Recording Black Horses

By | 2021-07-03

The For Folk’s Sake sessions went on a long pause during the various UK lockdowns, but now things are mostly back to normal I’ve started recording again. The first person in for this new run was Basia Bartz. Basia was previously here alongside Catherine Rudie, where I was intrigued by the combination of violin with FX and loop pedals, and I was glad to get her back to perform her own music. Plus, it was nice to start with a friendly face while I knocked quite a lot of rust off.

Black Horses – Original version

The technical side of this session is interesting in a few ways. Firstly, it’s the first video edited in Resolve rather than Premiere (perhaps more on that another time), but secondly, the audio setup is different to what I’ve used before.

When Basia plays live she uses a DPA 4099 mic, which I’m very fond of normally, into a Behringer MIC100 mic amp and from there into her pedal chain, with the end of the pedals going to the amp/PA system. For the vocal parts she’ll remove the 4099 and just hold it to sing.

Instead of the 4099 I used a DPA 4018VL which is a better vocal mic and perfectly good for instruments (VL is the linear response version of the mic). Also, from some pre-recording testing, when Basia look the 4099 off the instrument (or put it back) there was a lot of unwanted noise. The lack of close mic-ing didn’t matter as there was no conflicting sound in the room. The other difference to her normal live performance is the Akai controller for a drum VST instead of vocal beatboxing (which I never want).

The audio routing got a little complex. The 4018VL mic went into a mic amp and from there to the interface as normal. I used record monitoring mode in Reaper to process the audio with a compressor in real-time. I could have used the hardware compressor in the Motu 1248 but I had to run a low-delay pass-through on the software side anyway for the drum VST. The processed mic and drums went to separate virtual audio outputs, which I then aux-mixed in the interface hardware mixer and route to a physical output connected to the pedal chain input. The output from the pedal chain was connected back into the guitar input on the Motu 1248 for capture. A second aux mix on the interface was used to mix the pedal output and raw mic to a headphone output for Basia’s monitoring.

Surprisingly, it all worked perfectly well aside from some randomness where one of the aux mixes stopped working so I had to move across to another. The audio you hear is 99% just the pedal output with a tiny (-40db) reinforcement from the raw mic capture on the main verses and violin solo, and some EQ.

We can rebuild it, we have the technology

Since everything that eventually comes out of the pedal chain originally went into the microphone (drums aside), it should be possible to reconstruct the whole song in software by cutting and looping sections of the microphone track. For my own amusement I had a go at doing that.

The original performance wasn’t played to a click, so the bar/beat markers in Reaper were meaningless. To get the real tempo I located the same peak in part of the loop and had Reaper work out the real tempo from the length of that section. I took a peak from the 2nd beat of the pattern as the 1st beat is added to as the first loop is being played back. Reaper calculated the real tempo as 130.642bpm and gave me useful bar/beat lines I could use to cut, move to new tracks, process and loop. For some sections the loop is from beat 1 to beat 1, and for others beat 4 to beat 4 as Basia actually starts playing a slightly before the actual loop point.

Reaper screenshot

Because this is now a collection of stems I can mix each part as I see fit, changing relative levels, applying FX, removing splosives etc. as with any other recording where the original version there was very little I could do.

I tried and failed to move the MIDI across from the original project. Every time Reaper would try and do something clever and remap the tempos. I’m sure it’s possible somehow. In the end I just rendered the drums in the original project to a wave file the same length as the track, imported as a stem and then trimmed.

This is the the same video edit as the original, except with my rebuilt audio. Whether it’s better or worse is, of course, a matter of opinion. It is certainly cleaner, the raw sound quality of the mic on vocals and the violin solo is much higher as a direct recording rather than being passed in and out, and through a bunch of pedals. But it is less authentic to the actual performance.

I also tried making a short edit of the song. A lot of the song length is the slow building of layers, which is nice with the video as you can see the soundscape being constructed, but when it’s audio only it can be quite ponderous. With the rebuilt version it’s easy to cut out the assembly stages and just skip to when each phrase is complete, or have vocals and violin playing concurrently.

Black Horses (Rebuilt – short version)

Maybe not the most musically coherent edit, but a proof-of-concept showing that from a live performance with loop pedals you can still get back to a fully editable version of track.

Lastly, many thanks to Basia for taking part in the sessions and for letting me share these hacked-up versions of her work.