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Using the MPC2000XL for live shows.


Image

Long time no blog.  I’m usually blogging at http://thecommunity.com.au/FG these days.  However, I thought I’d drop a technical blog here because the other blog is just for my musical endeavours.

I’ve been doing a bunch of shows lately.  Emcee sets and beat sets, mostly.  Regardless of the type of set I’ve been keeping my MPC2000XL central to the show – playing beats off it for raps and doing live beat stuff on it when I run out of breath.  Over the course of these shows I’ve encountered plenty of “technical difficulties” and found some solutions so I thought I’d drop a line for anyone who’s looking at doing a similar thing.

Here’s a list of 5 things you should do to ensure that your sets run off the MPC flawlessly:

1.  When preparing a song, sequence or program to play live make sure you don’t gain any of the samples.  If something is too quiet, mix everything else lower rather than raise the level of that sound.  It can be very tempting to go into the TRIM –> PARAMS window for a sample and crank the level to 200.  You will be very tempted to do this for kicks and snares in particular – but avoid the temptation.  Similarly, don’t turn the VEL% on your sequence tracks up above 100, either.  Here’s why…

The Digital to Analogue Convertors (DAC), I think, run before the volume gain stage on the outputs.  This means that any internally gained sounds have the potential to be sent from the MPC to the front of house mixer at greater than 0dB.  This is part of the reason that MPC’s have an “analogue” sound to the audio they output.  However, the result can be a catastrophic clampdown by the front of house compressor (if they have one, which 99% of the time the venue does) or, even worse, over driven and distorted sounds and, even even even worse, you could blow out the venues front of house speakers and end the show entirely.

Front of house compressors are much like mastering compressors in how they’re set up.  They have a relatively slow attack time and a very long release.  Anything that goes into them too hot will cut through for a moment (which sounds like a big POP) and then the level will drop enormously before slowly creeping back to normal (at which point the hot kick or snare usually hits again and the process is repeated).  This not only sounds terrible but makes it damn near impossible to stay on point with any pattern that you’re playing live.

If you never gain sounds in the MPC, then you should never send a signal hot enough to make the compressor shit itself and you should never have any problems.

2.  If you’re not playing a program on the fly (a la Exile or ARAAB) then make sure you name your tracks and sequences.  You can even go so far as to arrange them in the SONG window and convert the whole song to one new, giant sequence.  That way, if you have an outro without any vocals, you can jump into the MUTE window and do a nice little ‘on the fly’ drum/sample drop sequence.

3. Convert as many samples as you can to mono.  This is usually absolutely fine for drums (kicks, snares, hats etc) and percussion.  You have to decide for yourself whether it’s worthwhile for samples.  It usually won’t hurt for bass (as many systems mono the bass anyway to avoid phasing issues in the venue).  The reason for doing this is purely to reduce the time it takes to load a new program and sequence.  If you have a Compact Flash drive or SCSI drive then the load time will be between 10 and 30 seconds for a song.  Needless to say, if you run off floppy disk still – then you’re in for a world of hurt waiting for the MPC to load so you’re better off just learning how to adlib really well between songs.

4. Fall in love with the 16 levels function and the SLIDER.  They are both limited.  You can’t turn 16 Levels on or off while a sequence is playing, for example, but with some deft skills you can stop a sequence in the final count of the loop, hit 16 levels, and then press PLAY START in time to catch the first beat of the next bar.  Make note of my qualification about DEFT SKILLS… you’ll need them.  This does allow you to, for instance, go from some on the fly arrangement into a synth solo on the MPC though so it’s worth experimenting.  The SLIDER can only be assigned to 1 pad at a time but you can get some gnarly effects from it.  Assign it to a synth/siney tone and you can go pitch shift crazy.  To make this seem flawless, set the sine tone as a short loop and make the END time for the amplitude envelope quite long.  The SLIDER can’t vary the pitch while a sample is playing but with a long release you can tap the sine pad repeatedly while moving the pitched and create a fairly seemless sounding sine pitch shift.

5. Learn to love the filter envelope (PROGRAM WINDOW, highlight cutoff or resonance and press OPEN WINDOW to access it).  This can turn a really simple looped sound into a damn good imitation of an old analogue synth.  For even more Moog-ish funk, link the pad to another pad with the same sound but pitched up or down 120 (1 octave).  You can then alter the filter envelope on the second pad in an entirely different way to the first pad and create very interesting sounds such as a bass not that falls hard, sharp and low at the start and then sweeps in with a squelchy higher frequency towards the end.  Very cool.  You could also link two patches of the same sound and pitch one down 1 or 2 and the other up 1 or 2 for a fat detuned bassline.  Just beware of phasing.  Either way, this can really cut down the need to bring a synth to your gigs.

And, that’s my top five recommendations for using the MPC2000XL live.  It’s nearly 13 years old and I’m yet to find a replacement machine that can compete (and trust me, I’ve tried Maschine, Ableton, the MPC1000 and many other units).

PEESHE

FG

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“Walk” by FG – A New Track.


the walking vest

This is a a "walking vest" apparently.  WTF is a walking vest?

Hi folks,

Here’s a track I was working on for a project (not my “Making Space” album) that, in the end, just didn’t fit with the other tracks in the project.  I kind of like the beat though, so I’ve thrown it up on SoundCloud for folks to check out.  Hope you like it.   The working title of the song was “Walk” because it sounds a bit like the music in my brain whenever I’m walking somewhere.

PEESHE

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in Hip Hop, Production, soul

 

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Gear review… Logic 9 continued and ended.


Hi folks,

It’s been a few days since I posted the last instalment of this three part review of Logic 9.  This time I’m going to be looking at Software Instruments and Logic’s native plugins.   Creating Software instrument tracks follows the same process as creating audio tracks (see last blog).  In most instances, you’re only going to be able to make effective use of them if you have a MIDI controller keyboard of some sort (if you’re strapped for cash, try the Korg NanoKey 2 – it won’t make you weep with joy but it works).  Alternatively, you can use the Piano Roll window to enter MIDI notes manually.  This can be a good way of using the samplers to arrange a chopped sample but is a bit counter-intuitive if you’re looking create, for example, a piano progression.

An instance of Ultrabeat

Software Instruments

Logic includes a number of core plugins to provide virtual instruments.  For those that don’t know, a software or virtual instrument is a digital-based tool that allows you to play “instrument” sounds within your PC.  They generally have three formats: synthesised, which operates as a software version of what you would find in your normal hardware synthesisers; sampler style, which allows actual sounds to be recorded and played back over a ranged of notes (pitch shifting sounds to fill in the gaps); and ROMpler style, which is based on recorded sounds like a sampler but which provides you with specific sounds to use rather than letting you provided your own recorded sounds – they sometimes combine ROMplers and synthesis elements in one instrument.  An example of a ROMpler would be something like Native Instruments Kontakt.

In terms of synthesisers, Logic has eleven options ranging from old style and traditional synthesis through to synthesisers that emulate particular instruments.  Here’s a run-down of the various synths:

EFM1

This is an FM synthesiser.  In short, that means that it generates sound through the esoteric process of frequency modulation.  It’s a decent synth and a fair emulation of your generic FM synth but I find it a bit harsh and tiring to listen to for extended periods.  This is, for me, a little characteristic of FM synthesis in general.

ES E

This is an ensemble synth that aims to provide a one stop shop for synthesis of “synthy” strings.  Some people love strings.  Some people love synthesised strings even more.  If you’re one of these people, then you’re sure to be happy with the ES E.  For me, this is probably my second least used synth.  It’s decent for providing a little body to organic, sampled or recorded strings but (like synthesised horns) I think synth strings just sound bad – even when they’re good.

ES M

This is a really simple little synth that takes on the world of Monophonic synthesis.  In other words, it only allows you to play one note at a time – just like a MiniMoog.  Whilst it bears no resemblance to the Moog, the aim with this synth is to allow users to make Moog-ish basslines.  It’s not too bad either but it has pretty limited options and the oscillators always sound a little to “squelchy” (when the resonance is lifted a little) or otherwise to “flat” (when the resonance is off) for the music I make.  Nevertheless, with some creative effects you can often get a decent sound out of this synth.

The ES Monophonic synth

ES P

Another simple synth, this time taking on the world of Polyphonic synthesis.  Again the emphasis here is on basslines but you can get some good sounds out of this for melodic elements or sound effects.  It allows you to mix together a variety of wave forms before running them through frequency cutoff, resonance, envelope generator, chorus and distortion.  You can also put the sound through vibrato or wah to varying degrees and at varying speeds – when combined with the resonance knob, you are able to drive the synth in to self-oscillation territory.

ES1

This is the first of the generic, all-purpose synths.  Rather than emulating particular types of synthesis or particular eras of synthesiser the ES1 just tries to provide a useful tool.  And it does.  It has a fair few features (and LFO, Modulation routing etc) but is pretty straight-forward to use and has a lot of potential for producing good basic synth sounds (and some more complex ones).  My only minor gripe is that it can sound a little too simple – it doesn’t quite have the flair that one looks for in a good synth.

ES2

The ES2 is by far my most loved “synthy” synth in Logic 9.  It is similar in concept to the ES1 (an all around work horse) but it is much, much nicer to use and to listen to.  There’s too many features to list but it is still relatively intuitive to use.  The ability to run Oscillators 1 and 2 in series or parallel is a probably my favourite thing about this synth.  Very, very good.

EVB3

The EVB3 is a tone-wheel organ emulation and a damn good one at that.  I love this synth.  Easy to use, with some great options for creating a more natural organ sound (drawbars, key click emulation on press and release, cabinet control, rotary speaker emulation etc).  Whilst it lacks the temperamental nature of a real Hammond B3 (or such like) you can still create a pleasant character and tone with this plugin.

The EVB3 Tonewheel Organ

EVD6

The EVD6 is a clavinet emulation.  And it is very, very funky.  If I could play “Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder I would lose many hours of my life on this synth.  However, much like the clavinet itself, this synth is a bit limited in usefulness.  A great and flexible emulation of a clav but, really, how many songs do you really need to put clav in?

EVOC 20 PS

Okay.  Let me be honest.  I’ve never used this synth.  It’s a vocoder and, since I have a MicroKorg, I don’t need it.  Additionally, I really don’t like vocoded sounds very much.  So…

EVP88

This one is an absolute gem.  It’s always my starting synth when I’m putting together ideas (and not just because it’s the default synth when you add a new software instrument track).  It’s an electric piano emulation and it is just plain beautiful.  With a little coaxing and some careful manipulation of the various parameters you can produce anything from thin melodic tinkling to rich warm Rhodesy chords.  Of all the synths, this has the most useful and well made presets, too, which will always give you a decent starting point to work from.

EVP88......... I love you.

Sculpture

When Logic 9 was released there was a great hoo-hah about Sculpture.  The hoo-hah was probably justified because this is a powerful, stringed instrument modelling synth (i.e. it uses synthesis to replicate what occurs when you play plucked, bowed or strummed stringed instruments).  However, I just never use this.  Partly it’s because I rarely need stringed instruments for my music.  Partly it’s because, like horns, violins and pianos – synthesised guitars always sound second-rate.  And lastly, if I do need some small guitar part I’ll (clumsily and with an excruciating lack of skill) play it myself.  Oh, and this is an insanely complex synth to use well.

 

Whilst the above synthesisers all have their uses, they probably only make up a small percentage of the sounds I use in Logic (except the EVP88 which I use all the time).  Most sounds that I reach for are delivered by Logic’s two excellent samplers, Ultrabeat and the EXS24.

Ultrabeat

This is a drum sequencer and sampler.  It is set up as a ROMpler at first glance, with a bunch of different drum kits that can be used in its sequencer window.  However, one of those kits is called “Drag and drop samples” and this one allows you to import your own drum sounds and save your own kits.  So it is, in fact, a sampler.  And it’s a great sampler, too, though it has some niggling limitations.  On the plus side, it has a bunch of options for treating, pitching, EQing, LFOing, envelope shaping etc each individual drum sound that you import – an excellent range of useful options but I wish they were laid out better.  On the minus side, it has a 16 part step sequencer that allows you to arrange drum patterns and apply swing but there is no way to push or pull individual hits (IF YOU KNOW HOW TO DO THIS, PLEASE COMMENT!!!!!!!).  The minus is only a niggling problem though as you can always copy the pattern into your arrange window as a MIDI region and then push or pull individual drum hits in there.

Probably the best thing about Ultrabeat is the ability to load it as Multi Outputs (8 x Stereo, 8 x mono).  You can then route the individual hits to their own channel in the mixer window and EQ, compress etc each of them separately.  Before I figured that out, I pretty much thought that Ultrabeat was useless, now I use it on probably 40 to 50% of my tracks.

EXS24

This is your traditional software sampler.  Again, it acts as a ROMpler with a big range of pre-made sampled sounds.  However, you can create an EXS sampler instrument from any number of regions in the arrange window (actually it’s a maximum of 128 regions I think), and thus it is in fact a sampler.  The limitations of this tool are found only in your imagination.  That said, it is not always the most intuitive thing to use.  Creating loop points for multisample instruments is a pain in the ass, and the routing options are fiddly.  Since I have a couple of MPC’s I rarely use it as a sampler (though I have done so before and it is quite useful).  Mostly I use it as a ROMpler based on the packaged sounds or multi-samples that I’ve acquired myself over the years.  Make note – this thing eats RAM.  If you have less than 4gb RAM and an i5 processor (or top of the line Core 2 Duo) you may as well give up before you begin.

 

EFFECTS PLUGINS

As for effects, Logic 9 comes with a full range of delay, modulation, dynamics control, EQ, utility, filtering, stereo imaging, pitch-based and reverberation effects.  The beautiful thing is, with the exception of one or two, they are all excellent quality and highly useful.  I’ll just mention a few of my favourites in passing.

Compressor

This is a well-featured plugin that allows you to control all the normal features of a compressor – attack, release, threshold, ratio, knee etc.  It also has a limiter on the output which can be turned on or off.  Interestingly, it also models popular compressor types such as Opto, FET, Class A_U and Class A_R – these all have distinct characteristics (though I’m not really convinced that they are faithful emulations).  Generally, you’ll find one type that best suits your style of music and then you’ll stick it it.  I leave it on Platinum mode which I find to be perfect for most sound sources.  Compressors are so necessary for producing music that I had to include this on the list simply because it just works.

Channel EQ

By far the effect that I use the most.  This is a 4 band parametric EQ with additional, adjustable high and low band shelving as well as adjustible high and low band roll-off.  It is extremely flexible and can do anything from gentle boost or cut a broad range of frequencies to brutally or surgically obliterate the frequencies in a sound.  It’s rare that you won’t find this on a channel that I am mixing.  Like most digital EQ’s, it can sound a bit artificial when you start boosting things in narrow bandwidths at high levels (though even analogue EQ’s start sounding dodgey then) but if you are reasonable in its use then it performs well.

Overdrive

This one is extremely simple but absolutely useful.  It allows you to boost the gain of a sound below an adjustable cut-off point.  When used lightly it can give crucial body to digital instruments and push them that little bit closer to “real instrument” territory.  Great on kick drums, too, whether used as an insert on the kick drum channel or on a send buss as a parallel effect.

Space Designer

This one is a convolution reverb.  Convolution reverbs are all the rage at the moment and I have to admit that I like them more than traditional digital reverbs (which all sound a bit tinny with the exception of Hyperprism’s HyperVerb which was an incredible sounding reverb).  Basically, a convolution reverb recreates the reverb profile of an actual room through something called an Impulse Response.  Basically, they play a sound in a room and they record the sound as it is heard in the room.  They then deduct the original sound from the sound recorded in the room and what is left is a “template” of the reverb in that room.  They can then apply that template to any other sound and it will sound as if it is being heard in that room.  At least that’s the theory.  It doesn’t quite work as well as all that but it does have the potential to create very natural sounding reverbs and I use it a lot.  It’s best to set this one up on an auxillary buss and use it as a send because it tends to swallow a bit of RAM.

Stereo Delay

There are never really any bells and whistles when it comes to delays.  What you want is one that does what it’s supposed and does it quickly and easily.  Logic’s Stereo Delay does all that.  With the additional benefits of being able to adjust the push/pull of delayed sounds and narrow the frequency bands that the delay effects – this is a incredibly useful for giving life you your mix.  The only thing I would like which this plugin is missing, if the ability to adjust the degradation of the delayed signal (so that it becomes less bright as it decays/echos).  If I really need to have that happen I usually turn to a free third-party plugin called KingDubby (look for my old blog entitled Free Plugins for Mac if you want a link).

The following effects get honourable mentions: Stereo Spread, for widening the perceived sound very effectively; Noise Gate, simple and effective; Pedalboard, an awesome collection of digital guitar stomp boxes (which I use on keyboard sounds mostly); and Match EQ, which allows you to create a frequency profile from one sound source and then create that same EQ profile in a different sound source (rarely used but really useful whenever I need it).

 

Other things worth noting

You can automate any feature of any plugin in Logic 9 by hitting the Automate button at the top of the screen and then clicking the Volume button that automatically appears in the Channel Header of the channel that has that effect in it.  A list of plugins and instruments on that channel with appear – choice the feature that you want to automate from the relevant drop down menu and then draw the automation in on the channel in the Arrange window.  Easy, right?

You can copy and paste your settings in most of Logic’s native plugins.  Just look in the top right hand corner of the plugin’s interface.  If it’s not there, try making the interface larger (grab the bottom right corner and drag it) – the copy/paste buttons may just be hidden.

You can also automate any Aux Sends (busses) that you have created.  It works the same way as the automation I mentioned above, however, you will first need to go to the Mixer window (press ‘x’) and click on the Aux track you want to automate.  Then, still in the Mixer window, select Options –> Create Arrange Tracks for Selected Channel Strips… A new track will appear in the Arrange window which corresponds to the Aux track in the Mixer window.  Automate away!

 

Overall

Reviewing a DAW is like reviewing a 10000 head herd of cows.  You can start checking them one by one but in the end you’ve just got to say “Yeah, they’re good cows” or “I’ve seen too many horses here to feel confident that his is a legitimate herd of cattle”.  Confusing analogies aside, let me just say – Logic 9 is a wonderful DAW.  Sure, it has limitations and there are some things that other DAWs do better, but it is incredibly usable for very high end recording and production anyway.  Logic 9 will not blow you away with sleek styling and a sense of mysterious je nais se quoi – but it will always impress you with its limitless ability to get the job done and its conservatively guised grunt.

If Logic 9 was a car it would be a Volvo.  A bit dull but will drive 300,000 kms without breaking down and you know you will be safe in all but the worst accidents.

If Logic 9 was a cow it would not be a horse.

PEESHE

 

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Top Tip! Adding space to a recording…


RCA 44 Ribbon Microphone -- Creative Commons -...

Some say that this is a microphone. I, on the other hand, agree.

Hi folks,

When you listen back to old records you can often be amazed by the spaciousness of the final mix.  Part of this is probably due to the random, stereophonic anomalies that are present in vinyl pressings – hiss, crackle, dust etc which affect the left and right channels of audio to varying degrees and create a sense of warmth and width.  Most of the effect, however, can be attributed to brilliant recording, mixing and mastering engineers.

Here are a few tips that can help you create a sense of space in your mixes:

1.  Record in stereo.

This is particularly important for live instrumentation (but can be crucial when using synthesisers, too).  For live instruments it is extremely good practice to use two or three microphones when recording each instrument (provided you have access to enough mics and channels on your mixer).  The rule is to experiment a bit but there are some tried and tested methods for recording naturally wide sounds.

a. X/Y Micing – In this method, two microphones are placed one above the other to form a cross at the point of ‘nicest sound’ in front of an acoustic instrument or electric instruments amplifier.

b. Mid/Side – In this method, an omidirectional mic and a figure of 8 mic are arranged so that the omni mic picks up direct sound from the source while the Figure of 8 mic picks up sound from the sides.

c. Broken paired mics – This is a common method for recording drum overheads (cymbals etc).  Two mics are placed separately on either side and above the sound source (or in front of the sound source) at an equal distance to create a left side recording and a right side recording.

d. Resonant and fret Micing – This is frequently used for recording plucked string acoustic instruments such as guitar.  One mic is placed 4 to 10 inches infront of the resonator hole (where the guitarist strums) and a second mic is placed about 4 inches in front of the 4th fret.  You are then recording the resonant sound as well as the sound of the guitarists fretting but each separate mic picks up a little of the other mics sound source.

e. Room micing – In this method, you use any of the above approaches but also place a third microphone in a nice sounding area of the room at least a few metres away from the player or players.  This works best with figure of 8, omnidirectional or pressure zone microphones.

For more information on stereo micing, check out this website: http://www.deltamedia.com/resource/stereo_microphone_techniques.html

2. Make friends with delays.

Delays are a very useful studio effect but can be very easily overused.  Subtlety is the key.  Try a few of these techniques.

a. For vocals – Send a mono vocal to two separate mono busses on your mixer.  Apply an echo style delay to each buss and make the repeat interval very quick (1/16th notes or even 1/16 dotted).  Turn the feedback (amount of “echoes”) down until you can barely hear it… and then turn it down a little more.  Turn up the cut-off so that each successive repetition has less and less high frequency content.  Now for the “stereo-izing” trick.  Make the settings for the echo on each buss slightly different.  Allow one to to feedback a little more, set one to 1/16 and the other 1/16 dotted, put different cut-off settings on each.  Soon the mono vocal will begin to sound a little wider but should still sit fairly well in the mix.

b. For instruments – Use a similar approach as above (or a stereo delay plugin) but make the repeat interval longer 1/8 or 1/4.  Also, if you have the ability with your plugin to adjust the swing of the delay – then try winding the left channel down fully and the right channel up fully so that one is effecting delaying in triplets whilst the other is delaying in dotted.

c. Using subtle pitch-shifting – Some delays allow you to adjust the pitch of delayed elements (Logic 9’s ‘Delay Designer’ for example).  If you pitch shift some left and right delays very, very slightly (so they don’t actually sound out of tune – we’re talking 1 or 2 cents maximum here) the psychoacoustic effect will be a greater sense of width.

3. Understand you stereo widener.

I’m sure there are various technologies for creating artificial stereo width but the one I am familiar with works as follows:

Logarithmically determined bands of frequencies from a single sound source are pushed to the left or right to varying degrees.  Because the effect makes smooth transitions from left to right over a fairly wide frequency spectrum, the artificial nature of the separation isn’t obvious but the outcome is that root frequencies of a note may be 40% to the left whilst their harmonic elements may move from 10% left to 60% right.

The stereo widener (Stereo Spread) plugin in Logic 9 gives you a nice visual representation of what is happening, but it also has some really good features packed into it.  Namely, you can determine how many frequency bands are being affected (from 2 to 12) – experiment to find the number that works for your sound.  You can also adjust the frequency range that is affected.  This is great because placing stereo affects on bass sounds can cause significant phase issues.  Lastly, you can adjust the amount to which frequencies bands are panned from hard left/right to the most subtle shift.

4. Reverb

Probably the most overused effect in music.  Mixes these days are fairly dry but, in the pursuit of space, mixers can be tempted to crank the stereo reverb into near-Phil-Collins proportions.  So there is just one tip for this wonderful effect – be gentle.

Other than that, I would suggest combining the above methods in whatever manner takes you fancy.  And keep making music, of course.

PEESHE

 

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The Perfection of Imperfection.


Akai EX85P... mmm.

Hi folks,

The advent of digital recording and the unrelenting pressure of pop music has ushered in an age of super-clean recordings. For the most part, this makes me sad. I tend to comfort myself by going on eBay.

I’m a fan of eBay. I can frequently be found scouring various lists on the hunt for audio gear of all types. Generally I buy obscure, unknown bits and pieces just to see what they sound like. Rarely do I bother bidding on well-known kit because the savings to be had are pretty slim – you just can’t get a TR808 for $250. Everybody knows that.

Most recently I picked up an Akai EX85P parametric equalizer for about AU$50. I’d never run across one before but it looked interesting. It’s a circa 1990 model of prosumer gear with all the classic beige and red design elements that old school MPC users can’t help but love. Aside from it’s appearance and what I could read from the screen, I knew nothing else about it. However, I’m yet to buy a bit of gear that I haven’t put to good use so I figured it was worth a bid. And, lo and behold, it’s an absolute cracker of an EQ.

The specs are as follows:

  • Mono, 6.5mm balanced ins and outs (hence prosumer)
  • High and low shelving (40hz and 12000hz respectively) with +/- 18db
  • Two sweepable mids ranging from 100Hz to 8000Hz (with considerable overlap) at +/- 18db
  • Adjustable Q for each mid frequency band (the Q factor isn’t listed but it seems to be about 6 to .7)
  • It has a footswitch input too, but I haven’t got a pedal for it and, moreover, I can’t see what it would do except engage and disengage the effects bypass.

Overall, it’s pretty standard in terms of features. However, the amount of boost/cut is pretty substantial and it can really have an enourmous impact on the shape of the sound. I haven’t put it on any tracks yet but I’ve been having a great time doing super-resonant filter sweeps on everything from synth lines to dodgey mariachi records. Good fun.

Many years ago I also bought a mono Ashly peak limiter/compressor for something like $40. Again, information on these units is thin on the ground. In short, it is simply not pro-grade gear. That said though, I’ve used this compressor on numerous recordings in the signal chain of numerous instruments and vocals and it is a lovely bit of kit. The design doesn’t allow you to set a threshold (a true peak limiter), which means you have to drive a signal hard into it before it starts to operate. However you can adjust attack, release and ratio settings (the ratios are all pretty intense) and you can adjust the level of output. The thing I love about this compressor, though, is not it’s features nor even it’s intended sound. Rather, I love it’s terrible design flaws and angry grittiness.

Since owning the unit, I’ve discovered that the manufacturers made a terrible mistake when they put it together. They used a kind of foam to line the top and bottom plate of the casing which worked fine for a year or two before age and heat began to make it disintegrate. Consequently particles of foam would build up on the circuitry causing the various transisters and op-amps to overheat and, essentially, malfunction. As a result, the unit I now own (though cleared of any residual foam lining) generates considerable harmonic distortion which, although far below “hi fi” standards let alone “pro audio” is not entirely unpleasant when used in certain circumstances.

Of late, I’ve been running the compressor as a parallel compression unit, driven very hard and then filtered and layered with clean vocal recordings to generate a gritty low end warmth. It’s pretty solid on live bass, too, particularly if you’re using a DI approach.

So, what’s my point? Well, just this – sometimes the best tones you can create don’t come from ultra-high end, super-clean studio gear. Sometimes, you’ll only achieve your own brand of perfection if you let the imperfections run wild for a while.

Any of you have stories about temperamental or downright lo-fi gear that has made you smile?

PEESHE

 

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The Neumann U87


Hi folks,

When I was studying sound production I had the pleasure of working in the Metropolis 2 studio in South Melbourne. That was a great 24 track full analogue studio with a bunch of awesome bits of kit. Given the price of most high end studio gear, it was also the one and only time when I got to regularly work with classic Neumann mics. The KM184’s were outstanding as overheads, room mics and for any driven instruments (horns and even as a second mic on a fuzzy guitar cab). The U47 was a workhorse with a bunch of character. But for my money, the most impressive mic that we used was the U87 – on any instrument or vocal it just sounded incredible. There’s something about the circuitry and design that gives this mic a sense of presence and space that makes other mics sound flat. Unfortunately, in the world of MP3’s and “club bangers” the character of this classic mic is slowly becoming less and less relevant. It now finds a place in the niche world of soppy R&B, bittersweet acoustic nu-folk and overproduced commercial rock (Nickelback, I’m looking at you). There was a time, though, when the U87 was the undisputed king. Check out why.

PEESHE

 

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Remix! Mei Swan – Love Guts (FG Remix)


Hi folks,

Here’s a little remix I did for Mei Swan.  You can check her stuff out here.

PEESHE

 

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