Robert van Heumen Composer Improvisor Laptop-Instrumentalist Sound-Designer
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The Sound of the Machine / documentation version

In the past weeks I've been collecting various parts of the composition The Sound of the Machine. Originally a piece for Disklavier, tape, flute & electronics and laptop-instrument, I wanted to document the piece plus make a multichannel version that could stand on its own as a tape piece.

The documentation version is done: with the generous help of Anne La Berge I first recorded her contribution to the work. This was a challenge for her, as the Disklavier tracks were on tape (and not of great quality, I didn't re-record those yet) and I wasn't playing along in the improvisation sections. So she had little to play against, but still did a great job. In my studio I then recorded my part, 'live sampling' the flute.

As the tape part was of course already there, the last job was to record the Disklavier. I went to Muziekhuis Utrecht, where the instrument currently resides, installed my two Neumann KM184 microphones and two Schaller contact microphones, and made various recordings. This was a challenge, as I don't have a lot of experience recording piano. I tried different angles for the mics, the majority of them having quite some distance to the strings. Later in the mix I found that the few recordings I made with the mics much closer were definitely the best. Luckily I did record all the sections that way (just once, but that turned out to be enough). Another learning experience.

As for the contact microphones: when performing the piece, I would specifically use a Mackie mixer for its great pre-amps to boost the signal of the contact mics, plus use its superior equalizers to balance hum and signal. I totally forgot about that until Jan the technician at Muziekhuis Utrecht handed me a Soundcraft mixer. Now I'm not very particular about my equipment, but I did hear a difference in signal quality. Oh well. It was way better than the previous recordings anyways.

The last stage was mixing. A very enjoyable job, just me, the tracks and a nice pair of speakers. One thing I learned there was to bring the levels down down down! Especially with the piano and the quite harsh flute+sampling I needed that to make the mix more transparent. I also discovered some nice free plugins from Voxengo, of which I used the Tube Amp simulator as a mastering tool. Much better than the build-in maximizer in Nuendo!

When recording the Disklavier I luckily also thought of video-taping the instrument. I still find the piece more rewarding if you actually see the magic of automatically moving keys and the instrument's struggle to play the massive amount of notes I send it. (Of course I also should have video-taped Anne and myself - well, next time).