A semantic approach to autonomous mixing #arp13

Shakingthrough was the source of the audio stems used in Brecht’s detailed experiments into autonomous semantically assisted mixing.

DE MAN, BRECHT (Queen Mary University of London)

A semantic approach to autonomous mixing

[abstract] There is a clear need for systems that take care of the mixing stage of music production for live and recording situations. The democratisation of music technology has allowed musicians to produce and distribute their own content at very little cost, but in order to deliver high quality material a skilled mixing engineer is still needed, among others. Mixing multichannel audio comprises many expert but non-artistic tasks that, once accurately described, can be implemented in software or hardware. By obtaining a high quality mix fast and autonomously, studio or home recording becomes more affordable for musicians, smaller music venues are freed of the need for expert operators for their front of house and monitor systems, and both audio engineers and musicians can increase their productivity and focus on the creative aspects of music production.  Current automatic mixing systems already show adequate performance using basic extracted audio features or machine learning techniques, and sometimes outperform amateur mixing engineers.

However, few intelligent systems seem to take semantic, high-level information into account. The applied processing is dependent on low-level signal features, but no information is given (or extracted) about the band, recording conditions, and playback conditions, to name a few. This information, which can be provided by an amateur end user at little cost, could significantly increase the performance of such semi-autonomous mixing system. Moreover, using feature extraction for instrument and even genre recognition, a fully autonomous system could be designed.

Many sources, among which numerous audio engineering books and websites, report standard processor settings. These settings depend on the engineer’s style and taste, the band’s and song’s characteristics, and to some extent the characteristics of the signals. This involves preferential values for relative level, panning, equalising, dynamic range compression, and time-based effects.

In this paper a synthesis is made of the ‘best practices’ derived from a broad selection of audio engineering literature and expert interviews, to constitute a set of rules that define to the greatest possible extent the actions and choices audio engineers make, given a song with certain characteristics. Rule-based processing is then applied to reference material (raw tracks) to validate the semantic approach. A formal comparison with state-of-the-art automatic mixing systems as well as human mixes as well as an unprocessed version is conducted, and future directions are identified. 

[JB comment – there was so much detail (and detailed audio) in Brecht’s presentation that I confess I didn’t manage to blog it in real time. The work is excellent and could, after further development, provide an obvious commercial/end user benefit. You can listen to the results of the automixing experiments, and find out more about Brecht’s work, on his own website – http://brechtdeman.com/research.html]

Final keynote: Martha de Francisco #arp13

One of Martha’s case studies was from her own work on this four-piano Bach recording.


Martha de Francisco is a record producer and recording engineer specializing in Classical music. She is a professor for Sound Recording at McGill University in Montreal. An internationally acknowledged leader in the field of sound recording and record production, Martha has recorded with some of the greatest classical musicians of our time for the major record labels and in the best concert halls. She has credits on hundreds of recordings, mostly for worldwide release, many distinguished with the most prestigious awards. A graduate from the renowned Tonmeister program at the Musikhochschule Detmold, Germany, Martha was one of the pioneers of digital recording and editing in Europe during the 1980s. On staff as producer/engineer/editor with Philips Classics, she developed long lasting working relationships with many prominent artists. Martha has been entrusted with the recording legacy of international artists from Alfred Brendel to the Philadelphia Orchestra. Her list of recording artists includes the Beaux Arts Trio, Heinz Holliger, Oliver Latry, Gustav Leonhardt, I Musici, Truls Mørk, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Jessye Norman, the conductors John Eliot Gardiner, Neville Marriner, Kent Nagano, Simon Rattle, the Symphony Orchestras of Vienna, Montreal, Philadelphia, London, Caracas and many more. Martha has recorded in a variety of venues throughout the world: Vienna Musikverein, New York Carnegie Hall, Moscow Conservatoire, Bayreuth Festspielhaus, Tokyo Suntory Hall, Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Martha de Francisco is appointed as Associate Professor at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University and a member of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology CIRMMT. Her research topics include the latest surround-sound techniques, music recording with virtual acoustics, studies on piano brightness and the aesthetics of recorded music. She was the producer/engineer of the acclaimed research and production project “The Virtual Haydn”, a recreation of the sonic characteristics of Haydn’s music played on reconstructions of his instruments performed (virtually) in his original rooms, a study of acoustics and interpretation. Martha is a frequent lecturer at international professional conferences, a regular judge at the main international student recording competitions as well as a sought-after guest lecturer at leading schools for higher education in Audio in various countries.

Martha’s talk begins with a discussion of her project at McGill ‘The Virtual Haydn’. It is fascinating work and I will not attempt to summarise it here – everything you need is on the project website.

Vintage Instruments and Retro Technology in Popular Music Culture #arp13

Röyksopp – keeping it vintage – but why?

ZEINER-HENRIKSEN, HANS T. (University of Oslo)

Vintage Instruments and Retro Technology in Popular Music Culture

[abstract] On the cover of the Norwegian electronica duo Röyksopp’s 2009 album Junior, Svein Berge is carrying a Korg SB100 synthesizer from 1975, while his partner Torbjørn Brundtland is holding a vinyl record. At concerts and in interviews regarding their production techniques the duo also emphasizes their use of a 1978 Korg MS synthesizer. Röyksopp exposes and celebrates instruments and a technology that in many ways are outdated – they may use these analogue synthesizers together with samples from old vinyl records, but the digital computer with a sequencer and software instruments is definitely playing a more central role in their productions. The celebration of old technology seems to be important even in music genres where a rather modern sound is being produced. I will discuss this fascination with old technology and ask whether it is stable and lasting, or constantly changing as David Pattie argues concerning the discourses on authenticity in rock culture (Pattie 2007). All types of technology or old instruments are not celebrated in the same manner. Using Wiebe E. Bijker’s theory of sociotechnical change (Bijker 1997), I will investigate processes within genres that lead one instrument or a type of technology into an elevated “vintage” position, and discuss to what extent its position is established once and for all or if it is an area of constant change and modification.

Hans begins with some audio from Parliament’s ‘Do That Stuff’ followed by Røoyksopp’s ‘Happy Up Here’ (see whosampled link);

Brazilian electronica of César Camargo Mariano & Prisma: hybridization or tradition? #arp13

Many, many keyboards were required for the Prisma project


The “Brazilian electronica” of César Camargo Mariano and Prisma (1984-7): hybridization or tradition?

[abstract] In 1984, keyboardist César Camargo Mariano proposed the adoption of electronic musical instruments and MIDI systems in a Brazilian popular music repertoire. The successful first concert seasons in São Paulo led to a long-term project, named Prisma, which has been extended over the next thirty months encompassing the recording of two albums, each one followed by a nationwide concert tour. The main feature of the music was the mix of typically Brazilian musical elements with electronic sounds never heard attempted before in the country due to trade barriers on musical instrument imports and the unfamiliarity of local musicians with the new studio and stage practices. In spite of the fact that the Prisma participants focused on expanding the sound palette of a previously existing tradition, they eventually dealt with matters such as non-tempered noises as music composition materials, sequencer programming, tape editing and sound design. Hence one can ask about the nature of that concoction and its products. Would they fit perfectly within the borders of a previously constituted aesthetic territory or place themselves in an intermediate zone defined by indefinability and multiplicity? This last option leads us to the concept of hybridization, frequently approached by authors under a national perspective. Starting from the statement that there is no cultural purity but stabilized cultural traditions, this paper proposes a concept of cultural hybridization based on an intersection of texts and studies, to investigate a possible hybrid state resulting from the presence and influence of electronica in the music of Prisma.

The Creative Studio Practice of Contemporary Dance Music Sampling Composers #arp13

Nothing can come from nothing. Aristotle knew that this sculpture began as a block of stone…

MOREY, JUSTIN (Leeds Metropolitan University, UK)
MCINTYRE, PHILLIP (Univ. of Newcastle, Australia)

The Creative Studio Practice of Contemporary Dance Music Sampling Composers

This paper seeks to investigate some of the considerations that inform and help to determine the creative studio practice of contemporary sampling composers. Collaborative writing and production, specifically the co-opted collaboration implicit in using samples, will be assessed to consider those aspects of the production process which the participants consider to be authorial. These considerations include acts of listening, selecting and editing. In examining these matters this paper places, emphasis on how sampling composers actively constrain their options in order to promote a creative relationship with their musical material. Techniques such as, firstly, traditional sample manipulation, secondly, the use of a sample as an initial building block for a composition from which the sample is then removed and, finally, live performance in the studio which is subsequently cut up and treated as a sample, will be discussed. Case studies, in the form of semi-structured interviews with sampling composers, will be drawn upon to assess approaches to and views about these forms of studio composition.

Automatic description of music: a study case in detecting Mellotron sounds #arp13

The project used Mellotron sounds as its experimental subject

ROMÁN ECHEVERRI, CARLOS GUSTAVO (Fundación Universitaria San Martín, Bogotá)
HERRERA, PERFECTO (Universitat Pompeu Fabra/Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya)
Automatic description of music for analyzing music productions: a study case in detecting Mellotron sounds in recordings

Download the entire presentation as a video with Carlos’ audio commentary here.

[abstract]In the last few years, digital music collections have become available via global networks in constantly- increasing amounts, prompted by recent developments in audio technology and the appearance of innovative online distribution platforms. Music Information Retrieval (MIR) -a growing and active interdisciplinary field of research- aims precisely at the problem of describing, organizing, categorizing, browsing and taking advantage of these large bulk of data in different contexts (analysis, exploration, recommendation, creation). Analyzing music recordings is now possible beyond the limitations of classical features (e.g., sonogram features) and collection sizes (i.e., a human-manegeable bunch of files). Therefore, an audio recording can be characterized automatically (with a non-negligible amount of errors that could require human supervision) with their music theoretical features (pitch, scales, chords, rhythm), similarity with other recordings, genre, production techniques or musical instruments. In this context, the detection of musical instruments in a specific piece of music might be highly relevant in the analysis of music recordings, as instruments define the timbral qualities in any piece of music. Perceptually, instruments are determinant of specific textures, atmospheres, contrasts and distinctiveness in a piece of music. Additionally, instruments give information on the genre, the historical and geographical origin of music. In order to detect a musical instrument in a recording, the acoustic features that make the sound of an instrument identifiable or remarkable must be found. To accomplish this, audio descriptors describing different timbre dimensions are extracted, quantified and coded from raw digital audio signals.

The UK Sound: British Hip Hop Production Practice #arp13

Diggin’ in the crates

STEVENSON, ALEX (Leeds Metropolitan University)
The UK Sound: British Hip Hop Production Practice

[abstract only] The emergence of localised sub-genres of Hip Hop around the world has been well documented, however the genre of UK Hip Hop (or British Hip Hop) has been largely overlooked in scholarly research. Although largely an underground music scene with very limited commercial success, UK Hip Hop has been recognized as being pivotal in the development of the more commercially successful genres of Grime, Trip Hop and Drum’n’Bass. Existing research into UK Hip Hop has often been from a cultural or sociological perspective, and although there is existing research analysing the compositional approach of Turntablist groups within in UK, little research exists into the production processes of UK Hip Hop.

Whilst many UK Hip Hop producers acknowledge the influence of American producers in the development of their style of production, there is recognition of UK Hip Hop having its own unique sonic characteristics. This uniqueness has been attributed to the experimental nature of the genre, partly due to its underground status, and its incorporation of a wide range of other musical genres.

This paper aims to identify and explore the unique aspects of UK Hip Hop through analysis of the composition and production processes. Through the use of interviews with key UK Hip Hop producers, and the sonic analysis of key musical works, this research will focus on three key themes which impact on the production process; these are:

  • Access to and utilisation of technology

  • The influence of specific US Hip Hop producers

  • The integration of elements of other music genres

1967: the year of the “Ambient Machine”: (Italian film sound post-production) #arp13

Fellini was one of many Italian film directors to use the Ambient Machine for background foley after 1967.

MEANDRI, ILARIO (University of Turin)

1967: the year of the “Ambient Machine”: Local adaptation of global technologies in the Italian film sound post-production process of the late Sixties

Ilario Meandri academic profile

[JB note – this was a Skype-in session. Kinda weird at first, but as with all videoconferencing we all settled into it pretty quickly. Ilario did a great job communicating his paper through the tricky medium of live streaming video – especially as his subject was cinema foley!]

[abstract only] One of the main revolutions of the sound post production process in the Italian cinema of the late Sixties was the birth of independent Foley studios. Before 1963-1964 ca. foleys were employed as freelance artists working at the Foley-stages of the sound post production facilities in Rome. By the end of 1965 the Foley artists formed a cartel and founded a new independent business. The new Foley companies would now provide to the studios all the required post-production sound effects: Foley-stage sounds (hereinafter: FFX), non-sync ambient sounds loops (AFX) and moviola-synchronized special sound effects (SFX) – the last two had previously been the responsibility of the film’s editor or/and the direct-sound editor. This novelty led rapidly to a series of technical and process innovations. The first noteworthy one is the foundation of the Foley AFX and SFX sound archives. Over the following years, in building AFX and SFX for movies by Fellini, Leone, Risi, Rosi, Petri, Pasolini, and Monicelli – to cite but a few – Foley companies formed the core of the new archives which ended up by becoming one of the richest and finest sound collections in the world.

Home Recording: Authority of “Pros” and the Sovereignty of the Big Studios #arp13

Garageband (click pic for link to Alice’s 2012 article)

CARVALHO, ALICE TOMAZ DE (Université de Montréal)
The Discourse of Home Recording: Authority of “Pros” and the Sovereignty of the Big Studios

[abstract] This paper presentation proposes a critical analysis of the discourse of home recording. It questions home recording’s will to truth by investigating what makes its statements possible, or what is the system of rules that authorize certain things to be said within the discourse. Driven by enunciations regarding home recording’s “accessibility” and “democratization”, it analyzes the power/knowledge relations that have been produced and legitimized within the discourse, as well as what they enable and constrain, allow and exclude. Music magazines and Internet discussion forums form the corpus of this work. The methods used in this research are inspired by Michel Foucault’s theory and method of discourse and by the approach known as critical interpretation (Johnson et al., 2004). This papers’ analysis shows that the government in home recording seems to be exerted by two main subjects: recording professionals and home recording “pros”, who are overall characterized as well-off men. Moreover, the rules of home recording seem to be a replication and an adaptation to the home environment of the organizing principles of professional studios. This work suggests that “democratization” as enunciated and produced within and by the discourse of home recording articulates the discursive notion of a “contemporary accessibility” in terms of technology and knowledge to the exclusions – such as that of women and people of limited means – that make this discourse possible. These exclusions are legitimized through what is considered the “truth” within the discourse, as well as the norms and regulations established within it, which in turn follow the logic of the professional studio. 

[JB note – I did not personally get to see Alice’s presentation, so here is a link to a previous JARP paper that covered much of the preparatory work for this 2013 paper]

The Discourse of Home Recording: Authority of “Pros” and the Sovereignty of the Big Studios; Journal on the Art of Record Production, issue 7. November 2012.

Creative Spaces: Producing Rock and Pop in Non-Studio Environments #arp13

Seacliff asylum. Scary building, great impulse responses.

HOLLAND, MICHAEL (University of Otago, New Zealand)

Creative Spaces: Producing Rock and Pop in Non-Studio Environments

[abstract] This paper takes a wide-ranging view of the concept of ‘space’ in music production, in attempting to further our understanding of the nexus between the physical locations in which records are produced, and the their resulting sonic qualities. Specifically, this paper explores the choice of non-studio recording spaces as challenging to established creative production practices in cultural, sonic, and performative terms.

This paper combines self-ethnography, interviews with artists and producers, and contemporary theory with musical examples from records produced both partially in, and completely outside of, a large- scale academic/commercial recording studio. Some of the alternate recording locations discussed include; defunct mental asylums, churches, isolated community halls, and large empty theatres. It should be noted that none of these locations are home studios, or simply ‘low cost’ alternatives to professional studios; rather, they are non-studio environments deliberately chosen as a substitute for conventional large-scale studio locations.

AHRC Research Network on Performance in the Studio (PitS)

AHRC Research Network on Performance in the Studio (PitS)

  • ZAGORSKI-THOMAS, SIMON (London College of Music, UK)
  • BLIER-CARRUTHERS, AMY (Royal College of Music, UK)
  • WILLIAMS, ALAN (University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA)
  • HOWLETT, MIKE (Queensland University of Technology)

[abstract] This session would be a presentation of the results from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council funded network that has been run in conjunction with the Association for the Study of the Art of Record Production. The session would include presentations from five of the researchers involved in the network plus the producer of the recording session that was studied, followed by a discussion of the way that this research contributes to performance and production pedagogy and practice and how the project will continue after the funding term is over.

The project involves the documentation (with video and audio of the event, participant interviews and the session files from the recording) of a recording session held in Dec 2012 and produced by Mike Howlett. The session involves a singer / songwriter, a rhythm section and a string quartet and the aim is to study the way the musicians work in the studio – as distinct from the way they work in rehearsal and in concert. The project involves three weekend colloquia and an online conference as well as the recording session itself whereby the network members and a group of invited guests examine and discuss the issues that arise from the session. The network members will study the session from a variety of perspectives: performance studies, ethnomusicology, phenomenology, communication studies, historiography, the analysis of micro-timing, Actor-Network Theory and Systems Theory among others. A further unique feature of the project is that the video and audio content will be made available via the Art of Record Production website to allow other researchers to build on the work started by the network members.

Dr. Amy Blier-Carruthers, Dr. Alan Williams and Dr. Simon Zagorski-Thomas will each give a presentation on their own particular analytical perspective on the project. Work by the other members of the network, Prof. Anne Danielsen (University of Oslo, Norway), Prof. Mine Dogantan-Dack (University of Middlesex, UK) and Prof. Morten Michelsen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), will be available on the ARP website. Mike Howlett, the producer of the session, will also be present to discuss his reaction to the research outcomes and his experience of the process.

For more about the project, see this link.

Crowd funding and its potential to create an alternative culture of production #arp13

THORLEY, MARK (Coventry University)

Crowd funding and its potential to create an alternative culture of production

[abstract] The field of cultural production has often included reference to those who stand between the producer and their audience. Whether referred to as gatekeepers by Paul Hirsch (1972), or cultural intermediaries by Pierre Bourdieu (1984), their role in deciding what the audience gets to experience has been discussed at length. Frequently, there is reference to the filtering function which they perform, which, in recorded music terms, dictates what gets recorded, how it is recorded and produced, what gets released, what gets promoted, and what gets dropped. Even in the music press, cultural intermediaries in the form of A&R personnel and record company executives receive criticism for their decision making whether for dropping recording artists before they are allowed to develop, or signing artists with grossly inflated advances only to see them walk through the door soon after.

Designing Professional Analogue Audio Recording Equipment in the 21st Century #arp13

The PuigTec EQP-1A – but does it sound like Jack Joseph Puig’s original hand-crafted unit?

GASKELL, ROBERT-ERIC (McGill University)

Designing Professional Analogue Audio Recording Equipment in the 21st Century

[abstract] This paper looks at the decisions faced by contemporary analogue audio equipment designers when trying to balance sound quality, commercial demand, intuitive user interface, and financial viability in the current professional audio marketplace. Audio signal processor design straddles the line between electrical/computer engineering and music. It is a fundamentally interdisciplinary combination of art and science. While the goal of professional audio equipment design has always been to provide intuitive, innovative, and useful products that solve common problems in music production, designs often suffer from a lack of communication or understanding between the two disciplines.

Sound recordists and music producers have been forced to learn to think in the terms of the electrical and computer engineers who design the equipment used in recording studios. The names of parameters and the user interface of equipment have been classically defined by electrical engineers not musicians. The paradigms of the past, however, have been persevered and today designs of new equipment maintain many of the controls and even aesthetics that were defined sixty or seventy years ago.

The “virtual” producer in the recording studio #arp13

The Vicious Five recording at Namouche in 2009

CAMPELO, ISABEL (Universidade Nova de Lisboa)
HOWLETT, MIKE (Queensland University of Technology)

The “virtual” producer in the recording studio: media networks in long distance peripheral performances

[abstract] The producer has for many years been a central agent in recording studio sessions; the validation of this role was, in many ways, related to the producer’s physical presence in the studio, to a greater or lesser extent. However, improvements in the speed of digital networks have allowed studio sessions to be produced long-distance, in real-time, through communication programs such as Skype or REDIS. How does this impact on the role of the producer, a “nexus between the creative inspiration of the artist, the technology of the recording studio, and the commercial aspirations of the record company” (Howlett 2012)?

Lori Burns: Genre, Discourse and Narrative in the Concept Album Spectacle #arp13

Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto on stage.

Plenary 1: The Art of Persuasion: Genre, Discourse and Narrative in the Concept Album Spectacle. Lori Burns, University of Ottawa

Lori begins by quoting Douglas Kellner’s definition of the ‘media spectacle’ and acknowledges his debt to Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1967).

She states that the paper addresses the idea of the Concept Album Spectacle, and asks three questions – how the artist shapes cultural commentary through it, how the materials are culturally productive, and how these texts carry out persuasive work.

This paper grows from Lori’s previous work, which has dealt with Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, Pink’s Funhouse Tour, and (from forthcoming work on) Lady Gaga’s Fame, Fame Monster.