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My current studio and live microphone stocks a modest range of dynamic microphones, dynamic ribbons, condensers, tubes and contact microphones. The range of microphones include: Shure 57s, 58s, Beta52As & SM7Bs; Electro Voice RE20s; Sennheiser e935s, e945s, e906s & MD441Us; MXL 550s & 551s; Rode NT-USBs, NT1s, NT3s, NTRs, NT4s & NTKs; Audio Technica AT2020s; AKG C414XLIIs, P420s & CGN523Es; Royer 121s; Neumann TLM193, OPR87C, OPR87I & OPR84s; Mojave MA101FETs; DPA 4099s; IK reference mics; a Zoom H6 XY and MS mic; Sony lapel mics; and a range of contact mics. This stock allows for versatility in most recording scenarios that have been presented to me; of course coupled with great instruments, amplifiers,outboard processing hardware, interfaces, consoles, and of course artists. But sometimes, in certain scenarios, even these are not enough.
Current Research Study Project
In my current doctoral research study project, I have designed a composition requiring me to source sonic samples of significant aspects of my life. Water is one of the most significant and influential elements in my life and my life partner’s lifestyle [see blog or Media Use Part 1], I felt a need to be able to record water samples across a range of contexts which I have experienced. The ocean, rain, waterfalls, swimming pools, and domestic water use. However, this needed to occur without causing damage to my current range of microphones. Ready and portable – armed with my Zoom H6 -my research project would not be complete without the range of real water samples – out in the environment. However, I also felt a need to record sonic samples of water from a submersed perspective. Of my current stock of microphones, there were none that allowed me to record in a submersed scenario, without needing a further layer between the microphone and the element of water, such as by using plastic bags or tubs, duct tape and silicon. I therefore felt an alternative solution was needed.
I researched my options, exploring what other audio engineers have used to gather some water-based samples. I finally decided to purchase a fully submersible microphone, and I now received what will be the latest microphone to add to my stock of studio and live microphones: an Aquarian Audio Products Hydrophone H2a-XLR microphone.
A hydrophone microphone is designed to be immersed in water – natural or salt water – multiple times without degrading from excessive water damage or corrosion.
The Aquarian Audio hydrophone microphone is quite compact, measuring just 25mm wide, but 46 mm long. It weighs just 105 grams.
It is a condenser microphone, requiring 48v power in order to charge the electro-static transduction process. As such it is extremely sensitive, with minimal extraneous noise. “The hydrophone sensor is cable of picking up sounds from below 20Hz to above 100KHz” (Aquarian Audio Products 2016). Designed for deep water where maximum microphone bandwidth can be achieved, the Aquarian Audio Hydrophone apparently boasts an operating depth of up to 80 metres. However, the model I purchased came with a 9 metre cable, a length I thought was more than adequate for the sample events I am looking for.
Using a Hydrophone – Context
Having just received the microphone, I am still yet to venture out into a deep water environment where I can test the microphone to its full capacity. However, I was keen to immediately test the microphone to get an idea of how sensitive it was going to be, how accurate it was going to potentially be in capturing the original sound source, and how much noise it may or may not inherently have. Using my Zoom H6 with this hydrophone to gather a number of preliminary samples, I considered the options I had immediately around me. I chose the 60,000 litre salt water fibreglass swimming pool found in our front garden as my first test environment. A place where my partner and I have spent considerable hours over the past two decades, it is surely a significant part of our lives, and therefore somewhere I am going to need to gather sample events for my composition. In saying that, embarking on this test I acknowledged there would be some limitations of using this test environment to trial the functionality of this condenser microphone. Namely, the structure of the pool – the pool is 4 metres wide, 9.5 metres long and 1.9 metre deep (reducing to about 1.4 metres in the shallow end) and made of a fibreglass shell with the sides and bottom curved into one continuous surface. Due to this particular environment, the hydrophone microphone would likely display a narrower bandwidth than what it would optimally have in deeper waters; and the captured sound source was likely to include the original sound source and a number of reflections off the hard surfaces of this domestic swimming pool. Irrespective, as I was going to need samples of this environment eventually, I considered it a useful initial test environment.
Using a Hydrophone – Part 1
The first 5 sample events I believe demonstrate the sensitivity this condenser microphone has in underwater situations. I was surprised how sensitive the microphone was, despite the large amount of water residing between/separating the subject and the microphone capsule during these recordings. As indicated above regarding the reflections, the captured sample events demonstrates a cacophony of sonic textures resulting from a fusion of both the intended sound source and its’ multiple reflections.
Note also the frequency range of each sample event relative to the micopphones’ depth and proximity to either the surface, the bottom, or the sides of the swimming pool. I have been reminded that in a shallower water environment: there is likely to be less fully developed low frequencies due to the shorter distance between any surfaces. Additionally, in calm water conditions the sound waves under the surface are likely to rebound back off a flat water surface, phase cancelling the original signal below it. This phenomena of a varying frequency range is particularly noticeable in Using a Hydrophone – Part 2 sample events 7 and 8 when the condenser microphone capsule is being bounced up and down at variable depths under the surface, and then breaches the surface of the water. Listen and compare the frequency range and the sonic texture of each sample event as the condenser capsule moves through the water.
In the first sample, the hydrophone was submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was set to 6 (of 10). My friend (the subject) was in the pool and approximately 2 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and blowing bubbles under water in the direction of the microphone. The reverberations off the nearby pool surfaces are quite noticeable from about 1/3 third into the sample event, providing a minor delay of the original signal until the end of the sample event.
In the second sample, the hydrophone was maintained in the swimming pool at a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was set to 7 (of 10). The subject was in the pool and approximately 3 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and blowing bubbles. The overall levels are softer in this second sample event while she was mimicking what she had done previously – with the exception of when the hydrophone capsule got knocked by something (tall volume spike midway) – despite the gain level being increased marginally. See image i below. The reverberations off the nearby pool surfaces are quite noticeable from about one third into the sample event, providing a minor delay of the original signal until the end of the sample event for the second third, but then decays and releases back to mainly the original signal in the final third of the sample event. As a result of the decaying signal, the amplitude reduces. With the return to the original signal in the final third, there is greater clarity of the signal.
Image I – Pro Tools 12 Sample event 1 (top) and Sample Event 2 (bottom)
In the third sample event, the hydrophone was submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was maintained at 7 (of 10). The subject was in the pool and approximately 3 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and trying to talk underwater. I note that despite her being farther away from the hydrophone capsule than she was in the first sample event, as she was trying to talk loudly under water toward the microphone capsule, the audio is louder than both sample events 1 and 2. As you can see in image ii below, the overall mass of the wav file is exponentially greater in this third event than both the previous two sample events, with the subject’s speaking voice producing far greater mass and density than she did when blowing bubbles underwater. This mass and density represents increases in sound pressure levels, and reverberant signals, resulting in a cacophony of sonic textures. Had I included a longer sample, you would observe, as per the sample event 2, at a certain point the signal decays and releases back to mainly the original signal, with reduce amplitude, but greater clarity.
Image II – Pro Tools 12 Sample event 1 (top), Sample Event 2 (middle, Sample Event 3 (bottom)
In the fourth sample event, the hydrophone was submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was maintained at 5 (of 10). The subject is in the pool and approximately 0.5 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and blowing bubbles. Sonically, this fourth sample event demonstrates a cacophony of sonic textures, resulting from excessive sound pressure levels due to the close proximity of the transducer relative to the sound source, and the accompanying reverberant signals from the multiple surfaces of the pool. The inherent distortion results from excessive sound pressure levels, with an over-gained signal. For non-audiophiles: note the clean flat line along the top of the wav form indicating a form of dynamic limiting. Given that no dynamic processing was used to achieve this limiting of the audio signal, the limiting effect indicates acceptable gain levels for the equipment were exceeded, resulting in what is referred to as digital (signal) clipping. See image iii below (top wav form).
Image III – Pro Tools 12 Sample event 4 (top) and Sample Event 5 (bottom)
In the fifth sample event, the hydrophone was maintained at a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level is reduced to 5 (of 10). The subject was in the pool and approximately 0.5 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and trying to talk underwater. As you can see in image iii above (bottom wav form), the overall mass of the wav file is exponentially greater in this fifth event than the previous sample events, with the subject’s speaking voice producing far greater sound pressure levels than she did when blowing bubbles underwater. Sonically, this fifth sample event is heavily distorted due to the excessive sound pressure levels due to the close proximity of the transducer relative to the sound source. The digital recording is therefore clipped given the amplitude far exceeded the specified gain levels of the equipment. For non-audiophiles: in this example the cleaner flatter line along the top of the wav form – relative to the previous example – indicating extreme limiting of the audio signal. Again, as no dynamic processing was used – it similarly indicates excessive sound pressure levels at unacceptable gain levels for the equipment, resulting in severe digital (signal) clipping across almost the entire length of the audio wav file. It is also worth noting the very thin sound of this sample event as a result of the absence of low frequencies in the shallow depths; and yet as per sample event 4, there is a cacophony of sonic textures given the multiple reverberant signals arriving from the numerous surfaces of the pool.
Using a Hydrophone Part 2
In the following examples, I gathered a number of sample events using the hydrophone closer to the surface of the water line. I hope the sample events further show how sensitive the hydrophone microphone is, effectively capturing sonic qualities of very subtle movements.
In the sixth sample event, the Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was set at 6 (of 10). The hydrophone was being dragged along the surface of the swimming pool at a relatively slow walking pace. The sound of rushing of water is the wake of water that the small condenser capsule (25mm wide, but 46 mm long, weighing 105 grams.) is creating and capturing as it breaches the surface of the water. I think you will agree that this confirms both the sensitivity and low noise levels of this particular microphone. The deeper frequency you hear (boomy quality) in the audio file is when the transduction surface of the microphone capsule is re-submersed under the surface of the water.
Sample event 6wp indicates that it is the same sample as sample event 6, but with post-production audio processing added. In the studio – following recording the sample – I chose to add two (2) reverb processing devices – a Eventide and a Lexicon reverb – to the initial audio file. While doing this, and listening to the altered sonic textures of the audio, I am imagining the many applications that I could use such an effect in my sonic compositions and sound design.
The seventh sample event is a similar execution as sample event 6, with the hydrophone being dragged along the swimming pool at a relatively slow walking pace, but being bounced in and out of the water in an approximately 30 centimetre arc. The popping and gurgling sounds are occurring as the capsule breaches the surface of the water (popping), then followed by the re-submersion (gurgling). It is a similar but more exaggerated version of sample event 6, with the sample event’s frequency varying dependent on where the condenser microphone capsule is relative to the water: being just under the surface, at depth (only about 30 cms in this example), breaching the surface, or above the surface of the water.
The eighth sample event is a similar execution as sample event 7, with the Zoom H6 track 3 gain level remaining at 6 (of 10). The hydrophone was being dragged along the surface of the swimming pool at a relatively slow walking pace, but being bounced in and out of the water over a much larger arc – approximately 1.5 metres. This is a more exaggerated version of sample event 7, with the popping and gurgling sounds associated with the breaching and re-submersion are relatively deeper in tone due to the greater depth, speed and height the capsule was dropped from, back into and under the water. Sonically, you may hear what sounds like wind noise in this audio sample event. I noted at the time that this was due in combination to both the faster movement of the capsule above the surface of the water after breaching; but also partially due to the wind in our local area picking up nearing the end of the test. You will also note that near the end of the sample event you can hear a voice – talking, describing my actions. This voice was captured by the microphone capsule after it had breached the surface of the water, with the speaker’s mouth about 2 metres away.
The ninth and last sample event had the hydrophone submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres held stationary. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level remained at 6 (of 10). The subject was approximately 2 metres away from the hydrophone drop point, swimming up and down the pool in freestyle form. The low frequency plop occurred every time the subject kicked her feet, with training flippers on. The bass frequency was pronounced, reverberating off the surfaces of the pool, producing a sound somewhat similar to a deep tom sonic boom after the skin had been struck. And yet, the hydrophone microphone still clearly captured what sounds to be running water – the sound of the subject’s hand and arms entering and breaching the surface of the water with each and every stroke. Again, I am imagining the many applications that I could apply some processing to this sample event, and use such an effect in my sonic compositions and sound design.
The Aquarian Audio Products Hydrophone H2a-XLR microphone is an extremely sensitive fully submersible condenser microphone, with minimal extraneous noise. It is well designed and constructed to be impact resistant, using sturdy materials. Whilst it is designed to be submersed in a far greater depth than I have tested to date, I believe I have made a good purchase with this hydrophone, something that will complement my current stock of studio and live microphones. I believe this microphone will allow me even greater versatility in a range of recording scenarios that I can foresee me being presented. I daresay I will probably now go searching further afield, exploring less predictable outdoor terrain, and feeling the need to be less mindful than I usually would taking my more expensive studio microphones. I am looking forward to progressing my sonic compositions and sound designs using water samples across the range of contexts which I have experienced in my life – the ocean – including boating, body surfing, snorkelling and scuba diving – rivers, waterfalls, natural pools, and domestic water use – in order to capture specific sample events that represent significant events and memories. I look forward to this next chapter in my creative practice.
It is intended for this series of microphone-related blogs to continue.
The series of memory blogs that follow this Introductory blog are part of David L Page’s creative process – reflecting on selected significant events in the early stages of his life, and associating sonic and musical textures that best represent his memory of those significant events. The collection of associative memories will then be formed into a composition – The Dark Years: A Boy Who Was Beaten – which David L Page will produce as a fifteen (15) minute soundtrack of the first stage of his life. This cultural artefact is to make up one part of his Doctoral Project 1 submission.
Doctoral Research Study Abstract
The aim of this Doctor of Creative Industries Research Project is to investigate both my DIY music practice and my self as a practitioner during the process of creating and producing a cultural artefact (EP). My research study is designed to be a mixed-method qualitative study: a practice-based, ethnographic study that is to include a first-person narrative of my personal journey, critical reflection and reflexive practice, highlighting the co-constituted nature of my music practice. As an auto-ethnographic study, I designed the project for me to be performing the dual primary roles of being both the practitioner as subject, and the researcher. Such a multi-tiered examination represents a significant departure from current discussion of music practice, developing praxis of contemporary music practice. In this Project 1 research study exegesis submission I narrate the process to date, highlighting observation around my practitioner self, and my music practice and the emergent distinctions integrated into my developing music praxis.
Blog Posts as part of the Reflective Practice journaling process
Welcome to David L Page’s recollection of his story.
These blogs are David’s attempt to share his recollection of the most significant events of the early stages of his life, as best as he can – events that David believes have shaped the development of his self, or the development of his musical self.
The deep reflective practice process David engaged in as part of his creative practice, saw him over some time, situating himself back in time, delving deeper and deeper into the place and the event. Of course, as much as he could possibly do decades after an event, when so much distance has occurred in terms of time and place – David’s aim was to recall as much of the kinaesthetic, the auditory, the visual, the olfactory, or even the gustatory sensations of the particular time and place – of that particular significant event. This is not entirely a new experience for David, merely describing the process he has always intuitively put himself through in his creative practice endeavours, particularly in his music practice – creation, performance, or production. The difference in this research study is however, David had to learn how to more consciously focus in on the selected suite of significant events – at a scheduled time – to more deliberately situate him self back in time, whilst recording the data of each of his in-situation experiences.
You will notice that the various blog posts – more often than not – David has included associated visuals or images, to accompany the written text, along with the attached associative sonic and musical event. David’s intention was to be able to share his in-situation experience with his audience as much as he could. David trust’s these blogs will appeal to either the kinaesthetic, the auditory, or the visual senses of the audience. With more advanced technology, or perhaps an alternative medium, David would like to – in the not too distant future – also share his in-situation olfactory and gustatory sensation experience with his audience.
David L Page’s Reflective Practice process
David requested for it to be noted: the output of each reflection of a significant event arrived as a result of a range of catalysts. David found his deep reflective re-expereinces occurred as a result of a range of catalysts used stimulate memory recall. These included: a calendar date; a visual image in a photo album for example, a book – quote, passage, or once just the cover – , a magazine – with handwritten notes in the borders, the internet – pictures or articles, or his vast stock of past writings – streams, prose in working, lyrics in working. On a few occasions the catalyst was something David saw in life that reminded him of a time or place; at other times a blurred visual image or colour that reminded him of a past time, place, or event; at other times, a sonic texture he heard in his head situated him back in time; or by a sound he heard as he conducted himself in his every day life. At other times, an old song or piece of music, a musical phrase or motif that triggered a memory – something in someone else’s composition, on occasion something he played on an instrument ; at other times, it was a smell – weather, forest, water, toilet freshener, food cooking; at other times, it was a taste – some deliberate, others by accident; and at other times, it was a feeling he had, and recalled a past time, place or event. On many occasions, it was while he was working in another form of practice, something was said or happened that triggered a memory. David noted these down on a phone message or in iNotes, to return to explore them to a greater depth when he had the time to reflect, and more deeply drill down into the particular event.
However, what ever the catalyst, it was unusual for David not to have reverted to the written word at some point in this deep reflective process. At the base of all of David’s practice, lies writing in some style, form, or medium. More often than not in practice, David engaged in streaming his consciousness onto the page – physical or virtual. This streaming could have been just ramblings from his mind, not quite sure yet of what he wanted to say, but trusting he had to get it out, and down onto the page for some greater future benefit. All writings after all, were to make up the wide range of data to be collected in this research study Project 1. Therefore, David made a special effort not to judge the merit or worth of that data at the time – in the moment of performance of his practice, at any particular time. He gathered it all. Often, emotions accompanied these streamings, deepening the in-situation experience. Sometimes these emotions were easily tapped; but most often David had to draw his self in over many hours, days, weeks or months, in order to arrive at what he could finally accept was the essence of that particular significant event. More often, possibly than David would like to admit, tears flowed as his in-stuation experience intensified, reassuring his self of the value and merit of this significant event and the particular in-situation experience, at that time. Sometimes a narrative flowed out of this streaming in the form of a tale; at other times, as prose; at other times, as song-type lyrics; and at other times, distinctions regarding his self, or any one of the forms of his practice – be it creative, research – reflective and reflective, or education and learning. [for more information about a multi-faceted/multi-dimensional approach to practice, see Research Practitioner Part 16 blog].
In terms of this Research Study Project – and most particularly – this series of deep reflective memory blogs – he observed that there was no particular order of the stimulations. On some occasions David commenced in the digital audio workstation (DAW), composing from whatever memories he held of the significant event at the time – associating sonic or musical textures that he felt best represented those occasions, and assisted to return him to the in-stutation experience. At other times, David began in an excel chart, reflecting on the significant event, and allowing thoughts, feelings, images and aural events to return him to the in-stutation experience. On other occasions, David used the writing process to return him to the in-stutation experience.
However, irrespective of what practice or what medium David commenced the deep reflective process, David recycled through most of these processes and mediums – usually multiple times – in no particular order. With each cycle, David deepened the level and intensity of experience, in order to arrive at a deep reflective in-stutation experience, to gather the range of data for this research study Project 1. You will therefore observe in the following sixteen (16) blogs, a variety of layouts, formats, writing styles, graphics or images; along with accompanying links to an equally wide variety of associative sonic and musical textured events.
David’s hopes, as you join him in his journey back to the first stage of his life, you will start to hear his voice emerge through the multi-modal narratives of these sixteen (16) significant events. He trusts you will get a sense of how David gains clarity of his self, as he gains a better understanding of his identity, musical identity, and how his musical self developed over the first twenty years of his life. This research study was always to be an immersive study; a a first-person narrative of David L Page’s personal journey, critical reflection and reflexive practice, highlighting the co-constituted nature of his music practice.
We welcome you to his journey…..
[NB: Included in each memory blog is a link/s to the associative sonic and musical textures that David feels best represent his in-situation memory of each of the particular significant events].
Message from David L Page
In the early 1990’s I returned home to Australia following a very productive period in creative practice overseas “performing and writing, including recording and experimenting in production. It was a wonderful period for me – one that I hoped would never end” (Page 2014). I recall I arrived home with a new self-image in terms of my creative practice.
In an attempt to develop my practice for my next stage of life, I undertook a number of creative writing courses. The outcome of these programs were a number of pieces of prose, of key moments within my life while I was growing up [see for example, Boy]. A number of the instructors and peers at the time noted my ability to re-situate my self back into the moment of a past event, in some way re-experiencing that experience, in order to then write about it. It was a technique I had developed and practiced, already using this technique across some of the forms of creative writing I engaged in – streaming my consciousness and song lyrics. This technique applied to writing lyrics aligned with my desired confessional singer-songwriter role. A really positive outcome of these creative writing courses was not only the prose, but perhaps more so, my acceptance of this practice as a conscious, deliberate process that I could now apply to another form of my creative writing, prose.
In early 2014, as I was re-considering the focus of my Doctoral Research Study (I had already been accepted), I began brainstorming my journey as a music practitioner. I was very keen on reflecting on more eras, to recall:
how had I arrived at where I was at as a music practitioner?
what life experiences had influenced who I was, or wasn’t, as a music practitioner?
I wanted to articulate these key life experiences into a fluid narrative – my autobiography – of my journey to date. I did return to some of the prose written in the early 1990’s as well as other pieces of creative writing I had done at other times across my life. This reflective exploration took several months, resulting in the narrative overview, Music Practitioner Part 1 – Beginnings (MP Pt1 – Beginnings) blog. I would like it noted though: when I first started writing this autobiography, I had no thought or consideration about doing a soundtrack around my life’s significant events. I had considered at this stage that I would write in the style that I had always done – in an acoustic folk pop song musical style.
Fast forward to 2016 with me now engaged in my Project 1, some 25 months after I had written the MP Pt1 – Beginnings blog, In my search for a thematic idea for my compositions (songs), I started focussing in on more specific events across my life. This then led to another event, and then another, and then another. This process spanned approxiamtely four (4) to five (5) months, arriving as some thirty-five (35) significant events. I then considered how I was going to derive a musical project out of these significant events, arriving at the idea of focussing in on associative memories of each of the significant events. I would – through reflection – associate musical and sonic events for each of the significant event; and then craft the sum of these associative memory events into a soundtrack as the cultural production output for my research study. A musical and sonic collage of my life, if you like.
I knew a challenge for me was going to be to contain the length of the composition – short enough to maintain listener interest; and yet long enough to authentically represent the sum of these significant events. But with thirty-five (35) significant events, it was going to be too long a composition for one Project. I however noted that there was a natural division within the significant events of two time frames that I could possibly divide between my Research Study Project 1 and Project 2: up until twenty (20) years of age; and post-twenty (20) years of age. I decided that it would be logical to have Project 1 represent the associative memories of the first twenty (20) years of my life.
I started experimenting with some sonic events, directly inside the digital audio workstation (DAW). Whilst I gained confidence with my vision, I found that I easily lost focus within each event, and could create some musical or sonic events that were less authentic, less congruent to me of an associated memory. The blogs evolved as a way to more specifically focus in on a range of highlighted events, drawing my self into each of them to determine the actual particular significance of the event. I found by immersing my self into each event via a number of written forms (prose, lyrics, narrative), I could deepen the in-situation experience, and better recall a range of kinaesthetic, auditory, visual, olfactory, or even gustatory sensations of the particular significant event. After experimenting across a number of these significant events, I learnt to trust the physical and emotional responses of these in-situation re-experiences as they occurred. For me, the actual sixteen (16) significant events narrated are real. Whilst immersed in this creative practice, I noted experiences including an inability to breathe, shortness of breath, nausea, headaches and body pain. I relived experiences that brought up emotional responses such as joy, sorrow, fear, sadness, nervousness, loneliness, loss, and feelings of abandonment and shame whilst in-stuating my self within these significant events, and writing these blogs. My planned research study was always to have been a first-person narrative of my personal journey: an emergent study, revealing aspects of my life I had not previously considered fully, or perhaps fully understood. I expected this journey was potentially going to be revealing, and at times, confronting, True to my expectations, it has been.
I trust that you as the reader can in some way experience my re-experiences of significant events within my personal journey, that I now choose to share.
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.
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.
Due to the ill health of my mother and her need for many medical operations over an extended period, I lived in a very dark house for the first seven (7) years on my life. With the curtains and blinds drawn shut the majority of the time, and bedrooms doors closed, I mostly only remember darkness during this time. Other memories include sitting in a very tense environment, fearful we would be reprimanded for talking out of turn, and disturbing my mother, and; being sat in front of a television screen for hours on end as a way of occupying my attention. To this day, the cartoon Mighty Mouse is at the forefront of my memories.
(Terry-Toons Comics 1945-1951)
I recall having the sense that my world was a remote place – perhaps on an island – and the main people I knew at that time were my brother, sister and father. I recall a number of big people – not sure who they were, but perhaps distant relatives, neighbours, or the wives of dad’s work colleagues – came and went during that time, assisting my father with daily duties such as preparing meals, I guess cleaning and our care. I certainly do not recall life in our house.
As I grew somewhat – perhaps around five (5) years of age – I recall spending time exploring the local bushland with my brother and some of the local neighbourhood kids, or my mates from junior rugby. Whilst it was fun exploring, and having new adventures with others, I do however recall that I was happiest in my own company, constructing things and becoming quite rowdy, exercising my unlimited bounds of energy and exploring my voice.
Then at the age of eight (8) years old, once my mother had somewhat recovered from her health issues, we moved into a new house in a new suburb on the North Shore of Sydney. The split-level house had its’ main living area on the top floor – bedroom, living room and kitchen – with the garages, laundry, rumpus room and bar kitchen on the ground floor. The blinds and curtains in our new house were literally pulled back. It was a large light and airy house with a large leafy garden, including a massive willow tree in the middle of it. It was a huge garden for an eight year old to exercise and explore, ride his scooter, yell and sing as he continued to explore his voice to his heart’s content, away from disturbing the family. The sea change included my mother playing what became her daily dose of European classical music – Baroque, Classical and Romantic (including Opera). In addition, my mother loved the pop artists of that era: those who performed on the television program of the day, “Bandstand”. In that era, it was one of the few opportunities to view the latest contemporary artists and hits on television. Whilst I still did not feel as though I belonged to anything – to my new school, my new rugby team, or the local neighbourhood kids – my world now had light and music in it.
Apparently, the music resonated with me and before long I was singing along. I recall having melodies in my head, and I would hum them out, not aware of what I was doing, nor what was to come. I was always an early riser, and keen to get into the day. I would wake well before my brother, my sister, and my parents; and wasn’t one for lying still. Of course – first things first – I would need to go to the toilet for a pee. [Note: the toilet rooms of that era had tiles on the floors and walls, and were great for reflecting sound].
It was very early in the morning, and I wasn’t in that much of a hurry. So, rather than standing I would sit, and gaze at the walls. I recall being fascinated with the light and reflections of the trees (from our back garden) being projected on the walls. I could see the trees bending up and down, some birds flying in and out, the leaves dancing, along with light, up and down the tiles on the walls. I would then start to play with sound, and start to make some noise. Sometimes I would hum one of my internalised melodies; and at times, I would make as many different short, sharp noises with my mouth. Anything to hear sound. I would listen to the sound, and note how the sound could bounce from wall to wall. I learnt to make some sounds stretch out, almost like it had a tail on it, and take even longer to bounce around. I recall thinking how good my voice sounded, in this toilet room. I realise now that I was I was experimenting making noise, listening to the sound bounce off the walls, to the sonic possibilities within our family toilet room, at possibly half past five (5) in the morn. I also reflect now, to realise that I was also possibly becoming comfortable with my voice. Listening to my self, experimenting with my voice, experimenting with what sounds I could make – what original sounds I could make, on my own.
With (apparently) my brothers and sister tired of my early morning vocalisations while on the toilet every morning – while they were still sleeping – my dad suggested I may like to relocate to a new room – into a converted rumpus room on the ground floor of our new house. While I was a little tentative at first, I quickly saw my new space as my own palace. I set up the room with low lighting – lots of lamps around the corners of the room, each with different coloured cellophane projecting up onto the walls. There were usually two or three candles burning, borrowed from my parents many dinner parties, adding to the subdued ambient lighting. Posters of pop culture icons of the day from the local music rag GoSet adorned my walls, beckoning me down a particular path.
(My inherited grandfather’s pianola)
My grandfather’s pianola stood at the foot of my bed; alongside an old radio gramophone that blasted out my collection of 45rpms and am radio station hits for many hours of the day. I recall listening to all of the music and sounds that emanated from that gramophone, drawn into another world. I had friends, but with a very protective mother, I found my self spending a lot of time in my palace – my sanctuary – listening to a very wide range of music at every chance I had.
Whilst I loved the sound of the pianola (essentially a piano, but with some more high register tones present in each of the notes), I found the keyboard layout quite complex to understand. None of my family were players (that I knew of). However, I continued to tinker, I experimented but I admit that I never sat long enough, to learn how to play the piano. Over the next few years, my brother started playing guitar. He was cool, part of the politically savvy crowd. He listened to politically inspired music as part of the hippy movement, calling for change to the establishment. I was drawn in – not so much to the message – but to the instrument that seemed to be at the centre of this crowd – the guitar.
The guitar seemed to be far more simple to play than the piano, with its’ chord shapes. My brother was right-handed, and I was left-handed. So whilst I was drawn in, I did not find it easy to mimic what he was telling me to do, to play his guitar. I was frustrated, but my fascination was established. I would spend my time listening to music, sifting through the music magazines, looking at pictures of guitars. Several years later after much – quiet but persistent – badgering, my dad arrived back from overseas with an acoustic guitar in hand, for me.
I started guitar lessons the following week with a local guitar teacher who was teaching my brother. He taught me the notes on the strings, and then introduced a number of songs as a way of learning to play. One of the first songs I can recall learning was: Clearance Clearwater Revival’s (CCR) “Proud Mary” (Creedence Clearwater Revival 1969).
(Creedence Clearwater Revival 1969 music video)
This song was followed shortly afterwards with CCR’s latest single, “Looking’ Out My Back Door” (Creedence Clearwater Revival 1970a).
(Creedence Clearwater Revival 1970 music video)
The album that these songs came off was Creedence Clearwater Revival 1970’s album, “Cosmo’s Factory” (Creedence Clearwater Revival 1970b). My brother did eventually buy this album, and therefore I not only heard it many times, I ended up playing the album many times over myself.
(Creedence Clearwater Revival 1970c).
This album produced so many singles that became popular hits on the radio; song’s that were country rock in flavour, that were predominantly based around the semi-acoustic electric guitar. I loved every song on the album, and therefore I used to played the album – when my brother wasn’t around – with the purpose of studying each and every song. I recall listening to each song over and over, learning to play them, and to try to emulate the guitar rhythm and vocal phrasing. If I was practicing a particular section of the song – for a example a phrase – I would play it through, and then pick up the needle and play through again, over and over, until I could work out what the phrasing, harmony or melody was. I had also learnt a trick from my cousin in Victoria; putting a coin on the album while it was playing, would slow down the rotating record down, and therefore making it easier to hear the particular phrase I was trying to learn. I experimented for really difficult phrasing, adding the weight of a second coin.
(Creedence Clearwater Revival 2008)
The following year Paul and Linda McCartney released their first studio album “Ram” after the Beatles had officially disbanded as a group (Paul and Linda McCartney. 1971). A single off the album “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” was released and played on AM radio on a regular basis. I recall falling in love with this song instantaneously. The song was 4 minutes 50 seconds long – quite long for the day – and progressed from one style of music, to another style of music. It was as though Paul McCartney had gotten two songs, and joined them together. I recall being fascinated by this arrangement. But most particularly, the production. Listening to the song on the radio I could hear so many elements and textures that I had never heard before in any other song. I was in awe!. I recall saving the money I earnt from doing my weekly chores, and going to the local music store to buy the 45rpm record of the single (Paul and Linda McCartney. 1971).
As it happened, on the B side was another song – more of a traditional pop rock song – but again with an interesting arrangement. This song “Too Many People” (Paul and Linda McCartney. 1971), became the first song I requested my guitar teacher to teach me how to play on the guitar.
(The Beatles Discography, 1971)
(Paul & Linda McCartney 1971 music video)
In the same year that I had bought my first 45rpm, I heard another artist across the airwaves: the songs of Cat Stevens. I was mesmerised by his craft – sultry vocal tones, accompanied minimally, with an acoustic guitar, and sometime a bass line. The vocal had a lot of – mmm, how could I describe it – a lot of space around it – presence. The guitar was very simple – a strummed guitar, and a fingerpicked guitar, recorded very precisely, and cleanly. There was often a bass riff present, and sometimes some percussive elements, in light support of the rhythm and harmony. Often, there was a piano in accompaniment. Occasionally, the central instrument was a piano. Irrespective, what struck me of Cat Stevens’ songs were: the central element of his performances and the productions were – the song.
Cat Stevens was a UK troubadour with a social and spiritual conscience, carrying forth the tradition of the 1960’s confessional singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Leonard Cohen. Cat Stevens was soon to be joined by other rising troubadours such as Carol King, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Jackson Browne and Don McLean (Greenwald 1992, 58). The songs of these troubadours took me to places that I hadn’t been before. To places that were quiet, considered and contemplative. I considered these songs poetic, in a similar vein as so many of the great poets before them. Their songs weaved words, turn of phrase – lyrics with melody and harmony in simple but cleverly crafted ways.
As a ten (10) year old, I remember thinking to myself – can I? could I? could I ever be able to learn to do what they do? could I dare to consider that I could learn to do what they do? Could I ever become a singer-songwriter-performer as they are? Could I ever learn how to transport a listener to a place that they hadn’t been to before? As they did to me? As they did for me? Could I possibly? Unfortunately though, irrespective of any logic, the seed was planted. I recall Cat Steven’s influence on my desire to practice music was instantaneous: in terms of guitar playing, singing, songwriting and arranging – to a depth of personal experience that I had never heard before. I saved my pocket money, and a short time later I was holding my first album, Cat Steven’s “Tea for the Tillerman”.
(Cat Stevens 1970a)
(Cat Stevens 1970b)
The many songs that were on “Tea for the Tillerman” became the next group of songs I requested my guitar teacher to teach me how to play on the guitar. I spent much of the next year trying to emulate the guitar playing, singing, and feel of these Cat Steven’s songs.
A year later a follow up album came out “Teaser and the Firecat”. I spent much of that year again trying to emulate the guitar playing, singing, and feel of these Cat Steven’s songs. Whilst I don’t feel I ever arrived at being able to play any of Cat Steven’s songs to my satisfaction, I do trust and believe this particular artist’s influence on my development as a music practitioner was significant. Cat Steven’s style had become engrained into my being; into my soul.
(Cat Stevens 1971)
(Cat Stevens 1970c)
I continued to progress with the guitar, but found that I had been drawn somewhat back to the piano through the songs of performers such as Cat Stevens. A number of his songs on both “Tea for the Tillerman” and “Teaser and the Firecat” featured piano as the central instrument. I wasn’t so interested in learning to play the piano, but would spend hours listening – tinkering and experimenting – to the sounds that emanated from it.
I got a Labrador-cross pup for my eleventh birthday. We looked very similar – in that her coat colouring was similar to my skin complexion – fair with freckles. She and I became inseparable over the next five (5) years. As she grew, she would lay at the foot of my bed with one eye open, almost as if she was making sure I was ok. More often that not, I was occupied with any form of music practice.
I would play guitar – strumming the strings, forming chord shapes – and listen to the sounds that would emanate from the wooden body.
I was intrigued with how much change in tone could occur with subtle change in any aspect of my playing – such as my attack with the plectrum – velocity or speed, or the actual thickness or material of the plectrum;
I would focus on my right hand with the forming of chords, moving the angle of my wrist around the back of the neck. The clarity of the note would change as I did this to produce different qualities of sound;
I would try to sing the songs of my favourite artists, trying to emulate the phrasing of the vocal line, the rhythm and harmony of the music playing on old gramophone;
I would tinker on the piano’s ivories, listening to the notes as they rose out of the wooden cabinet:
I noted how these notes varied, depending on how hard I struck each of the keys;
I noted how these notes varied, depending on which foot pedal on the piano I was holding down;
I listened to the resonance of the notes as they sang out, bouncing off and out of the rosewood wooden cabinet, after the piano key hammer had come to rest on a particular string;
I immersed myself listening to a range of productions via the radio, albums, or 45rpm singles. I was in awe – full of wonder, joy and intrigue – listening to the cacophony of music and sonic textures that played out of the speakers;
With every song, I tried to strum out chords on my acoustic guitar along to it; or
I would mimic a live performance, guitar around my neck, standing behind my father’s camera tripod, mounted with a bicycle horn on top as my pretend microphone, strumming away to songs playing on the radio gramophone.
Yes, I could see my audience, I could hear the audience, I could feel the audience.
These are the earliest recollections I have of my creative activities.
The next step of my creative practice…..
However, at some point, I did work out that I was not born intomusic. My mother didn’t play an instrument, my father didn’t play an instrument – they were fans. Our house was not filled with our music – it was filled with the music of others. We listened to others perform.
A few short years later, a significant event occurred that led me to put down the guitar for about 9-10 years. This event had a profound impact on my confidence and belief in my worthiness to play music.
Some years later at University, after meeting some musical souls, I picked up the guitar again. But this time it was to be an electric guitar. Over the next few years I progressed into writing, singing, performing, arranging, recording, and playing bass. I also taught music, delved into project management and became an industry advisor.
I spent 3 years in Japan, where I fortunate enough to establish a platform across so many of these areas. I am so blessed for my Japan experience. Japan was so influential in my reconnecting and implanting a music practice flame within me that I still carry to this day. It was one of the most productive periods I have had in terms of my performing and writing, including recording and experimenting in production. It was a wonderful period for me – one that I hoped would never end. But like everything in life, at some point there were enough taps on my shoulder that indicated it was time for me to return to Australia.
I arrived back into Australia and evaluated my options. I moved city, up to Brisbane, and made an effort to connect to players in that scene. I chose to refuse to play in the pub scene – blue jean, intoxicated punters, nicotine-filled live scene that contrasted significantly to the clubs and festivals I had played in Japan. Instead, as part of my tithing value to give back to society, I invested what spare time I had to assisting a range of community music programs. What resonated to me here was donating my breadth of experience as a player, teacher, coach & mentor, providing guidance and assistance to social groups that had mostly not had the opportunity of music practice due to lack of opportunity because of either economics, social situation or just the busyness of life.
I have always found ways in my life to generate income streams from a variety of sources . My father always (somewhat condescendingly) referred to my creative industry activities as a hobby. Whilst I have been sponsored by the Australian Government at numerous times in my Creative Industries career, I have been fortunate enough to maintain a professional career to develop my music practice, often overlapping into education, project management, and educational management here in Australia and overseas. After a study period at the Guitar Institute in California’s Musicians Institute in 2006, I returned home to accept an Executive Management role to manage an overseas multi-site educational organisation. Whilst it was going to disrupt my local live playing, it was an opportunity to lead what had previously been a multi-million dollar organisation (now facing closure due to non-compliance and financial adversity) in all aspects of governance and general management (including , stakeholder negotiation, change management, educational teaching practice, staff development and management). Whilst I played a few live gigs during that 3 year overseas posting, I focussed on alternative mediums to be creative musically. This opened the opportunity for the development of my music production skills within the virtual world of a DAW – both in Pro Tools and Logic Pro.
Somewhat ironic, this juncture in my music practice is at the core of my current doctoral studies: Contemporary DIY music practice and the practitioner self.
This blog series is planned to continue with Life is About the Moment. It is intended for this blog series to continue on a regular basis as I progress through my doctoral research project.
Australian Boxing Kangaroo Flag Image courtesy of: Boxing Kangaroo Accessed 8th March, 2014.
I wonder sometimes how things could have been…. I wonder if I was born into a different family, what could have life been like? I did at different points find sanctuary in other families’ homes – particular neighbours, and a few relatives. I recall when ever I was in these situations, I was attentive in my observations of how they as a family interacted – how they spoke to each other, what they discussed, and what they found laughter in. I recall taking memory photographs of these instances, snapping such moments into my memory of what others did in their everyday life. I recall thinking to my self “one day”.
I wonder if my parents were from different backgrounds, what could have life been like? I wonder if they were of different motivation – perhaps even music practitioners – what could have life been like? I really had nothing to compare it to, as no one I knew at the time had parents who played a musical instrument. The only people I knew who were older and played musical instruments were the successful musicians who had commercial album releases. I recall wondering what it would have been like to have a Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix or a Cat Stevens as a parent. I recall thinking to my self “what if?” but then followed it up with “there is no point with this thinking, it is what it is “……..
I recall being was fairly compliant up until about the age eleven (11), trying to behave and provide my mother with what she needed. But them something happened. Gradually, over time I started listening to my self. I started engaging in my self interests. I allowed my self to pursue that which interested me, and even badgered my parents – be it quietly – until I got what I needed: a guitar.. and then a dog.
I started embracing my self – and all that that I needed. I found music as a comfort – something I could engage with. Another form of language that seemed to resonate, with me. I did not achieve being able to master the language, but could understand every word and nuance that was spoken. I could hear the vibrations, and the resonance. I could interact with her for a short while, but at this point in time I sit here, alone, in silence, in darkness and embrace the tones that I recall.
In-situate, I observed my self and how I was developing, within my self, at that particular time. I had a guitar, and then a dog. Each year – another lap around the sun – I seemed to gather momentum within my self, and developed my self-worth, my self-image, my self-confidence, in search of my opinion. But my voice seemed to evade me, the shore that never arrived, the jetty at which I never moored. And so with another lap around the sun, I arrived at my fourteenth (14) year – time was ticking, and I was gaining self-respect. With another lap around the sun, it was time to stand my ground. I had no option – it was them, or me……. This is another recollection of what I consider to have been a significant period in my life, when I was Age 14.