Multitrack Composition I

For our Week 10 assignment, we were to write an original composition with at least two ‘mood changes’ that would challenge our song writing skills. My personal parameters were to not write in 4/4, write in a minor key and try to include a key change. The result was this song – Summer Reign. I began by composing the core chord progression and vocal line. I recorded a scratch track and gave it to the musicians I wanted to work with.

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My co-engineers were Abby Graham and Brian Binning. I also chose Brian as my pianist due to having worked with him in the past and his background of having been brought up playing in the church. His piano skills are more advanced than mine and I knew he could put the soulful flair that I wanted into my song. He and I met up and laid down the piano and vocal tracks.

For my vocals, I chose the Neumann U-87. On Brian’s piano, we used a _____ on the high end and a Chameleon Labs TS-1 on the low end under the piano. Brian also suggested a stereo x-y pair of Shure SM-58’s behind him. This caught a nice room tone. I liked the blend all four caught, so I kept all four in my final recording.

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For bass, I brought in my friend Sam Stark (best known as the bassist for the recently dissolved local band Apollo’s Mystic Caravan). I have previously worked with Sam in choirs and musical theatre. I’m a fan of his work and I knew he would get where I wanted to go with this track. Recording his bass was easy. I put an AKG D112, AKG D202e and Electrovoice CS-15 on the bass amp. The CS-15 sounded like hot garbage, so it got taken out. I typically knew the D112 as a kick drum mic (which I later used it as), but it picked up the bass wonderfully. Peter wanted us to try exaggerated recording, so I pointed the head of the D202 at the amp rather than where the pickup pattern actually is.
I was pleased with the sound, so I kept it.

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Lastly, my original drummer was running late due to Olympia city transit problems. My classmate, Dan Davis, showed up early for his session and graciously took over the drumming duties. I was really impressed with Dan. He took one listen to my song and knew exactly what I wanted. We moved the D112 to the kick drum, the D202e to the snare and put two SM 58s on overhead.

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I then took my recordings into the mix bench for mix down. I added reverb to my vocals, compression and EQ to the drums, compression to the bass and reverb to two of the piano tracks. I feel like I have a lot to learn about mixing down digitally and the resources I have available. I am still working on how to make the bass more prevalent.

Overall, I’m happy with the final product. I think I will review my vocal line composition and see how I can improve it. I would also like to re-cut my vocals due to peaking issues I experienced while recording. In the end, it was a very rewarding experience writing a song and seeing it come to fruition. I look forward to doing more next quarter.

 

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Sound Design for Film!

This quarter, my project partners and I tackled a triple version of the final sound design project for our sound design program.
It was a great experience for me as I got some experience doing voiceover work. We recruited our awesome friend Amanda to do some voices on our Monster’s Inc. clip.
I called in some favors with friends of mine to voice work for a clip from Girl Most Likely.
Lastly, we did a Mortal Kombat trailer which was a good experience in capturing some sounds I previously hadn’t tried to make.
Tonight is our final presentation and I’ll have our video available soon.

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Fun With Re-Amping

So, a few weeks ago we recorded Mr. Chuck West performing this awesome song called ‘Don’t Taze Me Bro’.
Our final assignment included a requirement for re-amping. I could have done this in the audio lab, but our professor told us a rather inspiring story of someone who re-amped something last year inside of a mailbox. So I thought of the most random places and ways I could re-amp things, and I gave it a go.

I initially tried my Blue Yeti in the dryer with my phone. But not even Snuggles dryer sheets could make that sound squeezably soft...or salvagable for that matter.

I initially tried my Blue Yeti in the dryer with my phone. But not even Snuggles dryer sheets could make that sound squeezably soft…or salvageable for that matter.

For the vocal and harmonica track, I set up 5 empty water bottles and one half empty one. (Who says I don’t recycle?) I set a Zoom H4n on top of the bottles and set my iPhone playing the track in between the bottles. Finally, I put a plastic trash bin over the top of all of it. I enjoyed the result. As the song is a subliminal jab at the feds, it felt the megaphone sound it ended up producing on his voice was fitting.

Zoom recorder on top of (mostly) empty water bottles. Please always recycle.

Zoom recorder on top of (mostly) empty water bottles. Please always recycle.

I wanted to do something with the guitar track, and I had this great idea of putting the Zoom and my phone in a plastic container and putting it underwater. However, all my plastic containers had poor watertight integrity, and I couldn’t afford to buy Media Loan a new recorder. So I instead chose a glass jar. I began with the recorder and phone in the jar alone (Ha. I made a rhyme.) but decided to add a microfiber glove since the initial results were overbearing. I liked the results because in addition to the guitar, the glass gave off a weird whistling sound.

This jar is amazing for lemonade. It's also great for getting the weird sounds out of guitar tracks.

This jar is amazing for lemonade. It’s also great for getting the weird sounds out of guitar tracks.

I don’t think the end product was the greatest, but it definitely got me re-amped (no pun intended) about continuing on to our sound design for film units next quarter.

Til next time!

From Shapenotes To Rings On Saturn

After being introduced to the Blumlein pair mic technique, I wanted to try it with a certain hobby of mine. Fortunately, my group mates were willing to give it a go.
Shapenote singing is an American tradition of sacred choral music sung in four sections sitting in a square with a leader in the middle. One of the long standing complaints I’ve heard with recorded Shapenote is that it never does the actual thing justice, largely because the full effect only comes from being in the center of the square.

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Using the Cascade Fatheads, we gave it a try with a quartet we got together. I ended up standing in as tenor for someone who couldn’t make it, so it was an interesting experience being on the other side of the glass for once. A major challenge with this music was standing still while singing, not hitting cords or mic stands and for one of us, not stomping your foot as is sometimes traditionally done. In the end, we got a good sounding product – especially after a verb impulse was applied that mimicked the effect of the echo from the hardwood floored rooms we usually sing these songs in. I still wish we could have gotten a larger group.

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Next, Nathalie – our Alto from the shapenote quartet brought in her band for us to record her song “Lightyears Away”. Her catchy refrain of ‘You’re on my mind like rings on Saturn’ will be stuck in my head for days now. Unfortunately, I had to leave for another class before this one really got underway. The attached final mix was done by my classmate, Aaron Kish.

For Nathalie’s vocals, we used a Chameleon Labs TS-2 and a Shure SM7B on vocals
On Andrew, we had a Electrovoice RE-25 for his vocals, and his keyboard went into a pair of direct boxes.

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Weekend of Recording Sessions

My group tried a new documentation technique, and this time we have a couple of time lapses.
You can see everything we did from setting up to breaking down in a 2 hour session in attached 2-minute time lapse videos.
(Time Lapses ©2014 Aaron Kish)

We took a weekend of record two local artists from here in Olympia. Both were guitar and vocals, so the set-up was relatively simple.
The gentleman we recorded also played harmonica, so this added in a new dynamic we were not yet used to. His session was a learning experience for us and afterward he expressed that facing the performer directly at the studio window made him kind of nervous. All in all, we got a good recording of a great original song of his satirizing the police.

The next day, we hosted a lady who sang a few hymns for us. She was guitar and vocal only, however she played a 12-string guitar.
Initially, we set her vocal mic in front of her but noticed later that she sings with her head facing the neck of her guitar. We moved the mic for her second song and were more pleased with the results.

The recordings will be posted soon.

Week 10 Project

 

Our week 10 project is finally complete! The strange thing for us was that the struggle didn’t come in setting up for the recording, but rather in coping with and recovering from disaster midway through.

Our biggest blessing was deciding to use someone from our own group as the talent. Brian is an amazing musician and graciously opted to play all instruments for a track for our recording. We began with the piano.

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Following this, we set up mics to record shakers. Before setting up the drum mics, we allowed Brian a test run to come up with something to accompany what we had.
We liked the sound of the mics being far off from the drums, we ended up leaving them in place and keeping that recording for the final track.

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We had a nice 3-track piece together and called it a day. We intended to return after Thanksgiving break and finish by recording an organ piece.

Unfortunately, we made the mistake of leaving our tape in the studio and a group that followed accidentally recorded over our work.
This meant when we came in to finish in our next session, we had to re-do everything. However, we were prepared and got right to work.
I cannot put into words how thankful I was to be working with people as well versed as Aaron and Brian. At worst, the setback was a mere inconvenience.

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We made some slight mic readjustments, but we finished everything over again over the course of roughly 6 and a half hours.

Overall, this project was a great learning experience. The biggest thing I’m taking from this is to never give up.
The unexpected will happen, but where there’s a will (and awesome fellow group members), there is a way.