Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Musique Concrète

Recently I’ve been working on a form of music known as Musique Concrète. My interest in concrète stems from a French composer named Edgard Varèse. Varèse, who was known as the “Father of Electronic Music”, is quoted as saying “Music is organized sound.” This definition is the building block of music and has become my own as well as giving me an interest in the subject of Musique Concrète.
Defining Musique Concrète is much easier than interpreting it. Concrète is a form of electroacoustic music, composing using electronically created sounds, that relies heavily on acoustmatic sound, sounds where the source cannot be seen. If one puts all of these elements together we find that the definition of Musique Concrète is composition that utilizes organized sounds, without defined sources, that are created or arranged electronically.
I began the next step of my exploration by listening to compositions that fall under the style of Musique Concrète. These included John Cage, Nathan Edwards, Edgard Varèse, and Frank Zappa. I noticed quite a few things when comparing early recordings of the style and more modern pieces. One of these is the large sense of emptiness in older recordings. I haven’t decided if this is attributed to a smaller stereo image or a considerable space between samples in these earlier recordings. The more modern pieces contain massive pads and a wide array of stereo sounds. I decided that I enjoyed the emptiness of the early compositions and wanted to base my own piece around that style.
The third step in my project: finding my Conceptual Continuity. This idea is an all encompassing of theme, style, story, pieces, and overall feel of the piece. I decided my theme should be something like self-discovery and the unexpected. The style has already been picked out for me of course but there was also the choice between modern and classic concrète. As I mentioned earlier, I liked the more classic style. That brought me to the story, which I decided would be about my passage through college. The pieces were definitely one of the major parts for which I was excited. I wanted to take some relatively common things and use them in an unexpected fashion, it kind of harkens back to the whole definition of unsourceable sound. The final part to decide on was the feel of the piece. I settled on something a little eerie, which fits and rounds out my Conceptual Continuity.
The next step was to capture the sounds for the composition. I decided to use the Zoom Recorder H4N to record all my samples. I borrowed an acoustic guitar and set to making sounds with it. I did various things like plucking and strumming the strings on the headstock, sliding my hands down the strings in several different ways, and slapping the strings and fret board. The recording session yielded around twenty-three unique sound clips. The session also produced a new affection for the Zoom Recorder. For the longest time I was hesitant to use it, questioning what kind of quality the device would produce. As it turns out it greatly surpassed my expectations with its clear sound and accurate capturing ability.
I then imported the sound files into Adobe Audition 5.5. I did some improving to the files, but it really didn’t take much considering the quality of the recordings. After saving them I separated all the files into different folders on my computer to differentiate what I considered to be a percussive sound and more of a sound that would be used for the melody.
I decided to sequence my composition using a program called Reason 5 made by Propellorhead. After loading all of my samples one by one, very tediously might I add, I finally got to the fun and challenging part of the project: sequencing the composition. I started with some of the ones I really liked and built a simple melody. Under that I built the rhythm, counterintuitive I know, but after I found a rhythm I liked I redefined my “melody”. I decided that what needed work was my structure, what I had was a very nice twenty-five second piece that didn’t seem to want to go anywhere further. I corrected this by modifying my melody and my rhythm even further until I had something that matched what I originally liked, fit my Conceptual Continuity, and was definitely heading somewhere.
After a few iterations and tweaking I fleshed out the song to a couple minutes I don’t know if I will make any more concrète projects in the future, but I’m definitely satisfied with the process and the current outcome.
Here's the final product:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


            I’m frequently solicited for my ability to operate a mixing console. This time around it was to run sound for Gaming Club’s Nanocon. “Nanocon is Madison, South Dakota's premier gaming convention. We host all sorts of role playing games, Magic: the Gathering tournaments, board games, video games, and even a LARP. All games are open to the public, as is the entire convention.” A description quoted from their website.
            The work involved was fairly minimal, all of the presentations were speech oriented with a bit of sound from Youtube videos embedded into PowerPoint. The presentations themselves were rather interesting. I learned what it means to be successful in the Game Design industry and how to achieve it. As it turns out it’s not that much different than making it as an aspiring audio engineer.
            It was a pretty stress free, paying gig and I could use more of those.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

James Booze Wedding

A couple months ago Donna Fawbush of the Dakota Prairie Playhouse approached me with the request that I run sound for Dakota State University faculty member James Booze’s wedding. This sounded like a wonderful opportunity so I contacted James to hammer out their needs. It turned out to be fairly simple set up: a headset mic for their pastor, a handheld wireless mic for the couple to say their vows and have the brides daughter sing, and one monitor so the daughter could hear herself and her karaoke track. Simple compared to most everything I’ve done but the fact that I only had one chance to run through the event before the wedding made me a bit nervous.  I didn’t have a script and one false move and I would have a couple hundred necks craning to look at my booth.Untitled-1
I arrived early with my bow tie and game face on, only to find that none of the boards were getting power. Obviously I handled the situation by systematically checking everything that could be the problem, and panicking. What was I going to do if I couldn’t get the board to work? I had left everything in a working state the night before. The prospect of delaying a concert by fifteen minutes is an annoyance, but the prospect of delaying a wedding fifteen seconds had me sweating. Luckily I had sense enough to call someone who knows more than I do: Dan Mortenson. He suggested I check the breaker boxes and lo and behold, someone had flipped the breakers sending power to the sound booth.
Dodged that bullet, made sure everything had fresh batteries, checked all my levels and queued up some easy listening, a mix predominately composed of Nathan Edwards and Tyson Rupp with a little Frank Zappa, Toh Kay, and Bright Eyes for variety. Things continued smoothly from there. I played Bruno Mars’ “Lazy Song” for the wedding processional, at James’ request, John Williams’ “Imperial March” for the beginning of the bride processional, also James’ request. Of course there was loads of laughter and even the bride couldn’t help but laugh, James called it his last act of defiance before he was married.
            The headset mic gave a good loud signal and Pastor Elizabeth spoke very eloquently. She handed off the spotlight to the bride’s daughter sooner than I had expected but I managed to recover from that shock pretty quickly. She sang Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” and it was pretty easy sailing from there. During the vows I had a little trouble getting the wireless mic as hot as Pastor Elizabeth’s headset mic, but I kind of got the impression that they were speaking softer than they normally would have. It was all downhill after the vows, I just had to play some outro music and tear everything down.
            After everything had died down, Pastor Elizabeth came by to give her mic back. She said she felt everything went pretty smoothly, made some small talk and asked if this was my profession. I went on to tell her that I’m still a student but I do stuff on the side to build my resume. She asked if I would contract out to make improvements to her church in the Madison area. I told her I would be happy to and that I was actually looking to do an internship, I gave her a business card and she said she would be in contact.
            Hopefully things pan out and I can keep building up the ol’ resume.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

White Night 2011

Friday 06-17-2011
My experience running sound for shows on campus gives me certain opportunities I don’t think I would get otherwise. The Madison Area Arts Council hosts an event called White Night every year, a historic event that originated in Europe and has found its way to America. It traditionally showcases art, music, and all the great things in the area. It’s a celebration of community with an emphasis on light, including artificial light like fireworks and candles.
Chris Francis approached Nathan Edwards about running sound for the event as there would be three bands performing. Nate asked me if I would be interested in assisting. I was more than happy to because I know how much time it can take to set equipment up when you don’t have an extra pair of hands. Tyler Micheel rounded out the rest of our team for the day. We hauled out our gear, which consisted of a Behringer DDX3216 digital mixing console, Bose speakers, and a hundred and one odds and ends that are just as important but would take way too long to name.
Once we got to Prairie Village We debated setting up the stage early because the forecast called for rain, which would mean a small change of venue. So we unloaded everything and decided to lunch at Mochavino. As it turns out, good food, good coffee, the company of friends, and a board game that benefits those with survival skills is a great way to lose two hours of your life. We made our way back to Prairie Village with determined faces, full stomachs, and a decision: We were going to show Mother Nature who was boss. We set everything up at a leisurely pace with plenty of time before the first band arrived.
More Than Heroes is an unsigned band from Pierre, South Dakota. They’ve labeled themselves Pop Punk and consider their influences to be Fall Out Boy, All Time Low, New Found Glory, Foo Fighters, and Weezer. They consist of: Megan Snow on lead vocals, Luke Schuetzle on lead vocals and guitar, Graham Schuetzle on bass and vocals, Raury Cruse on lead guitar and vocals, and Nick Burke on Drums. The band took the stage, a semitrailer flatbed, with acoustic guitars and a small bass amp. They proceeded to explain that their drummer had to move away due to flooding in their hometown. They went on to play a mellow acoustic show with a few covers. Running sound for them was pretty easy: Nate did the preliminary set up, I walked around to listen to his mix, gave him feedback and then did some mild tweaking while he took a break. They talked a lot in between songs. If it’s done right I’m a huge fan of this, and More Than Heroes did a great job. They gave song titles, explained their feelings, denoted covers, and talked over parts while they were tuning, this keeps the audience from getting bored and it’s all a sign of a well seasoned band. They put on a great show and we’re hoping they’ll perform at DSU.
Photo by Joshography
Sioux Falls locals Wumpus had the next slot on the playbill. This Rock and Roll/Country/Pop/Psychedelia band consists of Chad McKinney, Jason Hegg, Rich Hastings, Sean Egan and Matt McFarland. I wasn’t especially familiar with these guys but it was pretty apparent that they were skilled musicians. We did the same thing as before: preliminary mix, walk around, and then minor tweaking. I felt like we were having a hard time getting the voice on top of the mix but that’s fairly common with larger groups, multiple guitar amps, and drums. The sky and the forecast were getting gloomier, but Wumpus played on even after drops started falling. They finished the last song in their set and we went to work putting plastic bags on everything to protect it from the rain.
Chris Francis made an executive decision to move everything into the Lawrence Welk Opera House. This was a pretty daunting task but if we wanted to maintain an audience it had to be done. So we quickly hauled everything, most of it by attaching the flatbed to a truck, to the Welk and brought in only the bare essentials. We managed to set everything up in under twenty-five minutes; it felt like an eternity. The venue was a little unconventional: we didn’t have a place to put the mixing console parallel to the band. We had to set it on the stage and Nate stood in the audience and gave me signals while I adjusted levels, which isn’t ideal.Wumpus
Photo by Madison Area Arts Council
Pasque was the final band for the night and they were worth the wait. Martin Lien, Thomas Hentges, Tim Munce, John "slap" Meyers make up this Sioux Falls Rock and Roll band. I can say that this was the first time I had ever been on stage with a band for the entirety of their set. I put a lot of effort into trying to not look like a doofus but it was hard not to tap my feet to the beat. All of these guys were great, any one of them could have made themselves the focal point of the show but they still maintained a cohesive sound. Thomas, the frontman, had a voice that matched the vibe of the music and the energy displayed on stage. The lead guitar player blew me away; he played without a monitor, had some really wicked solos, and put up with some annoying extra stage lighting. I had to wear earplugs being that close to the action so I more felt the bass than could hear it but it was still pretty easy to pick out from the din. The drummer was phenomenal, he was switching between matched and traditional grip, and he had a variety of sticks to accomplish the sounds he was looking for.Pasque
 Photo by Kerry Roberts
White Night was a great show. It was awesome to get out and do some live sound stuff with Nate. It turned out to be a great networking opportunity as I passed out business cards and got CDs for KDSU. I promote any opportunity to take in new music but I would definitely recommend seeing any of these bands if you ever get the chance. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Recording Mitchell South Dakota's Kanata

I had the opportunity to step into the studio with some of the members of Mitchell, South Dakota’s Kanata (pronounced Canada). Kanata consists of Drew Grohs, Cory Nace, and Adam Wells, lead guitar, bass, and rhythm guitar respectively. They label themselves as Experimental/Metal/Rock and I think you would be hard pressed to stick them in just one of those boxes. After almost five years of playing shows together in the South Dakota area they’ve found their way to my doorstep. Adam and I had been in contact for some time before we nailed down plans to hit the studio and we are now in the process of putting out an eleven-song album.
            The first order of business was figuring out what we were going to do about drums. Kanata has been without a drummer for some time and Adam suggested we use the samples available in the studio. This was a new experience for me and involved quite a bit on my part. MIDI drums, even with samples applied to them, often have a rigid, somewhat robotic sound. With the help of Nathan Edwards I spent the day “humanizing” the drums. This involved quantizing the beat so that it was randomly slightly imperfect, adding velocity change and using a variety of samples for each instrument. The results were pretty promising, and with a bit more fine-tuning I think it will be near indistinguishable from real drums.
            The three band members have a pretty stiff work schedule so our window of opportunity was pretty slim. Adam and Drew arrived into Madison pretty late Monday night. We set up and Adam recorded with his Schecter C-1 Diamond Series guitar out of a Randall RG100SC. I close mic’ed the cab with two Shure SM57s, one at the top of the left cone and one at the bottom of the right cone. I then set up an AKG 214 as a room mic. The different microphones and placements offer a pretty wide variety of tonality so I don’t have to do a bunch of equalizer work and I can get a pretty natural sound. This went into a Digi Pre mic pre-amp and then into a Toft ATB 24-channel mixing console. I like the gain and control the Digi Pre gives and I like the coloration the ATB board adds. Drew went to work with his Schecter Hellraiser V-1 and he utilized a Marshall MG4X12B for its speakers, with the amp of a Peavey 6505+. I used a similar but slightly different mic’ing technique to further aid in giving the guitars separate sonic personalities.
            After about six hours we figured we were all too tired to function. I offered them some somewhat illicit sleeping quarters and called it a night. Our goal was to finish recording both guitar parts on the rest of the tracks so they wouldn’t have to haul all their gear back another day. We made quite a bit of progress before breaking for lunch at Skipper’s. After a minor snag or two we managed to complete all guitar recording by 10 PM. Their bass player should have the day off sometime next week and we’ll continue hammering this album into existence.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Turning a Subwoofer Into a Microphone

I read somewhere that in order to increase the low end in mixes recording engineers will take subwoofers and turn them into microphones. The large Sub Mic or SubKick captures the low frequencies the same way a standard microphone does: the vibration of the diaphragm turns acoustical energy into electrical energy and is interpreted by your mixer as an electrical signal.

Being what I consider to be a very avant garde recording engineer I decided I wanted to try this. I consulted with the audio faculty and they found a three-way speaker cabinet that no one was using and they told me I could use it for fabrication. With the help of one of the instructors cut off the female end of an XLR cable and soldered the wires to the circuit board of the subwoofer. We tested the results and they were everything we hoped and I should have a sample up for listening in the next week or so.

Soldering the XLR cable to the speaker


The XLR cable firmly attached:


The first rendition of the microphone attached to a stand:

SubKick on Stand

Recording Ukulele (09-25-2010)

Jeremy Otuel Dougherty is a frequenter of Dakota State Live Productions: “Open Mic Nights”. Jeremy is an accomplished singer and is quite skilled at playing ukulele. During a special kind of Open Mic Night entitled “The Gong Show”, he covered Trouble by Never Shout Never, a song accompanied by ukulele. I happened to be mixing his performance that night; the song and his presentation of it were deeply moving. I was really taken aback by the energy he exhibited, which compelled me to ask him if he would be willing to record this song in the studio. With some surprise he said he would be glad to, and he asked when it would be convenient for me.
I chose to use the Audio Technica 4041’s, a pair of small diaphragm pencil condensers, to mic his ukulele. The 4041’s have a boost in the high end of their frequency response curve (1), which I felt would be useful in capturing the brightness of the Ukulele. I decided to use an ADK S-7 to mic his vocals; the S-7 has boost in its low end according to its frequency response curve (2). It also has a bit of a dip in its higher frequencies; I wanted that specifically so that ukulele bleed through wouldn’t be especially bright. Jeremy later made the comment that he really liked how the mic treated his voice.
I showed Jeremy his recording space, explained the process to him, and what I hoped to achieve. He sat down and he began strumming out the chords to Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. After he played a few times to warm up he told me a personal story about how much that song meant to him. At that point we decided to make Somewhere Over the Rainbow a focal point of the day. I had Jeremy play through this song four times with mild breaks in between. All the while I would use the talkback mic to communicate what I was doing so Jeremy wouldn’t feel out of the loop. Once we felt like we had a couple of really solid takes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow we moved on to Trouble by Never Shout Never, which we did six takes of before we felt sure we had something solid.
Mixing Somewhere Over the Rainbow was tough to mix as I felt it lacked a strong stereo image. After trying to beef up the ukulele and finding nothing I enjoyed I decided to leave it alone. I moved on to doing a final mix of Trouble, which proved much less difficult. I felt the punch of the vocals plus intermittent clapping made the song strong enough on it’s own without trying to mess with its stereo image. I put a light compression on Jeremy’s vocals using the Bombfactory BF76 compressor and decided to put a subtle reverb on his vocals with the AIR Reverb plug-in. To brighten up the ukulele a bit I used the EQ III Digirack 4 band equalizer and cut the low mids out and gave it a boost in the highs. I got the mix to where I wanted it and put a final compression on the master output using the Maxim Compressor.
The results are these two tracks and I hope you enjoy them:
Trouble by PaulSchipperRecording
Somewhere Over The Rainbow by PaulSchipperRecording
1. http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/wired_mics/b43bffe4d4295274/index.html/
2. http://recordinghacks.com/microphones/ADK/S-7
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