Brubeck Works on New Projects At Unity Gain

May 20, 2010 6:03 PM, By Matt Gallagher


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The corner “rock wall” in Unity Gain’s Studio A

The corner “rock wall” in Unity Gain’s Studio A

It was interesting because after measuring those mics with a phase scope—to see if I was changing anything with [regard to] phasing—I was quite surprised and also happy that the majority of the combinations of mics showed an amazingly intact in-phase relationship. With the piano being such a diverse animal and the lid creating so many oddball reflections, it’s usually pretty hard to nail it. But every single piano is different. That same piano in a different room would act differently.

Two AKG C 451 EB mics are positioned in an X/Y configuration at six feet over the Bechstein’s keyboard.

Two AKG C 451 EB mics are positioned in an X/Y configuration at six feet over the Bechstein’s keyboard.

I had my arranger come in and play prior to Dave coming so that I could listen to some experimental captures and readjust things the way I thought would be best for tweaking because there are definitely sweet spots. I use my ear for finalization. You can use all the tools in the world to really scope things out. and say, “Oh, that’s perfect,” but if it doesn’t sound right, it doesn’t sound right. I just placed my head in [the same] positions [as] all these mics and really dug my head into the box and honed in on placement because sounds really spill out all over. There’s sound off to the left of the piano and off the right of the pianist. Obviously, most of it travels to the right, linear, up and out, but there is some spillage on the other side, as well. The room has a major effect on the overall sound.

What did the mixing and mastering entail?
Being that it was a solo piano, I primarily [mixed] the eight piano mic sources. Once I found a blend that worked consistently for a majority of the songs, I stuck with that blend. So it [entailed] carefully experimenting with the proportion of distant to close-[miking], certainly leaning a bit on the close-[miking] for clarity, but also mixing in a certain amount of distance source so that I’d have that nice combination of the ambience around the piano, as well as the room, which will affect the piano sounds. Once I found that blend, mixing was really very easy because I established a neutral setting and pretty much used it consistently through the entire process. There were a couple of [passages] that Dave played a little bit harder than others, which meant adjusting the mics a little bit differently. When he became stronger on the piano, I would back off on the directs and use some more indirect mics to try to capture the same ambience [that] I would if he was playing lightly.

For mastering, I used the Waves Mercury Pack. I very much like the Waves plug-ins for mastering and I used about five plug-ins—different than the lineup of plug-ins that I normally use depending upon what was necessary from equalization to multiband compression, to de-noising and image control. It really depends on the job. They have such a great toolbox of linear EQs and compressors. I tend to master using linear plug-ins because they’re very true, very specific and very surgical, although the nonlinear ones do, in fact, come into play, depending on what you’re looking for. My objective with this was to make sound natural, like you were really there, so I didn’t do any type of over-compression or over-equalization whatsoever. I just set some limits, some parameters that I wanted to maintain, and it just worked out.

Which monitors did you use?
The monitors we used are UREI 809-A TimeAligns with a 1,200-watt Crown Micro-Tech Series amplifier, along with Yamaha NS10-Ms for an alternate perspective [in] monitoring, as they are also important to me.

What was it like to work with Dave Brubeck?
He was just an unbelievable player, and I truly feel honored to have recorded with him. Dave really knew what he wanted. He didn’t do things exactly the same. I think he had a general idea as to what he wanted in a song, but jazz pianists will certainly explore a couple of different ways to play it, and he executes that with all of these tunes. It was great. He was a real gentleman and certainly an unforgettable experience and a pleasure to work with.

Matt Gallagher is an assistant editor at Mix.

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