Mixing Clockwork Clown - A fHumbling Journey - Part 4 - Synths
by, 04-12-2012 at 06:39 AM (1967 Views)
This is a continuation of my blog about mixing Clockwork Clown, the previous episode of which can be found here: Mixing Clockwork Clown - A fHumbling Journey - Part 3 - Guitars
Here is a link to my version of the mix: cLockWork cLown - fHumble mIx
Well, it seems a LOT of mixers/musicians around RecordingReview are BIG into guitars'n'drums - I would put myself into that category as well. I've been a guitarist for 36 years, so like most guitarists, I'm pretty comfortable dealing with guitar oriented music.
In fact, up until about 5 years ago, when I first acquired a personal computer-based recording system, I had NEVER actually recorded or mixed a keyboard or synthesizer-based sound. I have to say though, my tacit prejudice against things without strings didn't last very long once I realize how much texture & emotion could be conjured by these clever little number-crunchers lurking inside most DAWS. In reality, even back in the days of building overdubs on my little Yamaha cassette 4 track & (later) my Roland VS840, I was fascinated with the textural sounds you could elicit from a strat, a delay pedal, & some dexterous volume control manipulation... Actually, virtual synthesizers opened up a whole world of sonic fun & perversity...
After all, when it comes to open-mindedness, guitarists in general would rate as just slightly more conservative than the Amish in accepting new ideas, so the options open to a mixer with guitar sounds are somewhat limited, to say the least. With synthesizers however, all bets are off - the more weird & twisted, the better... in other words, FUN!
The thing to remember with most synth sounds is that very few musicians have the patience to build a custom-made sound "from the ground up" (or should I say, from the sine-wave up?)... I certainly don't - Your typical soft synth has such a bewildering array of controls & parameters, it could induce an aneurysm in a NASA engineer. No, we simpleton guitarist types usually like to head straight for the presets... ah yes, the presets - those wonderfully impressive sounds which are designed to show off the all-encompassing frequency range of synth, right from bowl-loosening subsonic rumbles, to dog-torturing hypersonics. Great!..
... But in reality most of what we need to contain a synthesizer in the confines of a crowded mix is decidedly low fidelity by comparison... to keep these synth presets from completely crowding out every other element in the mix, usually some serious eq. surgery is the order of the day, rather than the exception.
With that in mind, listening to the raw synth tracks provided, it became pretty clear that they were of a fairly "full range" nature, with a lot of extraneous low & low-mid information that definitely needed taming.... So having built this section up by saying how amazingly sonically adventurous you can be with synth sounds, now I'm going to severely disappoint by revealing just how pedestrian my treatments were for the main "arpeggio/trumpet-y" synth part...
In harmony with my lo-fi/hi-fi direction, the introductory parts of the song suggested a dirty "am radio" style approach. This was achieved by simply calling up Sonar's Pro Channel, hi-passing at 1255hz, low passing at 1272k, & boosting 2.9k by 7.9db. I know these numbers sound totally illogical & crazy, but when I'm chasing a sound down, I'm not really thinking about numbers... In harmony with this rather random approach, I compressed the synth extremely aggressively with the Pro Channel's 1176 module at a ratio of 20:1, then piled on some distortion using the "Tube Drive" module (also in the Pro Channel). Due to the prominent delay built into the synth sound, I didn't feel the need to add any ambiance to it, as compressing & distorting it seemed to effective create it's own "space" in the mix.
Here's the details:
& here is the sound:
The "hi-fi" counterpart of this main synth was equally unremarkable - Simply high passed at 549hz, to scrape of the mud, low passed at 19.5k where nothing of value existed, given a good dose of fast attack/slow release, low ratio, low threshold compression from the SSL clone, & saturated with the Softube Saturation Knob to add a touch of texture & attitude to help it cut through the mix. You'll notice too, that I used my "General Reverb" send & panned the reverb to the opposite side of the mix.... The effectiveness of this technique in giving "size" & depth to a sound is really evident in the accompanying clip below the screen shot:
...& the sound:
The other synth provided was a rather standard "pad"-type - Quite static, & with a TON of low end. There was simply not room for all that low end, & the mids were very crowded as well, so I high passed at 441hz, dipped out 2.4k by about 9dB to make room for the vocals, & shelved everything above 5k by about 5dB.
I was aiming at an "ethereal", whispy sound that had a lot of "air" in it... something that gave the mix some "lightness", but also had some movement & enhanced the width of the mix...Back to Guitar Rig 4 again to get some inspiration...
After perusing the presets again, I happened upon a complex little signal chain involving two tube compressors, a chorus unit, 2 "phychedelay" units, a Dual Rectifier amp simulation, 2 "quad delay" units, a channel splitter, a mic & cabinet simulator, a parametric eq, & Small Stone Phaser emulation. Whew! Aptly named "Slow Motion Movie", this preset was just the thing to morph a rather boring little pad into a complex, self-evolving sound abstraction... BUT.. one more thing was needed to make this sound "just right" - I wanted it to seemingly "come from nowhere" (specific) in the mix, & yet "everywhere" at the same time - So I slapped Sonar's mid-side/stereo manipulation tool on, called up the "Increased Width" preset, & then took it a step further by removing even more "mid gain" from the signal, so that the middle of the mix was cleared out & the sound appeared to emanate from "outside" of the stereo spectrum.
Here's the screen shot:
& here's how it sounded:
But there was still more work to do to get my 2 man synth army to march in the right direction. The washy pad was fine for the more sedate & dreamy parts of the song, but there were a few places where I wanted something other than the bass & drums to reinforce the rhythmic drive of the song. I remembered an episode of Pensado's place where good 'ol Dave mentioned gating pads to create movement. After my successful experiment with Guitar Rig's sequencer driven Gate on the "Tic Toc" rhythm, I was emboldened to return yet again to my brainy German plugin, in pursuit of a pulsating pad.
I wasn't disappointed. Throwing on the the "Trance Gate Pro" preset, getting rid of some extraneous effects in the chain & whittling it down to just the gating effect, I was able to get the humble pad jump freakishly in time with the song's rhythm. High passing it even further around 700hz, sending some of the signal in parallel to the Channel Tools "Widener" preset; & then combining it back with the main pad finalized psychedelic impression.
The screenshot for the gated version of the Pad:
...& the Gated pad solo'd:
...& finally, the 2 sounds combined together:
In one of the responses to my mix, I think I was (indirectly) being accused of perhaps adding extra synthesizers beyond what we were given to work with. This actually didn't offend me one bit - In fact I was delighted that I had managed to mangle the parts to the point where they might be mistaken for something else entirely! I guess it's the closest we wannabe mix engineers get to knowing what it must feel like to create our own little magic trick routine with sound instead of vision.
Whether or not my accuser was referring to the synthesizer sounds I have described here, I don't know. Why? Well, there are other sounds in the mix that are neither synths or surreptitiously imported files of indeterminate origin - nevertheless, they are definitely a big part of what contributed to the textures & transitions in the mix... So where did they come from, & why are they there?
... Tune in for the next episode & all will be revealed!..
...and here it is: http://forum.recordingreview.com/blo...ansitions.html