Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When it's time to master, just cry Wolf!!


And now, it has been mastered. Yes, the recording is 100% complete. It is done. No more changes in anything. It even has it's "ISRC". What's an ISRC you ask? Well, it's the code that goes on all commercially releases CDs that links it to all the info on the disc. The code that helps track radio play and many other things. Sort of like a digital barcode on the CD. Now, of course, before I went to mastering I had no idea what in the heck that was.

Anyway, on July 31 I drove to Arlington, VA to meet a Mr Bill Wolf at his studio to master this baby. Bill is one of the absolute best in the DC area. He has several grammy winning CDs that he has been a part of and I was excited to have him working on this project. I also brought along my trusty sound engineer, Mack McLaughlin. There were definitely some times when I was very glad to have him there. Bill sometimes asked questions that were totally in "geek speak" and I needed to have Mack there to interpret for me. Plus, they have worked together before and have great admiration for one another's work.

So, about 3:00 we got started. It began with a tour of the complex. Bill's workspace is in the confines of a much larger production company. Large kitchen/dining/entertainment area. Free coffee, espresso, etc. All kinds of goodies. Also got a new slant on the competition of politics during out little tour. This company does lot's of TV work and come election time they are cranking out the ads for clients. Sometimes there are Republicans and Democrats in the building at the same time working on their spots. They actually have to hire security in order to keep the two sides from trying to spy on what the other is producing as far as ads. Don't you just love election time?

Anyway, Bill had already listened to the final mix and wanted to know a few things up front. Primarily, what kind of dynamic range was I looking for. The recording has a very large dynamic range. Most modern recordings, jazz included have little dynamic range. The jazz may be played with dynamics, but a lot of them are taken out with compression and a flattening of the levels. Pop music has about zero dynamic range. It's all one level. And there has been this alarming trend of recording CDs hotter and hotter. Bill had a few recording magazines laying around and I read an article call "The Volume Wars". Seems the average level on a CD has increased by about 14 db over the last 10 years. That's a lot. One engineer in that article even mentioned that he no longer wanted to be listed on certain CDs by certain big acts because of how bad the sound was getting due to increased volume.

Anyway, back to my project. We decided to keep that big, full dynamic range. We made some ever, ever, ever so slight tweeks on a few of the softest tunes. Bill had a device that he called "the bootstrapper". It is so titled because he says it pulls things up by the bootstraps. It was actually designed for classical music radio stations. For anyone that has listened to classical music in the car you know that there are times when you can't hear anything unless you crank the volume all the way up. Then of course you get crushed at the loud parts. Well, this device gives a slight boost to those soft parts and recognizes a gradual increase in volume and slowly goes back to the original setting. There is still a lot of dynamic range. And you would still have to turn things up in your car. But not as much. And it sounds very natural.

Bill was very conscientious about the spacing between the tunes and the length of the applause. The three of us listened countless times to each fade of applause and the amount of silence between each track. Details one never thinks about when just listening to a CD.

So, a mere ten hours later we were finished with the whole thing. I left the studio a little after 1 am and had a one hour drive to get home. I was exhausted, but a very happy camper. Bill had great ears, a great attitude and was totally into the music. And he had a musicians perspective on it. He wasn't concerned about make it commercial or "sellable", he's concerned about making it right and good.

So, now my good friend Brian Sacawa, curator of the Mobtown Modern Concert Series is in contact with a label that we believe will want the CD. I'll keep everyone informed about if and when someone picks it up and when it will be available for purchase. And if you ever have a recording that you need mastered, just cry Wolf.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Who's Your Mack Daddy



So, after countless sessions and missed sessions, hours of listening and tweaking, wrestling with a live performance, finding and stomping on bugs, trying to edit but being unable because of the close set-up inperformance, EQ-ing, you name it, we encounteredit, we are through mixing "The Re-(w)rite Of Spring". Could we spend more time? Sure. Would that make a difference? Certainly. Would it make it better. Maybe, maybe not. But for now, we have put a fork in the mixing.


Much, much credit and many, many thanks need to be given to Mack McLaughlin for his dedication to this project. He engineered the live show. He recorded the live show and did all the mixing hinself. Sure I was there most of the time and I had input. The kind an arranger might have. Like "I need a little more of that third voice in the chord. Boost that clarinet and muted trumpet just a bit". But it was really Mack's incredible ears and knowledge that made this recording come together. How loud should the solo be? How bright should this be? How much should the rhythm section be "present" in this tune? All those things Mack knew and handled with ease.


I've known Mack for a good while now. We put in a lot of miles together travelling all over the country in a van while serving in the Army and performing with the Army Jazz Ambassadors. Well, I was performing with them. Mack was mostly unnoticed. And that's a good thing, because he was running sound. If you notice the sound man it's probably because he's not doing a very good job. And people very seldom noticed Mack. And Mack has been at this a long,long time. Check out his Facebook page and see the pictures of him travelling and playing with the family band when he was a kid. He was gigging by age 6 or 7. Some of those home converted vans/tour buses and ancient pa/mixing equipment shots will really give you a chuckle. But man, he knows what he's doing. And he knows what to listen for in the process. Something I gained just a little insight into during the many hours in the studio.


For those that think mixing is easy, think otherwise. Heck, just listen to all the really bad home projects being put out these days by people who buy Cubase and a few mics and think they now know how to operate a studio. They record poorly. They mix poorly. They EQ poorly. (And it's usually bad music to start with.)There is a whole lot of crap out there. My project will not be one of those.


Also, a few more performances are in the making. It looks like The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra will be performing it at the Intersections Festival in DC in the early part of next year. And their is a chance The US Marine Band (The President's Own) may do it as well.


So, for now we are on to mastering. On Sunday, July 31 at 3:00 we will beging the process. The amazing Bill Wolfe in Arlington, VA will be doing that. So in a little more than 72 hours we will have a final project. Then it will be on to finding a label. Perhaps ARC with my friend Chris Burnett in Kansas City. Or perhaps someone else. Who knows. I'll certainly keep everyone up to date on that.


And who's your Mack Daddy? Why, Mack McLaughlin, of course.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Of Bob Mintzer


Calvin and Hobbes, my absolute favorite comic strip ever. Sometimes I have the wisdom and smarts of Hobbes. Other times I'm more the idiot wrecking ball that Calvin can be. Read on and you'll see.

So, I'm sitting in my hotel room in New Orleans. The JEN (Jazz Education Network) Conference here has just wrapped up. Three days of fantastic clinics, presentations and performances. This is the organization that has arisen out of the ashes of IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education).This is the 2nd conference the organization has put on and they are doing a great job. Kudos to them.

On Friday I went to hear a clinic/performance by Jeff Coffin and his Mutet. Great sounding band. And their bassist is Felix Pastorius, son of the legendary electric bassist Jaco. When I walked in the hotel meeting room there was a lot of people in there. But I decided to look for a seat up front. Lo and behold, there was a spot in the front row. And who do I sit right next to? Bob Mintzer. He was doing what most 20 somethings would be doing while waiting in a room for something to start, texting and checking e-mail on his phone. After a few minutes he looked and me and said do I know you?" I told him we had spoke for a little bit at last year's conference and that I was the one that had given him some rehearsal recordings of Rite Of Spring arranged for big band.

Now, when I gave that disc to him, I really didn't expect him to listen to it. I know that lots of people give recordings to people as well established in the business as Bob Mintzer hoping for some help or validation. I'm sure he never gets around to listening to most of them. But when I mentioned Rite he said "Oh yeah, that was some interesting stuff. That was a great idea." That felt really good. Then I thought about how I had dissed him in one of my earlier blogs. Then I wondered, what if he had actually checked out the blog? I think the materials I gave him might even have had the address for the blog. Oh man, I'm an idiot.

Bob Mintzer is one of the best tenor saxophonists in all of jazz. And he really is a very accomplished composer and arranger. Just listen to the tunes that he has written and recorded with The Yellowjackets. He has a great sense of melody, harmony and groove. And he has accomplished more than I could ever hope to do. And I just go and write all this highly opinionated and probably insulting blather. What a dweeb. So here is my conclusion:

I want to formally apologize to Bob Mintzer for saying such things. And though I will always have opinions on art of any kind, I will try to keep my personal tastes and opinions out of such public statements and offer artists like Bob Mintzer the respect they deserve.

As for the recording, we get to, and hopefully finish, the mixing this month. Hopefully mastering very soon after. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wabi-sabi


Wabi-sabi. "What's wabi-sabi" you say? I'm glad so you asked. I happen to be an expert on the subject. Well, actually, I just read about it very recently, but it is a principle to which I have subscribed without ever actually having heard the name before. So here goes.

"There's a beauty to imperfection. This is the essence of the Japanese priciple of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi values character and uniqueness over a shiny facade. It teaches that cracks and scratches in things should be embraced. It's also about simplicity. You strip things down and then use what you have. Leonard Koren, author of a book on wabi-sabi, gives this advice: "Pare down to the essence, but don't remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don't sterilize." It's a beautiful way to put it. Leave the poetry in what you make. When something becomes too polished, it loses it's soul. It seems robotic"

The above paragraph came from the book Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson, pages 182-3, published by Crown Business. I'd put a proper footnote at the bottom of the page but I don't know the correct way to do so. And wabi-sabi would dictate that rather than look it up and make it all perfect that I just leave it as is instead.

So, I think I have always followed the wabi-sabi principle. I've never been all that concerned with perfection in most of what I do. (That didn't apply to things like preparing my uniform when I was in the military!) I don't care about performances being slick, cool and polished. I want them to be heart felt. Make those attempts at new and exciting things. If you miss, I don't care. It was real. And I like music that is pared down the right way. There can be a lot of things going on in a jazz orchestra arrangement in a good way or in a bad way. So often things just sound so busy all the time. I believe Maria Schneider's music is a perfect example the right way. People come up to her and tell her how complex her music is. But she replies that actually the melodies are so simple that a child could sing them. They are just developed, ornamented and harmonized in the right way. It's really simple music. Bob Brookmeyer would be another example. Sure, there is lots going on. But Bob truly believes in only writing what is necessary. There are no improvised solos in a piece until he feels that's the only thing that can go there. Some of his works for big band have no improvised solos. No cookie cutter charts. Nothing slick for the sake of being slick. And I'm happy for it. I don't like when people tell me to listen to big band chart "X" because it's really cool. I don't want really cool. I want real.

So, I believe the principle of wabi-sabi will reflected in two ways in the Re-write Of Spring project. First, I believe that paring the work down to it's essence was exactly what I tried to do as I arranged and orchestrated this piece for jazz orchestra. Actually, it's probably more like it is what I had to do. We simply didn't have the instrumentation to start with. There was no way we could cover everything going on in the orchestral score. And why would we even try. Jazz is all about stripping things to their essence and then creating something new and unique on top of that. Jazz has often been called the sound of surprise. If we tried to deal with everything, where would the surprise be? We've taken the piece, stripped it down and re-dressed it. The work is very recognizable yet unique.

Second, we are definitely embracing cracks and scratches. There are a few places in the arrangements where I realize it could have been better with a few changes to what I wrote. But I've never been one to do lot's of re-writes. I fix the obvious mistakes, but the parts that were weaker or lacking I don't try to perfect. I leave it as a testament to what I was doing at that time and simply try to learn from it so that I don't repeat the same "error" later on. And we are also embracing cracks and scratches in the performance. The is live music performed by live musicians. And it is difficult music. (I believe I've said that at least a few time before.) 17 people performing music over the course of 75 minutes is bound to make for a few flubs. And so be it. We could take and over dub and do all kinds of pro-tools fixes. But we've chosen to do no overdubs and the number of pro-tools fixes we've done could be counted with your fingers with some left over. And that's how it should be. This is a document of what took place at a given moment in time. And everything about it makes it beautiful.

Wabi-sabi. You should try it. It is a breath of fresh air in such a plastic world of plastic entertainers and plastic products. And you should sample a good batch of it when the CD of The Re-write of Spring comes out.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go as I suddenly have a craving for some Japanese food. Some sushi with a good dose of wusabi sounds just right.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

More 2nd Clarinet, Please.


So, three months and 21 days later, I have finally returned to the keyboard, computer keyboard that is, to update my two or three followers about what has been happening since May 12. I suppose I should actually start with what did happen on May 12. As you know that was the big day of the premiere of my version of Rite Of Spring and in a nutshell I would have to say it was fantastic. We managed to get the whole band there on time and get a sound check and clear stage in time to open the doors 30 minutes out. That in itself is no small miracle. Getting 17 musicians to one place in the city on time is a major feat. And when the doors opened there was a good line going down the block waiting to get in for the first show. This on a night when there were some major rainstorms. It seems to be common for me. My big CD release concert many years ago at Blues Alley in DC was hampered by snow. Only about two inches. But if you know anything about the DC area, two inches of snow means go to the store for bread and milk, get some movies and wait for spring. (The season, not the Stravinsky work) But I digress.
So, we get a good intro from Brian Sacawa, the concert series curator, and kick it off. The audience is on the edge of their seats but probably not as much as the band. This is very tricky material and we have had very little rehearsal. We made it through without any major wrecks. I think I conducted everything right. There were a few bleeps and blops in wrong places. A few hairy moments. Oh yeah, I goofed the end of the last piece. Supposed to be "off on three". I gave a hold. Some went with it, others didn't. And I forgot to turn on my mic for my solo on the last number. Oops. Even so, the place went bonkers after that show. Tim Smith from the Baltimore Sun was there and wrote a glowing review. The show was also attended by a gentleman that writes for DMV classical and he wrote an amazing review. They are posted on my Facebook page. (Again, you may friend me if you want, just mention something about Stravinsky in the request)
The band was very relieved to get through the show and was wondering how they would endure a second one. A beer did the trick for many of them. And the second show was definitely more relaxed. A mixture or relief and alcohol is a good thing. And, both shows were recorded to 24 tracks so.......
.....we have finally begun to mix the performance. And a difficult task it is. This is really, really hard music to engineer and recording live in very close quarters makes it even harder. For instance, mixing a Basie recording would be quite simple. Once you have a good mix/balance/EQ for the sax section you would barely have to touch it the entire time. You can leave it there for the length of the album. The instruments don't change and individuals very, very rarely end up in a combination of horns from other sections. My arrangement is totally the opposite. The sax players change from saxes to flutes, to clarinets, to bass clarinets. Brass change to various mutes and the tumpets play flugels as well. All in many different intrument combinations. A tutti figure might get played by a combination of one sax, one clarinet, two flugel horns and a trombone in a bucket mute. So you mix those eights bars but have to change everything after that because now the bone takes the mute out and plays with his section, the sax switches to a line w/ trumpets and the clarinet plays a different line, joined by a second clarinet. And we need more of the second clarinet. But we can't boost him too much because he sat right next to the bari player and he is bleeding heavily into the 2nd clarinet's microphone. Me:"More second clarinet, please." Mack McLaughlin: "Can't, that boosts the bari too much." And so it goes. Thank God for automated boards, too. Otherwise we would need four guys on the board with their fingers on all the faders pulling things up and down over the course of a tune. Engineers and their staffs used to actually "rehearse" doing that to mix a tune down to two track.
Anyway, the recording is not without it's faults. In this day of pro-tools one can make all kinds of amazing edits and fixes, provided you have good seperation with your tracks. That's one thing we don't have. So we will have a very honest recording. A rarity these days as everything is so "fixed" in the mix that it isn't really at all reflective of what was actually played by the musicians in real time. We'll have some warts. But it is a recording of the world premiere. How often does that happen?
Anyway, word has slowly spread about the project. I was contacted by some people from The San Francisco Conservatory about the project. I sold a copy of the arrangement to a guy in Australia. By the way, anyone else interested in purchasing the chart? I am selling it for those that would like to perform it with their own band. However, not everyone is so enthused about the work. I applied to do a presentation/clinic about my project at next year's JEN (Jazz Education Network) conference but they didn't want it. Tried for a performance too and they didn't want that either. (This is the organization that has risen out of the ashes of IAJE) They'll probably have yet another Yamaha artist presenting something he prepared just two days before the conference. Ah,...the benefits of corporate sponsorship.
So, I'll try to post again soon and give any estimates I may have about time lines for mastering, producing and releasing the recording. Until then, keep swingin'.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

T Minus 6 Hours And Counting

OK, so Diana Krall has nothing to do with my Stravinsky project, but isn't it a whole lot better than another picture of old Igor? I mean, c'mon. Beautiful face, sultry voice, swingin' piano player. What more could you ask for? And if I tag her I'm sure to get a lot more hits on the blog.

But, let's get to The Rite of Spring, shall we? Today is the day. Countless hours of listening. Many more hours of writing. Printing, photocopying, blogging, facebook updates, reading sessions, master classes, rehearsals, interviews, mailings, flyers, etc. What a production. And that's only my part of it. The people at Mobtown Modern have been hard at work as well. And it all boils down to two shows tonight. 7:30 and 9:30. About two and a half hours total time performing. I have this awful feeling that it will be like Christmas when we were young, greedy kids. All this hype and anticipation. Then when the day comes we tear open all the packages like a bunch of sharks in a feeding frenzy and in ten minutes we are saying, "Is that it?". After all, the performance time is just a little blip on the screen compared to all the prep time.

But hopefully this will live on. With a little luck there will be other performances by this band and hopefully by others as well. I have some inquiry about the availability of charts and I do plan to sell copies. And hopefully a CD will come out as well. And then there is the potential to market this to dance companies or choreographers to see if someone might want to produce a modern version of the ballet. Perhaps I can get some guest conducting gigs with some college bands. Anyone out there want to make an offer?

But let's talk a little more about tonight. The venue is as much a night club as it is a concert hall. So the audience will be more laid back than if they were all sitting in theater seats. And the set up of the band will be cramped. Generally this makes for some physical discomfort, but I think big bands play together better when they are squeezed like that. The space holds about 225 people. I hope it gets filled for both shows. I've also heard that a critic from The Baltimore Sun will be there. I really wish that I did not know that. I don't need those things in the back of my mind. I don't plan on telling the band about that. I want them to be loose and just play.

It is my plan to have a few more entries in this blog after the performance. Certainly I want to write on how the night went. I also want to follow up on anything else happening about this project that I feel is relevant. I hope those of you who have been following this blog have enjoyed it. If you would like to keep up with my activities please feel free to "friend" my on Facebook. I'm probably the only Darryl Brenzel on there. If not, then I'm the one with the sax. Just simply send the word "Stravinsky" with the request so I know you aren't some weirdo or salesperson or whatever.

And now, on with the show!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

It Is Finished


It is finished. I feel perhaps a bit blasphemous stating those words. After all, they are so closely associated with Christianity and the bible as the last words spoken by the Christ on the cross right before he gave up His spirit and breathed His last. Even those who hold other religous beliefs, or even no religous beliefs at all know those words and their connotation. But they are in another sense just words. Words that get used all the time in the English language and could be used to describe anything. It is finished. The TV show is through. The semester is done. The meal is completed. (Either by the cook or the eater!) The presentation is over. Rite of Spring for jazz ensemble is finished.

What's that you say?? You're finished? Why, indeed I am. And just in the nick of time. I ended up far from my goal of finishing by the end of January. But it is done in time for a few rehearsals and then the performance. I was so close to my goal. Thirteen of fourteen charts done by around January 20. Then came snow. Then came other projects. Then came inertia. Remember that from a previous posts? A body at rest wants to stay at rest. And stay at rest I did for too long. And then when I came back to it, it felt a bit foreign. And to top it off, part fourteen was without a doubt the most complex and difficult section for me to do. But on April 18, 2010 the world's first adaptation of Rite of Spring for big band was completed.

I'd be quite curious to know how much time I spent on this project. And how would I count the hours? Just the time with my keyboard and computer and score? Or do I add all the many times I spent listening to a recording of the original work. And to that do I add the many hours I was mulling ideas over in my mind as I was walking, or driving, or cutting the grass, or shovelling snow, or lying in bed or whatever. (If I was a lawyer I would certainly bill for all those hours) And there is all the time after a chart is "completed" where I'm proofing it for consistency with dynamics, articulations and other such things a well as the best rendering of accidentals. If I figured 20 hours per chart times 14 charts, that's 280 hours. Seven solid work weeks. But there is no way to do this in seven straight weeks. At least I don't think that's how the best work gets done. All these things need to simmer. I feel any arranger does his or her best work when they take some time and don't crank everything out in one burst of impatience. Sure, some arrangers still do great work this way, but I don't feel it is their best. Of course, sometimes an assignment or deadline may dictate doing this. Then you do what you have to do. Anyway, the hours were countless. I bought the score in December of 2008. Perhaps that's my starting point. You do the math.

And what is a good pay rate for arranging. I think in the vicinity of $50 an hour is a real bargain for such a unique talent and skill set. Now let's round up my hours from 280 to 300. I mean, that's still a low estimate. Now, we'll multiply 300 by 50. Hmmm....let's see....carry the one..... OK, $15,000. That's not counting all the extra curriculars surrounding this project. And you want to know what I'm getting for this? Well, I don't know if I can exactly tell you. Mobtown Modern has no money to spend on such a project. We did however get a little from Meet The Composer. And that is for all those extra-curriculars actually. If you multiply what they are giving me by 20 we are getting close to that 15,000. (In case you haven't figured it out, arranging is really a labor of love.)

There is one thing I can quantify. And this might upset the tree huggers. I can tell you how many pages of music I generated between the scores and parts. 951. That's a pretty hefty stack. And since I made copies of everything you can pretty much double that. And then there are the misprints, re-prints, jammed paper, whatever. I guess I'll need to go plant a tree in honor of my mass consumption.

And I've certainly used up one score. It is thoroughly marked and highlighted. Notes to myself all over it. Useless no to anyone for anything other than an artifact for this acheivement. Maybe the Smithsonian will take it.

You would think I would be more excited about the finishing of the project. But there are details to be taken care of still. I have yet to hear parts 11-14. That happens soon. Monday, May 3 to be exact. Then two rehearsals. May 8 & 10. I'm yet to procure a location for the May 8 rehearsal. Then on to the big show. There is also two more masterclasses to give. One at Towson University and the other at Peabody Conservatory. And a pre-concert talk that I need to be prepared for. And a podcast for the Mobtown Modern website. This list goes on.....

.......perhaps it isn't finished.