January 2017 Album Update!!

Much time has past since my last update, and much has changed since then. Time for another peek into my twisted music-making process!

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The latest update with the new album is this: I scrapped three of the 10 pieces, and am beginning to write one more piece to fill in that space. Yes this will push the release back by a few months, but also yes it will be a much better result because I’m taking my time with it and not letting anything slip by. However: all of the pieces are finally named, including this new one and the album itself. More on that later.

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Some more good news is that everything else is pretty much finished! Cello session is scheduled for this coming Saturday (weather permitting) and I’m really excited to work with this person! The mixing and editing process has been long but productive, and I’m absolutely thrilled with how it sounds both as a percussionist and an audio engineer. I was also given some great mix advice from family & friends that has really helped to make everything much more clear and fit together like a puzzle. I even had the privilege to hear these mixes on some really nice monitors, too! There is one piece in particular that is sounding INCREDIBLE! It really raises the bar for the other ones, so I’m putting extra attention into making sure that every section of every piece is up to those same standards. I’m confident at this point that it will come across that way to the listener too!

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The latest thing to be added was a few layers of kalimba on two of the pieces, which REALLY filled out the space in the mixes and goes well with the Hang, marimba, and vibes that have already been recorded. It went so well that I might see if it’ll fit with another piece or two. I’ve been recording with the Catania 12-note board kalimbas exclusively for their warm, full, resonant tone (and ease of re-tuning!). Sad to hear that the guy who makes these wonderful instruments recently closed up shop and retired, but my three kalimbas (different tunings) are still in great shape and should last many more years to come!

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I’m also very excited to say that I recently started to make play-through videos of each of these pieces. The first video is almost finished, and might actually be the first full piece that I debut(!!!). I’m sure this will be another long and crazy process, but I have some really great help with it (thank you, Jen <3), and it’ll be a great addition to the album to have this visual aspect of it too. Hopefully it will even open some doors to discussions on technique, instrumentation, etc. Look for those videos on Facebook and a brand new YouTube channel soon! Until then, you can check out a preview of this first video HERE!

 

Hang Drum Recording Technique (NOW WITH AUDIO!!)

I recently had the bright idea to compose a piece for hang drum (official name “Hang”), marimba, vibraphone, bells, drum set, and percussion that turned out to be nine and a half minutes long. This will undoubtedly be a monster of a piece to record, but I had to start somewhere. I started with the Hang because that was the backbone of the whole piece (more on the musical aspects of the piece later). I hadn’t recorded a hang drum before, so before starting the session I did a quick search for hang drum recording techniques online and found one picture that made no sense at all, and not much else that was very helpful (doesn’t mean it’s not out there). I figured I would go by a few basic mic’ing principles that I picked up in college:

First, “You’re not mic’ing the instrument – you’re mic’ing the air around the instrument.”

Now, this sounds MUCH more esoteric than it actually is. It’s really a great concept to keep in mind when mic’ing anything. Sound is vibrations in the air which are picked up by the mics, so that’s what you want the mics to capture (based on your mic’s pickup pattern), and not the instrument itself. 

Second, “Q: How do I mic this thing? A: How do you listen to it?”

Disclaimer: That Q&A doesn’t apply in every situation, but in this case it did help to weed out a few mic positions and save some time. Getting back to the strange method I saw in my short research on this topic, there were two large diaphragm condensers on the player’s right and left, facing each other and pointed down toward the instrument at about a 45 degree angle (spaced pair, maybe?). There was also a third mic in this same position in front of the player. Phasing issues aside, referring back to the second bold point above: unless you have very spaced out ears (we’re talking 3-4 feet) with a third ear extending out from your forehead, chances are that’s not how you would listen to the instrument. You most likely have two ears, which makes it worthwhile to go with a plain and simple stereo mic’ing technique. I set up two AKG C214’s right next to each other, facing out at about 35 degree angles, 8-10 inches directly above* the center note of the Hang. Since the 214’s have a cardioid pickup pattern, this mic position allows for full coverage of the instrument’s nine notes. When panned about half-right and half-left, it gives a very real representation of the Hang through the MOTU 8Pre Interface.

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*I also saw another picture where someone had one mic out in front of the instrument pointed down at a 45 degree angle, about a foot and half or two feet in front of and above it. The issue with that is the Hang is a circular instrument with notes all around it, so mic’ing it from any one side will produce louder results from the notes closest to the mic, while the notes farthest from it might not pick up as well (think of how the sound waves will spread similar to the Sun’s light and heat affecting planets closer or further away from it).

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That’s why I figured that a stereo pair right above the center note would be best, and to my relief, it didn’t really need any further processing from there. It had just enough of the “proximity effect” to sound full, articulate, and “beefy” without sounding too bassy or muddy, and the instrument itself is very resonant, so any artificial reverb just clouded it up. When all of the other instruments are added in, I’ll re-examine the Hang tracks for further processing, but for solo purposes, this is the setup I’ll be sticking with – very pleased with the results, and can’t wait to share when the track is complete! I would love to hear your experiences recording the Hang or any other instrument that gave you a challenge!

Here’s a little something that I improv’d on the Hang with this mic placement. I enabled free downloading for this track on soundcloud.