Ardour helped to fix-mix my live album: Spiny Forests

Hello everyone!

I do improvised “free jazz/avant-garde/extraterrestrial” style music. My latest project “Spiny Forests” is for Spanish Guitar and Electroacoustic Saxophone. I think it’s pretty interesting stuff, and we mixed it on Ardour. You can check it out on Bandcamp here:

CDs will be available in a month or so.

This is how we recorded and mixed it:

Recording:
We recorded in less than perfect situations. At multiple live sessions in a basement, with some direct signals and several poorly controlled mics.

The nature of the electroacoustic saxophone is that it is always interacting with room acoustics, and feeding back or close to it. So the sax player is always moving around to control the instrument. That’s cool, but pretty hard to record.

The guitar needs to be amplified to keep up with the sax, and I probably don’t have to tell you that amplifying the nylon string guitar does not usually lead to “good sound”. It took some work to make it usable, and during the initial sessions I set up the EQ different than later sessions.

Lastly, this was in a basement, which was super echo-y, and was VERY dark.

So I started out with all these EQ problems.

Mixing:
The mixing challenges were almost all EQ related. How can I make all the sessions sound similar even though the guitar EQ changed from session to session? How can I make it sound like its in a normal room, not at the bottom of a cave?

The answer was actually simple. Mainly, use EQ plugins. Here’s the step-by-step

  1. First, we selected the material we wanted to use from the 5 sessions. We had a little from each one.
  2. Load all the “tunes” into a single project, and edit. Not much to do here, but the cuts are easy in Ardour.
  3. Set up a stereo bus. I set up the processors as Fader > ACE Noise > ReaEQ (Cockos plugin). Using a calibrated mic and an RTA (real time [spectrum] analyzer) I turned on Pink noise in the Left channel, then adjusted the ReaEQ plugin for a flat acoustic response at my listening location. Then repeat for the right. Now I have a “flat” room response for monitoring. I used the ReaEQ plugin because I needed a lot of eq stages, and its easy to get with ReaEQ.
  4. The guitar was recorded with a graphic EQ pedal (Boss GE-7) to fix the amp/room sound. The recorded signal was “direct” (a microphone inside the instrument). BUT, in the initial sessions, I had the GE-7 processing the direct signal. This was a mistake, and I corrected it later so that I did not record the GE-7. But I needed to take it out of the earlier material. So on those tracks I added ACE EQ, starting by inverting the GE-7 settings. Tuned by ear thus: set up all the guitar channels vertically, loop over a few seconds of audio, ping-pong from track to track making level and EQ adjustments until it sounded the same. The trick here was finding a few seconds of audio from each tune that was similar in style. Now the guitar sounded mostly the same in all the sessions.
  5. Now I needed to fix the extreme darkness/bass boost that all the sessions had (probably because of the room). I set up another EQ, this time the XT-EQ. This was tuned just by ear until the guitar sounded “natural”. I saved the settings and added it to all the guitar tracks. So all the guitar tracks are either ACE EQ > XT-EQ > Fader (early sessions) or XT-EQ > Fader.
  6. The guitar was the easy part. Electroacoustic Sax sounds like a sax sometimes, and like a water buffalo from Jupiter at other times. And there were two different “direct” (mics, actually, but inside the instrument) signals with different signal paths that I had to deal with. There were no clever tricks here. I had to do a lot of listening and EQ adjustments, but ended up with two EQ settings, one for each direct signal, that made me and the sax player happy.
  7. On one track there was 60 cycle hum from an amp. Well, it was really more like 120Hz, 240Hz, and 360Hz. OMG the ACE Notch Bank plugin DESTROYED the hum!!! It was like magic. The trick for me in this case was to set the Quality high, but NOT TOO HIGH. Setting it too high made the notch bands too narrow, and noise creeped back in. My final settings for this were: Base Freq: 60Hz, Quality: 15, Stages: 60.
  8. Room mics. In the end, the room mics had more problems than they were worth. Way too boomy, with unfixable level imbalances and bleed through. I didn’t use them.
  9. Faders. I had to modify levels on a few tracks, but no automation, just bumping a track up or down to get good balance. I panned the guitar 70/30 left, and the sax 30/70 right.
  10. ACE Reverb on the Master channel restored ambience. Blend: 0.5, Room Size: 0.5. I like symmetry I guess.

Thanks to the Ardour team for making a fantastic product! I’m super happy with the results.

Geof

3 Likes

This track has a high caffeine content, I am wide awake now. Good to see that “avant garde” is alive and kicking, I got a grin on my face that wont go away.

Thanks for the feedback – now I’m grinning too!