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.

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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.

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.

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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

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.

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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!

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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.

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The use of Watt and DB-meters in cycling and professional audio

I like watching Tour De France in the summer. Last year was dominated by the diesel-train of Team Sky leading the peleton, with guys like Edvald Boasson Hagen and Michael Rogers keeping a steady, high pace up the mountains. With Bradley Wiggins already in the yellow jersey, all they needed to do was to take charge of the peleton and make it difficult for the competing teams to attack. Day after day the same sight: our national hero calmly leading the cyclists up the beautiful alpine landscapes. A little boring perphaps, but for me the suspence was always there: I knew that the attack would come. And then suddenly in the middle of stage 11 in the climb of Glandon, Cadel Evans jumped up from his seat and said goodbye to the race leader, However, he would not be on the offensive for very long: the patient Sky-train used their high ”default” pace to slowly reel him in. In the end, Evans was so tired from his attack that he lost ground to the leaders.

After the stage, Michael Rogers was interviewed about the attack of Cadel Evans, and he said something interesting that changed the way I look at cycling, sport, and even sound-engineering. (Unfortunately I cant find the interview online, so this is from memory only) Basically, he said that Evans attack was doomed to fail.

Most professional cyclists have a watt-meter attached to their bicycle that tells them how much power they are putting into their pedals. In cycling this can be a very reliable tool, because almost all their power is transferred into moving forward, whereas in other sports like running or cross-country skiing, the relationship between the human
effort and the movement of the skiier/runner is much more difficult to calculate. To pedal the bike, especially uphill, is really easy, (even I can do it well) and even though Lance Armstrong often has spoken about the importance of cadence, its not the cycling-technique that separates the competitors cycling up the mountains, what matters is the watt-power they can produce. And with the progress of science in the sports, this (watt) number has become more and more predictable: When Michael Rogers saw that Cadel Evans was attacking, he was already pedaling with a high watt-output, and he knew that if he just maintained his high power, it would be physically impossible for Cadel Evans to win the stage. You just cant beat the numbers.

I have a friend who participates in amateur cycling-races, and he gave me some insights to the mind of the cyclist: When he goes uphill, its very difficult for him to use his intuition to find the right steady pace: if he feels good and goes a little too fast for a prolonged period, he will suddenly bonk. His senses deceive him, he is better off trusting his watt-meter.

The latest doping-revelations have revealed that professional cycling is more about numbers and less about “coming back from cancer” physiological factors. With EPO you can calculate your increase in watt-power and adjust your pace accordingly. Depending on the level of doping, and your natural hemoglobin-values, a normal boost is a predictable 10% in watt-output. Clean cyclists could not possibly compete with these numbers.

In the 2000s, EPO was replaced with a less tracable doping-method: Blood-transfusion. The physichal effects were similar: increased oxygen-level in the blood gives better endurance. But in the biography of Tyler Hamilton, he describes some differences between EPO and blood-doping that I find highly interesting: Users of EPO have reported that using the drug has a psychological effect: you dont feel that you exhaust yourself so much. In the ninetees you see people crossing the finish-line with no sign of fatiguee.. the winner can go straight to the podium, have a drink, and live a sociable life. (well, almost) Perphaps this is one of the reason why the drug was so popular: it took away some of the suffering from the sport and made it more human.
But blood-transfusion doesnt give you the same “psychological boost” as EPO. This is what Hamilton writes about his first race with blood-transfusion in(i-phone book “The Secret Race page 404:)
“It would take me a couple of years to figure this out, but I hadnt yet learned how my body reacted to a transfusion, When you have more red blood-cells, your body doesnt obey the same rules: you can go harder than you think you can. Your body might be screaming the same old way, but you can push through if you ignore all those signals and just ride. Later I would learn how to do that ”

Because Hamilton was a rider who had always been able to push his body beyond suffering, he could take fully advantage of blood doping, and he would beat riders who could not adapt to this new way of bodily punishment. It is not a coincidence that his career peaked in the zenith of the blood-doping era: in 2004 he won olympic gold in Athens, his biggest sporting achievment.

Why am I writing all this? Isnt this a blog specifically about sound-engineering? Yes, lets not digress too much. Perphaps you think that I just want to show that I have more interests besides my job.. But still, I feel that there is a connection between cycling and my work as a sound engineer.

Most importantly, watching cycling reminds me that my work is highly physical:  my ears are not a perfect tool, they are a vulnerable part of the body. If you compare the ears to a high-quality electronic instrument analyzing sound, its almost like comparing the cyclist to the motorbike: the instrument can pick up a lot more information than the human, and with much bigger precision. Nowadays, a lot of sound-engineers relies heavily on these instruments to assist the ears, most notably in live-sound, where people use the program Smaart to optimize the sound-system. Still, there is a lot of debate about using such instruments: the critics argue that the machines cannot know how to adjust sound for the human ear, the same way as robots cannot create music. They say that the only to judge what is pleasing sound for the human is to judge with your own ears.

You cannot disagree with the latter, sound-engineering is not a sport or science, to keep the human and artistic side is very important. (Although, sometimes you wonder if its just a loundess-competition) But still, I think it is very important to keep in mind that our hearing does not excel in all sound-analyzing tasks. Most importantly: How can we judge how loud we can play the sound before our hearing gets damaged? Is it enough make sure that the sound is pleasant for your own ears, and that you get positive reactions from the audience? After all, a professional sound-engineer should have a highly developed sense of hearing to judge these matters..

I fear that using your ears is not enough, and that our hearing can easily deceive us. And I came to this conclusion after watching too much cycling:

A professional cyclist cannot only trust his senses when he decides how fast he will bike up the mountain: His instruments can tell him that he needs to go slower than what he feels is right. And other times, like with Tyler Hamilton and blood-doping, you can ignore the warning-signs from the body and push yourself harder than you thought possible. The relationship between perceived suffering and actual bodily damage is not linear: Sometimes, the pain you feel is not so bad for your body. And other times you dont notice when your body actually gets damaged

Research has proved that loud sounds can damage the hearing, and its often impossible to repair this. If I am responsible for the sound for an audience, I need to make sure that the sound-level is not so high that it is damaging. Probably its not enough for me to just go with the flow and mix as loud as I feel appropriate. Its much safer to rely on an instrument like the db-meter and follow the rules for maximum loudness.

Butwhere are those rules? That topic deserves another blogtext..

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Will Pro Tools strike back at NAMM?

When I went to NISS to learn the secrets of audio-production, learning the software Pro Tools was one of the major subjects, along with electronics, acoustics etc. Almost before we knew what a decibel was, we were sitting in front of a Mac repeating specific shortcuts for the software. Having recently attended the university where independence of education is very important, I was critical of the fact that one software-company had such strong connections to the school. This would give Pro Tools and it`s owner Avid a big advantage against its competitors (cubase, nuendeo etc.)  It would almost force the students to choose Pro Tools as their platform in their future career, to choose another software would mean that the student has wasted a lot of time during the studies: The skills in Pro Tools does not give much “synergy” in other parts of audio production, it`s a complete system for audio studios that has been industry-standard for the past 15 years. Walk into a recording-studio in Nashville, or an audio-editing studio in Hollywood, and you will most likely see a Pro Tools rig. So why worry? Choosing Pro Tools seemed a safe choice, the software is too big and important to ever become irrelevant.. At this time in 2007, Pro Tools was just as reliable as the international banking system.

And so far Pro Tools has held it`s position. The basics of the program hasn`t changed much,  once you learn the workflow, you easily adapt to new versions of the software. Their loyal customers, for example those who come from the Pro-Tools certified audio schools, will not change their software unless they have no other choice. This secures a stable situation for Pro Tools and its owner Avid.

However, there are some skies in the horizon. Looking at the financial situation of Avid, things are not looking promising. Since the release of the latest version of Pro Tools, Pro Tools 10, the stocks at Nasdaq have almost halved in value. Their third quarter results of 2012 reveals that they lost 16-18 million dollars during that time.

This situation can`t continue, and Avid has to find ways to make more money on Pro Tools. Let`s hope they dont do the same with Pro Tools as they did with when they bought the music-compsoing software Sibelius: they sacked the original development-team and replaced them with someone cheaper, resulting in an inferior product.

My cousin is a computer-expert, and he gave me some ideas as to why Pro Tools might be struggling. In general, when software develops over a long period of time and becomes very big, it becomes more difficult to develop: you have so much old code and hardware that needs to be taken into consideration. At one point, a new competitor X can start from scratch and easily make a superior product with the most recent technology. Sometimes X takes over the market, until he also becomes too big and a new brand emerges.. This is a cyclus that is well known in the world of computer-buisness.
And I think it applies to Pro Tools: today they are not always in the cutting edge of technology. For example, they are the only software of its kind who still runs in 32-bit, whereas the competition has moved into 64-bit a long time ago. (The reason for this is that Pro Tools still need to support loyal customers who use old hardware (tdm) that can only use 32-bit.) Meanwhile, small companies like Cockos make software that run much more efficient on modern computers..

In october 2011, Avid launced a new series of hardware, HDX, that would replace the old HD-cards with TDM-plugins. They had to do this because the old cards slowed them down compared to the competition.. But this was a controversial move among their customers, because it forces them to replace all their pro-tools cards within a couple of years. The question is, will all the customers transfer to the new hardware? Although no sales numbers are official, the bad financial situation of Avid suggests that the new HDX-cards have so far not been a success.
The problem with HDX has been that third-party developers have been very slow to make software for the new hardware. Perhaps they don`t have the incentive to help Pro Tools retain its dominating position in the market? New powers are emerging: Apple owns the video software Final Cut and audio-software Logic that both are in direct competition with Avid. Apple are probably not very happy about software-companies making products exclusively for Avid, and who knows what they can do to prevent this..
One company that has publicly proclaimed that they will not support the new hdx-standard (aax-DSP), is the important plugin-manufacturer Waves. They say that supporting AAX-DSP takes 72 man-years, and it`s too much work for them. Instead they prefer to use the VST-standard that can be used in most other Daws.  My guess is that Waves also want to make products that competes with Pro Tools HDX, by developing Sound Grid into a product that uses servers to give extra DSP to DAWS for plugins. (in theory, servers can be much more powerful than HDX-cards.)

Pro Tools can still turn the tide, but they have to act quickly: the upcoming NAMM is the perfect opportunity to strike back. Rumors says that Waves have changed their mind, if they announce aax-plugins for Pro Tools, I am sure that the loyal HD-customers will upgrade to HDX in large numbers. And if Pro Tools announce 64-bit compability they will attract many new customers as well..

But if nothing happens at Namm, I fear that the Avid-stocks will continue to fall. And then who knows what this big commercial company will do with Pro Tools..

So if Pro Tools gets squeezed by its competitors, what happens to audio-schools like NISS that have invested heavily in Pro Tools gear and knowledge? Looking at their website, it seems that they might have plan B ready: Niss is an authorized Apple-school.. Now, if that company fails, that`s another story..

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Will multi-touch in Windows 8 have a big impact on audio-software?

Audio-engineers love the look of big analog recording-consoles. The idea of having all the buttons and faders within arms reach is very appealing, there are no abstract menus and layers to worry about, the engineer has no obstacles between his ideas and the sound. But some times when I walk into a recording studio, the big mixer in the middle of the room looks almost untouched, instead the engineer seems very busy with the mouse and the keyboard. The problem is that the traditional recording-console is not very good at dealing with modern computerized audio-production; its options are too limited, it cant keep up with the pace of the always evolving digital software and hardware.

Hovewer, there have been many attempts to bridge the gap between the computer and the “hands-on” mixer. The “daw-controller” will act as a large remote-controller for the software, with dedicated buttons for important functions. But for me they often lack good interaction with the computer-screen; when I push a button on the controller, I dont know where it will end up on the screen, and vice-versa. This looking around can easily destroy the organic workflow, so I end up either a) just using the controller like a traditional mixer without looking at the screen or b) going back to the mouse and the keyboard (this is just my personal experience, many might disagree) Besides, the daw-controller can easily become obsolete when the software evolves, and I dont want to spend my money that easily (for example: Command8 and C24 will not be supported after Pro Tools 10)

This christmas I have had time to look around for new gadgets, and I found a new favorite:
Steven Slate Raven MTX
With this touchscreen-controlled daw-remote, you get a much better visual overview of what you are controlling. No translation is necessary between the controller and the software being controlled. Tweaking a plugin-emulator of old gear, its almost like touching the real box.  And because you have no physical knobs and faders, you can customize the interface for every task. (for example: when you are editing, you often dont need any faders at all, instead you need full control over the timeline.) The pure screen also means that upgrading is much easier: you just need to change the software.

Maybe its not surprising that the price for this original daw-controller will be high: it is not on the market yet but rumors on forums says it will cost between 16 and 20 thousand dollars. That is less than some of the high-end digital mixers/controllers on the market, but still a lot more than I would like to pay for such functionality. A cheaper alternative is to buy an Ipad with a great app called neyrinck v-control that can remote-control audio software. I wish only that the I-pad screen was a little bit bigger so that it could replace a fullsize mixer, the Ipad can only act as an extension of a different workspace.

While I was dreaming about ways to dig up $20000, like winning in the lottery, or selling my soul to the devil, I noticed a commercial on the television: Windows 8 introduces multi-touchscreen to the mainstream computer: For the first time it is possible to make programs for Windows that support multi-touch on the computer-screen. (so far it has only been possible to touch one spot at a time on computer touchscreens, the same way as you work with the mouse) With a little software-upgrade on the existing DAWS,  it would be possible to control them directly from the touchscreen, without running a seperate program/hardware-package like the expensive Raven MTX. In fact, the Windows 8 solution could be even better than the Raven, because with the native solution you are working directly on the daw-software without some external program interpreting it. This is truly a analog relationship between the software and the controller, just as in the classic old days when you were almost touching the audio flowing through the equipment.

For some reasons the software-companies have not taken advantage of the multitouch-possibilities in Windows 8. Only Sonar have released an update with touchscreen support. The big guns like Pro Tools and Nuendo seem to have other priorities (Pro Tools are probably too stressed by the lack of aax-plugin support.. And still they are only 32-bit; ) But perhaps they are just preparing for a big release on the next NAMM-show that will take place in a couple of weeks? Anyway, my bet is that Multitouch will be the biggest change in Daws since the golden era of large consoles. But it might take some years to realize its potential.

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Mikrofontest vol.2: Gitar

Vi har vært i studio og testa forskjellige mikrofoner til akustisk gitar.

Signalkjede: Yamaha CPX900 gitar – mikrofon – Api c512 preamp – Apogee AD8000SE mkII converter – Pro Tools 24/44.1, senere dithret ned til 16 bit.

Her er resultatet:
sennheiser mkh40dpa 4011akg 451ebaudio technica 4050neumann u 87avantone cv12avantone cv28shure sm7shure sm57

Kudos til deg som hører igjennom alle lydfilene.. Fortvil ikke hvis du synes at alt nesten høres likt ut, for forskjellene er ofte mindre enn man tror..

Kanskje er det enkleste å dele inn i kategorier og sammenligne 2-3 mikrofoner om gangen. For det er 4 mikrofontyper med i testen:
1) småmembran kondensator: akg 451eb, 4011 og mkh40
2) stormembran kondensator: u87, at4050
3) rør-kondensator: cv12, cv28
4) dynamisk: sm57, sm7

Den første oppgaven blir å kåre den beste mikrofonen innenfor hver kategori..

1) Finale småmembran.
sennheiser mkh40dpa 4011akg 451eb
Vår vurdering: Sennheiser MKH40 er mørkere enn de 2 andre og taper. Gitaren blir flat og kjedelig.. 4011 og 451 har bra attack i tonen, noe man kan forvente fra denne mikrofonklassen.. Etter ekstraomganger synes vi at Akg 451 blir for tynn i lyden sammenlignet med 4011 , og at 4011 har en litt rundere tone.
DPA 4011 vinner.

2) Finale stormembran
audio technica 4050neumann u 87
4050 har mer diskant enn u87. Etter vår mening blir at4050 for spiss, mye strenge-attack men lite “kropp”. Resultatet blir at det hele låter litt “demo”. U87 har en mer avbalansert lydsignatur med fyldigere mellomtone, det låter mer behagelig i våre ører.
U87 vinner 

3) Finale rør
avantone cv12avantone cv28
Igjen er det lett å skille mikrofonene ved at cv12 er lysere enn cv28. Vi blir ikke helt klok på c12, det låter lyst og litt.. kunstig!? CV 28 derimot.. “Det låter 3d”, sier Audun og himler med øynene. Kroppen i instrumentet kommer godt fram uten at det blir ullent.
CV28 vinner 

4) Finale dynamisk mikrofon
shure sm7
shure sm57
sm57 blir skarp og skjærende i lyden, sm7 er overraskende detaljert og behagelig å lytte til.
SM7 vinner

Den store finalen
dpa 4011neumann u 87 shure sm7avantone cv28
Vi må nå spørre oss selv: Hva slags gitarlyd er vi ute etter? Alle mikrofonene i finalen er brukbare, og det blir mer en smakssak hva man foretrekker. Noen ganger, til f.eks jazz og klassisk, ønsker man en så realistisk lyd som mulig, og da vinner kanskje DPA 4011: den kjappe transient-responsen i mikrofonen gjør at attacket i plekteret stikker fram, nesten som om lyden kommer fra et sted foran høyttalerne. Men denne realismen har sin pris: lyden kan oppleves som litt hard.
U87 er mindre framtredende samtidig som den har mye av den samme klarheten, den  har en balansert lyd og lever opp til sitt rykte som en mikrofon som funker til omtrent alt i studio.
Den dynamiske mikrofonen SM7 er litt mindre detaljert enn de 2 førstnevnte, men den kan passe bra til rock og innspillinger hvor man ønsker litt røffere lyd.
Men rør-mikrofonen CV-28 har en helt egen lyd-karakteristikk som trumfer over alt annet. Lyden oppleves som større og varmere, uten at man mister snerten i anslaget. “Det låter mer skive”, sier Audun.
Avantone CV-28 vinner.

Om testvinneren
Avantone CV-28 er et forsøk på å kopiere den legendariske rør-mikrofonen Neumann km 54. Vi har 2 stk. i studio.


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Nattkonserter i Hausmania bekrefter at oljealderen i norsk jazz forlenges med minst en generasjon

I helgen ble det arrangert en 24 timers musikkfestival i Hausmania, med studenter fra Kunst og Musikkhøyskolen. 1 konsert i timen.

Jeg hadde tekniker-vakt om natta og fikk oppleve mange spennende band og prosjekter. Sangerinnen Ina Sagstuen var representert i tre besetninger. Den første, Karokh, er et 7-mannsband med elektriske instrumenter, trompet og stemme, og de har et lydbilde som gir assosiasjoner til Miles Davis sin elektriske besetning på slutten av 60-tallet, eller mer presist: hvordan et slikt band kan låte i 2012. Med vokalisten i spissen så kan låtene begynne som rocke-melodier med tekst og stabil rytme, så går det over i mer improviserte partier hvor vokalen blir et instrument likestilt med de andre, før de spiller en stram melodi med en rar, samtidsmusikkaktig tonalitet, snål og catchy på samme tid, alt sammen spilt med ungdommelig intensitet og stram disiplin.
De bruker kjente elementer, men de setter det sammen på en måte som jeg ikke kjenner igjen og som oppleves som forfriskende.. Når de improviserer kan det virke som om de tar av for mye og går seg vill, men så kommer et intrikat komponert parti som viser at det hele bare var en oppbygning til noe annet. Og overgangene er naturlige, som om jazz, rock og samtidsmusikk er tre sider av samme sak.

Min positive opplevelse av konserten skyldtes også at jeg frykta det verste da jeg først møtte de 7 musikantene som skulle stables opp på en liten scene uten tid til lyprøver. Dette blir tinnitus-høyt, tenkte jeg, og musikerne kommer til å være sure fordi de ikke hører seg selv på scenen.
Heldigvis tok jeg feil. Bandet var ikke særlig kravstore med scenelyden. Mesteparten av lyden mikset seg selv ved at de stilte sine egne instrumenter. Lyden var kanskje ikke perfekt for dem, men det trengte de heller ikke for å spille bra.
Denne robustheten kommer til å hjelpe dem videre i karrieren, tenkte jeg. Musikkbransjen er tøff. Budsjettene er minimale og konkurransen er hard. Ingen kommer til dekket bord. Disse unge musikerne viser at de har talentet og mentaliteten som skal til for å overleve.

Karokh planlegger en studioinnspilling i nærmeste framtid. Jeg har store forventninger til CDen som skal komme i 2013.

Ina Sagstuen var forøvrig involvert i 2 andre prosjekter den natta: bandet “sagstuen” og vokalduoen “propan”. Jeg får skrive om det neste gang jeg møter på dem..

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