This is the fifth in a series discussing solo piano recording and processing for Roger Powell’s third solo release Fossil Poets along with the process used for approval of work along the way.
Solo Piano Parts
Roger Powell is still very at home just sitting down and improvising. Knowing his previous recordings included some beautiful piano pieces I suggested that we try to include some solo piano work on this record. I suggested that he put up a mic on his upright piano in the living room and just improvise, and I’d pick the best parts and make the edits. Roger did just that, recording the piano pieces using a DigiTech JamMan loop pedal. The simplicity of the device allowed the capture of his performances without a lot of setup. The box records to WAV files that he uploaded to our project FTP site, setup so that we could exchange large uncompressed audio files.
Powell has a beautiful Schimmel upright he purchased in 1994. The setup was a simple, mono mic placement, the Rode NTK, above the back of his head aimed at the open piano top. The recording ended up having a pleasant room ambience. Roger recorded one continuous piece (nearly 10 minutes in length totaling 50 Megabytes)
Mono to Stereo
Once I downloaded the mono 16 bit 44.1K file I processed it, for stereo spatialization using Waves Imagizer, creating a split field image from this mono source material. I chose two short segments out of the larger ten minute piece that had been recorded. The treatment of placing the piano into the proper ambient space took a bit of time. I chose a Church hall in the Altiverb reverb plug-in. The actual impulse response used was the Utrecht Conservatory Chapel.
One of the problems I had with the single source mic placement was some tubbiness (midrange) that I eq’ed out using the Pultec MEQ-5 plug-in. This is a software emulation of the vintage Pultec EQ, highly praised for its warm sounding interactive EQ curves. I also used just a slight bit of compression (just a few DB) using the Waves Linear Phase Multiband Compressor in an OPTO emulation mode. Not too drastic, just to even out the piano’s registers. I reduced some of the 250Hz range and boosted a bit at 2000Hz. With the dynamics present in acoustic instruments less is more, always.
Mangling sounds with external boxes-
Sometimes external processors were used to liven things up a bit. Roger is fond of the Vox ToneLab unit. He says “I originally bought this for it’s intended use with guitar, but I soon found out it was really cool for processing other instruments, especially the Nord Electro electric piano sounds. With a 12AX7 tube and simulations of vintage effects, it was perfect for mangling otherwise plain sounds.”
Process for approvals
At critical points during the production, I would just burn a CD, send it via snail-mail and ask, "What do you think of this?" If Roger needed to add a part, my submissions could easily be pulled into his Pro Tools rig and parts added.
We used email for approval of construction/arrangements/mixes. We did completely upload Roger’s piano pieces (Dauphine & Astrae) using our project FTP site. But, we found that for most of this project it was easier to wait for a CD to arrive via standard postal service. The time between updated versions was great enough immediate access was not much of a concern in this case.
ISP and FTP
Even if you are only sending a bunch of MP3’s, using email is can be unwieldy because the file sizes for attachments (determined by your level of service with an Internet Service Provider ISP) is usually limited to a few megabytes. You really need an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) service for sending and receiving the large uncompressed files we are accustomed dealing with for audio. The formula for calculating file sizes is 10 megabytes per minute for Stereo, 44.1Khz, 16 Bit files. For example, a 3-minute song at this sample rate and bit width fills 30 megabytes!