Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Vorga

Embedded below is a mix combining a thing we did with the Samanas and the recording I made of Maduka and Kate. The quote of last night's rehearsal was:
"Oh, somebody tuned these drums." -- David Wolfe
Andrew Bellware with Lily Kinner. The goofier version of this picture had my pick in my mouth.
 Lily played the Twin Reverb. The Twin makes a nice bass amp. I think maybe we need to experiment with the microphone placement to get a bit more of the mids and highs on it.
The isolation on the microphones was tremendous. I don't know why. I mean seriously, I have no idea why the isolation was so good.
David Wolfe on drums.
Again, we're doing the "guitar player's perspective" of drums. In this recording that means the two Oktavas are about 30" apart and aimed at the kit. Or, wait, no, Lily and I went over this a lot. She has a better sense of distance. I think she determined that the mics were 26" apart from one another. Then they're about 30" from the beater side of the kick drum.
This is an attempt to show the location of the three drum microphones. See them? I thought not.
I did in fact record with the AKG C12A as a center microphone for the drum kit, but this mix does not have any of that mic in it. I used the Lindell preamp and again the isolation was... fantastic. Weirdly good. But it just had the kick drum in it and wasn't a sound we weren't getting out of the stereo pair of mics, so I muted the channel.
Lily Kinner playing through a Twin Reverb. Did I ever tell you the story about when Debbie Harry told me on the phone that her bass player would use a Twin Reverb and then she got very annoyed with me when I showed up with a Twin Reverb for him to play through? 
This recording is one of those dream-scape sorts of things. Sort of a space-rock arabesque. Of course, the Doors song "The End" does that kind of sound and it's used at the top of Apocalypse Now, which is the feel of what we're doing maybe with The Imaginary Opera.
A bird's-eye view of the mic setup for the drums. The perspective is funky but the two Oktavas are actually on the same imaginary plane that the kick drum head is on. You can see the C12A is on a different plane would would likely make me want to time-shift it if I were inclined to use the sound of it.
The recordings this week have been quite inspiring. I've learned a lot about how to do an imaginary opera.
Greg Bartus, the master of space rock. 
Greg played through his Deluxe clone which sounds very, very sweet.
Did I mention that the bass (on a Twin) went through a Rode NT1A and then a Lindell preamp?
We're recording at 48kHz and hitting the M-Audio 2626 as A/D.
Coming up: on the Samanas Bandcamp page will be various other pieces we worked on. Man, I have to practice rhythm guitar.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

First reading

So last night Maduka Steady and Kate Britton came in and recorded the dialog in The Imaginary Opera.

For me it was awesome just because I had a front-row seat to these lovely performances. We were a bit random when it came to who read for Holden and who read for Leon, which lead to help the impressionistic part of the opera.

Hearing Kate and Maduka do all the parts convinces me that we can totally use one actor for many parts. Kate even jokingly mentioned hand puppets but you know what? Hand puppets.
Maduka Steady.

About the text: my feeling is that we're in very good shape. I don't feel like the beginning of the show is like what the show is after the intermission. I feel that the Logan's Run references come in to heavily for not having been foreshadowed earlier. That's okay because I don't like calling Plissken a Blade Runner. I'm totally down with calling him a Sandman. And that's just what we're going to do.
Kate Britton

We're also going to write out the Krio.
Now it's time to work out the music...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hear What

I have numerous strategies to protect my hearing. The most egregious violator of people's hearing in this town is the damnable subway.
I've stopped pulling out sound pressure level meters on the subway but it flips my fellow passengers out to no end — I presume because they think it's a Geiger counter (or worse). No, it's just the astonishing assault on your hearing that I'm measuring, ma'am.
So I wear earplugs on the subway. For years I wore these custom-made molds which I got at an AES show sometime way back.
Ears look funny, don't they? Blue is for the right ear.
These things cut out quite a bit of sound. Brakes squeeling is one of my least favorite of the sounds a train makes and these do a pretty good job cutting them out.
If I smile or eat or suck on a straw; the seal on my ear degrades due to the "new shape" my ears take on when doing those activities. And the earplugs are defeated. So don't say anything funny.
You'll note that these rubbery earplugs are getting long in the tooth. Specifically portions of them are flaking off. I do not feel I have an endless time left with these earplugs with their current structural integrity.
At Ethan's request I became a man who has Etymotics ER-15 earplugs.
Again, custom molded, these are musician's earplugs. When you first put them on and go down into the subway you're all like "Are these really working?" Because you can hear people talking — just 15dB quieter than you'd think they'd be.
I prefer the top molds on regular train rides just because sometimes 15dB ain't enough and you want that 20dB or so of protection from whatever nonsense is going on down there in the tunnels (my favorite is when a crew on the platform is just cutting through steel plate with a circular saw).
But then I was all worried about hearing quiet things I need to hear and yet still have protection 'gainst the loud trains.
So I got these Peltor "combat arms" earplugs. The idea is that they're straight-up 20dB (green side in) but the beige side in has a kind of mechanical cut-off so that loud sounds will be reduced.
The beige side doesn't work for me. I don't know where it kicks in but it certainly ain't 85dB SPL A-weighted. And I'd really like it to be.
But the green sides are frequently more comfy than my custom molds — if for no other reason than they're softer. So I've been using the Peltor (green side in) on the subway although I would really like a passive limiter at about 85dB SPL.
Such may come, in a dorkier package.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Imaginary Processes

So, the Imaginary Opera. Where is it? What is it doing?

This is the process. I have two bands, well maybe three. And so that's being sort of a gang composing motifs for the music, meaning the music hasn't been written yet but we have some themes right now.

Much of The Imaginary Opera is either recitative or (depending on how you want to think about it) more like a musical where dialog is spoken rather than sung.

So there are bands improvising music to which they have no idea what sort of thing they're improvising to. Not yet at least. We start recording some of the dialog on Tuesday (wow, that's a very film way of thinking about it.) The goal here is to create an album version of the opera first, and then try to figure out how to stage it.
Danny Thompson, Super Genius.

So: your real question is: "Drew, what on Earth are we doing?"

And the answer is: I'm not entirely sure. We have a bunch of text. We have a pile of music. It needs to all be put together somehow. We're not 100% sure of even how the process of all this is going to work yet. So figuring out the process is part of the process. I just figure we put a bunch of really good people together and see where it goes.

If you're sensing a lack of clear direction here it's because there isn't one. Which is okay. Because (in my experience at least) it takes a little while to figure out what we do. Once we start doing it we'll wander a bit and then there will be good and cool things and we'll be all like "Ooh, that's nice." We'll go onto another section and we'll be all like "Let's do that thing we did before." Eventually we can say "Let's do that thing we do." And then inevitably, "Let's do that other thing we can do rather than the first thing" and someone will say "How about we do this third thing?" That third thing won't work. But the sixth thing will. You know?

Want to hear some experimental demos? Here's one. Note that seriously none of us in the band had any idea what we were going to do next:

Same here:

Note that we do have actual "songs" coming up. I just don't know exactly what they'll be. I have a notion of getting a straight-up opera singer to do some of the interstitial arias -- sort of art-song melodies on top of minimalist rock-band backings ("minimalist" just meaning a groove, the sound will likely be large). And there you go.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


As a man of a certain age I'd read Hit Men. So, I was aware of the whole payola deal. The thing is that payola was always legal. It was just a "scandal" the way that game shows on TV being fixed is a scandal. I'm sure someone will eventually realize that reality TV has scripted parts and the entire world will fall apart.
The law as I understand it was that it was illegal for money to change hands and the radio station not know about it. It was only illegal for program directors and DJ's to take money (and for the radio station to not mention that they were being paid to play songs.)
And then at some point somebody invented the Internet and I started posting pictures of pigs.

But then I guessed that this happened. When big conglomerates took over radio stations they realized that the payola they could get was nothing compared to advertising time. Because 30-second spots on a top-rated station in a big market.
And here in this Cracked article they even point out that Limp Bizkit's record company only paid $5,000 for 50 plays over 5 weeks. That seems like some pretty cheap advertising to me. Yes, it was in a secondary/tertiary market but still...
There are, surprisingly, a number of advocates of payola. Read all about them in the New York Times. I recall that in Hit Men there were indy labels which were reliant on payola and which died out when payola died out.

Current Comment

Ethan's comment on my previous post:

Well, if it's less current, that means that if power remains equal, Voltage must be increased.  AV=W.  Since Volts are a measure of potential, it stands to reason that the less current a band is, the more potential they have!
Why, WHY, did I not enter politics?

Monday, February 18, 2013

What's equals Amps time?

Hey, I gotta say it, the Taxi feedback is very fair. It gives me a very accurate notion of where we are. My genre? "Not current". Ha! I make joke. We play space rock. Although for this listing I submitted a Prague Spring song. I don't think this sound was ever current.

A music studio in LIC from Craigslist.

Animoog for the iPhone. You know, a Moog emulator for the iPhone. Or iThing. Or whatever.

Hiding wireless mics. Thom Shafer has a number tips for sound-for-picture. This should perhaps go on one of my other blogs but it isn't.

Pensado's Place has a bunch of tutorials and interviews about music mixing.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Just Some Things

I wish I could assign a track to more than one buss in Samplitude. I know, you couldn't do that on old Gamble consoles either. But it's nice to be able to push a button to send the signal to more than one buss.
One of the advantages to using auxiliary sends to create a drum submix buss rather than a group buss is that it can be easier to setup whether that submix is pre or post fader or pre or post EQ and other effects.
So maybe I'll live with aux sends. Still, more submix busses would amuse me.
Actually, the best way to deal with that is to simply copy the data from one track to another — that way you can apply whatever routing and effects you want to each sound or groups of sounds however you like.
Parallel processing. It's the way. I think. For drums.

The Minimoog for iPhone amuses me greatly. 
Sometime 'round about 1981 or maybe '82 I went to New York with my brother David and bought this power amp and mixer from some pawn shop. Look at that power switch. It's one of those power-polarity-inverting switches. You can select which output each channel is assigned to. There's power amp outputs and line-level outputs. I did a lot of recording with this thing.
See that top knob on the tuning section? That gives you a 440A at whatever level the master volume is set. And it's variable +/- something. It was fantastically irritating if you turned it on.
I do have a kind of fantasy about miking drum kits with only two mics. And I'm getting closer to figuring out how to do it practically. The further one puts the mics the better it sounds. The big issue is that all the other instruments get into those drum mics.
Using just the room mics can't be that big a deal. I mean, why don't people do that all the time? I realized how much I liked the room mics when we recorded that first Tyrannosaurus Mouse album at Trax East.
Nothing new this fortnight on Taxi that seems right for me to submit to.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Icing the Body Electric

Another Samanas session, another experiment in recording. "Icing the Body Electric" is just guitars and drums. Greg has a new Moogerfooger and it's simply fantastic for these kinds of space-rock jams. These drums are recorded with just two Oktava mics, about 1.5 feet off the ground, spaced about a meter apart. Those mics are actually outside of the frame in this picture — that's how low they are.
I actually did record with the AKG C12A but that's not being used in this mix. The drums are still a bit creaky. We haven't located exactly what's so creakish about them yet. And the drums aren't loud enough compared to the (even reasonably amplified) guitars. We play relatively quietly — I don't even use earplugs (often) with this band (although you can see that Dave in the picture below is wearing hearing protection).
Greg Bartus, David Wolfe, and Andrew Bellware.
So we're thinking about baffles on the amplifiers and using a monitor system. It is, you know, a thought. Two overhead or room mics on the drums with a world of compression on them. All the other instruments separate.
Actually, I'm ashamed to admit it, but the bulk of the drum processing on this track is from a cheapo plugin -- Waves' CLA Drums. The expanders and compressors work together in a really monster way. I threw some other compression on there and plenty o'EQ of course, but it makes me feel better about my 2-microphone ideology for drums.
Dig the JamHub BedRoom. My entire goal here is to get Dave to play as oppressively loud as possible. Did I say that out loud?
I'm not supposed to say those things out loud. I need to check with my Controller to have that part of my personality adjusted. I mean, it's not like they can find me as long as I keep my aluminum-foil cap on.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I watched Kraznet's videos on the AmMunition compression plugin in Samplitude. This compression plugin is awesome. And also there are some fantastically counter-intuitive things about the way it works. For instance, the "link" knob actually sums the stereo signal. That's a pretty big one. You want more spread? Swing the "link" knob toward 0%.
The other thing that I'd never really worked with is the M/S mode. I kind of knew that sometimes somehow some people used it for something, but never really had a handle on it.
It turns out, if you want to reduce pumping because of low-frequencies, M/S is a sweet way to go.

So I very much re-mixed Anubus Had a Long Day, Honey. We're now at version "f" I think. When we recorded this with the City Samanas we made a biggish number of changes from how we'd been recording up until then.

  • We switched from 96kHz to 48kHz
  • We added Lindell preamps to record the drums
  • We (because I can't leave well enough alone) applied EQ from those preamps
  • We used a stereo pair of Ear Trumpet Labs Edwina microphones on the drums

That's a lot of variables, my friend. But I came to some "conclusions" or at least "notions" about it all.

My first reaction was that everything was too bright. And also that we had too much of the bass and guitars in the drum tracks. I de-brightened things in the drums, but with the Edwina microphones I feel we're not getting enough isolation on the drums.

So after a few generations of mixes here's what I did and what I think:

  • I did go hog-wild with switching AmMunition to M/S. Because I really need those drums to "slam" without the cymbals breaking up when the limiters are being crushed by low-frequency stuff. This has made the mix vastly better.
  • There is still way too much bass and guitars in the drum tracks. Since when are we worried about too much other instruments in the drum tracks? Well, since I distance-mic the drums rather than putting a close-up mic on each drum, yet the guitars and bass get close-miked. And there's no vocalist to worry about. So I guess since then. Yeah.
  • The answer to the too much other instruments in the drum tracks may be to return to using the Oktava hypercardioids on the drums. We might think things were groovy with the Edwinas on the drums if the drums were isolated away from the guitars. 
  • The center mic on the drums is a question. It's an AKG C12A. When I was using it on Tyrannosaurus Mouse I felt that it was maybe a bit "wooly" sounding. So then my thinking (yesterday) was that maybe I should put the C12A through a Lindell preamp (with the notion that the Lindell is a bit more API-sounding than the Neves) and things would work out.
  • But right now I've gone and muted the C12A. Which honestly is something I'd been wanting to do all this time. Because if I could record the drums with just two microphones in a spaced pair I would be a very happy walrus. Don't you want me to be a happy walrus? 
So what's next? Well, my feeling is that with the City Samanas the sound of the bass guitar is a really different thing from most bands because it's definitely a melodic instrument in the band. We may experiment with bass through a Fender Twin tomorrow. And the Lindell preamp on bass. Because honestly, why only have one variable while you're experimenting?

Dead Covers

These are notes which I need to keep on hand. You seriously don't want to read them. But I need them handy so I can refer to them.

Dark Star: City Samanas, 7.23.12. Something to play & listen to.  
Mostly A7 and G.  The second half of the melody or verse has these chords: A7 G D Em and repeat to end of the verse.
Dark Star: Grateful Dead, 8.27.72.  Gives you a sense of the jazzy improv sound that I like for Dark Star.  

Birdsong: City Samanas 10.17.12  Here is an old version that can give you something to listen & perhaps play to.  
We play E7 and D through the first part of the verse.  Then C G /G D / D A / E.  The chorus goes B C C# walk up to C#m/B/A E B/A E B/ A/E.  
Birdsong: From the Dead at Radio City in 1980.  Gives you a good idea for how they play it & you can see how I we are covering the vocal line and the guitar fills in our version.  I can show you those and we can double them or even play harmonies or octaves.

Eyes of the World: City Samanas. 9.27.11 Something to play & listen to.  
Starts out Emaj7 (you'll hear a fill not just Emaj7)
Verses go Emaj7/A/Emaj7/Bm A repeat
then A/C#m/B/A/C#m/B/D/A/E/A/E then A C
G/C/G/C repeat
then Bm A
into the jam
Emaj7 & Bm
we can work on the parts at the end later if needed.  but that should get you through a bunch of it.  
Eyes of the World: Grateful Dead when they played Jersey City in 1974.  Starts at 28:50.  This is the version I have used as a template for what we do.  Gives you a good idea for how we are covering the vocal line and the guitar fills in our version.  I can show you those and again we can double them or even play harmonies or octaves.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


I've been a bit of a problem child complaining about my levels going into converters. I'd be using the Scarlett's converters if only their input levels could be turned down, like, a whole lot.
Then, and I swear I was in the shower when this bonked into my mind, I realized that when I was first using the M-Audio 2626 I was running from the Neve preamps directly into the M-Audio's preamps via XLR and wasn't having a problem with the levels.
Gain issues can sneak up on you.

Are you bored out of your mind already? Good. It's about to get worse.
Looking at M-Audio's own specs for the line input (via TRS) levels:
  • Maximum Input level +19.6dBu, typical
But on the microphone input:
  • Maximum Input level +6.5dBu, no pad
So what does that mean? If you kick the pad in then you should have a maximum input level of +26.5dBu. Now that's a level I can work with. Heck, that's probably about where my Apogees are. I'm not very good at fathoming why the maximum input levels are so low on these devices. Is it because so many -10dBV devices get plugged into them and they're tired of musicians whining they can't get good levels into them? Or because Mackie insert sends aren't +4dBm? Who knows?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Acid Rock

So, recording then. With City Samanas. This song ended up being fairly acid rock like.

Here's an album. I mean, so far it's just one song. But it could be the start of an album.
I put this piece up here rather than on the City Samanas page just because I felt this was more raucous than City Samanas and probably sounded more like Pleasure for the Empire. I, of course, haven't told any of the City Samanas that. Er. Yet.

The other things include suchly:
This was the first recording with the Lindell mic preamps and the Edwina microphones. I used the Edwinas going into the Lindells on the left and right side of the drum kit. When I first listened back I was all like "Egads!" because the whole thing was way too bright.
There are a number of reasons that was true but lets face it, with the EQ available on the Lindell preamps I decided to just, you know, use some. Because I had them. I, of course, had to set the levels just by eye because I really can't monitor while recording live band (I do actually have to play in the band mind you.)
I'd kicked a little bit of high mids up on the Lindells. And the Edwina mics could handle that very nicely.
I love the color on the Edwina mics. I don't know how great they work with the whole band in the room. Off-axis they're not linear at all -- they're very dark. So (say) the bass gets picked up great in them. Do they offer more isolation than the Oktava 012's? I dunno.
The drum set was rather creaky on Wednesday night. More creaky than I'd noted it being before.
I may not be doing things the way I ought to. Perhaps the Edwinas should be on the drums but the drums go through three channels of Neve preamps? Or perhaps the drums get the Oktava microphones with the Lindell preamps? Or perhaps some other thing altogether.
I wasn't altogether happy with my guitar sound. This was the first time at this space I was unhappy with my sound. I'm not too sure what was going on. I played with the amp a bit. It might just be a thing. You know, that happens.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

In Soviet Russia Kitty Photobombs YOU

AM Studios is a rehearsal and recording studio in Manhattan. That is, if you need a rehearsal studio in Manhattan.

Do you need to know even more about sampling rates? Because if you weren't sure before, you can be sure now. Only thing is that I don't think I tested the M-Audio at 48kHz and then at 96kHz. But we're going to record tomorrow night at 48kHz and you're gonna like it. So there.

Let's go all the way. Trust Me I'm A Scientist is my favorite new audio engineering magazine.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Things Three

I am incapable of figuring out what Cash Music actually does. They have some mightily high-falutin' mission statements and they're all about empowering the artist and blah blah but... Maybe I'm not supposed to know.

Here I am trying to placate City Samanas by compensating for my low guitar-playing skills with my not-quite-as-low audio engineering skills.
I put some holes in my SKB preamp and converter rack. Or rather, I put more holes in it. And I removed some of the now not terribly useful BNC connectors. In any case, now the six inputs can be accessed externally which will make the "Where to I plug this in?" question easier to answer.

Zoe Keating is a cellist.