Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Black Freighter

So my buddy Danny Thompson* posts a Marianne Faithful video on Facebook of her singing "Pirate Jenny".

I've never really dug Kurt Weill (I almost spelled it "Kurt Veille"). I mean, Mack the Knife is fun and so forth. But I'm listening to this song and I'm thinking okay, I really know this song. But... different. Which shouldn't surprise me 'cause it's a famous song and maybe I just don't remember it exactly. But it's kind of strange as I felt I knew it very well from a long time ago.
And looking it up on Wikipedia I discover that it was covered by Steeleye Span under the name "The Black Freighter".
Ah. My sister took it upon herself to put music in my head wee head at the time (meaning the 1970's). So there are some funny albums that ring around in my brain. There's Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" which, quite rightly, I listened to as an elementary-school child. There's some non-canonical Cat Stevens which she bought for me at some point. And there's this Steeleye Span record.

Strangely, my elementary and middle-school years were devoid of The Beatles. And certainly absent was anything which even remotely resembled hard rock. And that was mostly due to my sister's taste. My older brothers were old enough to be mostly out of the house by the time I came along so other than some classical music their influence on me as a youngin' wasn't nearly so great.
So anyway, yes. I used to listen to the song a lot. But it was called something different.
I do think the chorus melody is squandered. There should have been at least one double-chorus. So say I.

*Not, incidentally, Danny Thompson. Why had I never noticed that before?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Make it Loud

More from the 2nd-to-last night of Theatresource.
Picture taken by Maduka Steady with the exposure too low but rescued by bringing the image in from RAW. Lily Kenner (back to us), Dave Wolfe, Andrew Bellware, and Greg Bartus.

Lily Kenner, Andrew Bellware, Greg Bartus.

Lily Kenner, Andrew Bellware, Vincent Marano, and Greg Bartus.

Lily Kenner, David Wolfe, Andrew Bellware, and Greg Bartus. 
You read it here first. The best predictor in how well a song will do is how loud it is. Turn up those compressors -- it's gonna be a loooooong night.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

And it Comes with Video

City Samanas with Andrew Bellware and Vincent Marano rocking it out.

Last City Samana Show at Theatresource

City Samanas Lily Kinner, Dave Wolfe, with Andrew Bellware on guitar and Vinnie Marano blowin' harp, City Samana Greg Bartus (partially obscured.)
 The City Samanas played their final show at Theatresource tonight. They invited me to sit in with them which was a great honor. I could only play the one song -- a 26-minute version of Dark Star. At one point Vinnie Marano found a harmonica (on the, er, floor apparently) and sat down and blew some licks with us. Luckily the harmonica was in A because otherwise... I don't know what we would have done.
These pictures are all taken by Maduka Steady.

Note that I chose the Celtic Edana JTM-45 clone for this gig. Into a Celestion Alnico Blue 12" the way God intended when she invented the Gibson Les Paul. All clean sounds that sustained for days. 

Lily, Dave, Andrew, Vinnie, Greg. 
I couldn't be playing with a nicer bunch of folks.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Piano vs Band

John August suggests guitar and piano for grade-schoolers. As in "piano and guitar only". In the classical-music world, learning piano first is a kind of trope. The piano is polyphonic, it's the default fundamental instrument of Western music (even though Bach and Mozart never had one, they had precursor sorts of things and wrote all kinds of music we today play on the piano.)
With the best of intentions, we’ve taught kids to be helpless cogs in a symphonic machine. Worse, we’ve created a system that pretty much guarantees most adults won’t be able to make music by themselves.
 Well, sorta. But on the other hand we've taught kids to do something together. Of course, they do a crappity job of it, but they are at least trying to play at the same time. Which is interesting.
But my main criticisms of his thesis are two:

1. that there seems to be a false dichotomy between piano or band. Which I think Mr August backs off on because he himself started on piano before moving to clarinet as a child. (If I were King I would order that each child take a piano lesson each day -- don't even make 'em practice at home, just sit and play with a teacher for an hour each day. But I wouldn't say they should do that instead of joining band.)
2. that kids will automatically learn musical theory just by playing piano as a kid. In my experience kids are able to play piano and guitar and have no idea at all how chords are constructed or how parallel movement works. In fact, as a guitar player, I deliberately took a music theory course in the 9th grade just to find out how chords are made so I didn't have to look them up in a book anymore.

So although learning at least a little piano is certainly a goode thinge, I'm not so sure it does a good job with replacing bands. I certainly enjoyed playing trumpet, and then trombone. And right, I didn't learn any music theory when doing that. But (as far as I could tell) neither did any of the kids who took piano since they were five.

But the other advantage Mr. August points out is that piano and guitar are stand alone instruments. You can play them and accompany yourself singing. Well, sure. That's true with autoharp too. It's also true with singing. The problem we have in this country is how anti-singing we are. Well, at least how anti-singing dumb white people are. But that's an issue for another post.

Mickey Hart and other dudes from The Grateful Dead did a bunch of the percussion for the score of Apocalypse Now.

Chicken systems has software that will presumably translate Gigasampler files. Apparently it doesn't work 100% though.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Do You Feel?

You know, Peter Frampton is a very precise yet tasteful guitarist -- especially for such a flashy guitar player. He gets those 32nd-note bits in with no slop at all. I mean really, where other flashy guitar players can be flashy and precise without being tasteful (I'm thinking Eddie VanHalen here). Or they can be precise and tasteful (David Gilmour). Frampton manages to be all three.

Perhaps I'm thinking David Gilmour because of the above (YouTube) 14-minute version of "Do You Feel Like I Do". I mean, most of the song is just I iii vii I -- you know, straight-up blues rock.
So the trick is getting as many textures as possible with those three chords. In other words, you better have a rocking rhythm section. But the guitar itself has a fairly tremendous dynamic range in this song. Especially for an electric guitar. And it's interesting that the energy of the song actually amps up during the pianissamo section.
The "talking guitar" section is the whole point though, right? Frampton pretty much ruins talking guitars for everyone else for all time just with this one solo. After hearing this, why bother even trying?
And again it's interesting to hear his incredible precision alongside the very tasteful use of dynamics and his phrasing -- which leaves very musical "holes" and space not only for the other instruments but for the "breathing" of the song itself.
There's songs like this which are so overplayed on rock radio that I think we tend to forget how good they actually are.
And if the moment where the band kicks in and the talkbox goes off doesn't bring chills up your spine, then you're not alive.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Here's Mine

Question 811B is whether Tyrannosaurus Mouse is going to record anything before the end of the year. And will we do it here at Theatresource or will we do it at my apartment or what?

Via Jonathan Newman, the Contemporary Classical Composer's Bullshit Generator. Here's mine:
My work aims to re-bar generatively-integral arts with modernly-ambiguous chords whilst composing certain pitches or psycho-extended tessituras. Recently, I have started to embrace silences as a strongly-modernistic alternative to established forms of microtonal time-signature-experiences, which has made my work diametricly apparent. The fact that imitations tend to (at least in their aesthetic state), harmonically visualise, even in the presence of a strong element, is, you will agree, patently absurd. My latest piece begins with a rather musical 'sketch-aesthetic', before experimentally transforming the existing innovative material into a more Stockhausenesquely-quartal state, a process I term 'actively-rhythmic-examining'. Recently, I have started to embrace techniques as a strongly-integral alternative to established forms of choreographic device-installations, which has made my work innovatively predominant.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


So, I was talking with a friend the other day -- a guy who is a professional composer but (and I hope you're sitting down for this) writes music on paper. I know, right?
And my point was that I'd never tell some 20-year-old kid who wanted to be a professional composer anything other than "You have to be able to deliver complete, recorded, scores." And by that I mean you have to be able to do what my friend would call "synthestration". You know, using synths and sound libraries to create complete - sounding scores which can (sometimes) pass for real orchestras recorded specifically for the project. Why do you, as a new and young composer, need to do that? Because that's most of the work that's out there.
To make matters weirder, I actually know two composers who write on paper. Now note, when I'm teasing them about "writing on paper" they do actually use Finale and Sibelius so it's not like they run screaming from computers altogether. But they don't do any "synthestration".
There are, however, specialists whose day jobs consist of synthestration. I think they mostly work in Hollywood. Plus, lots of commercial music is composed by ateliers -- music houses where a "master" composer has a number of "journeymen" and apprentices. And sometimes it's the journeymen (or one of the journeymen who serves essentially as the master's assistant) who does the synthestration.
For the last few movies I've done I've been using the Video Copilot scores to build our music cues. And, especially when mixed with the scores I've done for previous films and a couple plays, they work pretty well.
But frequently I find I need just a little more. One counter-intuitive thing about scoring for film is that a shocking amount of the score has to sound pretty bland and boring by itself. That's because, essentially, the "melody" of the music is the dialog that goes on top, not an instrument that will make the dialog harder to hear. And the intelligibility part of the dialog is right where you'd go and put a melody (if you had one).
That's why drones and bits of percussion are so popular in film scores.
And, of course, the music has to go well with the sound effects. Indeed, they should all be part of the same "score". On big Hollywood films the two departments -- sound effects (or sound "editing") and music -- tend to "compete" for prominence in the mix. That is, on the face of it, a horrible idea. We're all making one movie here guys, not competing for screen time. Right?
Anyway, this does mean that I require a professional way to make orchestral scores. I was meeting with a guy who produces music for commercials the other day (the meeting wasn't about music, but about real estate) I asked him "What do your composers use?"
He said "Mostly Logic, a couple Digital Performer users, and one or two ProTools."
So for the next couple days I'm all thinkin' hmm... maybe I should get Logic or DP to compose scores on?
But no, forget that. I'm a Samplitude user dang it! And it's not Logic or DP or ProTools which actually make the sounds you use. No, most of those things are VST plugins anyway.
But what I do need is a library. And honestly what's most important to me in a library is decent percussion. Because a couple tubular bells, a tympani, and maybe one of those big pieces of metal you dunk in a tub of water is 3/4 of film scoring.
The rest of film scoring is decent strings. And because we make sci-fi movies we are more interested in string "effects" than soaring strings (although we do need those, too.)
And the thing is that we live in a golden time for orchestral sample libraries. If you're good, and you pay a lot of detailed attention, you can make an orchestral score that sounds a lot like a real orchestra. There's a whole subset of composers who as a day job make "synthestrations" of other people's scores. They can get paid very well. The work involves going through every dang part and making sure each phrase is played by the right sample and massaged so that the dynamics and portamento and all the other details are just right.
Sometimes it's easier to just hire good players, right?
But an orchestra (the real kind) is fantastically expensive. Even if you go to Eastern Europe to record one you'll pay at least $15/hour/musician plus some amount for the space and the recording. And that's after you've split out your parts and made copies for everyone. So it's actually economical to throw a couple thousand dollars at a "synthestrator" -- especially if you're making a demo for a client to listen to -- a demo which could result in them giving you enough of a budget to hire an orchestra. (Even better if that synthestrator works for you full-time.)
The joke there is that if you synthestrate a score and then record an orchestra over it, you may likely find that you'll want to mix the two together. Adding some cellos from a sound library to the live cellos might be just want the client really wants to hear.
One thing that clearly makes no difference at all is whether you work on a Mac or a PC. Except for Logic and Samplitude, all the programs people use are cross-platform. Samplitude is PC only, Logic is Apple-only.
So, where does this leave me? Well, the least-expensive way for me to go is to simply upgrade my Samplitude system to the next version. I think that's just four hundred bucks. It comes with 70GB of samples and such and can theoretically read my old Gigasampler discs through an add-on application called Independence (although apparently it doesn't understand the "note off" parts of the .gig files so, er, no). But it is a big ol' orchestral library.
Still, with VST instruments like Kontakt it doesn't matter what application you're running (DP, ProTools, Logic, Samplitude) -- you can load 'em up with one of the gazillion sound libraries out there and off you go.
And there you have it. Everything I know.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hardened Music

What is it that's wrong with this Florence and the Machine song, Dog Days are Over? I liked it when I first heard it but there is something very... "hard"... with the sound.

I can't quite put my finger on it. Is it the limiting in the mastering? Well, there is actually some dynamic range in the vocals. There are some pops in the "p"'s but... I dunno. The "plainsong" style is interesting. Hmm... maybe the vocals are limited out the wazoo. Are they just autotuned within an inch of their lives? Like I said, I can't quite figure it out.
Now here's a song with some very solid low-end, but a complete lack of auto-tune on the voice. Cat Stevens' Peace Train.

Truthfully, I dig some of the live versions of this song even better. I think at some point Cat Stevens sounded more like "Cat Stevens" -- like somewhere around 1976.
And come on -- that very clear tape edit at 3:01 is just amusing. I mean, could you imagine that passing muster in a modern recording? The mastering engineer would just kick that back to the mixer.
And I forget that that coda exists too...

License to Shred

On the back of my guitar-playing license the Agency stamped the following restrictions:

X cannot play funk
X blues may only be played for practice
X no jazz during daylight hours

I've been pulled over for playing funk by the guitar cops and they let me off with a warning. I was allowed to drive home and believe me I was just doing scales 'till I got inside. I won't be doing that again.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New Studio Review

In my search for new studio space I started looking at recording studios that has space. And there are some really fantastic rooms out there in New York City.
Nightlife has a rental of it's second control room. There are some very interesting shares like this place with the groovy oriental carpets. Three days a week for $750/month. I know the link will be dead in a few weeks but I'm blogging with it anyway.
Pearl Studios is a rehearsal studio in Jersey City, NJ.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Acoustic Guitar Strings

Mandolin Brothers says that Martin and D'Addario strings are basically the same. And they're about the same price.
I bought a set of Martin Marquis strings at Carmine Street Guitars. That's what we'll use on the Tyrannosaurus Mouse Album then.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

More Listings

Rehearsal Studio NY is a classical-music oriented rehearsal studio. $20/hour for most rooms.
Erin Hill is kickstarting a music video album.
King Killer is another rehearsal studio.
Flood Music Studios -- "drum rooms" starting at $300/month.
Band Space NYC is a set of rehearsal studios that... I do not comprehend.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Absurdity of Reality

A few years back I was in a mastering session and I met a dude who was a sound mixer at Fillmore. Dude -- I'm talking the Fillmore -- not even the Fillmore West. This guy was working there in like '64 and thought "Hey, why don't we mix the band from out in the house?"
He remembers having to invent a way to split the microphones for the House and Monitor feeds.
He mixed (and toured with) the Byrds and the Stones. He was at the studio I was at because he had multitrack recordings of Fleetwood Mac in '67 he'd recorded at the Fillmore that he found in his garage. So he called up Mick and said "You mind if I release these on  my own label?"
Mick Fleetwood said "Hell no, I'll release 'em myself!" And so now he was mastering the records for Mick's label.

When this dude started doing sound they didn't have balanced microphone cables. They (and although he didn't take credit for it, possibly he) figured out that the front-of-house mixer had to be, you know, in the front of the house.

When I got into sound, early-1980's, loud speaker/PA systems sucked. They were terrible. Horns sounded like crap and they were the only (somewhat) indestructible way to get loud sounds to go (roughly) in the direction you want them to. And the boxes had to be HUGE just to get any kind of low end out of them. And the sound out of them was (to be polite) non-linear. Or (and not to be racist) but very, very "honky".
I wish I had a picture of these horrible 3-way Community cabinets I had in my back yard in 1984(?) (they were fiberglass, nothing could destroy them, unfortunately). They sounded like dog bark. A sound company lent them to me (Sound by Paul -- anyone remember them?) for about a year. Because, you know, they sucked.
At the time, the best mixing guys (and yeah, back in the day the disparity of men/women in sound was even worse than it is now) would tune the crossovers as they mixed. Tune the crossovers while they mixed. Tune the crossovers.
They were tuning the crossovers.
While mixing.
Nobody tunes crossovers anymore. Heck, most crossovers are sealed up deep inside the electronics of little rack-mount processors boxes which only have an "on/off" switch on them.
Why? Because at some point in the 1980's these geniuses in California -- whether it was Apogee or Martin or Meyer, or all of them at the same time like spontaneous generation of a brilliant idea -- realized that if they were building crossovers and EQ's that were specialized to the speaker cabinets they were making, they could ignore the straight-up physics of cabinet design and make up for the inherent problems and non-linearities of the physical speaker and cabinet by feeding the speaker with "processed" audio.
Is your speaker cabinet too small for loads of low end? No problem, just electronically feed the box a disproportionate amount of that same low end (in exactly the right proportion, however, if you get my meaning) and voila! You have a little box that sounds BIG.
Is there a mid-range "honk" you can't get rid of by mechanical or acoustical means? Use the magic of electricity to balance out your system. Problem solved.
I remember those early Apogee boxes in the late 80's were noisy. The electronics in the processors were just hissy. But they were musical. The sound, out of the box, was good. And we didn't have to adjust the crossovers.
The other thing that was new about these boxes with proprietary processors both before and after the amplifiers, was that you didn't have to do any EQ to make the box sound good (because that had already been done at the factory). So the only EQ you were doing was to try to make the terrible room you were in sound better.
Oddly, it seems that they got the smaller boxes -- the 2-way speaker cabinets with 12" drivers and 1" HF drivers -- to sound good and then they started getting those big boxes -- the ones that you needed two guys to carry, 3-way with a pair of 12" or maybe a 15", a couple 8", and a 2" horn -- to sound good.
But now all the systems sound good. Even the cheap ones. Even the custom ones made by some shop in Indiana or North Bergen, NJ.
Speakers sound good now.

This is a big freakin' deal, and one we take for granted now. But hey, the entire world of pro audio in live sound has gotten good. We can do a lot of fantastic stuff -- and do it cheaply.
Just look at this thing. It's two thousand bucks. And it will do whatever you want. If you can't get your band to sound good with a mixer like this then the problem is your band doesn't sound very good. There ain't much you can do about it.
With a mixer like this you don't need outboard EQ's. You might want them because they can be easier to use than flipping through menus and finding the offending frequency on the right output channel. But then again, you might not. And when you're short on dollars, space in the van, or just extra weight you want to carry then remember: you don't need outboard EQ's. Not anymore. Not for live sound.
I've used the lower-end Yamaha mixers like the O1v (or whatever) and the... what is it, the DM1000? And you get used to the interface very quickly. With a mixer like this you are relatively low on outputs. But did I point out it's only two thousand bucks?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

FaderPort Blues

So I meet "Johnny" on a corner of 184th Street and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. He hands me a box with a Presonus Faderport and I hand him eighty bucks.
Then the cops came and we had to run and somebody started shooting and... oh wait, no, those things didn't happen.
What did happen was that I plugged in the FaderPort and it fired right up and works with Samplitude just fine and writes data and... and the only thing it doesn't do is make the mechanical fader actually follow Samplitude.
Which is very '80's if you have to know.
I look on the Internet. Turns out a gazillion people have this problem with the FaderPort.
So it communicates back and forth with the computer, but the computer doesn't run the motorized fader. Which is poopity. But all the lights work...
And it actually does what I need it to do. It would be better if the motor worked. Maybe it really is a bad unit? Probably not. It's probably just the drivers for it. But it would be so much cooler if the motorized fader worked.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Faderport Part I

So. I got this idea in my head that I want a PreSonus Faderport. Because, you know, I'd like a fader.
Now I'm perfectly well aware that physical objects don't make a person happy. At least not usually. I'd say that I do get joy out of my guitars and my amps though. But a USB fader? That's absurd.
I found one on Craig's List. Eighty bucks. That's a pretty reasonable price (I've been looking at them on EBay so I have an idea of how much they're going for used. I know they're only $130 new.

I call the guy.
He's in the Bronx. "Is it in good shape?" I ask (that's due diligence, right?)
"It's brand new."
OK then. Well, I should ask a follow-up question. "Did you just not like it?"
"It's my brother's actually. And he and his crew just got sent to jail so he's not going to be using it for a while."
That's not sketchy, right? I'm doing his brother a favor -- buying something that'll be way out of date by the time he gets out of prison. Right?
So I'll meet the guy at the 183rd stop on the 4 train tomorrow afternoon.
I'll tell you how that goes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


So we need a picture for our album cover. Right?
We need a table-covering like that. Perhaps one of us will have a guitar.
I figure we'll use a brick wall for our background. Probably the brick wall of the theater. And I like the "camera" down low like this.
We'll all be in costume, of course.


I've been experimenting with SynthFont in order to see if it will play this one particular Steinway Gigasample I have. It doesn't really work. Sigh. But SynthFont might be good for our other keyboard needs. Arie might play with it and decide.
Tim Dolbear is the Samplitude dude in North America. This is his setup.
So here's a story: an artist goes on a huge internationally syndicated radio program. The next day the artist gets 500,000 hits on the artist's website.
The sales the artist got?
No sales whatsoever.
Oh, and we managed to bust two three of our chargers and one two batteries over the time we've had our Sound Devices 702. But I didn't know what sort of charger we should get. So I wrote to Sound Devices and they wrote right back to tell me that the XL-WPH3 (which is the wall-power supply that came with the 702) will actually charge a battery in the 702. Derp. I didn't know that. But also we can blow $150 on an XL-Charge, which allows you to charge 2 Sony L-mounts. Which we will probably do this week.
(Note this is a cat from the Internet. I wouldn't put our little orange freak machine anywhere near my Les Paul.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Boxing Day

I've been doing a bunch of thinking about mixing in the box lately. Now, the fact is that I've been mixing "in the box" for many years. And all of our film work is done in Samplitude. The last time any signal hits an analog path is a microsecond after it hits the microphone and makes its way through the analog stage of the A/D converter. From there on out we're entirely digital.
For music, however, I'm extraordinarily prejudiced against mixing inside the computer. Prejudiced, not soullessly reactive.  Look -- I'm inclined to want to put signals through big, fat, expensive analog thingies (that's the technical term for parts of the analog audio chain.)
And, you know, by and large that works. Old, expensive (especially analog) stuff. With lots of iron in their design.
But there's always been the advantage that mixes you make using a digital audio workstation (DAW) are repeatable. That ain't too true with analog, no matter how much you try to reset everything the same way. You see -- frequently the biggest problem one has when mixing is that it's easy to lose your ability to hear what's going on after a few hours. So you spend a great deal of a mixing session not really knowing what's going on with the mix because you've forgotten what music sounds like. (Yes, there are a bunch of tricks to use to help alleviate this problem, still it's a problem.) What happens is that the next day you listen to the mix and all the problems are obvious. You're like "the guitars are too loud!" "The vocal in the second verse isn't loud enough!" et cetera and so forth.
Mixing in-the-box let's you go and turn down those guitars and not have to worry about re-creating the great drum sound (or whatever) you came up with the previous day. So that's a big advantage to the box.
The disadvantage is that for a long while nothing could beat some old built-like-a-tank EQ's and compressors from the olden days of multitrack recording. But. That was then. The dark times of early digital.
Now? Boy.
These plug-ins of analog gear are starting to sound really good.
I mean like "don't bother to turn on the 1176" good. Even if you have an 1176 sitting just as far away as the computer. We're living in the age where the engineer says "Just use the one in the software".
This is a big deal.
[Even more, the effects built into the DAWs, not even 3rd-party effects, can sound simply amazing.]
When mixing the Mouse record I was surprised at the times we put an 1176 plugin on a track (like, say, the bass track) rather than firing up one of the actual, vintage, in-great-shape 1176's there in the studio.
It's not to say that we weren't going through quite a nice analog signal chain. And the Neotek at Trax East is nothing to sneeze at. But...
But I'd say it's vastly more important to have great monitoring and to have an engineer who knows what's going on than to have another piece of fancy-pants analog gear from the 1960's lying around (or even a board as nice-sounding as the Neotek).
And the monitors Eric Rachel has are pretty stellar. They're the Focal Twin6-be monitors. They sound beautiful in his room.

For me, the most important thing about monitors is that I can hear what's going on. Frequently one will listen to a mix and you just can't tell what's wrong. But with really good monitors it becomes obvious. "The horns are too loud" or "The vocals have too much low end" or what have you.
With many monitors (meaning "speakers") you have to "learn" how the monitors sound. Certainly back in the day when idiots people used those Yamaha NS10's that's what was happening. Thank cats those days are gone when every mixing desk had those horrible little speakers on top. Ooh. It gives me shivers just to think about it.
You want monitors which are flat, in a quiet and acoustically controlled room. What you don't want are speakers which have a particular "sound" to them -- that sound just ends up "veiling" what's happening in the mix and makes it much easier to keep correcting and over-correcting with too many effects or EQ "fixes" because you can't really hear what's going on. You end up mixing junk because all you can hear is junk. Remember pop music in the late 80's? Exactly. NS-10's
That's why good monitors are so important. When you can hear what's going on the changes and fixes you feel you need to make are much more delicate and end up not hurting the signal as much. So says I.*
For me, the takeaway from all this is that although we didn't actually mix this album in-the-box, I'm convinced that even for a very old-fashioned-sounding band like us it's perfectly possible for us to mix in-the-box.
Now as far as having a whole bunch of analog gear lying around, though, for recording it's a must. Having sweet mic preamps is an expensive habit but makes everything else worthwhile. Right now we have 4 Neve 1272's (2 are mine and two belong to my friend Scott). We can do a lot with those.

*And I do love my Blue Sky Media Desk system.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Inputs and Outputs

If my last post wasn't esoteric and boring enough (you seriously have to be a mixer who does what I used to do to have any idea what I so inelegantly wrote about) I'm going to go one further and make an input list of the "acoustic" Tyrannosaurus Mouse.
This is a work in progress. I'm just trying to figure out where what goes how.
OK, so we're recording a version of the Mouseverture "reprise" and maybe a 3/4 or 6/8 instrumental version of chorus of Ice Maiden. And we're either doing it at Ethan's house, my apartment, or at Theatresource.
Input List Version A

  1. Piano L (Direct insert into MOTU UltraLite 1)
  2. Piano R (Direct insert into MOTU UltraLite 2)
  3. Kick (Oktava to Neve preamp to MOTU 3)
  4. Snare (Oktava to Neve preamp to MOTU 4)
  5. Overhead L (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp to MOTU 5)
  6. Overhead R (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp to MOTU 6)
  7. Acoustic guitar (AKG 460 to Apogee preamp/digital in 1)
  8. Acoustic bass (AKG C12a??  to Apogee preamp/digital in 2)

The key here is that the MOTU will be clocked by the Apogee. That makes everything about the MOTU sound vastly better. No really, I've A/B'ed it and there's a gianormous difference between the MOTU's internal clock and the (vastly more expensive) Apogee's internal clock.
Note that we're prioritizing the drums in the above list. But maybe the drum overheads and guitar and bass should get the Neves. Like this:

Input List Version B

  1. Piano L (Direct insert into MOTU UltraLite 1)
  2. Piano R (Direct insert into MOTU UltraLite 2)
  3. Acoustic guitar (AKG 460 to Neve preamp to MOTU 3)
  4. Acoustic bass (AKG C12a?? to Neve preamp to MOTU 4)
  5. Overhead L (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp to MOTU 5)
  6. Overhead R (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp to MOTU 6)
  7.  Kick (Oktava to Apogee preamp/digital in 1)
  8.  Snare (Oktava  to Apogee preamp/digital in 2)

Version B has some advantages in that we can put a bit of soft limiting on the kick and snare, which would likely sound pretty nice.
But maybe what we want to do is make the overheads the main mics for everything. Maybe the overheads are where the magic really happens?

Input List Version C

  1. Kick (Oktava to MOTU UltraLite 1 preamp)
  2. Snare (Oktava  into MOTU UltraLite 2 preamp)
  3. Acoustic guitar (AKG 460 to Neve preamp to MOTU 3)
  4. Acoustic bass (AKG C12a?? to Neve preamp to MOTU 4)
  5. Piano L (Direct insert into MOTU 5)
  6. Piano R (Direct insert  to MOTU 6)
  7. Overhead L (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp to  Apogee preamp/digital in 1)
  8. Overhead R (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp Apogee preamp/digital in 2)

The kick and snare get the short end of the stick in version C, but our overhead signal chain is as good as it gets. I don't know that I actually have enough mic stands for everyone. But I'm sure we can figure out something.
Maybe we want to use the AKG C12a as the mid in a M/S pair? And make that the overhead?
Do we want the C12a on the bass?
An AKG 460 would sound nice on the bass too. It would be a small diaphragm rather than a large diaphragm mic. But... maybe?
What do you think?

In the Box II

Live mixing "in the box" can be incredibly dangerous. You can get yourself in a whole bunch of trouble in no time at all. Of course, when those single-channel-interface consoles first came out, everyone was afraid of them too. And facing reality, you can get yourself into trouble on any kind of console if you don't have your gain structure well thought through in your mind. 
In some ways, having just one channel to look at can be better (ergonomically) than 56 channels of nonstop fun.
But I'm kind of fascinated by the fact that you can have a fairly massive "console" in a computer with a couple interfaces. Do you want a Harrison mixer? You can have one for $150. And the thing will run on Linux for crying out loud.
The Gamble EX56 was kind of the Rolls Royce of analog mixers back in the day. It pretty well does everything you want to do in a live sound console. There are 8 stereo aux sends, but if I recall correctly you can only select one subgroup on a given channel. 
On the planet I live on, outputs are frequently needed as much as inputs. Starting in theater, and then even more in broadcast, one finds oneself needing to send inputs to multiple outputs. 
The interesting thing is that most audio interfaces have about the same number of outputs as inputs. So if you have a pile of separate destinations to mix to, it's fairly straightforward.
The other advantage to mixing on a computer is that typically you can decide whether a send is an auxiliary or a submix. Basically that means you can decide whether each output is on a knob or a switch. Why you might decide to put something on a knob or a switch is up to you. But at least the option is open. 
Nowadays one doesn't see many matrix sends on live sound boards. In essence, if you have a suitable number of aux sends, you don't need one. And I've been mixing on aux sends for a long time now, so I don't miss going from a submaster to a matrix. 
Plus the other disadvantage to those huge analog boards was that in order to cram all those knobs into that little space the channel strips could become very difficult to read. Especially in low light. Is aux 7 on channel 42 set to pre- or post-fade? Who knows? Sometimes you could "lay hands" on the console and feel which knobs were "popped" up, in order to determine which ones were switched. But not all the time. It can be a pain.
Here's a fun fact. Dave Matthews actually uses a Digidesign Venue and gives the support act an EX56. Ha! If that isn't an endorsement for digital, I don't know what is.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Journey of Discovery

Or: "Live Sound Mixing in the Box".

So. It turns out that when you use ASIO drivers (and hybrid monitoring "on" in Samplitude) you can actually use the thing as a live sound mixer.
Mixing "in the box" is not an entirely new idea. SAC is built for it.
Now, facing the cold hard reality that a Yamaha 01V is only $2400, it might be tempting to say that getting a computer, some interfaces, and hoping they all work isn't really worth the trouble. The 01V has 12 microphone inputs and a bunch of outputs. You don't need a computer, you don't need a monitor, and the preamps are usable. You don't need to worry so much about it crashing (although I've had one fail 100% on me once -- had to go back to the rental house).
To use a completely in-the-box system you'd have to get at least one audio interface. Probably two. The MOTU UltraLite is about $550. Of course that's really only 8 inputs and 8 outputs. And only two of those inputs are mic preamps (and they're kinda meh but maybe no better or worse than the Yamahas).
If you happen to have an UltraLite and a computer (which I do) then you're maybe thinking this whole task is a tad more feasible.
Plus, in many cases we just don't care about microphone preamps. The preamps are going to be on the stage, sending us line-level signal up to the FOH position.
What I've used with success is a signal chain like this: mic preamps on stage going to an Aviom system which went down a Cat 5 cable to the FOH position. That's. Hmm... Oh, here are my notes. I imagine I was coming into the Yamaha board with one Aviom card from a master station, and then feeding the headphone stations directly with some channels and via a mix for other channels.
Note that Behringer makes a vastly cheaper (and that's probably in every meaning of the word "cheaper") version of the Aviom system. I do, however, like the user-side of the interface better. Even the master station is more readable.
What Behringer doesn't make now is a D/A box for its Powerplay system. They just make the A/D box. Now, if you could run one Cat5 and have inputs and outputs appear on both sides, life would be good. Even if we had to run a pair of Cat5's (one for each direction) I'd be fine.
So the whole point of this is that we can use our favorite effects (including, er, Autotune) while mixing live just with a computer and an interface or two.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Shouldn't I Have One of These?

The answer is "Yes. Yes, Drew. I'll buy it for you."
For $209 it looks to be a fairly cool control surface. The Behringer BCF2000 could be a drawbar controller for a virtual organ too (ahem.) It has 8 motorized faders. There are minimal deck controls but honestly I would never use a jog/shuttle wheel anyway.
It's not that I touch faders a whole lot or even that I have a fetish about touching them. It's just that this is a particularly inexpensive solution for those times when one might want a fader to control a DAW.
I'm sorta curious about what a completely in-the-box live sound mixing system would be like. You'd have to really know what you were doing as a mixer in order to keep yourself out of trouble. But couldn't you set up a live system with all your favorite effects and everything? I think there's a way to do that. It would be some number of dozens of milliseconds out of real-time however. Which for live is not necessarily bad though, because you tend to time-delay your stacks anyway.


This is why I love this band so much. All I have to do is show up with a section. I don't have any idea how this should go either after or before this section. But somebody will.
Dark Quartet

I'm limiting myself to sending my band one email per day. So I have to wait until midnight tonight to send them this.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chance Hill Zambri

Tyrannosaurus Mouse
Chance Shirley's notes on music.
Erin Hill was, I believe, the first sound designer of the Estrogenius Festival. And she's playing at the Bitter End:
Erin Hill & her Psychedelic Harp
Monday, October 10th 
at 7 PM
one set, 7:00 to 7:45 PM, $5 cover
The Bitter End 147 Bleecker St., NYC

Zambri is doing a vinyl release. I ordered mine!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Oh Mouse

BMI sends me stuff. In the article below they suggest (as tip #1) to "do one business thing each day." I suppose there's merit to that.
5 Things Songwriters Can Do To Move Their Careers Forward | Songwriter101 - Articles |

This E-mu Midi-to-USB interface is useful, simple, and cheap.

I need a guitar stand. I also need a guitar tech. Have I mentioned I need a guitar tech? I need a guitar tech.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Post Mortem

So, here is my personal post-mortem of the first Tyrannosaurus Mouse concert.

My biggest worry about this show was that I wouldn't have fun. This has been a problem for me in the past -- where I've been so stressed out that I'm just trying to hold it together for the duration of the set and all I want to do is get it over with. If that had happened it would have sucked.
I have a memory of playing with Pavlov and the Drooling Dogs in Stanhope, New Jersey in 1985? '86? .. or wait. Maybe not. Wasn't there a venue up in Dover or somewhere? It was a huge place. Anyway, I remember playing there once and thinking "I spend all month gearing up for how awesome this is to play live, and now that I'm here I'm miserable just hoping the band won't fall apart. I'm going to enjoy myself instead." It worked and I enjoyed the rest of the set.

So that's what I did with T-mouse too. By the time we went up to play I was done with stressing over the sound system and the projections and whether we'd get stills taken and if the lights would dip down properly, and just enjoy myself. So that's the number one thing. I had a good time. Other than that, here are my thoughts:

1. Costumes worked great
Everyone, even the initially resistant band, agrees on that. They look great.
2. Guitar volume is hard to control
I've gotten myself set up such that my guitars are very responsive. Which means that the volume controls on the guitars do a lot. But setting the volumes can be very tricky because just a little bit of turning goes a long way. And it can be incredibly difficult to see exactly where the volume is turned to, so you basically have to play and listen. In a live situation that can be difficult. I almost wish the volume controls were stepping potentiometers (which would make volume swells impossible but that's just how things are). Anyway, that's something I have to figure out.
3. The video projector is mighty dim
This might be because the lamp is going. And/or it may be that we had the stage lights up for shooting video. In any case it would be nice to have a projector which could put out a whole lot of light as well as spread it over a short distance. That sounds like it'll cost money. We don't have money. So it'll have to wait.
4. It's hard to keep the volume under about 80dB SPL
The guitar amps, as you can even see from the picture above, are turned way down (the volumes are the last two knobs on the right). And the guitars really start to sing when they're up just a bit louder.
5. Why hasn't Ethan been playing electric stand-up bass all this time?
It sounds awesome. Infinite sustain. Plus as an added bonus Ethan plays fretless with a lot of taste (which is unusual for a bass player. ;-)
6. The keyboards are a good situation with the laptops
We're using laptops to generate the sounds (electric piano and Hammond). Look down below somewhere for the formulae. They sound fantastic. We might look into getting something other than a bass amp for the keyboards though.
I don't know what's going to happen with volume control. Right now Arie is using one volume pedal. Will he use two? Who knows?
7. I need a guitar stand.
I managed to knock over the Les Paul during the first song because it was leaning against my guitar cabinet. Not my best moment. Right up until we were about to play I was going to play the entire show on my Blattocaster but then Greg Bartus said "You're not going to play your Les Paul?" and so I had to have the Les Paul there too. But to switch guitars I will ultimately need a guitar stand. And, let's face it, a guitar tech too. Gimme one.

More things from my notebook

Here's some more stuff where this blog is my internet notebook.
The Studio is a rehearsal studio in Manhattan.

John Marshall Media is the company of my ol' buddy John Cheary. You know the last time I saw John? I believe it was the blackout of 2003. I had just gotten off an elevator. No, that's not right. The blackout happened just before I got on an elevator.

Harrison Consoles makes the Mixbuss -- a DAW for only $149.

The SIX Rights (not 5)

This is my new favorite picture of me.
Payola doesn't make very much sense to me. The economics aren't right. Firstwise, a record company can indeed pay a radio station to play their songs -- I believe the only restriction is that they have to announce "This hour brought to you by Arista Records" or whatever. The illegal part is when someone pays a disk jockey or program director directly to play their songs. But the bigger issue is that the advertising revenue on radio stations is vastly higher than any "payola" they might receive. Here's a fairly out-of-date list of stations in New York.*
My point is that if you paid a radio station (say) $30,000 to play your song (through an "independent promoter) and they lost enough listeners to lose just a fraction of their advertising revenue, it wouldn't be financially viable for them. If you're bringing in $1400 for a 30-second spot, that's a lot of change to be hanging on adding some song nobody wants to actually hear.
Hey -- I've been saying all along that there are 5 rights associated with the creation of a new piece of music. Nowadays it's actually 6. Tunecore has an ideological commitment to telling you this. Because now it's all about the digital rights, baby.

* Admittedly, NYC has the worst radio in the US outside of Los Angeles.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tyrannosaurus Mouse Live Pictures More

More from our man David Frey.
Andrew Bellware (guitar) and Lou Clark (drums).
The dashing Arie Uyterlinde in his three-corner hat (keyboards).

Ethan Rosenblatt on the upright electric bass.

Lou Clark.

More Lou Clark!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tyrannosaurus Mouse Video

This is us, just playing the first half of the Mouseverture.

And yup the second two chords I play are wrong. But I'd made the deliberate decision by the second part of the first bar to not care about any of that and just have fun.

Yup, there's more

This picture was actually stitched together in Gimp using a stitching-together script called Pandora. The whole band (taken by David Frey). That's Andrew Bellware, Lou Clark, Ethan Rosenblatt, and Arie Uyterlinde.
Shortly thereafter yes, I did knock over the Les Paul behind me. It suffered no damage however. At least none I would admit to myself. ;-)

Tyrannosaurus Live Mouse

David Frey took these pictures. First -- the empty stage before the show.

And here with the rock added. Andrew Bellware, Lou Clark, Ethan Rosenblatt, and Arie Uyterlinde.

Monday, September 26, 2011


One Last Rehearsal

So last night we rehearsed at Theatresource for our Tuesday show. We were... stunningly bad. That's to be expected, of course, of the last rehearsal before a show.
The projection didn't work at all. Why? Well, as it turns out QLab decided to unpatch the video outputs when I swapped in a projector. I should have seen that coming. But I didn't and I was too frazzled to troubleshoot it, get the sound system working, and my guitar rig working.
Right here is where I would put a picture of us rehearsing, looking very groovy. But the guys refused to put on their costumes for the dress rehearsal.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The New Order

A still from Tyrannosaurus Mouse starring Melissa Riker.

  1. Mouseverture
  2. Mercury
  3. Narwal Song
  4. Arabesque
  5. Jabberwocky
  6. Ice Maiden
  7. One Last Drink
  8. Reprise
This looks to seem to be the order of the songs we're playing on Tuesday the 27th at 7:30pm at Manhattan Theatre Source.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I updated the keyboards to Mouseverture. I can't say that this is the definitive version, but it replicates the version Arie played on an earlier chorus. So we'll see. Note that this is the un-limited version of the song.
But that's not what's important right now.
What is important is the song order and what we do in-between songs.
1. Preshow video
2. Announcement
3. Mouseverture video
  • Mouseverture
  • Mercury
4. Mercury video
  • One Last Drink
  • Ice Maiden
  • Arabesque
  • Jabberwocky
  • Narwal Song

I'm incredibly disappointed we don't have a fan dance. I feel like I've really let everyone down. What I do have is some psychedelic video and a pre-recorded announcement.

Monday, September 19, 2011

At least she didn't name and publish the post.

My brother Dave says we remind him of "It's a Beautiful Day".
We have a lot of thanks to give out for this show.
Ron Sharpe of Tale of Two Cities
Scott Hirshon, my old childhood friend, for the loan of recording gear.
Vincent Marano, without whom we wouldn't be playing tonight.
I should not leave my blog edit window open when my sister is here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


At this point I have to figure out what is too complicated about the upcoming Tyrannosaurus Mouse concert. Because honestly, rather than dealing with technical issues I ought to be practicing guitar.
The following are strictly my own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of anybody else in the band. I'm just thinking out loud here.
A still of the Tyrannosaurus Mouse psychedelic video.
  • YES Video projection is all but a no-brainer. Meaning we can do it. The video isn't synced to anything. 
  • NO Recording. This is actually fairly a big pain to deal with. I would love to dump trying to make a recording. We could do a recording at Ethan's house instead. I suspect I'm the only one who has this opinion.
  • YES Audio playback. We have to use Qlab. Firstwise we have the wonderful announcement. Also there are some places where we could, er, have a guitar part just come in from Qlab. That is, if I learn to play the guitar leads in those places.
  • NO Footswitch triggering of audio playback. I would love to have a USB footswitch in order to trigger Qlab. There aren't a lot of USB foot switches out there with software for Macs. There are options to take a regular sustain-pedal - type switch and turn them into MIDI (for which you'd have to have a MIDI interface, which I do, but don't want to deal with). Actually, there are a number of options like USB to 1/8" jack interfaces although it does end up being a tad Franken-cable-y when you do so. I think we might just have someone else trigger the "GO" button on Qlab this time. No fancy-pants triggering. That's my vote for this particular show.
  • YES Costumes. That seems to be mostly taken care of. Arie is the only one for whom we do not yet have a jacket but I hope to solve that over this weekend. And of course Lou can't wear a jacket while playing so I'm going to try to get him into a nice 19th-Century vest we had on Solar Vengeance.

Monday, September 12, 2011


My experience making this album was very enlightening. I learned a lot of things. I learned -- and re-learned -- many things.
Firstwise a good, nay, a great drummer is key. Having a drummer who makes his drums sound great is important. Drums are a strange instrument. It's intuitive, for instance, to think of something like a violin as needing a better player in order to make the violin sound better. But a drummer is just hitting things with sticks. Everybody's hit things with sticks since they were two. But for whatever reason, goodness gracious, get yourself a drummer who hits things musically. It's stunningly hard to do.
But once you have a good drummer, life gets very very easy. No, really. If you're really fighting all day long with mic placement and trying to get that right sound (from an engineer's perspective), you probably have a crappy drummer. If, like us, you have a drummer who makes the drums just sing, then it's easy to get a recording down and a mix.
My old guitar teacher, Dean Powell, said to me that great - sounding records were made by "Good instruments played by good players." So this thing about drums can just be extrapolated to all the other members of the band.
Here's another thing that really works out for me. When I wonder about my guitar sound, I just look at the bass player. Ethan will clue me in to the direction I should go in. Frequently one is listening to oneself so much that one gets completely lost. "Does this sound good or not?" It's really helpful to have players say "Yeah, that's not too distorted in that part, but you could lose some of the upper mids" or whatever.
Arie, as really the best guitar player in the band, will also have a lot to offer.
I learned a long time ago that recording using great mic preamps solves a lot of your troubles. You have a problem with the way something sounds? Put it through something expensive (as Alan Douches says). And a mic preamp is a great way to start.
Indeed, when you have

  • good music being played by
  • good musicians on
  • good instruments going through a
  • good mic preamp

You're in good shape. I don't even care about the microphone at that point. You're in good shape. (Recording with a good microphone and using a good A/D converter is better though.)
With this album we were going for "traditional" rock and roll sounds. The keyboards were as exotic as distorted electric piano and Hammond organ with a Leslie. There's a reason people like those tones -- they're very usable. They mix well with the guitars.
The guitars went through very old-school amplifiers. Not too distorted. In fact, some of my favorite singing lead sounds are very not distorted. They're clean but have a nice "bloom" to them.
As always, the vocals were compressed to within an inch of their lives. Plus I put fancy-pants analog-simulated delays put on them. And don't think I didn't autotune my vocals because I sure did.
Then we went to Trax East and we didn't spend time micro-managing and fiddling with the mixes. Thankfully. We just brought up the faders on the "poor-man's Neve" Neotek console and sure enough -- 90% of the mix was there. Because of all the work getting ourselves to that place, mixing on the Neotek involved almost no EQ work and fader riding.
The other thing that made the mix process easier is that Eric's monitors are phenomenal. They are very transparent. They'll tell you exactly what needs to happen -- if the guitar is too loud or the bass is too muddy. You won't be touching the wrong fader because you're confused about whether the keyboards are making the bass too muddy or whatever -- you know what's happening in the mix.
So we mixed quietly (monitors turned down) and quickly. That was kind of awesome.
Well, can we mix our own records without going to another studio to do it? Probably. Should we? Absolutely not.


So, I signed up with Songkick. So that we could promote the Tyrannosaurus Mouse concert.
In the meantime, check out this new DAW by Harrison (yes, that Harrison.) At $159 and it works on Linux and Mac (soon to be PC) it's an excellent deal.
I would love to have my guitar amp controls be more adjustable. It's hard to do with only two hands. Now, what I really need is a babysitter -- someone to do all the guitar tech work and change all my settings and hand me guitars in-between songs. So check out the Tone in Progress 3rd Hand. This looks to me as though it could control a guitar amp -- if the amp were sitting on the floor down there with your pedals.

Moving the Blags

I'm re-consolodating my blogs.  I know, you wanted them separate. But my little mind just doesn't work that way. All my blogging -- ...