Hello, I'm Paul Verna, and I'll be your columnist. To readers who remember me from my previous life, hello again! To those of you who don't know me from a dimpled chad, I'm the former pro audio editor and reviews editor at Billboard, and the co-author of The Encyclopedia of Record Producers (Billboard Books, 1999). I'm also an independent producer/engineer in the New York area, with a project/mobile studio called Vernacular Music.
Given my long-standing admiration for Mix, I was delighted to be asked to contribute to the magazine upon my departure from Billboard in June 2000. I have since written articles for Mix on topics ranging from orchestral recording to audio for the Olympics, and am now honored to join the publication as New York editor.
If you're a member of the New York recording community - a studio owner or manager, a producer, an engineer, a manufacturer, a retailer, an A&R representative, a consultant, etc. - then feel free to add me to your mailing list, call or e-mail me with news in your area. My contact information is listed below.
When Elton John decided to record his recent stint at Madison Square Garden and release a live CD, One Night Only - The Greatest Hits Live, in time for the Christmas shopping rush, the New York studio intelligentsia went into overdrive to make it happen.
Mind you, this was no ordinary project. The artist's manager insisted that the performances be recorded at 24/96 for maximum fidelity and for probable release on DVD-Video and DVD-Audio following the CD version. At the same time, two television specials (for CBS-TV and the BBC) would be created from the event, and they, too, had to be turned around in record time.
For such critical recordings, one doesn't mess around with less-than-stellar equipment or inexperienced personnel. Only the brightest lights in the business get the call, and the gear they select is invariably state-of-the-art. Not surprisingly, Elton John and his entourage called on multiple Grammy winners Phil Ramone and Frank Filipetti, the dynamic duo responsible for a long string of studio and live extravaganzas, including the annual Pavarotti & Friends concerts in the tenor's hometown of Modena, Italy.
By now, the recording community knows that if there's one producer/engineer combo for whom no job is too big, then it's Team Ramone/Filipetti. (I once jokingly remarked to these geniuses of the studio that Ramone/Filipetti sounded like the name of a Formula 1 racing team, to which Ramone deadpanned: "Or a mafia family!")
Anyway, producer Ramone and engineer/mixer Filipetti went boldly where no other recording team has gone, capturing the show's 80 tracks on four different formats and mixing the album in less than a week. Following the intense mixing sessions for the album, Ramone and Filipetti worked on the TV shows and multichannel mixes.
For the recording, Filipetti would have employed the services of the New York-based Effanel L7 mobile recording unit, which would have provided a fiber-optic snake capable of sending clean, uncompromised signals across the nearly 700-foot span between the Garden stage and the truck, a remote-controlled mic preamp system, enough space to accommodate four Sony 3348HR 24-bit recorders, which would have been needed to record 80 tracks of live music continuously for two hours, and an AMS/Neve Capricorn digital console, a favorite of Filipetti's.
However, the Effanel truck was already booked for the VH-1 Fashion Awards, which, ironically, were taking place at the Theater at the Garden, just feet away from MSG. Even though his truck was in use, Effanel owner Randy Ezratty worked on the Elton John project as recording supervisor, securing the services of The Nashville Network's Capricorn-equipped vehicle and setting up a bank of Aphex Systems remote- controllable 1788 mic pre's, which allowed the producers to send line-level analog signals from the stage to the truck.
Because the TNN mobile was too small to accommodate four 3348HRs, Ramone and Filipetti opted for a variety of formats. The first 48 tracks would go to a 3348HR, the next 24 to an Otari Radar II hard disk recorder and the remaining ones to Tascam DA-88 MDMs. The 3348HR and Radar tracks were cut at 24-bits, whereas the DA-88 channels (which consisted mostly of audience mics) were limited to 16-bits, according to Ezratty and Filipetti.
To further complicate matters, the Elton John camp's insistence that the shows be recorded at 96 kHz meant that Ramone and Filipetti had to resort to technology that had never been used in a large, live and high-profile multitrack environment.
They selected the Euphonix R1 hard disk recording system, which - along with the Palo Alto manufacturer's System 5 digital console - has won raves in the industry for its intelligent design and ability to deliver 96kHz audio. But, because neither Ramone nor Filipetti had worked with an R1 prior to the Elton John shows, they felt uncomfortable relying on it as the leading format. Accordingly, they went with their tried-and-true 3348HR/Radar/DA-88 combo in the TNN truck and sent a dual feed (using the second of the Aphex 1178s' transformer-isolated outputs) to a dressing room that served as the R1 command center.
Fortunately, all the signals went to tape and disk without a hitch, leaving Filipetti with a variety of choices for the mixes, which were done at nearby Right Track Studios. He could have synchronized a 3348HR, a Radar and a DA-88, as he had done in the truck, but instead he opted to work from the R1 sources.
However, the Capricorn console has a maximum sampling rate of 48 kHz, and the tracks were cut at 96 kHz, so Filipetti had to use a Euphonix format converter to halve the sampling rate. ("One positive by-product of down sampling," says Filipetti, "was that we got 96 tracks on one machine, which really made it simple to mix.")
Sonically, Ramone and Filipetti were not able to do an A/B comparison between the R1 and the Sony 3348HR, but Filipetti's impressions of the Euphonix machine are positive.
"I don't know in the end which one sounds better," he says, "but I do know that the R1 sounded more than good enough, and operationally, functionally and ergonomically, it was wonderful."
Even though One Night Only - released November 21 on Universal Records - was not mixed from the highest-resolution source that was available, the use of 96kHz sampling for such a large-scale project bodes well for other high-resolution recordings in the future and validates the claims of engineers and manufacturers who have been saying that the sonic benefits of high sampling are worth the extra effort.
Now, are we all ready for 144 tracks of 32-bit audio at 192 kHz?