Final Writeup by 13ZgpL

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Introduction to Planned Impromptu
 - The story behind the project.

        Throughout the school year for the Advanced Recording II curriculum, jazz pianist Todd
Simon frequented the class to perform various songs to help students of that class familiarize
different recording techniques. Ever since my freshman year at Peabody, Todd and I were
good friends and I've taken a liking to Todd's playing. Knowing that he has been active around
the jazz community around Baltimore/DC, I invited him to bring along a group he's
comfortable playing with for a recording session. Already anticipating that he'd bring his
“usual” trio with bassist Blake Meister and drummer Shareef Taher, I even threw in a few
requests for songs I'd like to hear. Although booking studio time and arranging a date for
when the band could swing by the studio was a bit of a hassle, everything sorted itself out,
albeit a bit last-minute-ish.

        On the day of the recording session, I already had a “mind's eye” picture of how the
recording setup was going to be, along with preconceived notions of what the band would
sound like given that I had made “requests” weeks prior. As the musicians filed in, things
didn't go the way I had imagined: Mancini's Dreamsville didn't show up in any Fake Books
that Todd had owned, the drummer couldn't make the recording session, a guitarist replaced
the drummer, and two-thirds of the repertoire recorded in the studio, two-thirds of the band
haven't played before. The plans/anticipations I've made didn't actually crumple the studio
session into unusable material; instead, it provided flexibility and a “play it by ear” mentality
the musicians had. The very character of the recording session mimicked the character of the
jazz ensemble recorded that evening.

       The songs performed didn't necessarily reflect the nature of “hurried” and “spur-of-the-
moment”, and thus I generally mixed the songs according to how it would sound like in a
medium-sized jazz hall. I had figured that after facing such challenges in the past, that it was
high time to face the music and enjoy it for all it's worth. In the end, Planned Impromptu is
more of a personal reminder that life has its own turns and directions no matter how prepared
one might be... prepare anyway!
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Equipment Used
   Microphones Used (in Alphabetical order):
    (1) AKG Solidtube
    (2) Microtech Gefell M930
    (1) Neumann TLM103
    (2) Royer R-121
    (1) Sennheiser MKH40


   Preamplifier and Console Used:
    Sony Oxford R3


   Digital Audio Workstation Used:
    Apple Power Mac G5
    Pro Tools HD


   External Devices Used:
    Sony SR-777 Digital Sampling Reverberation Machine
    TC Electronics Icon


   Speakers/Headphones Used:
    Right Hemisphere Passive Monitors
    Dynaudio BM15A Active Monitors
    Sony MDR-7506 Headphones


   Others Used:
    Whirlwind IMP2 Standard Direct Box
    (3) Beyerdynamic Headphones
    (3) Headphone Boxes
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Studio Set-Up
        With the aide of Joe Dombrowski, the studio was set up to record a jazz trio consisting
of a piano, an upright bass, and a drum set before the artists set foot in studio 220C. As time
progressed, I had to make the set-up adapt to the ever changing conditions of the jazz
ensemble. For the purposes of documenting the recording session, I will first provide
excruciating detail of what I had setup in the beginning, and then cue in the changes made
later that night.

          The pictures included depict only the result of the recording session.

8:30 – 9:10 PM:
 Piano: The piano had been turned around, and the lid was facing the furthest wall to
   eliminate piano bleed into the drum and bass microphones. Further action was taken to
   ensure the piano was contained by the use of dampening blankets draped over the lid;
   even more, blankets were also draped on top of the lid to eliminate unwanted reflections in
   the studio. The pair of MG M930 cardioid microphones were set in a NOS stereo array and
   pointed at the end of the piano a foot away from the piano strings.
 Bass: I had set up a booth near the entrance of the studio consisting of nine partitions to
   separate the bass from the rest of the band. The Neumann TLM103 was to be used on the
   bass to capture both the plucks and low-end extension of the jazz bass. Of course, I made
   sure that the partitions had windows so as to allow the musicians communicate visually
   during their performance.
 Drums: Traditionally, the drums were to be set up four feet to the left of the pianist; and I
   anticipated as such, considering the history I had with pianist Todd Simon and his group.
   Joe and I proceeded to set up the Royer R-121's as the overhead microphones, the AKG
   Solidtube as the kick microphone, and the Sennheiser MKH40 as the snare microphone.
 As Todd stepped into the studio, I asked him if he wanted to use headphones during the
   recording session, to which he answered, “Maybe.” Joe and I then plugged in three
   separate headphone boxes and branched each one to their respective places. Joe left
   promptly afterward.

9:10 – 9:45 PM:
 Drums and Bass: Bassist Blake Meister arrived and brought word that drummer Shareef
   Taher is not going to make it to the recording session and frantically phoned different jazz
   musicians to fill in Shareef's spot*. Afterward, Blake took his bass and parked it where the
   drum microphones would sit. I then adjusted the set-up and took the TLM103 from the
   booth and placed it four to six inches away from the f-hole, whilst pointing at the bridge. I
   also took the headphone box from the booth and placed it by Blake's side.
 As the group waited for the “wild card musician” to step into studio 220C, Todd and Blake
   proceeded to play their first track, Third Intention.
 Guitar: After their first take of Third Intention, guitarist Aleksi Glick entered the studio and I
   began to set up for an amped and direct signal path for the jazz guitar. I first made use of
   the tube guitar amplifier, but the amp never turned on; I then grabbed the first guitar amp I
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    could find and directed the AKG Solidtube toward the driver and utilized the unused
    partitions to contain the sound of the guitar amp. To further ensure that the sound doesn't
    bleed into other microphones, I draped another dampening blanket over the partitions.
    Afterward, I rushed to the console and made preliminary adjustments to the guitar levels
    on the console. Aleksi then sat in the middle of the room and tuned.
   After the ensuing chaos, Todd and Blake decided to make another take on Third Intention.

9:45 – 11:30 PM:
 Bass: I decided to utilize the unused Sennheiser MKH40 and placed it above the f-hole on
   the bass for the sake of sound reinforcement and detailed bass plucks/bowed strings.
    (As a side-note: I decided this too late in the recording session as Blake didn't bow the
       bass after the second take of Third Intention.)
 Guitar and Drums: I moved aside the Royer R-121's and unplugged the right overhead to
   use for the guitar direct box. The left overhead was cut from the recording session and
   never used.
 During the set-up, the musicians discussed what repertoire was to be played and Aleksi
   proposed two songs, Without a Song, and Unit Seven. All in all, everything, from
   microphone setup to jazz ensemble to repertoire list, was decided on the spot that night.
   Even more, the pianist and bassist haven't heard of Without a Song nor Unit Seven and
   Aleksi had to teach the rest of the group right upon the mention of these titles.
 Piano: During the first take of Without a Song, I noticed a drastic amount of low-frequency
   bleed into the piano microphones. Not wanting to result into using EQ during a recording
   session, I used tall partitions to block outside sounds from entering the piano microphones
   right after the first take of Without a Song. The partitions encompassed the microphone
   stand and bottom end of the piano lid. Suffice to say, there was little improvement.

*Note: I have included the original track sheet used from the beginning of the setup to the
very end of the recording session.
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Studio Set-Up (Pictures)
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Mix Notes
 - Transcribed from post-its made during mixing sessions.

Third Intention (Take 1):
 Had to automate all Bass tracks (all of one), and keep steady the music line through
   volume automation; keeping unwanted stress marks at a low and crescendo stressed
   even more.
 EQ on piano tracks to eliminate Bass bleed.
 Used delay on both instruments to better blend with reverb. (Piano is 3 feet back/Bass is 5
   feet back.)
 To get rid of room resonance, I notched down 240Hz by -3dB.
 There were minor edits in the bass track to correct intonation mistakes (2 were made).


Third Intention (Take 2):
 Again used automation to take Bass into front and center-right stage and backed off to
   accompany piano.
    In plucked bass, I used open string pluck as reference to how loud the bass will stick
       for the rest of the mix.
 This time, all faders have the same level and I used Pro Tools soley [sic] for balance.
 Corrected a few intonation mistakes on the stringed bass again (using pitch modulation &
   cut/paste.)
 Bass had been EQ'ed with -4dB around 6kHz with a wide Q of 0.5 (this is to counter the
   frequency properties of the TLM103.)
 Bass is delay 5 feet back; Piano is 2 feet back.
 Since tin the beginning stringed portion, the bass has higher level, it gives the illusion of
   presence. When backed off, in the plucked section, the delay takes control and bass is set
   behind piano.
 Again, Piano has high pass filter to eliminate bass bleed.
 Some things I've left in the mix to preserve the musicality of the performance:
    Sloppy shifts shifts in the stringed bass
    Awkward string changes and timbre changes in stringed bass
    Piano is without automation.
Notes taken two nights after:
 Redid bass so as not to be so intrusive and loud.
 Acoustically, bass is inferior and it needs to reflect in the mix. Thus, I normalized the
   plucking sections and “zero'ed” the bass fader.
 I also took off the high frequency notch on the bass to allow for more natural plucking
   sounds and the bow scratching.
    Bow scratching gives illusion of proximity
 I also eased off some of the bass reverb so as not to make it sound boxy.


Without a Song (Take 1):
 Todd mentioned explicitly to use this take.
 When combining the MKH40 on the bass, I had to pull down the levels drastically.
 TLM103 is panned more to the right because it had a more smooth and silky sound. I also
   had the level down to make the bass appear more in the right center stage. The MKH40 is
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    more harsh on twangs and plucks.
   Used high pass filters on piano to get rid of low-frequency bleed from both bass and guitar
    amp.
   I also ensured to eliminate low-frequency resonances through High-Pass filter on guitar
    amp.
   On the bass microphone, I used the same EQ to rid room resonance and to keep the
    TLM103 flat in response.
   Used volume automation to bring up bass solo.
     Compensating for low levels due to catching two microphones at the same time (a
        Catch-22 if you will.)
   Minor adjustments in guitar level in the beginning to “correct” start of the piece.
   To focus on the guitar, I panned the amp to the left a tad, yet keeping the direct signal
    dead center.
   The piano is set a little wider, but made that way to accompany, yet encompass the entire
    ensemble.
   To keep the guitar from overflowing low-frequency reverb, I used the TC Electronic reverb
    machine besides the Sony DRE-S777.

Unit Seven (Take 2):
 Used for sake of time constraints & performance.
 Had to eliminate guitar direct crackle through noise reduction and volume automation in
   Pro Tools.
 Automated bass solo to have more presence.
 The guitar amp depicts more pluck this time around and I placed it toward the middle while
   the direct is placed more toward the left.
 Also, to balance the reverb, I had to decrease the level used in the piano and bass; then I
   had to increase the reverb of the guitar.
 Guitar in front, then bass, then piano.
    Often times, bass would seem up front, but that's only because the register the guitar is
      playing gives an illusion of a different space.
 Many of the EQ and delay settings are similarly tied to Without a Song.


Additional Notes:
 As mentioned in the Unit Seven notes, because of time constraints, I was only able to
  master the CD with Third Intention and Unit Seven.
 Where the instruments were panned in the mix mimicked the way they positioned
  themselves in the studio.
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Credits
Produced, Engineered, Recorded, and Mixed by Hong-Wei David Liu

Assistant Engineer
 Joe Dombrowski


Musicians
 Todd Simon (Jazz Piano)
 Blake Meister (Bass)
 Aleksi Glick (Jazz Guitar)


Special Thanks
 Geoff Knor

								
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