Unique Recording Techniques

I love reading about unique techniques people have discovered or developed in the studio to capture sound, and it is so much more interesting than the inevitable ‘what plugins/software do you use?’ forum questions. I was watching a DVD last night called ‘Pretty as a Picture – The Art of David Lynch’ and came across this section, illustrating a technique they used when recording Angelo Badalmaneti’s score for Lost Highway in Prague:

I love the mischievous look on Badalamenti’s face as David Lynch explains what he is doing… Unlike recording music for its own sake, recording & premixing the score for a film involves a context that is not immediately apparent. Sure the composer & director (hopefully) have a clear idea about where & how the music will work in a scene, but the actual specifics of how the music balances alongside all the other elements in the final mix remains to be discovered at a later date. While flexibility is crucial (hence premixing the score to multiple stems) the idea of finding recording techniques that are worth carrying into the final mix purely as transitional or contrasting elements is very interesting.

It reminded me of a story Brian Reitzell told me when we were working on 30 Days of Night, of his working with a producer who whenever he was recording drums would put a bucket of water in the same room. In the bucket he would suspend a hydrophone & record the sound that was being induced into the water through the energy of sound in the room…

Tchad Blake is a producer with a reputation for a unique approach to recording & mixing, not the least of which involves a Neumann KU100 binaural head that he callsFritz: “Fritz is very dear to us Blakes. Between my wife (also an engineer and the PT’s head in the family) and I we have three heads. I always use one as my drum OH and have for almost fifteen years. Very balanced sounding mic. Great on piano, strings-large and small, all kinds of room setups. Good on vocals with softer acoustic instrumentation.”

And from a 1997 article in Sound on Sound magazine: “Blake is an engineer who likes to create sound effects at source, as with the aforementioned rubber tubes and binaural head, or using “mechanical filters, like wooden pipes, didgeridoos, metal pipes, tin cans and boxes, cardboard boxes and tubes, and so on. I’ll put springs in a tin can, place that in front of a drum, and put a microphone in it. I must admit that I’ve been doing it a little bit less recently, because I felt that I’d been over-using this approach, but it does have a number of huge advantages. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s very difficult to duplicate these mechanical effects. Some people see the latter as a disadvantage, but I think it’s great because it forces you to come up with new ideas every time. In my view, records that are created with a lot of mechanical experimentation tend to sound more original and unique than records that are made primarily with synths and samplers, although there are, of course, exceptions”

The use of distortion is not new, but it is interesting to hear both Tchad Blake & other mixers discuss using distortion as a form of compression and to help build ambience without using reverb. From an article in Mix magazine, Peter Katis explains: “I am not as much a fan of compression as I am the distortion that a cool compressor can bring. In addition to the parallel-compression technique, where I blend certain overcompressed tracks, lately I’ll overdrive the entire drum bus and you’d never know that it’s distorted; it just sounds cooler. Drums (not cymbals; this only works if there’s not a lot of cymbal action) love to be overdriven—you’ll get all sorts of tone out of them that otherwise you’re just not hearing.”

Plugins like SansAmp & Speakerphone emulate the effect of worldizing, where sounds are replayed through a speaker & re-recorded thereby capturing both the ambience of the room they are in & the distortions of the amp/speaker, the actual process of doing this in the real world provides unique results and is still used by many producers, including TV on the Radios Dave Sitek, as described in a Rolling Stone interview: “There were times when I set up a shitty 1980s Sharp home stereo out in the hallway and then a microphone clear at the other end, and I blasted the song out of the shitty home stereo and recorded it through the home stereo. There was a lot of that kind of tomfoolery.”

Electronic Musician magazine has some examples of creative ‘rule breaking’ with mixer Michael Brauer, including translating some of these techniques to mixing ITB….

In another Mix magazine article someone mentions using an acoustic guitar as a resonating microphone for a recording & it reminded me of a story a friend told me. He is a fairly avant garde guitarist & back in the 90s was playing in a more normal rock band, adding his unique elements as the second guitarist. The band went into a fairly traditional recording studio to record an album & when he came to overdub his guitar part on one song he had a plan to record his guitar via lieing his guitar amp on its back underneath the baby grand piano with it’s damper pedal released, & mic up the piano as it resonated to the tones of his guitar. Sadly the engineer at the studio was a bit closed minded about the idea & an argument ensued, at which point the engineer had to be gently reminded as to who was paying for the session. Of course when the track was mixed the effect worked beautifully in context… & the engineer then proceeded to rewrite history & own the process!

6 Responses to Unique Recording Techniques

  1. I just want to say I love your blog.

    So there.

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  3. I wanted to say that it’s nice to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the same info elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks.

  4. this is a fantastic blog, and your studio looks very nice. i will guide all of our interns over here to learn from you guys! also would you be interested in a reciprocal link exchange?

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