Archive for the ‘recording’ Category

two down, two to go

Anyone following the petition-to-SFWA flap should read John Scalzi’s post this morning for some useful advice.

Yesterday’s hammer dulcimer recording session went very well; we have two more tunes in the can, one really on the first take – Ellen comes in prepared – though we took a couple more as well, just to be safe. She can’t be back in until late March, though. Still, it’s not like we lack work to do.

It is nice finally seeing the Big Board start to turn blue, I have to say. (It’s colour-coded; blue means completed work.)

Today is more eye-surgery follow-up, so I’ll be OOS (Out Of Studio) all day. Hi ho, needs must and all that. See you tomorrow!

a Mystery Instrument hint

Nobody’s figured out what instrument I turned into a fake double-bass with processing tricks in the instrumental recording I posted last week. So here’s a hint – no, wait, two hints:

1. A couple of people have been close, in the sense of being in the right category of instrument. But in each case, they’ve wandered away again by adding on to their initial guess.

2. Directly relevant to clue 1: yes, it sounds bowed. That does not mean the original instrument actually was bowed, and, in fact, it wasn’t. That’s one reason why it’s so amazing. XD

And, of course, from the first post, I repeat:

0. It’s not synthetic, and it’s not a double-bass.

This is a contest, so here’s where you can listen to the tracks, and also the tiny rules list, which is tiny.

proof of work

I’m sick of talking about eye surgery and all that other crap. Remember the Bone Walker/Free Court of Seattle soundtrack album? Here, have a sneak preview work track – it’s the Irish tunes set which goes with Chapter 23 of Faerie Blood:

Normally I wouldn’t throw a work track out there, not even as a sneak preview, but yeah. This is missing the percussion, a male voice counting in individual tunes in Gaelic (because plot reasons), some chimes, and final assembly, but it has the right shape. You can see what rough beast caleighs its way towards Newfoundland in this.

That’s Ellen Eades on hammer dulcimer, Sunnie Larsen on fiddle, me on mandolin and Irish bozouki, and…

You may notice also notice a bass instrument in there. I’ve posted it separately:

I am so pleased with myself over this entirely accidental discovery. Everyone I’ve played it for has guessed standup bass or double-bass (including a professional cellist), but give your opinion; then guess what it actually is. I dare you. I double dog dare you.

I’ll tell you this much: it’s not synthetic, and it’s not a double-bass.

Actually, should I make this a contest? I haven’t done a contest in forever. First person to guess right – WHO HASN’T ALREADY BEEN TOLD AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE – gets a download of any album I have on Bandcamp, including this one once it comes out, which it hasn’t yet. Go!

oh it went up already

I mentioned in that last post being miced up – excuse me, apparently, miked* up – and surrounded by drums, which was making it hard to use the keyboard on my studio’s digital audio workstation.

This is why. I’ve been talking about doing a bunch of engineering for Leannan Sidhe recently, but the whole “possibly doing a guest appearance on their album” thing has gone unsaid – well, until now.

I was the turkey the WHOLE TIME!

Sadly, it is not the return of Fake Drumkit. It’s two tracks of bodhran (tuned differently and effected quite differently), two kinds of bells (Chinese and African), and a ratchet noisemaker which sounds a little like kokiriko, but with more harshness. If anything, the result is a little bit kabuki; I was afraid they’d find it a little sparse and alien. But they liked the test mix I sent over last weekend so much that they said it might not even need cello! And everything they do has cello. So we’re on.

The song is called “Once More,” and it’ll be on the album Mine to Love. They have the money to complete recording and mixing, but are a little short on funds for mastering and replication, so have a campaign going for that. You want to hear it? Awesome. Help them pay me. XD

*: Goddamn, English is stupid. Is there a K in microphone? No. Do you call it a mik? No. You call it a mic. And yet.

proving ground

Today I get to do something new: mic a violin.

A lot of people out there have posted techniques on micing violins in the studio, and you can read a lot of ideas a lot of different places, but most of them come down to variations on the several shown at this Michigan Tech page. I don’t have a $2000 microphone shown in the photos to do this with, but I have some decent mics. That’s not the scary part.

The scary part is that most of these mic placements are quite a bit more distant from instrument than I’m used to using. Only one of them is really what I think of as close-micing; there’s a little to a lot of distance in every other one, which means there’s a little bit more of the room in every one. The space is going to be involved, as part of the instrument recording.

Now, as regular readers of this blog know, I’ve spent a lot of time working on this studio. You might remember this 360° turnaround video I posted, showing sound baffles I’ve made and placed; but click on the DIY category to see lots more. The goal has been to make the room better in every respect – evening its reflectiveness out, quietening it, blocking more outside noise, all that – but it’s also been about making it at least theoretically possible to do medium-distance micing.

Not this distant. But I may have a new project.

You see, for Dick Tracy Must Die, I couldn’t distance mic anything. I tried; a little of the distance-miced bamboo percussion stayed in (mostly in “When You Leave“), but almost all of that album was either close-micing or direct input. For Cracksman Betty, I had a little more breathing space – but not much. Only recently have I been able to put more distance between instrument and microphone.

Today’s the day I find out whether that all that work actually pays off. Can I really distance mic in here?

I sure hope so, because I need to. Let’s find out.

ps: I’ve been thinking of renaming this Supervillain Studios, instead of Criminal. I think it sounds cooler. Also, hey, I don’t just have a heat ray anymore, I have the Rainmaker, and multimonitor setups with mecha arms are pretty awesome – it may finally be worthy of the name Supervillain. Whaddya think, Minions?

last call for 2012

Last call for 2012! I should do some sort of big end-of-the-year recap post, and probably will on Monday, even though I’d actually rather talk about the 48fps 3D The Hobbit. There’s a lot to say, and some similarities to the arrival of colour in the black-and-white era. But that’ll have to wait until Wednesday, if I want that wrap-up post.

Or not. I may get ambitious. Hey, anything’s possible, don’t laugh. Just because I’ve been putting in 12 to 16 hour days in the Lair’s studio working on the next Leannan Sidhe album and a little on the Bone Walker soundtrack, that doesn’t mean I’m too wrung out to get anything done.

This party can’t be over, there’s still Scotch!

Or maybe it does, I dunno. XD

Talking of, Leannan Sidhe have gone home, to take a break for a few days and warm up for the next round in a week. Henchies are busy working on resetting the guest dormitory. The fairies are pretty neat, but the orcs, well, their ability to party is well known and well deserved.

Sunday readers, I wanted to throw out a last call for discounted physical CDs of Dick Tracy Must Die and Cracksman Betty. Free shipping in North America, even. But only until the first, so move fast. End of year sale and all that, eh? Just for you.

Finally, does your browser support the new WebAudio API? Check out this awesome shit. It’s a reimplementation of some BBC Radiophonic Workshop tools in WebAudio, from the BBC itself. Somebody test this and tell me how it works, I don’t want to install Chrome. But it sure looks cool.

all about the learning tracks

Productive we so far; we got the last of Leannan Sidhe’s major guitar recording down in the lair. Still a few drop-ins to do, and fixes, but the heavy lifting in guitar is over. Yay!

Today, I’m busy building out melody parts for the Free Court of Seattle soundtrack album. I made learning tracks for the traditional music a couple of weeks ago, for the other musicians appearing on the album, but the fight scene set is really difficult to understand, so…

…I might explain what a learning track is. And a set, for that matter.

Okay! So, the basic element of Irish music is the “tune.” It’s a melody, typically in repeating parts (A/B, often A/B/C, sometimes A/B/C/D or more) which may and may not have basic chord and/or drum accompaniment. The melody is the defining element of the tune; the rest is optional. Here’s an example tune:

A set is simply a collection of tunes arranged together into a longer piece. As in hiphop, flow is critical, tho’ instead of lyric flow it’s melodic flow. These were historically performed in participatory playing circles, at pubs, in sessions. Those tend to look a bit like this:

The learning tracks I’ve been working on are rough mockups of some of the sets which will be appearing on the Free Court of Seattle book series soundtrack. (The link is to Book 1 on Amazon; also in print, B&N/Nook, and Kobo). You build learning tracks by taking other peoples’ performances and editing them together into a single recording that can be studied and learned from.

Most of the sets for this album are traditional; that’s intentional, being the music that informs the early parts of the book series. But for one set – for a conflict scene involving kitsune, a dragon, Our Heroes, and so on – we’re bringing in some Japanese traditional music.

To make this melding work, I’ve written a variation on one of the Irish standards as a bridging piece, and am not so much building a set as arranging the elements like one would for an orchestral piece. It’s… complicated.

And since some of this has never been recorded by anyone – my March towards Lisdoonvarna, mostly – the current learning track is a hideous mashup of flute and taiko, bagpipes and accordion, and me whistling something nobody’s heard before into a microphone.

Worst. Learning track. Evar. It’s totally incoherent.

So I’m currently learning all of these parts the hard way, and playing them on bouzouki. Once it’s all on the same instrument, it makes a lot more sense. But I’m not traditionally a big melody player on strings, which means I’m learning! new! skills! and means it’s taking for-bloody-evar.

But it’ll be cool.

Finally, a reminder from the Guild: don’t let the supervillain get bored. All CDs are on sale, so give them to friends and rivals, frenemies and nemeses, and help spread the rage. Besides, we need the money to record our new music. We can steal everything but time, and it’s just plain faster sometimes to buy things, you know? I mean honestly, who wants to spend time planning the grand supertheft of a breakfast bagel? I have better things to do. Or worse. Muah ha ha.

a few micing examples

First: there is no joy in birdtown, my instruments (and electronics and backpack) are still lost. See here for details, if you haven’t.

But that aside: I’ve posted a couple of pics recently about mic setups – I’ve been doing a lot of recording of other people lately, and will be doing more, both for my own projects and others – so I thought I’d talk about them.

First, you should know that there are at least as many schools of micing as there are possible combinations of microphones. On one end, there are old-school extremists who insist you should mic an entire band or orchestra – mostly orchestra, this is almost entirely a classical thing tho’ you occasionally see it in jazz – with exactly two microphones, because you have two ears. The intent is to recreate the listening experience.

In that view, the main job is finding the right hall in which to record, and the proper setup of the band. And while I see what they’re saying, I also think that’s kind of nuts… except some amazing recordings have been made that way, so what can y’do?

At the other end are the people who want to mic every individual performer three or four different ways at the same time. I… don’t get that, either. You need to stay out of performers’ faces. I hate being tied down to mics, as a performer, and…


yeah. No. Most people are in between those extremes, of course, tho’ as mics have become cheaper, and with the switch to digital, I’m personally seeing less of “less is more” and more of “No, more is more.”

If you’re multitracking, the arguments start about whether instruments should have exactly one microphone (because there is one instrument) or two or many (because there are many points from which sound emerges). That argument hasn’t budged, as far as I can tell.

And those are decisions made before you even decide how to do whatever you’ve decided to do.

Personally, I’m too new at this to have a coherent philosophy. But I do have a method: I get inappropriately close to peoples’ instruments and listen for parts that sound cool. Then I figure out which mics I have that I think would do best at capturing those sounds, stick mics there, and try it.

So, some examples! Let’s start with a guitar. This is Mickey Phoenix from Leannan Sidhe:

AKG Perception 200 large-can condenser; Sony ECM-957 small-can condenser

The Perception has kind of a bad rap out there right now, and prices reflect that. It’s well-regarded for certain purposes (drums, female vocals) but you can find a distinct lack of fondness for its musicality.

And I have to say I do not know why. I’m having it do a good job not just on female vocals (as generally agreed) but a lovely job in getting low-end resonance out of acoustic stringed instruments of all sorts.

That’s what it’s doing in a few of these photos. On Mickey’s guitar, above, it holds the instrument’s “sweet spot” really well, nicely grabbing all those low tones and harmonics – things my other mics are not going to grab as well. Meanwhile, the Sony – which has weaknesses but is really good at transient sounds – is aimed right at the fingers, getting all those little “this is an organic instrument” finger and string sounds – and high-harmonics – that give acoustic guitar recordings life.

Mickey has been quite fond of the recordings we’ve been getting this way. He says it sounds like the guitar does to him, which he doesn’t usually hear in recordings. As a zouk player, I empathise with that.

Here’s Jeri-Lynn Cornish on Cello:

AKG Perception 200 large-can condenser; Sony ECM-957 small-can condenser;
small custom interface circuit mostly because reasons

Same two mics again, similar arrangement, but arrived at differently. I tried the Nova first here, as the mic closest to the U87 that I own, and… it just wasn’t right. It lacked the warmth I expect out of cello – and, honestly, while people have realised exactly how good a cheap mic the Novas are (and used prices reflect that, too), it’s not a very warm microphone.

So out popped the AKG again, and Jeri-Lynn liked that; it sounded like she expected recordings to sound. And that’s good, but I could hear something was missing, even if I couldn’t entirely find it. Not at first, anyway; I knew something wasn’t there, but didn’t know what. Whatever it was, it just wasn’t available to be picked up where I had the AKG, so I knew we were going to need another mic again.

Then she started playing a little snippet that I recognised as Bach, and specifically, that made me think of this performance by Yo-Yo Ma of Prelude, Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major – particularly the first 15 seconds.

Yes, I know it from Master and Commander, that’s how I found the video. That movie was awesome, deal with it. XD

That memory comparison told me what kind of tones I was missing. I didn’t even really hear it in the room, so I went looking for it, and when I got my ear in a position to hear what tones were bouncing up off the bridge of the cello, I found it.

I added the Sony first because I’m fond of heterogeneous microphoning, and because, well, this was calling out for a small-can cap. My Oktava 012 isn’t here yet – it should arrive today – and I rather think I’ll be using it more instead of the Sony in future. But for now, the Sony does well enough as a stand-in.

Immediately, you could hear the cello come to life in the recordings. The cello is often compared to the human voice, as a living, almost vocal instrument; part of that is the way it almost seems to breathe. With only the AKG, that sense of breath wasn’t there.

Getting the bounces off the bridge and bringing them up a bit in the mix put it back. Everyone heard it and understood what I’d been seeking.

(This was for a live-in-studio recording; if you want to hear it, it’s streamable here. These are virtually raw recordings; the only seasoning is in second vocals, there’s nothing at all added on the cello. The stream will be 128k mp3, which loses subtlety, but gives you the idea. If you want higher-quality, you can download it. ^_^)

Finally, I posted this picture a couple of weeks ago, but without much explanation; Ellen Eades, of a bunch of different groups, on hammer dulcimer:


This is the largest number of microphones I’ve ever used on a single instrument. The hammer dulcimer is technically a percussion instrument, so acting on indirect advice from Ellen’s previous album’s engineer, I decided to treat it like one and immersive-mic it like a drum kit. On the Free Court of Seattle soundtrack album, I want it to sound like this thing is all around you, and in these test recordings, it does.

The AKG perception 200 is on bass bar. All the lowest notes use that as the bridge, so the low tones are heaviest there. An M-Audio Nova on treble bar, to pick up all the high harmonics. Both mics get a lot of both, but the emphasis changes in each ear, because AKG is one ear, and Nova is the other. This means you can hear the tones moving subtly around you as the notes go up and down in pitch. You can also hear the hammers moving back and forth across the strings, just a little.

To level it out and get a general comprehensive feel of instrument, you have the small-can cap Sony again, overhead, like a drumkit overhead mic. That’s mixed to centre, to link the sides, and potted pretty far down. It’s filler sound that ties the bars together.

But I still wasn’t getting enough of the low harmonics I knew the instrument could put out, so I threw another AKG down at the very bottom of the bass bar, at one of the instrument’s sound holes, and mixed that back to centre. And they popped right in. A nice, immersive, dimensional recording. (And I’m not looking to swap out the 957 here; it did a fine job and there’s no need to mess with what works.)

So, that’s how I do this so far. I wouldn’t use two mics where one would do, and I certainly wouldn’t use four where two would do, but, well, I want it to sound right. There are downsides to multimicing instruments – not just noise, look up “phase cancellation” if you’re curious – and you have to work to avoid those. But it can also pull in a lot of great sounds.

sometimes diy is about working on the next goddamn album

Once upon a time, I was a software developer. Actually, for a while. One of the slogans when I worked at Previous Borg1 was, “Real artists ship.”

Which also means “real artists work on their art, not just their tools.” Most of these DIY posts are about tools, not the art itself, and really, for me at least, tools are awesome but actually using them to make something is moreso.

So I’ve posted a lot about DIY equipment-making lately and will do so more in the future – but not today. Because some decisions have been made, some plans have been finalised, and it’s time to stop working on tools. It’s time to put up the Big Board2 and start making some recordings, because we are finally getting underway with the Free Court of Seattle soundtrack album.

Now, that’s really as much about DIY as anything else, since, after all, I am doing this myself. Therefore, there will still be DIY posts. They’ll just be process instead of toolsmaking. I’m not abandoning you. ^_^ Plus, I have a tools-making DIY post coming up from a guest writer in another month! So watch for that.

And that’s all for now. On the way out have some poster art I did for another band who have a Seattle show coming up in a couple of weeks. Visually, they’re way more about the light psychedelia than I am – I’m kind of the opposite of that, aesthetically – but they like the art so much they’re thinking about doing a T-shirt of it. That’s gratifying. ^_^

Leannan Sidhe Show Poster, Wayward Coffee

1: Previous Borg: Seattle always has a Borg, which is to say, the employer or industry into which you will be assimilated at some point. Once it was timber. Then it was the gold rush supply business. Then it was Boeing. Then it was Microsoft. Currently, it’s Amazon. I worked at Previous Borg.
2: Is the Big Board worth talking about?

montréal on monday

Today’s post was supposed to be about MontrĂ©al, but I’ve been too busy on Things What Aren’t Music, and that post will take a while! So it’ll be on Monday.

Until then, I have some cool things for you!

Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering talks about the loudness wars. If you don’t know what the loudness wars are, this article will tell you. I hate them and did not participate with Dick Tracy.

Glitch Textiles is an art project to create interesting images with broken digital cameras and turn those into fabric art. I think this is awesome. It’s a Kickstarter project, but the video, and many of the images in it, are really cool.

Stained glass dice lamps! On Etsy. I want the d20.

Meet Trapwire. Trapwire already knows you. And everything about you. Check page 19 for how proud they are about diligently investigating people for not taking the same tourist photos everyone else does.

Finally, if you’re in central Cascadia, this weekend is kind of amazing with bands which have played nwcMUSIC playing big shows:

  • Heather Dale and Ben Deschamps are appearing with SJ Tucker and Betsy Tinney in Kenmore on Friday night. Kenmore Community Club, 7:30pm. This is pretty much down the hill from my house, which I find kind of hilarious. lol, something to do in Kenmore. XD
  • The Doubleclicks (who went over GREAT last year and I hope to have them back) are teaming up with Vixy & Tony and playing Geek Girl Con on Saturday at 8:30. That’s downtown Seattle, at the convention centre.
  • Leannan Sidhe is playing with Heather and Ben at RoseWind Commons, Umatilla at Haines St., Port Townsend, Sunday at 7pm.
  • Finally, Heather and Ben have a show by themselves at Vancouver Pagan Pride, next Saturday (the 18th), Surrey, 3pm. Plus there’s a house concert later, details here:

What’re you doing this weekend?

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