This blog is a continuation of a series. See here (Page 2014b) for the previous blog.
Year 2015: 1st Observation
Commencing the doctoral program, I had a relative clear idea of my proposed research study problem. I say relative as, as I have progressed through the many twists and turns of my doctoral program, I have gained clarity regarding just about every aspect of my planned research topic – my practice, my self understanding, the music styles I am attracted to, the reasons I use certain technologies, workflows, just to name a few. In few ways do I consider my self to be the same person – the same practitioner as when I considered embarking on this post-doctoral journey in 2014. This is my journey. Buckle up, as I take you for the ride of my life.
By the end of 2014, I had a clear idea of my research study problem. I made music in two ways:
using physical instruments; and,
using digital virtual technologies
I wanted to know why I felt connected to my music-making when using physical instruments, and why I largely did not feel connected to my music-making when using digital virtual technologies.
I made music via physical instruments. I strummed chords on a guitar or piano, hummed or played a melodic phrase, developed lyrics, and over time a song emerged. I felt connected to the music. I recall getting positive feedback when I shared my acoustic instrument-based songs with an audience. I followed this approach many hundreds of times over several decades.
As technologies developed, I transitioned into music-making using digital virtual technologies. I invested in virtual technologies, trialling a number of virtual music-making applications – digital audio workstations (DAWs). I experimented; I spoke to local pro audio retailers; I experimented some more; I bought instructional books and videos; I studied; I experimented a lot more. Over a number of years however, I found that irrespective of how much time and money I invested into my virtual music-making production practice, I never managed to achieve a similar flow or a similar feeling – a creative high – as I had music-making using physical instruments. There was one instance, a remix project where I felt a connection. That experience gave me hope that my attempts to use virtual technologies to make music I felt connected to, was not going to be in vain.
End product orientated in my music-making
I acknowledged that I naturally took an end product focus with my music-making. Perhaps due to the relative ease I made music via physical instruments, I had never felt a need to consciously consider my music-making process. Similarly, I viewed my music-making in virtual technologies from an end product perspective. However, because I struggled with the results of my making music via virtual technologies, I had begun to realise that I perhaps needed to reconsider that approach. Perhaps I needed to consciously consider my music-making process?
A question that arose in my mind was:
how did I achieve this connection in one form of music-making – using physical instruments, and not another form of music-making – using digital virtual technologies?
This blog series is planned to continue next month with Doctoral Research Study Part 2a (Page 2015). It is intended for this blog series to continue on a regular basis as I progress through my doctoral research project.
This blog continues a series of blogs on Mixing (Page 2014).
As a mix engineer I guess you will receive a tracking session at some point in which you will appraise the instrumental elements of the session as being in need of some work: perhaps some subtle work, or perhaps some extensive work. Options are available to do this by the spadeful with the very large range of accessible resources available to the practitioner.
However, what you need to do as the mix engineer at that point in time, is to make a quick decision: what extent of post-production instrumental editing or processing is required in order to achieve the desired musical or sonic effect for this production project? In this example I will focus on one of the essential instruments in contemporary music – the central element of the rhythm section – the drums. However, most of the options I cover below can be applied to other instrumental elements of a session, al be it with different sonic hardware and/or virtual applications.
Sound repair, sound reinforcement, sound supplementation and sound replacement are terms that I have found aspiring audiophiles use interchangeably. However, they are different, offering different levels of solutions to different production problems at different times. I will introduce the essential differences between each, and outline a particular production scenario where each may be employed.
1. The entry level of post-production drum processing is known as repair. The term sound repair is usually restricted to minor editing using either manual or DAW-based editing functions. In Pro Tools, minor editing to drum tracks can be done using a combination of Beat Detective, Elastic Audio or manual editing using the standard editing tools provided, your eye and most importantly, your ear. Elastic Pitch can also be used for minor editing of melodic or harmonic instruments when they are found to be slightly out of tune to the other instrumentation in the session. Whilst the term editing is primarily associated with cutting and moving audio files regarding timing issues, I include applying audio processing under the category of repair. This can include manipulating the sonic qualities of the audio file in terms of spectral (equalisation, filters), dynamic (compression, limiters, gates and expanders) and time-domain (reverberation, echo, delay, flanging, chorus, etc) qualities via audio processing.
2. The next level of post-production drum processing is known as sound reinforcement. This solution uses various methods to ‘reinforce the original sound – usually a tone underneath the original signal to reinforce the lack of tone within the original signal. This production solution became very popular in the 1980’s with disco music, which led into the early stages of EDM. In the 1990’s digital reinforcement was used via devices such as a dbx 120A sub-harmonic synthesiser to reinforce the sub-harmonic frequencies of the production.
In the current era, external devices are still used such as the dbx 510 sub-harmonic synthesiser as a means to reinforce the sub-harmonic frequencies (as shown below on right-hand side of 500 series rack). This option can be used for both corrective or creative purposes.
(AE Project Studio 2015)
These days this style of processing – sound reinforcement – is usual in many forms of music to use virtual reinforcement devices, such as layering an in-the-box oscillator under the original signal to reinforce the original tone.
3. The next level of post-production drum processing is known as sound supplementation. Products such as Wavemachine Lab’s Drumagog and Steven Slate’s Trigger were developed to allow the engineer/producer to add sonic texture to the original recording to supplement it/boost it in terms of sonic qualities that were considered to be deficient. These qualities could include timbre, frequency or dynamic envelope. This situation could be due to one of several reasons: due to an imperfect recording technique overall. For example: due to poor microphone placement; poor or ineffective microphone technique for the desired effect; poor or ineffective live room for the desired effect, to name a few reasons; imperfect or ineffective microphones used for the desired effect. This could be the actual quality of the microphone, the condition of the microphone – a suitable microphone type, or polar pattern a suitable type; an imperfect quality instrument or tuning; or even an imperfect instrumentalist technique in the original recording. This option of post-production drum processing is usually used as a corrective measure, but not always, just to bring the original tone home somewhat more. It would be quite unusual in this era for most productions to have some form of sound supplementation incorporated.
4. The final level of post-production drum processing is known as sound replacement. Sound replacement involves – as it sounds – the replacement of the original sound source for an alternative sound source. There are so many options available in this era in terms of post-production drum processing options. Drum replacement options such as: Steven Slate’s SSD, Toontrack’s EZ Drummer, AIR Technology’s Strike, and Native Instruments many and varied drum instruments could be useful and suitable for your particular project solution. All of these listed virtual instruments use a sample system to replace the original track’s audio file. The underlying reason to replace the original audio track could be due to: an imperfect recording technique overall. For example: a poor microphone placement; a poor or ineffective microphone technique for the desired effect; a poor or ineffective live room for the desired effect, to name a few reasons; an imperfect or ineffective microphones used for the desired effect. This could be the actual quality of the microphone, the condition of the microphone – a suitable microphone type, or polar pattern choice for the desired effect; an imperfect quality instrument or tuning; or even an imperfect instrumentalist technique in the original recording. This option of post-production drum processing is primarily used as a corrective measure. it is essentially radical surgery, used in an emergency salvation when all has gone wrong, and no options exist, including time to re-record it in the instance of an urgent project. or used to create ‘demos’ prior to actual tracking. alternatively, with time on your side as a producer, you may choose for the best option: to re-record the original sound source. Whilst this is the most obvious option, there may be external factors that prevent this obvious choice from being a valid option.
I expect as a mix engineer you will receive a tracking session at some point in your careers in which you will appraise the drum elements as being in need of some work – perhaps some very subtle repair work, some subtle reinforcement, or perhaps the session will be in need of some extensive work. With the options available in this era, you will need to make a quick decision: what extent of post-production drum processing is required in order to achieve the desired musical or sonic effect? You will have different options avaialble, offering different levels of solutions to different production problems at the different stages of production. Whether sound reinforcement, sound supplementation or sound replacement – each level of post-production drum processing offers different levels of solutions to different production problems at different times. It is up to you as the mix engineer or produce to understand the different stages of production, the needs of the particular mixing session, and employ the most appropriate level of post-production drum processing in which to realise the desired effect.
As I focus in on my creative art goals for the year, I consider what skills and experiences I need to have within me in order to be able to achieve these goals. Of the possible technical skills & experience I have gained on the job or formally via education over the years, I conclude the one element I predominantly require this year is ……. gratitude.
Many have said to me over the years, in order to get success “all you need is will .. will-power”. Having applied this perspective in many instances with varying degrees of success, I now wonder whether this was the best advice. Whilst it may have helped me to achieve certain outcomes, I am now pondering at what cost this orientation has had in terms of my creative arts aspirations.
Reflecting, the more I willed an outcome perhaps the farther I moved from my creative centre. And the farther I moved from my creative centre, the more I put my creative goals on the backburner. So was willing my prioritised outcomes actually bringing me closer to my core needs of creative expression, or in fact taking me further away from it?
So lets look at the act of willing. Will-power to me is the act of trying to guarantee an outcome, by trying to manipulate (via planning and coordinating) a number of different variables, in order to best promote the chance of realising the desired outcome. The possible negative of this orientation is that perhaps one overthinks the process, highlighting an amount of detail, and then gets caught up in trying to manage this detail. In my experience, the more one focuses on detail, the more detail one sees, and then the more one has to attempt to manage it.
An alternative perspective could be to care less about attempting to manipulate outcomes and just let things happen in a more natural way; allowing the energy to flow from oneself through a range of creative pursuits. “Life is about the moment ….. all things fluid ……. experiencing the moment… listening, observing, interacting, laughing, loving, enJOYing, soaking the moment in, digesting it, considering it, reflecting …. expressing ones’ being, streaming ones’ consciousness. While in the moment, everything appears suspended – almost in slow motion – and yet is still very much part of life and moving somewhere… “ (DLP, 2014)
In my observation, the elements of this orientation of letting it happen naturally are: self-belief and trust in the moment and process; regular quiet time, centring oneself to allow ones’ creativity out (often referred to as meditation); and perhaps most importantly, self-acceptance of all things around, including/most importantly, where one is at in life.
I think a key element of this orientation is being, and demonstrating gratitude. The Oxford Dictionary defines gratitude as: “The feeling of being grateful and wanting to express your thanks” (Wehmeier, 2005). I see gratitude as being grateful for one’s circumstances in life; accepting one’s position, whatever it is – no matter how humble or grand it is; accepting one’s success, and failures; being grateful for one’s degree of health – physical and mental – wealth and happiness; being grateful for one’s opportunities to experience, to travel, to learn, to meet, and to teach; being grateful for having received an education irrespective of the level realised; and being grateful for being brought up in a relative safe environment.
I also believe in demonstrating gratitude when I receive creative inspiration; and yet accepting when I desire creative inspiration, but it is no where to be found. For me, gratitude is to be able to be grateful for what one has in life, for what experiences occur in the moment; and for all of those opportunities, that still lie in front …
I am grateful for all experiences in my life, for I know I have lived a fortunate life. Looking over my Pinterest site (http://www.pinterest.com/dpgold), I accept that most of that which I have posted, is not what I aspire to, but that which I have experienced. I accept the opportunities and the wonderful experiences that my family and friends have provided, both intrinsic and material.
But in saying that, I accept that I still have things on my bucket list still outstanding…. Many things that I have wanted to realise since a very early age, but not yet done so. I accept these aspirations are what keeps me heading in a forward direction; they are what motivates me in the evening to conclude my day, get some rest, and then to spring out of bed in the morning to get busy with …..
Do I still have creative arts goals and aspirations? Of course. I actually feel, in many ways, that my greatest creativity is in front of me. I really believe my greatest creativity is still yet to come. I feel that in many ways, my experiences to date have just been establishing my foundation, coming to terms with myself, learning about my aspirations, my desires, myself: how I need to communicate better, express myself more effectively, and generally overcome my inhibitions. I feel, in many ways, my life has just begun.
But that is what I now realise life is about. What do they say? ‘Life is what happens to you while you are planning for your dreams’. So if that is the case: I have led a very full life, a very blessed life. And as the years pass by, I realise I am getting closer to my real core; to who I really am, and what I really stand for. And for this distinction, and opportunity, I am grateful…
So I suppose my goal this year is to be grateful for what I have, accept what I have not yet become, and to a greater degree, let things happen. Of course, I will apply myself to my creative pursuits on a daily basis, but not at the cost of a state of busy-ness, that will actually prevent me from being in a still space where I can creatively produce my art.
This blog series is planned to continue next month with Doctoral Research Study Part 1(Page 2015). It is intended for this blog series to continue on a regular basis as I progress through my doctoral research project.
Wehmeier, S et al. 2005. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (7th Edition), Oxford, UK SBN-0-19-431606-8