AF’s Weblog

July 20, 2012

Exclusive Interview with George Massenburg

To read the full detailed article see Exclusive Interview with George Massenburg

It’s always a great and an unusual experience to meet a personality who has contributed some much to the evolution of the way we work. In addition to the videos previously released on Audiofanzine, we had the extreme pleasure to meet George Massenburg during his last Parisian visit and to talk more about music production with him. An interview with a real open-minded master.

The Interview

Bootz : George, just before we start, what are you working on at the moment?

George Massenburg : I have 3 recording projects that I am working on right now. One is not really recording; it is finishing an Opera McGill production – Don Giovanni, Mozart – and I am directing and post-production supervising… Finishing up Don Giovanni which is an 8-camera hi-def shoot that we did with students with a new methodology of shooting opera : a new way of shooting opera that I think is spectacularly effective as it reveals more about opera, as it is closer and more intimate and more suited to the new generation of kids that want to see something on a small screen. That, and I am doing 2 music projects. I am doing the McGill Jazz 1 and I am doing the Stand Kitten record – cut for commercial release – which is great because the Jazz 1 has many many players which are fantastic. Just great songs, great kits, great drums, great bass, great guitar, great piano, great, great great. And then I do a new pop group called Urban Creature from Toronto, they write and produce their own records. This is a personal project to see how the new model would work. I work completely for free, participating in the record of the group and we see how that goes.

And on the other side you are still working with G Labs?

Well, I got 3 jobs. My 3 jobs really are : education, producing electronic equipment, and recording.  And kind of mix, but I am unhappy if I don’t do one of these. I want to do all 3 and they inform each other. I have to keep recording to stay current with the methodology of the studio; I listen to everything that I can get my hands on, my ears into. I hear new work being done and I want to try it outside. I am in the studio a lot.  Building equipment, right now we have two software products in process for MDW and one that is a hybrid product for GML which is the next generation of the 9000 controller, but with a DSP sidechain.  And this takes a long time to do because internally it looks to run at 384 kHz, very fast, not quick (to develop, NA).  As far as software products, we have new products out for the new Pro Tools platform for 10.2 so called AAX and both DSP and Native. It is a lot of work!

Speaking of the balance between all these projects, I’d like to go back to your early age, to the first period of your career. I’ve read that you started at the age of 15, you were working at a laboratory and at the same time at a working studio.

I had joined a recording studio at Baltimore, Maryland.  But it went back to when I was 4 years old and I used to stick my fingers and unscrew a light bulb, and “Aaaahhh!” just to experiment (Laughs). But I love music recording just from a very early age. I had the good fortune to grow up in the same area as Deane Jensen who was a pioneer in making transformers. He was a friend – a personal friend – and we did hand radio, amateur radio, and photography.  And then he bought an Ampex 602 tape recorder «Wow!», bought headphones and U67. I bought his U67, I still have the 67. Very early on I knew that I just loved recording.  There was a tremendous power recording. Ed Cherney said, “I always thought it was a miracle that music could go through this wire, that’s magic”. Fucking magic. Anyway, the idea just seemed like magic to me.  Still does.

So then, Dean Jensen was your first mentor?

He was really my first mentor.  My second mentor was Dr. Curtis Marshall and I worked for him in a laboratory to build an early computer that used a very strange storage mechanism called an Image Radarcon, a tube that would just scan in and then destructively output a number of scans.  It was used to accumulate electron info graphs sensors into an averaging reports so that a neurosurgeon could read an electrons info graph much faster. But it taught me early on electronics, and I had another mentor who would teach me electronics, and I was 15. It’s not so bad.

Now let’s take a closer look…

The Bernard Pivot

What is your favorite memory of producing an album?

There are so many it is hard to pick one out.  My favorite memory is always the Thrill.  You know you’ve got something that you’ve never heard before and no one else has ever heard before.  All you have to do is not fuck it up.  That has happened on any number of records, it happened on EWAF a couple of times, that happened with Linda Ronstadt a lot – just this is great!  Look out cause you can really fuck it up.  Don’t do that, cause you can really fuck it up.  Worst memory, I wouldn’t want to talk about that. There were a few of them too.

Which artist would you like to work with and why?

I want to work with a new emerging artist, that has ideas and is running into a technical wall. I don’t know who that is. I love the new Bon Iver record, but I can’t do that, they’ve already got a record, they got an engineer, he is terrific, but boy I would have loved to work on that. I love producing and directing opera video. I think that is great. Working with these fantastic students at McGill, great voices, great players, it’s a wide open field, so that’s my dream right now – producing and directing opera. It’s unusual for a rock and roller !

You’re engaged to produce an album for an artist you love but his requirements are: less is more. You need to pick only 5 pieces of your equipment. What will you choose and why?

That’s easy!  I would choose all GML because I know when they work and when they break, I know they are reliable, I know how every knob works.  So that’s my pre, EQ, compressor, I’ll use Prism convertors, I’ll use either Pro Tool or Pyramix. Right now I prefer Pro Tools for rock and roll, Pyramix for classical. I like ATC monitors, also like Genelec a lot. For portable when I have to go to a gig I like these little Sennheiser  (Neumann) KH120 speakers that sound pretty good.  And I’ve got a lot of microphones you don’t want to know about. A 57, I’ll take a 57 but that’s it.

Just to finish, do you have any quote or a catch phrase that drives you about music production?

Yes, there is not a question that cannot be addressed, that can’t be answered or at least discussed with critical listening. Critical listening tells you everything you need to know. You don’t need someone to tell you what to do, all you have to do is pay attention. Sometimes it helps to have someone do that, but everybody has to know that if they care, they can do it on their own.  They have to tell each other the truth. They have to tell themselves the truth.  If the truth is, I can’t get that sound with that piece of shit microphone, that’s the truth and they have to be responsible for that.  I don’t have the right mic, fix that and move on.  Critical listening, everything is answered by critical listening. That’s my favorite.  Another one is Woody Allen :“I can’t listen to that much Wagner, I keep getting the urge to invade Poland” ! (Laughs)

To read the full detailed article see Exclusive Interview with George Massenburg

March 10, 2010

Presonus Studio One Software Review

Fed up with Cubase? Sick of Logic? Bored by Sonar? PreSonus will take back your software in exchange for Studio One. But, is it really worth it?

Launching a new sequencer in 2010 is a bold venture considering that there are several well-established products out there. We could name at least a dozen top of mind, each one better than the others (Pro Tools, Logic, Sonar, Cubase, Nuendo, Samplitude, Digital Performer, Live, Tracktion, Reaper, Acid, Reason/Record, Fruity Loops, etc.), for all sorts of applications and within all price ranges. Nevertheless, more often than not, it was unexpected outsiders that introduced innovations in the field rather than the established brands (Cubase’s InLine Edition and Reason’s Combinator owe a lot to Tracktion to name only one example). That’s one of the main reasons why we are very pleased to welcome PreSonus’ Studio One – which we hope will bring some fresh air to the sequencer world.

How Long Has PreSonus Been Making Sequencers?

Studio OneWell-known for their FireWire interfaces (FirePod and FireBox, for example), the guys at PreSonus also offer a very comprehensive range of audio products from digital mixers to dual high-quality preamps (conceived by Anthony de Maria), headphones amps, monitoring controllers, etc. In short, almost everything you need to set up a home studio, except for microphones and monitors. In this context, a sequencer seems quite natural, all the more if you think that most leading manufacturers in the pro audio industry have their own sequencer: Cubase and Nuendo belong to Yamaha, Sonar to Roland, Pro Tools to Digidesign/M-Audio, Acid to Sony, Tracktion to Mackie, etc.

However, PreSonus could not become a software developer overnight even though they have lots of experience with DAW hardware solutions. Therefore it was no surprise to find the very experienced Matthias Juwan behind Studio One, a developer who worked six years for Steinberg before founding his own company and developing a free sequencer called Krystal Audio. Matthias had already planned to make V2 a paid upgrade before arriving at PreSonus; it seems his new software ended up being Studio One.  Fine.  Enough with the history lessons…

Is Studio One the One?

Studio OneStudio One is an audio/MIDI sequencer for Mac and PC (it includes Windows 7 and 64-bit support). There are two different versions available, “Artist” and “Pro”. They both share the same functions except for some major details like the audio engine’s internal resolution (32 bit in Artist, 64 bit in Pro), the ability to import/export to MP3 and, above all, AU, VST and Rewire compatibility. I beg your pardon? Did you just say that the Artist version which costs $200 doesn’t allow the use of external plugins? Yes, I did! Even though the Artist version includes about 20 virtual effects and instruments like a sampler, EZdrummer Lite and Kore Player, it’s hard to imagine how it’s supposed to compete in this market without allowing external plugin integration… But that’s none of our business right now because we will only deal with the Pro version in this review, which does support third-part plugins, provides additional effects and offers many samples as well as Kore Player sounds. Now let’s go back to the pretty blue box containing two DVDs…

Installing Studio One and the additional software tools provided is pretty straightforward and easy. Among the printed documentation included there’s a short quick start guide in full color and a leaflet listing all the shortcuts. It’s not much but you will also find a 189 page long PDF under the software’s Help menu, and PreSonus also included a handful of video tutorials to get you started. That was nice of them, even if one the main pros of Studio One is its intuitiveness.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

PreSonus did a good job with Studio One. We have rarely used such an intuitive sequencer: it is always difficult to switch from Cubase to Pro Tools or from Sonar to Digital Performer due to design and layout problems, but that wouldn’t be a problem with Studio One thanks to the great ideas implemented in this respect. Studio One resembles Tracktion in a way: it’s a small sequencer conceived for music creation that can be installed on a notebook to avoid more resource hungry tools like Cubase, Logic or Sonar. It is well thought-out, comprehensive, very stable, and promises a lot even if it’s a bit too expensive compared to similar products. Not taking into consideration the Artist version, which is too limited to be interesting, the Pro version is a bit more expensive than Mackie’s Tracktion 3, which place it in the same price range as all the big names on the market… and it just can’t compete with them, except in design and layout. To wrap it up, Studio One is a bit too expensive but it does offer some nice features so we will keep our eyes open for Studio Two…

Advantages:

  • Excellent design and layout
  • Provides everything to create a song from A to Z
  • Stability
  • Effect plugins quality
  • Well thought-out mastering section

Drawbacks:

  • Improvable virtual instruments
  • Artist version can’t host third-party plugins
  • There are much more powerful tools available for a few more bucks…

To read the full detailed article see:  Presonus Studio One Review

February 10, 2010

My iPhone is a Sequencer

iPhone/iPod Touch Sequencers Report

We’ll start with Xewton Music Studio, a pretty comprehensive MIDIMy iPhone is a sequencer sequencer if you consider that it runs on a mobile phone. It features 128 MIDI tracks, 4 FX sends (reverb, delay, EQ, amp simulation) and 21 instruments – more than enough to get you started… But even though the instruments will cover most of your needs and you can edit their volume envelope curve (in a somewhat rudimentary way), don’t expect too much from their sound (the quality is on the same level as an old wavetable Sound Blaster sound card, in other words cheap-sounding, but usable, Soundfonts).

On the other hand, the sequencing functions are pretty comprehensive including a dual, virtual MIDI keyboard for real time control of two instruments, a piano roll view, an arranger window, velocity management, and all necessary sequencing functions like cut, copy, paste, transpose, etc. It goes without saying that you can set the volume and pan for each track and, more importantly, you can export your work as a WAV or MIDI file. In conclusion, it is definitely a must-have for the iPhone and well worth the $19.99 the developer asks for it.

Now let’s look at some several other sequencers…

Loop the Loop

To wrap up this non-exhaustive iPhone sequencer overview let’s My iPhone is a sequencertake a look at loop-based production tools inspired by Acid/Garageband. With a brilliant design, IK Multimedia’s Groovemaker is available for different music styles at $7.99, but you cannot import your own loops, which is a major drawback. That’s why we prefer Looptastic’s Producer version ($9.99), because it allows you to import your own WAV, AIFF and OGC files. It can synchronize up to 20 files at the same time and allows you to export your mix.

My iPhone is a sequencerIt’s a pity that you cannot record! That’s the whole point of loopers and loop samplers! They come in very handy to record song ideas on the spot and loop the loop with our previous report about iPhone audio recorders. Anyway, we will only mention the nice StompVox, which lacks an export function, and take a nearer look at the excellent iSample which has been praised by Roger Linn himself and Jordan Rudess. This app provides six 30-second samplers, a mixer, a loop editor, delay and reverb effects, and a 12-pattern sequencer. Everything for only $9.99.

On the other side, some of you will appreciate the simplicity of My iPhone is a sequencerEveryday Looper! The oddness about this 4-track looper is the GUI with no buttons: you can slide both ways using 1, 2 or 3 fingers to start or stop the recording, toggle between different tracks, and export the result of your work via WiFi. This app is very ergonomic and costs only $3.99.

To read the full detailed report see: iPhone Sequencers

December 16, 2009

Celemony Melodyne Editor Review

Ever since the creation of the first DAW, no other software has caused so much ink to be spilled and generated such expectations. The Direct Note Access technology, which was introduced by Celemony at Musikmesse 2008, is one of those holy grails no one ever thought to be accessible because it allows you to edit single notes of a polyphonic audio recording. Is it some sort of de-mixing? Yes and no! Is it a revolution? You bet!

Celemony Melodyne EditorBefore we dive into the innards of the program, a brief summary about Melodyne is necessary for those of you who don’t know it yet. Celemony created Melodyne in the wake of the Antares Autotune, which allowed you to edit the pitch of an audio recording. Melodyne worked under the same principles (pitch shifting and time stretching with formant control) within an interface conceived for musicians instead of sound engineers. After detecting the notes, you had several tools for pitch, time and amplitude correction, so you could actually edit audio recordings as easily as MIDI parts, under one condition: the audio recording had to be monophonic. The software’s excellent algorithms and idiot-proof user interface gave lots of product ideas to their partners (like Ueberschall, who developed customizable loop banks for the Melodyne engine) and competitors. For instance, Autotune got a new user interface (see the Autotune EVO), several competitors appeared (Waves Tune, Zplane) and the main audio sequencers integrated Melodyne-like functions (Steinberg introduced VariAudio in Cubase 5 and Cakewalk did the same with AudioSnap for Sonar).

While competitors were still trying to catch up with the first Melodyne, Celemony changed the game again by offering individual note editing in polyphonic recordings. During the product presentation at Musikmesse, Melodyne’s boss had a blast changing a guitar minor chord into a major chord using a simple MIDI keyboard. And to top that, he also modified the trumpet of a Miles Davis recording without changing the double-bass or the drum part. Impressed? There are no words to express it. The presentation of the product had such an impact that some people thought it was a hoax. That, together with the time it took for the official release to come out raised serious doubts among the audio community. But…

Melodyne Editor, the first software using Direct Note Access technology (DNA) has finally hit the stores. And it works…

On Familiar Ground

The installation is extremely easy. You will only need the serial number to activate it online on Celemony’s website. The software is protected in two different ways: either you activate the product online, in which case the registration is limited to only one computer (you’ll have to uninstall it first before installing it on another computer) or you transfer your license to an iLok key. Once you did that you can start your sequencer (I work with Cubase) and look for Melodyne Editor in your plugin list.

Celemony Melodyne EditorUsers of previous Melodyne versions, especially those who had the plugin version, won’t feel too estranged at first sight. The user interface (the look and layout) didn’t change much. Under the Settings, Edit, Algorithm, View, and Help menus, you’ll still find the aluminum-like bar hosting the basic parameters. Most of the interface is made up of a sort of piano-roll grid displaying yellow, orange and red events… On the right side, you’ll still find the “Correct Pitch” and “Quantize Time” buttons, as well as three automation-capable controllers that allow you to play with the pitch, the formant or the volume parameters in real time. On the center of the tool bar you’ll find the Undo/Redo icons and the tool box (with the same old icons): from left to right, you’ll find six tools for selection/zoom/scroll, pitch editing (with modulation and drift parameters – a sort of audio pitch bend), formant editing, volume editing, timing editing and note separation editing.

Right below these icons, there are two fields that display the note detected in the segment selected and its distance to the correct note. Finally, on the left side of the bar you have the transfer parameters. Just like with the first plugin version, the first thing you have to do is start the detection process: once Melodyne is inserted in the track that is to be processed, click on the transfer button and start playback in the sequencer. Depending on the algorithm you selected in the “Algorithm” menu, Melodyne analyzes the audio material and generates events on the grid. There are three algorithms available: monophonic (melodic), rhythmic/unpitched and polyphonic. In this review, we will focus on the latter since the two others are already known from the Melodyne plugin.

Before we get into details, we have to mention that, unlike the first Melodyne plugin, you can fully resize the program window and freely zoom in/out via shortcuts. It would have been perfect if it had a button to switch into full-screen mode with a single click…

Now let’s take a look under the hood…

Conclusion

Melodyne Editor is indeed the revolution we expected, thanks to its DNA technology. The algorithm is not infallible and (still?) doesn’t allow to entirely de-mix a song. Nevertheless, there has not been such an exciting invention in the audio industry ever since the creation of Autotune – and the invention of samplers before that. Melodyne is available for a very affordable price considering the huge R&D efforts Celemony had to make to achieve these results.

While we wait for a more comprehensive version that includes MIDI export of the detected notes, we strongly recommend Melodyne Editor to sound engineers (to repair an acoustic guitar recording when the guitarist already left the studio), to musicians who work with loops (and never find the right sample in the right key) and to all sound designers. You will undoubtedly have lots of fun discovering the huge possibilities it provides. However, there is still one thing that remains unclear: what happens to the copyright of the processed samples? If I change all the notes of a Miles Davis phrase, will he still be the owner of the melody I use in my song?

To wrap it up, if I were to have only one gift under the Christmas tree, I’d ask for this one!

Celemony Melodyne Editor
Advantages:
  • Technological feat that revolutionizes audio editing and sampling
  • Ease of use
  • Stunning results when used for the right application
  • Price (considering the R&D investment)
  • Amusing and creative tool
  • One of the best monophonic time-stretching & pitch-shifting tools, maybe even the best…

Drawbacks:

  • CPU consumption: you’ll have to bounce!
  • Left and right channels cannot be edited separately
  • Not multitimbral
  • Disappointing results with some audio material

To read the full detailed review including sound samples see:  Celemony Melodyne Editor Review

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