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Archive for August, 2007

Surfing in Slow Motion

There was an interesting article in today‘s Washington Post. Just as the U.S. has fallen behind in gas mileage, we‘ve fallen even further behind in Internet speed. Americans invented the Internet, so how did we get so far behind? If you‘re curious about why we‘re still watching online video in itty-bitty windows (while people in Japan watch full-screen, broadcast-quality programming on their computers) and paying more for the privilege, you’ll find this article an eye-opening read.

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Learn, Don’t Burn

While perusing the always informational KVR Audio site, I found a rather off-color, but spot-on post responding to a litany of negative comments about various software-host programs. Although I won’t use language as colorful as was employed in that KVR posting, I agree, for the most part, with what it was saying. Its main point was that rather than expending energy dissing audio apps that you don’t like, or trying to annoit one host as the “best,” focus instead on mastering the one that you do use. In my position as an EM editor, I have had the opportunity to work in virtually all of the major sequencing programs, and I can say with confidence that they’re all very deep, powerful, and able. Sure, some have strengths in one area or another, and they offer different types of user experiences, but you won’t go wrong with any of them. The most important thing is to find the one that fits your work style and become a power user of it. Rather than wasting energy on negativity, put that effort into really mastering the program that you have. (One way to really increase your productivity is to learn the key commands for the features you use consistently. You’ll be amazed at how much faster you’ll be able to work.)

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Dolby to Record “Off the Grid”

On Wednesday, I interviewed Thomas Dolby for EM’s upcoming October-issue cover story on online collaboration. During the interview, Dolby revealed (exclusively to EM) that he’s about to start work on a new album, which is going to be recorded completely “off the grid.”

“What that means is that it’s going to be powered entirely by renewable energy,” Dolby explained. “It’s going to happen on land and at sea. On land, I’m going to build a hut in a field close to where I live, which will be powered by a wind generator and solar panels, and it will have a rainwater collector. I’m going to use that as my studio.”

But that’s only part one of recording process. “Then, in some of the later periods of the album,” Dobly said, “I’m going to actually go to sea. And I’m working with some sponsors to fund a sailboat, which I’m going to take to exotic places around the world, and do my work as I go.” He plans to use a satellite Internet feed (powered by solar and wind sources) to collaborate with musicians elsewhere, while he’s on the boat. These remote sessions will be facilitated by eSession [www.esession.com], an online collaboration site. He said he plans to document the process on video and by blog (keep an eye out for news of it on his blog at Thomas Dolby.com).

We’ll have more from the Thomas Dolby interview in the online collaboration cover story, and in a special podcast (at www.emusician.com), which will be released at the time the October issue comes out in mid September.

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Tone Talk

Since guitar is my primary instrument, I end up recording it frequently. And lately, I’ve been capturing most of my electric-guitar parts direct and adding the bulk of the tone later with modeling plug-ins. I do this because I don’t want to interrupt my creative flow by setting up a mic and messing around with the amp and the effects until I’ve found the perfect tone–it’s so much easier just to grab my guitar, plug it in, and record. But also, I like having the flexibility to experiment with the tone later on, like when I’m mixing. I know that sonic purists will probably say that I’m never going to get as good a tone as I would on a miked tube amp, but I think, for many sounds, I can get pretty darn close. Distorted tones, especially, can be recreated convincingly by modeling plug-ins such as Native Instruments Guitar Rig 2, IK Multimedia Amplitube 2, or Line 6 Amp Farm (to name a few). Perhaps it won’t sound exactly like a specific vintage amp, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good tone unto itself. I recently had a producer-engineer I know remark how much he liked the guitar tones on my recent CD, and he was surprised to hear that weren’t captured from miked amps, but from DI guitars through modeling plug-ins.

I have nothing against amp miking. In fact, I’ll sometimes mic my amp when I’m trying to record clean tones, which I don’t think modeling processors can nail nearly as accurately. But for the distorted and crunchy stuff, I almost always find it easier and quicker to go DI. I would like to experiment with reamplification, which is taking a DI sound after it’s been recorded, and running it through a miked amp and re-recording it. That seems like a “best-of-both-worlds” scenario to me: the convenience and immediacy of DI recording, with the promise of real tube-amp tone later. Right now I don’t have a device such as John Cuniberti’s Reamp or the Radial X-Amp, which would easily allow me to convert the line-level output of my audio interface to the correct signal level and impedance to be plugged into my amp. I hope to get one soon, though.

For non-clean tones there’s yet another way to go, which combines both the direct and miked approaches. That is to record your basic part clean through a miked amp, and then add modeling effects later. The logic behind this method is that it gives you that “real-amp-through-a-speaker” tone as a basis, and then but gives you the flexibility of adding the modeled distortion or crunch after the fact. I haven’t tried that yet, but plan to.

So for those of you out there who record guitar, what’s your feeling on this issue? Do you get useable tones using modeling devices? Do you prefer to mic an amp? Do you do a little of both? I’d be curious to hear your comments, suggestions, and ideas.

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We Still Miss You, Bob

Bob Moog
Today marks two years since we lost one of electronic music‘s founding fathers, Bob Moog. I attended an event held in his honor in Asheville, North Carolina, three days after his passing. Here‘s an email I sent to the other EM editors the next day, describing the experience:

The Moog memorial event yesterday was just incredible. Bob’s son Matt organized the whole thing and served as master of ceremonies for a gathering of almost 300. From noon until 4:00, about 15 friends and family members took turns telling stories about Bob, most of them very humorous, very touching, or very enlightening, and often all three. The stories only reinforced what we already know about what a colorful character and what a genuinely modest, funny, and warm human being Bob was.

The celebration began with music from Bob’s favorite local band, Toubab Krewe. The first speaker was Herb Deutsch, who told how in 1963, he coaxed Bob into creating an instrument that musicians could really use, which led to the first keyboard synthesizers and a lifelong friendship. Dave Borden, who apparently had a talent for blowing up electronic circuits, told of how Bob gave him a key to provide full nighttime access to the Moog studio, where he was unknowingly used to idiot-proof synth modules.

Wendy Carlos was positioned as the keynote speaker. She began with an account of how she and Bob met at AES; her most quotable quote was that he was a scientist who spoke music, and she was a musician who spoke science. Alongside her stories about Bob, she played four recorded examples of her work, ranging from Switched-On Bach to Beauty in the Beast. Her recording of the Henry Purcell’s funeral procession from “A Clockwork Orange” was especially poignant.

Steve Dunnington, Moog Music’s heir apparent, played “Amazing Grace” on the theremin. Cyril Lance, a very talented musician and reportedly brilliant physicist who was Bob’s most favored choice to carry on his work, played guitar and sang a couple songs. Steve Martin, the director of the film “Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey,” told great stories of his experiences with Bob, Leon Theremin, and Clara Rockmore. Bob’s wife Ileana Grams and all his children shared their stories and feelings with the audience. The final speaker was a famous Japanese synthesist who had a close lifelong friendship with Bob and considered him his “master.” Bob even suggested the name for his daughter, Eureka, who had accompanied him and his wife from Japan the day before. Unfortunately, I don’t recall his name.

After the official event, a couple dozen of us relocated to Bob and Ileana’s house. Ileana gave a detailed account of how she and Bob discovered the cancer and how it progressed. He died at home, and they kept him there until the funeral. Wendy pointed out that Larry Fast’s father died of the same illness last year. A room full of synthesists was quite a stimulus for conversation. I was the first to leave, at about 9:30, and I got home at midnight–12 hours after the memorial celebration had begun.

Obviously, Bob had lots of very good friends who thought the world of him.

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Summer NAMM ‘07, Pt. 5

For a couple years I‘ve been watching the progress of Realtime Instruments, a virtual orchestra being developed by Audio Impressions. The company has been demonstrating its impressive work-in-progress for several successive NAMM shows, and the first installment is on the cusp of shipping. Realtime Instruments Strings (aka DVZ Strings) will be available as a turnkey system that includes performance software, a sample library, microphone-bleed simulation, and three rackmount computers for $11,999. A software-only version is $3,499.

It had to happen, I suppose: Peavey is getting into the guitar-amp-modeling act. Onstage and in the studio, the MSDI (Microphone Simulated Direct Interface) gives you the sound of a miked speaker cabinet. For live use, you can plug your amp directly into the MSDI, and it has an XLR output to connect to your audio interface, recorder, or sound system. Peavey expects the MSDI to retail for $149.99 and ship before winter.

Peavey_MSDI
Open Labs had its NiKo and MiKo Windows-based keyboard workstations on display, replete with a new software bundle called V4. The upgrade features E-mu‘s Proteus X 2.5 soft synth with a huge collection of sampled instruments from E-mu, ARP, Moog, Oberheim, Roland, Hammond, Rhodes, and others–about 25 GB total. Unfortunately, when the Open Lab assistants tried to demo the new sounds for me, someone had forgotten to pack the key CD to disable copy protection.

NeKo
Well, I think that wraps it up for my Summer NAMM coverage (it‘s about time I finished, eh?). It was a good one, and I look forward to next year. Very soon, you‘ll be able to see photos and video of the show‘s highlights on EM‘s Web site.

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Shawn Pelton on EM Cast

I just posted the latest EM Cast (EM’s twice-monthly podcast), which features an interview with session drummer Shawn Pelton, whose resume includes recordings with Sheryl Crowe, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Shawn Colvin, and many others. Pelton who is also the longtime drummer for the Saturday Night Live band, talks about getting drum sounds in his apartment-based studio in Manhattan, the difficulties of soundproofing a room in an apartment building for acoustic drums, the mics and preamps he uses, why he records and edits in Ableton Live, the Drumagog plug-in that he uses to augment his drum sounds, the challenges of working remotely, and much more. I’ve also posted a short video tour of Pelton’s studio, where he shows off his drum mics, and mic positioning, and even plays a little bit.

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In Need of Treatment

I’ve finally decided to bite the bullet and get acoustical treatment for my studio. After years of opting to invest any available funds I had on gear, hoping my studio acoustics were “good enough,” I’ve finally come to the realization that they aren’t. As an EM editor, I’ve edited or written many stories in which acousticians are quoted talking about how much easier mixing and recording is with a properly treated studio. And frankly, I’ve gotten tired of being unable to accurately judge the frequency response of mixes in my studio. Sure, I do the “listen-in-the-car,” “listen-on-other-systems” routine, but for once, I’d like to be able to hear a mix in my studio and know that I’m hearing at least a reasonably accurate sonic picture. The final straw was when a mastering engineer, who’d been working on a CD of mine, told me that the high-end in my mixes was “harsh.”

Having made the decision to treat my studio acoustics, I decided to look around on the Web for more information, and I found plenty of it. After spending just a short time Googling the subject, I was able to come up with the links below. I’m sure I could have come up with a lot more, given enough time. Anyway, I thought I’d share some of them with you. If you’re considering treating your studio, these will give you a good starting point for your research. BTW, I’ll let you know how things go with my studio. I hope to have something to report in a few weeks. Here are the links:

A succinct discussion of studio acoustics.
http://www.primacoustic.com/primer.htm

A thorough look at studio-acoustics issues.
http://www.ethanwiner.com/acoustics.html

A useful article for figuring out where to setup your listening position.
http://www.realtraps.com/art_room-setup.htm

An interesting piece on setting up a listening room.
http://www.audioholics.com/education/acoustics-principles/getting-the-right-acoustics-for-your-listening-room

This story from Broadcast Engineering magazine has a good breakdown of different room orientations, although it’s focused more on broadcast spaces.
http://broadcastengineering.com/news/broadcasting_studio_design/

Article links at the site of Bob Hodas, a very knowledgeable acoustician who’s been quoted a lot in EM.
http://www.bobhodas.com/publications.html

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Summer NAMM ‘07, Pt. 4

It‘s been just over two weeks since the third and final day of Summer NAMM, and it‘s about time I wrapped up my show blog, don‘t you think? I ended up spending an extra night in Texas after American Airlines canceled my flight, ostensibly because of a storm that struck and was gone within an hour. Once upon a time, airlines would have comped my hotel room under such circumstances, but those days are probably gone forever.

Alesis showed me some previously announced products that just began shipping, a couple announced products that still aren‘t shipping, and a couple new products that won‘t ship for a while yet. In the first category, the DM5 Pro Kit is an electronic drum set complete with sound module, and it streets for about $599. You can read about it here. The i|o Control is a compact FireWire audio interface and control surface, and the MasterControl is its bigger sibling; they were both announced in January, but neither is close to shipping. Probably the coolest new hardware from Alesis was the Performance Pad, a variation on the ControlPad that has a built-in drum machine with 233 sounds and connections for a hi-hat pedal and a kick-drum pedal. It should be out by the end of the year.

Next door at Akai, the MPK49 isn‘t shipping yet either. First unveiled at Musik Messe, the MPK49 is a USB MIDI keyboard with drum pads, some impressive performance features, and assignable controls that include extra-large sliders. It should finally ship by the end of October.

Akai MPK49
I was so excited about DigiTech‘s GSP1101 that I forgot to mention the Vocalist Live 4. It‘s a vocal effects and harmony processor that can simulate voices singing in 4-part harmony with only a single voice and a guitar as input. Like the TC-Helicon HarmonyControl, it actually analyzes your guitar chords to find the correct harmonies. It also features reverb, compression, EQ, and more.

DigiTech_Vocalist4
There‘s more to come, so stay tuned.

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The Bus, EM's editorial blog, features posts from all the EM editors on topics related to gear, recording techniques and much more. It's also home to posts from a selected group of guest bloggers.

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