When last we spoke with renowned music software programmer Doug Wyatt, he was attempting to fuse vintage electronics, musical toys, Swedish vocals, and digital synthesizers into a bold new sound.
His CD is now out, and it's fabulous. In this episode, we visit Wyatt's home studio to learn how he mixes logic, intuition, and technology into expressive soundscapes. (DMI 06-14-2007: 19 minutes 46 seconds)
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I visited Wyatt in his new home in the hills above Silicon Valley, where he works by day as an audio system programmer. (He's best known for his 12-year stint at Opcode Systems developing Vision, Galaxy, Studio 5, and OMS.) The house is a woody structure with lots of windows and very high ceilings, so to minimize reverberation, we set up the interview gear in his compact bedroom studio, which has carpeting and a lower ceiling.
I would have liked to use the hat mic trick, but didn't have the proper clip-on mics, so I tried an experiment instead, mounting two in-ear mics on a RadioShack soldering stand and placing it on a table between us. (See Figure 1.) I then connected the mics to my Olympus WS-200S stereo voice recorder, which supplies "plug-in power" to run the mics. As a backup, I set up my trusty Korg PXR4 flash-RAM recorder (see Figure 2), which has a built-in mono mic.
Fig. 1: My experimental recording rig coupled a RadioShack soldering stand with two omnidirectional in-ear mics. In Wyatt's high-ceilinged home, the resulting sound was a tad too reverberant for my taste. But mostly I didn't like the audible data-compression artifacts my voice recorder produced, so I went with my backup recorder—a Korg PXR4—instead.
Here's a comparison of the sound. Notice the noise, reverberation, and metallic distortion in the voice-recorder excerpt, recorded at the maximum 64kbps rate:
Here's the same excerpt, mixed down to mono in BIAS Peak 5. I was curious if combining the two signals would improve the clarity, but it actually did the opposite, increasing the muddiness and emphasizing the data-compression artifacts. Panning the signals partway toward the center might have worked better; I liked the stereo effect on my interview with Daigo Yokota in Episode 6.
I ended up liking my backup PXR4 mono recording the best. Note the clarity and significantly lower noise floor, even though I boosted the signal level in Peak. (The PXR4 overloads even when its level meters are in the safe zone, so I've learned to record at lower levels rather than risk distortion.)
Fig. 2: Designed as a multitrack sketchpad for guitarists, the discontinued Korg PXR4 records to SmartMedia cards. It lacks a mic-input jack, so I couldn't use my external mics, but its built-in monophonic condenser mic sounds surprisingly good.
Musical excerpts came from The Dream of "I" CD, which I ripped in iTunes, and Wyatt's online Flash instrument tour, which I captured with Ambrosia WireTap. I edited all of the excerpts in Peak.
As usual, I recorded my voiceover into Peak as well, using a Rode Podcaster mic. Next, I imported all the audio clips into Ableton Live 6, where I arranged the musical examples around my voiceover and the theme music. I compressed and enhanced the voiceover and interview audio with Izotope Ozone. Finally, I rendered the mix to an AIFF file, converted it to an MP3 in Peak, and then used iTunes to clean up the ID3 tags and add artwork.
The Digital Media Insider theme music came together in Live as well. The opening sound effect is a compressed mouth noise spliced onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan. Then there are a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, the theme took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.
Producer Christoffer Lundquist (left) and Doug Wyatt in Aerosol Grey Machine studio.
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The world is filled with amazing sounds and ideas. Here's a pocket-size gadget that lets you capture them covertly—in full 44.1kHz digital stereo. It's a thumb drive, too.
Annoyed by the handling noise my pocket voice recorder picks up, I bought some external mics last fall. Not only did the noise disappear, the recordings also gained much more bass and stereo depth.
Based on the avalanche of email I've received, my digital voice recorder reviews have echoed around the world. The #1 reader question is "Which one should I buy?", to which I essentially respond, "Read this."
Doug Wyatt.net—Wyatt's personal page features an interactive tour of the unusual instruments used in The Dream of "I."
Sound Professionals—Manufactures a wide range of mics for portable recording.
Aerosol Grey Machine—Tour the Swedish studio where Wyatt recorded his CD.
David Battino is the audio editor for O’Reilly’s Digital Media site, the co-author of The Art of Digital Music, and on the steering committee for the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IASIG). He also writes, publishes, and performs Japanese kamishibai storycards.
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