Archive of the Robair Report Category
I hate the phrase â€śgame changerâ€? as much as anyone, but thatâ€™s what I kept hearing last week at the 129th AES convention in San Francisco. Avidâ€™s release of Pro Tools 9 on the first evening of the conference set the mood for the entire weekend, easily overshadowing all other product announcements.
Although I had heard rumors that Version 9 was on the horizon, I didnâ€™t think the ball would drop so soon. And I certainly didnâ€™t expect the news to be this good. At the top of nearly every LE userâ€™s wish list was support for third-party interfaces, and that wish was suddenly granted. more
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Some details on how the wood slats are arranged on the studioâ€™s walls and ceiling.
The Sound of Near Silence
That was weird!
Suddenly the studio was deadâ€”no audible sound reflection whatsoever.
Last week, two-thirds of the room treatment was applied to the walls of the studio. Up to this point, the room had been exceptionally reverberant, and I was getting used to the sound as I played various instruments in there at night when the builders went home. more
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Fig. 1: Three levels of the flooring can be seen (L. to R.): CDX, paper, and oak.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
It has been 11 months since we tore down the original garage/studio and began building. Last November I thought the entire project would be completed by May of this year. (We were originally told March, but in my mind I added a two-month cushion. Yeah, I knowâ€”wishful thinking.) Of course, it didnâ€™t help that we had one of the rainiest winters in recent memory. The discovery of dry rot in other parts of the house delayed things further.
The new garage and in-law unit are now done, the addition is tied in to the main structure, and the house is in a livable condition, so weâ€™ve moved back in after a four-month forced hiatus. Our contractor can, once again, turn his attention back to my favorite room: the studio. more
Last night, while reviewing a new synthesizer, I was reminded of a conversation I had with electronic-instrument pioneer Don Buchla, when I interviewed him and a number of other innovators for the June 2010 EM feature â€śGenius Bar.â€? The main topic that morning was about the future of electronic instrument design, and my particular interest was in hearing where these men thought we were headed, based on their decades of experience. Buchla was quiet throughout most of the morningâ€™s conversation before, finally, taking me aside and giving me his opinion personally.
â€śThe breakdown is that the [designs] that are accepted, and used, and developed further are those that are most closely linked to the thought,â€? he said. He went on to explain that when you have to think while playing an instrument there will be a delay between what you want to do in the musical moment and the resulting sound. This â€śsonic latencyâ€? removes you from the present, as can â€śnon-familiarity with the process and the outcome of the process,â€? as he put it. more
One of my favorite â€śelectronic musicâ€? pieces wasnâ€™t really created with electronic instruments. In fact, youâ€™d never guess the source of the sounds from just listening to the track. And once you do learn its origin, itâ€™s hard to believe it. My friend Wobbly shares this view. Allow me to explain.
A Warm Buzz
Sitting outside Eyedrum, a performance space in Atlanta, while waiting to play a show on a hot summer evening, I was treated to the incredible song of the regionâ€™s cicadas. The cycling hum resembled filtered, rhythmic sequences from a synthesizer, and they were astonishingly loud considering their acoustical origin. more
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As the interior walls of my studio were being packed with insulation, my contractor began installing the fresh-air ventilation system. One factor that many people forget to consider when designing a studio is airflow. It’s not just about how quiet a system is, but how efficiently it works.
You may find it surprising — though it’s obvious upon reflection — that in creating a nearly soundproof room, you are also creating an airtight space: Wherever air can enter, sound will enter as well. If you were to install and run a heating/cooling system in an airtight studio without supply and return vents, you’d pressurize the room in a dangerous way very quickly. Therefore you must find a quiet and efficient way to move air in and out of the room so you can work comfortably. more
One of the most satisfying things about touring is meeting new peopleâ€”musicians, dancers, and other artistsâ€”and seeing how they work. And as a former editor of a music-technology magazine, Iâ€™m particularly excited when I get to see someoneâ€™s studio or live rigâ€”inevitably there is some kind of surprise. Sure, itâ€™s getting more and more likely that he or she will have the same small-format mixer and inexpensive monitors and mics. But there is usually a major reality check for me. Let me explain.
When I was an editor for EM, I spent a portion of my time removing superlatives and nonsense from press releases, and toning down the vitriol of reviewers who were incensed by some trivial aspect of a product. Iâ€™d go to MI trade shows and pester the engineers at each company about specs for a newly announced product that we might not see for months, just so I could figure out how the product was different from the others being announced by their competition. Because, often, the items were being manufactured in the very same plant in China or Korea.
In other words, I was 100 percent distracted by the game, where a new product has to be announced every other quarter to keep investors happy (rather than, say, a world where manufacturers actually create a product that is so astutely designed and well built that there is no need to improve upon it each year). more
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Hit the Floor Running
In his book Home Recording Studio: Build It Like the Pros (Cengage), Rod Gervais explains that no room is completely soundproof. All you can really do is minimize sound transmission by decoupling the structures, sealing any and all gaps, and being sure that your surfaces—walls, ceilings, floor, doors—resonate at little as possible (and at as low a frequency as possible).
Cheap to do? No. But itâ€™s not outrageously expensive, either.
My room is being designed for tracking and rehearsing, rather than, say, mixing. Consequently, Iâ€™m working toward a space that is pleasing to play and record in—one that maintains a high level of isolation from the outside while keeping the sound of the drums and amps from annoying the rest of the house as well as the neighbors. So rather than spend the money on acoustical treatment once the room is built, Iâ€™m investing in the structural aspects. If youâ€™ve looked into the cost of high-quality acoustical treatment, you know that itâ€™s pricey, and treating a room adequately can begin to feel like a remodel once you get the bill. more
Although itâ€™s hard to resist the convenience of a digital audio workstation, nothing beats the way analog tape colors sound. Itâ€™s a format that makes guitars, bass, and drums sound huge, while smoothing out the voice like butter.
Itâ€™s common for engineers to record to multitrack tape to reap the benefits of tape compression and tone, then dump the tracks into a DAW for tweaking and mixing. Unfortunately, tape is an expensive format to use in terms of the blank media—reels can cost as much as $250 each. Considering that you get only 15 to 30 minutes of recording time per reel (depending on tape speed), if you do multiple takes of each song, it can amount to quite an investment.
The million-dollar question is, How do you get the warmth that tape offers, while maintaining the convenience and lower media costs of computer recording? more
Black Sabbath is one of the most influential bands for young, aspiring rock musicians for two simple reasons: their riffs are heavy and easy to play. Like Deep Purpleâ€™s â€śSmoke on the Water,â€? but unlike Led Zeppelinâ€™s â€śStairway to Heaven,â€? Sabbathâ€™s â€śIron Man,â€? â€śN.I.B.,â€? and â€śParanoidâ€? take moments to learn, but provide the gateway drug to a lifetime of rock guitar playing. Or drumming. Or bass playing.
Iâ€™ll let others debate whether thatâ€™s a good thing.
I had a reawakening to the charm of these riffs after hearing â€śFairies Wear Bootsâ€? on satellite radio a few months ago. It wasnâ€™t difficult convincing my bandmates in Pink Mountain that it would be the perfect cover song (we only play one) for our West Coast tour last year. â€śFairies Wear Bootsâ€? has it allâ€”a driving rhythm, awkward tempo and feel changes, and impenetrable lyrics. more