, so I started to wonder what would happen if I didn’t have drums or got rid of the club stuff and just started working with synths, piano and voice. As soon as I did that, everything started to sound more modern. Music software encourages you to add layers and most music
Lead photo: Bet Orten; bottom right, Adam Krena
production tutorials tell you to start with the kick drum and keep adding and adding, but if you take the layers away you’ll find the core of what you do. What I like about effects is that they’re like breathing life into the machine. If you add some nice filters or an echo, the music becomes more of a conversation. It seems the software industry is equitable to the fitness industry. There’s a proliferation of products designed to help you, but most of them are superfluous… It’s funny you should mention that. When I was pregnant, at every appointment I went to they gave me a gift box with a teddy and a thousand coupons for a thousand different things for mothers. Being thrown into that industry has filtered through to my working process because I don’t want a thousand new 808 kick drum sounds. When you’ve already decided what you want to do, you don’t have to go through that whole process. You’re also recording another symphony, linked to the ecological crisis? I spent a few years trying to follow up Melanfonie but couldn’t find anything exciting to write about. Then I was inspired by an economist called Jeremy Rifkin who wrote a book called The Third Industrial Revolution. It’s about climate change and how a new era is emerging for our economy, internet and green energy. I just thought this is a symphony right here, so I’ve spent the last few years researching off-grid ways to live, like tiny houses and earth ships, which are waste houses created by an architect called Mike Reynolds. The goal is to build a house where I can have a self-sustaining studio and make green energy music productions. Working with an orchestra is simple because people are just playing instruments, but I’ve undertaken a huge research phase on how to create a whole production using renewable energy. How’s that affecting your current studio setup? I’ve basically streamlined everything, so the same minimalist approach I applied to my possessions now applies to the studio. Everything I have I use every day and it’s all plugged in and ready so I don’t have to spend time cable-hunting. I have an RME Fireface 802 soundcard, a really nice SSL vocal preamp and some Eventide Pedals — the Time Factor and Black Hole, which are the best for delays and reverbs. I‘ve got loads of foot pedals and I’ll MIDI map those depending on what I’m doing. The Arturia KeyLab MkII 49 controller is great for recording DJ mixes, podcasts and synth jams, and using a power strip is brilliant for turning on specific gear without running electricity off everything at the same time and it’s all MIDI-connected. I also find that I’m not doing so much final album production from home. I’ll go to a great-sounding room with a piano and do it properly, so my home is more like a writer’s cabin now.
/ Forest Studio minimalism: Genelecs, Arturia keys, Ableton
Presumably, it’s more difficult to limit yourself software-wise unless you’re deleting libraries? I am! I’ve switched to using Ableton 10 and bought Max for Live, which I’ve been perpetually terrified of ever since using it at university. It’s a programmer’s way of working rather than a musician’s way, and I love using the Native Instruments Chaos bundle to make all these self-generating sounds. I’m basically using Max MSP to play my synths for me. I just enter a bunch of parameters, be it notes, keys, octaves or lengths and press play to selfgenerate sounds that I keep tweaking until they sound like music. I’ll record all of my jams, have a cup of tea and go back and see what’s there, so I’m listening a lot more than I used to and not working in that linear, layer-building way anymore. That’s the foundation of my next symphony, using computer generated ideas for the orchestra to play. For me, that’s technology and nature merging to create a new era. Is NI’s Chaos similar to a software version of the Kaoss Pad? They work on the same principle of moving your finger around on a pad so it’s behaving in a chaotic way using the x/y axis rather than your typical up/down. I used to think that stuff was weird and irrelevant, now it’s the best thing ever! These companies have made things easier for people like me to use. You’ve been performing at the Berlin planetarium? I performed there last year having developed a show with László Zsolt Bordos of Bordos ArtWorks. He’s one of the first people to do 3D mapping and has an incredibly advanced setup for planetarium content. We decided to go on a journey consisting of a live show using the planetarium software, which is a completely closed technology network that has huge
capabilities. We’ve developed something new involving surround sound using existing music, but there’s a lot of improvisational passages to match the visuals so it’s designed to be open in certain parts. What gear are you using in that environment? I’m using the Arturia KeyLab, Ableton and a piano with foot pedals to control live effects, and the mic. Obviously my music works best in stereo, so it’s a combination of using a central PA with specific sound effects and parts being sent in surround. You have to be careful using surround in a planetarium environment because it can make people feel really confused, but it’s perfect for creating an echo that dances around the room. Emika’s new label IMPXINS: impxins.com Autumn 2020 / 37
Tall Pine Records Forest views with API Legacy — CAROLINE MOSS visits a brand new Baltic coast studio
/ The 40m2 Room B is above the control room
This was clearly a good education for Sieradzki, who today presides over Tall Pine Records in Kolbudy, 15km from Gdańsk and its international airport, on the Baltic coast in northern Poland. Painstakingly designed and built from the ground up, the studio opened its doors on 14 February 2018, a fitting date for the labour of love it embodies.
From the ground up
espite being in a rock band, Lukasz Sieradzki knew at the age of 16 that he really wanted to be on the other side of the glass in the recording studio. “I had all the trappings of a musician: the long hair, torn jeans and Converse trainers with holes, but even then, I knew I’d have more fun recording than playing,” he explains. Sieradzki’s transformation from would-be rock star to recording engineer and, more recently, studio owner began soon after this teenage epiphany with the acquisition of a Tascam Portastudio. By 1996 he was working in a local cultural centre in Kolbudy, recording performances from a tiny studio next to the
concert hall. “Acoustic treatment was based on eggboxes and foam, and the recording system was built from two Intel Pentium 486 PCs with Sound Blaster cards connected to an Allen & Heath GL2400 live mixer,” he remembers. “It was a hard time in Poland, just a few years after the fall of communism, and only public radio stations had access to Western gear, but I was young and I could only learn from my own failures.”
/ Studio owner Lukasz Sieradzki
/ Control room centrepiece — the 48-channel API Legacy AXS
38 / Autumn 2020
The idea of creating his own studio occurred to Sieradzki back in 2014, when he started to plan what this ideal facility would look like. “First of all, my idea was to build a studio in an old mill in Kolbudy or a transformer station in Gdańsk,” he says. “It turned out that we couldn’t buy and convert historic buildings into recording studios, so the most rational decision was to build the studio from scratch.”
Enter MIDI Architects run by Alicja and Piotr Karaś, who worked with acoustician Marcin Czapiewski to create the studio from the ground up. The building has been constructed on two foundations, one for the 60m2 Live Room A and the other for the 35m2 control room and 40m2 Live Room B. Czapiewski, who studied acoustics at the Wrocław University of Technology, runs his own design company, ADU Marcin Czapiewski, specialising in recording facilities, listening rooms, theatres and lecture/conference rooms. He was introduced to Sieradzki in 2015 and worked with him throughout the entire planning, design and construction of Tall Pine. “We had three main goals: a great sounding main live room with a big, rich sound, mainly for recording drums; a comfortable control room with reliable monitoring; and a world-class, state-of-the-art design,” recalls Czapiewski. “We created a spacious main live room with 7.3m-high ceiling, with lots of wood and diffusion to provide a rich, dense sound. I used CATT-Acoustic software to study the sound reflections and reverberation times, combined with spreadsheet calculations. I was also using BEM simulation software to predict and analyse the low frequency behaviour of the smaller rooms and optimise the solutions, which differed greatly between the rooms. I used slotted and perforated resonators, absorbing and hybrid-absorbing materials and diffusing elements: both geometric and reflection phase grating diffusers.” Low frequency response in the control room posed a challenge. “I was using BEM simulation software to analyse and optimise low frequency absorption types and placement, as well as loudspeaker and furniture placement, to obtain the best low frequency response possible,” he says. “Reconciling all these elements was not so easy.” Sound isolation was provided by implementing a box-in-a-box construction and floating floors for each room, with customdesigned studio windows and a high-quality ventilation system designed to be almost inaudible even flat out. The latter proved to be another challenging part of the acoustic design process, according to Czapiewski: “Designing the ventilation system was difficult due to the available space, and I have to praise my colleague Adrian Bil for his effective and creative work.” Ultimately, the architectural and acoustic teams worked closely together to solve any issues and accommodate specific criteria. “Their job wasn’t easy, but they all understood each other’s unusual requirements,” says Sieradzki. “It was only this good cooperation that allowed us to create a great sounding building without compromise.” There was no compromise either when it came to selecting a centrepiece for the control room: a 48-channel API Legacy AXS analogue console. “The API Legacy was my dream from the beginning,” says Sieradzki. “When starting this journey, we decided to use a
well-known, large-scale analogue console as the heart of our studio. Today’s market offers many good consoles, but my priority was to get the best sound and quality. When I had to buy a console there were only two options — vintage Neve or API.” Ultimately, it came down to stability. “We are quite a large, fully-booked tracking studio, so great sound alone is not enough; we needed a console which we can rely on 24 hours a day,” he says. “API could offer us a lovely, big sound and invaluable support.” This support was provided both locally, by API’s Polish distributors Henryk Krol and Mietek Felecki
from Studio DR, and by the US manufacturer itself, which sent assistant service director Phil Cappelli to Poland to oversee installation of the Legacy. This has been custom-built and is loaded with 32 212L mic preamps and 48 550 three-band EQs, and features API Final Touch moving fader automation across all 48 channels, 48 channels of EQ and a 2500 stereo bus compressor.
API dual inputs deliver analogue options
Although Sieradzki was confident of his console choice, it also held a few surprises once the
Autumn 2020 / 39
/ Plenty of ceiling height, natural light and huge control room glass
sessions started. “After a while we discovered that it offers differences compared to other consoles, mainly in routing, which gives us a lot opportunities,” he says. “The first and most important one is that it’s dual input instead of in line. This means it’s a 48-channel console that in fact has 96 channels and six stereo returns, and all of them have line inputs, giving us the ability to record simultaneously onto multitrack tape and Pro Tools, and at the same time record repro outputs from the tape machine. As a result we are recording analogue sound with digital conveniences.” The second benefit of the API Legacy for Sieradzki was having separate bus outputs from direct outputs. “API has separated these outputs so it is possible, for example, to record different signals to Pro Tools and to tape, or derive stems during mixing, and use groups for parallel compression at the same time. Moreover, if some unusual patching is needed, everything is possible, thanks to the welldeveloped patchbay. Another lovely feature of the console is the Final Touch automation; it is so easy and intuitive. After a few minutes everyone understands it and can use it, even when tracking.”
/ Outboard galore, and a 24-track 2-inch Studer A827
40 / Autumn 2020
Other key pieces of equipment are a Pro Tools Ultimate setup with HDX2 and Apogee Symphony II and Avid 192 HD A-D/D-A converters. Main studio monitors are a pair of ATC SCM110ASL Pro wall-mounted speakers. “Apart from great and true sound, these monitors are becoming more and more popular so people know what they can expect from them,” says Sieradzki. A good selection of nearfield monitors includes Barefoot MicroMain26s, Auratone 5C Super Sound Cubes and Yamaha NS10s.
Vintage gear with soul
Clients hunkered down in sessions at the remote studio will be pleased to discover that an extensive selection of outboard equipment from the likes of Chandler, Neve, Tube-Tech, Universal Audio, API, Purple Audio, Empirical Labs, dbx, Yamaha and Lexicon is at hand. Sieradzki has also stayed true to his love of vintage gear while equipping Tall Pine; classic models include a Roland RE-150 Space Echo tape delay and an EMT 140 plate reverb, the latter currently undergoing renovation. And for those clients wishing to go fully analogue, a 24-track 2-inch Studer A827 that Sieradzki
found in Paris is available. “It was working at Disney studios as a spare and it had less than 1,000 run hours,” he enthuses. “It’s in mint condition, like new, and it’s used very often. A lot of people have never had the chance to record on tape, don’t know how to do it and are afraid of the ‘restrictions’ set by analogue, but given the ability to record simultaneously to Pro Tools and tape, a lot of people decide to use it. “Vintage gear has a soul, especially the microphones. During our sessions we use mostly vintage mics, starting from classic Unidyne through to the Telefunken U47. They are not as universal and reliable as new models, but they have great character. We often have to compare and choose between a few microphones, but this always gives great results. Maybe this isn’t such a popular way of working nowadays, but in my opinion there is no such thing as a universal microphone for everything. We need to put some effort into getting good sound and choosing the best option throughout the entire signal chain.” And there are mic options aplenty at Tall Pine, catering for every musical style and taste, with cardioids, ribbons and condenser models epitomising modern and vintage technology from the likes of Neumann, AKG, Telefunken, Royer, Coles, RCA, BumbleBee, Beyerdynamic, Electro-Voice, Shure, Sennheiser, AEA, Soyuz, Flea and Dynacord. The spacious Live Room A, with its high ceiling and spectacular forest views, can accommodate smaller orchestras, live track full bands and record big rock drums. Live Room B, on a mezzanine level reached by a spiral staircase from Live Room A which it overlooks, has a height of 3.4m and has been designed to provide a natural, musical response for smaller band sessions. There is also a 15m2 isolation booth for guitar, bass cabinet and vocal work. Adding to the inspirational views from both live rooms, which reinforce a connection with nature, the entire facility is constructed from natural materials such as wood, stone and high-quality fabrics. All the hard work that has gone into the planning, design and construction of Tall Pine is borne out by the fact that since it opened, the studio has been pretty much fully booked. In addition to back-to-back sessions, Sieradzki has also been organising a series of workshops, Back To Mix School, the first of which was with Sylvia Massy. “She is a very inspiring and interesting person, from whom we have learned a lot,” he says. More than two years down the line, Sieradzki still hasn’t shaken off the initial excitement and enthusiasm of having his own studio. “Despite having done many sessions, I still feel like I did just after the opening,” he says. “It’s been a very intensive time, and it’s still developing. I’m always thinking about what can be improved, trying to collect microphones … I love it and can’t stop!” www.tallpine.pl www.milocostudios.com/studios/tall-pine-records www.studiodr.pl.
Resolution’s inspirational guitarists The death of Eddie Van Halen on the 6th Oct, and the public commentary on his legacy, reminds us virtuosity still has significance John Broomhall Guitarist Song Why
Chris Bailey Guitarist Song
Jeff Beck ‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers’ (Blow by Blow 1975) To me, a true original, an absolute one-off. Such emotion and yearning in his playing; it can be pure magic.
Emre Ramazanoglu Guitarist Song Why
Ali Farke Toure Goye Kur (The Source 1993) There’s so much great playing, his raw live recordings are really awesome. He owns the amp and drives everything from his gentle understated playing.
Nigel Jopson Guitarist Song Why
Eddie Van Halen ‘Hot for Teacher’ (1984, 1984) I was recording in the US in 1984. Eddie completely re-invented the way the guitar was played; his unique approach engendered a step-change for his contemporaries and successors. He pushed the Floyd Rose Tremolo to stardom — lock nuts and dive bombs. We take it all for granted now, but if you’d seen how other players sweated to learn his tricks, you’d understand how influential he was.
Bert Gedling Guitarist Song Why
Jim Hendrix ‘Voodoo Chile’ (Electric Ladyland 1968) My older cousins saw Hendrix at the Isle of Wight festival and bought the record. As Roger Mayer (who made Jimi’s pedals) said “Input from the player projects forward the equivalent of electronic shadow dancing”. You had to let your imagination go, to understand. The liberation of the human spirit after centuries of repression. With a wah-wah pedal.
Steve Vai Passion and Warfare 1990 This album is beyond incredible. There’s a track in there where he plays the guitar to mimic his childlike self at school in a discussion with the teacher. ‘The Audience Is Listening’ at the start. Baaaaad ass.
Photo credit: James Cumpsty
David Davies Guitarist Song Why
Allan Holdsworth ‘Tokyo Dream’ (Road Games 1983) A phenomenal grasp of chord progression and harmony means that Holdsworth’s music still sounds like no other.
Philip Newell Guitarist Song Why
Dave Mason ‘Look at You Look at Me’ (Alone Together 1973) Enormous power and fluidity under total control. It was jaw-dropping when I first heard it, and it has ever-since remained a benchmark for me.
Phil Ward Guitarist Song Why
Andy Gill ‘Paralysed’ (Gang Of Four 1981) How to make a guitar sound like you’re hammering at injustice, Thatcherism and all of society’s ills, like it’s a chisel and you’re standing at the Berlin Wall.
Guitarist Prince Song ‘Lets Go Crazy’ (Purple Rain 1984) Why This song was the gateway-drug that got me hooked on Prince, and all kinds of other stuff from there. I’d been listening mostly to prog and hair metal(!) but the iconic guitar solo in this track convinced teenage-me that eclectic was cool, and the diversity of styles on his albums at that time encouraged me to experiment with all kinds of other music.
Ed Lister Guitarist Song Why
Steve Vai ‘Tender surrender’ (The Seventh Song 2000) Simply such a ridiculous style of guitarist you can’t not love, this track (and all of his to be honest) are so unique in style and over the top technique you just drift away feeing like you’re listening on another planet! Perfect escapism for 2020!
David Hadzis Guitarist Song Why
Henri Don Jeany ‘The Rainbow’ (Living for Today, 2017) I was lucky to book and record South African guitar player Henri Don Jeany (who had toured with BB King) while producing a new Tony Hatch song for Petula Clark. He has the feel, the groove, and he understood it all… Autumn 2020 / 41
/ Ten discrete PMC Wafer 2 monitors reproduce surround and height channels
Dean Street Studios Iconic London studio installs PMC Dolby Atmos — BERT GEDLING finds the future is immersive
ondon’s Dean Street Studios is one of the most successful independent music recording studios in the UK, and also one with an incredible history. Music legends such as David Bowie, T Rex, Ed Sheeran and Adele have recorded some of their biggest hits in this Soho-based facility and throughout all its incarnations, under various different owners, it has maintained an enviable reputation as an enjoyable and inspiration place to work. But as Percy Bysshe Shelly says: “nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been rested on”, and just because a studio has an incredible history does not mean it can afford to stand still. Dean Street Studio’s owners, mother and daughter partnership Jasmin Lee and Suzanne Lee Barnes, are fully aware of this, which is why they are taking a gamble and embracing Dolby Atmos for music, the immersive audio format that goes beyond stereo and surround sound to allow artists to create content in a threedimensional soundscape, independent of channels. For this project, which involved the complete refit of Studio 1, the pair have joined forces with Dean Street’s Technical and Creative Director, Jan ‘Stan’ Kybert, to form a new 42 / Autumn 2020
company, ATMOSferix. This has funded the investment in new equipment and will spearhead the development of Dean Street’s Dolby Atmos music mixing business. “We are very excited about this new format and have ambitious plans for the future that go well beyond the refit of Studio 1,” Jasmin Lee says. “Dolby Atmos is the future for the music industry and an incredible business opportunity. Dean Street’s independent ethos and long-term commitment to supporting artists and producers makes us ideally placed to promote this new format and give our customers access to brand-new, world-class technologies.” First developed for feature film and TV content, Dolby launched Dolby Atmos six years ago and it rapidly became the leading immersive audio technology, embraced by key players such as Hollywood, Netflix, Sky, Disney+ and AppleTV+. Given this success, it was inevitable that Dolby would eventually turn its attention to music. Initially working closely with music labels and selected artists such as REM, Imagine Dragons, Queen and Kiss on blu-ray releases, in 2019 Dolby announced a strategic partnership with Universal Music Group and
launched Dolby Atmos Music on services from Amazon Music HD and Tidal. Abbey Road Studios and other UMG owned studios such as Capitol in Los Angeles now have Dolby Atmos Music mix suites making a growing number of tracks available to stream in Dolby Atmos. Unlike 5.1, which never really took off with consumers as a music format, immersive audio does look like a winner — not least because it has the benefit of time on its side. The technology for both creating and distributing immersive audio has moved on and there is also much more of a push from equipment manufacturers and labels alike to see this format succeed. It’s no longer just a question of consumers needing a high end home theatre set up to enjoy the experience — with products such as the Amazon Echo Studio delivering via up-firing speakers and headphone playbacks for people who like to stream tracks while on the move, there is little doubt that this time round immersive audio for music will happen.
Dolby Atmos for music
The decision to make Dean Street Studios a Dolby Atmos Music facility was taken during the COVID-19 lockdown when Suzanne and Jasmin had time to reflect on where they wanted to take the business. During this time Chris Allen, Business Development Manager at UK loudspeaker manufacturer PMC, was working with Dean Street Studio’s technician (and owner of the revered Analogue Tube brand) Simon Saywood to review the monitoring in Studio 1. He highlighted the Atmos format and the momentum it was gaining, particularly in the USA, for music mixing. “As I was aware of the trajectory of Dolby Atmos and how it was being implemented for mixing music, and also of the commitment by labels and output/streaming services to produce content - and the ability to deliver the format easily to consumers - it would have been foolish to not have at least explored Atmos as part of Dean Street’s relaunch,” Chris Allen says. “Dolby Atmos for music is a format PMC has been heavily involved in for years, and we are very confident in the technology and the opportunities it can open up creatively and commercially. Jazz, Suzanne and the Dean Street are forward-thinking and after various
discussions and meetings, it was clear Dolby Atmos was as forward as it gets!” Suzanne adds: “We had never heard of Dolby Atmos for music before, but the more we looked into it, the more convinced we became that this brand new technology was the future for music. What we saw was a really good business opportunity and as we were in lockdown, it was the perfect time to redesign the studio and make it happen.” Allen brought in the expertise of Maurice Patist, President of PMC USA, who was ideally placed to support the project having driven and designed PMC’s Dolby Atmos projects throughout the USA — the forefront of Dolby Atmos for music mixing. For some years Patist, supported by PMC’s owner Peter Thomas, has been quietly cooperating with Dolby and Universal Music Group/Capitol Studios to further the cause of immersive audio and work out how to adapt Dolby Atmos to a music environment. Capitol’s Studio C was the first UMG facility to incorporate a PMC-based Dolby Atmos system and it was during that refit that PMC, Dolby and UMG all learned a great deal about optimal speaker placement for the format. “Placing the surround and height speakers is key because they need to voice identically with the speakers at the front,” Maurice explains. “It depends on room dimensions as every facility is different but the same LCR+Sub configuration, with variations in the sides and heights, is now the blueprint for every Dolby Atmos room we specify. We also use PMC Wafer flat-panels and disguise them by removing the in-wall grille and covering them with acoustic fabric, then fine tuning to see how much they need boosting. This stops the room from feeling oppressively filled with speakers — when you walk into a PMC-equipped Dolby Atmos room you would never know that there are 10 speakers hidden behind the walls.” Convinced by the business argument, Dean
/ Jonny Solway, Dean Street’s head engineer, with Creative Director (and Paul Weller producer) Jan ‘Stan’ Kybert
Street Studios began revamping its main Studio 1 control room — a project that was overseen by Jonny Solway, Dean Street’s head engineer. It is now the first independent music recording facility in the UK to install a PMC loudspeaker system for Dolby Atmos. The system comprises PMC’s flagship IB2S XBD-A active monitors covering left and right main channels, an IB2S-A monitor for the centre channel, 10 discrete Wafer2 loudspeakers for surround and height channels and four sub2 subwoofers, This exactly replicates the PMC systems at Capitol and thanks to its almost limitless headroom, power capabilities, accuracy and sonic fidelity, it goes well beyond Dolby’s minimum requirements.
Positive change for the future
Carrying out a big refit to Studio 1 was a real leap of faith for the Dean Street team because, apart from a few cosmetic tweaks, the room hadn’t fundament changed since it was owned by top producer, Tony Visconti. After starting out as a film audio facility in the 1950s, the premises was transformed into a music facility in 1976 when Visconti opened Good Earth Studios. Described as one of the most important producers in the history of rock, Visconti recorded many music legends there, including David Bowie, T-Rex, Thin Lizzy and U2. Artists such as Tina Turner, Wham!, The Smiths and Duran Duran would also hire out the studios independently to record.
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Autumn 2020 / 43
Robert Stephens, Harry Enfield, Julian Clary and Pete Postlethwaite. We can also lay claim to a bit of magic because Stephen Fry recorded the Harry Potter audio books within these walls!” In purely physical terms, Studio 1’s refit was a massive undertaking because it involved the total gutting and reconfiguration of the control room so that it could handle both stereo and Dolby Atmos projects. “It was time to make the changes — the room was definitely tired - but it was quite a hard decision to make because of its history,” Jasmin says. As well as new acoustic treatment, Dean Street put in new fabric and raised the bulkhead to accommodate the PMC IB2S XBD-A monitors. The old monitors were moved into Studio 4, giving the facility a secondary control room and effectively doubling the potential of its business as it can now have two different projects going on at the same time. Other new equipment included a Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite install based on a Focusrite PCIeR card on a Mac Mini running through an Avid MTRX for routing and speaker calibration. “Aesthetically, Studio 1 looks incredible because you are not met by a wall of speakers when you walk in,” Jasmin adds. “A lot of the new PMC wafer monitors are hidden behind the fabric, which means it doesn’t feel overbearing.”
/ Immersive mixing with Dolby Atmos renderer
In 1989, Visconti sold the lease to music production company Joe & Co. who developed some of the premises into music recording and production suites. During this time, the likes of Robert Plant, Pink Floyd, Tim Finn, Brian Molko, Bruce Hornsby and Cliff Richard all worked in Studio 1, which Joe & Co had left intact. It was also the venue for the late, great Dusty Springfield’s last ever recording, which took place in 1995. In 2007, the facility once again changed hands — this time bought by Suzanne and Jasmin, who created today’s Dean St.
Studios and have gone on to host sessions for artists such as Adele, Noel Gallagher, John Legend, Florence + the Machine, Plan B, Tom Odell, Take That and Jonas Blue. They have also built a strong reputation for providing a great service to the recording community, with many artists seeing Dean St. as their recording home from home. “The history of the studios isn’t completely made up of musicians,” Suzanne says. “In fact, some of the greatest actors have read here, including Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ben Kingsley,
Open for business
With the studio now open for business — it officially opened in September - Stan Kybert, Dean Street’s creative director and third partner in ATMOSferix, is taking charge by working with various producers, artists and record labels to introduce them to the creative possibilities of the new format. As the lead mix engineer for Dolby Atmos, he is approaching each mix as a unique project and, where possible, operating alongside the artists and producers responsible for the original recordings. With projects for
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/ Dean Street owners, mother and daughter partnership Jasmin Lee and Suzanne Lee Barnes (with “Big Red” the 335)
high calibre artists such as Paul Weller, Oasis and Massive Attack, to his name Stan is ideally placed to further the ambitions of Dean Street and its Dolby Atmos Music facilities. “Dolby Atmos Music is a very exciting format because it gives artists a platform to expand their creative possibilities,” he says. “It also allows listeners to connect more deeply with their favourite artists and songs by placing them in the centre of an immersive soundscape. You feel the music in a whole new way and hear it with unparalleled clarity, which allows you to discover hidden subtleties with true fidelity.” Stan adds that the PMC monitoring system is an integral piece of the Dolby Atmos puzzle because it is so user friendly. “The Dolby Atmos journey provides a lot of creative and technical opportunities and PMC made some bold
/ PMC IB2S XBD-A active monitors covers left and right with an IB2S-A monitor for the centre
promises, which they delivered on,” he says. “It is early days but I could not be happier with the sound of the system, and the support we have received from the team at PMC.” Being one of the first to adopt a new format is always risky but Jasmin, Suzanne and Stan are all convinced that Dolby Atmos Music is the future and that being at the forefront is the right move for Dean Street Studios. “Mixing music in Dolby Atmos is not the same as mixing a Dolby Atmos film or TV programme because there is no formula for music — every project has to be approached in a unique way,” Jasmin explains. “That’s what makes it so innovative. You have free rein to be as creative as you like and once artists and producer realise what is possible, they will want to be very hands on with the process. As Dean
St. Studios is a music production studio run by music people, we are perfectly positioned to help them. Everyone here has a rich heritage in creating music and our ethos is very much artist-lead. We have experienced engineers and producers, but our focus is working together with the artist to realise their creative vision.” Suzanne adds: “A love of music is at the heart of everything we do at Dean Street and the creative possibilities of Dolby Atmos are incredibly exciting. Immersive audio allows consumers to feel truly part of the music by putting them right in the middle of the sound and right in the middle of a band or an orchestra. Who wouldn’t want to experience their music like that — especially in this postCOVID world where live events are basically off the agenda?”.
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Autumn 2020 / 45
To start the project we had Joe Cassidy composing in Chicago, creative directors Rob Ruffler and David Lui of AFVR in New York, Paul Esteves animating in Munich, Bernd Mazagg technical director of Synchron Stage, Vienna for the Synchron Stage Orchestra session, me in Twickenham for the voice recording session, Robert Marshall (CSO) in Chicago for the final mix, and Rebekah Wilson (CEO), temporarily located in Portugal.
The Orchestra Recording
Once the animation was ‘somewhat virtually locked’ and the music was composed and mocked-up by Joe, the orchestration by Musical Director Trevor Grahl began. The orchestra players and the conductor Johannes Vogel were booked with the kind help of Josy Svadja, Synchron Stage’s sales manager. A plan was made with Bernd and Synchron mixer Tristan Lindton for the following workflow.
Is it remotely possible? Source-Live LL — MIKE AITON records in seven countries with low latency
n September 2020 Source Elements, as a developer of remote collaboration solutions, were approached by the AES to have a presentation slot on the COVID-induced ‘Virtual’ AES Conference. Source Elements had previously decided to commission an animated bumper to top-and-tail some promotional video material. Founder Rebekah Wilson, with her background as a trained composer, wanted to use ‘the ultimate in instrumentation’: Vienna’s Synchron Stage Orchestra in surround! Could Source Elements compose and then record the orchestra in 5.1, with clients and creatives in seven different countries and multiple time zones, while simultaneously making a 40-minute documentary film for the AES about how it was done? This would be an ideal way to test Source Elements’ new collaboration solutions. Could this challenge be humanly possible in just two weeks?
1) the graphical design and animation elements 2) music composition 3) recording of the orchestra in surround 4) voiceover recording 5) music edit and music mix 6) sound design 7) final mix of the 30 second bumper in 5.1 and 2.0 to multiple loudness specifications; for the AES documentary film, social media platforms/ web use, and any possible tv/media use in the future.
46 / Autumn 2020
Robert and Joe, together at Robert’s Chicago studio Sum1, would connect to Synchron Stage with Source-Connect Pro X (both ends), so that Synchron could send Robert 5.1 audio. Because they were also linked via RTS (Source Connect’s Remote Transport Sync), the stage could control Robert’s Pro Tools transport and therefore his video playback. In this ‘RTS Review mode’, the stage’s audio would arrive correctly timed to Robert’s video playback and his Pro Tools record. Because of the complex nature of the orchestra session, Synchron were also recording all the clean multitrack instrument mics as well as the 5.1 and 2.0 mix in their own Pro Tools session. Robert and Joe had a technical switched talkback to the stage control room, up the reverse direction of the Source-Connect connection. The rest of the crew: Harry Waagner (project consultant) in Chicago, Margarida Alfeirao (Source Elements co-ordinator)in Portugal, Rebekah (CEO & ‘the client’) in Portugal, Trevor in Dusseldorf, and me in London, were chipping in from the ‘2.0 stereo cheap seats’ via Chrome web browsers. We were experiencing the event courtesy of the very exciting and brand new Source-Live LL (Low Latency) software. This software allows the remote end to transmit an almost instantaneous HD picture and stereo audio feed via its servers to the attendees. There is a webchat and a video chat section ‘The Gateway’) on the Chrome browser page where everyone can conference chat (with echo cancellation). There is no conference patching to do whatsoever. The transmission stream and the gateway are totally private and encrypted with a software key (changeable every time you transmit), generated by the person transmitting. There can be no unwelcome Zoom-like ‘video bombing’ by strangers.
SL-LL pictures can be up to 1920x1080 HD (up to 60fps) and the stereo audio feed is ultra-high-quality. The stereo transmission programme stream can have different audio outputs to the video chat audio outputs, so that you can set independent levels in Pro Tools (or your mixer of choice), and/or route the different feeds to different destinations. For example, you can route the programme feed to your monitoring and the video chat audio to your headphones or mini talkback speaker. Unlike Zoom or Skype the video quality does not affect the audio bandwidth and leave you with the horrendous audio artefacts that we have become all too familiar with. The audio quality is so good that when Trevor asked the orchestra to improvise over a few bars for a creative reason, he could actually hear one of the violin desks whispering to their partner “they want us to do what?” Because the propagation delay is only about 1/3 of a second (faster than some phone connections) it allows all the participants to be very involved in the session. It’s just like real time and as close to actually being there as you can get. When the monitoring is this good, it totally removes the barrier of distance, as you can see and hear everything. The conductor was talking to us down the programme TX feed and we were replying in the Gateway chat. I found it very novel to be directly asking Johannes the orchestra conductor from my perch in Twickenham to slow down over certain bars so as to fit the picture edit better, and to discuss maybe changing the beaters on the timpani with Trevor and Johannes to avoid frequency clashing with the voiceover. I really feel like I have been to Vienna and visited Synchron Stage now.
producer for the AES documentary film, and Alessandra Cernic in Padua, Italy started editing the Orchestra recording footage on DaVinci Resolve. I started writing the scripts for the voice recording session and planning the voice session with Robert. We still had not chosen a voice artist, so we put out a call to our fantastic ‘voice over artist’ clients to see if any of them would like to audition. We finally chose Somerset Arnold, a young voice actor from Melbourne (daughter of Aussie voice legend Andrew Peters) who had that ‘cool something’ that Rebekah and Robert were looking for.
Voice recording session — no DAW required
For the voice record I connected to Somerset in Melbourne with my Source Connect Pro X and Somerset’s Source-Connect Standard at 96kBps AAC (ISDN top quality). For Somerset’s picture playback we used Source RTL (Remote Time Line), a brand-new video playback solution for those without a DAW like Pro Tools who want to be able to voice to picture (ADR).
AES Production Starts
During the orchestra recording session, we had Martin Pauser as our Vienna Cinematographer and Dave Metzger at Sum1 in Chicago with Robert & Joe to video their end. Some of us were also recording our clean webcams for inclusion into the AES documentary. Around this time Melanie Horkin from Sydney joined the team as the
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To do this, I opened ‘Source-RTL Creator’ at my studio, grabbed the video file I was using in my Pro Tools timeline, and added this file to RTL Creator. It asks for a timecode position to place the file at (creating a mirror of my Pro Tools video timeline), and then a passkey, so the resultant file will be encrypted and safe during transit, and only accessible to those with the passkey. It then wraps the video file into a zip file which you can send via your preferred transfer method of choice. When Somerset downloaded the zip file and unwrapped it, she had a small piece of software that required no installation whatsoever that acts as the video player. She then just had to drag and drop the video file onto the player, and it opened a video playback screen. She then just selected RECEIVE in her Source-Connect Remote Transport Sync, and the RTS would control her video timeline. Audio from her RTL video played back to her headphones. On my SC Pro X I selected “SEND” in RTS (Remote Transport Sync) panel. I sent her ‘play’ commands from my RTS transport in SC, her RTS transport (and therefore her RTL video) went into play and sent me back positional information of where she was, which I would then chase. So effectively she was the timecode master which I was slaving to, but I was in control of playback states. This is identical to 9-pin control of a video machine from a DAW, where you control it, but actually lock to it.
Somerset would perform to her pictures and local audio, from her RTL video, and I would hear her performance through SC, but with RTL positional info to chase to — so I would see her performance at the same video time as she performed to. For the voice record, Robert was the client and was supervising at Sum1 in Chicago. He needed to hear Somerset’s recordings and playbacks against the HD pictures, and also be able to direct or give client notes to Somerset and me. I used Source-Live LL to transmit HD pictures and high-quality audio to Robert on the programme stream, and we could video chat on the gateway with each other. I also fed the gateway audio chat feed output to Somerset, so that she could hear Robert. She could talk to me via SC and reply to Robert down the programme audio stream. Everyone could hear everyone else without any tedious clean feed patching matrix.
frame of buffer (we were working at 30fps); therefore, the delay between each other was a frame plus our local ping times (12ms for me) and some miniscule A-D and D-A conversion time. We were therefore taking to each other 19,000 miles across the globe with barely 2 frames of delay — truly outstanding! The other really nifty thing we did was use the SC Q Manager for a ‘restore session’. This meant that if there were any perturbations in the internet and I missed any data packets (I was using an incredibly low buffer to try and get some missed data for demo purposes), it would automatically be fixed. Somerset’s Q Manager would see what data was being sent and would check with my local Q Manager what data I had actually recorded. If it sensed a difference (i.e. I was missing packets of data) then it would automatically send the missing data (with no effort on my part) and place ‘Restore’ the missing data to my audio file recorded by Pro Tools.
The Q Manager can also be set to do a ‘Replace session’. This is very useful for when you are connecting to a location with dodgy internet. You can record the lower quality monitoring feed, and when you have finished your session, the Q manager will replace all the low bandwidth audio in your session with the high-quality uncompressed source recordings made at the remote end, all while you get taken to lunch with your lovely clients! It’s like having an efficient Pro Tools assistant for free — what’s not to love? Once the voice session was completed, I sent the edited Pro Tools session to Robert in Chicago with a spreadsheet of my notes of the preferred takes and the inevitable on-the-fly session script changes.
Virtual Music Edit Session in Chicago
Just after the voice recording session, Joe and Robert worked together on selecting the best music takes. They started this informal session between their two locations on the phone, and organically decided to continue on the phone. They connected via Source Connect so that Joe could play Robert the takes and show him the separation of the clean multitrack mics. Joe sent Robert a quick and easy RTL video (the same as the voice over recording session with Somerset) for RTS video playback.
The AES documentary production
Whilst the music session was happening we augmented our video editing team with Paul Johnson in Hertfordshire. Paul was working with me editing the VO recording workflow story in Adobe Premiere, and he made most of the After Effects motion graphics used in this article from my badly drawn & incoherent pencil sketches. Melanie Horkin (Producing the video from Sydney) and I would have early morning and late night (UK) editorial and workflow discussions, often with Rebekah from Portugal. We were falling slightly behind schedule on the editing, so we added Kris Rowe in Sydney so that we could use world time to our advantage and be editing (in parallel) in London and Sydney for 24 hours a day! Kris edited on Adobe Premiere so that she could share graphics, grading information and Paul’s edit project. I had turned my buffer down on SC Pro X to 40ms (because I could, as I have fast internet), so that my conversation to Somerset had just over a 48 / Autumn 2020
Prep For The Final Mix
Robert had to build his 5.1 Pro Tools mix session (that could also downmix to 2.0) from 30 stems of orchestra (not all 180 separate mics), 30-40
tracks of stereo temp sound design from me, his 20 or so sound design tracks and about 25 voice record tracks of three different scripts (plus all his own reverbs and effects). Again, we would use Source-Live LL as the gateway to work in real time, at one point with Rebekah in a car park on her cell phone.
AES documentary & virtual editing
The plan was that as each section of the film locked we would have an AAF exported from the NLE and mix that section whilst further off-lining or the online was happening. We could then bolt the sections together for the final programme. Sections of the film started arriving for me to mix, whilst I was editing with Paul. Rather than me going to Hertfordshire for the edit, we were using Source-Live LL for the edit, so that I could see Paul’s Premiere/After Effects timeline in HD and hear his monitor mix in stereo. This was just like sitting next to him and working together. The first ever Source-virtual multi-cam edit! Paul didn’t have a webcam, so I used his Facetime audio output and put his Facetime camera output on my screen. The great thing was I could view bits with him, discuss them together and rough cut, and then leave him to refine them, while I got on with mixing some of the sections of the documentary.
Final mix session
The final mix for the animation was the encore and final party piece for Source-Live LL and the Gateway. Robert was driving the mix from Sum1
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in downtown Chicago, I was joining from London, Joe was joining from another part of Chicago, Rebekah was driving from Portugal to Spain, and joined us on her cell from a car park. It was quite something for Rebekah to see HD pictures of the animation with the final mix and approve it on her iphone. Robert delivered final mixes in 5.1 and 2.0 for the AES (Loudness correct), and for web.
This has been a very intense but fun project and I have met some amazing people, shared some amazing experiences, laughed, eaten too many biscuits and thoroughly enjoyed using some of the most exciting and game-changing new software, thrashing it to within an inch of its life. Source Elements are making revolutionary tools today that will change your tomorrow. Join the global creative village and enjoy the party — going to need more biscuits!
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Autumn 2020 / 49
A Day in the Life
Thor McIntyre-Burnie Sound installation artist, sound designer and director of public arts company Aswarm — is he out of his tree?
.30am and I don’t feel I slept a wink, the night serenaded by rain drops falling from the canopy above onto this tin caravan roof; I’m also feeling somewhat invigorated, because I’m out working in the wilderness with an amazing company of creative folk for ten days in the whirligig woods of Cheshire. 8am We have four vertical dancers (aerialists), to rig on counterbalance lines from a glorious 500 year-old oak, but before that myself and rigger Simon have to figure out how to get six speakers 30’ up into its canopy. I want to animate this tree with periphonic sound. I’m here with one of the UK’s most experienced aerial dancer/ choreographers Lindsey Butcher, and we’re collaborating, co-directing a week of R&D for a project called A Heightened Sense of Tree. An idea inspired both by the concept of ‘Psithurism’ (the sound of wind in trees) and Lindsey’s performing in Canadian Red woods. We received Arts Council funding, initially in partnership with the National Trust in the New Forest.. 9am I’ve positioned two RCF Monitor 8s, one at the root bass, and one 20’ up the trunk, these will provide the core vertical plane and the 8” drivers some sub heft. Rigger Simon flings throw lines out from 40’ up in the canopy to midway along the taller branches, from which we haul up RCF Monitor 5s, then two lighter Control Ones on lower, wider, outrigging branches. The effect is the ability to shift sound up from the roots out to the branches, mimicking the tree 50 / Autumn 2020
sap path, and suck sound in like CO2 from the leaves down into the roots. Perched atop on old school desk rigged with an umbrella taped to a stick that fits perfectly into the ink well (it’s the little things), my MacBook pro, Logic and trusty old FA-101 soundcard fire up, and with a ‘whoop’ of delight it works! Although it is of course only one of ten different trees we’ll be working with — octopus week! In this instance my aim is to animate the tree so that it can work both as a stand-alone installation to walk around and also for the dancers to perform within. This illustrates my work with sound. I work best site-responsively. My career grew from pulling apart old TV’s on a Fine Art Degree in the ‘90s and becoming fascinated by how sound, when separated from its complicit partner of the screen, works with places, objects and context — and then how multiple channels of sound can create scenarios for audiences to walk within and ‘physically explore’ listening. A Music Tech course later I found myself doing a second line of work, sound design for theatre, dance and son et lumière in the arts festival sector, currently scuppered by COVID… 12 noon and I’m trying to squeeze in a group Skype meeting before lunch, about another project marking the 40th anniversary of the Brixton uprising of 1981, with Border Crossing Festival bringing Aboriginal Australian song writer Jessie Lloyd to work with Asher Senator (Smiley Culture) and various local groups. My task being to create a way for songs, cultural stories and voices to permeate from a network of key buildings. I’m trying to articulate how a combination of GPS-tagged audio apps and Aboriginal inspired painting on the pavement could work, when I realise my battery charging cable has failed and I’ve left the caravan door open… amidst a flurry of feathers, squawks, expletives and apologies, I try unsuccessfully to flush two over inquisitive chickens out, as my phone battery goes… 2pm I’m in a circle of tree’s trying to record a poet in between rain showers before his train departs. The aim being to cut-up his prose around a circle of speakers positioned at the base of each
tree, that will respond to a suspended speaker and 18” cymbal (with transducer) which swing like two pendulums in the circle between, from a catenary between trees high above. I’m enjoying how the recorded patter of rain on leaves phases between these two oscillating sources, the latter percussively playing the cymbal with rain both live and recorded. 6pm I’m being hauled up a line, back in the old Oak, juggling a Sennheiser 416 on a pole, MKE Platinum lavs on my head exploring the spatial soundscape: sub aqua water gurgles up the trunk, single thuds and pops of small pyro (which I recorded in a tube) burst up and whistle out onto the limbs, as long breaths (recorded in a hugely resonant space in Lebanon years earlier) suck air in, down, and out — like the tree breathing. Up here floating in the canopy, my thoughts turn to a concurrent project inspired by the altered sense of hearing lockdown gave us — The Diasonix Project. An online activity and game which asks two isolated people to play a form of ‘spot the difference’, but with their ears, each listening to one side of a pair of soundscapes with subtle differences between them. Created by five sound artists I commissioned with the help of emergency ACE funding in response to how they were hearing the world differently during lockdown. The project is an attempt to explore new ways of working with disparate ‘self-isolating’ audiences. Now I want to make a soundscape from up here! 11pm Having successfully tried plunging and then hauling an upturned dancer headfirst into a vat of water, side-lit, so that drips fall from her hair like an inked brush tracing the trunk, we’ve found an image that works gorgeously with the sound. Now for steaming mugs, boots too close to the fire, deadcat windshields under redhead lamps — perusing forecasts and plotting the next day ahead. Thor’s Website: www.aswarm.com Diasonix project: www.aswarm.com/diasonix2/
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Audio for broadcast, post, recording and media production. If you are involved in recording, postproduction, broadcast, mastering or multime...
Published on Nov 3, 2020
Audio for broadcast, post, recording and media production. If you are involved in recording, postproduction, broadcast, mastering or multime...