Monday, December 31, 2012

Metal Dogs

My sister's dog Chien, put the "mental" in "ornamental metals".
This is what passes for humor around these parts.

Wherein I Contemplate a Part II Class III Gun License

I hate having blank-firing guns on set. I won't have live-firing guns on set at all.
The biggest problem for me is safety. When I'm behind the camera I know my ability to rationally determine when something is safe or not goes right out the window. Specifically it goes out the window through which I'm looking at everything — the lens of the camera.
So I hate blank-firing weapons. They're still dangerous. Flame and junk spit out the front of them. They can kill you. Let's go through all the things I hate about them.
  • They're dangerous. A semi-automatic round has to have the same load as the full bullet that would be in a similar weapon. So you have to treat them like real guns.
  • They're loud. Everyone, even the actor shooting, needs ear protection.
  • They're unreliable. They're more unreliable than real guns because all the gasses and schmutz get blown back into the receiver. So you have to clean them and hope that they'll work and actually cycle shells.
  • They don't always read on camera. A normal gun flash is frequently less than a frame in duration. 
  • They're expensive. Ammunition is not super cheap. To which I say "bleh".
So with the ability to add muzzle flashes in post, why would anyone use a blank weapon on set?
It's because CG muzzle flashes look like poop, that's why.
I can't quite figure out the reason for it.
Here are some real muzzle flashes from the movie Heat. Notice that even in a fairly reflective environment (sunglasses, car roof) the muzzle flash does not really light up the scene. There's some specular in the glasses and the roof, but it's not really affecting the exposure on his face that much.
Notice too that the "classic" muzzle flash of the M16 is more distorted, with bigger holes in it than the typical stock-footage M16 muzzle flash.
The other thing is that (at least it seems to me, not having actually fired one) that the .223 assault rifle does not actually drift or kick that much. Not as much as a handgun kicks certainly. Actually, here's a video.

I'm going to guess this video was shot at 29.97fps. That's going to be about the equivalent of a 60fps shutter. You'll notice that there's no muzzle flash at all. There's a bit of smoke which appears a couple feet ahead of the rifle. The kick the gun gives is very difficult to replicate "by hand". By that I mean it's hard to "pretend" that a rifle kicks like that if you're not actually shooting it.
So briefly I thought to myself, we need to get our guns to look better. And if I wanted to use blank-firing 3-shot-burst weapons, I really should just get a Class III gun license. Which is a major pain to do (but you actually need the full license even to own a blank-only firing machine gun because those are all made from actual machine guns and even though they've been disabled from having live rounds put in them the law still considers them machine guns.)
But if I did that, what would I do? Modify them so that they looked like futuristic space weapons? We're starting to talk about a lot of money when it comes to buying real guns and modifying them and getting licenses and... already I'm bored. I'd rather get an exoskeleton robot suit.
Nope. I'm not going to get an (additional) gun license. I'm going to figure out how to make fake muzzle flashes actually work. It may be making them less flash-y. I don't know yet. But if I can keep gunpowder off the set I'll be happier.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Science Fiction Shorts

Jonathan Newman turned me on to the best sci-fi shorts this year.
There's "Memorize":
I can't quite put my finger on what the problem is with this movie. The locations are cool enough but there's something that just looks limited in the budget. And I realize that things like muzzle flashes and 2D fire always look a little... funky. But there's something else that's bugging me. I don't know what it is. Otherwise it's a fine-looking picture with good sound editing.
Factory Fifteen made this movie, sort of a future alt history. Sort of what I was thinking about for that war-between-worlds picture.

Hmm... I wonder if the frame rate of "Memorize" is higher than 24fps?

Faux Documentary

So. I have this notion of a faux documentary that takes place in the future. I was thinking it might be nice to model it on a Battle of Britain documentary. There could be talking heads from both sides of the war. The aliens are from a parallel universe and look like us you see (of course).

A parallel Earth appears and ships descend on a bombing campaign followed by invasion. The invasion is eventually repelled

1. The aliens attack. They have superior firepower in their combat exosuits. Devastation reigns.
2. An unlikely ally -- the combat android -- emerges. The aliens underestimate the strength and numbers of the androids.
3. "Behind Enemy Lines" -- stories of the prisoners captured by the aliens.
4. "A Last Desperate Attack" -- the aliens use a terrifying automated weapon, a nanobot mind-control. But they can't manufacture enough of it to turn the course of the war (or, alternately, any better idea which someone could put in here.)
5. "Peace Through Superior Firepower" -- the alien planet is decimated, their war machines left in shambles.

By the end of the movie we realize that androids are among us now. And what was thought to be a secret program to create androids was actually a secret program to find them. They had been popping up all over the earth, dropped by satellites presumably. But we actually don't know where they came from or why they helped us win the war.

The story is told through talking heads -- interviews with survivors and former soldiers on both sides. With some found footage and some footage of battles interspersed. We'd visit the now unused command centers, etc. to trace back the history of the war. There may be an on-screen narrator. Maybe a tweedy guy with crazy hair who talks excitedly about the cities that used to be there.

Here's a thing. This movie would have to be shot immediately because we'd want it to be available in time for Pacific Rim.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Speed of your Nets

My dad went and got a Verizon hotspot for himself for Christmas. It's pretty need*. It connects over 4G. It works. It even works in my studio (I "borrowed" the hub from him for "scientific reasons"). Thing that it's not is fast.

The service we complain about all the time (the DSL here) is much faster:
I love how we go from a grade F up to a grade D- and consider that an improvement. What I can't figure out is how we get such crappy service when we're directly across the street from the huge Verizon switch.
The reason my dad got this thing is because he was frustrated with getting access for his iPad whenever he was travelling. Which, you know, for dad that's a pretty impressive technological jump.
The downside of these 4G hotspots are the data limits. I feel fairly confident I go through more than the normal users data usage a month.
But presuming and actually knowing are two different things. So I've downloaded a bandwidth monitor just to find out.

*"Need" is the word the kids are using these days for "neat". Don't look it up. Just trust me on that one.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Proto Slattern

I, naturally, have Google Alerts send me a thing whenever the Web offers my name up in any sort of search. Mostly what I get are sites for torrent downloads for movies we've made.
But sometimes I get something especially weird.
It's funny (to me at least) because I completely forget that our movies are distributed internationally. I mean, in the big scheme of things it's not much but a lot of people see them. Sometimes they review the movies. And sometimes the reviews are awesome. And... odd.
This review of Android Insurrection contains an ideological checklist. Which. Is. Awesome.
This picture is anti-war, pro-slut(??), and racist. Which is a fair analysis. Why are all the people in that movie white? (And Gen X? No, I assure you that at best most of those kids are Gen Y, most are post-gen-Y). I don't even remember. I have this whole thing on casting and race but it's way too much to go into while I'm bonkered from antibiotics. Suffice to say that the review reads just a bit too much in the way of the racial backstory. I vaguely recall our realizing the cast was all white on this picture at some point in production. But we didn't do anything about it. The sin we commit is the typical Hollywood sin of omission rather than commission.
Like I said, it's an important issue. One I'll address when I'm not on drugs that make me loopy. Because if I address it now I'll say things like "Harmfph. Pithemboom haragnaglark mizzenmoof. Kerthump?"

Your toaster hates you and will destroy you if you allow it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Converter line in tests

I did another set of tests between the Apogee Mini-Me, MOTU UltraLite (first generation), Focusrite Scarlett 18i6, and the M-Audio 2626. All recording was done at 96kHz, 24-bit. As per a suggestion by termites2 on Reddit, I did a test of a line-level signal coming into each converter.
Now one of my big problems is that I don't even own a CD player anymore. I think my parents might have one. So what I had to do was take the headphone output of one of the few Macs in my studio which actually has a working optical drive (this is a long-running frustration of mine) and in iTunes play a CD through the headphone output.
Yeah. Not exactly the highest-end way to get audio into a computer. But it's what I have.
So I took the headphone out and injected it into the high impedance instrument jacks on the front of a pair of Neve 1272 mic preamps (BAE). The balanced output from the Neves fed the analog inputs of the different converters.
Note: the converters all take about the same line in level EXCEPT for the Scarlett. So I turned the Scarlett down 9.8dB in Samplitude in order for it to match level-wise.
So now the analog path of this test is... well it's funky. Good preamps but lousy source 'cause that's all I've got. Such is life. (The recording is noisier than it should be, and the overall audio quality of what is otherwise a stellar recording and mix is not as good as it could be with, er, a better D/A converter.)
Listening through, with full-range and fully-mixed material, it's kind of interesting to hear the differences in converters. The tests all play through as an "album" in Bandcamp (embedded above).
I lined up the waveforms so that they're sample accurate (well, +/- a sample because there's a bit of argument where each conversion is concerned). Then, for my amusement, I inverted the polarity of the MOTU, the Scarlett, and the M-Audio 2626, and played them along with the Apogee's track (which was not inverted.)
Top to bottom: Apogee, MOTU, Scarlett, M-Audio 2626.
Interestingly the Scarlett (which is the third track) goes so perfectly out of phase with the Apogee at one point that it actually disappears. (Note that the inversion was done at the track level so it does not appear in the waveform view above. Also, there's some obnoxious noise evident in the inversion.)
That's it. I'm tired of testing things. Tests. Meh. It's time to make some records. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Alles Gut

Groove to the German version of Earthkiller. Die Entscheidung.
The names means something like "The Verdict" or, as far as I understand it, "The Reckoning" or something like that. It's a pretty badass name for a movie. And no, I have no idea what the "Blade Runner 2" is all about. I love that they use strapping tape to hold the gun together. We're totally going to do that. And not because our guns won't hold together. No. No sir. For aesthetic reasons only.
Note that this is the Blu-ray version of the movie. The DVD uses different art. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Drums to Save the World

Sometimes audio mixing is ideological. I don't like to think about it as ideological, but it is. Like for instance one can get all ideological about never replacing drum sounds, using the myriad of tools out there.
I like to pretend I'm not ideological. Actually, I may be entirely too lazy to be ideological. I don't want to replace the snare and the kick because that's really boring.
But I'm also not into spending hours and hours trying to get a particular snare sound. I just want it to sound "good", whatever good might mean on a particular day, and then start playing.
I guess the same thing goes with all instruments. Once I get a guitar sound which works, I stop. If I need another sound for another part of a song or whatever, I'll go for that but I don't really want to sit there all day tweaking sounds. I want to play.
I'm starting to get uninterested in "dead" kick drums. I kind of want a kick to ring out like a marching-band bass drum. Now, I'm only saying this about my music -- there's plenty of awesome records out there in different genres that just sound fantastic and have very different kicks and such. But I do want the kit to all sound like it was played at the same time and in roughly the same acoustical space. I guess "When the Levee Breaks" is the direction I'm going in there.
How to get the hi-hats to shut up has been my question of late. Maybe by asking the drummer to play them quieter? Nah, that can't possibly be it...
Now, the fact is that the only way I know how to mix music is too loud. Too much compression. I need to become less like that. Then again, I've been complaining for years that I mix too loud (the volumes in my control room are not very loud, I mean the mix itself). I mix movies too loud. I mix music too loud.
It's because of the compression. That stuff is like a drug. You get on the compression pipe and you just can't say no to it. Because compression makes everything sound awesome. You know it does. You know you want more of it.
Sigh. These are the things I'll be working on for the coming year.

Whoa. What?

How did I miss the fact that this science-fiction movie In Time was a big moneymaker? I mean, I don't even remember the movie coming out.
It's directed by the dude who wrote GATTICA, which is a pretty cool picture. In Time is a great idea and has some very cool things in it but. Er. It's... ah... there's something clunky about the movie. I can't quite put my finger on it.

Harlan Ellison sued them over the story. I think I vaguely recall that. Of course, doesn't Harlan Ellison sue every science fiction film?
Why didn't we make a mockbuster of this picture? 
So many questions...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Book Report

I just read Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone.
I really enjoyed this book. It takes place in a world where gods are real things and I really liked the way people (priests and such) had an actual, personal, relationship with their god(s).
Plus the cover feels really nice and you know how important that is to me.

Project Nine

Eric Ian Steel's new novel, Project Nine, is now for sale. Check out the trailer:

Friday, December 21, 2012

You are so lucky...

This is my last Tyrannosaurus Mouse upload this year.

The mix is just distorted. But in a way that amuses me. The bass essentially sounded that way to start with. The drums have a world of compression on them. The center mic is a large-diaphragm (just like all these recent recordings) and has the reverb and even more compression on it.

I dig the kick sound here. The mic is only generally pointing at the kick. It's probably pointing at about the center of the rack toms.
I'm using two of Samplitude's reverbs in series.

Yeah, the whole thing sounds pretty dirty. But like I said, I kind of dig it. Click through to see the music player. Then turn it up.
Rock your vole.

Melt With Ruth

This is a thing we did extemporaneously the other night. Five tracks: three through Neve preamps for drums, one on the bass, one built-in M-Audio 2626 preamp on guitar. On the mix there's a lot, and I mean a lot, of compression.
The guitar is insanely out of tune. The playing is... well... extemporaneous. That means we were making things up as we went along. Sometimes our ability to read one another's minds is hampered by the aluminum foil hat I wear. But that's not the point of this recording. The point of this recording is to us an idea or a notion of what recording might be like over the coming year.
Hi hats are too loud. We need quieter hi hats. I hear things about the Zildjian K Constantinople hi hats.
Boy are they expensive...

Neve Vs M-Audio 2626

I'm surprised at how good the cheap preamps and converters all sound. And it may be that the problem with the cheap preamps and converters is that they will start to sound tiring after a while of listening or that when you start stacking them in a mix they get to be a bit either harsh or muddy. But one at a time, especially when you're not A/B'ing them against very expensive gear, they sound quite nice.
Above is a test of the Neve 1272 mic preamp vs the internal preamp on the M-Audio 2626. It's an unfair comparison and you don't need to do a double-blind study to realize that wow, the Neves sure do sound nice.

I actually through a scientific evaluation out the window and went and EQ'ed the tracks. Individually. Just to make them each sound very nice. The Neve, of course, has the low-mid thump that had to be cut out. But I added a bit more in the 4K range to each of them (although the center frequencies are somewhat different.)

You're Gonna Carry That Weight

A rack of rock. That's the power supply for an AKG C12A at the top left, the red thing is a Focusrite Scarlett, below that in grey is the M-Audio 2626, and at the bottom are Neve 1272's preamp pairs by BAE (one is mine and one is Scott Hirshon's).
There's a lot of iron in this box and it makes it hard to carry around. There may be a consensus that we don't want to be carrying the C12A. The C12A sounds great, but it's expensive, delicate, and the mounting hardware is simply horrible.
But we are going to be adding at least two and probably three more preamps in a 500-series 1U rack. Which means more weight.
Sigh. You know what? I really dig the M-Audio converters on acoustic guitar (at least). I actually, and I realize this is an act of apostasy to say so, like them better than the Apogee preamps. I know, right? The Apogees are more "pristine" certainly but there's a certain low-frequency grungyness that the M-Audio 2626 has that's very musical. Which does discourage me from wanted to get it modified by Black Lion. Well, I guess that makes my life cheaper and easier though.
On the other hand, things that make my life harder and more expensive: I'm liking is 96kHz sampling frequency. It's not that you can hear better high end really. Or I mean I can't. But it has a betterment to the sound I like. There's a betterization. There. That's the scientific term for it.
But at 96kHz we're taking up a lot more resources. This means that if we want to use a laptop to record, we need to use the 2626 going into the Scarlett (because only the Scarlett has USB and nobody bothers to make laptops with Firewire ports anymore). But if we want to use the (Firewire) 2626's A/D converters we have to get digital audio into the Scarlett and we're limited in the way that can work. The ADAT interface on the 2626 and Scarlett only gives us four channels across the optical. We can get two more channels via S/P Dif. Can we record basic tracks entirely  by using only six channels of audio?
Probably not. We also have six more analog inputs on the Scarlett but I don't like the sound of the Scarlett as much as the 2626. But you know, the Scarlett's clarity and the M-Audio's gnarlity might make a good combination.

Making movies for under a gazillion dollars

Alex Epstein, who wrote one of my favorite books on screenwriting, on making a movie for less than $50,000.
This is funny to me because our cash budget for a feature is about $8,000. You'll notice that as a producer I lie and use obfuscation. I said "cash budget". The lie here goes both ways. We have more money in that we have equipment (and costumes and sets) we've amortized from other movies. We borrow props from other filmmakers. We own our own sound and camera gear. We have less money because there are things like rent and the fact that we have to buy a lot of freaking hard drives in order to make a feature. And rent. Overhead is a birch.
He suggests saving money by limiting coverage. Egads! I would totally never suggest that. The biggest advantage to limiting coverage is that it limits what you can do in post-production. Which means your post process will go faster. Maybe.
But my point is that your DP does not have to relight for every camera setup. Your DP needs to light the scene so that it works from multiple angles. If you want to hollywood some light or something for a closeup then go ahead and do that, it doesn't take more time. While you're picking up that camera just walk in the light, hold it on the actor or the gun or whatever and get the shot. It's not like I'm some kind of genius for figuring this out.
In the early 2000's I worked with a gaffer who would pre-light the reversals. The AD would announce that the camera was moving and he'd walk in and turn off a couple lights and turn another couple lights on and we were lit for the other side. That's when I realized that, holy cow, you do not need 45-minutes to do a reversal.
I would have my "Scumbag Producer" is redundant-card revoked if I didn't point out that not being a union signatory production does not alter whom you may ask to be in your movie. Indeed, it is my reading of federal law (N.B. Alex is Canadian so I'm only talking about the US here) that it would be illegal to discriminate against an actor or other employee if they were a member of a labor union. And of course here in NYC there is a plethora of great acting talent. A surfeit if I may. People want to work. Even if it's for monkey-points (and believe me, our movies don't make enough money to make you more than monkey points, but you'll get something for your reel and we'll have a fun screening.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

If Grump Then Stop

This article on the AR-15 isn't a terribly bad article. I always get confused between M4, M16, etc. They're all variants of the AR-15. The article is from Talking Points so it certainly takes the liberal attitude about guns but it seems fairly factual.
All right. Why doesn't this sound like utter BS to the people making these videos filled with idiotic and pandering Newspeak of the Internet?
"Old media has been slow to embrace what is possible." Rather than talking in platitudes, why don't you tell me what you're actually saying? Well, that's because what you're actually saying is nothing. "Empowering filmmakers"? Give it a rest already.
Wait. I'm supposed to be getting into the Christmas spirit.

Grumpyness = off.

More Converter Tests

Converter Tests. This is the most exciting album you've ever heard. Okay, not really. This is a test of converters using a Martin D-28 acoustic guitar into an AKG 460 microphone with a CK-1 capsule. I pulled a tiny bit of 250Hz from all tracks in the 48 kHz tests. Which is kind of dumb of me as I should have treated all the tracks equally but I didn't do that.

Other scientific problems with this test: The room is noisy. Each take is a different performance. The converters are not all set to exactly the same level.
I tested four A/D converters
  1. M-Audio 2626
  2. Apogee Mini-Me
  3. Focusrite Scarlett
  4. MOTU Ultralite (1st generation)
Each of these converters also has built-in microphone preamps. I tested those too.
I tested both 48K and 96K clocks. The file naming, although not as consistent as it should have been, goes like this:
Clock speed (48 kHz or 96 kHz)
Then I tell you whether I used a Neve 1272 preamp or the built-in preamp of the converter.
Then I tell you what the converter was.
Optionally (and only with the MOTU converter) I indicate if the internal clock or the Apogee's clock was used.
If you want to listen without being influenced by what is what then go ahead and play the album. It's only a few minutes long.

Now here is the key (note that number 9 is "Neve (preamp) to Apogee (converter)".)

I managed to forget to test the preamps on the 2626 on their own. Oops. That would have been nice to hear. 
My preliminary conclusion is that I kind of like the M-Audio 2626's converters. I hear that the Apogee is "higher end" but there's something nice about the grit (there's that word again) of the 2626.

The Frontier of Reason

Greg and Lily stopped by last night for a little rehearsal. Basically it was a "Drew only knows two chords, it's time to teach him more chords" rehearsal.

Now my job is to figure out how I'm going to record the three (Editor's note: why three?) records I want to make this year.
The Focusrite Scarlett 18i6 is a neat little interface. Presumably it will work with an iPad, which amuses me greatly.
The inputs on it are hot, boy. According to their website:

  • Input Level: +10dBu for 0dBFS (balanced inputs)
  • Input Impedance: >10kΩ

Whereas the M-Audio 2626 has what I would consider to be more reasonable levels:

  • Maximum Input level +19.6dBu, typical
  • Input Impedance >20k Ohms, balanced

That's almost a 10dB difference. The answer, of course, is to turn down any mic preamps feeding the Scarlett by about 10dB. (Ironically, the Scarlett's mic preamps are pretty quiet, unless the XLR's work at some lower level by default and I haven't figured out how to turn them up yet.)
Of course, what we can do is drive the Focusrite Scarlett with the M-Audio 2626. That is, if we were inclined to do such things. We can feed the Scarlett from the 2626 via ADAT lightpipe. We probably won't be doing that unless we have to record some crazy number of tracks for some reason.

The big thing with the Scarlett is that it is USB and not Firewire. That means that we can use a laptop with it rather than bringing a hundred pounds of computer around with us. (Ask any of my bandmates how much they enjoy doing that when you have the chance.)

Did I mention that the Scarlett's interface is vastly better than the 2626? And I don't even use the 2626 drivers as a rule nowadays, having found that the Samplitude "low-latency" drivers work better with it.

I've done tests. Hoo boy have I done tests. And you shall be subjected to my tests. Oh yes you will.

Merry Christmas Mayans

The world will end tomorrow which is a shame because I did my Christmas shopping today. As my dad had unilaterally announced that we were donating to charity rather than giving one another gifts I had to figure out what to buy.
I sent peanut butter, a hammer, some garbage bags, and a bunch of other things to the King of Kings Community Church in Manahawkin, NJ. I used the Occupy Sandy NJ wedding registry.
I have a vague recollection that many years ago my nephew suggested a "donate to charity Christmas" which was roundly rejected by, specifically, his grandparents (read: my dad).
I'm not anti-charity from a Malthusian perspective but rather from a "shouldn't the government be doing this?" perspective.
It's not that I'm actively anti-charity or anything. I'm just a bit dithery about it.
In any case, some filters and pillows go to New Jersey.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Falling Angels

Which brings me to last night's Tyrannosaurus Mouse rehearsal. Again we went to Looming Productions as a 3-piece. My rack, which is hardly portable, has 4 Neve 1272 preamps and the M-Audio 2626 A/D converter and preamp.
Here's a mix of Fiery the Angels Fell. (You can only see it in the web version of this post.)

I put the bass into the 1st Neve preamp. Ethan decided that some beat-up Samson microphone from the PA was the best choice. That is, it was a better choice than the even more beat-up no-name "58-esque" mic they had there. That actually sounded pretty good. It's a very aggressive bass sound but more than appropriate with Ethan's 5-string fretless. (UPDATE: Ethan says that he actually swapped out a Sampson for an actual 58, albeit more beat up.)
The drums had a center microphone of an AKG C12A and a "Y" configuration of a pair of Oktava 012 mics. I wanted the 012's because of their off-axis smoothness (over the AKG 460's). I set them relatively low rather than above the kit. The three drum mics (left, right, and center) all went through Neve preamps.
My big problem is that hi-hats are too loud. I mean, that's a big problem in my life.
I thought that by putting the mics "low" and facing the front of the kit I'd get a somewhat more kick and tom sort of sound.
Basically I think that worked. Still need to find a way to quiet the hi-hats. They're kind of like sopranos in a chorus in that way you want to shush them. Right?
Should there be more spread in the stereo-ness of the drums? I dunno. I feel a bit of longing of isolating the drums a bit more. The AKG center, being a tube mic, is a bit "fuzzy" sounding. I'm not entirely sure of how much I dig it but it certainly gives heft and center to the kick drum.
At some point I'm going to go on at length about the "three microphone" setup for a drum kit where one of those mics is not the kick drum. Because I'm not that sure I'm into a kick drum mic so much as just a "front of the kit" mic.
The guitar, which is my SG going into a VOX amp, was barely paid attention to by me. It's recorded with a '57 draped over the cabinet and the preamp is the 2626 (input number 5).
We recorded at 96kHz. I seriously don't know if that realistically makes much difference to us. Is it really better than 48K? Who knows. I'll be doing some experiments at some point.

Gritty Swagger

I don't think I have any kind of gritty swagger. Not like Howl from Beware of Darkness.
The most recent Taxi listings are all about the gritty swagger. I mean, that's the language they actually use to describe the songs.
I get the feeling that editors on TV shows put in songs they really like but can't afford. And then music supervisors are stuck with trying desperately to find affordable songs which match what the editor originally had in there before they get onto the mix stage. I mean, that's my feeling.
It's funny too that Taxi just goes ahead and puts YouTube URL's in their listings -- of videos of music similar to the style that they're looking for.
The latter half of December has no Taxi listings appropriate for Tyrannosaurus Mouse, Pleasure for the Empire, or Prague Spring.
I can haz gritty swaggers?

Additional coolness: dudes making and modifying microphones. Michael Joly mods Oktava and other mics.
Dude on Reddit made his own guitar magazine. Danny's Guitar Channel.

Things That Are Cool

Among things that are cool is an iPad app called Auria which allows for recording multitrack. You need a USB interface for it. Something like a Scarlett if you want to do at least 8 tracks. If you've got an iPad, an interface (and the camera connection kit for the iPad which is like $35 from Apple or vastly less from elsewhere) then it's a pretty cool and lightweight way to do recordings.

What else is cool? Mother Leopard is cool. Jeremy Crowson turned me on to them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Engineering only a 7?

Here's the first feedback we've gotten for anything submitted to Taxi. Hmm... I must have misunderstood what "song" means in this case.
But the recording is "Not great"? I'll have to differ with you there. I think it sounds pretty cool. It's not like it could be been produced with any, say, more expensive gear or mixed with a better mixing console. Beats me what they're looking for there -- probably just more compression.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Live Belle Saff

Are there any great drum sounds from live records? Like knock-your-socks off drum sounds?

Belle Adair is pretty groovy.

Here's a mastering house: Carl Saff.

It means "horse" in Latin or something like that

[S]he looks like a shape-shifting gazelle who speaks the language the gods used when they lived on the moon. You know, Gawker.
My parents have ceased speaking to me altogether. The last thing I said to them, when we were discussing donating animals to villages instead of gifts for one another, was a back-and-forth about whether we could get a water buffalo or something. My response was:

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
Not a crocodile
Or rhinocerosuses
I only like hippopatamusseses
And hippopatamuses like me too

Needless to say they've broken off all communication with me since then. Which is difficult because presumably they're going away to Atlanta for Christmas and will need me to come take care of the cats.

Internet Notebook Sounds and Music

Remember how these blogs are essentially my Internet notebook? No? Well you're about to be reminded.

The M-Audio 2626. The drivers which come with it are... persnickity. I lose ASIO buffers all day long. ASIO4ALL drivers are better. But so far the best drivers for me are the Samplitude low-latency drivers built into Samplitude. So you know what? Them's what I'm going with.

Otherwise the 2626 sounds pretty good. Yeah, I could get an upgrade by getting it modified for $575 plus shipping both ways. But I could get a pair of Lindell mic preamps for that price too. And the preamps will make a bigger difference to the sound.

Another issue which comes up is transportation. I'll probably end up with a Gator 4U bag. That's 2U for the two sets of Neve preamps and 1U for a 500 strip and 1U for the interface.

I wish there were a way to get Firewire into an iPad. Or I wish I had another Mini. Or something.

I'd also like a way of miking drums in a way that makes me happy. I'd like a very simple microphone setup that gives me both the presence and the bombasity I like.

I... you know... I don't like kick drum microphones. I mean. Yeah. There are some great kick drum sounds out there in the wild. But they frequently sound to me like they're not from the same drum kit when they're miked.

One trick seems to be getting the damn cymbals to shut up. Drums you hit hard. Those metal things on top? Not so much.

The drum sound on Sunshine of Your Love is pretty good. It's a bit cardboard for my taste. But he's such a good drummer with such great control of the dynamics of the kit that it sounds pretty good.

Fleetwood Mac's The Chain has a great, dry, '70's drum sound. Snares released from the snare drum before the chorus. The drum itself has a decent amount of resonance even though the acoustical space is so dead. And, again, the cymbals are under control. Playing drums is really hard.

I keep coming back to ABACAB. That, and the fact that my mother, strangely, liked the rhythm in the song "Mama".

The gold standard is always Kashmir. I'll take another listen. A Whole Lotta Love has an impressive drum sound.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Abbey Singer Day

Today we shot our second-to-last day of the Dragon picture.
Andrew Bellware, looking about a hundred years old here.
 John Dillon was our cameraman today. The Martian Queen handled art (and mustaches), whilst Tom Rowen was 1st AD/sound/bubble tea acquirer.)
I got this watch just for this movie. I was all about getting a closeup of it.

Andrew Bellware (The Monk) and Nat Cassidy (Reynard) look at a vial of dragon's blood.
We shot in a corner of the Forbidden Palace. We forgot spirit gum remover but that doesn't seem to affect me because the mustache just won't stay on anyhow.
Meredith Newman is the reason my character is called "The Monk" in the first place. Which, in turn, inspired us wearing monk's robes. Which, in turn, made the whole movie much better. ;-)


How had I not heard about this movie Oblivion? It's right up the Pandora Machine alley -- fake war on aliens who are actually human and the like.


I've resorted to making mother jokes on YouTube. It's a surprisingly apt forum for mother jokes.

Go ahead click on through and make some comments.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I want three of these Lindell 6X-500 preamps.
Most of the time I'm recording I'm doing it "blind". More accurately it would be called "deaf" as I can't hear what I'm recording -- I'm just looking at levels and microphone placement and imagining that it must sound okay.
So what I typically want is a high-end preamp that doesn't have a lot of controls on it. This is why the Neve 1272's work so well for me. You can be really, really stupid and record something with a 1272 and it'll sound great.
This Lindell preamps are very inexpensive (when you can find them in stock). They do require a 500 series power supply and housing. And on the Internet they sound great. What am I going to do with the EQ on them? Probably like I do with all Pultecs -- turn some knobs and trust it'll sound awesome.
You know what's also very cool? These Ear Trumpet Labs microphones. At $500 they're well-reviewed on the Internetz and the Josephene will be perfect on The Imaginary Opera.

Civil Calculus

The Twilight Calculator is good for finding your distance from Kristin Stewart. (Joke thanks to Ken Grumer). No c'mon, it's really awesome. It gives you sunrise and sunset directions as well as moonrise and moon set, from any latitude and longitude and date.
I've been doing a terrible job at keeping this blog NSFW. Luckily Chance's movie Interplanetary is on Hulu.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Rolling Sound

When we first began as Pandora Machine we were very pro-wireless lav microphones. This was because I had a set of them and a recorder for them and that's the way it was.
By the time Angry Planet came around we'd gone almost 100% boom mic. (And I don't even like shotguns, so we use a hyper-cardioid, but that's another issue altogether.) Until Prometheus Trap we shot almost entirely with a single boom for recording dialog.
This used to be our boom operator but he went union and now works in TV.
Now the thing is that lavalier mics are obnoxious to listen to on headphones. But they do isolate the person speaking a little bit better -- when you can avoid things like clothing noise and rubbing on the microphone itself (no easy feat). And it's true that a boom (a nice hypercardioid like a Schoeps or one of the good Oktavas we use) edits a bit more easily (when you have a quiet room to record in and actors aren't scuffling.)
But, we have a devil of a time getting and keeping a good boom operator. I do not believe, as some might suggest, that this is because I am "mean to the boom operator." I may very well be mean but that's not what the problem is.
The problem is that being a good boom operator is an enormous achievement. And they tend to get paid once they get good. And paid well. When I think of all the boom ops I've trained who went on to get bigger work I just sigh.
In any case, I'm a-thinking about going back to lavs. Recording isolated tracks from different lavs.
What inspired me to do this practically was the fact that Greg Bartus from the City Samanas owns one of these cute little 2-channel Fostex recorders. Them Fostex folks make a pretty nice $600 recorder. So rather than getting a $4200 Sound Devices (which, admittedly, is pretty darn nice) we could just throw another 2-track recorder in our bag next to the Sound Devices 702 we already have. Then we could record four tracks at a time (by pressing two record buttons).
To be sure, the Fostex does not have God's Own Limiters on the inputs the way the much more expensive Sound Devices does.

But overall it should work just fine. Right?
Are there issues with this? Yeah. One is that the slate has to be heard on both machines -- at least by one mic routed to each machine. Somebody has to be paying attention to that. Yesterday I was shooting a thing as a one-man-band (doing camera, slate, and audio) and the first take I totally blew off actually rolling record on the 702. So derp.
At this point we'd have to get three more wireless lavs. I have one very good lav. It's a Lectrosonics 411 receiver with the miniature transmitter. So it sounds very nice. Eats batteries but sounds nice.
Is it worthwhile to get the cheap Sennheisers? I don't know. I do get very cranky with audio gear that isn't pro (and made of metal). But I might not hate them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Which Day?

Today we shot Eva Kriksciun (not at this location) playing Drusilla, the witch.

Deus Ex Filmina

Interplanetary, a movie made by the gods themselves, is on Hulu. For free.

Recording in the City

Last night was another City Samana rehearsal. I recorded with the M-Audio 2626. The mic setup was a pair of spaced Shure SM 58's in the room to pick up guitars, an AKG C12A as the side mic and an Oktava 012 as the mid mic in an M/S pair over the drums, and a Rode NT1A on the bass amp. The input routing changed a bit over the session.
I only brought one pair of BAE Neve 1272 preamps. I was sort of kicking myself over that decision, I may as well bring both pairs I have.
My other brilliant move was that I didn't have headphones with me. To which I say derp.
The Neve's were routed directly into the M-Audio. And I'm watching the meters and there's this very clear spike punching ever second or so into the meters. I have no idea what that's all about so I pull the Neves out for the first couple hours.
Then I had an epiphany that the Neves maybe hate to see phantom power. I was, due to the fact that I hadn't bothered to bring any XLR to 1/4" cables, running directly into the M-Audio's mic preamps. Yes, I do realize that's not best practice. So on the last thing we recorded (above) Neve's were on the "room" mics.
I do like the space on the room mics. That part is nice. Guitar amps are usually recorded with a mic shoved right up in the grill but I kind of like having a few feet on them.
One issue for me is that the drums don't really have enough isolation to make them sounds like the monsters they should sound like. We don't have any baffles or anything (of course). But I'm thinking that maybe a trio of mics for the drums is what's in order. And maybe pointing guitar amps in another direction?
And, of course, asking Dave to hit the toms harder than the cymbals... ;-)
Here I boosted the drum M/S pair leaving the room mics a bit lower but smashing the drums a tad more. This song was brought about by Dave saying "What are we going to do?" and me saying "Something funky" and him replying "Like what?"

I may have overcompensated for my percussive loudness desired by making the drums too loud in this.  They're too loud and too compressed. I fought to make them too loud and too compressed. And I won.

Recording directly to Samplitude on my old PC I reported a lot of ASIO lost buffers. Like hundreds and hundreds of instances of lost buffers. I can't hear any clicking most of the time. But this is a thing which has must needs be fixed. I have no idea.
As a musical caveat: we're making these things up as we go along. I, certainly, have no idea what we're doing before we actually do it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Bellware Foundation

There are two major problems which rear their heads when one's family decides that Christmas shall be a matter of charitable giving rather than traditional Christmas presents.
1. I have to buy my own socks this year.
2. It must be decided to whom or what charity one should donate.
This decision can be very complex. Many of my family are involved in something about a heifer. Honestly, I have no idea what they're talking about but I think it involves buying cows for people who live in places where they could really use a cow. But I really don't even know as much as I've just said, much less have any clue what's going on. I watched a video of goats romping on a farm. I don't think that was related. The goats were on YouTube. It amused me.
Now what was I saying? Something about Christmas and Charitable Giving or some such. Right?
The Occupy people are probably the most efficient at taking money or things and actually using them in affected areas after Sandy. Which is great and everything but ideologically I think that the government should be doing that work and people should be paid to do it.
Doctors Without Borders seems to be a good organization and so forth.
I certainly work with a number of non-for-profit groups. I vaguely recall there used to be a theater? That can't be. Why would there have been a theater and there isn't one any longer? That's just nonsense. I must still be delirious from the antibiotics.
In any case there's the RCCNY and I have family members who run 501c3's and suchwise.
Lastly there is a third difficulty put in place with the charity nonsense. My sister won't get her Christmas present from three years ago.*

*I'd had her gift on my Amazon gift list for a long time. More than two years. Comically my midsummer Reddit Secret Santa bought it for me. Which is cool, because now I have it for her. Do I give it to her even though this is the Year of Charitable Giving?
We shall see. We. Shall. See.

Sound Check Day

Do you like microphone preamp shootouts?

Yeah, the Brent Averil API 312 doesn't seem to blow away the others like you think it would. But that's the thing. One at a time these sorts of things don't make such a big deal. But when you start to build up tracks it starts to make a difference. Like Alan Douches says, it's an "accumulation of subtleties."
You know what seems cool though? The Little Labs Lmno preamp.
I'm also somewhat curious about the Lindell preamp.
The A Designs 500 HR is a relatively inexpensive 500 rack with power supply (at $300).
Radial makes a 3-slot 500 rack (also in a 1U space) for only $350.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Clock Test

So I did a test of the internal clocks of both the MOTU UltraLite (the original one) and the M-Audio 2626. Using the internal microphone preamps we're looking at stock versions of each device.
The difference is that I flipped back and forth between the internal clocks on each of those interfaces and the S/Pdif clock from an Apogee Mini-Me.
The recording was made at 96kHz.
The EQ I used on the tracks. Just a little scoop at 277 seemed to do the trick.
The guitar is a Martin D28 going into an AKG 460 with a CK1 capsule. I put a tiny amount of EQ on the tracks just to cut out some of that low-frequency stuff and the 70Hz cut was switched on at the microphone itself. I'm recording in my relatively noisy control room but I used no noise reduction.
I then offer a version which is "mixed" with some nice reverb and compression. This is just so you (I) don't get tired of listening to dry guitar.
Remember, all of this is at 96kHz. I did not A/B anything against 48kHz or the like.
Also, I did not use fancy-pants mic preamps. No Neve, no API. So you're listening for clock differences. But you're also hearing preamp differences.
Note that you won't see the above link if you got this post as an email or in an RSS reader. You must come to the blog.
The numbers in the file are from Freesound contributor Corsica S.
Now ostensibly you should listen to the above track (embedded in Bandcamp) without my prejudicing you regarding which track is which. So I won't. Just listen.


It goes like this:
1. 2626 internal clock
2. 2626 Apogee clock
3. 2626 internal clock mixed with some reverb and compression more the way I'd probably actually do it
4. 2626 Apogee clock with reverb
1.1 UltraLite Apogee clock
2.2 UltraLite internal clock
3.3 UltraLite Apogee clock reverb
4.4 UltraLite internal clock reverb

My conclusion? Wow, at 96k there certainly is no difference that's particularly shocking between the internal and external clock. Knowing this will save me some money in external clocks, that's for sure.
Now I also did a couple quick tests with playback. At 48kHz the MOTU converter sounds much better with an external clock. I knew that before I did this test. With the external clock the high end is much less cloudy. I did not hear those differences when I was listening at 96kHz.

Monday, December 10, 2012


So I own a very expensive piece of software called Metacorder. It cost nigh on $1700 when I bought it in 2006. It has a USB dongle and only works on a Mac.
The Mac I had it installed on is now dead.
In order to put Metacorder on a new Mac I need to upgrade it. This will cost $295. Note that this is a piece of software which isn't even being updated anymore. 
The irony here is that the competing software is only $256 to buy. It's called Boom Recorder. It's actually only $250 in the iTunes store.
There's also a freeware program called Traverso which very well may work. I don't know yet if it can handle more than a stereo pair for recording. It looks like it will but I'll have to see. The difference with Boom Recorder and Metacorder and regular music applications is primarily the ability to read and time-stamp with incoming timecode. I don't care about timecode when I'm making movies, much less recording music. So there.
AKG C12A power supply 2618
 Taking pictures of my AKG C12A (power supply 2618) and microphone (2129).

Inside the box...

AKG C12A no 2129

The back of the microphone.

A little bit closer.

Mac Mini Meltdown

My old (2006) Power-PC Mac Mini up and died. The hard drive took a dive and decided to never work again.
It'd cost like $80 to buy a new, stupid drive for the thing. Or a couple hundred bucks to get a used one off of eBay.
But that's silly. A brand-spankin' new one is as cheap as $600. And the new ones have a lot of advantages over the old pre-Intel Minis.
The only disadvantage is the lack of CD/DVD burner. And yes, that old Mini was the only machine in my shop which could burn CD's and DVD's.
And honestly the only purpose I had for the old Mini was to use it for recording live multitracks.
Furthermore, I could very well find myself in a situation where I need to buy an additional computer in the coming year. I see this time coming. In my mind's eye, Horatio.
This bunny prefers maximals rather than minimals.
For now I'll just try the other Mini we have. Which will irritate my office partners to no end because they're the ones who use it. But hey, it's mine. ;-)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Drums and Microphone

From this thread, the measured dB SPL of drummers:

At drummer's ears
21" ride = 102 db
21" ride (bell) = 112 db
Bass drum = 105 db
Toms = 110 db
Snare 5x14 single roll all rimshot 120 db
Snare (maximum rimshot) 125 db
16" crash = 111 db
14" hats (maximum/open) = 117 db
18" china (maximum) 118 db

Quiet groove: drummer ears 105 db - 5 feet 100 db - 25 feet 96 db
medium groove: drummer ears 110 db - 5 feet 105 db - 25 feet 102 db
Solid groove: drummer ears 115 db - 5 feet 110 db - 25 feet 108 db
Maximum (snare): drummer ears 125 db - 5 feet 120 db - 25 feet 116 db

And some specs on the AKG C12A
  • Frequency Response 10Hz - 20kHz
  • Output Sensitivity 4mV/Pa
  • Max SPL 118dB for 0.5%THD
  • Self Noise (CCIR)
  • Self Noise (DIN/IEC) 20dB-A
  • Output Impedance 200Ω
  • Recommended Load 0.5kΩ
  • Powering Proprietary unit

Saturday, December 08, 2012


So it's not just me, right? The number of torrent sites which have our movies has skyrocketed over the last year.

Is that good or bad? I don't know because I can't think.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Clocks and Neve Shalom

I normally don't agree with Bob Katz. He's a mastering engineer who put himself in the fray of the "loudness wars" of the 90's.
He is, apparently, also in the fray of the "external clocks are always worse" arguments. Those arguments are weird. I first got wind of them on the Black Lion Audio site. External clocking is "controversial". The whole notion that it's controversial is absurd to me.
Ah. Well as it turns out I have to agree with Bob Katz on this. Why? Because he's not talking about clocking a MOTU interface with an Apogee clock. He's talking about clocking a Lavry A/D with a Big Ben.
Yeah, that doesn't really matter. With the high-end converters the built-in clocks are pretty good so you don't need an external clock.
But with cheapo converters you'll get a HUGE increase in quality when you externally clock. Listening to the output of my MOTU UltraLite on its own clock and then with the clock from the Apogee Mini-me reveals a vast difference in audio quality. I mean it's eminently obvious, you don't need to do a blind A/B. Just flip the switch and see.
UPDATE: I'm completely wrong about this. I cannot replicate that experiment I undertook once upon a time wherein I determined that the MOTU plugged into an Apogee clock started sounding a lot better. So Bob Katz is right about clocks all sounding about the same, as far as I can tell.
If a bear snuggles a log in the woods, will you hear it?
I've grown weary of the sound of Neve preamps on drums. Don't dig the sound on snare. Not on kick. Room? I dunno. I'm thinking something else like D.W. Fern. Or maybe API all around. Yeah. API all around.
Now that's not to say I don't prefer Neves on electric guitars. Because I do. Just... drums. They're too... I dunno... pillow-y?


In our studio the preferred voiceover microphone is the Rode NT1A. We don't just like it because it's vastly cheaper than the AKG C12a (about 1/30th the cost) and it's much more durable, it also has a upper-mid "lift" that sounds better on most people with the exception of me and some female vocalists.
The NT1A plucked from its case.

It normally lives in the booth but it (and its twin) can be in the aluminum case marked "Input Transducers." Yes, it's a poor-man's Neuman U87. There's no pad switch. There's no switch for polarity. It's always cardioid.
Which way to you talk into it? This is a question which you might ask. There's a little gold button which indicates the "front" of the mic that should face your mouth.
The golden button marks the place where the singing goes.
Here is the NT1A in its little "basket" shockmount. Note that right now only one of these baskets works right. The other one has a broken elastic.
There's no reason to feel you need to mount this rightside up. Upside down is perfectly acceptable.
But do make sure you've put the pop filter in front of the mic.
Also, I frequently back the mic with one of those ubiquitous pieces of foam we have lying around. It helps deaden the booth just a bit.
There are two blue mic cables draped into the voiceover booth (what we like to call the Tardis). And look! They're conveniently labeled for your dining and dancing pleasure. Let's use the one labeled "MIC 1".
Now where does that signal go? Ah. Yes. It appears at our XLR patch bay. You'll see that "normally" the "MIC 1" is patched to "Pre/AD 1" and "MIC 2" is patched to "Pre/AD 2" using short XLR jumpers. On occasion something else is plugged into either "Pre/AD 1" or "Pre/AD 2". Feel free to unplug whatever that is (likely to be the power supply to the AKG C12a) and patch the feed from the booth instead.
Patch bay and left channel of preamp.
Okay, now you have the patching correct -- it's time to set the gain on the preamp. That's the preamp right above the patch bay. First, make sure the "48V" button is on (and there's no light on it to tell you it's on). Then you have a big knob and a little one. Normally the big knob is at about 2 o'clock and the little one is turned as far clockwise as it'll go.
Lastwise is the settings on the A/D converter.
A/D converter.
You don't want to touch the knobs on the left. But the selector that's third-from-the-left (2nd from the right) you do want to check. For most video stuff you'll want it set to 48kHz and not 44.1kHz. There are some rare instances where you might want 44.1 but those are mostly music-related. Set it to 48.