Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Who Are You" - The Who Isolated Drums

Since everyone seemed to like the last Keith Moon track that I posted so much, here's another one. This time it's the isolated drum track from another Who hit - "Who Are You." This was the last album that Moony recorded before his untimely death. Here are some things to listen for.

1) Listen to the hi-hat work at the beginning of the song. I especially like the way he emphasizes the two and four downbeat. Many drummers would just play this as straight 16ths. Moony was much more sophisticated in his technique than he's ever been given credit for.

2) Once again, he's playing to a pre-recorded sequenced synth track and he's very solid doing so. Not a big deal today, but not something that was done much back then in 1978.

3) His time wavers slightly during the double time chorus as he's slightly on top of the beat but he pulls himself back every time he drifts off tempo.

4) Listen for the tympani overdub during the tom part in the bridge. It's mixed back in the track a bit so you've probably never heard it before (I know I didn't).

5) The outro is typical frantic Moon, playing his signature tom fills like only he could. The tempo goes out the window, but that's OK because it lifts the track to a peak just when it's needed most.



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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Invisible Speakers And Clothing Microphones

Now it's time for a look into the technological future.

For more than a hundred years now, loudspeakers have essentially been doing their jobs the exact same way. The voice coil is excited by a voltage which pushes a cone back and forth against the magnetic field of a magnet, which excites the air. Loudspeakers have gotten more efficient in how they do this, as well as very specialized, but the basic idea hasn't changed much.

Now comes the possibility of something new. The clever scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute of Manufacturing (another division of Fraunhofer brought us the MP3) have demonstrated a prototype speaker made out of our soon-to-be best friends (if you believe scientists around the world) the carbon nanotube (or CNT for short).

An array of nanotubes can activate the air just like a loudspeaker by heating up and cooling down when a small current is passed through them. But that's not what makes this technology a potential leap forward. A nanotube "forest" can be manufactured in extraordinarily thin layers that can actually be transparent, which means that they can be used on top of wallpaper, computer or television monitors, or even outdoor advertising (perish the thought). What's cooler still is that they can be activated remotely by a laser, so a CNT speaker can be completely wireless.

So imagine what would happen if your entire room was essentially a giant speaker. The low frequency response would be great because of the massive cone area, as would the high frequency response because of the insanely fast response of a super-thin transducer. Plus, by using some off-the-shlelf noise-cancelling technology, image how many acoustic problems could be solved. It would be easy to keep that cranked Marshall from raising the ire of your neighbors, and their loud partying from keeping you awake.

We may see a working model on the market in as little as three years.

On a related note, researchers at MIT have announced that they’ve made a new acoustic fiber out of a kind of plastic. This could mean that a shirt made entirely of this material would be able to pick up sound, essentially functioning as a walking microphone. This is certainly a spy's dream (keep it out of the Russian's hands please), and would certainly make a location soundman's life a lot easier. No word on how close to market it is.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Won't Get Fooled Again" -The Who Isolated Drums

Staying with our drum theme of the week, today we'll analyze the isolated drum track from The Who classic "Won't Get Fooled Again," off their seminal Who's Next album from 1971. Let's take a listen.

1) Keith Moon may have been the most unique rock drummer of all time. His style is so different that I don't think anyone has ever come close to duplicating it. But there is a method to the madness. As odd as the beat is, he is fairly disciplined at keeping it. Nonetheless, I don't believe there's a producer on the planet (or an A&R guy) that would stand for the style if he were just starting out today, which is a shame. How did he ever come up with that beat during the solo? And the one before the breakdown at about 5:30?

2) It's the fills that really set Moony apart. They often feel like a train wreck and are placed in odd places in the song, but it imparts an energy that's really at the heart of the sound of the Moon-era Who.

3) I'm not sure how the drums are miked but it seems like a departure for the time as they feel pretty close to the listener, especially the toms. It almost feels like the toms were close-miked as we do it today. I'll ask around as see if I can find the definitive answer. Actually, the picture on the video shows the toms individually miked, but I'm not sure what session that's from.

4) The tempo is pretty steady but that's because he was listening to the sequenced synth as a guide. Still, not many drummers were good at it back then. Occasionally he's on top of the beat a little but pulls it back after a bar or so.

5) At 1:20 he misses a drum hit and hits his stick instead. We'd replace that in a second today but it went right by and nobody noticed it back then (and even now when we listen to the final mix).

6) You can hear the other instruments and even the occasional vocal leaking into the drums, which is great. Who outlawed leakage anyway?



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Monday, July 12, 2010

"Gimme Shelter" - Isolated Drums

Today we take a look at the isolated drums on the Stones classic "Gimme Shelter," a song that's a staple of club band everywhere. The song was the opening track from the 1969 releases "Let It Bleed" and was a big world-wide hit at the time.

1) The first thing you notice is the guiro (a hand-held percussion instrument) playing along with the drums. Like all percussion, this provides movement to the arrangement that's subtle but very real. Maracas enter at the solo at about 2:00.

2) You always hear stories about what a light hitter drummer Charlie Watts is (he's been known to go years between snare drum heads), but that's not true in this song and he leans into it with some muscle.

3) The performance is very solid with great tempo, especially the fills. Many drummers have great time except when it comes to the fills but not in this case.

4) The sound is very 60's, with a lot of room as it was probably miked with only a couple of mikes. You can hear the rhythm guitar leakage, as I believe the basic tracks were only drums, rhythm guitar, percussion and vocals.



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Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Sultans Of Swing" - Isolated Drums and Vocals

This week we'll analyze some drum tracks. The first one is the breakout hit from Dire Straits - "Sultans of Swing." This version also has a bit of the vocal in it, but it's low in the mix and more of a guide to where we are in the track. Let's take a listen:

1) Pretty good drum sound here. It's on the cusp of old school and new school method of drum recording in that it's clearly recorded on multiple tracks, yet the drums feel as if they were recorded as one kit. As we cross over into more modern drum recording, so often you hear each drum more individually, but you don't get that feeling here.

2) The cymbals are very present in the mix, which gives you more of that old school feel.

3) There's a nice long reverb on the snare, but notice how the fills are dry to bring them up front in the mix.

4) Excellent drum performance by Pick Withers. It's solid and has great time and discipline. The builds are all totally in time, something that even some great drums have a hard time with.




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