BLUEFIELDS, NICARAGUA - OCTOBER 2011: Brooklyn-based engineer and producer Michael Gassert, known to his music and film colleagues as "MikeSound," would appear to spend little time in New York. His uncanny knack for capturing the sonic soul of a musical performance, no matter how remote the location or strained the resources, has earned him the respect of his peers and a full travel calendar. Recently, MikeSound traveled to the Nicaraguan port city of Bluefields (not an easy thing to do) to spend three months recording legendary costeña singers of the regional and endemic musical traditions, most notably Maypole, Mento and Calypso. He relied on a Metric Halo ULN-8's compact collection of mic-pres, DIs, converters, Character modeling, routing, mixing, and DSP much as an explorer relies on a Swiss Army knife. The ULN-8 was easy to pack and prepared MikeSound to make excellent recordings in unpredictable situations.
A local label, Bluefields Sound System, and MikeSound co-sponsored the project with the help of a small grant from UNESCO. The connection between BSS and MikeSound began five years earlier when together they captured a documentary about the Bluefields musicians. Although MikeSound planned to record some of the same musicians, as well as new performers this time around, the stars of this effort would be two legends of Nicaraguan music, local rivals Mango Ghost and Sabú. Now septuagenarians, the two musicians had defined the musical landscape of Bluefields, but, despite their cultural importance, few recordings of their music have survived. Although young for their age of seventy-something (a local legend has it that Sabú, who still does the splits on stage, is actually more than two hundred years old), the label recognized that the opportunity to record their genius was finite.
Nicaragua's only international airport is in Managua, on the western side of the country, and a mountain range stands between it and Bluefields on the eastern side of the country. Travel options between the coasts are limited to an eight-hour bus ride plus a three-hour panga boat ride through the jungle, or a mostly reliable puddle jumper instead. MikeSound's journey with his mobile rig would take him by land, air and sea. "When we conceived the project, I knew mobility and compactness would be essential," said MikeSound. He began with a four rack-space Calzone case and selected his equipment carefully. "The Metric Halo ULN-8 was the centerpiece," he said. "That and my MacBook Pro would be the starting point for every recording." In addition, he brought a Furman P-1800 AR voltage regulator/power conditioner (electricity in Bluefields is reliably unreliable), an RME Fireface 800, and an API 3124 four-channel mic pre.
Bluefields Sound System has makeshift studio, complete with egg crate diffusion and old clothing stuffed into the walls for isolation, that MikeSound planned to use for final vocals, acoustics and keys. However, the studio was too small and dead sounding to do justice to the rhythmic backbone of Mango Ghost and Sabú's music. Therefore, he spent a month recording the entire songs live to a click in an outdoor restaurant, La Loma, at the highest point in the city. "It's quiet and calm up there," he said. To protect himself from the notorious Bluefields thuggery, MikeSound set up and tore down the session every day. He tracked with Digital Performer 7 using a collection of AKG, Shure, Sennheiser, and Schoeps microphones.
"I've been a fan of Metric Halo for a long time," said MikeSound. "They make fantastic preamps and converters, a fact that, by itself, makes their gear stand out. But on top of that, the ULN-8 offers Character modeling, full-blooded DSP, and flexible routing. The character modeling is some of the best I've ever heard. It can be very subtle but very authentic and does a nice job of warming things up when needed. And the DSP is also top-notch. The 'HaloVerb' sounds as authentic as the UADs I use back in Soho." MikeSound took advantage of the ULN-8's flexible routing by creating custom DB-25 cables that allowed him to deliver in-the-box headphone mixes for all of the musicians. "Because I had to set up and tear down so frequently, it was a great time saver to have all of the monitor configurations recallable," he said.
Currently back in New York and working with partners to launch a new indie label, No Shame, MikeSound also has kept busy for the past six years as the engineer of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, and is completing the mixes for Bluefields Sound System, which will be released in 2012.
ABOUT METRIC HALO Based in New York's Hudson Valley, Metric Halo provides the world with high-resolution metering, analysis, recording and processing solutions with award-winning software and future-proof hardware. www.mhlabs.com
To learn more about and hear some samples from Bluefields Sound System visit: www.bluefieldsound.com To also check out the Master Musicians of Jajouka at: www.jajouka.com/ and No Shame: www.facebook.com/wehaveNoShame