What an unbelievable feeling it is to have completed a project I have worked on for upwards of 7 months! My first visual and audio exhibition - 'Nothing is Mundane' - was recently held from the 1st to the 4th of this month. It was an extremely validating experience for me; giving greater belief and confidence in my work as a creative.
This was all thanks to the individuals who took time out of their lives to join me in this experience, and allow themselves to be affected by the audio and visual work I put together. I received feedback that brought such joy to me, as a person and creator. Namely, that the combination of the sounds and sights, their interaction, helped bring about an emotive and whole experience of the theme of the exhibition - that all we encounter, and 'are', is special, interesting and awe-inspiring, if we only give it the time of consideration and recognition.
I am also hugely happy with the introspective nature of the content - it offered people the opportunity to reflect inwardly about their own lives and thoughts, and think in a metacognitive manner. This reception was all more than I expected and/or conceived possible whilst in the process of bringing about these works!
It's strangely absorbing and personal producing an individual artistic project, and easy to lose sight of how it would be perceived by others (it's generally very difficult to grasp how one's work is being viewed by others). The relief I felt in learning how this exhibition was understood is indescribable!
To have invested a great amount of mental, emotional and physical time and energy into something that can be deemed successfully interacted with and interpreted is perfectly pleasing.
I cannot wait to continue on this path of ideas and thoughts being expressed audio visually - it is an area of expression that ignites my imagination and passion... something we should all be so lucky to have in our work.
Thank you to all who came, all who helped me and all who dealt with my stress in the lead up to this exhibition. I hope that any one who experiences these works will gain something positive from them.
Below are the main audio tracks that I created and exhibited (open in SoundCloud for extra details, including what the themes are in each, how the pieces were presented and who was involved in their making). Here are -
'Talk' (a collection of thoughts and voices),
'Recitals' (a few poetry, well, recitals), and
'Wasteland' (an abstract exploration of everyday sounds).
I also compiled a few videos from the exhibition (quite quickly, as part of a course submission, so excuse their imperfections).
Here is a short look at the exhibition, and a more detailed 'art tour' (with Wasteland as the audio).
Thank you! Feel free to contact with any thoughts, queries etc.
More photos from the exhibition can be found on my Facebook page, at this link:
Freelancing and finishing...
This trimester has been quite full-up in terms of freelance work! Mainly with film, which has been a fairly unchartered and newly-found gratifying experience for me. It makes me think even more that I'd like to move into post-production as a career.
Firstly, I had an unbelievable opportunity to record on-set and mix audio for the Australian Embassy of Finland, on a series of films to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of Finland's independence (100-Mates of Finland). My team and I created five short YouTube videos all up. Three containing clips and interviews from Melbourne, another in the rural Wattle Glen, and, most excitingly, one in Bondi, Sydney (some pictures in this page).
The variety of locations meant I had a good range of on-set audio experiences, environments ranging from the traffic-heavy, noisy CBD, inside a restaurant, a placid ‘forest’ (a.k.a a 'flacid'), a busy beach and lanes in Melbourne, interviewing passersby. All along simultaneously getting a nice range of atmos for my own personal collection from the scenes.
It was unreal to have been given this variety of work, and I realised how much I enjoy working in part of a creative team - with camera ops, directors, producers, editors etc. - each with our own specialties and responsibilities. It gave me insight into how Post-production on documentaries and film works with the range of people involved, and their roles at which stages of the film-making process.
I also, very importantly, was schooled in the highly demanding job of pleasing a client; meeting time-restrictions and briefs, and communicating seamlessly with all other contributors and stakeholders. Post-production isn’t a breezy, independently-driven style of working - there’s no going at your own pace. In a way it’s positive in terms of my work ‘process’ - it meant I wasn’t overthinking, over-brewing, the work. Plus I learnt that it is more about your ears than technicalities - that people take it as it is - and to focus on making the video seem ‘normal’, rather than being a highly creative or stand-out product (though that is often a part of it).
In the process of working on these films I have thankfully found some sort of a personal workflow with post-production, and found myself (naturally) getting much more efficient with every experience; finding ways to increase both the pace at which I worked and the quality of the products. Though there were extremely high turnovers for these projects, I think I have been able to create decent sounding videos (for my level of experience and the time allowed).
Great news is that the group of us (those who worked on the Finland films) have decided to start our own company! We have already been finding opportunities for work (with a film, and a music video to be started in the break). I will be able to share our website (and the rest of the videos) soon.
Here are the videos thus far shared by the Embassy of Finland on their Facebook and YouTube channel -
This time management issue was greatly tested with a documentary I worked - ‘Austin’, directed by Monique Bettello. The picture lock occurred later than expected, and in the end I had four days to complete the sound mix, for an 8-minute film.
It was actually very lucky for me that I had other experiences of working post-production through a tight time frame, as this made me more efficient at producing higher-quality work.
It does often mean, however, that I am not 100% happy with the products - there are always areas where, had I been granted more time, I would have edited more thoroughly - but overall I am happy with the result. I feel I was able to produce a good-quality sound mix, that hopefully did the film the justice it deserved.
It was also great using the Avid S6, as I hadn’t previously had the proper chance to use it for a project. I find it very enjoyable to navigate - it’s extremely user-friendly.
Something I used a lot in this film, and a new favourite function of mine, is the ‘Trim’ automation tool. I realised I hadn’t actually used it before! It’s great because often the automation I’ve put on is on point, but the whole area needs to be raised or attenuated, and whilst you can highlight the spots and raise or lower the automation that doesn’t always keep it intact and can be a little fiddly! I found the trim so smooth and easy to use, it’s like an extra, more broad, step of automation to smooth across larger areas. I’ve grown a fondness to it.
The Austin project also involved me recording the subject of the documentary, Austin Lutrov, playing guitar and singing, which I mixed to be used in the film (and will mix as a separate release for Austin). I enjoyed having creative reign of where to use these tracks in the film - it was a cool all-rounded mix, and was an awesome experience for me to be a part of. I’m very glad I accepted to take it on, and hope to have more work like it in the future.
Just as I was thinking four days was short to mix an 8-minute film, I was then given the hilarious task of mixing a 9-minute film in one night. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the short film 'Hardened', was going to be left unfinished the night before the due date. So I decided to jump in and try to complete a mix in one night! Bringing a friend on board (Jeremy Tang), because I knew this would be a large task, we worked the S6 together and managed in five hours to complete what would have taken a week or more ideally. Despite the stress of the time limit, I really enjoyed working in a pair with intense efficiency! It really tested our abilities and speed, and was quite satisfying when the final project was miles better than where it was when we received it, five hours before!
The more I work in Post-Production the more I love it! It's so satisfying working with images - it feels like a puzzle moving through projects, and at the end being left with a concise visual and aural product.
Overall, I am extremely pleased with the opportunities I had this trimester in audio, and the amazing people I was able to work with, in a range of cool places. It's a very exciting field to work in - its ever-changing and always-interesting nature - and I look forward to more chances of being a part of it!
Session @ Soundpark...
It’s always amazing to get in to different audio settings and have learning experiences outside of school. Having the opportunity to record to tape at Soundpark studios in Northcote was a real eye-opening time for me, and provided a wealth of extra knowledge about the recording process, as well as cementing concepts and understandings I have been building throughout my degree.
Having to walk into a new and unknown studio and be able to navigate is quite a daunting thought to me, but that is the reality of the industry. I guess the hope is that, if one is knowledgeable in audio and signal flow in general, abilities can be transferred to foreign environments - once you’re adept at once desk, in working through recording methods in one studio, skills can be adopted with the use of any (because the fundamental concepts and technologies are the same).
And that is the exciting part to me! That my knowledge could potentially become in-depth and all-rounded enough that I could appropriate it to various scenarios; problem-solving and troubleshooting to make things work. I look forward to the day that I will hopefully feel confident in doing this! It isn’t rote learning for a single desk, a single piece of outboard gear, a single type of DAW - it’s knowing how they all work enough to apply the rules in an artistic, possibly unconventional way (the ol’ ‘know the rules in order to break them’, as they say).
I’ve realised that in terms of this underlying conceptual understanding I’m pleased with where I am so far - what I have learnt and are continuing to learn. There are gaps in my knowledge, which personally will come more from the practice of these skills… and practicing them over and over again.
A point that stood out in our session at Soundpark, recording the amazing band Batz, was one of time management. When booking studio spaces, working with artists, clients, engineers always have to keep mind of schedule and pace. Once our band were there we, thankfully, were quite prepared in terms of equipment and setting up, but still really had to knuckle down and have everything happening! Which is all dependent upon the pre-talent hours – how well things are organised, set-up, ready to be used.
I think my team underestimated the amount of organisation involved - we didn’t plan to every detail (such as pre-amps and outboard gear), and, leaving it until the day, when there is already a lot to think about and consider, only adds to the stress of having everything prepared for the band. This also stemmed from us not defining our roles extensively - a few aspects were thought to have been covered by different people (and then those were unaware responsibility fell on them).
There was also more running around and helping out wherever and whenever – our roles became more fluid.
Working in groups for me is an enjoyably educational experience - there’s always something to take from it, about myself, about others and our interactions.
In a learning setting though I sometimes find it difficult - only because it means that you’re not involved in all parts of the process (time-wise that of course wouldn’t really allow anyway). There are holes to my knowledge of the experience because I didn’t get to witness/experience/do it all. Again though, the more I practice the more I’ll know!
Looking back I would have liked to have more hands-on experience with the tape machine, I observed and admired more than anything. It was really cool to have had a very clean and professional band, so I didn’t feel confident, nor comfortable, stepping in to unfamiliar territory in this setting. But I did contribute, I guess, and still felt a nice part of it. There were quite a few of us in the small-ish space too, so we spread the tasks across the board.
I’m extremely impressed with the sound eventually obtained, and the quality of the tracks recorded - the tape added an interesting level of harmonics and served to tie the whole piece together - it’s like a glue that connects all the parts with common character.
The Studer a80 tape machine at Soundpark
It was amazing in general to have had the experience of recording analog, it was humbling to think that for many years in music production this WAS the method of recording! Not just a creative decision, a nostalgic novelty or learning curve. I liked the thought that so much of the music I listen to and love today was recorded in this manner. It has formed in me a real love and appreciation for this form of recording.
It was interesting to try to maintain the thought that back then, that WAS the track - there was no digitally recording to Pro Tools, being able to 'command-s' - I think we take for granted how easy it is to safeguard what we record these days, using DAWs. It’s added security using tape nowadays to be able to coincide with a digital program like Pro Tools.
This tape experience was wonderfully tied in to an awesome trip to Zenith Records, vinyl pressing facility. It was so absolutely cool to even be inside the place, let alone learn how all the technology and equipment works, and be given a tour around to all the different machinery and see it in action. As someone who listens to and enjoys records, it was entertaining and intriguing to see how the process worked from the beginning. I liked knowing that these processes were the original ways of recording and printing and sharing music - yes we’ve moved beyond these ways with technological advances, but there is, and I think there will always be, a sentimental attachment to vinyl as an art form (and understandably, because it is beautiful really). Being able to literally see the grooves, and having seen them being carved was amazing. It’s music visible, it’s tactile, it’s physical, and I think that’s something we can’t surpass no matter new technologies, with whatever innovations in quality they provide. It’s vinyl’s genuine character that cannot be replaced.
(A video our teacher Dave shared with us that I absolutely love, mainly because of vinyl but also because of Jack White and the yellow) -
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7IgL32FGu0&t=4s
These type of opportunities within and throughout my audio education at SAE have helped me discover what real-world experiences are present in the field of audio, and see how what I am learning is significant in everyday life. It is very exciting really, and I look forward to any more chances to have similar experiences.
Post-producing an online series...
For the past four weeks, my peers and I have been completing the Post-Production on 3 episodes of an online series - 'Grimdustries'.
It was something different for me, as I had never previously worked on an online series. I liked being a part of the final stages of a long creative process for the film students - it felt like a real collaboration between our cohorts.
I worked closely with the film students throughout the project, having been the audio 'producer' for the series. I participated in much of the lead up - pre-production communication and organisation - and was at close contact with the film crew throughout. It was interesting for me working with them; seeing how much work they put into every aspect of planning, filming, technical and creative decision-making and even marketing and budgeting. It meant that I felt invested when it came to the audio students' job - I wanted it to go well and do the filmies' time and effort justice.
It was great to have been in producer role - I do like the communication side of team work; managing groups of people and keeping check of tasks. I did feel though that I was spending more time contacting people, mediating and relaying information than taking part in the technical side of things - and because I had responsibility outside of the technical tasks I tended to leave that to others. Which meant I didn't do as much as I would have liked. But there were very apt people completing that work anyway, so it was all good.
One disappointing aspect of the project was that when it came to our part, there were many people who sat out - which was a little frustrating. It would have been cool to have everyone invested and taking part (even if just for creative input, seeing as it's difficult to have more than one/two people driving the console). I understand that, being the end of trimester, people were busy and had quite a lot to do, but we all were! And unfortunately it meant that some of us had to put in more work to support the lack of dedication from others. Despite that, I think it went well, and, though more time would have been great (possibly outside of the real crunch-time of the trimester), I think we did produce great sounding episodes.
It was very cool experiencing the project start to finish, where all the parts (with the many people involved) came together to create an online series! I was very happy for the filmies that their original concept was a final product. They are planning to re-shoot and re-produce the series, so when the time comes for more post-production it'll be good to again get on board (and maybe get on the desk a little more).
Being one with the master...
The past four weeks have been spent learning all about the fine art of mastering!
Although I previously had views about mastering and what constitutes the activity, there were a lot of new ideas I was exposed to, and extra thoughts to be considered...
Firstly, I did not realise how much was involved in mastering beyond very technical applications - I thought the processes were slightly 'creatively detached', clinical, so to say; getting the songs to correct levels, compressing and limiting the tracks to a specified, consistent sound and appropriateness for various platforms of release. I was unbeknown to the level of creative input mastering engineers have – such as applying EQ and other tasteful corrective and artistic actions. This was, in hindsight, quite naive of me, seeing as there generally is a creative subtext to most tasks within the arts! I still do however consider the crux of the sound to come from mixing and editing, with mastering being the more 'technical' icing.
Dave Turner, our teacher, showed us various examples of what different mastering engineers did to different tracks, and I realised individual mastering engineers actually influence the sound of a track greatly. With there being many variables to twist and incorporate in the process, they (naturally) create very different products, and even have their own distinct sound and style. I did previously imagine most mastering would make tracks sound the same, or at least very similar. It is a more complicated process than I first figured.
An issue with mastering I have for a while deliberated, and a point of conversation that was raised in our class, is that the dynamics of a song can be lost through too much processing and compression. A few examples Dave showed us, as being in his opinion too ‘squished’, I agreed - there was a loss of character, with the real feel and variance of a track being dissipated. It is not necessarily better to take away dynamic range from a track, as this often translates to the track’s distinctiveness and style.
Mastering engineers have a very meticulous responsibility – to advance a track, have it at a level of commercial quality, and at the same time keep its flare and style. I think it is probably the case (mostly) that less is more. (Although I’m not versed enough in mastering to know this!
It has just often proven itself the case in mixing). What a great ear they would need to have to work on very specific aspects of tracks! Especially with mastering being that final stage; having to subtlety perfect and finalise tracks, be very attentive to and selective with what tracks need to feel completed.
Something I discovered throughout this intensive is that it is weirdly very enjoyable to apply EQ to tracks as a 'completed' mix. I found greater satisfaction focusing on the entire mix at a time than when affecting sound by sound, instrument by instrument – it feels like you are having greater impact, with even minute EQ changes. I liked honing in on, and really hearing what changes are doing to, the track as a whole. Sometimes when EQing individual features, and using a plug-in, one can get too caught up in each part without seeing the whole sound image, and lose sight of the vibe of a track (what will inevitably be what people are experiencing and listening to – the whole work!).
The mastering suite at SAE Melbourne.
The GML 8200 Stereo Parametric EQ - I found it a real pleasure to work with.
I also have recently thought how much I prefer using outboard EQs. Firstly, I like the physical turning of knobs – you feel in a way where you’re going, how the song is being affected, and the best part is that you are wholly listening. Although yes, you can see the numbers, and you can see where the dial faces, it’s so much more intuitive than having the visual spectre/representation on screen of the frequencies being affected and the space they are increased or decreased.
This is something that Joe from Crystal Mastering in Melbourne, as a guest lecturer, also touched on. He explained that using analog mastering gear, means he focuses on, and is highly attentive to, the very slight, yet audible, changes his actions are taking in the mix – and does not default to particular ways of working, but treats tracks as separate entities, with distinct requirements.
Joe in his mastering studio (Photo source: http://crystalmastering.com.au/studios/gallery/)
I completely agree – I believe I EQ’d so often in-the-box, using plug-ins, that I began defaulting to certain ‘images’ of the space; expecting what to hear or not hear. Especially, myself personally being what I'd call a visual learner, what I see impacts what I hear – and I think I can often persuade myself (subconsciously) that something sounds good because I am happy with how it looks. (As much as I would like to think I do not take in to account how something ‘looks’ when it comes to sound, I think I can’t help it, and I, like most others, am just hard-wired that way).
I am more receptive to sounds when I am simply listening.
Which brings up the point that maybe engineers should vary their gear, and the mode of their processing and effects, in order to avoid getting stuck into any habit – having new, unchartered gear, would force one to think more, and therefore focus more on the sound (rather than the visual frequency spectrum).
So yes, I very much like not having a visual graphic for EQ, but only using my ears, it has been a very enlightening practice for me to engage in, and I think will influence every aspect of my mixing from here on out!
Joe also lent some great tips into his methodology, and gave amazing insight into his day-to-day practice as a mastering engineer and what it entails.
Some real take-away points included the order in which he attempted tracks – that he would firstly work on those that he identified as needing the most work, and would continue in a fashion that would make the most of the patterns of processing employed – in order of songs with similar styles and necessary editing and requirements. (Also a considerably rational manner of organisation and use of time!).
I was slightly gob-smacked at the sheer pace these mastering engineers work through tracks and albums – that Joe would complete the mastering for entire albums in a single day. This would bring up the issue for me of requiring ear breaks – I just don’t know if I would happily be able to breeze from one song to another that briskly, with the maintenance of a clear mind and fresh ears. But I guess that is where experience and professionalism come into play – the longer one has been doing something, the greater their speed and comfortability in doing it (with the all-important preservation of quality).
A very notable factor in Joe’s lecture, was the highly inter-personal dependency of mastering (and indeed, all creative, collaborative work). Joe emphasised the need to most-effectively communicate with clients – with people whose work you are effecting (after they have spent the long dedicated hours to creating the songs). Because whilst the artists and engineers know the songs, the mastering engineers know the audience and the practicalities of most effective release. It was very appealing and encouraging to hear that he has never had to knock back a client – that even if problems arose, constructive communication would work to dissipate discrepancies and assist all to be on the same page.
He also persuaded me of the value of getting a track externally mastered – by someone who was not involved in the creation of the track. This is important as, it is eventually the ‘un-involved’ public who are going to be receiving the work, so an ‘un-involved’ engineer should give it the final send-off to them! (With an unbiased, unaffected, open ear finalising the mix for release).
The more I hear about mastering, the more I consider it to be a career I would potentially pursue. I like how niche the work is – that you have an entire mix, and a very specific and direct point: to prepare it for audiences, for ears. Also that the art is applied track by track, with processing worked mainly as a whole, to make it 'sound good' as an entirety. There isn't a colossus amount of tracks to individually edit and mix, to get caught up in - you're looking more at the big picture. (Sometimes working from the very early stages of a session can become overwhelming. Especially when you are in charge of composing, arranging, recording, mixing, processing AND potentially also mastering, one begins to lose subjective sight of the project, and the joy from making very minor tweaks and edits is simply obliterated).
I have now peaked interest in mastering, and will continue to research the work, watch YouTube videos and read articles from mastering engineers, to keep formulating my own practices and views on it all. I also intend to go back to all my previous productions and mixes and master them, or better yet, exchange sessions with my peers to master each other’s! As empirical and professional engineers.
SPECtacular Studio Intensive…
Getting this Song Exploder project started proved itself quite trying - the task of choosing a song to recreate in the style of another producer sufficiently messed with my brain.
First step was deciding on a producer whose style I would want to aim to recreate, and I went back and forth several times between a modern act or a 60s/70s-based producer. After much research, I went with Phil Spector.
I have admired Spector’s work for a long time now, and researching his methodologies bore much solid information - information that I found extremely absorbing and interesting. His practice was highly innovative and experimental for its time, and has influenced music ever since.
I decided then, that I would attempt to replicate the 'Wall of Sound' production style, specifically basing my style on Be My Baby by The Ronettes - one of Spector’s most popular ‘Wall of Sound’ tracks (and one of my favourite songs). Its feel and energy is wonderful, so I knew that being able to emulate any part would teach me a huge amount and be beneficial for my own making.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2g_FD_sYazk
Reading up on the processes involved, I realised what a huge production it all was. Firstly, he would have all the musicians play live, in a room not at all large in size (about 5x7x4 metres) and not just a few musicians for each instrument - up to 4 guitarists, 3-4 pianists, 2 bassists, two drummers, several brass players and a chorus of percussionists and backing vocalists (as explained by Hal Blaine, Spector's regular drummer, in The Guardian article How We Made The Ronettes' Be My Baby). All with about 11 microphones in the space. There were sessions of Spector’s where there was no space to walk; he’d squished so many people into the recording space. This all meant the sound was large, but also affected by much dampening! (More bodies = more dampening).
Beginning this project I wanted to try to replicate this by bringing all the musicians in for one giant session! But the planning necessary for that would have exceeded the time limit I had, and it was impractical making everyone agree on a single day, let alone subjecting people to the amount of rehearsals that would have been necessary! Spector was known for making musicians play a ridiculous amount of times on recording days before accepting a take (often more than 40 times).
This translates that a very important aspect to Spector’s production style was the room itself. Because everything was tracked live and down one channel, the levels and interaction of instruments was born of the space - as it is naturally! I was entertained to hear that if editing microphone arrangements did not solve an issue, and the balance was not coming through as desired, Spector would ask musicians to play differently, louder or softer! I thought this was great, and has made me think more about the effect and importance of the actual playing to the mixing process.
Leading up to recordings, it’s been said Spector would spend whole days in the space learning its qualities; testing microphone arrangements and planning for the space's acoustics. Which microphones and where was paramount to the 'Wall Of Sound' sound, and even on the day, mics would be arranged and rearranged to have the greatest effect with the least possible bleed.
It was great to have found a Sound on Sound article (Classic Tracks: The Ronettes' Be My Baby), that pieced together where Spector would position instruments in the space, and what mics were used where. Although I didn’t have the recording live as I would have hoped, I was able to use the information to at least try to maintain where the instruments were positioned in the space, use microphones as similar as possible to what he did, and record with extra dampening / smaller spaces (where possible) to replicate the effect of so many extra bodies.
The first challenge for me after choosing Spector was finding the right song to cover. After changing my mind approximately six times, I went with Alt J’s Hunger of the Pine.
I wanted a modern song, something quite polar to Be My Baby, a bit electronic whilst at the same time one I could conceive becoming a Wall of Sound. When I played HoTP I started to envisage an eventual Wall of Sound track. HoTP is quite drum-dense and heavy, a bit like Be My Baby, with much potential for backing singers, and melodically quite simple. It’s just a cool, creative track, I like the lyrics and the structure, and I became excited for the project once I’d chosen it.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vk-GJDlAYVA
Arranging the song as a demo was a matter of constantly going back between listening to the Ronettes and Alt-J; hearing for parts to come forward, cull, replicate, alter etc. and listening to how Spector-style songs used instruments. I started with the drums, with the vibe taken directly from Be My Baby. I made the part mainly kick and snare, because they are extremely prominent in the Spector tracks (plus a bit of ride, for some colouring from a higher frequency). It needed to maintain a quite simple, steady rhythm, and I also wanted a more complex constant floor tom part to underlie it, as well as a wide array of fun and ‘in-your-face’ percussion instruments.
Recording drums was an awesome experience. In the same SOS article, Be My Baby's engineer, Larry Levine, explained how the production crew would mic a kit - three mics only (which I was stoked about - I like simple micing and more raw sounds). They used two Neumann U67s as overheads and, interestingly, a ribbon (the RCA 77s) on the kick. For my set-up this translated to using two U87s (the most similar I had available) and a Royer 121 for the kick - which was placed directly above the kick - with the Figure 8 pattern blocking out the rack-tom and ride cymbal (as the OHs were picking them up). We had to make sure the OHs were equal distance from the Royer, as the centre of the kit.
The sound was unreal. Completely unaltered and unprocessed it sounded so clean. It came out amazingly similar to the Be My Baby sound too! I was in awe of how three mics - set up in a very purposeful, conscious arrangement - could have such a wholesome, full, genuine sound! I was very pleased with it, and it's something I will definitely likely reproduce.
After the kit, I recorded a floor tom pattern throughout the song (with the same mic arrangement as the kit) to create another consistent rhythmic level, which adds to the ‘wall’. This was double-tracked (and compressed with a Universal Audio LA-610 compressor), along with the percussion (a castanet, a tambourine, a shaker and claps) tracks. The summation of these parts produced a slightly hectic underlay of rhythm... Just like I wanted.
The micing for the kit!
For piano, I fit the new key (D major) onto the drums with some piano chords, that I hoped would drive the song, as in Be By Baby, but with a rhythm suited to HoTP. The three chords were simply D Major, F sharp minor and E major. The guitar also mirrored this part, and the bass mainly went between the notes d, f# and e! The simplicity lends itself so well to a 60s pop song.
Recording piano was enjoyable, thanks to the beautiful upright piano in the Neve recording space. I trialled about five to six different mic arrangements, between four microphones, before getting the sound I wanted, as similar to the Spector-sound. For Be My Baby, they had three pianos - a Grand, an Electric and an Upright - mic'd up with RE15s (either just one or two for all the pianos). As I just had the upright, I played separate takes of the song at three different octaves - low, medium and high - to layer, and added microphones to have a greater impact of sound.
I used a Beyer Dynamic M88 as substitute for the RE15, as it is also a hyper-cardioid condenser, placed just behind me playing, and another capturing the strings (with the piano lid open). Along with an RE20 mic (as I was auditioning which would sound better). It did end up sounding cool and fuller with the two of them though so I kept both in! I also added a U87 in the room, as there would have been some in close proximity to the pianos recorded in the Be My Baby sessions, and for added natural room sound. (I very regrettably forgot to take photos of the piano set up!)
I was very happy with the sound as it came in, so didn’t want to process these too much! I didn't do any InTheBox EQ, but did pass the low piano through the Urei Model 545 parametric EQ just to take out some muddiness and clear the sound a little. And compressed all of them through Distressors.
The guitar and bass recordings went smoothly too. I used an M88 on the guitar, as that also originally had an RE-15, and layered two separate takes of guitar together (both compressed with an LA-2A classic levelling amplifier). I also double tracked the bass to have more impact, and compressed with a Fatso.
The vocals were extremely difficult, I kept wanting the lyrics to sound 'Alt-J-y' - very soft-spoken and close, but Phil Spector tracks aren’t like that! The voices are normally more projected and strong. Plus there’s not a lot of space for them if they’re soft, they need to compete with all the noise, and match the intensity of the tracks! The vocals I recorded with a U87, as Spector used a U67.
With the entire mix, I tried not to over-produce, over-'perfect' it, simply because the original style was performed live, so there would have been human imperfection, and they didn’t have a DAW to edit everything! I also just like the loose, human feel to it.
But I did do some corrective EQ if anything was too stand-out as negatively influencing the mix. I then applied a decent reverb (only two different types across all the tracks - one for the vocals and one for the instruments). Once the individual tracks were ready, with everything in MONO (as Spector did) it was up to balancing the final mix.
I heard the song in a café recently, from a speaker in another room, and tried to hear what was most forward in the song - it was the mids - the snare, piano, her voice, the percussion and, probably most prominent were the castanets! How hilarious. So I brought them forward in the mix, as much as it felt weird pumping clicking castanets up in a mix. I listened again in low volume to hear what was most pronounced, and did my best to match the sort of levels Spector produced.
Listening back to my mix though, I think I misjudged certain aspects, and working on a song almost non-stop for four weeks disturbed any sense of an objective view of it - I found it hard to conceive the mix as a whole! I'd like to not listen to it for a while then re-balance.
Then was time to add the final Spector productions. A very audible defining feature of these ‘Wall of Sound’ tracks is the use of an echo chamber. They used a ribbon mic to pick up the mic signals straight from the rec space being sent to a speaker in the chamber. This would be near-impossible to too closely re-create because of the very unique echo chamber at the studios at Gold Star. But at least I could mimic how they mixed dry signals with the wet coming from the speaker. I used a Royer 121 close the corner of a room, blocking out the signal straight from the speaker with the figure 8 (to mainly get the space). I did quite like the effect of this! I would next time choose a space probably more echo-y though for greater effect.
After getting a wet-dry mix I was happy with, the final touch was tape! Thanks to a friend's tape machine, I was able to pass the final mix through tape to try to gain some aspect of the distinctive harmonics. I think I quite like what it did to the mix! It sounds like a fuller, even sound across the instruments. To this final print I added extra reverb (in retrospect I could have maybe added even more actually).
I will though, after a decent break from the song, go back, listen more objectively to it, and edit my mix again, plus I would love to add horns! (Which I wanted to do all along but ran out of time / neglected / forgot / resigned to not having). I also would like to possibly re-record vocals, and properly do harmonies along with the main vocals (rather than just comp different takes as harmonies as I did haha).
Because of the specific nature of this production style, like the echo chamber, the space, the vintage gear and microphones, there were hesitations in choosing Phil Spector as my producer. Also because of its need of various resources I had to figure out how to either source or to imitate, like tape. But I figured it’s better to try something a little different and difficult and learn a heap, than comfortably follow a simple arrangement. And anyway it’s more enjoyable for me to do something I am interested in!
In future I would consistently go back to my research, and Spector's music as inspiration - I often forgot to go back and listen to his works to inform my actions, and continued rather to naturally make something I think personally sounds good, as it is technically my artistic product. It is quite counter-intuitive really - to be creative but with the ways of another creative. I think I found that most difficult: making my own creative decisions and simultaneously following the style of another.
It was extremely interesting and beneficial though, and I think by emulating the methods of another producer I have gained so many new ideas, and formed skills I can engage to improve and experiment with my own practice.
Speaking of the track, here it is in its current state:
(and mastered) -
The last 13 weeks have been a whirlwind, a w-hirlwind.
I have arrived at week 13 having not noticed I reached 12 (or 7, or 5 etc.), it just happened. Which could be a sign I was having fun (as they say), or maybe I was just extremely busy... 'Time flies when you have so much to do that you are unaware of the passing of time' (as they more often say). Looking back though I am pleased I put in the time and effort I did - it has produced work I am happy with and proud of.
Especially the podcast. There were quite a few late nights spent working on this one.
It started with the rest of my group and I seeking potential interviewees in the music industry, which went fabulously - we thankfully were granted interviews with some insightful, interesting, intelligible and experienced individuals.
I conducted the interviews (with Jeremy recording), which gave me a great basis for constructing the narrative. The main question I thought would work to address, is HOW live music in Melbourne works (as well as it does) - then we could explore the ins and outs of the industry, whilst maintaining a particular theme and a purposeful point to the podcast.
The narrative developed as I revised what people had spoken about, cut the interviews into relevant parts, and began arranging it all. It was a fluid process - all the factors needed to adapt to accommodate changes and additions.
I was the producer so had quite a lot of work to do! Particularly in collating the individual interviews into a coherent piece of work - it was extremely taxing and very difficult. (Though, it was like a jigsaw puzzle, and those I like). The podcast needed a sequence that flowed well, so as to not have 20 minutes actually feel like 20 minutes.
I was constantly shuffling parts around in Pro Tools, re-listening, changing my mind, writing notes, drawing mind maps; trying to connect ideas! It was a great moment when there sprouted an actual concise story out of the fragments of each interview.
It was definitely one of my favourite moments of the trimester finishing this podcast. I started to feel like it was our baby / child / spawn, and I cared greatly for it developing in to an established teenager / adult - a matured entity that I would be proud to introduce to others as my own.
The podcast delves into the industry in a way that many gig-goers, music lovers and appreciators, even musicians, may not be attune to (ha music pun), so I am very pleased with the product being, hopefully, something that many would be interested in listening to.
... On that note, take a listen below -
The completed Venue Menu! Listen on SoundCloud
This tri has been the most difficult yet for me, there were countless moments of being pushed beyond my perceived ability. But that’s allowed it to be one of great self-discovery - I’ve learnt a new console (and conducted some successful recording sessions by myself), I’ve put on a gig as part of a live sound team (which involved learning a new console and software), and become much more confident and capable in using Pro Tools (with all the podcast, sound-replacement and studio work editing and mixing).
Hot Rod was a blast to create, I think my group and I found it one of the most enjoyable assignments. I still don’t think I’ll be a Post-Production professional though - I found the editing of the foley quite tedious and frustrating at times - there is just so much to think about and process and mix that isn’t music. I can spend hours editing music and not get irate - it feels more creative to me, there’s individual expression and experimenting, to create a product that in itself is the art.
I do prefer being in the studio, working with instruments, sounds, that can be creatively constructed into songs. The studio unit this tri was extremely validating for me - I felt more at home working in the studio and developing a song from the ground up.
I also had the opportunity of working with Spec 8 in the studio, and have worked on (and continue to work on) recording them and producing their music.
They are two very naturally-talented individuals, so I worked on allowing that to shine without over-saturation of added sounds and effects.
Here's one of the tracks - Ain't No Sunshine (recorded in the Neve, edited and mixed in Pro Tools)...
Ain't No Sunshine Cover, by Spec 8 (Reinette and Leeroy).
I would absolutely love being a composer for film though. I think music is heightened by visuals (and visa versa), so making music to extend the feeling of a scene would be so satisfying for me. The process is highly creative but also involves much thought, and consideration of how humans think - it is deeply psychologically-informed. I find this highly interesting and appealing as a possible profession!
I also now consider live sound as a potential career option. Which is funny to me because I originally didn’t very much like the thought of it - its fast-paced nature, the pressure! But since putting on our gig - which I felt very good about - I’d like more of these sort of live music experiences. It’s a great feeling to be a part of a gig developing from set-up, to sound-check, to audience to performance… packing up with a job well-done. I am also now quite enticed by the idea of being involved more in the organisation side of it, like tour managing!
It was very informative and engaging to hear Andy Shillito (a live sound engineer for over 20 years, and tour manager) talk about live sound. He was wonderful to hear from, and a few points struck me in what he said. One being the ‘intuitive’, simplistic nature of live sound mixing; that you mix the gig and you’re done - there’s no over-thinking, over-analysing, over-producing - it’s the music and the musicians, their art is what is reaching people.
This process of working is very attractive to me! There have been points during this course I have felt frustration at working so in depth with certain aspects of a track - this or that frequency, messing with plug-in parameters, editing every transient - and just deleted everything and started again more simply. It's more important to focus on recording quality and then augmenting the beauty already there (by also attenuating anything hindering that).
This ties to the importance of giving your ears rests, which is another point Andy emphasised - to not overwork the music, because our ears and mind adapt to the sounds and almost become immune to their full effect! I found Andy’s example surprising and made me re-evaluate how I work - that 10 minutes spent on a kick, for example, is just too long. It is true that we judge sounds best when our ears are fresh, and should trust our first instincts!
It is better not to over-complicate music.
This reminded me of a conversation a few of my peers and I had recently, that some of the greatest songs of all time were mixed straight to tape. Indeed, most of the songs I listen to and enjoy are raw - it’s their feeling, the song’s character, its drive, that appeals, that so many of us latch on to, that makes them in any way memorable. I don’t listen to a song and criticise the kick (assuming it was recorded reasonably), but rather, experience the entire track, as a whole.
I would love to be able to work with music in this way - to communicate an artist’s feeling and honesty through music, and keep it simple (stupid).
Overall in this tri I learned I need to doubt myself and my abilities less - doubt and restraint just causes a blockage to constructive learning. I need to be happy working at my own pace and not feel pressured to be as others are, or be as adept as others, but rather focus on developing my own learnings and practices. And the more I do that, the more I will develop, and the more I will allow myself to just enjoy the genuine splendour of working with music.
Place, Space and Bass...
For a long time now, I have pondered the relationship between visual art and music.
I happen to love both art forms greatly, and contemplate the ties between them when working on one or the other.
I laughed the other day when painting because I attempted to ‘EQ’ the warm colours out of a piece (I also tried to locate Ctrl-Z to ‘undo’ something on a drawing, so maybe I am going mad). It’s interesting when I am mixing songs, I get the sensation of frequencies as certain colours, that need to be mixed in a particular way, edited, moved around, removed, made more prominent or brought further back, as they would in a painting (especially more recently, in learning so much about, and manipulating and being creative with, sound, through this audio course).
It made me so happy, then, when today in class Tim used a work of art - ‘The Tower of Babel’, by Pieter Bruegel (1563) - to describe how a good music mix should be composed – with consideration of "Place, Space and Bass".
Image Source: The Google Art Project - https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/bAGKOdJfvfAhYQ
I gained greater satisfaction mixing a track just after this, having these thoughts in mind; visualising the mix, how the composition was working, and where all the elements were within the space. It helped me to better conceptualise music composition!
I can understand each art form far greater when I perceive their cross-over with others I practice - when I can visualise a song, or ‘hear’ a work of art. It allows more meaningful schemata to form in my mind, and this network of connections between information is exactly how humans learn.
A deep, enduring understanding, changes us from thereon, rather than having detached ideas, isolated pieces of knowledge, that we may recall but that have no great influence or effect.
One of my favourite artists of all time is Wassily Kandinsky, he was both a musician and visual artist, and was very attune to the connection between these art forms. A book of his I absolutely adore is ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’, where he addresses the association in our psyche, in our spirits, of visual and aural art.
Image Source: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/01/12/cultura/a05n1cul
“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul”. - Kandinsky (1977, p. 25).
And that is exactly what art does - it causes vibrations in the soul. Both music and visual art touch those same ‘strings’ in us.
Pertinent excerpts from Concerning the Spiritual in Art.
I attended the Van Gogh exhibition yesterday and, maybe it was my greater exposure to music recently, found I was struck by certain sounds, instruments, balances of music that different pieces permeated. It was a very affecting and impressionable experience of art.
His works have a life force, an impressive living quality. Because while they were created over a hundred years ago, the force that created them is the same now, and exists in those viewing them - the same reason any of us feel the need to paint, make music, make art, dance, act... Express something.
I like looking at people looking at art.
It’s just so wonderful that there is this inexplicable, unwritten correlation that we feel, that exists and that our minds manoeuvre without having to consciously employ it. It’s very natural, and feels beautiful, absorbing the intricacies of art - music and art - and allowing the experience of each to inform our own creativity.
Kandinsky, W. (1977). Concerning the Spiritual in Art. New York: Dover Publications.
Top Image Source: http-//www.healing-power-of-art.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/brain-right
Preparing to make Live Sounds...
As time approaches my group's live gig night, it’s been interesting to look back at the gigs my peers have put on so far that I've attended.
It’s been so cool to experience my friends and classmates presenting such enjoyable and top-quality live gigs - I’ve been a proud audience member each time! I’ve been genuinely impressed with the effort and outcomes. It has been striking how complete the live sets have been for each of them - the lights, the projections, the stage set-up, the extras (some with food, even Snapchat filters) - and the quality of sound has been unreal - professional standard!
Liam Wilkerson opening for Hounds to Houses. (Live group: Lewis Murphy, Daniel Clark, Daniel McArthur, Louis Welch, Zac Dal Santo & Caleb Chayna). One of my favourite light shows here!
Hounds to Houses [feat. Liam Wilkerson]. (Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/houndstohouses/)
Hannah Glass opening for Hey Mammoth. (Live group: Jeremy Tang, Nic Spiteri, Henry Mo, Maj Brahman, David Sawang, Pete Srimuang).
Hey Mammoth... Some of the most magnificent vocal harmonies I've ever heard.
Venetian Blinds. I absolutely LOVED the lighting and projection in this one - it set such a cool, coherent vibe, with their gothic-style, dark music... brilliantly done. (Live group: Nick Elliott, Wayde Suchodolskiy, Ben Robertson, Jordan Duggan & Mohammed Mohammed).
My group's second live session (Friday of this week) was focused on monitor set-up. I found what Tim was explaining about the importance of monitor positioning extremely interesting - there is so much involved in the arrangement of monitors that many people would not ordinarily think of or consider. The height, for example, is extremely important - to have the speakers actually projecting to the ears of the players (rather than hovering at their feet or something)... You have to at all times consider the direction of the sound coming from the cones and decide whether they are doing their job or possibly being detrimental to the overall sound!
The way monitors interact with each other is also vital to take into account. Where the high frequencies and low frequencies are directed (and their relation and cross-overs), the distances between artist and monitor/s, and the space between monitors. Something I found cool and thought-provoking was the need to add delay to certain monitors, in order that the sound from the different sources is reaching the artist at the same time. We worked out that the front monitor, for example, was around 3 metres closer to the lead singer than the side-stage monitors, so it had to have its signal delayed in order to have the sound in sync. The clarity increased straight away when a delay of 8 milliseconds was added - it suddenly brought the sounds perfectly together. It has made me extra aware now of the acoustic considerations required in setting up any sort of monitor sends and mixes, and is all very intriguing to learn about.
I really dig the console work with monitor set-ups - more so than the stage work. I made a few wrong and ‘not-great’ decisions with that - I think I get confused and sometimes even overwhelmed, for no particular reason. There are so many points to remember, and I may be focusing too hard on not making mistakes that I make mistakes anywhere I've neglected to focus on (?). It’s also a side of things I don’t do too often (or at least at that scale) - I am more so in-the-box mixing, and working consoles - so I’m less confident with the technicalities involved with on-stage equipment.
When I don't practice something often, it may as well not be considered a skill. So the more I am a part of this set-up, the more I hope I will get the hang of things and feel natural with this work, probably even enjoy it! It is a cool thing to be doing, I like the structure of it - the routines, the processes that one follows each time, the physicality and the organised-nature. As well as, and especially with, the final result.
It was challenging for me to work in and around 5 other people setting up the stage too - I feel strange constantly checking what other people are doing - what’s been done already, what needs doing next, and sometimes by the time you start something someone else goes to do it. That’s why I’m glad we’ll be each having our own roles on gig night - it’s much better to be able to focus on a particular task, and work through your own responsibilities! Always collaborating as a group, but not stepping on each others' toes.
I think overall we’re still needing to work better as a team - this is continuously improving though so I have faith it will extend for our gig. I started a Trello board too for this intensive, so I am hoping the admin side of proceedings will be taken more care of. Especially for events, it’s so vital to have WRITTEN plans of attack, and points to reference and delegate tasks.
If we can pull this off I’ll be absolutely stoked – it’ll be my first ever live experience as CREW, so I’m sure I’ll be elated!
I'm looking forward to turning this space into a live event!
Somewhat randomly here is a song I have been listening to non-stop recently - a new track from Future Islands, Aladdin. Thinking about live gigs too, and recordings of live gigs, this is a nice-sounding live recording I think - it seems like it would have been an amazing gig, and the audience are well into it which shows that the quality of the sound was up there (enough that the technicalities are inconspicuous). Thanks too to Samuel Herring’s impassioned performance - I love the way he feels the music and sings REAL. (He IS one of my favourite voices). Plus, the bass line of this song is killer. Yes.
YouTube URL: https://youtu.be/9lma5p09Pwk?t=40s
Recently I've had the pleasure of working with Spec8 in the studio - a duo from Melbourne who play a variety of covers in acoustic-style.
Reinette and Leeroy have been playing together for about a year now, and are extremely well-rehearsed, so my job as an engineer was simplified thanks to their musicianship and professionalism. This studio time has also been their first in-studio experience, so I feel so glad to be able to provide this to them. I absolutely love Reinette's voice, and with Leeroy’s skilled playing they create some really beautiful sounds, that should be recorded in pristine studio quality and distributed for many people to enjoy (as much as I do).
I am currently in the process of continuing to mix and edit the tracks. There were ten all up, and they will be split into lots of mini EPs - the first will be completed over the next few weeks. As I am working on them, I have thought how I really do not want to over-produce them - the style of the music wouldn’t suit that, and I think the performances are quite wonderful even as they are. I am really only applying light work that will correct where necessary and emphasise the great aspects, whilst keeping the performance raw and genuine.
Being in the studio by myself has always been a little daunting for me, but I am becoming more and more comfortable with it. Of course, the more time I spend in studios by myself, having opportunities to practice, think things through and troubleshoot, the more confident I'll feel. It is still a very new and exciting thing for me to be working in audio, so I am sure that the longer I do it, the more everything will become natural, hopefully even second-nature (as quite a bit already has).
Reinette & Leeroy in the Neve recording space
The duo performing their covers
The past week also marked the beginning of my group’s Live Sound intensive. I didn’t expect to enjoy live sound as much as I did and am. I haven't yet considered live as a future profession for me, as I haven’t really perceived myself potentially working in the area, so never attempted to learn heaps about it. Nor was live sound the motivation behind me actually enrolling in this audio course (that was more the ideal of working in a studio). After my first session though, I hold a completely new outlook towards live sound, as a sector of the music industry I would potentially work in.
As my tutor, Tim, was explaining all about what it's like to be a part of the audio of a gig, and the amazing performances he had been a part of, I thought how absolutely amazing it would be to have this as a job - giving sound to audiences, people right in front of you, to experience live music (one of the most wonderful experiences there is).
Thinking about it, live actually was, and continually is, a significant contributor to my desire to work with musicians and music. The environment of gigs and concerts, and the thrill of experiencing music played in real-time, has been a huge influence in me desiring to professionally work within music. So in that way, live sound is extremely important to me, and the more I learn about the ins and outs of it all, the more I am enthralled.
Tim showed an interesting time-lapse video of the setting up of a Muse concert - the amount of work involved was actually hilariously extreme, I couldn’t fathom it. All the small figures bustling around, focused on their own tasks and jobs, the amount of practitioners from separate fields all working in and around each other... It was so aesthetically pleasing to watch! The efficacy and organised-nature of it all.
My favourite part was, when all the constructive and preparatory work was done, and the stage was at the point it always looked when I attend concerts, the audience rolled in - completely unaware of the intensity of the set up, and what it takes to put on a concert of that magnitude. But that is what's so special about it - they shouldn’t know. The very essence of music, the way it communicates and connects to us, is a stand-alone feature - it’s all a bit magical. That’s what is nice about it.
But learning the behind-the-scenes perspective I'm sure wouldn't necessarily take that away - it would rather allow you to focus on deeper aspects, and the formative pieces that present the music as a whole. Plus, the satisfaction of a successfully produced gig would surely be as rewarding.
The software and hardware we use in this class was also intriguing... Actually just reading through the instructions for the Venue software and the S3 was enjoyable somehow! Venue is extremely enjoyable to work - its layout is seriously simple to follow, with everything clearly marked and outlined. The S3 is also a very cool console to use in relation. I’m looking forward to the times I get to spend working them, especially in putting on our live gig (featuring Spec8 as our opening act)!
Maybe I am liking consoles and software more as we go because I am getting better familiarised and learned with the processes involved, and slowly gaining the underlying audio knowledge and understanding to work these sorts of surfaces.
It does tend to be that the better you are at something the more you enjoy it (and the more you enjoy it, the better you end up being). I’m starting to think my mind isn’t necessarily non-disposed to technology, and maybe instead, that I just needed the sufficient time to understand it.
Over the past four weeks, myself and five others from my course have formed a creative music-making, producing and engineering team. We've taken half a page of lyrics and turned them into a three-and-a-half minute song.