Project Studio: Rebecca Mauleon (Online Extra)

Nov 18, 2008 6:19 PM, By Matt Gallagher


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Another recent project was the production of percussion maestro Orestes Vilató’s first solo recording, slated for release in January 2009 on RAFCA Records. The album is entitled It’s About Time, and it was conceived and produced here, then recorded in Los Angeles at two different studios. Orestes and I met for several months in my studio coming up with the repertoire and arrangements, then I created mock-ups for the musicians using MIDI and samples. I also wrote all of the scores and parts, and directed the sessions.

[Vilató’s] album was engineered by Jimmy Branly—a fabulous drummer, as well—and our collaborative relationship on the past few projects is centered on getting Latin music, especially the Cuban percussion, to sound the best it can sound. Jimmy has tremendous ears and knowledge of this music, and we work exceptionally well together as a production team.

Another of my creative partners is Eric Holland. We’ve done several projects together involving world music textures, where I add sampled percussion and other instruments to his sound beds, or sometimes we will de-construct specific world rhythms so he can assign individual parts to completely different instruments. Much of this work goes into documentary film soundtracks, so it often involves a quick turn-around.

I also scored a documentary for MSNBC [Crossing the Line], and I must say this is an area I thoroughly enjoy. Years ago as a Sundance Composer’s Fellow I got to see the inside of the film music biz—we worked with filmmakers, sound editors and composer-mentors, and I realized this was also a passion for me.

When you compose Latin-based music for game developers, which needs to sound authentic as opposed to programmed in order to be believable, how much “realism” do you go for, and how do you achieve it?
My work with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead was the most eye-opening in terms of the conceptual aspects of composition. While working with Mickey as musical director of Planet Drum, I began to explore a method of composing in a non-traditional medium, using loops and samples to drive the musical ideas. Now I alternate between this method as well as the more traditional one. Mickey’s live and studio engineer was Tom Flye, and I must say I learned a tremendous amount about recorded sound from both of them.

In my area, the authenticity of Latin music rests on the percussion. If you want something to sound realistic, you’ve got to have the real instruments: the congas, timbales, bongos, batá drums, chékeres, guiro, claves, etc. Granted, there are some samples you can get away with, but the complexities and diverse timbres of these instruments often dictate that you integrate the actual element. Once I’ve created a template of the groove or even the rough form of the piece in Pro Tools, I try to layer in all of my drum and percussion tracks first. I have a nice collection of live percussion samples and loops to choose from. Then I add the bass, keys, pads and other elements with several of the virtual instruments I use.

Horns are another thing you can’t really fake unless you are combining a more synth-driven score with acoustic percussion. For music in software programs, you can often get a good result with some sampled woodwinds, brass, strings and the like, but I always try to blend in a “real player” with the samples to add a realistic feel.

I produced and recorded Santana percussionist Karl Perazzo for PG Music’s Real Drums software. This project consists of multitrack percussion in several Latin music genres that are recorded over a template, allowing the user to “grab” segments of real percussion to integrate into PG Music’s MIDI-based Band-in-a-Box software application. Karl and I have known and worked with each other since we were teens, so it was big fun. We both celebrated our 30-plus years in music recently at the S.F. Jazz Festival! The most important thing this project provides is authentic, human playing with the proper range of sounds, licks, breaks, etc.

With the [PG Music] Real Drums project, everything was real—Karl recorded the congas, timbales, bongos, tambora, guiro, güira, maracas and cowbell, and I overdubbed chékeres, claves, bells and other bits. He only listened to the click on the first pass, then overdubbed to his first track without the click so it would have a more authentic feel. I didn’t have to “correct” anything—he’s such a monster timekeeper! We treated each of the pieces as if it were a tune in live performance, with dynamic changes, breaks and all matter of time-bending fills, exactly the way they would be played in a salsa band and other types of Latin ensembles, as well. The result gives the user the most accurate interpretation of these styles.

What are your plans for the future?
In the months ahead I will be in pre-production for my next solo release, and am also finishing another book in addition to my tour dates. I’m happy to be doing a lot more performing now.

I am very interested in orchestral writing. I’ve written for various types of ensembles, from string quartet and woodwind quintet to big band—and I continue to write and arrange for my own eight-piece band, Afro Kuban Fusion—but I would love to do an orchestral score. I will also continue producing other artists’ work—this is something people are requesting more often. Of course, I’m happy with whatever the next opportunity brings!

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