On Mixing - Introducing Becki Whitton

Aphir (Becki Whitton) by April Yaowalak Jarmcharoen

Aphir (Becki Whitton) by April Yaowalak Jarmcharoen

When I first started recording music I had no idea how much goes into creating a song. Some of you may have never heard the term mixing so here is a brief description based on my experience. 

 

Once you have recorded all of the instruments and sounds you want in your song you then need to mix the sounds.  Mixing is where you refine all the recorded parts of your song using tools such as reverb, EQ, compression and stereo panning.  These tools allow you to shape the sounds so that when you listen to them your brain creates an image of the sounds and how they relate to one another.  Some examples are; adding more reverb or turning down the volume to make something sound further away, or using stereo panning to place sounds to the left or to the right. 

 

An example of the later is used in I Take This Time. If you listen on headphones you will hear that in the verses the lead vocal is central and when the chorus ‘I’ll take this time and love you with it….’ comes in the lead vocal is doubled and panned hard left and right to make the voice seem like it’s coming from the sides. 

 

I liken the mixing process to painting.  You are creating an illusion of depth, space and light to suspend the listener in a world. Just as there are unlimited ways to paint a painting there are unlimited ways to mix a song.  The people who specialise in this particular art form are called mixing engineers.  

Oil on canvas Home Project 2014 

Oil on canvas Home Project 2014 

In the past this field of the music industry has been dominated by men.  However some incredible female artists, musicians, producers and engineers are making huge contributions towards tipping the gender balance.  While I was studying I read many articles about gender imbalance in the sound art and electronic music community and one of the comments flicked a switch in me.  Yes people should be chosen on their merit and skills and not their gender but because there has been a dominant culture of men occupying the professional roles of mixing and mastering engineers there is still a severe imbalance and women rarely get the same opportunities as men.  

 

When I first made my list of people I wanted to work with on mixing I noticed they were all men.  All incredibly talented and hardworking men but men who I knew were also very busy and successful in their careers.  So when a friend told me about a Melbourne based mixing and mastering engineer Becki Whitton my heart sang out. When I heard her work I was so excited that I could make a choice that would contribute to giving a woman an opportunity in the music industry and hopefully inspire more women to take the reins in music production in the future.   

 

I Take This Time is focussed around the lead vocal and because Becki specialises in female vocals on her own musical projects she very quickly knew how to get the most out of this song. She explained to me what she was doing with each sound and when she had a creative suggestion she showed it to me and we refined it together to my taste.   We also drank herbal tea and ate healthy food in our breaks and discussed the challenges and benefits of being a young woman in the music industry.  I came away from this session feeling so inspired and empowered by working with her.  We have since worked together on another song and she will be mixing and mastering all of the tracks on my upcoming EP.

 

Becki also makes music under the name Aphir.  She writes, records, produces, mixes and masters all her own music and performs live as a one woman show.  She is super human!  Check out her latest single Can’t Comfort.

 

It’s a really exciting time in the industry as we see a huge shift in women’s role in music production.  I am so lucky to be creating music and collaborating with so many inspiring women in all of my music projects.  I can’t wait to share more of the songs we are creating with you all very soon.  

Mixed media on paper 2016

Mixed media on paper 2016

 

This is the final post for this song.  Look forward to sharing the story of the next song with you when it’s ready.

Thanks for tuning in.

 

Tash

A Photographic Homage

In early 2016 I rented a room above a gallery and studio space in North Fitzroy, Melbourne.  This bohemian paradise, fondly named Empty Gallery, was at the time the home and workspace for infamous Australian music photographer Glen Wilkie.  Glen and I had met when we worked together on a series of portraits for one of my music projects and for a brief 6 month period we shared this house of creativity and chaos.  

 

It wasn’t uncommon to arrive home to a house full of Australian and International artists and musicians socialising and discussing new project ideas or sharing new material. There was always plenty of whiskey and red wine to help the conversations flow.  Walking into the house was like walking into a Miyazaki film one day, a Lynch film the next, a Tarkovsky film the next.  Whole rooms were sometimes filled with pine branches or blooming tulips.  Some days smoke bombs and strobe lights. You never knew what you were going to walk into when you opened the door. It was an incredibly inspiring and creative time.

 

During this time I made an interactive public intervention piece called Light Conversation which involved 3 umbrellas fitted with LED lighting and speaker systems.  They played a vocal composition I had writen much inspired by Brian Eno’s generative composition techniques. 

Umbrellas.jpg

Here is a photo of Light Conversation in action at The Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2016.  These brollies were made with the expert assistance of Leon from Wow-Electron.  

And here is a sample of the vocal composition to give you an idea of what these dreamy jellyfish sounded like when you stood underneath one.

 

Amongst all this craziness my favourite times were the evenings when Tommy Spender would come around and the three of us would play iPod DJ and try to out weird each other with obscure tracks.  I would play an Aphrodite’s child track, Tommy would play some strange jazz improv thing, Wilk would play a song by one of bob Dylan's ex girlfriends and then round we would go again until the wee hours of the morning.  

 

One night I showed Wilk the recording I had made of I Take This Time and he nearly fell off his chair.  He loved Arthur Russell and knew all of his work. He immediately pitched a concept for the cover art with me, a homage image of Arthur wearing a newspaper hat.  

Here is the original reference image of Arthur Russell taken by London-born New York based photographer Jeanette Beckman.  

 

When I checked the copyright guidelines for using a recreated image like this I discovered that I needed to seek permission from the original artist.  I emailed Jeanette not knowing what to expect but she responded with full support.  I was so excited that we were able to not only pay homage to Arthur but also to Jeanette with this release.  Jeanette has photographed so many iconic visual artists and musicians throughout her career.  Check out her work here.

 

Working with Wilk on this image and a series of images for my new project has been really fun.  He is not just a music photographer but a true artist.  I have never met a harder working or more prolific artist in my career.  I have no doubt that in many years we will look back on this time and realise that we were part of an incredible moment in Australian music and art history.  You can find more of Wilk's work online here.

 

Next week I will be introducing you to the gorgeous Becki Whitton who mixed and mastered the track.  Looking forward to sharing that story with you.

 

Tash

Combining Organic and Synthetic Sounds

photo by Studio Aton

photo by Studio Aton

Coming from a folk background I am always looking to combine organic sounds and acoustic instruments in the recordings of my songs.  Hans is a master of finding interesting ways of incorporating these sounds in a non traditional way to create new and exciting virtual instruments.  

 

Arthur Russell was a pioneer of experimental cello music and I wanted to pay homage to this instrument in my version of I Take This Time.  When we had finished the main body of the recording I called my friend Charlotte, an amazing cellist from Melbourne, and asked her to help me record some parts to incorporate into the song.  

 

One glorious sunny day I travelled up to her home studio in hills just outside Melbourne and her partner Ben Edgar kindly engineered for us.  We not only captured the strong sweeping melodic lines but also a series of percussive and harmonic parts.  I asked her to experiment with the sounds she could create from her instrument in a traditional and non traditional way so that we could have a wide pallet of sounds to choose from.    

 

When Hans heard the sounds we had captured he suggested we replace all the drum sounds in the track with sounds created from layering different percussive samples from Charlotte’s performance.  It took nearly two full days to massage all of these new parts into the arrangement but what we ended up with was a beautifully warm and intriguing rhythmic structure for the song.  

 

We recorded the vocals for this track 3 times before we struck on the right performance for the song.  The final performance was captured at The Palace a beautiful little studio in Brisbane owned by Caleb James.

 

Here is a video of Charlotte performing my song The Fall with me as part of a beautiful series of videos curated by Woodes for Melbourne Music Week in 2015.  The lovely gals from Kuwaii loaned us the stunning red numbers and Melbourne based internationally-recognised contemporary jeweller and artist Katherine Leopoldseder loaned us a couple of her pieces including the stunning wearable sculpture named Venetian Blind Tragedy.  

 

Tune in next week for the story behind the single artwork I made with iconic Australian music photographer and fine artist Glen Wilkie.  

 

Tash

 

Sampling the world

In late 2015 I was working with my musical collaborator/producer Hans Van Vliet.  Hans is an animator, music producer, the frontman for the Brisbane based bit pop band 7BitHero. In more recent times he has also been musical director for Wafia’s live show.  This guy is crazy talented and one of the most prolific artists I have ever met!  Just taking a moment here to feel humbled by the fact that we are working together.  Here is a picture of us at soundcheck. 

Parker_Soundcheck.png

Every morning before our studio sessions I go for a walk and collect field recordings of interesting sounds I come across.  I am often looking for ways to bring natural sounds into the studio.  I feel that the organic samples contain an irregularity and texture that is hard to simulate but that I am often looking for in the studio. 

 

This particular morning I had found myself on a walking track that led underneath the motorway.   As the cars travelled above me I was mesmerised by the sound, a strange rhythmic clunking sound, from the cars as they traveled over the seams in the road.  I recorded a minute or two of sound and took this picture.

Underpass.PNG

When I came back from this walk I showed Hans the recording.  He immediately took it and ran it through a new software instrument he had just purchased called IRIS

 

What came from this was a pulsing rhythmic texture that could be pitched and played like a Synth patch.  He then recorded a simple chord progression to give me an example of how you could use this.  Here it is for you to listen.

In that moment I recognised the progression and to my astonishment he had played the opening chord progression to the Arthur Russell song.  I started singing the opening lines.  8 hours later our arrangement of I Take This Time was complete. 

 

Being a homage to a great cellist we wanted to incorporate live cello parts into the track.  The next step was to contact Melbourne based cellist Charlotte Jacke.

 

Stay tuned next week to hear all about working with Charlotte.

 

Tash

 

Discovering Arthur Russell

This story begins in 2015 while I was studying my bachelor degree in Fine Arts at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia.  

I had recently moved in with my friend and visual collaborator Kat in a leafy suburb just outside of Melbourne CBD. Kat and I would often spend evenings sharing new and old music with each other while working on our creative projects.  This particular evening Kat introduced me to Arthur Russell’s World of Echo album.  I was immediately transfixed with his sound.  

What I loved most about the record was the sketch like quality of the songs.  They seemed to lack a recognisable structure and felt almost as if they were captured moments, stream of consciousness and pure expression.  When you listen to this album it feels as though you are in the room with Arthur being let in on his process and exploration of sound and harmony.   

This album inspired me in the thought that one could curate a very raw collection of recordings into a compelling and intimate experience for the listener.  One song in particular stayed with me She’s The Star/ I Take This Time.  The vocal motifs to me were incredibly memorable and after the record finished I found myself singing one of the main motifs, what you could call a chorus melody.  ‘I’ll take this time, and love you with it’.  

Six months earlier my partner of 8 years had decided to end our relationship and I was slowly coming to terms with the reality of my life without him.  I was still so deeply in love and could not find a way to let go of that longing for it to continue.  I had written many songs about this feeling but had not been able to articulate it in a clear way.  When I heard these words they resonated so deeply.  All I was able to do during that time, was to love him with it. 

I know this is a universal experience.  Each person in their life has or will experience a time when they feel a deep love for someone who they are unable to share their life with anymore.  I knew at that moment I wanted to record a version of this song. To express this feeling for myself and hopefully allow others who have felt this to feel comforted in a shared experience and understanding.

If you would like to know more about Arthur Russell check out this documentary Wild Combination - A Portrait of Arthur Russell directed by Matt Wolf.  It was in this documentary that I discovered just how prolific and influential Arthur was during his life.

I hope my story allows you a deeper listening experience.  Stay tuned for the next part of the story.  I will be sharing some of the technical processes involved in the recording of this song and introduce some of my key musical and visual collaborators. 

 

Tash