Category Archives: Recordings

Snapshots of Projects

Bass in Stand by Desk resized

The neck is from a Gibson Ripper.  The body is built from a resawn piece of mahogany. The two pieces were book-matched, glued and the shape cut on the bandsaw. I made a router jig to cut the neck socket.  The original was just glued in the socket but I’m thinking about adding a couple screws to anchor the neck.  The bridge, pickup and electronics are sitting on my desk waiting for some spare time to route the body and wire it up.

Wurlitzer Amp

This was the preamp/mixer/power amp module from an old Wurlitzer reed organ.  No one seemed to like the sound of the organ at the studio I was running at the time. The owner offered me the organ in trade for bringing in my Hammond M3 that wasn’t getting much use at home. The impedance of the reed pickups were pretty close to most guitar pickups. So one night I thought maybe I could use it as a guitar amp.  I plugged my guitar straight into the treble input and it sounded pretty great.  So I dismantled the organ.  Cut out pieces of the top and front of the case to make the amp housing and installed the speaker, amp, fuse box, on/off switch, standby switch and 1/4″ jack.  I added about ten feet of cable to the volume pedal.  And it’s been my main guitar amp ever since.

WurlitzerTubeAmp

Single Speaker

These single driver speakers are called the Merrill Zigmahornets.  The drivers are Merrill DCA4s.  Dave Merrill spec’d the speakers and design the cabinet.  They sound great and are cheap and fun to build.  The drivers are only $65/pr and the cabinets can be built from a single sheet of plywood in a weekend. Here are a couple reviews:

6moon Zigmahornet Review

Enjoy the Music Zigmahornet Review

Speakers against Built Ins

These two projects get used daily.  The first is a prep station. It has a broad flat service for food prep, an ergonomic space for the compost bucket, a shelf for the microwave, a space for the recycling, a multi section utensil organizer and some general purpose storage at the bottom.  Removing the microwave from the counter doubles the amount of useable work space in the kitchen.  Having multiple areas for food prep makes cooking with friends and family so much easier and enjoyable.

Prep Station & Table

This last project has become our kitchen table but it was originally intended to be my desk. The first Thanksgiving Bre and I hosted we ended up using it as a second table.  It worked so well that it never made it back to my office.  The original legs were designed for a single person sitting at the broad front side. So they didn’t allow much leg room for anyone sitting at the ends of the the table. I replaced them with a pedestal style support that allows much more leg room all around the table. It is a perfect size for a couple. It doesn’t take up much room but can still fit four if we have guests.

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Jecklin Disk: Optimum Stereo Signal Recording in a Few Hours

Too much acoustic isolation, too many decisions deferred for the mix, too much editing, and not enough commitment to the moment, the space, the mistakes, the excitement, and the humanity of people playing music together. That’s how I feel about the modern multi-track computer centric recording process. It drove me away from a career as a recording engineer but also towards my love of realistic stereo recording.  Working for entities like the Arizona Opera Co, the Tucson Symphony and the Tucson Chamber Artists opened my eyes to the possibilities of musical performances inextricably linked to the acoustic spaces they inhabit.  And the virtue of capturing sounds using barebones yet high quality stereo recording techniques. Especially in comparison to close mic’ed, multi-tracked, heavily edited and processed methodologies.

With that said I have been gathering the necessary components to create that kind of barebones high quality stereo recording rig. With the intention of capturing sounds that are linked to a space and moment in time.  There are the mics, the mic preamps, the analog to digital converters, the flash recorder, the laptop with appropriate software, etc. All checked off the list.  But a key piece to this compact rig is a baffle placed between the two microphones  that creates what Jurg Jecklin called the Optimum Stereo Signal.  This baffle is generally known as a Jecklin Disk.  The disk mimics the effects of the head with the two omni directional mics being the ears.  This creates a stereo signal with both time and frequency dependent amplitude differences between the left and right channels. Those differences are the cues our brains use to place sound sources in 3-dimensional space.  So upon playback the recording can accurately reproduce the space where it took place. Commercially manufactured Jecklin Disks are available but they’re relatively expensive (~$250) and relatively easy to build if you have all the necessary materials and tools.  A few weeks ago I weaved this project into a Saturday full of chores and errands.

Jecklin Disk Build

The basic shape was cut out of 1/2″ birch plywood with a router & circle cutting jig. The notches for stand mounting and mic placement were cut on the band saw.  A dado was cut into the handle and  a hole was drilled to mate with the threaded part of a standard mic clip. The mounting handle was coated with Plasti Dip to make it durable and comfortable to handle.

Jecklin Disk Mounting Point

The rectangular pieces of 1″ foam were attached to the plywood using a spray adhesive.  Then roughly trimmed with scissors to match the diameter of the disk.  Later I took the disk to the router table and more accurately trimmed the foam to the edge of the disk with a pattern maker’s bit.

Jecklin Disk Foam Adhesive  (2)

Jecklin Disk Roughed Out Resize

The stand mount is based on a very simple stereo mic bar and the bottom section of a mic clip.  The steps to mount the stereo bar, disk and mics are illustrated below.

Jecklin Disk Tripod Mount

Including drying times for the Plasti Dip and spray adhesive the project only took a few hours.  Luckily I had all the materials and tools on hand and had the design bouncing around my head long enough that it all just fell together.  I did some test recordings around the house to get an idea of the general sound, mic placement and gain settings. But the real test would be to take it out into the field and record a live performance.  So I reached out to a musician friend of mine Tom Walbank to see if he wouldn’t mind being a guinea pig.  He has a weekly gig at a local coffee house/art gallery/bar here in Tucson called Cafe Passe and told me to come on down the next Friday.

Walbank Passe Jecklin Disk Recording 11-22-2013

I think the recording came out great.  It captured things that so many modern recordings lack: the spontaneity of the moment, a feeling for the acoustic space it was recorded in, the mistakes, the excitement, and the humanity of the people playing and interacting with the music.

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A sweet infectious lullaby that you’ll start unconsciously humming. Guaranteed. Oyster y Barnicle by Bruce Delbridge

Oyster y Barnicle by Bruce Delbridge
This recording is from a fairly recent project I engineered for Francisco Gonzalez who was producing it for a fellow named Bruce Delbridge. Bruce is a character that lives half the year in Alaska and half in Tucson. He spent his youth traveling around South America singing songs and working on ranches.

Francisco helped Bruce arrange these songs and played most of the rhythm instruments. This pseudo-lullaby was by far my favorite song out of the bunch.  It’s a heartfelt story that feels like a victorian emigre parable. The tale of European servants who sent their children to America for the chance of a better life. They share their desire to make the journey themselves and wonder what has become of their children in that land of opportunity.  But told through dialog between an oyster and the barnacle attached to its shell.

The harp and strings are beautiful and Bruce’s vocals are perfectly vulnerable. He invokes the character’s  longing, loss and hope.

The picture next to the soundcloud waveform is of the space we recorded it in.  A back room in Francisco’s house.  I recorded most the instruments with a Josephson C550 omni directional measurement mic.  It is very accurate and reproduces the sounds around it, warts and all.  There is very little processing on any track or the mix as a whole.  A little reverb, a little compression and that is about it.

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The recording I’m most proud of: Madre by Francisco Gonzalez

Madre by Francisco Gonzalez 

This is another track from Francisco Gonzalez’s album El Regalo which I recorded and co-produced with Harvey Brooks at the 17th St Market studio.  I was introduced to a handful of instruments for the first time recording this song.  Francisco played an eight stringed instrument called the cuatro puertorriqueño.  It has a buzzy shimmering quality that is addictive. The melody and solo lines he plays tell a parallel narrative running along side the vocal that creates a hypnotic droning quality in contrast to the highly rhythmic backdrop.   The bass instrument is a marimbol which you could think of as a  huge kalimba crossed with a cajon.  It’s a rectangular box that the player sits on with a sound hole on the face positioned in between the players legs.  Thick wood tines are secured in front of the sound hole and are plucked to make a woody resonant percussive sound. The face of the box can also be used as a percussion instrument. Jacob Hernandez, a musician haling from Francisco’s home of Veracruz, played it with dexterity creating a pulse everyone else rests upon.  The most unexpected instrument was the quijada de burro or donkey jawbone.  The teeth are played like a guiro and the jaw is struck with your elbow to make the teeth rattle and the jaw vibrate like a tuning fork.   As always Francisco’s honest and emotional vocal delivery ties a bow around the entire thing.

The combination of the instrumentation gives the recording so much depth and the arrangement is so lush that it is comical to remember it was recorded in a carpeted, fluorescently lit office turned recording studio in the back of an industrial food market.

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A generic fight song that is honest and simple and kind of perfect.

Fight Song by Francisco Gonzalez from the album El Regalo

I engineered this record and co-produced it with Harvey Brooks in a studio in the back of an Asian Market, the 17th St Market, in Tucson.  I love the sparse arrangement. Just vocals, bass, mandolin and harmonica. The stark honesty of Francisco’s voice juxtaposed against the rah-rah feel of the song brings an emotional depth to intentionally generic lyrics.  Harvey’s bass bobs underneath the rhythm of the mandolin, pushing and pulling at the beat.  And Walbank’s harmonica is spot on.

Vocals and mandolin: Francisco Gonzalez

Bass: Harvey Brooks

Harmonica: Tom Walbank

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