All about producing and mastering audio for disc, the web and beyond

Monday, December 27, 2010

The lines blur a little bit more

The last 36 hours have been heavily influenced by the latest weather event in New England - a snowstorm. 18" of snow and 50 mile an hour winds don't represent anything close to a record in this part of the world, but it is enough to get most of us to stay in one place for 30 hours or so. The conditions seem to conspire against my strong predilection to procrastinate and while I did manage to play a few extra rounds of Angry Birds I found myself unusually productive and mixed a classical record I wasn't 'supposed' to have done until Thursday. Ah well, some things can't be helped.

However, I did manage to get some quality web-surfing in, and during that particularly vacuous period I stumbled onto another mind-bending audio application: The ddp checker for....the iphone!!!!!

For those that don't know, ddp filesets are the darling of the mastering community. They are easy to make, easy to verify, immune from the errors that can creep into CD audio, contain all the necessary metadata (if included by the user) for making a CD. They are a data representation of a CD audio project in computer data form. The problem has been that end users can't listen to them easily. until now....behold:

This company sells a low cost disc authoring tool called Waveeditor and now they have released a ddp checker for the iphone and ipod touch.

Mind bending in that it is another intersection between the toolset of the true professionals and a platform designed for the rank consumer.

I might just have to try and send my next client their master via Verizon!@)(&^#$*^

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The award time of year - Congratulations!

I have been mulling over my Grammy ballot the last couple days thinking about where I might weigh in. The various awards competitions, from large to small, are opportunities for excitement and cynicism depending on your perspective. Needless to say, winning an award is all good, even if it only serves to encourage the artist-recipient.

In this vein I was pleased to receive news yesterday that one of our projects from 2010, "Silver Screen" by Hayley Griffiths, received the 'Album of The YEar' award from a UK organization that is heavily invested in the Classical Crossover idea. Hayley is a talented writer and soprano, an accomplished dancer-soloist from the "Lord of the Dance" touring company, who teamed up with Jared Hancock of Surefire Production to create an engaging, approachable mix of pop, celtic, and classical elements. Here's to their success thus far....and congratulations with affection and encouragement:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Remotely VIntage

Well, here's one I didn't see coming. A service that offers to take your uploaded (mono) wav file and run it through any one of a number of vintage (and expensive) analog audio processors and then they sent it back to you! Each pass costs one euro, and you have to specify the setting you are after....a bit tricky when dealing with compressors, but this is such an interesting idea I am willing to suspend my disbelief until I see and hear it in action. I assume there's a length/size limit to the file, and if the service becomes popular enough I could only image in the queue waiting for the file to come back, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt and see what unfolds. Let me know your impressions if you give it a whirl.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

40 years of music

Not so very long ago I had the pleasure/honor/responsibility of mastering a compilation representing SOME of the best music released on the Rounder Records ( label. For those that don't know Rounder, the label has a VERY diverse catalogue including releases on various sub-labels (Philo/BullsEye/etc and many more). The original focus of the label and I dare say the legacy is one of finding and releasing some of the finest 'Americana', folk music and other 'native' American musics.

The boxed set is divided into 4 decades of music, 1970's, 80's, 90's, 00's with each disc containing about 15 songs from each decade. That's a relatively small sampling of all the music that Rounder released, much less the music released by all labels in the aggregate. Even so, it is absolutely remarkable in the way that each decade seems to have a noticeable difference in production style. The decade of the 70's has the widest variety, from the standpoint of style, tone, dynamic range. The 80's decade has some of the strangest sounding tracks. It seems that decade was one where sonic exploration was rampant while we were beginning to figure out how to work within the new digital container, THe 90's began to show signs of what we think of as current modern audio practice. Still quite dynamic, but gradually the transient detail is compromised in favor of low frequency 'warmth'. Lastly, in the ought's we see the rush to modern presentation, with a lot of limiting, slightly exaggerated bass and treble boost and less ambient information and depth. In other words, the last decades records are really loud!

It was an interesting chalenge to make these all live together, my focus being primarily to let each disc stand on it's own and not worry about level matching the 70's to the 00's, though I gave some consideration to the above.

It was a fascinating exercise and even more, a very interesting listening experience. One that keeps showing me new things each time I hear it.....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanks Yehudi: Role Models and Standards

Some weeks ago I had occasion to hear a premiere of a piece composed by Yehudi Wyner. I was completely floored by the piece. The form, harmonic vocabulary, humor....there were moments that dazzled, evoked giggles, and brought tears, all while engaging my mind. He is a masterful composer, a man of letters, Pulitzer Prize winner and he possesses a devilish sense of humor. He also happens to be my uncle. I blush slightly when I write this. It is humbling to be able to see such artistic richness from up close, and makes me feel somehow unworthy....and yet.

I think it is because of my close encounters that I can begin to imagine and understand what is possible, and it gives me an idea of what beautiful and rich can mean. I am not sure I can imagine these heights in the vacuum of my own mind....and for that I am grateful. Grateful to Yehudi, and to all the artists, thinkers and practitioners who have shown me what's possible.

I think it's essential we look for those role models and pay attention when we find them. These are the people who can help us find our own high standards, our own true north if you will. Without them we might not shoot so high. We need not imitate them, but rather follow the example of their obvious pursuit of some ideal.

Thank you Yehudi!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Plug ins - in search of the usable compressor

Many many plug ins in the sea, and many of them are useful. We have good plugin equalizers, limiters, dither engines.....but really good compressor plugin that will compete with hardware is an ongoing challenge. To date the Algorithmix Splitcom seems the best of the two channel linkable sort, and the Massenburg MDW is an excellent mono compressor.

The latest entry is a plugin compressor by Elysia (the Alpha)....can a $200 plugin hold it's own.? The hardware version is $10k!

It certainly has all the flexibility you would ever desire including side chain filtering, linking/unlinking, wet/dry mix (read parallel compression) and more.

In my tests thus far I am fairly impressed. It seems to lack some of the edginess that comes with less than ideal detector design. I'll have a better idea after another week of use and abuse.