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Just realised my goal of a blog-a-month has passed, with May being non-existant in terms of content. June is well and truly here (you’d never know it from the skies) so I thought I’d bang something brief together about the speakers I use.

Loudspeakers are always an emotive subject. Audiophiles, mixers, musicians: they all have their own favourites. And will fight to the verbal death to defend the make and model which floats their own auditory canal. Speakers are like cars – not just because they are potential pub talk – but because we get to know speakers (much like cars). We understand the frequency response (driving characteristics?), we appreciate the look (the curve of the bonnet?), we know how hard to push them (handling?), and we know what they excel at best (city car or load lugger?).

I’ve listened to a fair few speakers in my time (here’s a small selection):

  • Those ‘no-brand’ biege ones you used to get with IBM computers: OK if you turned up the treble, right?
  • Tannoy Westminsters in my local music recording studio: lovely, big and warm sounding.
  • The Yamaha NS10‘s in the same studio – OMG, what’s that flat sound?
  • Home made hi-fi boxes with 2-way Morel drivers: I thought they were amazing, but then I did build them….
  • Shermann Audio touring arrays: use 2 for my bands PA – they are very crispy.
  • Huge 3-way JBL screen arrays in cinemas: close to a hifi sound from a horn loaded enclosure.

The last speakers mentioned are probably those I’ve listened to most from my thirteen years as a sound consultant at Dolby Laboratories, setting up cinemas and film mixing theatres all over the world. I’m referring to horn-loaded systems in general, not just the JBL brand: Martin Audio, Altec, KCS, etc. Horn-loaded HF systems have been used in cinema playback systems for many years, and the smooth response in the 2kHz and upwards range always impressed me, especially in the latest systems. During my time at Dolby I also setup studios with dome tweeters and I could never get the smooth response I really desired and had heard in the cinema.

That is until I came across Adam loudspeakers. I first demo’d the A7’s at a studio in Denmark. I was immediately taken by the smoothness in the the all important upper frequencies of the dialogue spectrum – this was what I’d been looking for and they seemed to closely resemble the response of the best horn-loaded cinema speaker systems. And all this from a near-field speaker with a very small footprint – with ‘foot’ being the operative word!

I started using the A7’s when I set up my own sound studio, quickly moving onto a complete 5.1 setup of Adam’s. I did experiments between the studio and local cinema in order to best set up the speakers in their environment from both a level and equalisation stand point. The first feature film mix I did on them bore out the capabilities of these speakers. The dialogue I’d mixed in my small studio translated beautifully into the cinema environment with little ‘pre-emphasis’. This is important as I didn’t want to have to over or under-do anything in my own studio in order to have good playback in the cinema environment. I needed my small studio to be faithful to a larger cinema space and it’s systems.

Apart from careful setup of the speakers, a big contributor to the success of these units are the ribbon tweeters. They appear to come as close as possible to the horn-loaded systems found in cinemas, making film mixing a thing of confidence, even in a smaller room.

And their capabilities don’t stop there. At Dreambase Studios we don’t just do cinema mixes: we also mix audio for DVD, broadcast and the web. In each of these areas it’s vital to know what levels you need to be monitoring at to get the best delivery. The Adams certainly make that task a lot easier. You are given a head start on frequency and transient response so you only have to worry about the monitoring levels before you start creating for your chosen delivery medium.

In fact the Adams are so detailed, they playback every little click and pop that might be missed on traditional dome tweeter systems – this allows for a thorough and effective ‘technical’ cleanup of audio, as well as a creative one.

So there, I’ve evangelised about some speakers. I’m so used to these speakers now I wouldn’t consider any other make when it comes to near or mid-field monitoring. In a professional production environment you want speakers to help you both creatively and technically. To this end, the Adams come as close to providing both of these requirements in equal measure as any speakers I’ve listened to.

Long may they continue and make my job just that little bit easier!

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent official policy or endorsement of any of the products mentioned.

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I recently completed sound post production at Dreambase Studios on Verity’s Summer, a new feature film by Palme D’Or nominee Director, Ben Crowe.

Verity’s Summer is the story of a young woman’s journey from the security of childhood to the compromises of adulthood and moral ambiguities of love. It is also an intimate portrayal of a family coming to terms with the traumas and violence of distant war that are brought back home.

The film stars, Indea Barbe-WillsonMartin McGladeJames DohertyNicola Wright, and Christian Hogas and was shot on location in the North East.

The ambiences are very important in Verity’s Summer and I wanted to create definite ‘backgrounds’ for each scene. The coast is ever present in the film and so from a ‘sound tag’ point of view I wanted to make sure the sea sounds were distinctive and repeatable if necessary in order to reinforce the scenes.

I spent a weekend in West Wales recording lots of different locations for the film. I’d already spotted the film for what I needed to record but I took a rough cut of the film on my iPhone so I was able to get an idea of perspective there and then when making decisions on where to position the microphones for the best recording. I took many different sound perspectives from close up to the waves, to many hundred meters away, at times. I also took recordings of the countryside nearby as these also play an important part in many of the scenes in Verity’s Summer.

A chance recording I made of some sea birds defending territory on one of the beaches was also very useful in several scenes during post production. I chose Wales partly because it offered the same ‘sound feel’ as the visuals had suggested to me but also because it is largely free of interference from transport such as aircraft, motorways and trains. In fact, recording on location in many parts of Wales is, at times like having your own outdoor studio, such is the absence of external sound interference. And I also love visiting this area, so it was a good excuse for a short break!

Ambience recordings were combined with other sounds in order to subtly change the mood of the film as a scene progressed. For example, I was keen to make sure we had simple but dark textures in some scenes, particularly the more difficult dialogue subjects. In others, such as Verity’s garden I wanted to make the sound detailed and comfortable, as the garden is often a place of solace for her.

Among the many Foley sounds we recorded, were a variety of Trangia sounds for when one of the characters (Martin McGlade, as Castle) is eating in his encampment. My Dreambase Studios co-director, Mark Kenna enjoyed a lunch of cold baked beans and stale bread that day in order to complete the Foley recording for the scene, but once edited in it worked tremendously well and was absolutely necessary due to rain interference on the original production tracks.

Verity’s Summer premiered on 21st April at London’s Shortwave Cinema.

Maker of soft tissue products Kleenex has announced it is to expand it’s worldwide operation to include the manufacture of electric guitars. Kleenex was started in 1924, and has been at the forefront of tissue manufacture ever since. It’s product line offers the full range of hygiene products, from facial cleansers and makeup removers through to the classic Kleenex ‘Mansize’ tissues, and the ever useful ‘Pocket Packs’ of tissues for when you are out and about.

Despite it’s dominance in the tissue market, Kleenex have never been a company to rest on any laurels: ‘We’d gotten to a point in the company’s history where we were thinking about new product offerings’, admits product development director, David Balm. ‘We are continually updating our tissue lines with new and more exciting ranges, but something was missing from us as a brand. Guitars, like tissues have always been so useful to mankind and we thought, hey lets look into this!’. Wind two months on, and Kleenex have shown their first guitar offering at well known music store, Fever Pitch in Arizona. With a sharply designed body in piano black lacquer, complete with shiny chrome hardware, the Ultra O guitar certainly looks the business. But how does it play? Well, five mins with this axe and I was smitten. Attack and sustain is exactly what you’d expect from a high end guitar. Playability is second to none and the action had been setup superbly by new recruit and in-house guitar guru, Dusty Schneeser.

One thing that struck me was the weight of the guitar – it didn’t weigh much at all! I asked Dusty to comment on the guitars construction and he revealed that the body and neck (basically the whole guitar) is made from compressed cardboard and tissue paper. ‘We have a lot of by-product from tissue manufacture and the associated cartons and packaging. We’ve developed a custom forming process to take the tissue, cardboard and a special acoustic glue, and compress them using enormous amounts of pressure. The composite is then cut and fashioned into the shapes that make up the guitar from body to neck and head. The fret-board is made from Rosewood, however. We are delighted with the result and are now looking for celebrity players around the world to help us market the guitar’.

So expect to see the Kleenex guitar at a music shop near you sometime soon.

The Kleenex Ultra O Guitar

In my last post I mentioned that NewQuay Times would be recording in the next few weeks. Well ‘the next few weeks’ has more than happened, and over three days in the middle of February we managed to record, mix and master an EP with five songs on it called A Short Walk On A Long Pier. I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved as a band, with everyone stepping up to the plate to contribute to the production as a whole. For the initial two days we locked ourselves away in the studio and laid down the recordings. I’d prepared a drum track a for several songs but it transpired that we really needed to record the band as a whole (sans click track!) to get the feel we needed for most of the songs. Only Baby Blue is recorded to a click track, as the song’s more upbeat nature throughout lends itself to a well timed beat! I still dislike click tracks if I’m honest!

We recorded drums and bass together with Vince (guitar) and Sarah (vocals) providing a guide track from the control room. We initially had problems with nasty vibrations from Stu’s Peavy bass amplifier causing various un-musical noises to be picked up on the microphone. This led me to DI the bass in the end, and to be honest the superb tone available from the Fender is such that it really needs little modification on mix-down, apart from a little compression and EQ, along with some chorus on Moonlight Watcher to add to the ethereality of the song. Vince then added some guitar parts for all the songs. He used his trusty Hofner electric with P90 pickups through an Orange amp for most of the songs, for both clean and dirty parts.

Rainy Sunday is possibly the simplest production on the EP, consisting of drums, bass, guitar and a vocal and the aim was to produce a raw song here that was right there in the speakers with each instrument making itself heard on a similar level with little reverb. Baby Blue again is very simple with some additional guitars provided by Sarah on her Eastwood/Orange combination. Moonlight Watcher again had additional acoustic guitars parts to fill plus an undercurrent synth part throughout. To Want also has two acoustic guitar parts plus this time the Eastwood was paired with a Vox AC30 to double up on the Hofner. The vocals appear at the start of this song so we decided to add an intro in the form of a FM radio tuning effect and a guitar sounding like it’s coming out of the speaker of a transistor radio. Tomorrow is more straight ahead with distorted guitars provided by a double helping of Hofner/Orange and a serving of Eastwood/Vox once again. Sarah’s vocals are effected on this song with some multi echo and lots of feedback at the end, with the aim of recreating an almost chant like repeat of the end vocalisations.

For the final mix my aim was to achieve a good solid sound with lots of presence and detail from each instrument, especially Sarah’s vocals, whilst not falling into a ‘louder-the-better’ trap that plagues so many current chart releases. Hence the overall levels are more akin to something like the Pixies Doolittle album.

Artwork photography was supplied by Vince’s son, who took the cover photo whilst on a visit to the coast. I arranged it with text in a nice rounded typeface called Blippo.

CD case inlay artwork

A Short Walk On A Long Pier is now available to download from iTunes, Amazon, etc.

We’re currently in rehearsals and song writing but do have some gigs coming up and are looking for some radio airplay in the meantime.

NewQuay Times is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/newquaytimes

That’s all for now folks.

NewQuay adventures in music

February 7, 2012

Last year I was asked if I’d like to form a new band, contributing my drumming, song-writing and music production skills. I jumped at the chance having already seen and heard vocalist and guitarist, Sarah performing at the local theatre group. I’d been looking to get some female vocal performances for a few of my songs so this was a perfect chance to execute an ambition. With Sarah’s powerful and wide ranging voice I felt we already had a head start.

We are called NewQuay Times. Why? Because Sarah and her Dad, Vince (guitar) enjoyed visits to Newquay in Cornwall and I enjoy visits to New Quay in Ceredigion, Wales.

We already have one gig under our belt which went particularly smoothly considering our relative infancy. We’ve been rehearsing regularly now in preparation for recording a demo tape (for tape, read: CD or MP3!). NewQuay Times consists of drums, guitar, bass (Stu), and vocals and our influences range from Tom Petty and The Cranberries, through to Belly and Band of Horses. We have been combining covers with a lot of brand new material which, as mentioned, we shall be recording in the next few weeks.

So far the new music has been developing really well with plenty of creative input from all members. This balance of input is important for the band, in order that we all have a chance to make our mark on the team effort.

For me it’s been great to rework some of old songs that I wrote over ten years ago and adapt them to a new band situation. And yes, this does involve actually writing out the lyrics and chords properly for others to follow!

Our next gig is at the 12 Bar in Swindon on Saturday 25th February. We are one of 4 bands as part of the new 12 Bar Introducing Live event for unsigned artists. Watch this space for more NewQuay Times developments and/or follow us on Facebook or MySpace.

Cheers for now.

I recently completed the sound post production at Dreambase Studios on British Independent Horror film, Harsh Light of Day. Directed by Oliver Milburn and produced by Emma Biggins at Multistoryfilms. I worked with them to create a dynamic, theatrical mix that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

SYNOPSIS: After returning home from the launch of his book about the occult, Daniel Shergold’s house is broken into by thugs, who beat his wife to death and leave him paralyzed. A depressed agoraphobic in his secluded country cottage, Daniel mourns the death of his wife while being cared for by home nurse, Fiona. He is unable to accept the lack of success the police have in finding his wife’s killers. Daniel accepts a visit from a mysterious stranger who insists he can help him reap revenge. He agrees and is thrown into a strange and horrific transition into darkness. With renewed strength, Daniel sets out to avenge his wife’s murder, but at what cost?

From the outset HLOD needed a soundtrack that was set ‘completely in reality’ one minute and then going ‘off on one’ the next. These dynamics were intended to give the viewer a full gamut of aural experiences, from a comfortable almost anodyne setting to uncertain, or at times excruciating pieces.

Shooting outdoors and on the coast presented the usual sound issues, so wild tracks, Foley recordings and sound design were used extensively to convey the appropriate sentiment in these scenes, from water lapping on a pebbly beach to the atmosphere of a dock yard. In contrast, the ‘sound’ of the house in the film is almost silent, again to emphasise the isolation of the cottage and to ensure the film exhibited plenty of sound dynamics.

The film’s producer Emma Biggins commented at the premiere: ‘the screening went really well tonight – looked and sounded fantastic’

HLOD is released in cinemas on Friday 13th April 2012 and the theatrical trailer can be seen here:

I recently completed some music compositions and a sound mix for Stephanie Palmer’s documentary about asthma sufferer Lisa and the steps she’s taken to cope with the condition. Called ‘Lisa’s Story: On My Sleeve’, the documentary was made as part of a series of films for Asthma UK and Big Up Your Chest TV to highlight the condition and how it affects the lives of those who suffer with asthma.

The guitar pieces for the film were intended to be simple and light-hearted but also to have a thoughtful tone and feel. This was designed to convey the subject matter and Lisa in the best possible way, and to complement Stephanie’s editing style. The edit audio from Final Cut was remixed and treated to reduce the large amounts of location interference from pedestrians and other building-related sounds. Extra ambience was added to add emphasis to the different locations in the film.

The film can be seen here: