The sound of the recording environment in which a production is realized becomes part of the ultimate sound of the finished release. And different styles of music and production philosophies have different “norms” in this regard. It never ceases to amaze me when a classical artist records a project in an acoustically dead studio that is better suited to pop/rock and other genres of music. Classical music needs the “air” that a large hall contributes to the overall sound.
Multichannel recordings made in acoustically dead studios require the addition of artificial reverberation. My friend Cookie Marenco at Blue Coast Music has a very nice studio where she captures tracks on analog tape and then mixes to DSD. Since the room doesn’t have its own “live ambience”, she routes the tracks from her console to a DSP digital reverberation unit. Nothing wrong with that, engineers have been using artificial reverberation for decades. Cookie’s working with vintage equipment and techniques in preparing here CD-R and DSD downloads.
Reverberation is not only used to recreate acoustic environments. On the final day of the recent International 2014 CES Show, I managed to get to the Tower Suites in the Venetian Hotel and found my way to Allen Sides’ room. He was demoing his new $48,000 speakers using a traditional CD transport. Allen is a world-class engineer and studio owner. His client list is full of “A” list celebrities. He participated in the music creators panel in the HRA room on Tuesday of CES week.
I stood in the back of his demo room while he played a couple of well-known tracks. One in particular, by new age trumpeter Chris Botti, was drowning in reverberation. Now I recognize that this is part of the style in new age music (think Enya’s vocals) but it bears no relationship with acoustic reality. Even Chris Botti’s live concerts smother reverberation on his trumpet to the point that viewers experience a disconnect between the visuals and audio.
There are important aesthetic choices made by artists, engineers and producers with regards to the “reality” of the ambiance used in a particular recording. Do we want the sound of the original space? Or would we prefer a hyped artificial “room” that completely destroys any sense reality. Or perhaps reverb units are simply new tools that can be used to invent interesting sounds that we don’t experience in the acoustic world.
Do you remember Phil Collins’ use of reverse gated reverb? Of course, reverberation doesn’t happen in reverse in real life but with clever engineering, it is possible to invent new sounds that work in a production. These techniques are not restricted to digital processors. I can remember turning a 2-inch multitrack analog tape over to create effects that when finally mixed reversed time. This is all part of producing a record as opposed to merely capturing a live performance.
Room sound at the head end of the production chain is absolutely part of the process. Whether the playback room should be taken into consideration by mixing and mastering engineers is another topic all together.
PS A great day on back bowls of Vail, Colorado yesterday in 15″ of fluffy powder…I’m having a great time.