Cover of CD

Travels Of The Heart


 

Recording the CD: Technical details from the studio

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JAMES GILBERT: Travels Of The Heart

Also see Behind the scenes notes.

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Studio specifics

The CD was recorded at MirorrImage sound studios in downtown Gainesville, Florida and was engineered by the very capable Harry Monkhorst. The tracking sessions - the initial recording of the music - took place on September 4 & 5, 2001. The mixing board was a 48 track analog board with a variety of external analog & digital effects and processors available. The piano is one of Young Chang's baby grand disk pianos - the type that record what you play and can play back midi files. (I did not use any of the playback/record functions for this CD). Unfortunately no other studio anywhere close enough to Gainesville to make doing the recording practical has a piano, let alone a better piano. Some thought was given to recording at a church with a better (grand) piano, but the problems related to that - excessive noise and an uncertain recording environment - made doing the CD in a studio, even with a piano not quite as good as I would of liked, the way to go.

The room for the recording was not terribly large, but as a 'dry' sound was desired for the initial recording of tracks, this was fine. The lid to the piano was removed, two large foam baffles were placed a few feet away from the sides of the piano. Two Neumann KM184 microphones were used to record the piano in "close" miking fashion. Set a few feet away from the walls off the back side of the piano, two SM81 mikes were set facing the wall to get a "room" feel. For the recording, DA-88 tape, a digital format similar to the 8mm video cameras was used. Since few songs would have more than 8 tracks, there was little point in using any other tape format.

Recording the 18 selections

Worksheet image It might be mentioned here that prior to entering the studio, each potential song was reviewed in detail. Decisions were made as to which would be solo piano and which would add additional instruments. Very specific information needed to help speed up the recording process was planned prior to entering the studio and those notes came with me to the studio. I even had variations in mind should the initial plan not work well in the real world of the studio. (Image shows worksheet for Twilight's Praise). The 18 tracks were recorded in two separate sessions, each about 5 hours in length.

All of the pieces were recorded onto at least four tracks - one track for each microphone in the room. For some of those few pieces that added synthesizer and both duets, a click track was used to help keep my playing on the synthesizer together with the playing on the piano. For those that ever took music lessons and had to use a metronome, you have an idea of what a click track is. The click track clicks away in the headset while you attempt to play on the beat. For the two duets I first recorded the low parts and click track. For the high part of the duet, I heard what I had just played in my left ear, the click track in both and what I was now playing in the right ear. The pieces using synthesizer were recorded in the control room with the click track, the synthesizer and other tracks playing through the control room monitor speakers.

The first track to be recorded was Adoration. For various reasons, this ended up taking the most number of tries to get it onto tape. I think five was the magic number. I always forget how much louder the piano sounds in a studio as to compared to a 400 seat auditorium. The temptation is to play softer than you really need to. The rest of the pieces went fairly smoothly. There were a few false starts but only one or two that had to be completely re-recorded. For all the pieces, except More Precious, which doesn't use piano, and Praise Song, I recorded all the piano parts first. After recording the piano part of a song I would go into the control room and listen to a playback. If I liked it, we went on to the next song. The final piece to be recorded was the Allegro by Mozart, which did take two takes for the low part. Once all the piano tracks were down, we then went into the control room and recorded the synthesizer tracks. The synthesizer used for most sounds was a Kurzweill 2000vp. For Praise Song, an Alesis sound module was used for the piano and drum sounds and that is the only song not to have live piano.

The most interesting songs to record were Showers, More Precious, and Praise Song. Showers has a slow, then fast, then slow, then short fast section. The slow sections also have a synthesizer part. All the slow sections on piano were recorded first, then the piano fast sections. Later the synthesizer parts were added to it. At the mixing process, everything was dumped into a computer and put together as you hear it in the final mix. More Precious was done entirely on synthesizer. I used a click track to keep the parts together. The right hand part of the piece was done with one sound and the left hand part was done with another sound. Praise Song used sequenced drums and piano. The string pads and the two melody parts were recorded live on the synthesizer. These last two songs are the only songs that do not use any live acoustic instruments.

The Mixing process

picture of mixing board For the mixing, everything eventually ended up in the computer for final processing and burning to a master CD. Mixing was done on September 10, 2001. (Image is an example of a mixing console).

A natural sound was preferred for the majority of the tracks. In order to accomplish that, minimal effects and equalization were used. After trying various reverbs, we settled on the Alesis Wedge reverb unit. Some of the effects used:

For several songs we used home plate reverb. For most of the songs we used no additional effects. The synthesizer sounds already had effects built into them, so there was no need to add more. On the Mozart, we did use a vacuum tube compression unit to help equalize the levels of the two parts. On Reflections one synthesizer track, only used at the very beginning and end, was not included in the final mix. Other than that, everything that was recorded ended up somewhere in the final mix.

On the majority of the songs we did typical stereo panning of the left and right sides of the piano. A few synthesizer parts were recorded in mono and panned as desired. Most of the synthesizer parts were recorded in stereo and panned accordingly. For the duets, we did some variations of the panning. On all the songs we used the room microphones to add some natural room reverb while on a few we added even more room ambiance. On Lenten Thoughts we used some EQ to emphasize low mid-range and we kept the highs out of the reverb in that song.

Once the desired effects, panning and EQ were decided, on a song by song basis, we then mixed that song. A few songs required some adjustments of volume within the song but those were few. The songs were mixed into a L/R pair in the computer. Once all the songs were mixed, the beginning and endings were cleaned up - no need to hear me count off at the start of a song. Silence was put between each track and overall levels adjusted so that the different songs didn't sound too much louder or softer than others. I then took a proof CD home and listened to the final mix to see if anything needed to be re-mixed or re-recorded. I did change the track order from my original thinking and changed it again. Original idea for the track order:
Blessed Assurance; Lenten; They Shall Come; Solitude; At Calvary; Travels; Heaven; Praise Song; Song Of Joy; Precious; Footsteps; Adoration; Fairest; Rejoice; Twilight's Praise; Reflections; Showers; Mozart.

The Artwork & Manufacturing

The company I used to manufacture the CD - DiscMakers - also did the artwork. I gave them some vague ideas on what I wanted and they came up with the design you see. After deciding I liked the final mix, the CD was given its final mastering - similar to what was discussed above. I sent the master off in late September and received art proofs on October 5, 2001. After approving those, the printing and manufacturing process started and the CD was soon available.




 
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