Manifold Recording / The Miraverse

February 14, 2014

Experience the Mixing Process at Manifold Recording

Filed under: Manifold Recording, news, news-manifold, recording studio, studio tech, technique — Tags: , , — Michael Tiemann @ 11:03 pm

Last year, John Heitzenrater and the band Hindugrass came to Manifold Recording to track their new album.  John used crowd-funding to help defray the costs of the tracking session, and to use his home studio to edit and mix the resulting tracks.  The theory was that by going “all in” on the quality of the recorded material, he would wouldn’t need all the firepower of a high-end studio to produce a good result.  But as good as the tracks were, he began to realize that his artistic vision for the album was way more complicated than just selecting the right takes, putting the faders at zero, and letting the songs mix themselves.  He began to inquire about mixing dates toward the end of the year, and we agreed to do a joint project.  We would mix the album, but he would let us produce video of the process.  We are proud to present the first fruits of that collaboration:

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January 27, 2014

Progress Report (Network and Data)

Filed under: Manifold Recording, studio tech — Tags: , , , — Michael Tiemann @ 9:39 pm

Following closely our progress report on the video capabilities of the studio, this posting details some of the major progress and changes we’ve been making to our infrastructure.  Some may find this information way too technical or way too dry, but it’s part of what makes the studio work, and I think it’s pretty cool.

To paint the picture of our network requirements, let’s start with our digital recording devices.  We have three Harrison X-dubbers that record 64 channels at 96K in 32-bit floating point.  That works out to a data rate of just under 200Mbps.  When that data goes over the network, nfs metadata and ethernet packet overheads drive that to about 220Mbps per machine, or 660Mbps if running all at once.  That’s a healthy, but not overly aggressive amount of data to push down a 1000Base-T cable.  We also have two 64-channel ProTools machines that generate such data to their own local disks.  That doesn’t put anything on the network until its time to do a backup, at which point the backup scripts may run at full disk bandwidth (80-100MB/sec bursts), which can, by itself, saturate gigabit ethernet.  To keep the backup traffic from spilling into the audio traffic, we put them on isolated subnets, effectively routing them in parallel.

Video data has become a huge X-factor in our equations.  While our two AF100 cameras have a native (and highly compressed) recording rate of 28Mbps, that rate explodes to 160Mbps when we encode directly from the SDI interface (giving us 4:2:2 resolution instead of 4:2:0).  Our two Canon EOS5D MkIII cameras record All-I video to their SD cards at 90Mbps.  Technically, these cameras all record to local media, but in reality, after an hour of recording there are four hours worth of data that need to be stored on the server.  If all we ask of our system is the ability to transfer this data in real-time, then we need a 500Mbps network to handle the traffic.  (A full 1000Base-T network could save data at 2x real-time speed.)

But the real fun begins with our newer cameras–cameras that can record at higher-than-HD resolutions.  Our Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera records 12-bit RAW files recorded at 2432 x 1366 resolution–about 40% more pixels than FullHD, with 2-3 stops more dynamic range than conventional cameras.  That camera can fill a 480GB SSD in about 65 minutes shooting 23.98 fps (and faster when shooting 29.97), which is (coincidentally?) almost exactly the flat-out limit of a 1000Base-T connection.  Blackmagic make a docking station that can accept four SDD cards and offload them at Thunderbolt (10G) speed, which was a life-saver for us when we were running three Blackmagic cameras for over two hours when we recorded Kimiko Ishizaka playing Book 1 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.  At that time we had to cheat, because we simply could not get data to our servers fast enough.  But now that we have mLink boxes with 10G Myricom cards connected to our 10G-enabled server, we can offload multiple terabytes of data per hour.  That’s huge!

So this is what we now have: the ability to record audio to five 64-track devices running at 96/32, the ability to offload HD media at better-than-realtime speed from our four HD cameras, and the ability to offload data from up to four Blackmagic cameras at real-time speed, all at the same time.  That’s pretty cool!

Crucial to making all this work has been the transparency and robustness of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.  Linux has great networking support, making it easy to define many isolated networks on a single storage server.  cgroups are a simple and powerful way of binding specific tasks to specific CPUs (or even cores within a CPU).  My servers are standard-issue dual-socket Thinkmate storage servers with 8 cores per socket.  While these machines deliver great performance by default, a little tweaking went a long way to getting optimum performance from both the network and the storage subsystems.  I found that a single core was not enough to service a 10G network running at full bore, but that two cores were easily enough.  Similarly, a single core could easily handle multiple gigabit network interfaces.  Thus, by dedicating 3 of my 16 cores to networking, I could measure wire-speed performance across both gigabit and 10G network interfaces.

I’m looking forward to measuring next how well my storage systems are optimized: NFS, XFS, MD_RAID, etc.  It could well be that I don’t need to do any additional manual intervention to achieve my performance goals.  But I am very happy to know that if I do need to reach in to do something, the knowledge is there to do it, and the knobs are there to make the job easy.

In the next month we will be bringing a new data generator into the studio: a RED DRAGON camera.  For those not familiar, the RED DRAGON shoots 6K images with 16 or more stops of dynamic range.  Phil Holland produced this graphic to explain “What is 6K”:

RED cameras compress their RAW images using wavelet compress, so they can capture 6K images at 24fps at data rates ranging from 10GB/sec (at a 5:1 compression ratio) down to 2.9GB/sec (at an 18:1 ratio).  We cannot quite handle that in real-time, but if we have 4-6 hours of media we can always have a fresh card every 24 hours using multiple RAIDs and multiple 10Gb pipes.

It makes me happy that all these changes–almost unimaginable 5-10 years ago–are easily adopted, integrated, and optimized within our open source environment.

Progress Report (Video)

Filed under: Manifold Recording, Miraverse, studio tech — Tags: , , , — Michael Tiemann @ 9:30 am

It has been a while since my last blog posting, which means there is much, Much, MUCH to tell.  I’m not sure that I can do it all justice in one evening, but there are some highlights I want to hit.

In early November, pianist Kimiko Ishizaka performed Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier in the Music Room of Manifold Recording.   The event was recorded in front of a live studio audience and webcast around the word, presented by The Miraverse.  We produced two videos, one for studio geeks showing all our microphones, microphone locations, and all sorts of other studio gear that would be involved in the session, and one of Kimiko’s actual performance (which was magnificent).  Thanks again to Robert Douglass for doing the legwork to make this event possible, and to Ms. Ishizaka for sharing her life’s study and practice of Bach with us.

It was very much my intention to write a blog posting shortly after the session–especially because it was such a great experience for all who participated, but we got too busy with all that this event put into motion for us. (more…)

September 23, 2013

Success Stories

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I have been talking for some time about the virtues of kickstarter funding for music recording projects.  The indie album Move by Matt Phillips and the Philharmonic could not have been made without kickstarter funding.  But the more I learn about the world of music kickstarters, the more I see there is to learn.

The Set Chopin Free project reached its $75,000 goal scarcely two weeks into its seven week funding schedule.  It is already more than $5,000 above its funding goal, and could well surpass $100,000 by the time its funding window closes.  And the Open Well-Tempered Clavier project (launched by Robert Douglass) has already reached 50% of its $30,000 fundraising goal from more than 450 supporters in its first 5 days!  That kind of strong start virtually guarantees funding success, and leaves us only to wonder whether it will achieve 160% (like Open Goldberg Variations), 200% (like Fractal Journeys and the Twelve Tones of Bach), 350% (like the Well-Tempered Clavier Tour), 600% (like Musopen’s Set Music Free) or more than 1100% (like Amanda Palmer did in her amazing 2012 record).  The possibilities are quite wide open.  But real questions remain: how did this happen?  what does it mean?

A press release today invites the press itself to consider some more pointed questions:

If both Open Goldberg and Musopen succeed with their Kickstarter campaigns, collectively raising over $100,000 for new recordings of standard repertoire, it is probably worth asking “Who is holding classical music in shackles?” and “Why do so many people feel it is so important to set Bach and Chopin free?” (more…)

September 4, 2013

Get ready for NOW

AbstractLogix has released NOW, the new album recorded by Alex Machacek and Gary Husband at Manifold Recording.  It is an album you may well want to check out NOW!

Alex Machacek and Gary Husband in the Control Room of Manifold Recording

It is always exciting to think about what might happen when two of your favorite artists decide to team up and produce a new collaboration.  But it can also be a disappointment when the result sounds a bit like a tug-of-war between two visions, or a competition between the two artists.  NOW not only avoids the these pitfalls, but it soars above them with rare and wonderful transcendence.  Indeed, it may do for Piano and Electric Guitar what Crystal Silence did for Piano and Vibraphone.

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July 28, 2013

The Miraverse: A Salon for the 21st Century

Filed under: culture, Miraverse — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Michael Tiemann @ 1:50 pm
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Preparing the environment at The Miraverse

We are proud and fortunate to have created the inspiring space that is Manifold Recording.  But we always envisioned achieving something more than what we can do for artists, engineers, and producers.  We believe that there is a larger public sphere that is curious, excited, and even ravenous for new ideas, new experiences, new musical performances and productions.  We wanted to also create a space in which a newly-engaged public could bring new energy, new interests, and new resources to create a healthier, more vibrant, more sustainable future for music and musicians.

One thing I have learned as a former Trustee of a model Montessori school is the importance of the prepared environment. Characteristics of the prepared environment include: beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility[1].  It may have required the genius of Maria Montessori to explain why these are crucial to child development (compared with, say, efficiency, authority, policy, technology, and convenience), but as adults, it is obvious to most of us that such environments are conducive to our own development, too!  Like fertile ground ready to bring forth an abundant harvest of whatever may be planted, prepared environments known as Salons helped bring about The Enlightenment by injecting academic discussion and debate into a newly formed public sphere (that was also a by-product of the Salon experience).  Adam Smith and Benjamin Franklin presented and refined their ideas at salons, “inventing” large parts of modern capitalism and modern democracy in the process.

But commerce and politics were not the exclusive subjects of salons–they were but two of myriad subjects that excited those who participated.  Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt were proof of that.  Chopin, in fact, preferred the environment of the salon to public performances. (more…)

July 7, 2013

Alex Machacek and Gary Husband at Manifold Recording

AlexAndGary1Alex Machacek and Gary Husband spent several days with us recording a new album for their label, AbstractLogix.  Gary has just finished touring the East Coast with John McLaughlin, and Alex flew in from Los Angeles.  Both had been writing, practicing, and sharing notes about the music they would be recording, but this was the first time they had a chance to play it together.  It was exciting to witness the music literally being realized through the process of recording!

Our recording setup anticipated Alex playing both electric and acoustic guitar.  In the photo you see him practicing with Gary, so the amp is not isolated, and neither is Alex.  For the recording, Alex played through a Carr Rambler amplifier isolated in Booth B, but he’s practicing with Gary through a Carr Mercury amplifier.  He really enjoyed playing through both.  During the recording session, Alex moved into the hexagonal room we made from gobos.  When he was getting set up, I asked him “what’s your favorite color?” and when he told me “something warm, maybe orange”, I illuminated it with a really orange light.  He liked the effect, and that’s how we kept it during the remainder of the session.  (See below for some color out-takes.)

For the acoustic guitar, Alex auditioned two of our studio guitars: a Breedlove and an Alvarez Yari.  Alex picked the Yari because its tone and action fit were a perfect fit for the tone he envisioned and for the way he plays.

Gary played our Yamaha CF-9.  We set up three pairs of microphones to capture several perspectives of the piano’s sound.  Over the hammers we had a pair of Schoeps CMC6 mics.  Over the harp we had our DPA 3521 compact cardiod pair.   Slightly higher and slightly farther away we had a pair of Coles 4038 ribbon microphones which you can see on the large boom stand.  Ian then set about to get the piano to play Gary’s favorite colors, which tended to be a bit darker than our piano plays naturally.  However, after some back-and-forth, we found that we could get the desired color with a touch of EQ.  With that, we were ready to record.

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June 28, 2013

Pioneering the Electric Highway

Filed under: carbon neutral, Manifold Recording, news, news-manifold — Tags: , — Michael Tiemann @ 6:35 am

For the past several months, Thia Konig has been treating us to a wonderful journal of her photography titled Pioneering the Electric Highway.  It documents her adventures with Ben Woodard as they go where no electric vehicles have gone before.  And in so doing, they became pioneers of the electric highway–at least on the West Coast.  This “road trip of a lifetime” (as Thia described it) called for a spirit of adventure, a willingness to venture into the unknown.  And what made it work was their winning ways of finding power in the community, literally.

According to the US Department of Energy, there are just over 6,200 electric vehicle charging stations in the US today.  Using their handy-dandy locator, I found there are 3 within a 15 mile radius of Manifold Recording, including one less than 3 miles away, at Central Carolina Community College.  But if you were in Bandera, Texas (just outside San Antonio) and wanted to drive to Socorro (just outside of El Paso), there are presently zero stations along that 501 mile route.  That’s an adventure!  And the only way to do it is to make friends along the way.  Thia and Ben’s journey was like that…The Love Bug meets the 21st Century.

Inspired by their pioneering drive, we have decided to make Manifold Recording a friendly place for clients with electric vehicles.  First, we installed several 20A circuits of 120V shore power convenient to our parking areas.  Though these only deliver enough current to charge at a rate of 4-5 miles per hour, that adds 30-50 miles of range during a typical 8-10 hour session, more than enough to get home at the end of the day.  But we wanted to do more, so we installed a weatherproof NEMA 14-50 outlet in front of the garage.  Charging 6x faster than using a typical household circuit, it can top off a Tesla with 30 miles of charge during a one hour business meeting.  It can deliver 60 miles of charge during a two hour film screening and review.  That’s friendly!

It’s also climate-friendly: every electron delivered via these outlets is fully offset by electrons generated by our 92kWh Solar Double-Cropping system.

So if you have a high-end music, video or film project to do, and a spirit of adventure, bring them to Manifold Recording and let’s work together!

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June 25, 2013

Trying new things

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Gary Husband rehearsing at Manifold Recording

This week we have been given a gift.  Two of the most talented members of the Jazz fusion community are making a record at Manifold Recording.  And they are trying something new: the co-production model of The Miraverse.  If you are within 40 miles of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, or Pittsboro, you might want to consider becoming a co-producer on Friday, or at least having dinner with these artists and hearing what Alex Machacek and Gary Husband have been creating.

A lot has changed in the recording industry since John McLaughlin started recording with Miles Davis, but a few things have stayed the same: the laws of physics that govern acoustics have not changed, and the challenge of making a great record–from the technical practice to the acoustics to the critical decisions during tracking and mixing–remain challenges no matter how much technology one has available.  The co-production model is a new approach geared toward helping artists produce their art at the highest level, using both the most advanced technologies available and the most organic acoustic spaces in which to give their music life, and to do so in an economically sustainable way.

One major task of making a great recording is the recording process itself.  This process has its own magic, its own mystery, its own moments of enlightenment to offer.  And it is a process that is usually hidden from view, inaccessible to all except those directly connected to the process.  But what about those who love not only the music itself, but the process of producing the music?  In the world of local food, chefs are teaming up with farmers, bringing the restaurant to the field so that diners can experience food in a more complete and holistic way that just what is served on the plate.  Other artists are inviting people into their studios to witness the process of creation.  Why not do the same for the recording arts?

We are thrilled that Gary and Alex are trying new things.  And we hope that you might try something new as well and support the work of these artists in a new way.  It is quite something special to hear our 9′ concert grand piano in the Music Room.  It will be quite something special to hear Alex playing through our locally-made Carr amplifiers.  And if you decide to make a day of it and spend time not only hearing them play live, but participating in the recording process.

Leonardo DaVinci once said “Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom.”  Which means that art is defined by the choices made by the artist.  By seeing those choices being made, by understanding how those choices can be discerned in a recording, you might just find that you have a whole new appreciation for your existing library of recordings as you hear nuances (choices!) you’d never heard before.

Tickets for those who wish to attend are being handled by AbstractLogix here.

BREAKING NEWS: There is now an option to join only the post-dinner concert.  Contact AbstractLogix to check on availability of these $99 tickets.  We hope to see you Friday, either for the whole day, for dinner, or for the wrap-up performance.  Thank you for helping these artists produce the next milestones in Jazz recording.

May 27, 2013

Acoustic Magic (part 2)

In Acoustic Magic (part 1), we talked about techniques for getting great sounds from players in an indie rock band that plays with a horn trio.  Now it is time to turn our attention to Hindugrass, a band that brings together Sarod, Tablas, guitar, cajone, percussion, and a string quartet.  Some of the approaches will be strikingly familiar, others will be more novel.

Our goal in any tracking sessions is to get the best performance from the artist and the best sounds from the instruments.  This begins with an understanding of how the musicians like to play together, how they like to hear other instruments and the click, and how the instruments, the rooms, and the microphones all interact.

String quartet players have a way of listening to each other and playing with each other to make the sound of the quartet greater than the sum of its parts.  And it’s almost impossible to achieve that dynamic balance and synergy when recording one instrument at a time.  Booths A and B are each large enough to record four string players, but Ian decided to use the Music Room for that purpose because the other, more delicate instruments in the ensemble would actually sound better in the smaller acoustic environments of the Booths.  Ian again took advantage of the large space and numerous gobos to provide separation for each instrument, yet retaining the sound of the ensemble in the room.  Here’s Ian getting things rolling on Day 1:

And here’s an overview of the gobo arrangement:

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