Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Housemate Sessions Vol. II

You might recall from a previous post that Housemate D effing rocks. Now I bring you the results of our second session, held a year and a half after that first one.

This time, instead of the dining room, it was in Elrond Hubbard World Headquarters (i.e. my bedroom); instead of being spontaneous, we had a few weeks of yelling back and forth through the house, "When you wanna do this recording / I don't know, maybe next Tuesday . . ." which afforded some time for practice and planning; and instead of using rented equipment home for just one night before doing this shoot the following day, it was my own equipment, purchased in February and still hardly used because this year has been so slow.

Though April was moderately busy -- with a shoot for the crime show, a week doing promos for a local TV station, two days doing interviews for John Deere, and a day each on an instructional video, a testimonial from this Olympic athlete, a conference hosted by this local think tank -- mostly I used the gear owned by the people hiring me. But that athlete testimonial did use my gear, and the tiny Countryman mic performed beautifully. It even sounded better on the indoor interview than the Sanken CS-3e mini shotgun boom mic. This boom mic is supposed to handle reverberating interiors better than a Sennheiser 416, but it did pick up some funny reverb in that little room in the track building. This reverb I didn't even notice until I got home and played back some of the backup recordings. It's a hazard of listening to one mic in each ear on set. You don't necessarily hear either one in much detail.

Speaking of reverb, I with I could add a little to the voice in these recordings. My free software, Audacity, is pretty cool, but has no reverb effect. When I get real audio software someday, I will go back and add reverb to the voice.

For making backup recordings on set, I have a Zaxcom ZFR100. It is small and seems very durable, and it can jam timecode from cameras and other recorders. Its connectors are positioned in a weird way on it though, so despite being small, it is very awkward in the bag.

I used the Zaxcom for backing up these recordings, but for the primary recording I used my Sound Devices USBPre. I recommend this for anyone who wants to record just 1 or 2 tracks of audio in the computer. It is a wonderful analog/digital converter. When I play CD's in the computer and run the audio through it, it sounds better than my expensive stereo system purchased 20 years ago.

For the instrumental recordings you are hearing, I put two mics on the guitar: the Sanken CS-3e, and my Sanken CS-1, a secret weapon purchased on ebay for indoor booming when there's time to switch out from the CS-3e mini shotgun. Using the two mics gives sort of a fake stereo effect.

But when there's singing, I had to put the CS-3e on the voice, while leaving the CS-1 on the guitar. This rendered two fairly flat sounding mono tracks. However, what you are hearing is a little more lively than two mono tracks. Getting this slight liveliness into the recording took lots of experimenting. Much of the past few weeks of sitting at home not working has been spent fussing with equalization and compression (both of which I don't know much about but I'm learning), going on the theory that if I could make the guitar and voice sound a little different in each ear, then overall it would sound sort of stereo-ish.

In fact, here's what a portion of the next clip sounds like as recorded, with each mic relegated just to one speaker.

And here it is with the fake stereo treatment I finally settled on. Can you guess what the treatment is?

I love how Housemate D just jumps into improvisations like the instrumentals on here. I swear, all but one of these recordings is the first and only take. Only this song you just heard required several takes; and at that, what you hear is a single take, not something edited together. He just sits in his room and plays these things, but he doesn't practice much -- maybe just 15 minutes here and there before heading out to the library. He doesn't have time for serious guitar playing and he has nearly no formal training. He was a star law student and argued a case before Justice Anton Scalia in a mock court a few months ago, for chrissakes. And yet, listen to how he varies his chords and uses inner (instrumental) voices on all these songs. This is not your average strum-and-humdrum at the local cafe. This is more like Strum und Drang.

I knew the instrumentals were improvised, but in the midst of making these recordings I asked where he had gotten the songs. "I just made them up," he said.

When? I had never heard these songs coming from his room. But when the mics were on, he had them ready, enough to fill an audio CD. And then, two weeks after that, we did another session where he laid down a whole nother CD's worth. I have not started editing them yet. That is my next task, and there is some more seriously interesting stuff there.

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