Our Recording

Doing Music Differently     Work-In-Progress     Unspecialized     Help-Us-Pay-the-Rent
In 2000 when we started thinking about recording our first CD, we instantly realized that we would need to do it ourselves and at home,  because when anyone else is around we get uptight and play it safe, and then our music loses its magic. (Performance )
So when we started to shop for gear with which to record “huhnandhuhn”, we were disturbed  to discover that we would never be able to afford anything even close to “professional” quality equipment,  and that we would need to make do with a setup which would not satisfy a serious recording engineer.
But since we had no choice we proceeded anyway, and by working carefully managed to make our first CD a clean and lovely  product.
Then in 2005 when we started to record “sweet heresy”,  we were even more pleased to find that though we were working with the same recording equipment, by being cleverer with our mike placement and settings,   we were actually producing files with more ring and  a richer sound than anything we had managed to get down for “huhnandhuhn”.
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Our Basic Kit for huhnandhuhn and sweet heresy
Back when we bought our equipment, the one place we couldn’t compromise was with our basic computer,  since at that time our working space was tiny and we needed one which was  quiet enough that it could be running right next to where we were recording.  So we ended up buying a lovely, almost silent, “Stealth” model from ARM systems, but then we settled for a midrange consumer grade sound card (sound blaster platinum live 5.1).
Our mixer,  a Mackie with 6 preamplified channels,  is a solid dependable machine, but it’s one that’s used more for mixing live performances than for serious recording. Similarly we used Shure SM57 dynamic and AKG  C-2000 condenser microphones, which are far from top of the line models.
While for software, we used the light version of Steinberg’s Wave Lab which came bundled with our sound card.
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Doing Music Differently****Music and Magic****The Indian Music Scene
Our First Kit****Our Updated Kit****Microphone Placement
Carving Down Our Files****Cleaning Up Our Files****Our Mastering****Tracktion 2
Unspecialized****Our Instruments****Kalimba Family****Bowus Family
Home****Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog****Buy Our Music

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We’ve always known if we recorded we’d need to do it ourselves and at home, because when anyone else is around we get uptight, play it safe, and our music loses its magic.  ( Music and Magic )

Yet since for the same reason we don’t perform, to get our music out there, recording was the only hope.

So with fingers crossed and watching every penny, in 2001 we bought our first kit of entry level 2-channel digital gear.

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recording in our trailer

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Recently returned from our sweet neo-ancient life in Varanasi ( The Indian Music Scene ), totally broke and elegantly camped out in a tiny rotting trailer, we were fighting for self-respect, struggling to build a new life.

Only our bodies had returned to the modern world, our souls were still more comfortable with charcoal and candles than electrons ( Doing Music Differently ).  We knew nothing about recording.  We didn’t know the difference between a condenser and a dynamic microphone, didn’t know what a “sound card” was, had never used a mixer, and we’d never even seen a sound file, let alone tried to edit one.
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Like much of what we’ve done it was pretty much a “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” kind of operation, still it worked out, and in the end with this limited equipment we made not just our first CD, but also Sweet Heresy, our second.

Of course in line with our general preference for figuring out things ourselves, to do all of this we didn’t first enroll in a recording course or read any how-to-record books, instead we just took our time, were very careful, let the process speak to us, and tried very hard.  ( Unspecialized )
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Our Recording Shrine

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In 2009 when the Japanese to English translation career we’d conjured from thin air to support ourselves was crashing for the first time, we finally got around to upgrading our recording setup.  We figured if we were again going to be broke, at least we wanted it to be with up-to-date equipment.  ( Doing Music Differently )

Thanks to this, Work In Progress was recorded with a vastly more capable kit set up in what we refer to as our “recording shrine”.
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recording shrineb
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In the cubby holes at the bottom are microphones and their cables, the three units in the middle compartment are M-audio dual mic preamps, the silver thing in the top is an Echo Audiofire 8-channel digitalizer, the hanging headphones are Koss PortaPros, while the firewire cable running up the wall goes over the door and into the next room where it’s connected to the End PC Noise early quad-core system which replaced our much loved but inadequate old Pentium 3 computer.  ( Our Updated Kit )

As for software, that was free since Tracktion 2, a program we like more the longer we use it, came bundled with our digitalizer.
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The whole setup was remarkably cheap.  All together it came to $1,200, not counting the microphones we already owned and the new computer we had to purchase anyway to continue the translation work which was paying our bills.

For us this lovely multitrack recording gear has been a dream come true.  At long last we can overdub our songs and add extra instrumental tracks.  Now we can record the two microphones we use for each of our instruments on separate tracks and so better capture and control the ring which adds magic to our music ( Music and Magic ).  And now with many tracks we can do a more thorough job of cleaning up our files.

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Editing and Engineering
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We created Work In Progress, our most recent CD, in four stages.

First we recorded, which involved figuring out microphone placement, preamp settings, and the approximate gain and frequency limits for each track.  Next came carving down our files into finished pieces.  Then we polished and cleaned up our files.  And finally to prepare for the commercial replication process, we did what amounted to our mastering.

  • Carving Down Our Files:
    Michelangelo felt he was releasing his statues from uncut blocks of marble.  Well that’s very much what we do when we sense beautiful music is hiding in one of our raw files, we carve away until we’ve liberated the finished piece.

    Note that though we do this carving with computers, every riff, every time stopping moment of our music has actually been played on our instruments we’ve built from wood, high carbon steel and gut.  None of our sounds are sampled or synthesized.  We use our computers only to cut out the fat and to take out hiss and playing noises.  ( Carving Down Our Files )

  • Cleaning Up Our Files:
    We put together our updated kit with an eye towards overdubbing, but quickly found with it we could eliminate audio defects which previously we’d had no choice but accept.  Since these noises tended to be in only some of our simultaneously recorded tracks, we could attack them aggressively and have continuing music in the other tracks cover all signs of our work.

    During this polishing stage we learned to avoid fancy plug-ins like d-essers and gate filters.  We found we could do a better job by taking a labor intensive approach and dealing individually with each problem.  ( Cleaning Up Our Files )

  • Our Mastering:
    Like most musicians we went into recording Work In Progress with the idea that mastering is a magic process which somehow makes music more finished, more ready to be released.

    But by the time we’d completed the CD, we’d realized any musician who’s recorded and edited his own stuff can do a far better job of preparing his work for publication than the fanciest of mastering houses.

    Like we discovered when we were cleaning up our files, all it takes is the willingness to do a little work.  ( Our Mastering )
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Always Playing Amplified
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A major fringe benefit of our updated kit is now we can always play our instruments amplified.
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Since our final product is amplified, it makes sense to do our “practicing” amplified, to learn to make music with the actual sounds which will be on our CDs.
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With our old equipment that had been impossible.  Setting it up was too cumbersome, fiddling with all the endless mixer knobs and sliders took too much time.

2 quarti and recording shrineNow we just put out our instruments and mics, turn on the M-audio’s and Echo, open the appropriate previously created Tracktion template file, don our headphones, and we’re ready to go.

It’s downright magical and the whole process takes less than 10 minutes.

For our Bowus Family instruments it used to take a bit longer because first we had to pile up books to support their necks and to position their dynamic microphones ( Microphone Placement ), but once we’d built neck and mic stands, set up for them became as quick as for our kalimbas.  ( Kalimba Family )

Also Boardus Quartus, our second quartertone kalimba which unamplified hadn’t been quite loud enough to play with our other instruments, now with a little extra gain works beautifully.

Right from the start we’d thought of Boardus Quartus as an electric instrument.  That’s why we built it with a hardwood soundboard rather than a resonating air chamber, why we gave it a solid body like an electric guitar.  So it was gratifying to hear amplified it does have a noble refined bell like tone.  ( Kalimba Family )

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Three CDs
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  • HuhnandHuhn – 2001
    When we started to put together Huhnandhuhn, not only were we far from sure we had a CD’s worth of music in us, we also knew absolutely nothing about the recording process.

    For many months we were frustrated by and dissatisfied with everything we got down.  Indeed the whole endeavor felt so dauntingly difficult, we took to thinking of it as a magical quest, as something we described to ourselves as “catching a unicorn”. Clearly we would need help from whoever it was upstairs who was writing the script…..

    So we were ecstatic when after 3 months we finally started recording music good enough to play for sympathetic supportive friends.

    Now when we listen to the CD we’re both impressed and embarrassed.  Our songs still sound Ok, and the shoki duet ( Shoki Family ) with which it starts is musically kind of neat.  But we were just learning to play our self-made instruments ( Our Instruments ), and in general the sound quality could be much better.

  • Sweet Heresy – 2005
    Creating our next CD was a less traumatic experience.  After only a few months we found ourselves recording more finished music than anything we’d gotten down for Huhnandhuhn.

    For one thing we were less terrified by the whole recording process.  But also between having three new monster instruments to play ( Our Instruments ), and having had four more years of making music together, our music had grown.

    And though we were working with the same equipment, since we’d gotten more clever about using it, the audio quality is way better than on our first CD.

    It also must have helped we’d learned to avoid playing stuff which sounded fine live, but not so good recorded.  (*Performance )

    So though the CD is not as magical as Work In Progress, we’re still proud of it.  It’s deeply chilled and well worth listening to.

  • Work In Progress – 2011
    When we made Work In Progress we were as usual broke and had to squeeze recording sessions in between translation jobs.  We had neither peace of mind nor time to practice….

    But right from the beginning the music we got down was technically and aesthetically light years ahead of our earlier stuff.  Clearly the painful detour through translation had been fruitful.  It had turned us into stronger bigger humans capable of playing deeper more powerful music, while also giving us the computer chops needed to get the most out of our new equipment and Tracktion.  ( Doing Music Differently )

    Not only is the music on the CD off scale magical ( Music and Magic ), its sound is as clean, rich, and balanced as that on the very best studio produced album.  By taking our time, by letting the process speak to us, and by being very careful, we did an absolutely professional job of recording, and we did it without throwing away money we didn’t have on over-promoted high end equipment.  ( Unspecialized )

    Of course it also cost hundreds of hours of being glued to our computer screens…

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… A Sample
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But about the quality of recorded music, words can only go so far.  What really counts is how it sounds.

So here’s Dark Clouds, the sixth cut of Work In Progress. ( Note any static, pop, or hesitation you might hear at the start of the piece is a web artifact.  There’s no noise like that in our original file.  Also good though this mp3 sounds, the uncompressed audio on the CD is richer and better balanced. )
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Dark Clouds :  Sung on top of a Bass Bowus, Boardus Quartus Duet
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For Boardus Quartus we used a Shure SM 57 in direct contact with its top and an AKG C-2000 snuck under its soundboard, while Bass Bowus had a Shure against the slanted side of its soundbox and an AKG nearly touching its bottom ( Microphone Placement ).  To take advantage of proximity effect the vocal was sung with lips close to a single hand held Shure.
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Recording our small voices has been a challenge, but their relaxed intimate tone suits both our music and the message of our songs.  Belting out words expressing disappointment with our leftover past doesn’t feel quite appropriate.  ( Dark Clouds and Hand in Hand )

We’re really curious about how our music will evolve once we’ve made it, once we’re no longer worried about paying the rent, and once the nasty work of chucking old friends is so far behind us we can start remembering the sweetness of the past.

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Doing Music Differently****Music and Magic****The Indian Music Scene
Our First Kit****Our Updated Kit****Microphone Placement
Carving Down Our Files****Cleaning Up Our Files****Our Mastering****Tracktion 2
Unspecialized****Our Instruments****Kalimba Family****Bowus Family
Home****Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog****Buy Our Music

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© 2014 Untravelled Path

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