Section meeting report - May 2013

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2013-07-30 07:25

Professor Alex Case visited Stockholm to present a well-received critique of the recording process entitled ’Recording and Mixing Electric Guitar – Informed Strategies for the Mother Instrument of Rock’.

The talk began with a review of the fundamentals of audio and how it can be presented, sine waves, complex waves and harmonics. Interestingly, the electric guitar does not appear in any of the common frequency spectrum charts for musical instruments, even though it is one of the most prevalent in modern music.

An examination of the waveforms for several guitar playing techniques such as plucking, strumming etc. enables the recording engineer to understand how different processing effects can be utilised to best reveal the sound of the guitar in a mix.

Distortion is one of the most powerful and flexible tools available to the studio engineer. Musicians can also endlessly explore the effects of loudspeaker cone break up modes in deliberately designed soft cones of guitar combos as well as the variable settings on their effects pedals.

Engineers can choose between several types of distortion each with its own unique tonal signature. Hard, soft and wrap distortion were audibly demonstrated through the use of a software plugin and the results visually demonstrated through spectrum analysis and waveform envelopes.

Understanding the effects of masking can benefit the engineer in their goal of creating a balanced mix. Masking phenomena can also be used to create dynamically variable balance in the tonality of the guitar with careful choices being made as to the olevel and frequency content of distortion.

Microphone strategies play an important part in the recording process. The classic ‘point an SM57 on an angle just off centre of the cone’ myth was easily dispelled as just that, a myth. Prof. Case presented a piece of work which he conducted in collaboration with past president of the AES, Jim Anderson, in which they (with the help of several undergraduates) measured the spatial frequency response of several guitar combos. The measured data was transformed into a series of 2 and 3 dimension visual presentations showing the unique and unsymmetrical coverage patterns of these musical instrument loudspeakers. Attendees were among the first to see these visualisations and gain an informative insight into the behaviour of the common guitar combo.

One other technique was presented – compression. This is worth a whole lecture on its own but a short overview was given and some valuable tips presented. Thinking about the amplitude envelope of a sound and considering temporal masking effects allows the engineer to increase the audibility of an instrument in the mix. Fast release times can increase the duration of short, impulsive sound such as drum hits, an audible and visual demonstration being presented. The judicious use of both compression and other temporal effects such as reverberation can spread the duration of chorter sounds thus making them easier for the ear brain system to detect.

The meeting was well attended and included a number of guests from the Swedish Sound Engineering Society.


Thanks go to Professor Case, Erik Nordström for arranging his visit, Olle Karlsson for arranging the venue and DM Audio for the loan of a PA.

Prof Alex Case Meeting Attendees

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