Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ghost Harmonics

Well, I have to start with something, right? I have so much I want to post, that deciding where to begin is hard. So I went to some recent posts of mine on Gearslutz and pretty much randomly grabbed one.

It's choice was not quite random, truth-be-told. I have been listening to a couple CDs I engineered and produced back in '90 and '91 by a band called Anastasia Screamed. This was a very unusual, adventurous band. You could almost call them Avant Garde, and definitely ahead of their time (Pre Nirvana "Never Mind"). The sound-scape we created was that of noisy but flowery guitars, sometimes harmonically beautiful, sometimes clashing and dis-cordant.

We layered electrics (primarily Fenders) and acoustics over multiple tracks. Like, the two guitar-players would both play on the basic track along with the drums and bass, and then I'd have the two of them both do an overdub pass at the same time, often playing different parts and guitars than they had played on the basic. So in two passes we had created four electric tracks. Then we'd do leads and acoustic guitars, feedback tracks, the occasional slide guitar part, and even a dulcimer or mandolin track on a song or two.

The guitar mics we used were SM57, Senn 421, Beyer M500 ribbon (my secret weapon back then, before the whole ribbon revival), and even some very nice vintage condensers, like Neumann U67, M49 and AKG C12. Pres were usually API 512B, along with the desk pres from a Trident 80B and a Neve V. Compression, when used, was usually my standard choice, the Teletronix Urei LA-3A. Nice gear huh? Recording guitar is my love and my specialty anyway, so I was in hog-heaven. And these guys were good players, albiet unorthodox. Funny thing was, they could play everything from country to blues to jazz to Led Zepplin if they felt like it. But their original songs sounded like all of those influneces spun together in some psychedelic Osterizer. The result was challenging alternative rock music, which some might even consider an acquired taste.

So I'm driving around in my car the last couple days, listening to these CDs for the first time in 1o years, and really enjoying what I was hearing, especially the guitars. And knowing full-well there were many guitar tracks, I was hearing sounds-- voices, bells, organs, etc --that I know were NOT part of the recording. And this time I was sober as a judge, unlike when we were creating the recordings. Let's just say there was a lot of "magic" happening in the studio then.

Which brings me to the Gearslutz post:
Replying to a guy who was hearing a "phone ring" in a mix he was working on.

Phones, choir voices, horns, acoustic guitars, harps, angels...If you DON'T hear those things in your mixes you are unusual. I noticed it much more in the all-analog days, but when all those instruments combine they create overtones and bell-like sounds that become a sounds in-and-of themselves. We called 'em "Ghost Harmonics". I remember one time we were mixing this tune and suddenly this keyboard string kinda synth part just appeared out of nowhere. There were no keys on the tracks. All guitars and vocals. When we played the finished mix for the artist, they actually thought we had added a keyboard part. Nope. Overtones.

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It's All About The Tone, Baby!