I’m hardly the first to note that the US government — the president in particular — have shown unforgivably shoddy leadership after Katrina. But we can’t wait to help until we’re asked; when our leaders fail, our responsibility as individuals doubles. Please consider donating to the American Red Cross right now.
All right, I admit that it’s not exactly directly related to piano music, but I have to share what my dad is up to. He’s a psychologist who (roughly speaking) deals with learning, with helping people learn how to learn, and has written what I think is quite a marvelous book about raising intelligent children — not in the narrow and fairly silly Mensa sense of “intelligent,” but in a broad, practical, rich sense of the word that might challenge some ideas you have about what intelligence really is. His writing is full of wisdom, optimism, and just plain good advice; it is a wonderful book, of interest even if you’re not a parent. And yes, I say that in part because he’s my dad, but I mostly say it because the book is really good.
Anyway, I’ve put together a web site to support the book, intelligenceriver.net. We’re putting the full text of the book up on the site one chapter at a time, and there is also a news section (discerning readers may note a faint similarity in the blog software!) and a forum for discussing parenting and the mysterious human mind and that sort of thing. The site is only just hatching out of its shell, so we’re looking to get feedback, and get discussion rolling in the forum. It would be wonderful if all of the good and discerning people who read In the Hands made a visit. (Pretty please!)
Here, to whet your appetite, is a favorite passage of mine from the first chapter of the book:
You’ll do your best job for your child if you’re having fun. I want to help you approach the task of raising your child with confidence and pleasure. Every word here is meant to calm a fear, almost a panic, that has come to pervade the way our culture thinks about children. We seem to be taking childhood awfully seriously as we step into the new millennium. We hear that our children will have to fight and claw their way into the world if they expect to do more than survive. Even when we try not to listen, the messages of ruthless competition, dwindling opportunity, increasing demands — the threat to these people we love so much — chews on us. It makes us fearful. It can even corrode our common sense and our natural instincts. Our children have to be prepared! Every minute is important! Every homework assignment has to be finished!
Wanting to prepare our kids for the worst, we are, paradoxically, in danger of giving them a taste of it. Real intelligence, I constantly argue, is built on a base of enjoyment. Learning is what humans do best. It is our natural state. When we try to force the process, we are in danger of thwarting our own good intentions.
It’s been a while since I posted here — but the time has not been wasted! The Paul Creative Efforts Fund (a.k.a. my bank account) was running low, and I spent June and much of July working on MPR’s new online contribution system. Yes, jobs are rough — getting up in the morning and all that — but those folks sure are a nice bunch to work for. Still, it does put a crimp in my composing and recording activities.
A special thanks to all of you who donated to this site. You helped push back the inevitable break in this project, and I’m honored by your confidence and kind words.
I’m getting back in the saddle again. I’ll be posting a piece or two from a little four-hands free improv I did with my buddy Todd Harper (of Keys Please) … and later this month, I have a very special treat: some recordings I made of my teacher and friend, the inimatable Don Betts, playing in his own living room. These performances are gems, I promise you. I just need to get them edited and mastered….
And, of course, I’ll be continuing with the remastering of my own performances. So start checking back often: In the Hands, music is afoot. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a new mastering process.
I spent a great afternoon with Mike Olson in his wonderful studio earlier this week, and I think we finally nailed the source of a rumble in the bass that was bugging me. (Nick noticed it too.)
He also got me to completely redo the reverb, and it’s much more transparent now under his direction — the sound is smooth, you don’t hear my room, unpedaled notes don’t cut short abruptly … but it’s really hard to tell that there’s a reverb there at all. Mike wanted a wetter, more obvious reverb, but he understood the sound I was after and helped me find it. What can I say? He is a professional.
When I arrived home from that session, I suddenly found that a harshness in the attacks in loud passages I’d presumed was just part of the recording was actually isolated right around 3000Hz±100 in the right channel, and fixed that too. There really is no end to this process!
But, for me, there is at least a temporary end right now. I’m thrilled with the sound I have — it’s much better than I’d dreamed it would be when I started down the home recording path about a year ago — and I’m calling good enough good enough!
Here’s a little preview of the sound I’ve got. Once again, this is several brief passages repeated twice, first with the old process, then with the new. Let me know if anything really bugs you on your speakers. I sure wish you could all hear it at CD quality instead of as a warbly MP3 … that’s something I’m working on ….
So now I’ll be remastering all the recordings I’ve made so far, reposting them one by one. I’ll probably just start and the beginning and work chronologically, but if there’s a particular one you want to hear remastered sooner, just ask!
This is the second half of the thrilling chronicles of my attempts at mastering the piano recordings. (Here’s part one.)
Mastering Experiments, Part 2: EQ & Imaging
I’m constantly changing things — I’ve tweaked the process since my last post, and even while making the explanation, I suddenly noticed a new EQ adjustement. It never ends. These experiments are now coming up against the limits of my ears, the point where I spiral endlessly varying some parameter or other, eventually unable to tell whether the result sounds better or worse, or even any different at all. This week, I’m going to enlist the aid of some more knowledgeable friends, and of the listening public (that would be you!), then call it good and move on.
And yes, I really am interested in how it sounds to you, on your speakers and to your ears.
Once again, Logic Express is heavily involved in what you hear, as is some custom code of my own which handles the stereo image manipulation. But the real software star here is Firium. I’m generally unimpressed with the quality of audio software: it’s typically convoluted, opaque, crashy, ridiculously finicky about its environment, and an embarrassing distant last place in getting compatible with a new OS revision or new hardware. Even much-praised Logic, while it has an excellent set of capabilities, suffers from most of these complaints. It just doesn’t feel polished; it’s certainly no Adobe Illustrator.
And then there’s Elemental Audio’s products. They’re elegant. They offer powerful capabilities through a simple, carefully considered feature set, expressed in interface that explains itself clearly and makes what’s most important most obvious, yet rewards exploration and handles exceptional needs gracefully. On top of all that, to my ears, their stuff sounds fantastic.
Loyal readers of In the Hands might reasonably ask: “Paul! Where the heck are you? What have you been up to?” Well, there are many answers to that — preparing my McKnight fellowship application and visiting my parents in Colorado among them — but the piano recordings have not been neglected. I just purchased a round of new software to really try to get my mastering process right. ("Mastering,” for those of you not in on the audio tech speak, is the process of finessing the sound quality of a recording after it’s made.)
Today’s recording is first in a two-part audio explanation of what I’m doing.
Mastering Experiments, Part 1: Reverb
For those who are wondering, the software packages behind what you’ll hear are Logic Express and Ambience.
This week’s recording will be late while I (1) attempt to learn to play it, and (2) wait on some new software.
In the meantime, the latest Cat and Girl pretty much sums up this blog!
Several people had expressed an interest in how I make my recordings — so I posted an explanation of my methods that includes far, far more detail than anybody actually wanted.
I’ve tried to include enough technical detail to make it genuinely useful to others setting out to record pianos and/or set up home studios, but I also tried to keep the discussion at least semi-approachable to the casually interested but not technically inclined. Whichever of those categories you fall into, I hope you’ll find it interesting.