Mixing it up

With all of our ADF classes completed for the Fall, attention can be focused in the studio. There are always abundant projects to be developed and finished. Finishing is getting a recording of a tune or soundscape that represents the piece as a “hard copy.” Since most of my Ableton Projects are works in progress with space available for others to chime in, it is possible that there will be multiple and very different versions over the lifetime of a piece. As with “In C”, the parts (clips and some animation) will be the same with each hearing, but how they weave together to create a whole and the fullness of that whole is subject to the Now and who else is in it. It is my hope that many of the soundings of my compostitions will be only in that moment in time, never to be heard again, while the core of the piece will always remain.

In order to get a hard copy, I put the voices together in my favorite room to play – my head. I am playing in that space like I never have before. Paying attention to which voice is where, how much space the voice takes up, and how it fits in or stands apart from the other voices. All of these considerations are to further the storyline of the piece of music. And listening through headphones is one experience of it, while listening through monitors is another. As I create the mix for headphones, the position and movement of the voices is a big priority. For example, there is a processed shaker sound during Phrygia: Hera’s Saga that feels as if it moves right through my head thanks to the panning effect on it. When this sound is played through monitors, there is a feeling of it moving up and out through the room, so the direction and distance the sound travels comes across quite different to me in each of these diffusion settings. I want to experiment with different ways of mixing with different priorities for these two modes of experiencing.

The mix for Phrygia: Hera’s Saga has gone through numerous transformations. I have a mix of the first two movements Waken and Move that I am very happy with. The voices blend when I want them to blend and stand apart when I want them to stand apart. The sound is full and the voices dance around in the mix, taking turns being up front. The last three movements The Chase, Catch the Shadow and Kundalini Joy have been more difficult to mold. I have a good recording and have spent hours sculpting the mix. While engaged in this process, I am consulting Bob Katz Mastering Audio and Mixerman’s Zen and the Art of Mixing. Both these guys have alot of mixing experience and they have very different approaches with lots of good info.

One of the techniques I was working with in The Chase was an abundance of reverb tail on two instruments, which I liked playing around with to obscure the attack on the fundamental tone. This type of sound is often refered to as “muddy” in the mixing world. I find it rather magical to have the entire soundscape awash in reverberant harmonic tones. As with most magical things, this needs to be used wisely and not excessively. I am bordering on excessive in this piece partly because I am using the reverb tails as a background wash for the main themes, AND the lead instruments are providing both the main theme and the harmonic wash. A plucked samisen and vibes are the lead instruments and they mirror at times and interact at times. This morning I used some EQ techniques suggested by Bob Katz. I used an EQ 8 on the strings because they are providing most of the background wash. I ended up using a spectrum to identify the main fundamental tones in my high end material (bells, tamborine, shaker) and then dipped these tones out of the plucked samisen. This seems to have worked in that I still have plenty of reverb wash, but it isn’t constantly overwhelming the spectrum. The high end parts were accelerating some harmonics in the main instruments, now they have there own space and the harmonics are backgrounded more.

I accidently discovered a commonly used mixing technique that mixes two different Ableton renderings of the same track, with slightly different animation, together in Audacity. What had sounded weak and tepid now has presence mixed this way. This is called “double tracking” and is a common practice when mixing tracks of vocals or guitar on band mixes. Part of the fun of my work is that I have alot of resources about mixing and mastering audio, and I have to figure out how to apply these concepts within the virtual realm in which I work.

Mixing Phrygia:Hera’s Saga down to a thirty minute hard copy took many weeks and required many breaks to rest my ears. This piece has a bright sound especially initially and, while I like this sound, I am aware that it can wear ears out especially through headphones. When I listened to the entire 29 minute piece, I hear a frequency movement that begins low mid range, then moves high and then ends with a growling, rumbling bass taking a main theme at the end. While I have a full recording that mixes the whole thing as one piece, I ended up putting the piece into two tracks on my Bandcamp site. I have this as an album, and I may add some other tracks I have been working on over the course of this year. The main thing is that this is for Sarah Sage and all that she gave to me. I am so thrilled that she has emerged from her medical trial by fire with so much strength. I am not surprised as I know very intimately the healing capacity of the great love she carries. My constant prayer is that she will allow herself that healing and not just look to her tribe and their experts for how to proceed on her path. This prayer is sent forth in the music that comes from remembrance.

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