All the gear...

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All the gear...

So, a while back we decided not to put a “Gear List” on our site. The main reason for this is that studio equipment gets bought and sold, falls into disrepair and is generally a fairly fluid thing. Also, we don’t think people should choose a studio based on gear when you can listen to the records that have been made there and talk to the engineers about what you want to achieve from a session.

All that being said, sometimes we do just like to geek out about the tools we use and why we love them. So here’s a bit of that. We’ll try and do some regular posts like this, looking at a couple of things we find inspirational each time. First up, it’s the…

Neve 33609 Compressor

  Our Neve 33609 Compressor in the rack

Our Neve 33609 Compressor in the rack

I remember when we first got this unit in to try out - we did a comparison between this and the UAD plugin version. The difference was big enough for us to know we had to go for it. Testing it out on the drum buss brought the low end of the kick to life and didn’t take anything from the high end like some compressors will do. It’ll often sit as an insert on our stereo bus from the start of a mix and allow us to dig into it slightly. When people talk about “Glue” in the context of a mix, I think a better way to put it is this. Different elements of a song will trigger a compressor in different ways, but the compressor will still react and effect the entire mix. So when your kick drum hits a little harder, the whole mix reacts. It places those instruments into the same sonic “world” as each other. You need to use this stuff sparingly most of the time, but the results you get can make a huge difference. On the other hand, you can also have a lot of fun sending the drums to the Neve, pushing the compression and limiter sections to the extreme and blending it back in with the dry signal. This unit can be as dramatic or as subtle as the song requires.

Watkins Copicat Tape Echo

 The Watkins Copicat, getting ready to chew on some fresh tape loops

The Watkins Copicat, getting ready to chew on some fresh tape loops

Ours is a 1970’s, solid state edition of the Watkins Copicat - a lovely tape delay unit that can produce a range of delay effects from early rock-n-roll style slapback through to longer, rhythmic echoes. This solid state version has arguably better headroom for processing things like vocals, which we did recently on the recordings we did with garage/surf rock lovelies, Pet Crow. Our unit has also been modified with a “wet out”, which means we can send a signal into it and just get the delayed signal coming back out, rather than having the original signal mixed in with it. This works great in a studio environment where we will often add an effect like this after the instrument/vocal has been recorded. We also have a few different tape loops we can use, some of which have been well used and will give a different sound quality to a fresh loop. Basically, it’s a great unit to evoke something a little more interesting and tactile than a traditional delay pedal or a plugin might produce. Great gear should always inspire you and your collaborators to better sounds, better performances and more fun. This does that in spades.

We’ll do a bit more writing on some more gear soon. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to know about, please let us know in the comments.

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An update, belated thanks and thoughts on air and mass...

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An update, belated thanks and thoughts on air and mass...

We've been a bit quiet about the development threat that the studio has been facing since last year - now we can have a chat about it.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, the initial Facebook post is here.

So, after a few months of stress and uncertainty, we have a decision from Derby City Council on the building of a block of flats a few meters from our door. For now, it's good news. You can read the refusal document here.

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Safe to say, this was a bit of a nightmare for us. Plans had to be put on hold, new backup plans had to be put in place and we had to learn quite a bit about how all this development stuff works in order to coordinate an appropriate response. I want to be clear that I don't believe that the land next to our studio is best kept as a dusty car park and I don't want to oppose redevelopment in the area, it's just I don't want it to end my business either. So we were quite careful about not wanting to whip up some kind of online mob, we just needed our concerns of those of our clients to be heard and hopefully open a dialogue with the developers and the council.

With that in mind, I want to kick this off by saying thank you! Thanks to everyone who signed up and registered their concerns on the ePlanning site. HUGE thanks to all our previous clients who had some experience of this stuff and reached out with advice and in the case of Tom from Mountain Schmountain, actual relevant paragraphs of legislation with annotated notes to help us make sense of where we stood. Also thanks to Derby City Council for visiting us, hearing us out and keeping us posted as everything progressed.

The concern that still remains is that this refusal was not based on the impact upon our business. It may have played some small part, but certainly isn't mentioned in the refusal notice explicitly. The developers may well appeal the decision, submit changed plans or just sell the land to someone else who will seek to do the same. With the amount of inner city development taking place at the moment (almost entirely offices and flats), we don't see this as a problem that has gone away for good.

We've been here for over 10 years. The building has been a studio for much longer. I recorded my first band's demo here when I was 15. It would be a huge financial and emotional expense for us to have to move, and a shame for Derby to lose another facility that helps the creative community to... y'know, create.

This whole experience has made me think about the problems our industry (and others) have, moving into the next decade where our cities will be changing quite drastically to deal with developments in industries and the societies built around them. The issue can be condensed into one sentence.

"People need to control the air around them"

Sound is just the way air moves around us, through us and through our environments. It's difficult stuff and relatively expensive to control, to stop it transmitting, to stop it reflecting, to change its direction. All of which we have to do in our studio spaces to make them sound good whilst not negatively impacting the environment around us.

  Believe it or not, the back wall of our studio is not made of tiny shelves for keeping lots of minidiscs in...

Believe it or not, the back wall of our studio is not made of tiny shelves for keeping lots of minidiscs in...

People in their homes and workplaces all need to do the same, although most of them aren't playing drumkits or running loud amplifiers so it's much easier and cheaper to control those environments. Humans are also generally pretty good at tuning out the outside world and we hardly notice if a large lorry drives past or a car alarm goes off. We don't have that luxury in a sound sensitive workspace.

So the problem we face is that we all need more suitable spaces to work, and it's not just us. Music teachers who need places where they can teach a beginner to play (badly at first) on the piano without it annoying next door, film editors who need to hear their sound mix in the same quiet environments as the cinemas which they will play in or podcasters who need to put out a clear message without background noises distracting from the dialog. 

So, in a way, this is a plea to developers. To city councils, to anyone who is instrumental in redeveloping our cities. You already espouse the value of the creative and digital industries in this area of the country and the reliance on them as we move forward into uncertain times of automation, climate change and all the other factors that will affect the spaces people live, work and play in. Why not consider creating working spaces that tackle sound and respond to the diverse needs of the businesses and art spaces that can thrive in them? There are conversations to be had, let's start having them before we lose all of the venues, musical establishments, and spaces where creation can be limitless.

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Vestige VR and Sheffield Doc Fest

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Vestige VR and Sheffield Doc Fest

Vestige is a room scale virtual reality experience directed by Aaron Bradbury and produced by the team at NSC Creative.

"In Vestige, you are surrounded primarily by blackness, grasping at emotions and memories that emerge as you navigate the space. You’re guided by the narration of Lisa as she recalls life with her young husband, Erik, and the events leading up to his tragic death. The project has already touched hearts—so much so that it became the third ever sale of a virtual reality experience at a major film festival, joining Zikr: A Sufi Revival on the slate of the UK’s new VR distributor, Other Set." ~ Liz Nord, No Film School

The experience presents subtle differences with each viewing. Alternate paths through Lisa's memories are navigated by the viewer's gaze and position within the apartment. The score seamlessly moves between evolving soundscape and more linear pieces of music.
I led on sound design for the project which involved liaising with the film's composer, Starkey on the assets for the score and how they would be assembled to form a seamless path throughout this branching experience. I also created the sounds of Lisa's memories of her time with Erik as they manifest around their apartment. Working closely with Duane our main developer, using Google's Resonance spatial audio system in FMOD and Unity, we were able to map sound onto the characters and their movements in a realistic 3D space and render it in binaural stereo.

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The project premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in New York but more recently (and closer to home) we saw its European debut at Sheffield Doc/Fest. Installed in Trafalgar Warehouse, within the Alternate Realities section of the festival, I went down to see how people experienced Vestige and to find out what else is happening in the immersive spaces outside of traditional media.

On Friday, in a big dome outside The Crucible Theatre, I got to sit it on our Meet The Maker session with Vestige director Aaron and producer Paul Mowbray. Also on the panel was Kalina Bertin and Sandra Rodriguez from EyeSteelFilm, discussing their project "Manic VR" - a companion piece to Kalina's documentary exploring her sibling's experiences with bipolar disorder. It was really interesting to compare the two projects, both exploring deeply personal struggles as told by their subjects. Sadly, I didn't get the chance to experience Manic VR due to it being solidly booked up (as were most of the installations over my visit), but according to those I spoke to that did, it's popularity is unsurprising.

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A story that I did get to experience, however, was 'Face To Face'. An installation and 360 documentary about Michelle, who wears a prosthetic face mask after a tragic, accidental gun injury. A shotgun blast took away Michelle’s eyes, nose, and upper palate, leaving her permanently blind and unable to smell. The visitor makes their way through three spaces, each revealing more of Michelle's story through recreated family spaces, 360 documentary footage, and interviews. It's an incredibly powerful piece of work that made me feel a sense of awe at the resilience that Michelle shows but also forced me to challenge my feelings of apprehension and discomfort when confronted with this life-changing injury and damage within the vulnerable isolation that VR creates. 

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Face To Face won the Virtual Reality Award at the close of the festival on Tuesday with our very own Vestige coming in second place and receiving an honorary mention from the Jury! A huge pat on the back is due to all the Doc/Fest staff and volunteers for running such a great festival and giving all of us creators a chance to meet, discuss, explore and be entertained. Here's hoping I can make it back next year!

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