I spent the last two days mixing the Cast Recording of a production of "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" by Bertolt Brecht that I composed the music for back in March. Details and reviews at my website here:
Poster from "Caucasian Chalk Circle", 2011
It's been terrific revisiting all this music for the first time in a few moths. The recordings sound great even pre mixed. They were engineered by Bill Siegmund (
) who specializes in recording music in unconventional spaces.
The mixing process has been fairly time consuming over the past few days. Below are some details and thoughts on the process.
Wednesday, May 25th
Loading and Cutting Session
I spent most of the session just getting the tracks into Logic (I use Logic Pro 9.1.3) then selecting the channels to run or mute on each track. Each track takes between 2 and 5 minutes to load and then create waveform images for each region.
Each song from the show has 18 tracks; we ran 18 microphones in the room on every take (it saved a lot of time in the our limited recording time). The setup was:
- Band Left Mic
- Band Right Mic
- Piano Left Mic
- Piano Right Mic
- Accordion Left Mic
- Accordion Right Mic
- Cajon Mic
- Viola Mic
- Banjo Mic
- Snare Mic
- Utility Mic (for Glockenspiel or Mandolin)
- Trumpet Mic
- Lead Vocal Mic
- Secondary Lead Vocal Mic
- Vocal Group Left
- Vocal Group Right
- Ambient Space Left Mic
- Ambient Space Right Mic
Each piece of music had a different group of instruments and never more instruments then five at a time (plus vocal). We recorded 33 of the 46 (or so) pieces of music from the show, so you can imagine, I had my work cut out for me.
After everything was inputted into the session, it totaled about two hours of solid material to go through and it looked like this:
Full Logic Session
The cast was amazing - they played this score every night, so it was rare to find songs with more than 3 takes (most were one takes).
One challenge I had to confront with one of the tracks was put in the drums. Our snare drum player, John Early couldn't be at the recording (he also played Cajon on a lot of the songs; I did my best to cover him). During the recording session, I recorded the drums in different ways one hit at a time: a group of different snare hits, stick hits and rim-shots, all on different parts of the drum at different velocities. I took those sounds and
created a virtual instrument
out of them,
beat mapped the song
they needed to go on (told the computer where the tempo and beat was), and then
inputted the drums via keyboard
It was amazing to beat map this track - it was the opening of the show, and was a piece that was played more than any other. It was the first thing the cast learned, it was one of the larger ensemble pieces (5 instruments and 3+ singers on it), and was the last thing we'd run every night before the show. In the process of beat mapping it, I found that the tempo breathed in phrases and sections -
but methodically. The piece (like all the music from
) is supposed to breath, feel raggedy yet be completely in unison. I think you'll find (if you ever hear it), the cast accomplishes all this masterfully, and it was fun to breakdown and see the nuances they had together.
Pre Dress Rehearsal, The Cast, Anya Saffir and
Myself (Right side wearing jeans, hands on hips)
Thursday, May 26th Session
Mixing and Adding Support
Today's session was focused actually mixing the music. I like to keep it simple and keep the process streamlined without getting caught up in too many details.
I do all the music in one session (that's 18 microphones running simultaneously for 33 songs). On Wednesday, I mentioned I muted the "Regions" of microphones that didn't have an instrument in front of them. Today, I added automation to each track to balance the levels (since every song has diffferent instruments). I put two
before and after each live region and then move the automation line for volume control:
Close up of session with Automation open
This way, once I add compression, eq and any other plugins to a channel for an instrument, they will always be there for the session when there used on the next song. That means (hopefully), I can do the major work of mixing on each instrument once and balance only it's volume individually on each song. Of course, you always have to make some minor adjustments. I was able to mix 29 of the 33 pieces today.
Beyond mixing, I did some cleaned up some of the mistakes that were in the recordings - missed notes, volume jumps in instruments or voices, etc. I had to do three revisions/edits:
- Grusha Left The Citywas a lot of trouble to record. I played the Cajon on it; after the band had been playing it with someone else for two months, I was having trouble jelling (which is a problem when you're playing the loudest instrument in the room). The one decent take we got with good rhythm has a tiny mistake in the Accordion. I cut the mistake out of the isolated accordion track and dropped in a good chord from another take and boom, the song is solid. This was the only song that took over four takes to get a tight beat!
- Grusha Went Northward has backup vocals that are sung by the musicians in the pit - this is the only song in the entire show where this happens. Unfortunatly, the mics in the room didn't pick up enough of the musicians backup vocals, so I laid in some tracks of me singing it to fatten out the sound.
- The Song of Chaos in Egypt features a Trumpet (amongst five instruments and two singers). We did two takes of the song - one with Trumpet and one without. On the day of recording, the trumpet was clearly overwhelming all the mics. I took the isolated Trumpet from the first take and put it into the second take (cleaning it up a little as well). It keeps the Trumpet players performance on the album without blowing out the mix.
One more day of mixing and smoothing out a last few details. I have 3 songs to mix that I'm planning on adding some vocals too to fatten out the background vocals (they were by far the hardest to perform in the show and the mics didn't quite catch the dynamics the singers). I'll then rip a rough master, and listen to it for the next week, make adjustments, and then master it (probably myself but maybe professionally).
The tracks are already sounding balanced and beautiful. More to come on this.
Closing nights Chalk Circle, drawn by Glenn Hergenhahn