L.A. Grapevine

Jun 1, 2003 12:00 PM, by Maureen Droney

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There was more going on than what first met the eye when I stopped in at Record Plant's Studio 2 to visit with producer/engineer Toby Wright. Along with engineer Elliott Blakey, Wright was deep in mixes for soulful rockers Tantric, who were finishing up their sophomore Maverick release. When he took a break to talk about the new album, I also discovered that Wright is such an avid surround sound maven that he's come up with software designed to simplify the task of setting up 5.1 mixes.

Wright's been a fan of Tantric's lineup since their previous incarnation as members of Days of the New. He also produced their first CD, having hooked up with the band when it turned out that they were on each other's “people I'd like to work with” list. That CD, with its 2001 single “Breakdown” (Number 4 on Billboard's Modern Rock chart), was also mixed at Record Plant, where Wright is a longtime client. “I've mixed 15 or 20 records here,” he says. “I like the console [a 96-input SSL G Plus] and I trust what I hear. One of the reasons I'm comfortable here is that I feel confident about what I'm getting.”

This time around, tracking sessions were done at “The Sanctuary,” Ocean Way Nashville's Studio A, another Wright favorite that also happens to be near home for the Kentucky-based band.

Wright is an experimental kind of guy: For one Nashville session, he placed the drum kit in an unused alcove about 20 feet above the control room. “Studio A was originally part of an old church,” he notes. “The control room sticks out in such a way that there's about 10 feet between the ceiling's outer shell and the actual building ceiling. I was looking for a tighter drum sound for one of the songs; up there, the ceilings were at 45-degree angles with pads on them, which worked out great.”

Recording with surround mixes in mind, Wright added elements such as guitars and vocals that don't appear in the 2-track mixes. That brings us to Mixlab, the software product he and partner Scott Blum co-developed. “It came about around an Alice In Chains DVD, called Music Bank: The Videos, that I mixed,” Wright explains. “After researching a lot of DVDs while doing that project, I felt that much better use could be made of the surround field.

“Most of the music I heard used ‘front loading,’ where three speakers are considered the front; most of the music comes out of those. The back speakers are used mostly for effects and ambience. What we've created uses that other space so that when you sit down and close your eyes, the speakers literally disappear.”

By using a project's multitrack material, Mixlab focuses on setting panning at its optimal positioning. “We've used wave analysis and other techniques to create a method that's very fast,” Wright comments. “As a mixer, when you're setting up a surround mix, most of your time is spent on panning. There are so many options that you can lose perspective.”

Based on the instrumentation, Mixlab chooses between approximately 2½ million possible mix combinations and provides what it considers the best-possible starting point. “You can keep stepping through [the mixes] if you want,” Wright notes, “but we find the first one is usually really good.”

Wright and Blum plan to offer Mixlab as a service, where the software and gear for a surround mix will be set up for the client. Once set with the basic panning and levels, an engineer or producer is free to get creative with the mix. The system works with any kind of multitrack music, including film scores.

Meanwhile, on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, engineer and co-producer (with Bob Ezrin of Alice Cooper, KISS and Pink Floyd fame) Brian Virtue was at Scream Studios wrapping up mixes for a new Jane's Addiction CD. Yes, it's true folks: Original Jane's members Perry Farrell, drummer Stephen Perkins and guitarist Dave Navarro have reunited and are striking sparks, helped out by the addition of bassist Chris Chaney. With a CD summer release, titled Hypersonic, and a 2003 Lollapalooza fest gearing up, fans are expecting the return of some funky rock 'n' roll fireworks.

Virtue, who has previously worked with Korn, Coal Chamber and Crazy Town (including on their Number One pop and rock song “Butterfly”), among others, had been behind the desk — and the Pro Tools — while the group, which hadn't recorded a full album together since the 1990 Ritual de lo Habitual, sorted out how to get their grooves back on. Camped out at L.A.'s Henson Recording in-between tours to Asia and Europe, they were jamming, writing, recording and refining for over a year.

“We were trying to keep everybody occupied and excited,” says Virtue, “so we had to keep a lot of things going on at once. Perry would have his system set up and be writing songs in one room. I'd be working in the control room, and the band would be out in the studio with a separate headphone mix rehearsing other songs. The assistants had their work cut out for them: cordoning off different sections of the console and changing gear around all of the time.”

Working mostly in Henson's Studio B, Virtue relied on its outboard API and Neve preamps to record the basics to analog tape, tending to bypass the console for tracking the band, who cut live with two guitars, bass and drums. I'd expected walls of guitar parts, but instead, Virtue says, parts got simpler and simpler as the process went on.

Mixing was on Scream's SSL 9000 J Series, which Virtue still kept set up for “tracking and overdubs at any time.” He was also, seemingly, working with a speaker shootout. On the day I stopped in, there were five systems set up: his own Dynaudio B15s, Tannoy System 8 NSM2s, Yamaha NS-10s and a mono Auratone, and a pair of NHTs with dual subwoofers that Ezrin was trying out.

Virtue left his rack at home, except for his PYE limiter and some extra Valley People Dynamites, which he uses for drum compression.

I kept wondering what method Virtue used to archive the long project. “You mean the wall of hard drives?” he asks, smiling. “I would just continually buy new ones. I used the Pro Tools function ‘Save a Session Copy,’ which saves everything you're currently using in a song. ‘Save a Session Copy’ copies only the audio files that are being used at that time, in that mix. I'd keep the old hard drives in case we needed to go back to them, but continually move the current mixes to a new hard drive. The drives are just numbered consecutively. Since they're mostly 120-gig FireWires, each one holds the whole record [as it was at that time].”

Other projects recently at Scream, which is celebrating its 15th year in business, have included producer David Kahne with engineer Michael Brauer mixing Sugar Ray (whose previous three albums were also mixed by Kahne at Scream), Kahne and Brauer mixing a live version of “Hey Jude” for Paul McCartney, and Tim Palmer mixing new Elektra group Burn Season.


Got L.A. news? E-mail MsMDK@aol.com.






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