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AES 136 - Meet the Winners #5: Miquel Cuxart

Meet Miquel Cuxart from Barcelona, Spain, who received a Gold Award in Category 3 of the Student Recording Competition.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you from? What do you study? How did you discover your passion for audio?

I’m from Barcelona and I study Sonology at the Superior Music School of Catalonia (ESMUC). Currently I’m spending a year in Berlin as an Erasmus student in the Tonmeister Institute at the Universität der Künste (UDK). This also is where I met my friend Felix Epp, with whom I collaborated on the production of my entry.

I discovered my passion for music when I started producing hip-hop music as a teenager. I was using this very simple program for PC called e-jay, as well as Ableton Live. I became interested in the world of music recording and production, and then I heard about this degree at the Superior Music School. This is where it all started. Currently, I'm most excited about music recording and mixing, and digital synthesis.


Are you a musician yourself? What instruments do you play and in what musical context?

I don't know if I would consider myself a true musician. I’m more of a "music interpreter". I used to play violin, but I stopped about two years ago. I only play it for myself sometimes. But of course I have musical knowledge and I compose music in an academic context from time to time, mostly with digital synths and live processing. I also play some guitar - but just for fun, and not too well.

Felix, on the other hand, is a true musician and a superb guitarist. Apart from co-producing the song, he also played acoustic and electric guitar on the track. It’s very important to me to mention this, as he did such an extraordinary job.


Tell us about the production of your submission. What is the story behind it? What was it inspired by? How long did you work on it? Was it your first entry? 

Well, in fact it's quite a long story. In the beginning of my time here in Berlin I heard about this module for which students have to produce a cover version of a pop song. We had to work in groups. As I didn't know anyone here, including musicians, Wolfgang Loos, our teacher in this subject, suggested I work with Felix. Felix had a clear idea of what he wanted to do: a “minimalistic and dark” cover of "Tainted Love", based on Soft Cell’s version of the song. There had to be this dark slide guitar, and the strings should do that strike that can be heard on the Soft Cell track. 

So we started working. In the beginning we had vastly different ideas, but after a few days we found common ground and everything, especially the composition, turned out really nicely. We devised separate tasks for both of us: I was working mostly on the synths and Felix took care of the guitar parts. We met up weekly to discuss which ideas worked and which didn’t, which elements we should add to the piece and how, and which instruments suited our musical ideas. We made heavy use of overdubs and worked with a number of musicians trying different things, and experimented with combining different ideas in different ways. We worked on it for a whole semester under the supervision of Wolfgang, who also provided great ideas – and we had a blast doing it.


What was your most significant/funny/inspiring experience as an audio engineer? 

I would say that every time something works out and sounds as expected, and one can purely focus on musical aspects it's inspiring. 

For example, I once worked on a latin percussion-based piece with a single percussionist doing overdubs with different instruments in the room just with an AB-setup and some spots mics. We had so many cool and great sounding ideas together… I’ve never had so much fun recording music in my life up to this point.


Accidents happen: What was your biggest mistake in a production and what did you do to redeem the situation?

If you don’t plan a session properly, mistakes are bound to happen. 

Time is a limited resource in the studio and if something doesn't work or doesn't sound as you expect, you’re tempted to just go on and think “I will fix it in the mix”. There is a lot of pressure when there is still lots left to record and the musicians are waiting... 

Once I recorded the rhythm section of a band, and the piano didn't sound the way I had imagined. However, I decided to keep on going, because I was stressed out, we didn't have much time, and I thought I could fix it with EQ. When I started mixing I realised that there was comb filtering on the piano track, and that it was out of tune. There was nothing I could do about it. It just sounded like hell. Luckily the musicians and other people who listened to the mix said: “Wow, you really wanted to give the impression of an old, totally broken bar piano. It's kind of cool.“   


What's your advice for engineers who are just starting out?

As I’m a student and therefore kind of starting out myself I would say: never surrender, never think that your ideas are worse than others’. Experiment and try out everything that comes to your mind. It may work, although it may not be the usual way of doing thigs. If it doesn't work, you will find out and move on the next thing. Be creative!

Ah… And plan your sessions properly and with enough time. Never agree to do something that you don't think is possible to achieve - you will have a bad time. 


Tech talk: What are your favourite pieces of equipment, and why?

My favorite microphone is the Neumann U87, especially for voice recordings and vocals, but also because it works great with every kind of instrument and in any studio situation. I also like the versatility of the Shure SM57.

Waves plugins are the ones that I use normally. I would say my favorite one is the H-Delay. I always get something good out of it. Brainworks plugins are amazing as well, especially when mastering.

Most of the time I use Protools and the preamps of the Yamaha DM2000 at our university studio.


Can you name one or multiple of your favorite recordings or productions and tell us why you like them/what you like about them?

There's a lot of them, but lately I'm working on a cover of "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang  with Lisa Harnest, one of the winners of Category 4 at the last convention. I think the ogirinal is such an amazing production, mostly because it has so many elements that are not obvious right away, but which create this happy gospel-funk atmosphere together. As it sounds kind of lo-fi to my ears, I think that it’s easy to miss the amazing work behind it.   


What do you like about the AES? How does it help you to become a better and more successful audio engineer? 

The AES makes it easy to meet students in your field that you can learn from and have a good time with. The conventions are very nice and help you discover new ways to record, mix and produce. 

Tell us about your favourite experiences at the 136th AES Convention in Berlin!

Well, the most significant one was the moment I got to know that I was one of finalists in the recording competition. Due to a mistake I wasn’t told until just before my presentation so I wasn't prepared at all. I just explained what Felix and I had done in the production, spontaneously, as well as I could. It was kind of weird but funny at the same time. The judges and the audience really made me feel comfortable, though.

Also, I met lots of people and attended many interesting lectures and talks. I particularly liked the ones given by Alex Case - I found them really useful and interesting.


What is your favourite frequency?

60 Hz


What do you do when you’re not in the studio or doing anything music related?

Mostly spend some time with friends, go out, watch movies and so on. 


Where do you see yourself in 10 years? 

I hope I’ll be working in a studio or building my own. Maybe it's just a dream, but I would like it to become true.


Once again, the SDA congratulates you to your excellent achievement. Any closing comments?

The AES convention was an excellent experience and I'm looking forward to the next one. I don't know if it's possible yet but I would like to participate in the competition again, in the same category. 


You can listen to Miquel's submission on Soundcloud.

Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014

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