Studiolån

For 9 år siden gikk jeg ut av Lydskolen og starta mitt eget lydfirma. Samtidig ble jeg kastet ut i boligmarkedet for første gang. Begge deler krever endel investeringer.

Hadde jeg vært tøff, hadde jeg gått til banken og spurt om lån til å investere i firmaet. Og leid bolig fram til firmaet ga nok inntekter til å investere i noe eget. Men jeg valgte selvsagt å investere i egen bolig.

I disse 9 årene har bolig i Oslo gitt nesten like høy avkastning som aksjer. Nå er jeg iferd med å flytte og har nettopp solgt boligen med rentefri gevinst, og plutselig så skjønner jeg hvorfor Norge ikke vinner på innovasjon: det lønner seg ikke. Folk satser på bolig i stedet.

Heldigvis har jeg alltid klart å bruke litt av overskuddet til å investere tilbake i firmaet, men ikke uten å ofre noe. I begynnelsen brukte jeg studielånet til å kjøpe meg min første fostex-opptaker, og når det var brukt opp så måtte jeg spise tørt kneipbrød resten av måneden. Senere fikk jeg kjæreste og fant ut at jeg måtte ha smør på vårt felles brød, men det gikk lang tid før jeg ga opp ideen om at stua måtte ha høyttalerne 40% inn i rommet for å få best mulig lyd. (akkurat der det er perfekt å plassere et spisebord!) Idag er jeg voksen og vant til en viss levestandard, men det sitter fortsatt langt inne å unne seg noe luksus når det er mikrofoner du gjerne skulle ha kjøpt..

Ifjor fant jeg ut at det var lettere å få til de investeringene man ønsker om man samarbeider med noen andre. Jeg slo meg sammen med en dyktig kollega som har bygd seg opp som produsent og studiotekniker, og vi lagde Mikkis Recording Company. Nå er vi iferd med å ferdigstille en opptaksrigg som er så bra at vi kan spise rekesmørbrød med god samvittighet.

Snart flytter jeg inn i den nye leiligheten også.

Posted in Uncategorized

Back to business

The first weeks of janurary are usually quiet for me, there are not many concerts and events right after christmas, people want to stay home, work on their new-year resolutions and save money. Last wednesday I started the concert-season with Bjørvika Business Band, an entertaining big-band based on graduates from NHH in Bergen.

IMG_1513

I was there only as a substitute-engineer, but these former buisness-students were (of course) very organised, making my job easy, and (hopefully) business as usual for them. They had a complete set-up with technical equipment including the new notorious Behringer x32 mixer which I used for the first time.
Actually I think this mixer was a good match for this job (we used all 32 channels;) speaking of workflow there was not much I lacked compared to the more expensive alternatives. I really enjoyed the RTA on the EQ, which gives a visual representation of the frequencies that you work with, not only making the job of Equalization easier, its also a great tool for learning more about audio. More mixer-companies should implement the same thing in their products. The x-32 also had some useful effects apart from the usual reverb and delays: the transient-shaper is a “must-have” when the kick-drum has no hole in the skin: remove some sustain and the kick becomes drier. Unfortunately you can’t do the same with a gate because the kick is too dynamic to set the treshold right.. I also enjoyed the “aural-exciter” effect on vocals, its a trick to make the vocals brighter without making the sound as harsh as a normal EQ can do with high-boost.
I only wish that the mixer had more than 8 effect-slots, hopefully in the future the progress in CPU-power will make this an easy task. Another small criticism is that the patching is not so configurable, when using a stage-box I couldn’t use a talkback-mic through one of the 32 channels, meaning that I couldn’t use my own voice to test the effects, routing etc. Instead I had to use the dedicated talkback-input which is directly routed to the outputs.
The Business-Band made a great show for the company that hired them, and if I worked with events I would definelitely consider hiring a big-band like that; a big-band has a lot more impact on the audience than a DJ or a small band can have, especially after a long and boring day of seminars. And because they are so well organised they dont require much extra work from the promoters: just give them a big enough stage and they will take care of everything else.

IMG_1516

Thursday saw the season-opening for Riksscenen, the best place in Oslo to hear traditional Norwegian music. This time they had a dancing-event where the audience was invited to dance to solo-performances on stage. Riksscenen do an important job to keep these old Norwegian traditions alive. On the other hand they are not afraid to expose this old music with the modern world, as I mentioned earlier, just the fact that the music is amplified through a professional PA-system means that evolving is unavoidable. This season they have a mixed program with some really strong headlines, the most anticipated concert is perhaps on 10. may when the popular pop/folk-band Valkyrien Allstars will celebrate their 10-years jubilee at Riksscenen.

IMG_1524On friday I went back to the Music-academy with my colleague Audun Rødsten, to record Grieg Opus 17 on solo grand-piano .
These 25 tunes are highly inspired by Norwegian folk-music. Now I just got an idea: when the recordings are finished edited and made public, perhaps I should send a copy to Riksscenen hoping for a piano-concert of the same piece? The piano is not much used in norwegian folk-music, making this composition highly interesting for the folk-music community.

IMG_1527On saturday I went to Cosmopolite to mix the sound for the second day of the Django-festival.

full concert-hall of 400, 3 bands, dbx 160a on the piano and a soundcraft-analog mixer. I used to work a lot for Cosmopolite, and it was great to be back for this special event.

Posted in Uncategorized

La oss bli enige om hva som er god lyd

Tidligere skrev jeg at det burde være flere faste stillinger for oss som jobber med konserter og arrangementer. Men nå som jeg har vært ansatt i 6 måneder i et vikariat ser jeg at dette ikke alltid er like lett: arbeidsmiljøloven gjør det vanskelig å opprette faste stillinger som baserer seg på ubekvem arbeidstid. “We work when other people play”, som et lydfirma sa det. I vår bransje er det vanlig at én person gjennomfører ett prosjekt, foreksempel én lydtekniker på én konsert. Når et arrangement kan ta alt fra 4 til 20 timer, blir det umulig å forholde seg til normale 8-timersdager. Før jul hadde jeg et oppdrag på en festival fra kl 8-24. En fast ansatt hadde neppe fått lov til å jobbe like lenge. Kulturhuset som hyrte meg inn som frilanser trengte bare å sende meg en mail så var problemet løst.

Men hadde det vært mulig å dele denne 16 timers jobben inn i 2 vakter? Da kunne plutselig faste ansatte ha gjort den samme jobben. Slik gjøres det i andre yrker hvor arbeidsdagen fortsetter etter kl. 16: på sykehusene blir pasientene behandla hele døgnet og personalet følger en turnus. Hvorfor kan ikke vår bransje gjøre noe av det samme?

For at flere leger skal jobbe med den samme pasienten, avhenger det av at de har den samme kompetansen, og at det er god informasjonsflyt mellom dem. For ett år siden var jeg pårørende til en pasient, og det var mange leger som delte på ansvaret for behandlingen. I prinsippet skal alt legen trenger å vite om pasienten stå i pasientjournalen. I praksis erfarte jeg allikevel at pasientjournalen ikke ble brukt for det den var verdt, og at legene foretrakk å spørre om det samme på nytt, framfor å lese om det i journalen. En gang ba en sykepleier oss om å minne legen på noen tekniske detaljer (om et eller annet jeg i ikke husker) fordi hun mente at det var sannsynlig at legen ikke ville lese om det i journalen. Dette var et ekstremt tilfelle som lett kunne ha ført til feilbehandling, og det skjedde bare én gang, men det var tydelig for meg at legene var flinkere til å skrive i journalen enn de var til å lese den. Hvorfor ville ikke legene bruke 5 minutter på å lese journalen før pasientbesøket? Er det latskap? Er det fordi legene har en manglende tiltro til hverandre, eller til skriften, at det er visse ting som det er lettere å få fram gjennom samtalen, at legespråket ikke er presist nok til å få fram det som pasienten viser med hele sin tilstedeværelse? Kanskje er det noe som henger igjen fra en tid hvor lengre arbeidsdager gjorde det mulig for pasienten å kun forholde seg til én lege, da pertentlig journalføring ikke var nødvendig fordi informasjonen satt i hodet på legen som hadde ansvaret. Men nå som arbeidsdagene er blitt kortere og det er flere leger per pasient, betyr det at man må sette av en større andel av arbeidsdagen til informasjonsformidling.

Det er litt urettferdig at jeg angriper helsevesenet på denne måten da jeg forøvrig synes de gjør en strålende jobb. Poenget mitt er at det ikke bare er helsevesenet som har godt av bedre informasjonsflyt: i min bransje kunne man helt sikkert fått bort mange av “maratondagene” og dele opp arbeidet i flere vakter, dersom man hadde blitt flinkere til å overta for hverandre. Utfordringen er å bli enige om hva som skal gjøres, å finne et felles språk. Mye av den tekniske og spesielt den kunstneriske kompetanse sitter i hodet og kroppen på hver enkelt, og vi klarer ikke å sette ord på det på en fornuftig måte. Det vanskeligste er å overta en lydprøve etter en annen: hvordan kan man forklare til nestemann hva slags lydbilde bandet skal ha? Kan dette sidestilles med legen som skriver i journalen hvordan operasjonen skal utføres? Skepsisen mot “journalføring” er nok mye større i kreative yrker enn hva den noensinne har vært i helsevesenet. De fleste som overtar for en annen tekniker vil foretrekke å prøve seg fram med egne kunstneriske løsninger, framfor å følge slavisk det som er blitt gjort av den forrige teknikeren. Men i likhet med helsevesenet tror jeg at vi kan bli flinkere til å jobbe videre med det arbeidet som alt er blitt gjort, og at vi ikke alltid trenger å være en gjeng med ensomme ulver som hele tiden må finne opp kruttet på nytt. La oss bli enige om hva som er god lyd, så kan dette kanskje bli en jobb med mer normale arbeidstider.

Posted in Uncategorized

Highlights from 2014

Last year I worked 7 months for the Norwegian Music Academy NMH. Apart from lending out equipment to students, looking after projectors and wireless microphones, I also got to work on some interesting concerts with the promising music-students.
In an earlier blog-texts I wrote that musicians shouldn’t concern themselves too much with the audio-engineering because they should concentrate on the music. However, this fall I worked with some female students who implemented sound-engineering as a part of their musical expression, and I was impressed with how smoothly they did it. Perhaps musicians are better at multitasking than what I feared? They also prove that there is no reason that women should be less technical skilled than men, as Im sure their computer-programs are more complicated than the Soundcraft-console I used to mix them..
Both Hilde Marie Holsen and Live Sollid Schullerud had improvised solo-concerts where they sent their instrument through effects, “exploring the interaction between the trumpet and effects”, as Hilde explains on her soundcloud-page. She is a trumpet-player in the tradition of Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvær, but perhaps she takes the electronic manipulation of the instrument further than her predecessors have done: sometimes the sounds she produces doesn’t resemble the trumpet at all. Her music is lyrical and ambient, slowly developing but never boring partly due to the unexpected sounds created by the electronics.
Live Sollid Schullerud does much of the same thing using her voice as source-material, creating music that might resembles that of voice-pioneer Maja Ratkje. The music is more influenced by the non-melodic noise-genre compared to the trumpet-player Hilde, but she is not afraid of using lush “nordic/ecm” musical soundscapes as well.

IMG_0512Speaking of talent, when Angelina Jordan visited Barnivalen in Kongsberg Jazzfestival, I saw that the 10 year old prodigy was no hype. With no time for soundcheck and an audience of 1500, she seemed to have the stage-authority of an old jazz-diva. Her singing-style was unique, she was free in phrasing and timing but she was never off target, like she was improvising the whole way. With the manager by my side at the mixing-desk I held the vocal fader tighter than I normally would do, but with Angelinas high-quality performance my job was easier than with other singers.

 

IMG_0735

In Kongsberg I also got the chance to work with my childhood-heroes Dance with a Stranger. When I was a kid my father used to have a cassette of them in the car, and got accustomed to their smooth pop-rock style. Amazingly they are still going strong, and in Kongsberg they held a great concert in a sold-out venue. My job was to be in charge of the sound on the stage, making sure that the musicians heard themselves and each other.

 

 

For the sixth consecutive year I was documenting new compositions at the Ultima festival. This year I recorded some concerts in the Jacob Church, which proved to be a great hall for acoustic recordings.
I particularly enjoyed Ingrid Breie Nyhus piano-concert where the piano was processed through digital effects (again!) The music reminded me somewhat of free-improvised piano-music that I like, although the music was all composed.

One thing I like about working with contemporary music (compared to classical) is that there are not so much set rules about the sound, after all its hard to know how it should sound when the piece is never played before. In the composition “Shamisen” by Hikara Kiayama, he wanted the string-quartet in Ensemble Ernst to be amplified like a rock-band. He asked the sound-engineer to overdrive the inputs on his mixing-console to distort the sound. When I brought the recording back to the studio, I discovered that distorted sound doesn’t automatically mean dirty. I processed the strings quite hard through the Massey tapehead-effect, and instead of turning it into a guitar-amplifier, the sound became smoother and easier on the ears at louder listening-levels. The reason for this is simple: distortion adds overtones and frequencies which makes the instrument richer in timbre, meaning that there are less frequencies that stand out and hurt the ears. Just as pink noise is easier on the ears than sinus-tones, strings with the right distortion sounds more pleasant than raw strings when the music is amplified and played back louder than the natural acoustic sound. The violin was made to be an acoustic instrument played with the audience at a certain distance, so when you take the instrument out of its natural context, its not so strange that it helps to manipulate it a little bit.

In Riksscenen I work with a lot of folk-music, and as the genre is evolving its getting mixed with modern amplified music. Perhaps its a good idea to try a little distortion to smooth the strings out? I will definitily explore this further in 2015. Hopefully these experiments will be included in next years highlights;)

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Hvordan gjøre bransjen mer attraktiv for kvinner og innvandrere: opprett flere faste stillinger.

Tidligere i sommer hadde Rhiannon Edwards et innlegg i Dagbladet hvor hun etterspør flere kvinner i de “usynlige” stillingene i musikkbransjen: teknikere, bookingagenter osv. Jeg er glad for at denne debatten kommer, fordi det er åpenbart at det er bra for bransjen om det er bedre kjønnsbalanse. Og det er bra at Edwards og MUO starter med konkrete tiltak for å få inn flere kvinner inn i disse mannsdominerte miljøene.

Jeg har et ønske om at fokuset på kvinnene også kan synliggjøre en enda viktigere problemstilling for oss som allerede har valgt denne bransjen som levevei: arbeidsforholdene vi jobber under. For det hjelper ikke å forsøke å få inn flere kvinner hvis arbeidsforholdene er så dårlige at bransjen uansett taper i konkurransen om de dyktigste ungdommene.

Hvilke karrieremuligheter har f.eks kvinner som velger bort jus-studiet for å istedet studere på NISS og bli lyd eller lys-teknikere? Går det an å leve av dette?

Ja, pleier jeg å svare. Riktignok er det svært vanskelig å få seg fast jobb, så den vanligste måten å livnære seg på er som selvstendig næringsdrivende. Det enkleste er å selge arbeidskaften sin til et større firma som allerede har produksjonsmidler og sluttkunder, og jobbe som såkalt “frilanser”. På papiret er du selvstendig næringsdrivende, men ser du nærmere på arbeidet som utføres så er det somregel lite som minner om næringsvirksomhet: oppdragsgiveren er som en arbeidsgiver som bestemmer når og hvordan arbeidet utføres, og oppdragsgiveren eier alt utstyret som brukes i jobben. Etterhvert når hun har jobbet en stund så merker hun at det er de samme oppdragsgiverne som ringer igjen, og at hun får et slags uformelt fast kundeforhold hos en eller flere av firmaene hun jobber for. Med andre ord, en slags deltidsjobb.

Lyd og lys-firmaene foretrekker å hyre inn selvstendig næringsdrivende fordi de slipper alt styret det er med lønnsmottagere: arbeidsgiveravgift, tariffavtaler osv. De ønsker maksimal fleksibilitet og konkurransen som oppstår når teknikerne aldri er sikret mer enn neste oppdrag. For teknikerne, derimot, er dette en dårlig deal: når de ikke er ansatte så havner de utenfor alt det som arbeidstakerorganisasjonene kjemper for, de kan ikke beskytte seg med arbeidsmiljøloven, og de må akseptere en betydelig risiko i arbeidstilværelsen.

Jeg mener at det er god grunn til å se nærmere på lyd og lysbransjen sin bruk av såkalte “frilansere”, og jeg tror det er fullt mulig å opprette flere faste stillinger som kan erstatte mye av bruken av selvstendige arbeidere. For eksempel, hvis jeg jobber regelmessig for et kulturhus gjennom flere sesonger, hvorfor kan de ikke tilby meg en fast jobb? Den kan godt være 25-50%, skattemessig er det nemlig svært gunstig å kombinere lønns med næringsvirksomhet. På den måten får jeg en tryggere arbeidshverdag, uten at kulturhuset nødvendigvis taper veldig mye penger: det er naturlig at utbetalt lønn er lavere enn et honorar til selvstendige næringsdrivende.

Ved å opprette flere faste stillinger blir bransjen mer attraktiv for ungdom som skal bestemme seg for hva de skal bli. Og hvis flere av teknikerne får muligheten til å melde seg inn i en fagforening så blir det langt lettere å regulere bransjen.  Kanskje er dette det mest effektive integreringstiltaket vi kan gjøre for å flere til å satse på denne karriereveien. Da tenker jeg ikke bare på kvinner, for også innvandrere er totalt underrepresentert blant lyd og lysteknikerne..

Posted in Uncategorized

Lydmenn som hjelper kvinnelige musikere

I sommer har det rast en debatt om hvorfor det er så få kvinner i musikkbransjen. En av årsakene som blir gitt av både Monica Heldal og Frida Ånnevik, er at de som kvinnelige frontfigurer i band har blitt stigmatisert av lyd og sceneteknikere som jobber med dem på konsert, de undervurderer deres lyd-tekniske kompetanse når de plugger til Frida Ånneviks egen medbragte mikrofon. Dette er med på å sementere holdningen om at kvinner er ubehjelpelige med alt som har med teknikk å gjøre, og da blir det vanskeligere for kvinner å være selvstendige artister.

For disse artistene er det altså viktig å kunne noe om lydteknikk. Dagens artister må ha mer enn musikalske ferdigheter, de må kunne mye om lyd, lys, og annet som er enda mer perifert fra det de lærer på musikerutdanningene: markedsføring, twitter, regnskap, ja, i det hele tatt må de kunne drifte en liten bedrift. I og med at det kjøpes stadig færre plater så blir det også mindre penger til å outsource disse arbeidsoppgavene.

For eksempel så blir studiobransjen overtatt av musikerne selv. Når Kirkelig kulturverksted melder at de ikke lenger finansierer studioinnspillinger, viser de hvordan den tidligere så mektige platebransjen nå blir nødt til å fraskrive seg ansvar for å overleve. Tilbake står artisten som ikke kan ha selvrespekt med mindre hun viser at hun også har kontroll på det lyd-tekniske.

Det store spørsmålet mitt blir: om dagens fremadstormende musikere fort blir “poteter” som ikke får tid og rom til å utvikle det som tross alt er kjernen i det de holder på med: musikken. Og når kvinner prøver å slå igjennom så kan de lett bli offer for det såkalte “flink-pike syndromet”, dersom de hele tiden føler at de må mestre alle sider ved det å være musikere. Hvorfor skal Monica Heldal føle behov for å overbevise meg om at hun kan jobben min? (jeg jobber som lydtekniker) Og hvorfor kan ikke Frida Ånnevik la meg plugge til mikrofonen hennes slik at hun kan konsentrere seg om viktigere ting? Istedenfor for å henge ut lydteknikeren som et symbol på patriarkiske maktstrukturer, bør hun være takknemlig for at det fortsatt finnes yrker som sørger for at hun slipper å gjøre absolutt alt på egenhånd.

Posted in Uncategorized

Drum-buss compressor test

 

bilde I’ve bought some new analog stereo-compressors, so I wanted to carry out some tests to see if they will really make a difference when I work as a concert-sound engineer. The truth is, working in this digital world I don’t really need analog compressors, unless of course my new boxes sound considerably better than the standard compressors that are included in the most common digital mixers. I wanted to test them compressing the drum-submix, as I feel that this is where the quality of the compressors can make the most difference.

The debate goes on whether you should compress the individual drums or all the drums together, but for me the obvious answer is to do a little bit of both. For example, if the drummer can’t keep a consistent level on the snare-drum, try some compression on the snare.. but if you over-compress it the snare may loose its impact, and you bring in a lot of bleed from the other instruments into the snare-mic, particularly from the hi-hat. By letting 2 compressors share the job, you don’t need to push each compressor that hard, meaning you are less likely to get compression-artifacts. And the hi-hat bleed from snare-drum mic will be less of a problem because the bus-compression don’t vary the level between the individual drum-channels.
Besides, drum-buss compression can bring its own unique sound-caracter thats hardly achieved any other way, a certain “glue” to the whole drum set, the feeling that only one drummer is behind it all. And this is perphaps where you really see the “personality” of the compressor..

Ok, lets unveil the mystery, bring in the audio-clips! (to paraphrase the famous football-commentator Ivar Hoff: “nothing in this world is as honest as real audio-examples.”) I use the same guinea-pig as with my channel-strip test; the concert from the up and coming Norwegian indie-rock band.

this is the “dry” drums, i tried to leave it as unprocessed as possible, only a couple of DB compression on the snare-mic.

In the compressed clips I used these settings:
-long attack (60 ms) in order not to kill the transients from the snare
-short release (100 ms or less) to bring out the ambience, give the compression some caracter, and make sure that no hihat-hits are “drowned” when the hi hat is played shortly after a snare-hit
-a ratio of about 3:1
-in order to really hear the compressors working, I compressed harder than I normally would, about 10DB reduction on the loudest parts. (usually 4 db is enough)

Below is the DYN3, the default Pro-tools compressor:

This is perhaps the type of compressor you will get in an average digital mixing console, and the compressor my analog boxes should beat.. First, lets compare it with a more expensive plugin, the Waves version of the Fairchild 670 compressor:

it think you can hear that the fairchild-compressor is smoother and more consistent where the Dyn3 is pumping in a non-musical manner.

Now lets go out of the box and bring in the first analog competitor: the Really Nice Compressor:

perphaps not as smooth and unrestrained as the Fairchild, you can hear the compression, but unlike Dyn3 the “pumping” is tighter and more coherent.. now the Dyn3 sounds out of control. After repeated listening, I notice that the cymbals sounds a little distorted on the Fairchild, whereas the RNC keeps the high-end more natural.

The RNC also has a setting called the “super-nice mode“:

my initial thought is that i left the compressor in bybass-mode, cause i can’t hear it working.. but after comparing it to the dry-sample, the snare-drum hits don’t stick out that much and the dynamics are more under control. The “super-nice mode” does the job unobtrusively but perhaps thats too boring for my taste?

From the left comes the Overstayer FET:

This box has some features that are very useful for drum-buss, which the other compressors on this list lacks:
1. high pass on the side-chain makes it less likely that the compressor will drown the bass-drum
2. dry/wet control makes parallel compression possible.
With these two features enabled, the signal coming out of the box is compressed but still very punchy, and it brings out the nice ambience from the drum set.

From the right we bring the Calrec dl2934:

To get the most out of this compressor I also used its limiter to shave off some peaks on the snare..
I really like how the bottom end and the bass-drum sounds through this compressor, it sounds big and powerful, even when I push the compressor more than I usually would, in fact its almost as the bottom becomes bigger the more I push the box. Its a very pleasing, coherent sound signature, tight and musical.

Conclusions
The analog-boxes are useful, they still beat the default digital compressors. (but if they beat plugin-emulations of analog gear thats another story.. anyway, thats not so important for me cause I don’t have access to them when I work in the field) I can use the RNC if I want some really transparent compression, and the Calrec or the Overstayer is another trick up my sleeve.. however, all things considered, how much does the drum-compressor really matter if I use it more conservatively, as i normally would? Because I already bought these boxes its easy for me to justify it afterwards. We all knew that I would end up defending my opportunistic investments. In fact, why am I even spending time writing this review? .. when I could be out in the sun or be less ambitious and watch Tour De France on television.. todays stage 12 is a chance for Peter Sagan to strike back and win the sprint. Sagan has been very close to winning so far in the Tour, particularly on stage 7 where only the photo-finish could separate him from the winner Matteo Trentin. Afterwords some people calculated that the difference between them was so small that Sagan would have won if he only had worn the new type aerodynamic helmet. For some reason Peter Sagans team was not on the cutting edge of helmet-technology, and this lost them the victory.
The devil is in the details.
I listen to the sound-examples again, and think that the subtle differences between the DYN3 and the Calrec sometimes really do matter, and, some beautiful day, the Calrec compressor will be my aerodynamic helmet in this nerdy field of sound-engineering.

Posted in Uncategorized

Will my new boxes really improve the sound?

Working with live-sound, I mostly work in places that have all the equipment that is required, so there is no need for me to bring my own gear. But in the past I have felt the urge to pimp up these sound-systems with my own boxes, partly because Ive felt that something has been lacking in the sound, and I wanted to bring some gear that I always would be familiar with and perphaps give me a “signature” of my own. I decided to limit myself to a high-quality external vocal-channel strip, because here I felt there was most room for improvement compared to the channel-strips that are already included in the usual live-sound mixers. After some research I went for these boxes:

UTA MPEQ-1 preamp and EQ
SPL Dynamaxx compressor and Dual mode De-esser

To justify the cost and the hassle it is to carry and connect these boxes, they really should make a difference to the sound. Lets find out if they do!

The vocal-sound that you hear in your favourite records are clear and crisp without sounding harsh and sibilant. It should be in front of the mix without hurting your ears. The easiest thing to try is perhaps to increase all the high frequencies to make it stand out.. But this simple approach will drag up a lot of dirt, ugly, nasal sounds that you dont want.. some engineers will therefefore add a multiband-compressor that will make sure that no frequencies stand out, they will particularily pay attention to the high-mid area around 3 kHz where the ears are most sensitive, and 7 khz where most of the sibilants are. Ive seen live-sound engineers use the Waves-plugin C6 with great success, producing clear, smooth vocals.  But used too hard multiband-compressors can produce an over-washed, boring sound without any edge, so I decided to go for more a more classic apporach.

The main asset of the UTA EQ is that you can combine shelf and parametric filters to create some unique filter types. Playing around with the EQ, I soon found a high-shelf that was much more aggressive than what you usually find on mixers. With a boost of 2DB at 4.3khz, the actual EQ-curve looks like this (with HP filter engaged):


With just one knob I make a combination of dip at 3 khz, peak at 5-6 khz, and high-shelf filter. With small adjustments this filter would work on a lot of sources, first you place the shelf so that it peaks at the ugly resonance in the high-mid, basically you try to make the vocal as nasal and screaming as possible.. then you move the filter an half octave or so over this area, and voila, the sound can really open up. (Blend to taste, dont overdo it as the sound can become thin. Sometimes a couple of DB is enough) Another cool thing about this EQ is that you can combine this with a “resonant low-pass filter” to boost the very highest frequencies (higher than the sibilants) to create that modern in-your-face pop-vocal sound:

Ive brought this box to a couple of concerts and feel that Ive found a workflow that quickly gives me a nice EQ-ed vocal sound.. but still the question remains, could I get the same results just by tweaking the standard EQ at the mixing desk? To answer this I tried to emulate the UTA-eq using the standard Avid EQ3 that comes with Pro Tools. This eq should be quite similar to the ones found in digital mixers. And it is one of few standard EQs I know where you can make “resonant shelf-filters” which resembles the one I made with the UTA. After some tweaking the curves matched pretty well:

perphaps some of you would like to see what I did to the Avid EQ as well:

This settings look dramatic compared to the “2 DB” shelf on the UTA-eq. The high-end is pretty hyped! Note also that I needed an extra band of EQ to create the dip at 3 kHz

 

 

 

Lets see how it really sounds, and if there are any differences between the expensive analog EQ and the cheap digital-EQ. Im using a vocal-sample from a live-recording I did of a norwegian indie-rock band

original
uta eq
digi eq

The difference between the digital Avid and the analog UTA EQ is subtle.. not something that will make a substantial improvement in a live-concert situation. My conclusion so far is, that it should be possible to achieve much of the same results with a digital eq as with the analog UTA, but because of the great flexibility in the filter-types of the UTA, I may achieve good results quicker if I bring my UTA. And it never hurts with some smooth transformers in the signal-chain..

Hovewer, the EQ is only part of the story, the vocals really needs a compressor and a de-esser too. Not only to control the overall sound-level, but a good compressor can make the vocal-sound more consistent. Lets add our SPL compressor-box to the mix, and listen to the results! To really hear it working i gave the vocals 8-9 DB of compression:

spl + uta
spl com digi eq

Im pretty happy with the results! With the compressor the vocal sounds fuller without losing its sparkle. Now lets insert a digital compressor instead, I chose the compressor found in the default channel-strip in Pro Tools, as this should resemble the ones found in digital mixers. I used standard settings for attack, release and ratio, and gave it about 9 DB of compression

digi eq digi komp

Ouch.. this sounds terrible! I really managed to destroy the vocals. The sound is inconsistent, pumping, the plosives are louder than before.. now its really obvious that the vocalist is popping the microphone! and the sparkle in the high frequencies is lost. Even when I try to optimize the attack and release-setting it doesn’t help much. Its impossible to achive the same results with the digital compressor as compared to the analog Dynamaxx.

The Dynamaxx just has two knobs, one for compression level and one for makeup-gain. Most of the behaviour is automatic: attack and release changes with the program-material, and the “compression level” both affects the treshold and the ratio. In use, the Dynamaxx is one of the fastest compressors Ive heard, the wave-files shows that it compresses a lot of the transients, but, unlikely many other compressors, the live-ness of the highend remains intact. It really shines on acoustic guitar, where short attack-settings  usually kills the string-sounds of the guitar and makes it become boomy.. but not so with this compressor. I cant explain why, but it probably has something to do with the auto-sensing attack/release that makes it behave different to the “body” of the sound as compared to the attack of the strings, in this way it reminds me slightly of a multiband compressor.

To conclude, I think these boxes will improve the sound of the lead-vocal, both because of the sound-quality in these boxes, and because they simplify my workflow. And, perhaps more importantly, it feels really cool to see some vu-meters moving and touch some real analog knobs in this digital era. I remember when I was 10 I was playing football with my brother, and despite it not being an official training, he asked me to wear proper football-clothes “because it will make you feel better and then you will play better”. I still believe in this placebo-effect.

Posted in Uncategorized

Highlights from 2013

Last year I was lucky to be involved with many interesting projects and musicians. Here are some highlights:

Musikkbaren, NMH
This is a concert-series that repeats every second tuesday at the cafeteria in the music-academy NMH. Its an informal setting where students and teachers from the school can showcase their own projects, and sometimes experiment with new settings. This may sound a little academic and boring, but the quality of the music is surprisingly good, and the diversity of the music always makes the evenings unpredictable and interesting: in one night you can hear folk music, jazz and a solo classical piece. I was working there some nights in the spring, and I witnessed many bands and musicians that Im sure will have a high influence on the Norwegian music-scene in the years to come

The ylvis show, october
Did I talk with Bård? Yes! (I asked him to move his feet) Did I touch his guitar? Almost! (at least I attached his DI-box) Did I feel star-struck? A little.. Truth be told, my part in this TV-show was very small: I just worked as a substitute house-technician, rolling cables and helping the maestro Øystein Karlsen at FOH. But still I feel proud of being a part of the most successful Norwegian pop or comedy group in 2013. And to save space on my CV, I will just write: “I have worked with Ylvis.”

Erlend Apneseth, artist in residence at Riksscenen in october
I work alot in Riksscenen, “The Norwegian Hub for Traditional Music and Dance”. Although I really like the folk traditions, my heart beats a little harder when I experience folk-musicians that are not afraid to experiment and bring their own personal interpretations to the music. The young fiddle-player Erlend Apneseth is deeply rooted in the Norwegian “slåtte” traditions, but after the first few notes of his solo-concert I realised that he has moved beyond being just a keeper of the traditions: he has found his own unique voice and playing style. He was playing softer than you would expect, but the intensity was so high, and he immediately grabbed the whole attention of the room. It was clear to me that I was working with a very special talent.

Ultima festival for contemporary music
For the past 5 years we have been responsible for documentating world premieres at the Ultima-festival, the biggest festival for contemporary music in Norway. Although the purpose of the recording is just documenting, I strive to make the listening-experience as enjoyable as possible. The post-processing always takes more time than what I plan for, and I get the chance to really get to know the music in a different way than the concert-audience who hear the pieces only once. I feel lucky because I think that alot of this music really benefits from repeated listening, there are so many details that are lost when you hear it the first time..
This year we recorded 8 concerts, and this included vocal/piano duos, pieces for 6 pianos, a pop-suite by Nils Bech, and a concert/multimedia performance of Nadar Ensemble. On youtube you can see a video from one of the compositions in the concert of Nadar Ensemble in Jacobskirken:

 

Rein Alexander, private event, december
Rein Alexander is very busy before christmas, being part of a successful christmas-concert tour. Therefore, when he was performing in a small company-event in between his touring-days, you could expect him to be lazy, tired and unmotivated. After all, this gig wouldnt exactly make or break his career..  However, before the concert I spent some time with him, and I noticed that he was mentally preparing and building up the tension and almost seemed a little nervous, as if this was an important concert in the Royal Albert hall. I thought to myself, this is the attitude that I want to adapt: threat every job with the same importance. And his performance was of course excellent, he came to me afterwords and praised the sound, but I told him that my job is easy when you work with such talented and hard working musicians.
Rein was also a very nice and talkative person, and he shared some stories that I cannot tell in public:)

I wish you all a happy new year!

Posted in Uncategorized

Holiday recordings

This summer I have had the chance to record some interesting “serious” music. For the past year or so Ive been working as a live-sound engineer for the music-academy in Oslo (nmh), and lately the students and teachers have also been asking for my recording-services. After recording one of her students exam-concerts, the classical pianist Kristin Fossheim decided to book some recording-sessions in more controlled environments.

The studio-recording sessions were quite different from the concert-recording: without audience, we had the chance to divide the music into smaller parts and make several takes until it was perfect. Later, in the studio, one must choose the best takes and compile them together. An edited 17 minutes sonata looks something like this:

Luckily for me, Kristin did a great job both as a musician and a producer. After some intense days in the studio, where I got the chance to use my Pro-Tools chops, we had produced 3 sonatas by Henry Vieuxtemps, Arnljot Kjeldaas and Zoltan Kodaly.

The sonata by Kjeldaas, “Sonate for bratsj og klaver”, is historically interesting: written during the second world war, its an attempt to describe the German invasion of Norway with music. There are not many avaliable recordings of this sonata, and perphaps the recording we did can become important musical documentation? I enjoy listening to the music, and I feel that the this sonata and the composer Arnljot Kjeldaas deserves higher recognition.

As a part of her P.h.d. project at NMH, cellist Tanja Orning is producing videos with her playing contemporary music by composers such as Simon-Stene Andersen and Morton Feldman. 4 days of recording will be edited later this autumn.

Jazzdrummer and composer Dag Magnus Narvesen gathered his octet and recorded some new tunes right before he packed his things and moved to Berlin. The recording was done in a rehearsal-room that we usually would consider too small for a live-recording of such a large band: only 35 square meters and low ceiling. In the mix, however, we decided to use the “small-room sound” to our advantage: by turning up the room-microphones, (mkh8020) the recording became more alive and realistic. You could really feel that the band was in the same room playing together.. In the end we decided not to add any artificial reverb, and use very little Eq and compression. I feel we managed to make a natural, somewhat unpolished sound, that fits the music. Small rooms can have a certain flair that is difficult to re-create with artificial reverb.

The music can be described as modern, energetic jazz in the heritage of Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, and fellow Stavanger-townsman Per Zanussi. Dag Magnus is a talented composer and band-leader, and the young band is playing great. I really hope that he manages to keep the band together after he moves to Berlin..

The tunes from the recording-session will soon be avaliable online.

Posted in Uncategorized