►100% Analog Madness: A Look at The Ex-Bombers “Five Star Night” Vinyl LP

With the semi-recent boom of vinyl, many artists have opted to combine 12 inches of wax with a digital download of the album.

Financially this makes sense, but the analog and digital worlds of audio differ greatly from one another and thus leads to some sort of compromise on either or both of the releases. However, we recently heard about the label Cavetone Records who only releases vinyl (with no digital component) and who keeps the process 100% analog.

We picked up a copy of The Ex-Bombers “Five Star Night” LP and when we looked inside at the dead wax we were met with the message “100% Analog Madness.” The grooves themselves contain the surprisingly giant sounds of a film noir pop duo, who only use an 8-string bass, drums, and vocals.

We reached out to Scott Walus, the producer of the record and half of The Ex-Bombers, to discuss the analog process, the philosophy of maximum minimalism, and some pieces of gear that made the record.

The first thing to understand about the analog process, is that music making is a very human experience. There is tension, release, rage, and love, and the only way to get at that is to put the band in a room together and play the song all the way through,” said Walus. All of the tracks on the record were recorded without punch-ins directly to an Otari 8 track deck.

The second element of the analog process, is the importance of capturing every piece of sonic material in a basic track. For example, Walus paired some interesting gear for the signature sound of his Hagstrom HB8 bass. He opted for guitar amps like (Ex: Sound City 50 Plus, Ampeg Gemini II) out of bass cabs with 15s.

Guitar amps have an excitement and the natural low roll-off is just made for vinyl, but the 15s just move air and sound huge,” said Walus, “I mic’d it up with a vintage Sennheiser, because the vintage ones are lower gain and just magic, into an EF86 preamp, because pentodes are spectacular in the top end, and you’ve got a full bass sound that has chime and presence.”

The other instruments and vocals on the record follow a similar story of analog care, like the calfskin head on the snare drum, the 1953 Hammond M2 organ, or the 1960s Electro-Voice crystal mic through the Sound City Fuzz Wah face heard on “Oh. Wow.” Every track has a lesser-known microphone on it, like the original Audix OM-1 heard on organ overdubs or the Shure 330 unidirectional ribbon throughout.

The 100% analog madness continues into mixing as the mixes are done onto a half-track Tascam deck into mono using a tube mixer loaded with 6DJ8 tubes and a bunch of esoteric EQs (mainly passive White EQs), limiters, and reverb. Several of these units were prototypes, built point to point and with military-grade parts by Lancaster Amplification. “That’s the great thing about Dave (Lancaster Amplification), if you can dream it up, you can call him and he’ll have a schematic for it in his head from 30 years ago. He even mated a Fairchild and a Urei for me in a 4 tube pre channel peak limiter,” said Walus.

Thinking monaurally has two purposes for Walus. “Records sound best in mono. Stereo is actually an afterthought and a trick to keep up with tape, but record grooves are at their best in mono. Second, mono really hits and tells a singular story, where if you’re pulling from hot jazz and 60s rock/pop like we were, it’s the story that you want to tell,” said Walus.

The record is an intriguing and enjoyable listening experience with multiple layers. We seem to catch something new every time we spin it. The Ex-Bombers are hitting the road this summer in support of the record and touring with many of the same instruments from the album. They have also recently released a 60 second sound sampler video to provide a taste of the sounds of the album here: https://youtu.be/-jRcWYEh_vI

►Introducing: “Music from my friends”

Finally had the time to finish production of the first track that’s not composed by myself, so it also is the first track to go on the new page I added to my site some time ago and which had been empty until now.

It’s an instrumental track, more precisely classical chamber music (string quartet and flute), with a dreamy, slightly sad but beautiful melody, composed by Rita Faleiro and produced by me (production environment was ReNoise, using samples and the final mix was done in Audacity).

Go to this page to listen to the track, a free download is also available.

Hope you enjoy 🙂

►Let’s talk Dynamics!

Did you ever wonder why some electronic music (or even some acoustic music) sounds so terribly “uninterestingly equal” along the whole track?  No emotion at all? No surprises? That’s because it’s lacking dynamics.

It’s a fundamental part of interpretation in all kind of music, already for several centuries, and yet in many a track (except for classical music) that’s produced today, it gets completely forgotten.

One culprit is the phenomenon of excessive compression, that first appeared towards the end of the 90’s and was (fortunately) at least partially eliminated over the course of the last few years. It happened to all kind of music, just listen carefully to some tracks from the 70’s or 80’s , compare to a similar genre but from mainstream music from the mid-nineties and you’ll get what I mean.

The reason was simple: everybody wanted to get his mix as loud as possible, so that it would “outstand” the others, so they started to use more and more compression, and if you add that to the compression that’s already natural to find on every radio station (to allow easy listening at low volumes or in noisy environments), a total loss of dynamics was the result, at some times even a kind of permanent soft-clipping.

But at least this seemed to have been noticed by conscious listeners and received enough criticism to have been slowly abandoned over the last few years, at least when talking about quality productions.

Still there’s another reason: the heavy usage of electronic means to produce music, especially the computer. Theoretically, most good music production environments on whatever computer system do support dynamics (even MIDI, in form of the velocity parameter). BUT: many people out there just DON’T use it at all.

And that’s terrible, and any real musician who has a minimum of musicality and feeling will recognize that.

So, let’s talk about how to do it. The’re obviously several ways, and a miriad of programs out there (from the big, well known to the small, almost unknown), so I won’t go into details. But I’ll try to give some ideas.

Sequencers (based on MIDI): use the velocity parameter that is available for every note. Your program might have useful functions to automate, or at least  facilitate (crescendos, etc) this.

Trackers: they normally have some parameter that is called volume or similar and works like the velocity parameter in midi, just use it. Some of the better programs even support humanizing this parameter, that’s a good idea to use AFTER having set basic dynamic references, to get it to sound less “square”.

Multi-track DAWs (like ProTools, Logic, Ardour, etc.): if you use a tracker or sequencer, allied to sampling or soft-synths to compose your music and then a DAW (digital audio workstation) to put the parts and tracks together for easier cutting/mixing, then you have three options here: or you do all the dynamics in your tracker/sequencer, or you do it all in the DAW using gain automation or envelopes, or – and in my humble opinion that’s the best solution – you opt for BOTH.

Why’s that? Because you prepare the base of your dynamics while composing already – easier to understand and work with – and later on, while mixing and adjusting all the details in your DAW, you increase the effect or adjust it, just as your ears and musical instinct demands.

Regarding adjusting the dynamics in a DAW, I’d like to give you some ideas here:

  • use the envelope of your track waveform directly to adjust the dynamics. This has a huge disadvantage, though: you can only do this when you finished the mixing, because you’ll be unable to easily correct the base volume of that track. So it’s bad, because you might change your mind about that, especially after doing the dynamics…
  • use gain automation on the affected track. This solution has exactly the same problem: you won’t be able to change the base volume in the mix, unless you manually redo all the points. Still it might be a good solution if you’re sure you will maintain the volume or do a mix later on in a different program or after bouncing it back to disk, because it’s the easiest and quickest way.
  • add a new stereo bus and feed your track’s output to it, and then do gain automation on the bus, not on your  track. This is, in my opinion, the perfect solution, because you adjust your track’s volume to whatever you want, for mixing, and the bus you start out with 0dB, drawing whatever gain automation you want, allowing you to continue changing the reference volume of that track easily in your mixer panel after it.

So, as you see, the last solution I presented, allows for adjusting whatever dynamics you want, and still you’ll be able to change the mix afterwards so it get’s exactly as you like. All this without any bouncing or exporting or whatever.

This can be used for panning automation aswell, by the way.

Ah, and very important: apply your compression AFTER doing the work with dynamics, but DON’T exaggerate! Don’t be another LOUDNESS-FREAK! Because if you do, all the work was for nothing (remember: compression is “anti-dynamics”).

So, I hope I have given you some ideas to facilitate the employ of dynamics or even got you to try it out, if you never used it before.

Regarding “total newcomers” in the area of dynamics: how to do it, how to feel where the music should have more or less volume, how to pass from one to the other (crescendos and decrescendos or subito (sudden change))?

I suggest you listen to classical music. Generally it’s where you find the most dynamics and you can most easily understand the reasons. Get a score to look at while listening, that’s best.

Still I will mention a few common situations to get you started:

  • Dynamics often follow the melody’s line, I mean, if notes are getting progressively higher (like in a scale, for example), volume might also increase progressively in a certain amount. If instead they are going down, volume might reduce progressively (decrescendo).
  • Usually dynamics go down towards the end of a musical phrase, UNLESS it’s a point of TENSION, then it might go in exactly the opposite way.
  • Talking about tension, normally the volume is reduced when a chord or melody note has the function of “resting”, I mean, after that preceding situation of tension, the resolution usually will have less volume.
  • Dynamics might follow tempo changes, if they exist in a composition. But note it’s only an option, and sometimes it might even sound bad. Again, it has to do with tension (increasing speed might create this sensation, so you might want to increase volume aswell).

That’s all for now, but I might get back to this some time. Oh, and spread out the word so to improve quality of music in general, start talking dynamics, too! 😉