In Clinton Studio B, from left: Casey Conrad, Anthony Jackson, Tom DeRenzo and Bryan Smith
photo: Tim Mitchell
New sample libraries are constantly coming out, but hearing about one that involves bassist Anthony Jackson might make a person stand up and take notice. A New York City denizen with an international reputation, he and the producers of his upcoming Anthony Jackson Six String Contrabass Library (www.basssix.com) are pour- ing their blood, tears and sweat into a production that demonstrates the rapidly ad-vancing standards of sample libraries.
While the technical specs (24-bit/192kHz Pro Tools|HD recording via Prism Sound A/D converters at New York City's Clinton Recording Studios) are state-of-the-art, they're nothing compared to the player. One of the top talents ever to play the bass, Jackson's phase-shifting bass line on The O'Jays' “For the Love of Money” is permanently burned into the funk psyche. A live and session veteran with more than 500 album credits, Jackson's contributions are expanded even further by his primary role in the invention of the contrabass guitar, the six-stringed low-end monster with a range that should inspire library users to entirely new heights — or depths.
“As a producer and composer, knowing all the libraries that exist, there was a lacking of high-quality bass samples, let alone a contrabass guitar,” says Tom DeRenzo, who teamed with Casey Conrad to co-produce the library. “The six strings of the contrabass are great because of their ability to lay down chords if you want to, but even more so because of their range.
“Anthony had been reluctant to do this library,” DeRenzo continues. “It's a very time-consuming endeavor, and he wanted to be able to do a very high-quality recording. But using today's Tascam GigaSampler 3 and GigaStudio — where you can have very long sounds, decay and full notes in length — convinced him that now was the right time.”
Pre-production made it obvious that this project would require extremely high-level organization, logistics and incredible physical and mental stamina from all parties involved. Not only were a number of Jackson's signature articulations planned — including palm muting, modulated mutes, flat-pick technique with Meta Flanger and Omnipressor, articulations with glisses, string effects and more — but also every event would be recorded a minimum of three separate times to take full advantage of GigaSampler's Random function.
Once Jackson, Conrad and DeRenzo set up shop at Clinton's Studios A and B with Clinton owner Ed Rak and engineers Bryan Smith or Sheldon Yellowhair, the enormity of the undertaking set in. With Pro Tools running constantly, Jackson performed multiple versions of each note for each of five velocities, allowing each note to ring out in its entirety until it disappeared below the noise floor. Unfortunately, such intensely critical listening over the massive house-modified UREI 840 monitors meant that the air-conditioning fans had to be turned off.
With Jackson's exacting work ethic factored into the mix, the recording sessions required a patient frame of mind to complete the work. “The biggest surprise was the amount of time it takes for a note on an instrument like this to be performed and literally decay,” Conrad observes. “With multiple versions of five levels of velocity, 28 frets and six strings, all the samples add up to approximately 1,800 notes. The longest, lowest notes last up to a minute 40 seconds, and it's almost like a Zen kind of thing sitting and waiting for the notes to decay. Anthony's level of perfectionism is as high as you're going to get, which means he's got to sit and hold his Fodera contrabass guitar for that entire time without moving it an inch. It was daunting.”
Miking the Meyer Sound CQ-1 speakers
photo: David Weiss
From Jackson's instrument, the sound traveled to a Countryman DI before splitting to a pair of Millennia HV-3B preamps and API 550B EQs. One path recorded the DI signal while in the live room, the second signal reached a pair of self-powered Meyer Sound CQ-1 speakers, captured by a Neumann U47 FET microphone going back into the Neve 8078 board before hitting Pro Tools.
As soon as the grueling session(s) for each articulation were completed, they were burned to a DVD and left their comfy New York City confines for a studio in San Diego, Calif., where one of the foremost sample library programmers, John Thomas (www.glasstrax.com), waited for his turn with the material. Thomas first focused his attention on the material's noise floor as he worked on his Alienware 3GB machine. “What I'm doing is basically making a thousand miniature masters,” Thomas points out. “There are a lot of people who aren't too fussy about noise reduction, but that should not be true at the sample level. People think, ‘I'm recording with the best gear, it's got to be totally quiet,’ but it's not. Some people also think that the noise is realism, but hiss is created by cables, condenser stages in the mic — things that are not built into the human ear. So building that into the sound is not real.”
Using Adobe Audition as his audio editor, Thomas puts the samples through a meticulous filtering process as he aims for a noise floor of at least -120 dB. “I have two separate signals [the DI and the P.A.] with a 10-second slate before each note from the producer,” he says. “I highlight that [10-second] area, take the noise profile, remove it and apply it to the entire file before I do anything else. My ultimate goal is to reach -144 because that's the theoretical noise floor for 24-bit hardware.” Next, Thomas brings the relative volumes of the samples in each of the five velocities as closely in-line as possible, taking the loudest velocity and normalizing it to -3 dB.
Those who fashion their own sample libraries would be wise to pay careful attention at this point. “Making each note individually involves picking the starting point correctly, but it's not simply where the sound begins because that's too early — going from there will make the sample so sloppy that it's unusable,” Thomas warns. “Where you chop it on the front end is absolutely critical. You have to magnify to a certain level and chop at the zero crossing point. Then I back up until it sounds correct and feels right.”
Next is a QC stage, where Thomas re-screens every sample for clicks, pops or other imperfections. Along the way, he smooths the end of all the files with a quick, curving fade at the last tenth of a second to avoid artificial pops during playback in the sampler. Only then is he ready to begin editing the samples in GigaStudio into a true library, making additional tweaks, creating presets and doing any other required platform-specific chores.
Jackson and his team are extremely interested to see what the production community's response will be. “We're recording knowing that composers and writers will have the full range of contrabass guitar recorded by Anthony Jackson at a very high standard,” DeRenzo concludes. “The bass is one of the fundamentals of music composition, and the sound of the contrabass guitar is phenomenal. To have the ultimate bass player making the ultimate recording is an invaluable tool.”
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