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Author Topic: Character...  (Read 16871 times)

Brian Kehew

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Character...
« on: April 02, 2005, 02:18:50 pm »

Everyday, I work on classic recordings of the past (it's my job) and am amazed at how badly many "favorite records" were engineered. Not really "badly", but lacking in the tone purity that people seek to achive now. They may not have full fidelity - but they have a great CHARACTER. Sometimes I sit and listen - "How could WE ever get that drum sound today?" It's not HiFi (nor LoFi), just different than we get now, everywhere.

It reminds me of the old man with the crummy guitar he's had forever - he plays the HELL out of it, and makes great music. If you gave him a Paul Reed Smith, it may NOT even be as good, although provably a better guitar. The 'character' goes out the window and he becomes more generic and plain. This also has implications of "originality" and "finding a voice" that is unique...

Do you even think about this, as I do? I sometimes ignore supposed "quality", instead trying to get as much "character" and impact on every track. How low do you go? Would you release a record that has a distorted vocal track or time problems with the drums... (famous examples?!) Not that "character" is LoFi, either...
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compasspnt

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Re: Character...
« Reply #1 on: April 02, 2005, 02:26:37 pm »

I had a couple of 16 track masters of Marvin Gaye hits...two of the very cool, biggest ones he did in LA.  When you listen to the tracks solo, they are bloody AWFUL.  The vocals sound like they were recorded in 4 or 5 different studios with 4 or 5 different mics, none of them very good...punched very badly, noises everywhere.  The drums are very lo-fi, the strings sound awful, the Chamberlin is what it is, but squeaky.  The bass has no real bass.  The BGV's and horns are distorted.  And so on.  But when you put it all together, MAGIC.  Sounds great.  A classic.

I have often worried that sounds I get are all too big, that is, not lo-fi enough.  It all has to mix in somewhere, and the sound spectrum gets full fast.  It's actually hard to purposely get good lo-fi sounds.  The old days stuff just got them automatically.
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cgc

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Re: Character...
« Reply #2 on: April 02, 2005, 05:30:48 pm »

Quote:

How low do you go? Would you release a record that has a distorted vocal track or time problems with the drums... (famous examples?!)


Baba O'Reily.  Moon comes in so fast it's hilarious.  The piano is really distorted and I bet that VCS3 is way the hell out of tune by the end.  I'm sure they noticed, but those tracks are still there in the finished mix.  

Here's a surprising one: Kraftwerk's 'Europe Endless'.  One of the wannabe automaton drummers (Karl or Wolfgang) triggers the wrong snare sound.  It only happens once in the tune and it's not really effective as punctuation, so it has to be a mistake.  It's hard to believe they let that go though.

Maybe you've noticed the Lee Perry threads here?  Those records are very 'low fi' compared to even contemporaneous recordings, yet they are classics and would not be the same if done 'properly'.  PIL's 'Metal Box' took dub mixing to the art of anti-production, and then there are those Basic Channel techno guys that digitally manufacture the tape hiss and artifacts as the main element of their music.

'I know a lot of people are into the inhuman cleanliness of a synthesizer, but I don't like that, ... a lot of the faults that develop are rather interesting, so I leave those alone.'  - Brian Eno, who has probably messed up more records than anyone from a technical standpoint
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cgc

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Re: Character...
« Reply #3 on: April 02, 2005, 05:33:51 pm »

compasspnt wrote on Sat, 02 April 2005 13:26

It's actually hard to purposely get good lo-fi sounds.


Let me know if you ever need help with this.  I can't get sounds anywhere close to the polish that you achieve Terry.  Maybe we can work out some sort of exchange program. ;)
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RMoore

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Re: Character...
« Reply #4 on: April 02, 2005, 07:18:36 pm »

[quote title=cgc wrote on Sun, 03 April 2005 00:30]
Quote:

 and then there are those Basic Channel techno guys that digitally manufacture the tape hiss and artifacts as the main element of their music.


I never thought I'd see Basic channel mentioned on the forum!

I became a huge fan since my 1st encounter circa 1995, love all that stuff , Basic Channel, Chain Reaction, Maurizio, Burial Mix...
FUNNILY ENOUGH -  the story is the 2 guys producing the tunes were /are major fans of NYC's Wackies / Lloyd Barnes lo fi reggae productions (which were hugely influenced in turn by -ta da- Lee Scratch Perry)...
Their sound is supposedly based on the Wackies sound & the TV show Flipper for the underwater vibe, but that last one could be some German humour..
If you check out some of the Wackies 12 inches they've reissued - you can hear a definite link to what the BC guys did in techno & electronic music...
I lurv their sound - very grainy, lo fi and FULL OF HISS...
Very unique

Of their lofi techno reggae stuff - The TIKIMAN 'Showcase' album is classic..
(BTW due to some legal problem TIKIMAN is now known as Paul St Hilaire - so its actually now Paul St Hilaire 'Showcase'..not quite as cool sounding..oh well..))

Some of my favorite music of the last 10 yrs! No kidding...


Check it aus: http://www.basicchannel.com/
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maxim

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Re: Character...
« Reply #5 on: April 02, 2005, 07:35:38 pm »

i, definitely, think music can be too hi-fi

i think it relates to the idea that studio musicians can be too precise and clean and lose the "trashy edge" (to quote terry)

in my opinion, what is really exciting in art is contrast, so to have a lo-fi gtr against hi-fi drums (or vice-versa) makes us pay attention to both

sometims an upright fits the mix better than a grand

everytime you lo-pass a track you make it less hi-fi

sometimes, distortion on vocals is just what's needed to give it the right emotional impact

i also believe that what humans want from performers is to see them try and succeed (in fact, sometimes, even failure is acceptable if the person gave it their best shot)

if they succeed without trying, it makes for pretty boring viewing

often, the "character' comes from the person's attempt to better themselves (the raspy edge in the voice as they try to hit the high notes, the buzz of an amp as it tries to amplify the sound, etc)

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wwittman

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Re: Character...
« Reply #6 on: April 02, 2005, 08:32:49 pm »

It's a Lowrey organ on Baba O'Reilly (just being filtered through the synth) and I don't hear Moonie as out of time at the top.

and I CERTAINLY don't hear the piano as distorted.
In fact, I think it's absolutely stunningly good recording on that record.

but it's also certainly redolent of 'character' in Brian's sense.

Which I think has much more to do with being performance oriented, which we hope gets captured in the recording, rather than recording oriented, and hope it also has some performance left in it... if that's clear... which has become the trend.

people don't ask "is it a great drum take" until AFTER they ask if it's all perfectly on the grid and "phase aligned"

I also don't think that these recordings sought a "lo fi" sound, they simply did the best recording they COULD in any given circumstance.
I frankly find intentional "lo fi" as pretentious and pointless as attempts as "perfection"

I certainly will always fight for a performance that is compelling even if it has a "flaw" in it of some kind, whether musical or technical
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Brian Kehew

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Re: Character...
« Reply #7 on: April 03, 2005, 12:02:54 am »

(Baba = Yamaha organ; Pete still has it, it's on a lot of Who tracks. Lowrey + EMS synth is Won't Get Fooled.)

Character is something that IS hard to define and anything can have it. Performance, tone, pitch, timing, phrasing, the material.

As indefinite as all that is, I find the concept to be a good one though, as a guideline. Not all your tracks need to have character, and it may truly cause a problem. But I do see myself asking "How INTERESTING is this thing I'm doing?" Could it be more clever and maybe unique, rather than a sound someone else has done? (Also good to abandon this idea and get dumb sounds - probably a great way to make a terrific overall track)

For me, a U47 into a Neve preamp is the last vocal sound I would use; lots of other options are good out there... "Family Affair" MUST be a talkback mic, and the vocal sounds AMAZING. But a bold move - or maybe he was high....
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cgc

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Re: Character...
« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2005, 12:27:11 am »

Quote:

I also don't think that these recordings sought a "lo fi" sound, they simply did the best recording they COULD in any given circumstance.
I frankly find intentional "lo fi" as pretentious and pointless as attempts as "perfection"



Perhaps 'lo fi' is not a very descriptive term when used in a general sense.  Aspects of fidelity vary between people and situations and there is a good deal of training involved as well.  I am reminded of a story a professor friend of mine tells, which I can't assure the veracity of, but will relay anyway:

In the late 1960s a group of researchers/film enthusiasts found a man who had not seen a movie since the silent era.  They got him to attend a screening of '2001' expecting to overwhelm the fellow with the technical advancements of the medium since his last experience.  When asked what he thought after the film, he responded simply: 'It still flickers'.  The guy didn't even have the physiological conditioning to register the persistence of vision and motion blur!  

That story illustrates the often assumed role of acclimation to the medium in order to suspend disbelief.  I think we all know that trying to get the sound of a group of musicians in a space reproduced from an analog or digital medium into the wholly untreated and unknown environment of a living room remains a fool's errand.  The typical overdubbing and production process makes it even more absurd, particularly when considering that the most general ballpark approach to recording is enough for listeners to recognize and distinguish sound sources.  Consider the very early wax cylinder era of recording and how far those sound from live acoustic performance yet audiences could readily identify performers and instrumentation.  

For me, the more interesting area lies where the blurring of standard, recognizable and unexpected, foreign elements occur.  The type of timbral, structural and spatial manipulations required might get construed as 'lo fi' because it contradicts the more typical notions of 'faithfulness' in sound reproduction.  Everything I do in a studio recording context is fabricated, synthesized and lies outside of any single event.  I hold no illusions otherwise, and that tends to lead down a different path compared to many studio dwellers.  

As Brian pointed out in the opening post, no absolutes really exist on the subject and we often have difficulty describing the more abstract notions of 'quality' and 'character' to one another.  That's why I can joke about trading some 'hi fi' Terry Manning sounds for my 'lo fi' ones because obviously if we were given the same environment to work in the results will naturally differ.  Although I would put money on 95 out of 100 people preferring the other guy's results over mine, and that doesn't really bother me too much either.
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cgc

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Re: Character...
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2005, 12:29:30 am »

Ryan Moore wrote on Sat, 02 April 2005 18:18


I never thought I'd see Basic channel mentioned on the forum!



Just wait until I regale everyone with my Mego and Autechre touring stories.
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J.J. Blair

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Re: Character...
« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2005, 01:13:46 am »

Brian, I know we have had this discussion before, but I offer this evidence from thewho.net:

Baba O'Reilly
Equipment used: Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 organ from 1968.
Lowery TBO-1

I’d always thought this was programmed into Pete’s huge modular ARP 2500 synth/sequencer. It certainly sounds like it could have been! It’s hard to believe that the sound we hear on Baba O’Riley is really a Lowrey home organ. The model Pete used was a TBO-1, but for anyone wishing to recreate Baba O’Riley, just pick one up the following models to do the same job: TLO, DSO, TLS, TSO 25 and HR and GAK (seems to be the nearest). Pete is using a setting called “marimba repeat.” This is different from a normal repeat effect in that certain notes are repeated either on or off the beat creating a much more complicated repeat pattern. For example the following group of notes sound ON the beat when these keys are held F-G, B-C#, and these other notes G#- A#, D-E repeat off the beat creating the alternating pattern heard on Baba O’Riley. In addition, a setting called Wow-Wow is used, much like a guitarist’s wah-wah pedal. It’s not that obvious in the Who’s Next version as it’s only being used as a tone control; but in Pete’s orginal demo, the effect is used in the regular way. It’s often been reported that Pete recorded the part at half speed, making playback sound fast and frantic (Terry Riley often did this), and again sounds possible but it is performed in realtime. If you get the chance to try one of these organs, hit that marimba repeat tab and you will quickly realise how it inspired Pete to come up with this fabulous keyboard part.
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Tomas Danko

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Re: Character...
« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2005, 04:20:14 am »

compasspnt wrote on Sat, 02 April 2005 20:26

I had a couple of 16 track masters of Marvin Gaye hits...two of the very cool, biggest ones he did in LA.  When you listen to the tracks solo, they are bloody AWFUL.  The vocals sound like they were recorded in 4 or 5 different studios with 4 or 5 different mics, none of them very good...punched very badly, noises everywhere.  The drums are very lo-fi, the strings sound awful, the Chamberlin is what it is, but squeaky.  The bass has no real bass.  The BGV's and horns are distorted.  And so on.  But when you put it all together, MAGIC.  Sounds great.  A classic.

I have often worried that sounds I get are all too big, that is, not lo-fi enough.  It all has to mix in somewhere, and the sound spectrum gets full fast.  It's actually hard to purposely get good lo-fi sounds.  The old days stuff just got them automatically.


Over here in Stockholm an artist named Dr. Alban called in Todd Terry to produce some tracks for an album and a guy I know engineered the stuff. It was basically nothing but a pair of E-MU SP1200's outputting a bunch of loops into a handful of channels on the desk. However, the engineer found some buzz and hum due to a ground loop somewhere and asked Todd Terry about fixing it or not.

Todd Terry just replied: "Nah, leave it. They LOVE that shit." (Referring to the house music fans)

Sincerely,

Tomas Danko
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JGreenslade

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Re: Character...
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2005, 06:39:43 am »

There are some pretty funny stories regarding Todd Terry... Where would you start... A quick one so I don't go too OT...

About 10 yrs ago two popular artists (Bizzare Inc in the UK and Cajmere / Dajae from Chi-town) asked Todd for a remix of their respective tracks... Todd made up a new backing track, inserted a sample of both songs onto the track and proceeded to give the "remix" to both labels... The labels only found out once they'd each pressed about 50,000 12"s and dealers were ringing them up...

If you ever wanted to see the epitomy of a remixer / producer getting hold of the udders and milking an industry you'd be hard pushed to find a better example than Todd. Todd is a genuinely talented remixer / producer and deserved to be successful, but the way he's gone about it is pretty unique; instead of having the industry take him for a ride, he's been the rider... Apparently he did the "Everything but the girl" remix in 7 hours - he spent most the morning in cafes 'phoning engineers telling them the parts he wanted primed in the PT-rig, went in with the parts up on the desk, put a long live fader mix to 2-track and edited it down to a sensible length.
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Bob Olhsson

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Re: Character...
« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2005, 10:17:19 am »

wwittman wrote on Sat, 02 April 2005 19:32

...I frankly find intentional "lo fi" as pretentious and pointless as attempts as "perfection"...
Character, in my experience, is mostly related to the collective responses of the people involved to what the song is telling them to do. Songs take on a life of their own when you let them.

RMoore

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Re: Character...
« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2005, 02:02:45 pm »

thermionic wrote on Sun, 03 April 2005 12:39

 I have a release of Maurizio on white vinyl, and can't determine whether the crackles are deliberate or due to the coloured vinyl. Maurizio / BC fuse both lo-fi and hi-fi ideology - some elements may be distorted / processed, but others may be clinically clean. In difference to recordings made decades ago when the character was there by *default*, Maurizio "controls" the character - you get the impression everything is deliberate. I'm told BC / Maurizio have a vinyl mastering facility that can cut high quality masters btw (is it still going?).  

Justin


I think the early Maurizio 12's were on limited coloured vinyl..
I have a bunch of the 12's on regular vinyl & they are not crackly sounding..
Their Vinyl mastering facility is Dubplates and Mastering in Berlin,
http://www.dubplates-mastering.com/
Supposedly they got into it because they were unimpressed with the results from other facilities...
The fact it was a good business move can't have hurt either,
I had some stuff cut there in the 90's, but switched to another place called SST in Frankfurt after D&M raised prices w a flat rate PLUS studio time system ..
(BTW results are as good or better IMO and its  cheaper..
as much as I liked the D&M guys and attitude, I had to watch the $$)..
FWIW - the sound on any of their Burial Mix 10 inch vinyls is INSANE.
Monster bass like you've never heard before on wax..
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