Repeat after us: “It isn’t just a fad… It isn’t just a fad… It isn’t just a fad.” Surround sound, that is. By now, we know it isn’t just hype. This isn’t Quad 2: The Sequel. This is happening; surround has escaped from the multiplex and is invading homes coast to coast! Could your house or studio be next?
There are still many unanswered questions about the long-term commercial viability of multichannel audio products: As usual, there are format differences to be resolved or, more likely, universal players to be invented. Will the public buy Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland one more time… after we’ve already shelled out for the CD, the remastered CD and the special-edition remastered CD? (I will!) Okay, it’s great news that the redoubtable Elliot Scheiner is working on a 5.1 mix of Van Morrison’s Moondance, but how about a surround mix of U2’s latest, or of Bonnie Raitt’s or Metallica’s next album. The financial commitment from the record labels still isn’t there… but it will be one of these days. The first surround systems are going in luxury cars right now, and it’s only a matter of time before the ubiquity of car systems leads to an explosion of surround “product.”
Every few months, we like to check in with different engineers and producers to see how the professionals in our business are dealing with the surround phenomenon. This month, we hear about some recent projects from an illustrious group: Bob Clearmountain, Tom Jung, Mickey Hart and Tom Flye, Jimmy Douglass and Greg Ladanyi.
BOB CLEARMOUNTAIN: SPRINGSTEEN IN SURROUND
Until I saw HBO’s incredible two-hour Bruce Springsteen Live In New York City, I thought there was no way the energy and excitement of a Springsteen show could translate to the small screen. Beautifully shot and edited, with the natural pacing of a true Springsteen marathon, it is also one of the best-sounding concert specials ever, thanks to the work of Springsteen’s veteran sound team, headed by recording engineer Toby Scott and mixer Bob Clearmountain. So far, three products have come out of the Madison Square Garden concerts: the HBO special, an expanded two-CD set and now, due sometime this month (if all goes according to plan), a DVD with full 5.1 surround mixed by Clearmountain.
“Actually, the first thing we did was mix ‘American Skin’ [Springsteen’s haunting and controversial song about the shooting of a West African immigrant by New York police] for a single,” Clearmountain says from his MixThis! studio in L.A. “We did it stereo, and since I knew the shows had been shot in High Definition video, I ran a 5.1 surround version as well. I’ve been doing that with just about all the live stuff I’ve done lately, just in case. After hearing that and seeing some of the footage from the shows, Bruce and his manager, Jon Landau, decided to mix more of the tracks for a possible DVD. In fact, once they decided they wanted to go in that direction, they didn’t even ask for a stereo mix, but I did it anyway to keep all bases covered. I always do the stereo and surround mixes simultaneously.
“The way I set up the console [a modified SSL 4072 G+] is to put the small faders post the big faders and put them all at zero (unity) and then send them to the multi-channel buses, which route to Pro Tools for my 5-channel mix. Then I use the small faders as trims for the surround mix. I switch the monitors between the surround and the stereo, which comes off the normal stereo bus, and make them compatible using the small faders. The LFE (subwoofer) gets sent off an aux send. That all works really well for me. We’ve modified six of the SSL’s patchable VCAs to work as a 6-channel bus compressor/master fader in conjunction with the SSL stereo compressor, so the surround compression is identical to the stereo.
“Musically, I want the stereo and the 5.1 to be compatible,” he continues. “I want it to be the same mix in terms of the balance of the voice and the guitar and all those kind of things. I don’t want to go to the surround mix and all of a sudden there’s a completely different musical picture, particularly on a live recording. At the same time, you can do a lot more with ambience and audience in the surround mix. Normally, with a live show, you do a lot of audience mic riding, because there are definitely times when it’s appropriate to hear more audience, but when the focus is really on the music, you want to bring those mics down so the music doesn’t get muddy. Mixing in surround, I find that I want to keep more of the audience and hall ambience up the mix can take it because there’s more coherency as the ambience is spread out in four or five speakers, as opposed to two. A similar effect can be observed by recording a lecture in stereo from the back of a hall if you listen in mono, you’ll find it much harder to make out what is being said than in stereo. I double-patched the audience [tracks] to two sets of faders, so I had one group for the stereo and another for the surround. I would ride them separately and bring the stereo audience down more often and more drastically. In the surround, the audience is up a lot more often, especially the rear channels, because all that’s really back there is ambience and audience. I did spread the piano out a bit on the right, and I think the organ is sort of between the front and back on the left.”
Clearmountain says he had a bit of trouble with one of the audience tracks because of a defective mic: “I only had four audience tracks to work with, and one of them would crackle a little when there was a lot of bottom end coming in the mic. I had to filter it quite radically in a few places. My advice for live recordings intended for surround is to spread as many audience mics as possible out over as many channels as possible!” The concerts were recorded by Scott on Sony PCM-3348s.
“Toby is a great engineer,” Clearmountain says. “He’s very conscientious and he gets really good sounds. The sounds on the tape were just phenomenal! I didn’t have to use any samples or anything like that. What was there was just really, really well recorded. He makes my job a lot easier.” Clearmountain notes that he occasionally will make suggestions about microphones and compressors he favors, and Scott has always been accommodating.
I remark to Clearmountain that I thought the E Street Band would be particularly challenging to mix because there are up to four guitars playing at once, as well as all that midrange information from the piano and organ the Springsteen “Wall of Sound.” “It is a wall of sound sometimes, and that’s the sound they’re going for,” he agrees. “But the thing about that band is that it’s full but not overly cluttered. That band is unique. I’ve mixed a lot of their records, and what I’ve found is that they kind of mix themselves. They’re an amazing group of musicians the way they work together. They seem to get out of each other’s way. Roy [Bittan, pianist/bandleader] is just incredible with the way he fits his piano in. It’s huge when it needs to be, and it never really loses that quality, but it also makes space for the other instruments. They’re easy to mix; it’s obvious, in a way, where everyone belongs. And as for all the guitars, you sort of want to hear it as a blanket of guitars; you don’t want any particular one to stick out, unless someone’s riffing or soloing.”
Over the course of about a month, Clearmountain mixed 46 tracks in both 5.1 and stereo (37 different songs), sending his stereo mixes to Springsteen by ISDN to the rocker’s home studio in New Jersey. “My assistant, David Boucher, did all the conform to picture here and at his place on our Pro Tools rigs, so for four months after that I heard it over and over. Before assembling the final HBO show, we did a preview for HBO, then the preview for Columbia Records,” Clearmountain says, “and each one was a new playlist we had to conform. David and I would sit there and work on the crossfades and transitions together between other mixing projects. The CD was a completely different thing, so it just went on and on as Bruce kept changing it every few days.”
Which is where the DVD project was when Clearmountain and I spoke in late May. “They’re constantly re-editing the video, and Bruce is still deciding on the songs and the order. That’s just the way Bruce works. It’s got to be exactly his vision of the performance and it’s got to be totally true to what he’s feeling. That’s how he’s always done it, and that’s why he’s so great. It’s so much fun to listen to and watch. I get hooked in by it every single time. I’ve got no complaints. I love this stuff!”
In the meantime, Clearmountain is doing other 5.1 work, and there seems to be little doubt that his phone will be ringing often as DVD-A and SACD really start to catch on. Who better, for instance, to do a DVD-A of Roxy Music’s classic album Avalon, which he mixed originally? And there are new bands, too: He cites Jonatha Brooke’s recent project, Steady Pull (profiled in April 2001 Mix) and he recently did a surround mix for a hot “new metal” band called Darwin’s Waiting Room. “Not too many labels have wanted to do 5.1 on new music,” he says, “but I’ve done a few now, and I think the attitude [at the labels] is changing.”
MICKEY HART/TOM FLYE: DIMENSIONAL DEAD
Former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and his longtime engineer Tom Flye have been in the surround world for two-and-a-half years now, practically qualifying them as cagey veterans. Their first two projects were a pair of songs from Hart’s percussion-and-voices CD Superlingua and a still-unreleased “Best of Mickey Hart” CD; both of those were mixed to 5.1 at Chicago Trax. But now, Hart and Flye are working simultaneously on two surround projects in two different formats. One is an SACD project for Sony Classical, featuring Hart and a number of his percussion world buddies (Airto, Giovanni Hidalgo, et al.) playing with the famed Japanese taiko drum troupe Kodo. That was recorded up at Hart’s ranch (see a future issue of Mix for more on that) and is due to be mixed in L.A. later this summer for a fall release. The other project, now complete, is 5.1 DVD-A mixes of two classic Grateful Dead albums from 1970, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Those records marked the Dead’s turn from overtly psychedelic rock to more concise, folk-influenced song forms, and they stand as the apex of the songwriting partnership between Jerry Garcia and his lyric partner, Robert Hunter.
For Hart, it’s been a long, emotional trip going back to the 16-track masters of these two albums for the first time in more than 30 years; and working on Grateful Dead music in a concentrated way for the first time since Garcia’s death six years ago. “Besides the notion of hearing every flaw that we all made, and besides hearing Jerry… there’s a lot of emotional baggage that you take with you over the 30 years of the Grateful Dead. But I found it very heartwarming, actually. It felt warm and fuzzy. This was the time we were making acoustic music, and everybody was in fairly good shape. It was a fun time, a light time and these were the great Hunter-Garcia songs. I loved these songs. This was the heart of the Grateful Dead. But it was emotional for me the first couple of days, because I started with ‘Attics of My Life.’ Might as well jump in with both feet. There were tears in my eyes a few times a day, but they were happy tears.”
However, before any mixing could take place at the Dead’s studio in Novato, Calif., the control room had to be outfitted for the surround project. Euphonix loaned them an R-1, which the unabashedly pro-analog Flye calls “one of the better digital devices.” They installed a 5.1 monitoring system based around Meyer loudspeakers, using a Multimax box. Hart has both the TC Electronic 6000 multichannel reverb unit and the Sony 777 in his own fabulously equipped home studio, and for this project they decided to use the 6000. “They’re two totally different devices,” Flye comments. “The Sony machine is a true room simulator. They actually went out and recorded bursts in the room, and it sounds quite good. But it’s not as versatile as the TC, which is important to Mickey. That’s total simulation, so you can change anything you want, and you can do things like have three stereo devices if you want them, or four mono devices.” Hart calls the 6000 “our secret weapon.”
From the outset, Hart decided that he wanted to treat the two albums with the respect they deserved, but also to view them essentially as new products. After all, he notes, so many people have the CD versions, why simply re-create those mixes in 5.1? “This is a new creation, based on the old,” he says. So, he and Flye tackled each song individually, listening closely to the stereo version, then putting up the multitrack and building new mixes based on what they heard there sometimes beefing up parts that were de-emphasized on the stereo master, and in a few cases, even restoring parts that were left off the original. For example, on the 5.1 version of “Sugar Magnolia,” Garcia’s pedal steel line has been moved from the background to the lead instrument, and there is a 40-second ending beyond the original fade-out that Hart put back on. “Truckin’” rocks on beyond its fade-out, and on the multitrack of “Candyman,” Hart discovered a coda that has Garcia scatting inventively. “It’s beautiful,” Hart says. “I don’t know why it was faded originally, nor do I care. I’m not being judgmental about it. So, I gave it another dB or two, and now you can really hear Jerry pumpin’ out there, layin’ it out.
“On ‘Dire Wolf,’ we found a set of vocals that weren’t on the album version and sounded great. Bob [Weir, Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist] walked by the studio when we were listening to it, and he said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the way it was supposed to be…’ but it wasn’t mixed in.”
Generally speaking, Hart opted to put the listener in the drummer’s chair (Bill Kreutzmann plays traps; Hart more percussion) for the surround mixes. “I even have the bass drum a little forward in the perspective, as if you’re sitting at the kit,” he says. “The snare is sort of in your lap. I wanted to put you in the band; I wanted you to be in the Grateful Dead as best as you could be… without having to pay the dues,” he adds with a smile. Guitars are mostly broken out to the sides, front and some rear, and Phil Lesh’s always-dominant bass is front-and-center as it should be. On the beautiful ballad “Attics of My Life,” Flye and Hart took the six tracks of vocals, made a gorgeous mono a cappella mix, put it in a church setting in the 6000, then went in and layered the vocals almost equally around the four main speakers to create an aural canopy of sorts that plays inside and above the listener’s head. “I wanted to make a choir out of it,” Hart says, “and then I took the band and put it in the church as well.”
Hart and Flye have also been working on new stereo versions of the two albums, a job that requires readjusting their thinking about the new mixes. “When you mix a record, especially in stereo,” Flye says, “you have different instruments fighting for space, so you have to do things like thin out guitars so the bass still comes through. Well, with 5.1, you have more real estate, and we’ve found that we are able to leave sounds fuller because they’re separated and not right on top of each other all the time. One of the things we have to do is when we go back to stereo we have to trim up some real estate here and there in the low-mids and other places, so you can still hear everything.”
Hart and Flye expect that working on these two albums will lead to more archival Grateful Dead 5.1 work for them. For Hart, it’s a way to reinterpret the past without actually changing history.
“I try not to overindulge,” he says. “You can’t take too many liberties and be a total revisionist and take it into some bizarre space because you have this itch. There’s a certain respect you have to have for the original recording. I think I’m doing this for the right reasons, and I’m trying to let the music tell me what to do. I don’t have a real agenda other than making it sound great and making it a real treat for the fans, and, of course, making it a treat for me.”
JIMMY DOUGLASS GETS HIS FREAK ON IN 5.1
It’s not surprising to learn that one of New York’s top R&B engineers, Jimmy Douglass, is also at the forefront of 5.1 mixing in that genre. Recently, he did DVD-A surround mixes for Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot’s most recent album, Miss E…So Addictive, which he also tracked (it was produced by Timbaland and Elliot), and for Ginuwine’s latest, which he did not record. Douglass likes to do his surround work at Manhattan Center Studios, which is equipped with a Neve console that gets heavy use in film post-production.
“Missy’s album is one where Timbaland and Missy and I did the stereo together,” Douglass says. “Then they went about their business, and I came in and approached the 5.1 myself; I did it on the back end rather than at the same time we were doing the stereo. They trusted me with it because they were both off doing other things.
“So, the first thing I did was recall every mix that I had first as a stereo, and then I proceeded to rethink and reassign different elements. In this case, I didn’t want to do anything too crazy. Mostly what I’m doing there is trying to use all four main speakers as a big, basic stereo mix. I try to make it so that from the middle you get most of the mix in the center without a lot of ‘Whoa, there’s a snare over there! There’s a guitar over there!’ The perspective is about 20 yards behind center. If you sit dead front and you call that the middle the 50-yard line then, if you move forward to about the 40, you’re basically going to hear a true stereo mix; the rears will almost disappear. But if you move back to 10 or 20 yards behind the 50, you actually feel like you can hear everything equidistant. And I think part of that is physical, because your ears have coverings on the back your earlobes so they don’t hear in quite the same way in front of you and behind you.”
Just because he was shooting for an overall “big stereo” sound doesn’t mean that Douglass didn’t use the surround medium to the fullest. “It let me focus on things in different ways,” he notes. “A perfect example would be on Missy’s vocals. She can really make her voice do a lot of interesting and sometimes crazy things; she’s very animated. And she’ll quadruple a vocal part just for size. So, in this case, it made it easy to bust those out in four different places, or have different parts in different places to give the overall sound a different dimension. That made a lot of the things come to life. There’s this one song she does called ‘Dog in Heat’ where she has all this heavy breathing, and in the stereo mix I had flanged and moved it left and right, but in 5.1 I moved it completely around the speakers. It’s crazy! It’s like it’s attacking you!” he says with a laugh. “I also did a lot of effects in the rears and sequenced parts. Still, I mostly kept the vocals in the center and the lead vocal mostly in the front field, not to obscure the focus of the song, so if you’re sitting at the 50-yard line, you’re getting most of the basic record in front of you.”
Douglass says he often likes to build his surround mixes in different triangles, “such as left front and right front and phantom center in the back. And then the opposite would be left back, right back and then phantom center in the front. I want things to be somewhat cohesive and to have a shape to them so they make sense. I didn’t want there to be a lot of things stuck out on the sides by themselves because that feels strange to me.
“To me, the center [channel] is pretty useless,” he continues. “Still, if I have two sets of strings, for instance, I might make a triangle using one set in the real center, as opposed to phantom center. If I have two basses, I might distinguish them between real center and the phantom center. But I found that when I put vocals across all three of the front speakers, you get some phasing because they’re so close together and instead of the vocal getting louder, it gets a little strange.”
As for the subwoofer, “I was mixing a lot without even turning the subwoofer on,” Douglass says. “Stuff that goes down there is going to go there, and it’s pretty much not negotiable kicks and basses. What I did, which some people might find unusual, is I didn’t really put them in the equation when I was mixing. I wanted to keep the imaging real clear, because what I found was that when I was using the subwoofer, the kick and the boom were so dominant that for me it was more like I was working on a club record instead of a pop record or whatever. The bottom became so awesome that I started changing how the top was looking because I wanted to match the bottom. What happened a couple of times, as well, is when I did put the sub in and I started changing the stuff on top, when I compared the stereo mix to it, it was clear I was going to a whole ‘nother place. So I stopped, took the sub off and then reworked it to better represent the stereo mix.” Even so, Douglass acknowledges that DVD-A “is made to order for clubs. You’re gonna see more and more people doing club mixes in surround.”
Douglass notes that his experience doing surround mixes for Ginuwine was less satisfying, mostly because he was not involved in the recording, and the quality of the tracks varied from cut to cut. “It’s definitely easier to expand things [into surround] when you know the album inside out and you know how you did things and where everything is. Working this way, it sometimes almost feels like you’re working on a karaoke record first. You find out what the other engineers did, and then you try to make it sound like their record, except in 5.1. Timbaland and I use a lot of very subtle stereo imaging, and that helps when it comes to the 5.1 because I’m able to keep it as big stereo, but also shifting the emphasis so every speaker got a little. But on this other stuff, people have these mono drum tracks and all this weird stuff and effects here and there, so you end up putting the kick here, the snare over there to make it interesting. If I could, I’d rather make 5.1s of the records that I engineer.”
GREG LADANYI: RUNNING ON 5.1
Twenty-two years ago, a young engineer named Greg Ladanyi got a huge break when Jackson Browne, riding high on the success of his album The Pretender, enlisted Ladanyi (who did some engineering for that album) to record a tour for a live album. This would not be a standard “greatest hits live” album, however. Browne had a different concept: He wanted to record an album about life on the road, and it would contain all previously unreleased songs. On top of that, to better reflect the reality of road life, some songs would be recorded in hotel rooms along the tour route, and one song even ended up being cut on the tour bus itself, the roaring engine clearly audible in the background. The result was Running on Empty, released in December 1977. It became a Top 5 album and a cornerstone of Browne’s long and fruitful career. Now, Ladanyi has gone back to the original 24-track masters and broken out a DVD-A mix, which is due to be released October by WEA. (In addition, Browne is finishing up his latest CD of new songs, so his fans should be very happy this fall.)
Not surprisingly, working on this project has been quite a trip back in time for Ladanyi. When I ask him about the original recordings, he laughs and says, “They were tough! On all the live stuff, I couldn’t hear anything. We thought of bringing a remote truck, but it was so expensive. So, we were dragging around a big 24-track machine to about 25 shows, and the cost would’ve been over the top to try to set it all up [through a console]. I did it all by eyesight. Drums, which I would normally record on 12 or 16 tracks, had to be recorded to just four tracks. So, the way I would get the drum sounds is I know where the bass and snare and hi-hat are supposed to be on the meter, so I just put everything in the general ballpark. All things considered, the tapes sounded pretty good. For the hotel stuff, we planned along the tour places where we would be for two or three days, and then we had a truck to come to those places. ‘Shaky Town’ and ‘Cocaine’ were 24-track, 30 ips, and I was in the room next door. ‘Nothing But Time’ [the song recorded on the bus] was done to a Revox 2-track and a little console we had. There wasn’t room for anything else.”
This project marks Ladanyi’s first excursion into the world of 5.1, and like most engineers who have worked in the medium, he is very impressed. “Living in the 5.1 world, there are moments on this record you never heard on the stereo conversations in the background, atmospheric things, tones,” he says, “because I can move things away from each other and give them more space. In the live stuff, I use the first quarter of the front speakers as the front stage. So I can move things within that realm away from each other. And the ability to hear more tones is unbelievable. You can hear the overtones, you don’t have to compress things to make them loud because you have all this space you can work with.”
Like Clearmountain and Douglass, Ladanyi does not want to mess too much with the imaging of the live material: “You don’t want to suddenly hear the drums or guitars coming from behind you.” So in the 5.1 mix, he’s mostly put the audience tracks in the rears. “I only had two audience tracks two mics onstage pointing at the audience. So, I’m using a little finesse in the 5.1 to open it up, using delays. The audience is kind of in the middle of the speaker field, and there’s a short delay 35 or 50 milliseconds and then another that’s about 125 or 150 to the rears, and what that does is double up the amount of people and make it sound bigger all the way around.”
On the hotel room songs, however, he’s made some radical changes. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, Ladanyi comments, “I should have been more intuitive about the differences between the stage and the hotel room part. For the hotel room stuff, in particular, we’ve gone back and made it more like the reality of what it would be like if you were actually in there with the guys. You wouldn’t hear that reverb stuff I used on Jackson’s vocals on the album.” On the original, the reverb on the hotel vocals closely matches the ones on the live tracks; they were going for continuity. Now, the move is toward naturalism: “I really want people to have the sense of going into an audience and then going into a hotel room. For me, the contrast between the live stuff and the hotel room stuff really needs to be extreme. So, you go into the hotel room, and stuff starts coming out of those rear speakers, and it’s like, ‘Whoa!’”
Ladanyi’s principal tools on this project have been the TC Electronic M6000 and Steinberg’s Nuendo software. He calls the former “a marvelous piece of equipment for surround sound. You can do hall sounds, living rooms sounds, get the really, really short early reflection stuff. They have a setup in there where they have an 8-channel panner. Like 7-left, for example, would be the left rear room, so you can have a vocal enter the room from the rear and then disperse the way it naturally would in a room. It’s quite amazing. For the hotel room stuff, I’m using all the speakers like Jackson’s in the front, and [guitarist/fiddler] David Lindley’s in one speaker and [keyboardist] Craig Doerge is in another. Same with Kootch [guitarist Danny Kortchmar]. So, you have a sense of sitting in the middle of the song. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.
“And Nuendo is incredible,” he continues. “I think this software and what they’ve done with the project windows for editing is just great. You can open multiple windows at one time; it’s really easy to drag one file to another and, of course, it’s 24/96. Man, I’ve got to tell you, if I never go back to 48k or analog, I’ll be fine. The digital world has finally crossed the line. This is it. It is analog, if you know what I mean the warmth and the clarity and the high end; it’s incredible how you can hear tone and the real sensitive moments of picking a guitar and breathing. You hear everything. I’ve set my whole studio up with Nuendo for 24/96, because it’s going to be the future.” Assisting Ladanyi on the Nuendo work has been Rob Hill, one of Steinberg’s technical promoters.
On the morning we spoke, Jackson Browne was scheduled to come in and listen to Ladanyi’s latest mixes. “He’s been working on it pretty closely,” the engineer comments. “I think for both of us, it’s been really interesting to go back and hear this music in such detail. It was a different time in our lives, and this album really captured a certain flavor that’s unique. And the band, of course, is so good.” Ladanyi also promises a special treat for those who buy the DVD-A: “There’s a song we didn’t use the first time ’round that we hope to put on there. I can’t say anything about it now though; it’s a surprise.”
Blair Jackson is the senior editor of Mix.
DMP and the SACD Difference
One of the most respected pioneers of digital recording, Tom Jung has made his choice when it comes to surround formats: SACD. “This new format squarely addresses the concerns that audiophiles have had with the compact disc since its inception,” Jung writes on the home page of his mostly jazz label, DMP (Digital Music Products). “The underlying technology here is DSD (Direct Stream Digital)…a simplified way to convert and store high-quality audio by using a 1-bit word sampled at 2.8224 million times per second…recorded directly to hard disk at the original recording session without the usual impairing decimation process inherent in PCM recording. The result: music that sounds much closer to the original analog input and can be mastered bit for bit to SACD, giving the listener the exact same level of quality the engineers hear at the original session.”
Jung has been working in the multichannel environment for a while now, and it will come as no surprise to those who know him and his somewhat iconoclastic ways to learn that he is approaching surround recording a little differently from many of his contemporaries. “What I’m trying to do is six microphones live to six channels,” he says. “I’m using kind of a quasi dual Decca Tree kind of arrangement with three microphones in the front and three around the back.” In this setup, he places the front and rear center microphones a couple of feet higher than the left and right mics. “I’ve experimented quite a lot with an overhead height channel, and I really like that way of going because the SACD format supports six full-range channels, and I personally feel that for the kind of music I do, at least, the .1 channel is not particularly useful.
“My goal is to try to get a very holographic effect. There’s no panning going on or anything. I really like the idea of having a microphone assigned to a channel and that’s the way it’s reproduced. It’s not about isolation at all. It is about presence.”
What mics does this audiophile producer/engineer like for his surround work? “I’m crazy about the new Shures the KSM 32s and the KSM 44s. I also really like the QTC-1 omni from Earthworks. Usually, I like a combination of those three mics, though nothing is carved in stone. I like the idea of using matched mics in the front and the rear, preserving as much of that Decca Tree purity as I can.”
For his recent surround recordings, which include projects by the duo of Joe Beck & Ali Ryerson, the Pilhofer Jazz Quartet, and a trio featuring Warren Bernhardt, Jay Anderson and Peter Erskine, Jung has been using a very simple live recording chain the six mics into an assortment of preamps (Earthworks, Millennia, the pre’s in the Manley 16×2 mixer), and then directly into the new Sony Sonoma 8-in, 6-out 1-bit recorder/editor/mixer, for which he was an original beta tester. “I’ve been doing projects completely in the Sonoma and getting great results,” Jung enthuses. “Last week, we took it up to Bob Ludwig’s [Gateway Mastering in Maine] and even mastered within the Sonoma. It’s been really dependable. The mixer is extremely transparent.
“I’m a firm believer in the idea that less is more and any additional processing seems to take a bite out of the detail and the space and the holographic image and the depth perspective,” notes Jung. Nevertheless, he will employ a pair of the new Sony 777 sampling reverbs in a dry studio environment to give his recordings a little more depth. Jung was in on the development of this piece of gear, too, contributing many of the natural spaces found in the 777. Still, his preference is to record in naturally reverberant places that require little or no processing at all.
With an ever-expanding catalog that includes everything from percussion ensembles to a cappella choral singers, Jung and DMP are poised to do for SACD what they did for the conventional CD many years ago: Show that quality is an obsession worth pursuing. “I’m so happy not to be working in PCM anymore,” he says. “All that has to happen for this [SACD] to be successful is for people to hear how good it sounds.”
— Blair Jackson