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This hot discussion topic has been a long time coming…
It’s a subject dear to my heart – mainly due to the serious amount of bullshit that surrounds it- particular in the wake of Grohls ‘Sound City’ and Young’s fucking ‘Pono

Analogue and Digital. Which is superior….? ”Oh man, the warmth, the warmth, the warmth!!!!

I feel lucky that I got to straddle both worlds (it’s the only thing I do get to straddle these days…) I grew up as an assistant and engineer using tape and made the transition to using Pro Tools in the late 90s and early 2000s.
To be honest, it took me a while to be convinced by Pro Tools. One of my main motivations for being an audio engineer was Steve Albini (Pixies, Jesus Lizard, PJ Harvey) who, still to this day, exclusively works in the analogue domain (for reasons I’ll discuss later…)

My first exposure to Pro Tools as a recording tool was a painful affair.
A producer who I was assisting (shall I name him??), who was a right boring bastard was spending literally ALL FUCKING day editing a keyboard part on his new Pro Tools system…. this producer (who is an amazing guitarist for an early 80s punky funky band) was nudging audio around by milliseconds. For me, this kind of anal manipulation stops being music and enters the world of model making- obsessive for the person doing it, but hell for anyone observing, and at the end of the day who really gives a fuck. (Oh boy- I just used “anal manipulation” in a sentence…. the Google search visitors are going to be mightily disappointed!!)

This Pro Tools experience tarnished me for years…. what I didn’t appreciate then was that Pro Tools is essentially a really fucking cool tape machine…. with an amazing feature…. APPLE Z.

When working on 2” analogue tape we were restricted to 24 tracks (23 really, as time-code was often striped on 1 track for automation or sequencer synchronisation.) One reel cost a couple of hundred quid for 16 and a half minutes of recording time.
Lets compare this with the 1 Terabyte hard-drive I just bought for $100 and compare the data storage!!!

Editing takes has always been possible. I.e. if an artist has recorded a few takes of a song and likes the verse from take 1, the chorus from take 2 and the banjo solo from take 3…if this is on analogue tape the engineer SIMPLY marks out all the respective regions using a white china-graph pencil and using a razor blade and editing block slices up the tape and re-arranges it the correct sequence sticking it together with some Sellotape, vinegar and brown paper…a major operation.

If upon doing this he realises he’s sliced a bit too much off the front of the kick drum or the reverb tail sounds odd, it’s MERELY a case of rummaging around in the offcuts and splicing back in a few centimetres of tape. This is clearly silly. This operation on Pro Tools would take a fraction of the time to audition…and there is always the wonderful UNDO function ☺

There is something romantic about the notion of being restricted to 23 tape tracks but in the cold light of day when the vocalist wants to sing 50 takes and compile from his greatest hits- digital non-destructive editing is clearly the winner.

“But what about the sound!!!”…

I always ask my students…”which captures the truest representation of the signal coming from a microphone…analogue tape or Pro Tools?”
Invariably they say analogue- but this is not true…
Analogue tape and in fact all analogue circuitry introduce a subtle distortion that is not present on the microphone’s signal…digital doesn’t do this. It’s a completely different argument as to whether this introduced distortion enhances the sound or not. Personally, I am a fan of this distortion- but I am a fan of most distortion. This addition of harmonic content can be replicated in Pro Tools using outboard FX or the multitude of plug-in distortions that do an pretty fucking good job of fooling me anyway. (Decapitator!)

“But digital is just a jagged approximation of the analogue sound unless you record at very high sample rates”

No sir- this is not true. 44.1Khz and 16 bit is actually fine as a listening format- there are arguments for recording and processing at slightly higher bit depths (and maybe sample rates) but I can point you towards the science if you don’t believe me…. crikey next you’ll be telling me the Nazis are forcing us to listen to music at 440Hz.

Vinyl records are a nice possession to own and file away alphabetically in an IKEA shelving solution- I have a collection myself…but….there were many many shit records made on vinyl. And plenty of good shit released on CD. I guarantee you that most people listening to vinyl in the 60s and 70s had appalling sound-systems (with stupidly thin vinyl cos the price of oil was so high…damn arabs)

So….Steve Albini and a few other analogue purists have an interesting argument with regards to the longevity of today’s digital formats. We could easily be saying in 20 years time…”A Wav…! What is a wav and how do I play a Pro Tools 11 session on my Samsung organic computer- does anyone own one of those old Apple things?” – but I guess we could argue the same against tape (it doesn’t last well unless its stored in the right conditions…)

To conclude- all I can say is, we are in an era when we can take advantage of both worlds. The filth and distortion and romance and nostalgia from analogue tools, but the convenience and flexibility and non-destructiveness and ground-breaking-ness of the latest digital audio workstations. Essentially – use both- do your research- and stop regurgitating arguments cos your favourite rock-drummer turned front-man releases a documentary….

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Yo! Yo! Yo!

I’ve not posted round these parts for a while- all the action has been over at my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/GarethPartonProducer)- so follow me there if you want regular titbits.
It’s been a fine year so far…
Finished the Lowtide record which has now been mastered…coming soon.
Also getting close to finishing a new long player by former Candle records heartthrob, Anthony Atkinson & The Running Mates
I’ll be heading up to the hills of Sassafras again shortly to make a start on an album for a reincarnation of another Candle records band. I’m enjoying setting up to record in a house with portable gear as opposed to watching the clock in a recording studio…

My newish studio Los Bomberos (www.facebook.com/losbomberosmelbourne) is fantastic. It’s a collaborative space with some topnotch gear in a former Firestation. (Hence the name) It’s a mixing space that I’ve been craving after for a while.

The gear-minded amongst you will salivate at the equipment list which include- Neve/Api mic pres, Genelec/NS10 Monitoring/ 1176, Shadow Hills, Coles, Josephson etc…

Here’s a spooky 3D panorama.

 

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Baptism of Uzi

Nice to see that Stray Current by Baptism of Uzi is getting a good airing on Triple J (and Triple R)
It’s the lead track off an EP I mixed for them…out next month I think. The other tracks are fine specimens too.

What a lovely snare sound!

In other news…Fire! Santa Rosa, Fire! are finally making Codebreaker available for download via iTunes. It’s on Spotify too.

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Those punctuation crazy Adeladians “Fire! Santa Rosa, Fire!” have let loose the wonderful new track “Codebreaker.” It’s already been picked up by a very keen Triple J- added to their full rotation playlist. Yay. We tracked it at Melbourne’s Soundpark studios with a few extra parpy bits added by Eagle and The Worm’s horn section.
Check it out here.

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New Releases…

Exciting stuff going down…

Big Scary released their debut album “Vacation” and the country’s gone nuts for it. Triple J made it their feature album and added the track ‘Gladiator’ to their playlist. Tom and Jo showcase their comedic acting talents in the video.

Fire! Santa Rosa, Fire! released the single “Panther Shrine”- it’s grouse. I’m looking forward to recording the follow up very soon.

So that’s two of my babies in the current Triple J playlist…woohoo. (I’m more of a Triple R man myself, but don’t tell anyone)

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Big Sound 2011

I’m very excited to be on a few panels at this year’s Big Sound music conference at Brisbane. I was there last year as a punter and have to say it was a great few days.

The topics I’ve been asked to mouth off about are “The Song Is God” and “Making Records For The World”.

As a Militant Atheist I was slightly concerned when I first heard the title “The Song Is God”…

I guess the “Song” shares many qualities with this so-called God I’ve heard about. Both are mysterious, mean different things to different people. And many wise men have lost themselves searching for them. Though I’m not sure too many wars have been fought in the name of “Song” (Mods and Rockers, Brighton 1964 may disagree.)

What makes a great song? To be honest if there was a simple answer, life would be dull. I’m happy to admit there is NO formula. I’m a keen student of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty’s book “The Manual- How To Have A Number One Hit Single”, in which they propose a step-by-step formula of how to construct a sure-fire number one. It is an entertaining and humorous read though of course it’s flawed- there are no GOLDEN RULES. The rules are constantly being re-written and what works today, will not work tomorrow. And that’s what makes music continually exciting.

My job as a producer is to ensure the song is served to the best of its potential.

With a great song, this task is easy. You can give a great song a million different treatments and the song remains a winner. Equally with a dog of a song, you will never succeed. Polishing the proverbial…etc etc.

For me, it’s those songs that lie in the middle that deserve my time. Tweaking a song that starts out with limited potential by making arrangement changes, edits and other production ideas and ending up with an improved record.

“Making Records For The World” implies that one should tailor ones songs for international success. I may play the devils advocate on this one and suggest that aiming for overseas success is a mistake- in fact aiming for any success is a mistake. The effort should be make the band as good as possible. Success will follow. It’s a small world these days- good shit gets noticed. A huge amount of money is spunked on prematurely sending a band overseas.

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Melbourne….

I’m heading back to London/Wales for a wee trip home very soon- I’m missing it quite a bit at the mo. I thought I should put together a list of  5 things I will miss about Melbourne.

1.Cycling.

I’ve taken to two-wheeled transport of late. I’d love to say it’s for green reasons- price of petrol, zero pollutant, fitness etc but lets be honest. It’s the best way to get back from the pub. I’ve absolutely never been one for driving under the influence but Melbourne’s cycle lanes, fairly empty streets and over-priced taxis all point to the modern penny farthing as the finest mode of transport.

2. Indie Schmindie Gigs.

This goes hand in hand with cycling. Jump on the bike and end up in a small venue somewhere in the near North (Northcote/Brunswick/Fitzroy etc) in a venue full of maybe 20 cross-legged indie kids. The entertainment is perhaps a touring international singer/songwriter who is sleeping on the promoter’s coach. Very Melbourne.

3.Fruity beer.

Fat Yak, Little Creatures, Mountain Goat etc.

4.Not having a TV.

I’ve lived for the last 6 months without a TV cos, lets face it, Australian TV is utter cunt. (Thankfully VPN means I can get BBC iPlayer and Spotify on my laptop…)

5.Coffee.

A terrible cliché but true. Melburnians make a decent beany brew. I’m looking forward to a proper cup of tea though (another cliché- well done me.)

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