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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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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Pioneering the Electric Highway

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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Trying new things

GaryHusband
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.

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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Acoustic Magic (part 1)

In previous blog postings, I previewed that we would have a very busy spring at the studio, and this has indeed come to pass.  We’ve done a lot of tracking, a lot of mixing, and not–unfortunately–a whole lot of blogging in the process. Let’s work on that, shall we?

There are many approaches to making a record, and even a few good ones.  The ones that get me the most excited are the ones that include the capture of great audio.  We are very proud of the acoustic quality of the Music Room and our Booths.  We also have an extensive collection of high-end microphones.  The art of the tracking engineer is using the microphones and the room acoustics to get the best performance from the artist and the best sounds from the instruments.  Here are some photos of recent tracking sessions that demonstrate the flexibility of our environment and the creativity of Ian Schreier, our chief engineer.

Here Ian sets a pair of close mics for a trombone:

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Updates…can’t they just write themselves?

Before the studio opened, I had to content myself with taking photos of the construction progress and using Blender to visualize what the final studio might look like.  The five years it took to open the studio gave me plenty of time to organize my photos and write stories about them.  After we got the studio running, I essentially stopped taking pictures, mainly because I was busy doing too many other things.  I’ve finally gotten back into the rhythm of taking photos during sessions, but haven’t had the time to write the posts that do them justice.  Indeed, I still don’t really have that time.  But with hundreds of photos that are begging to be posted, I have to find a way…

The first batch are from the sessions we did with Matt Phillips.  Matt used Kickstarter to raise money for the recording project, a growing trend among artists who record here.  In this photo, Matt’s face tells you just how satisfied he is with the sounds he is hearing in the Control Room:

HappyMatt

See if you can hear the music in these photos:

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Hindugrass Recording Sessions

Hindugrass will be recording next week, and they are kicking off their session with a performance on Friday night, April 12th at 8pm.  If you have always wanted to be a fly on the wall of a real recording session, the band is inviting a very limited number of people to be their guests in the studio via this Eventbrite link.

Why perform before recording?  Béla Fleck answers that question in this video from last year:

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Celebrating the Home Town Hero

We live in a paradoxical age: believe nothing unless you have seen it, yet trust outside experts more than the leaders of one’s own community.  All my life I have heard the quote “nobody is a hero in their home town” only to discover it’s a paraphrase of a verse from the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus says “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in their own hometown.”  Doubtless Plato complained about the same problem hundreds of years earlier.  I believe this is due to our tendency to confuse the familiar with the ordinary.  Since moving to Chapel Hill and becoming familiar with many of the great people in the region, I have come to appreciate just how extraordinary so many of them are.  Including those with a musical inclination.

That is not to say that we don’t appreciate talent from other states or countries.  As a board member of Carolina Performing Arts, I’m rightfully proud of the world-class roster of international talents that perform at Memorial Hall each academic year.  But the greatness that comes from afar does not preclude the possibility of greatness living amongst us as well.  The INDY week article is a great case in point.  Yes, it may seem like bragging to use my own studio as an example of a world-class music and post-production facility in our community, but it’s true.  Equally true, and perhaps more important because of the network effect, is that the local community is able to come together and celebrate that fact.  Today, artists both local and global are willing to give us the nod over more established facilities in Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, and even London, which is now leading to greater opportunities for all in our growing community.  That is wonderful!

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Zuill Bailey, Superhero

The North Carolina Symphony invited me to dinner on Monday, on stage with Zuill Bailey.  I’ve been to fundraising events before, and often they are fun, but I was really excited about this one because Zuill was part of the first-ever session at Manifold Recording.  The recording he played on, The Spanish Masters, reached the Top 10 on Amazon.com later that year.  The event exceeded all my expectations.

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