Thursday, January 31, 2013

6 Channels

There's a lot of iron in this box. I think my band(s) would prefer if I started playing a Leslie because it would weigh less.

I have six good channels of analog going on here. That's a pair of Lindell peamps above two pair of Neve 1272 preamps.
The A/D conversion is done with the M-Audio 2626 which then feeds the red thing -- a Focusrite Scarlett -- via TOSlink.
You might ask yourself "Why not eliminate either the M-Audio or the Focusrite?" Yeah. About that.
The Scarlett is USB so I can use my laptop. But the analog inputs on the Scarlett are very unhappy with the relatively high levels from the preamps and I can't turn the preamps down enough to work with it without getting into that very squirrely last 1/8 of a turn on the preamps pots. And the M-Audio, which can better handle the preamps levels, is only Firewire (so I can't use my laptop with it.) This means I have to feed the Scarlett with the M-Audio.
Note that the M-Audio's preamps aren't bad. They aren't as cool as the Neve preamps. But they're better than the Scarlett's. I'd come to a determination that I kinda liked the M-Audio's A/D better than the Scarlett's but not by much and so I'd be perfectly happy with the Scarlett's A/D if only the level thing weren't an issue.
Now. Three albums. One of which is an opera.
N.B. That thing on the top left is the power supply for an AKG C12A. I don't really have an awesome place to put it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pass the Test


I feel better now that I've given up on trying to test things and will just go with the M-Audio converter at 48kHz and recording at 16-bit. I'd use the Scarlett but I can't get the input levels under control with that thing.
I wouldn't have had to go through all that rigamarole if I'd only watched this video first.

Yes, it's almost an hour. But as a quick course in audio gear theory and testing it's well worth it. Ethan Winer does a much better job of explaining why I was frustrated trying to test things than I did.
Stacking tracks using higher-end preamps and reverbs seems to me to be better and easier to mix. Mr. Winer explains that the distortion on the same preamp on different instruments is a different kind of distortion. Which explains why it can be nice to record a whole record with the same preamps.

Now and Then

Typical for the New York Times the headline of this article isn't really demonstrated by the article itself. Royalties Slow to a Trickle. The key word here is "slow". As in, it's worse now than it was in some time before now.
“In certain types of music, like classical or jazz, we are condemning them to poverty if this is going to be the only way people consume music,” Ms. Keating said. 
Uh. Classical or jazz music... and not living in poverty? When has that ever been true? For four years between '59 and '63 maybe? For jazz artists touring Europe in the 1980's? I don't know.

This is odd thing for me to be cranky about because in this case because we have some actual data about royalties for streaming.
What do I mean then about "slow" or actual data? I mean we know what's happening now. But we don't really know what was going on then. What we don't have is context. How much were similar artists making before Spotify? It may be that information is simply not available in spreadsheet form because it was never delivered in spreadsheet form. 
It may be that artists were having an even worse time before. And now with Spotify there's at least something. Nobody knows. And as far as I can tell there's no way to find out.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Simple Sample Signs

Remember back when I was pontificating on the differences in sample rates and bit depths?
I've since given up. 48kHz and 16-bit is good enough for me. At least with Apogee converters they are. I've played The Great Gig in the Sky out of my iPod so many times now just to invert the polarity on different recordings and find I just don't care.
Actually, looking at the waveforms is interesting. Other than that, though, I just... don't care. My first reaction to hearing the 16-bit 48k recording was "Ooh, I like that one the best" before I realized which recording I was listening to.
I believe I'd already abandoned 24-bit as a recording bit depth when one has any sort of control over the input levels (recording classical music live and dialog for movies are not those times, so I'll still do those at 24-bit).
But I was still on the 96kHz Kool-Aid religion. I now forsake those high-sampling-rate gods. It's not that I believe those gods do not exist. I just do not believe they hold sway over the lands upon which I now live.
Excuse me while I set all my converters to 48kHz now. Oh look, now I can put signals over Lightpipe...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Last of the New Gear

I'm done with my studio for this year. Here's the Lindell 6X-500 preamps in their A Designs powered rack.

No, not the world's most awesome color-combination (brown on cream). I recorded some acoustic guitar with the preamps (boosting a little 6K on each channel just because I could.) The Lindell Test is at 96kHz, the Anubus was recorded at 48kHz. I downsampled them both to 44.1 based on the theory that such an obnoxious downsample would adversely affect both of them about equally. I threw both of the signals through identical non-linear summing plugins. Obviously, the performances are not identical because that would be impossible for me to do.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Now We Know

This is probably the single most helpful critique I've gotten from Taxi. First of all, it reiterated the one thing I'm coming to grips with about my music.
  • It is no, nor has it ever been, terribly "modern" sounding. I don't have a contemporary bone in my body.
That's fine. But most importantly I've learned what genre Tyrannosaurus Mouse is.
  • Psychedelic Space Rock
And that's spectacularly helpful to know. I suspect the City Samanas are Psychedelic Space Jazz Rock.
Now we know.

Edwina

Here is my pair of Ear Trumpet Labs Edwina microphones.
Numbers 195 and 210.
 The Edwina is a very sweet and smooth-sounding condenser. And you know how I feel about smooth-sounding microphones these days.
The very first thing I did with this microphone was to deface it. I put a little red dot on the front. I do that for two reasons, one is to mark the microphone as "mine", and the other to indicate which side is front. If you're listening to the mic it's very easy to tell which side is front. If you're just looking at it (which is how I do most of my band recordings) you have to know which way the bolts go in. And I know I'll never remember that.
I'd wanted to try them out on the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York. But FedEx didn't deliver until this afternoon.

Russian for Russian

Recording the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York is a spiritual experience. After Sunday's show I didn't think they could be any better. Nope. On Wednesday they were even more awesome.
I recorded using a pair of Oktava microphones. Fitting, isn't it? Russian microphones for the Russian Chamber Chorus.
One of the mics was an old silver one and the other was a newer black one. Even though the old silver one had been beat up over the years I couldn't tell the difference between the two sound - wise (I flipped them right and left during rehearsals just to make sure.)
For the actual recording they were in an X/Y configuration. You can see that the silver one has taken a hit.
I don't know if I'm becoming grumpy in my old age or I'm just letting myself be swayed by stuff I know intellectually or what but I like these Oktavas better for almost everything right now. They are vastly cheaper microphones than the AKG 460's. But they're smoother both on-axis and off-axis. Yes, the AKG mics have a bit more lift in the upper mids which many people find pleasing. But at the place I'm in with my life right now I like smooth.
It may be that I like the non-lobing off-axis sound the most with the Oktavas. Most directional microphones sound yukkity when you're not directly in front of them. And a lot of sound in a natural recording situation hits the microphones from behind (like all the reverberation from the back of the church). That stuff sounding bassy and squffly can make the whole recording sound less... well less musical.
So yeah. Microphone selection is more religion than science.
Now if we could only do something about the heating valve that was just over a quarter-tone sharper than the key I'd be all set.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

MW

Mystical Weapons. I heard them yesterday when I was having my very decadent shave in a barber shop. They're totally like Gentle Giant meets King Crimson in a post-aught indy-modern world. Which is funny because their provenance is so not that. Or maybe it is.
I left this at rehearsal last week. Hopefully someone will find it and squirrel it away for me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Leviathan Moon


Here's another track from City Samanas. I feel like we're getting a hang of this whole recording thing.
Ok. So. I was getting shaved today in a very hip place.
Here's Matt at Person of Interest in Brooklyn taking me to facial heaven. If I were an aristocrat I would get this treatment every day.
Anyway the soundtrack was Mystical Weapon. Yeah I know, Sean Lennon's band. They sound like a cross between Gentle Giant and King Crimson but, you know, with more Zappa influence than you'd normally expect.

Not my best day



Obsessed with remembering the stereo bar for two microphones for recording the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York I completely forgot the actual mic clips. A priest gave me some blue painter's tape*. Yeah. I'm not proud.
But then I had a more pernicious problem. Somebody kicked on the lights in the church and I got this obnoxious buzz in one of my AKG 460's. I thought maybe one of the capsules wasn't seated so I tried re-seating. That didn't work. I did notice, however, that my hand off to one side of the mic reduced the buzz considerably. Like my body was some sort of electromagnetic radiation shield for the microphone.
If I touched the mic capsule I could reduce the low-frequency portion of the noise. And I could get rid of some of the higher frequency noise stuff by putting my hand next to the mic.
Of course, I couldn't stand there with my hand up next to the mic for the duration of the concert. So I ran down and got a music stand, thinking that perhaps a big metal shield would do the same thing my hand did. It didn't. And it sounded almost as bad as it looks.
Amusingly if I touched the stand to the mic element I could get rid of a tiny bit of noise. If the music stand touched the little neck-thing between the capsule and the body of the mic I got some AM radio.
So none of that really worked.
By the time rehearsal was over I figured I'd swap the two mic elements just to confirm that it was the capsules and not the bodies of the microphones. Yep, the noise switched channels. But fiddling with the seating of the capsules a bit more and... the noise disappeared! Oh happy day.
Not for long.
Somebody dimmed the lights. Hoo boy.
So my EMI was back. Now, I quickly found I could shield a little of it (again) with my body. By this point the concert had started. The woman who came in late and sat in my aisle finally stopped rooting around in her purse for her keys. And there was no way I was going to be able to hold my hand up next to the microphone for the duration of the show.
So I did an ugly thing. As there was no intermission and not even any breaks between pieces, I just dropped the mic stand down to head-height right in the middle of the show. It sounds on playback (I just listened to it) like squirrels running up and down the microphone stand.
But with the mic stand down there by me I could shield it better. I had to breathe with my mouth open for the rest of the concert and every little tic and sound I made was louder than gunfire, but the noise was reduced.
Obviously on Wednesday I'm going to have another set of microphones as a spare...
*Sounds like the first line of a blues song.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dust Star

There's times when you just have to play for 23 minutes without really knowing what you're going to play next. This was one of those times.
One of the big differences in this recording is that Lily used her good bass head into a 4x10 cabinet at the studio. Although the band's sound is typically more of a "growly" bass (or at least one where you can hear the round-wound strings), but with this amp setup Lily went for a warmer and deeper sound. What this sound has in common with what we/she usually do/does is that it's a very lyrical bass sound. The sound and the playing style are melodic I mean. Something like that. Click through to listen.

Now up until now we'd set the bass speakers aimed right at the center of the kick drum. But in this recording the bass speakers are on the left side (drummer's right) of the kit. So the bass comes out more in the left (even with multitrack there's no way to separate the low frequency out of everyone's microphones, and even with the "omnidirectionality" of bass tones it does tend to sit in the left side.)
I had a devil of a time when I first put these tracks up on my editing workstation because the timing was off slightly so there was this strange delay happening. I went back to the original project and got everything into sync again.
The guitar preamps and the A/D converter are the Focusrite Scarlett. This is because we had that movie emergency wherein I had to use my old PC for other purposes this week.
Playing with the City Samanas has given me a lot of opportunity to play guitar in styles I don't usually play. Jazz, for instance. I know some major 7 chords in theory. And now I will actually have to play them. ;-) I'm good at those chords where you just barre over all six strings and pretend it's a suspended minor 7th or something.
On this particular song I don't have to do that. It's funny how simultaneously simple and difficult Dead songs can be. 

Bit Depth and Sample Rate in the Mouse

16 vs 24-bit

I'm not 100% onboard with the notion that recording in 24-bit is, in absolute terms, any sort of real advantage to me. At least not when recording rock music.
Reading about it on the Interwebs there's a lot of BS. The place I'd go for low BS is Sound Devices. And they have a little article on the real audible differences between 16 and 24-bit recordings.
My issue with just doing everything at 24-bit is that it uses up a lot of power and data when I'm recording. 24-bit recordings are by their very nature less susceptible to precision when setting levels. In other words, if you're recording a bit on the low side you can boost up the levels in mixing later on and not have problems with the digital garbage that would get louder when boosting.
In the world I live in it's the analog stuff that's noisy. Let's face it, I record a guitar with P90 pickups. There's plenty of noise to go around.
For recording dialog in films: sounds like 24-bit is the way to go. Because who knows what level some idiot actor will deliver their lines? But we do that at 48k because movies are, for the time being, 48k.
For classical music: 24-bit 96 (or 88.2)kHz. Because who knows how quiet that clarinet solo is going to be? And since you never know how freaking loud that part in the middle might be you're always going to set your gains 8 to 10dB lower than the loudest rehearsal. Because you know it's going to get louder than that.
For rock music: 16-bit. Why? Because I'm doing multi-track recording and any machine I drag around simply does not have the power to handle even six tracks of 24-bit 96kHz recording without ASIO buffers dropping.

Addendum

Here's the thing. Back in the olden days when dinosaurs walked the earth [Editor's note: the early 1990's] some A/D converters claiming to be 16-bit were, in fact, only 13 (or even 12) bit. The big difference with Apogee converters is that they were actually 16-bit. So they sounded vastly better (they still do). Another thing is that converters used to be really terrible about only being linear at the upper part of their range. As things got quiet the converters got wonky.
So there's a possibility that the same converter at 24 bit sounds better in the upper 16 bits of its range than when it's just set to 16 bits. I'm not, however, hearing anybody on the Internet saying that. And if it's not on the Internet, it must not be true.
Also note that when we're in post-production and/or mixing we're working at 64-bit floating-point, dual-overhead cam, fuel-injected steppin-out over the line. Yes, we need all kinds of high-bit-depth for anything we do to those recordings after we've actually recorded them. And all mixes are delivered at 24-bit (except for film, but we do pre-mix at 24-bit in film).

48 vs 96kHz


The next big issue is what sampling rate to record at. Boy my music life would be easier if I could record at 48kHz. But I think, feel, and in part believe, that 96kHz sounds "better". We all know now that the reason oversampling rates sound better is likely due to the analog portion of the A/D conversion process (right?) We're not actually hearing stuff up at 48kHz but rather we're hearing the anti-aliasing filters which are phase-shifting down where we can hear the difference.
For recording dialog in films: 48kHz is such a standard across the board we're just going to go with 48k. I don't see this changing any time soon. I can't even deliver my movies in 24-bit, I'm certainly not going to change the sample rate.
For classical music: 96kHz* because more = better.
For rock music: I believe that all the converters I use, even the cheap ones, sound subtly better at 96kHz. By "subtly" I mean "enough to make a difference here".

Addendum

Now it may very well be (from what I've read on the Internets) that 60kHz is the "ideal" sampling rate and that above 60kHz is just nonsense. But I can't set any of my converters to 60kHz so that's a moot point.
It also may be that cheaper converters start to sound much more expensive at high sample rates. That's just me making stuff up though, as I'm wont to do.

*For purposes of this discussion, 96kHz and 88.2kHz are the same. I'm not ready to go into the notion of which is better for which purposes yet.

Friday, January 11, 2013

This, That, and the Other Thing

4.6 million vinyl records were sold last year. Which is funny considering how vinyl records are only good for about two plays.
I was 3/4.6million a part of that vinyl boom. Still, I practically never listen to vinyl.
Laura Marano is our buddy Vinnie's niece.
Valvotronics is a company that makes preamps and DI's and stuff like that.
Fake or not, it's still pretty funny.



But the Hum, She is on Purpose

I don't think I'm ever going to sing a "vocally dominant sound". Me? Nope. Never going to happen.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Love Me

Last night's Samana rehearsal:
I used Adobe's Audition to record, with the Mac Mini (having stolen it out of the office for the evening.) I used the M-Audio 2626 as the A/D converter. That's not how we're going to be doing things in the future. I'm bringing my old quad-core PC and recording with Samplitude and that's that. I'll be able to leave the computer at the studio.
Right now we're using a pair of Oktava mics as the right and left of the drums. And there's a "center" AKG C12A. There is a fantasy world I live in where we eliminate that center microphone. That same fantasy world has us using two of these beautiful Edwina microphones. But more on that at some other time.
Have you noticed that my notes on this blog are sometimes really detailed and are of no value to you, the gentle reader?
Here is a slow blues jam on the bass like of a Doors song. My feeling is that we may have abandoned the actual Doors song altogether.
  My personal notes about me go like this:

  • I felt that my guitar playing was not always very controlled. Sometimes I would "bark", especially on the G string. I dig where we're going with the drums. Sometimes the other bands in the rehearsal studio nearby are freaking loud.
  • We need the mic on Greg's amp to be a whole bunch closer. I was not as careful about that as I should have been.
  • Man, even with the M-Audio the levels coming out of the Neve preamps is hot. 
  • I messed up my input list. I noticed while we were recording. Basically I put the bass in the wrong preamp/channel. 
  • You know what works well? Non-linear summing amp emulators. Right now I'm liking the channels for the mixer they used on Dark Side of the Moon.
  • The preamps on the M-Audio are almost adequate for recording guitars. I really did not like the Focusrite Scarlett on guitars. 



Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Taxi Forwarding

I got a tune forwarded through Taxi. I, of course, don't even remember what this was for.
I only submitted to one new listing in the past 30 days. They ain't all good listings for me. But we'll see. It's just five bucks to submit to a listing, so I may as well do it when one is right.

Monday, January 7, 2013

On the Highway

On the Highway by City Samanas. I'm not exactly sure if this was what Greg intended when he wrote this. But it's something like what we recorded.

The preamps on the guitar are just the Focusrite Scarlett preamps. I put them through the preamp emulator in Samplitude in order to make them betterized somehow. It does seem to work. Although I suspect we'll be happier overall when we have preamps just for the guitars.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

It's As If I Mocked the Gods and the Fates Intervened

It begins slowly to dawn on me that I may not have a single commercial bone in my whole body. I have managed to become and remain uncool for almost half a century now. It's quite spectacular.
None of my instincts are toward anything even remotely "hit"-like. For all that's holy, please do not tell anyone who might invest in one of our films that.
I can say for certain however that if I had had the kind of success I thought I wanted in my early 20's I would be stark down absolutely miserable now. If I'd had some minor hits and then at this point in my career I was getting notes like how to get a more "modern, forward-thinking sound" would drive me into insanity.
As it is I can make pretty much any sort of music I like and although nobody will listen to it at least I don't have to worry about "wider note changes".
I'm not even saying this Taxi review is wrong or non-helpful. I suppose it is helpful -- but to someone else. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about it though.

Friday, January 4, 2013

To Me, Not To You

Another rehearsal with the Samanas, another 10GB of recording.
If you're looking at an email or something in an RSS reader right now you probably won't see the following link to the "album". So go ahead, click on through to the other side. Here are my notes.
The Scarlett's very hot input level makes recording with outboard preamps very difficult. The Neves have to be turned way the heck down in order to not overload the Scarlett's inputs.
I did a three-microphone tree for the drums. Over the span of less than a foot I had a pair of Oktava mics in X/Y on the outside and the AKG C12A on the inside. This did not really work because of phasing issues. So I pulled the tracks with the Oktavas back in time just a tiny bit which eliminated the phasing issues. But I think that next time I will use them more as a spaced pair.

I'd put the M-Audio 2626 in my rack here in the studio and I've really liked having big and straightforward knobs to grab and change volume with. The MOTU Ultralite is not that easy to do that with as it's hard to see what knob you're touching without putting some light on it. That being said, the metering is a tad more apparent on the MOTU. But I think the 2626 has to go into the remote recording rack in order to be fed by the Neve preamps.
The trick is that the 2626 is only firewire. And if I want to use my laptop I have to go USB.
So what I can do is go from the 2626 into the Scarlett via Lightpipe. But at 96kHz I can only get 4 channels out of the 2626 via Lightpipe. The remainder would have to go via the two available channels or S/PDIF or analog inputs of the Scarlett (which are still a pain because of their high input levels.)
But what I've considered briefly is the notion that Tyrannosaurus Mouse simply does a weekly rental at the same studio that City Samanas uses and we keep a computer with a Firewire port at the studio. Along with the rack and such. The cost is $120 a month.
Interesting.
Not to you, of course, but to me.

Robot Christmas video concepts

So I came up with a little ditty called Robot Christmas . And it amuses me. The first verse is about evil robots. They are waiting for t...