Individual Sound Textures

Going Beyond Natural Sound Part 4

Individual Sound Textures

We were obviously trying to create different “spaces” for each instrument; to create a different sound for each piece, and possibly give each one a different texture by placing it away from other instruments, so that it would stand out by itself. Often times it seemed that this approach was simply the most honest way to record that particular instrument. When that sound becomes enhanced, the additional reverb is generally a touch more overpowering than the natural room sound, but the latter just gives it a different texture. The end result is a different sound from that obtained by simply using a close-miked sound with added reverb. It’s not bad or good; it’s just another color – another taste for the listener.

However, if we had, for example, natural room reverberation on the miked sound of a backline amplifier, and had then placed too much addition reverb on that track, we would have being in trouble, because the combined result ends up sounding mushy and confused. While cutting guitar tracks we added a touch of artificial reverb – just to give the sound some life- because close-miking can give a rather stark sound when you don’t incorporated much of the room sound. So, you put in a little artificial reverb to synthesize a little more of the natural room sound. But it’s equally important to use artificial reverb that complements the natural sound of the room, and not make it counteract and conflict with the sound you are after on the track.

In the everyday use of recording techniques there are certain ideas and methods that you use because you know they work. But you can employ a whole bag of other tricks. As we were going through the process of trying to frame each instrument on the album, the players and I would talk about a certain sound, or a certain concept we wanted to go for. Out of that process will spring an idea. Sometimes it wasn’t a technique we’ve ever used before but, by incorporating bits and pieces of other ideas, you develop something new.

The track, Johnny’s Mellow Mood, was written for a guitarist Johnny Smith, a studio jazz player from the Fifties. Striving for a better, unique guitar sound, Smith developed the Johnny Smith Guitar made by Gibson. This model featured a single pickup mounted close to the fingerboard to produce a rich, mellow tone bringing out the midrange frequencies.

As an example, for the Johnny’s Mellow Mood recording we plugged the guitar directly into one of the studio’s amplifiers – a 100-watt BGW amp that sometimes is utilized for the cue system, but wasn’t in use at the time – and then into a JBL Model 4311 Speaker. The BGW/JBL combination produced a very clean sound. We mixed the sound of a condenser aimed at the high-frequency driver, and a dynamic at the low-end speaker. The result didn’t sound like a direct-inject guitar – which has a whole other feel to it – but rather the clean texture of the amp and the speaker combination.

I think that the recording of acoustic instruments is a great place to start on a project because, in some cases, electric instruments are trying to synthesize what acoustic instruments do naturally. So, if you have a feel for the way acoustic instruments sound – acoustic guitar, classical instruments, violins, violas, cellos, brass, and those kinds of instruments – you have a perspective on what electronic instruments are trying to synthesize.