Meeting Topic: Recording in a Pandemic
Moderator Name: Graeme Huon
Speaker Name: Andy Stewart - The Mill Studio, Bass Coast, Vic.
Other business or activities at the meeting:
The Section's AGM was held, where the Chairman's Report and Treasurer's Financial Statement were presented, followed by an election of Committee Officers and members. The incoming Committee is:
Graeme Huon — Chairman
Paolo Menolotto — Vice-Chairman
Graham Haynes — Treasurer
Peter Smerdon — Secretary
Rod Staples — Committee Member
Greg Segal — Committee Member
David Hudson — Committee Member
Fabio Marraccini — Committee Member
Alec Graham — Committee Member
Lilith Lane — Committee Member
Meeting Location: Virtual Meeting via Zoom
The Melbourne Section of the AES again held its regular bi-monthly meeting via Zoom, and we were pleased to see visitors from outside the Melbourne area.
Chairman Graeme Huon introduced Andy Stewart from The Mill Studio on Victoria's rural Bass Coast to talk on the topic of recording in a pandemic.
Andy explained that he was calling in from the local Country Fire Authority (CFA) station, where he was taking advantage of their better Internet speed, as well as it being a quiet spot away from his young family. Andy is a Lieutenant in the local volunteer Brigade.
He started his talk by describing his experiences in putting together a geographically isolated choir of 100 experienced and well-known performers for the new single We Sing from the indigenous performer Kuthca Edwards.
Andy acted as both Producer and Engineer, and he described how, early in the project he decided he wanted to use a choir, and planned to book the ABC's Iwaki Auditorium in Melbourne for the project — but the entire ABC site went into lockdown just as he was preparing to make the booking, so an alternative was needed.
He recounted how he solicited contributions for many of the industry's foremost performers, by sending them a guide track and asking them to sing to that, recording onto their own equipment, and he would assemble all the recordings into the finished product.
He described the challenges of sourcing contributions from a diverse group of performers with a wide range of technical skills and available kit. He recounted in some detail the challenges of getting a useful recording from performance legend Judith Durham in the face of her poor health and severely limited technological understanding.
Andy moved on to discuss the issues of the home recording environment, and the not well-understood principle that with a typical directional mic most of the ambience that makes it on to the track is coming from behind the singer. He described that in some of the more desperate cases he had people recording with their back to an open closet or wardrobe, using the contents for absorption or diffusion.
The "We Sing" video was then played into the Zoom session to give the audience a feel for the scope of the project, displaying the range of singers involved and the high standard of the finished product. The video also gave some interesting views of Andy's studio.
This video can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxVF7zUD9S0
A question was then asked about the use of plugins vs outboard hardware as effects units. He said he used a mixture of both, but found the ability to recall settings in the digital realm critical in many cases.
He commented that the choir was, in the end, relatively unprocessed. Each contribution was dealt with as it came in with minor compression, de-essing and high-pass filtering. No buss-processing was employed.
Asked about the challenges of synchronization, and time slippage he commented that he did a lot of quick cutting to time-sync, but mainly to fix performer timing rather than time-sync issues which didn't really arise.
Andy described the range of approaches of various singers, and remarked that something of this scope could never have come together except remotely, given how widely dispersed the singers were, and also the difficulty in producing and conducting such a diverse group in a single space and time.
A discussion on the choice of preamps followed. Andy commented that the preamps on his classic Neve desk were his first choice, but that he also had some Telefunken and Quad Eight units that he used from time to time, commenting that it often depended on the mic he chose to use, as to how well it worked with a particular preamp.
Ironically, just as the questions (and Andy) were winding down the CFA fire alarm sounded, summoning Andy to the fire station to attend a call-out, so Graeme quickly thanked Andy for a most interesting presentation, and we let Andy grab his hard-hat and rush off to kit up for his CFA duties.
Written By: Peter Smerdon