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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Beatles "Rain" Backing Track

Today we'll take a listen to the backing track from The Beatles "Rain," which was the B-side of the "Paperback Writer" single. The track has background and some harmony vocals but no lead vocals, which makes me think that the old phase-inversion trick (flipping the phase on one channel to cancel out anything in the center) was used to eliminate it.

1) The song is significant in the fact that the band thought that it showcased the peak of their performance skills as a band. Ringo has commented since that he rated the song as his best recorded performance ever.

2) For evidence of how tight the band was, listen to the break at 2:35. The interplay between Paul and Ringo is very precise and feels great.

3) Paul's Rickenbacker 4001 bass was recorded using a speaker as a microphone to get a bigger "Motown" style bass sound. The boys had been complaining for a while about how thin the bass on their records was as compared to American records, and this was one of engineer Geoff Emerick's solutions, according to his book "Here, There and Everywhere."

4) The track was also recorded at a faster tempo with the tape machine running fast, which was then slowed down to the correct speed in order to make it sound bigger as well.

5) The interplay between John's chorded rhythm guitar and George's picked rhythm is a thing of beauty. They are played and layered so well that they blend seamlessly together.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Meet Your Master" NIN Multitrack

OK, I admit it. I'm old school. I'm one of those people who actually like my audio clean, but you won't get much of that in this look at the multitrack of "Meet Your Master" from Nine Inch Nails. The song is from the 2007 album Year Zero.

Virtually every track is distorted here. I wonder how much was intentional, how much was done during recording, and how much was done during mixing? What you will find in the song is a great groove and a great arrangement, which are two elements that can make a song a hit.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

10 Things About Sound

Here are 10 things about sound, some of them that you probably didn't know. They come from Julian Treasure, the author of "Sound Business" and chairman of the the UK audio branding company The Sound Agency. He speaks internationally about the affect of sound on people, business and society. The following comes from a CNN article outlining Julian's recent TED Conference presentation.

Especially be aware of #7!

1.) You are a chord. This is obvious from physics, though it's admittedly somewhat metaphorical to call the combined rhythms and vibrations within a human being a chord, which we usually understand to be an aesthetically pleasant audible collection of tones. But "the fundamental characteristic of nature is periodic functioning in frequency, or musical pitch," according to C.T. Eagle. Matter is vibrating energy; therefore, we are a collection of vibrations of many kinds, which can be considered a chord.

2.) One definition of health may be that that chord is in complete harmony. The World Health Organization defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" which opens at least three dimensions to the concept. On a philosophical level, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras and Confucius all wrote at length about the relationship between harmony, music and health (both social and physical). Here's Socrates: "Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful."

3.) We see one octave; we hear ten. An octave is a doubling in frequency. The visual spectrum in frequency terms is 400-790 THz, so it's just under one octave. Humans with great hearing can hear from 20 Hz to 20 KHz, which is ten octaves.

4.) We adopt listening positions. Listening positions are a useful set of perspectives that can help people to be more conscious and effective in communication -- because expert listening can be just as powerful as speaking. For example, men typically adopt a reductive listening position, listening for something, often a point or solution.

Women, by contrast, typically adopt an expansive listening position, enjoying the journey, going with the flow. When unconscious, this mismatch causes a lot of arguments.

Other listening positions include judgmental (or critical), active (or reflective), passive (or meditative) and so on. Some are well known and widely used; for example, active listening is trained into many therapists, counselors and educators.

5.) Noise harms and even kills. There is now wealth of evidence about the harmful effect of noise, and yet most people still consider noise a local matter, not the major global issue it has become.

According to a 1999 U.S. Census report, Americans named noise as the number one problem in neighborhoods. Of the households surveyed, 11.3 percent stated that street or traffic noise was bothersome, and 4.4 percent said it was so bad that they wanted to move. More Americans are bothered by noise than by crime, odors and other problems listed under "other bothersome conditions."

The European Union says: "Around 20% of the Union's population or close on 80 million people suffer from noise levels that scientists and health experts consider to be unacceptable, where most people become annoyed, where sleep is disturbed and where adverse health effects are to be feared. An additional 170 million citizens are living in so-called 'grey areas' where the noise levels are such to cause serious annoyance during the daytime."

The World Health Organization says: "Traffic noise alone is harming the health of almost every third person in the WHO European Region. One in five Europeans is regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health."

The WHO is also the source for the startling statistic about noise killing 200,000 people a year. Its findings (LARES report) estimate that 3 percent of deaths from ischemic heart disease result from long-term exposure to noise. With 7 million deaths a year globally, that means 210,000 people are dying of noise every year.

The cost of noise to society is astronomical. The EU again: "Present economic estimates of the annual damage in the EU due to environmental noise range from EUR 13 billion to 38 billion. Elements that contribute are a reduction of housing prices, medical costs, reduced possibilities of land use and cost of lost labour days." (Future Noise Policy European Commission Green Paper 1996).

Then there is the effect of noise on social behavior. The U.S. report "Noise and its effects" (Administrative Conference of the United States, Alice Suter, 1991) says: "Even moderate noise levels can increase anxiety, decrease the incidence of helping behavior, and increase the risk of hostile behavior in experimental subjects. These effects may, to some extent, help explain the "dehumanization" of today's urban environment."

Perhaps Confucius and Socrates have a point.

6.) Schizophonia is unhealthy. "Schizophonia" describes a state where what you hear and what you see are unrelated. The word was coined by the great Canadian audiologist Murray Schafer and was intended to communicate unhealthiness. Schafer explains: "I coined the term schizophonia intending it to be a nervous word. Related to schizophrenia, I wanted it to convey the same sense of aberration and drama."

My assertion that continual schizophonia is unhealthy is a hypothesis that science could and should test, both at personal and also a social level. You have only to consider the bizarre jollity of train carriages now -- full of lively conversation but none of it with anyone else in the carriage -- to entertain the possibility that this is somehow unnatural. Old-style silence at least had the virtue of being an honest lack of connection with those around us. Now we ignore our neighbors, merrily discussing intimate details of our lives as if the people around us simply don't exist. Surely this is not a positive social phenomenon.

7. Compressed music makes you tired. However clever the technology and the psychoacoustic algorithms applied, there are many issues with data compression of music, as discussed in this excellent article by Robert Harley back in 1991. My assertion that listening to highly compressed music makes people tired and irritable is based on personal and anecdotal experience - again it's one that I hope will be tested by researchers.

8. Headphone abuse is creating deaf kids. Over 19 percent of American 12 to 19 years old exhibited some hearing loss in 2005-2006, an increase of almost 5 percent since 1988-94 (according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Josef Shargorodsky et al, reported with comments from the researchershere). One university study found that 61 percent of freshmen showed hearing loss (Leeds 2001).

Many audiologists use the rule of thumb that your headphones are too loud if you can't hear someone talking loudly to you. For example, Robert Fifer, an associate professor of audiology and speech pathology at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, says: "If you can still hear what people are saying around you, you are at a safe level. If the volume is turned so loudly that you can no longer hear conversation around you, or if someone has to shout at you at a distance of about 2 or 3 feet to get your attention, then you are up in the hazardous noise range."

9. Natural sound and silence are good for you. These assertions seem to be uncontroversial. Perhaps they resonate with everyone's experience or instinct.

10. Sound can heal. Both music therapy and sound therapy can be categorized as "sound healing." Music therapy (the use of music to improve health) is a well-established form of treatment in the context of mainstream medicine for many conditions, including dementia and autism.

Less mainstream, though intellectually no more difficult to accept, is sound therapy: the use of tones or sounds to improve health through entrainment (affecting one oscillator with a stronger one). This is long-established: shamanic and community chant and the use of various resonators like bells and gongs, date back thousands of years and are still in use in many cultures around the world.

Just because something is pre-Enlightenment and not done in hospitals doesn't mean that it's new-age BS. Doubtless there are charlatans offering snake oil (as in many fields), but I suspect there is also much to learn, and just as herbal medicine gave rise to many of the drugs we use today, I suspect there are rich resources and fascinating insights to be gleaned when science starts to unpack the traditions of sound healing.

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My Interview on The Home Recording Show

Here's a podcast interview that I did a few weeks ago on The Home Recording Show. Many thanks to Ryan Canestro for having me on.

Show #91 of The Home Recording Show can be found here.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Gene Krupa/Buddy Rich Drum Battle

Even if you're not a drummer, I think you'll be able to appreciate the following video. It's a drum battle between two drumming legends, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, on the Sammy Davis Jr. Show in 1966.

Many consider Rich to be the gold standard for drumming technique, but Krupa proves to be every bit his equal here.

One of the things that I loved about rock drummers in the 60's and 70's was all of the good ones were able to swing hard because they studied jazz drumming first. These two guys were the people that influenced every drummer from that time.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Genie In A Bottle" Christina Aguilera Multitrack

"Genie In A Bottle" was the first hit off of Christina Aquilera's first album ("Christina Aguilera") that not only held the #1 position on the top 100 for 5 weeks, but earned her a Grammy for Best Female Pop Performance. Produced by writers David Frank and Steve Kipner, the song is pure pop at its best. Here's a video featuring the various tracks from the multitrack of the song.

1) Genie In A Bottle is a good example of a manufactured track in that it's entirely programmed except for the vocals.

2) This is pop music arrangement at its finest. It's very simple yet very effective. Check out were the pad, piano and synth lines enter and exit in the chorus and interludes.

3) Christina's lead vocal is a great example of how a delay timed to the track adds ambience yet disappears when the other tracks are laid around it.

4) The background vocals are great. Christina sings well with herself (not all vocalists do) in 3 part harmony that's doubled.

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