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Sound Advice

Scoring From Film: The Essential Tools by Mychael Danna

September 18th, 2002

The equipment I use for basic scoring is a VHS stereo tape deck with audio timecode on one side and a stereo VCR. I turn it into MIDI timecode on an Atari computer running Cubase coupled with a Fostex G16S multitrack recorder. I simply plug the output from the timecode track directly into the Fostex, and it turns it into SMPTE timecode. A MIDI cable runs from the recorder into the computer. One audio cord and one MIDI cord and you have your keyboard setup also MIDIed right into your computer! I’ve scored films without any kind of locking at all – it is possible to do. You get good at using the pause and play on the VCR; you then stack on keyboards and samplers.

I use a 24-channel Mackie 8 Bus console and it’s a beautiful thing. I like old keyboards, and old grungy low-fi and crunchy effects. I have an old Lexicon Primetime and it’s a dirty piece of gear. I also have a Quantec reverb, very warm and thick, which is fairly hard to find. I have lots of high-end equipment too, like my Roland S750 sampler, so I can get bright and shiny when I need it. I have old modular keyboards and I have a few newer digital ones. I use Genelec 1031 self-powered speakers and the amp is matched for the speakers. They’re beautiful. A big pretentious leather chair is a must, as is a portable DAT, because I love to travel and collect bizarre sounds from strange countries and temples. The Casio DAR100 is very small and the microphone I use is small and lovly – the Audio-Technica AT822 is good for hiding when walking into temples when you’re not supposed to be recording!

Anyone can score film and television. Start by finding a student filmmaker and get him or her to provide you with footage on VHS and away you go. You can only learn by doing it.

Mychael Danna, film and television scorer, credits include Atom Egoyan’s Family Viewing and the award-winning Exotica. His current project is North of Niagara, an album that highlights the environmental sounds of the Bruce Trail.

Mixing Board Dusting by Phil Stevens

September 18th, 2002

My favourite method is the two-fisted approach: In one hand is a 4″ natural-bristle paintbrush, and in the other is the crevice tool of my trusty vac-u-suck. Keep the two close together so that anything dislodged or stirred up by the bruch is immediately dispatched by the nozzle o’doom.

Phil Stevens, mudshark@euphoria.org, Crash Landing Productions, Inc. Tucson, Arizona.

Keeping Snare Subtleties In The Mix by Ken Friesen

August 18th, 2002

When working with a track on which the drummer is using both hands on the snare drum, you may notice that many of the subtleties are lost in the mix.

This can be overcome by splitting the tape return to two rails. Tweak the first one to make the hit on the beat (typically the loudest one) sound right.

Apply some serious limiting to the other channel (I prefer a UREI 1176) until that loudest hit is squashed and the rest is unaffected. Equalize to taste and blend the ingredients until all is audible. This process allows those subtleties to shine without losing any of the crisp transients.

Ken Friesen, Lakeside Recording, Clayton, ON.

Monitoring Volume by George Kourounis

August 18th, 2002

How many times have you been working on a mix with the speakers cranked up, the bass is pounding and it sounds great, only to listen back to it later at a lower volume and to your dismay, most of your bass has disappeared and your mix now sounds limp and thin. This phenomenon is common and it has to do with how the human ear perceives sound at different volumes. Humans don’t hear every frequency with the same intensity (for the benefit of those of you who don’t know, the frequency response of our ears is commonly referred to as the Equal Loudness Contour). In a nutshell, it shows us that it takes far higher levels for very low and high frequecies to sound as loud as midrange frequencies, and that our hearing is most sensitive to frequencies from about 2 kHz – 5 kHz.

Great, but how does this affect the quality of your mixdown?

Just as the frequency response of you speakers plays an important role in how your mix sounds, so does the frequency response of your ears. For example: If you are mixing at 50dB SPL (sound pressure level), a tone of 30 Hz will need to be about 30dB louder than a 1 kHz tone in order for the two tones to sound the same perceived volume to you. Therefore, you may want to turn up the bass frequencies in your mix. When you isten back to it later at a lower volume, the bass will be overpowering. This also works if you monitor too loud. Since we hear low and high frequencies better at higher volumes, you might think that there is enough bass and treble when mixing, only to hear it disappear at lower volume settings.

So how loud should you mix? Well, an industry standard of 85dB SPL has been aopted in order to keep your overall frequency balance as constant as possible at different volumes.It is loud enough to be able to hear the lows and highs clearly, but not too loud so as to trick your mind into thinking that the bass is excessive. Some studios use a hand-held meter that the engineer can use to measure the sound pressure level. If you don’t have one, the volume of most movie theatres is about 85dB, so close your eyes and imagine you are at the moies and set your monitor volume accordingly. I can almost smell the popcorn now . . .

George Kourounis, Instructor, Sound & Recording Techniques, Trebas Institute.

Flute Miking by Mark Karaman

August 18th, 2002

If you want a really really good flute mic, try the LCM-70 from SD Systems, Holland. It has excellent gain before feedback, and more importantly, picks up the flute like . . . a flute! And, it mixes well.

Considering mic placement along the flute (assuming that you’re not doing a classical recording), it mounts near the head joint.

If the flutist has a breathing problem, either a loud, gasping inhale; nose noise; or an airy tone (and you don’t like it); then move the mic as far from the head joint as possible. Many recordists have gone over the flutist’s head and behind with a condenser.

Classical recording is another matter. The room rules. Distance is your friend. A flutist that moves (especially twists) can be a problem, since the flute sound field is noticeably asymmetrical.

Mark Karaman, mkaraman@adio.com

The Old Oscillator In The Bass Drum Trick by George Kourounis

August 18th, 2002

Have you ever found yourself in the situation that you are mixing a song and the bass drum has no bottom end, sort of like it is being hit by a limp lasagna noodle? Well, one often-used technique to beef up the sound of your drum kit is what I call “the old oscillator in the bass drum trick”. No, it does not involve disconnecting a tone generator and placing it inside the drum itself.

Trying to boost the bass with an EQ doesn’t always work, especially if there is not much low end to begin with. So, what we need to do is to add some bass of our own to the sound. All you need is an oscillator with a sweepable frequency control, one extra input on your mixer and a noise gate with an external key input.

First, patch the output of the oscillator to the input of the noise gate and then take the output of the gate and return it on a spare input of your mixing console. Take the bass drum track and split it so that the original drum sound is continuing to come up on its own console input and also is going to the key input of the gate. This allows the gate to open and close in response to the bass drum, but instead of gating the drums, it is gating the oscillator tone. Now, every time the drummer hits the bass drum, the oscillator will sound. Set the tone to something very low, below 50 Hz or so. Definitely experiment with this as it will depend on how much help the drums need, the style of music, and even what key the song is in. By adjusting the gate settings, tone frequency and blend of bass drum/tone, you can come up with all kinds of really cool sounds. Just keep your ears open.

George Kourounis, Instructor, Sound & Recording Techniques, Trebas Institute.

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