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If you haven’t ordered RMGI pro audio analog tape recently, you may be surprised to learn that the RMGI branded tapes are no longer available. Apparently, there have been a lot of changes since 2012 that we were unaware of, partly because there was still some RMGI tape inventory left in the US and we were not exactly ordering analog tape that frequently. When we recently inquired about purchasing tape at National Recording Supplies, we were told that there was no more RMGI tape available. At the moment, the only source of new pro audio analog tape is ATR.
There has been two letters issued by RMGI that gives us a brief glimpse into what had transpired. (We had to dig to find these documents).
According to the letter by Jack Blink, CEO of RMGI, dated December 1, 2011, Pyral SA in France took over the manufacturing and sales of RMGI studio and broadcast products from RMGI Holland. The RMGI factory in the Netherlands was purchased by Pyral. Consequently, the critical production equipment was moved to Avranches in Normandy, France where Pyral has been based since 1985. Pyral specializes in perforated magnetic tapes used by the film industry for sound recording as well as other magnetic products, including inks and slurries, for a wide range of solutions for the security industry.
A second letter, this time by Don Morris of RMGI America, was issued as an update recently on March 11, 2015. After investing over $2,000,000 in a new building to house the coating and production lines and numerous cost overruns, including over $250,000 due to the installation of a new solvent recovery system, Pyral was operating under Chapter 11 protection in years 2013-2014. In January 2015, the French court ordered the sale of Pyral assets to Mulann Industries, a manufacturer of production and testing equipment for the credit card, ticketing and smart card industries.
According to the letter, Mulann Industries’ intention is to continue production of analog recording tape and deliver tape under the Pyral Brand, which RMGI America will continue to distribute.
In 2011, there was over a year’s supply of RMGI tape. This inventory seems to have been exhausted.
In their press release, Mulann indicates resuming tape manufacturing at some level, but it remains to be seen when their audio analog tape may become available. Here is an excerpt from Mulann press release dated January 26, 2015.
“Mr. Gilles Lepage is appointed as Director of MULANN plant in Avranches (France), which manufactures products sold under the PYRAL brand name: magnetic tape manufacturing for the smart card and magstripe cards and ticket industries. In this newly created position as of February 2nd, 2015, Gilles Lepage is responsible for the structuration (sic), organization and development of the industrial activities in Avranches (France) factory, in order to sustain the anticipated group growth. Gilles Lepage comes with a longstanding background in industrial activities especially in the automotive industry in France and the Czech Republic. In his latest position, Gilles Lepage was Factory Director for Magnetto Automotive for more than 10 years.”
In the past, we had to order oversized reels, which are special order items, for projects that required recording musical works of longer than 30 minutes to analog tape. We ordered these reels from RMGI in the past. Now, the only oversize reels available are aged and are priced prohibitively. Most likely, classical and jazz music will no longer be recorded on analog tape and that is a sad situation to be in.
2014 was another active year of recording music for a variety of media content.
As part of NBC’s TODAY Show‘s “Shine a Light” campaign, host Hoda Kotb led a drive to raise money to help battle childhood cancer for the American Cancer Society. Kotb, a cancer survivor herself, spotlighted the efforts being made by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She embarked on Project Truly Brave to give kids battling cancer a gift of a perfect song that would make them feel better utilizing the healing power of music. She enlisted two artists, Sara Bareilles and Cyndi Lauper, to see if they’ll mash-up two of their hit songs, “Brave” and “True Colors.” They came to Avatar in mid-June to record “Truly Brave” in Studio C. The session was produced by Lauper and Bareilles and engineered by Bill Wittman assisted by Aki Nishimura & Nate Odden. You can watch the resulting music video here.
Delving into the American and international folk songbook, Kronos Quartet teamed up for the first time with four celebrated roots artists within the Nonesuch family—Natalie Merchant, Rhiannon Giddens, Sam Amidon, and Olivia Chaney—to create entirely new arrangements of classic folk songs. The effort was part of the 2014 Next Wave Festival and Nonesuch Records at BAM where the artists performed. They all came in A to record their collaboration in Studio A. The sessions were produced by Doug Petty and engineered by Todd Whitelock assisted by Tim Marchiafava. You can read more about their performance here.
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga recorded their jazzy duet album, Cheek to Cheek, in Studios A and C. It was mixed in Studio C by engineer Dae Bennett. The album, produced by Danny Bennett, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Some of the artists that we recorded in 2014 included David Bowie, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Judy Collins, Glen Hansard, Christopher Cross, Jesse Harris, Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming.
Jazz artists recorded at Avatar include Cecil McLorin Salvant, Aaron Diehl, Maria Schneider Big Band, Stanley Jordan, Hiromi Uehara Trio, Brad Mehldau Trio, Vijay Iyer (for ECM), Igor Butman, Eddie Palmieri and many others.
We hosted sessions for international artists such as Skank (mix), Fito y Fitipaldis (mix), Juanes, and Estrella Morente (mix).
Thanks to the NY State film tax credit program, we continue to do a lot of work for film and television. Film scores for future releases recorded at Avatar include Spike Lee’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, The Humbling (starring Al Pacino), Mr. Holmes (starring Ian McKellen as the aged, retired Sherlock Homes), Anomalisa, Cleopatra Backstage, Experimenter and Mortdecai (starring Johnny Depp). You’ll be seeing some of these later this year.
Mortdecai is scheduled for theatrical release this week. The unique music for this film, tracked in Studio A, was produced by Mark Ronson with music editor Nick Ratner and engineer Josh Blair assisted by Tim Marchiafava.
Avatar was involved with the groundbreaking and memorable soundtrack by Antonio Sanchez for the movie Birdman. In April 2013, director Alejandro González Iñárritu came in with Antonio Sanchez to record drums in Studio G. The director walked through the scenes, describing the action and giving Sanchez cues. After shooting had completed, the director revisited the tracks and did not like how the drums actually sounded because it was “extremely crisp and clear” and did not match the aesthetics that he was aiming for, one that reflected the tension and dysfunction inside an old theater on Broadway. They ended up rerecording the tracks somewhere in LA and by purposefully degrading the drum kit they used. Oh well, at least we had some part in the creative process. You can read more about the fascinating evolution of how the soundtrack came to be in this article.
Other film projects that Avatar hosted in various capacities included Foxcatcher, Inside Out, Carol, Sweet Micky for President, Black and White Stripes: the Juventus Story and more.
Avatar also recorded music for Walt Disney’s upcoming Frozen Forever! short in Studios A and C. The session was produced by Andrew Page, Bobby & Kristen Lopez and engineered by Joey Raia assisted by Tim Marchiafava & Nate Odden. You can read more about the highly anticipated short here.
As we have for previous seasons, we continued working with producers Stewart Lerman and Randall Poster on the music for the fifth and final season of Boardwalk Empire, most of the sessions taking place in Studios A and C. The sessions were engineered by Stewart Lerman. On one of the last sessions, Norah Jones sang on a track. That song is included in the third compilation of selected music from the show, recently released as the album Boardwalk Empire Volume 3: Music From The HBO Original Series.
The instrumental music for NBC’s Peter Pan Live!, which aired on December 4, was recorded in Studio A. The sessions were produced by David Chase and engineered by Frank Wolf assisted by Tyler Hartman and Thom Beemer.
A segment of Disney on Broadway was recorded and videotaped in Studio C with Ashley Brown, who originated the title of Mary Poppins on Broadway, singing “Feed The Birds.” The video features Jim and Lori Abbott on piano and violin. The session was produced by Megan Harding and engineered by Aki Nishimura. The segment aired recently.
The music for season 4 of Louie with Louis CK was recorded and mixed at Avatar with producers John Skidmore, Matt Kilmer and engineer Adam Tilzer.
Six notable cast albums were recorded at Avatar in 2014 – The Bridges of Madison County, Rocky on Broadway, Violet, The Last Ship, Side Show and Tamar of the River.
The cast albums for The Last Ship (a musical with original score by Sting) and Side Show were tracked using our two-room scheme utilizing both Studios A and B to accommodate the large orchestra and large cast. You can read more about this process in our blog article.
Over the course of the year, we recorded music for a fair number of ads. One of the more memorable one is presented below. The session was produced by Eric Hachikian and engineered/mixed by Roy Hendrickson assisted by Thom Beemer.
You’ll be seeing a few commercials we worked on in a couple of weeks during the Super Bowl, including one for Snickers.
In a past blog entry, we talked about how we tracked a large Broadway cast album in Studio A. We have done quite a few cast albums in the manner described since then. Although we prefer recording in one room to keep things simple and at a lower cost for the client, there are cases where we simply have to use more than one room because of a larger cast / orchestra and the need for more isolation. In 2014, we recorded cast albums for Rocky the Musical and Side Show using the two-room set up utilizing both Studios A and B. A case study for recording the Side Show cast album is presented below.
The 15-piece orchestra, conductor and two principal singers were situated in Studio A and the remaining singers (featured soloists and chorus) in Studio B. Frank Filipetti engineered the session.
The conductor was positioned with his back to the glass of the control room facing the live room. The main live room was split into three sections bordered by a wall of gobos separating the strings, woodwinds and brass instruments. A bass booth was set up and tall gobos were used to isolate guitars. The drummer was in the piano room and the percussionist was in the rhythm room with all sliding glass doors closed for isolation. Two principal soloists occupied the side iso-booths of Studio A adjacent to the control room.
The rest of the soloists were in iso-booths in Studio B and when the chorus sang, they were in the main live room of Studio B. Soloists took turns at designated solo mics depending on which song was being recorded. The control room was manned by a second engineer who took care of levels and took care of the singers.
Between A and B
There are 48 channels of analog tie-lines available between Studios A and B. All the vocal tracks and console talk back was routed from B to A. The instrumental mix, two principal vocal tracks, conductor talk back and console talk back was routed from A to B.
In addition to using the Neve 8088 console, a few external mic pres were used in the A control room. We ended up with a total of 80 inputs going into the Studio A Pro Tools rig.
Sight lines – Video system
In order to secure sight lines, a video routing system was used so the conductor could see all the singers, and the orchestra and singers could see the conductor as well. The people in the control room had access to the same images.
It took all day to set up both rooms and the orchestra was recorded on the same day in the evening. The cast came in the next day to record with the orchestra and recording ended at night.
The session was produced by Sam Davis and engineered by Frank Filipetti assisted by Aki Nishimura and Thom Beemer. Engineer Alex Venguer manned the Studio B control room assisted by Nate Odden. The cast recording will be released by Broadway Records.
Looking back at 2013, the first thing we can say about the recording sessions we were fortunate enough to host is that there was a lot of variety in terms of what we recorded and what the recordings were used for, reinforcing the fact that we live in a very multimedia world.
In addition to what you may expect in conventional sessions, we also hosted talk radio shows that were regularly broadcast from Avatar, rehearsals for large scale concert tours, photo shoot for a major magazine, video shoot for a fitness DVD, interviews for various media outlets and even taping a segment for Dance Moms. Now that’s variety.
Fruits of Labor:
Typically, there is a lag time from when a project is recorded to when the completed work is finally released to the public, whether the end product is an album, show or film. So that we do not spoil carefully planned marketing campaigns or steal any thunder of PR departments, sometimes we cannot mention publicly certain sessions that have taken place at Avatar.
It is gratifying to see that the some of the projects that we worked on in 2012 came to fruition in 2013, which included Paul McCartney’s NEW, Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox (which has been nominated for four Grammy Awards), music for Inside Llewyn Davis (more on this later) and the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom (with footage & recordings done in Studio C) to name a few.
So next time you think you haven’t heard any news coming out of Avatar, don’t think that we’ve been sitting idle. It may be that we just can’t talk about it.
One of the more memorable sessions we experienced were the rehearsals for the live event “Another Day, Another Time” conducted in Studio A. The concert, held at New York City’s Town Hall at the end of September, featured the music from the film Inside Llewyn Davis by Ethan and Joel Coen (producer, writer and director). Performers included the Avett Brothers, Joan Baez, Dave Rawlings Machine, Rhiannon Giddens, Lake Street Dive, Colin Meloy, The Milk Carton Kids, Marcus Mumford, Punch Brothers, Patti Smith, Willie Watson, Gillian Welch as well as the star of the film Oscar Isaac. The music for the film itself was originally recorded in Studio A in 2012 with producer T Bone Burnett, as documented in the Inside Llewyn Davis featurette, “Making the Music.” (You can see footage from the studio starting at around 4:39).
These rehearsal sessions were produced by Joel and Ethan Coen, T Bone Burnett and engineered by Mike Piersante and Jason Wormer assisted by Aki Nishimura & Nate Odden. The assistants were very lucky to have front row seats to witness some very special performances.
The four-hour concert was captured in the documentary Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by Chris Wilcha. The film weaved together three days of rehearsal footage, one-on-one interviews, backstage moments and the actual concert performances. The documentary can be seen on Showtime.
As you know, we specialize in acoustic performances, large ensemble and orchestral music and lots and lots of jazz. Some of the performers that we recorded in 2013 include Jonatha Brooke, The Gaddabouts, Brian Blade Fellowship, Warren Wolf, Danilo Perez, Randy Weston, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Kenny Garrett, Audra McDonald, Eddie Palmieri, John Abercrombie, Billy Hart, Ayo, Jota Quest, Violent Femmes, Sean Jones, Jane Ira Bloom, Joshua Bell, Christian McBride, Vijay Iyer, Paul Simon, Chris Potter Underground Orchestra, Diane Schuur, Rodney Whitaker, Billy Porter and many others.
We documented a few details about a couple of projects as case studies in our blog – Sixteen Sunsets by Jane Ira Bloom recorded and mixed in Surround and the large ensemble recording of Brooklyn Babylon. Both projects have been nominated for Grammy Awards.
A particularly memorable session was recording the joint performance of the Wayne Shorter Quartet (with Wayne Shorter on sax, Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums) with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Studio A. They were recording works composed and arranged by Wayne Shorter from their Carnegie Hall performance together, celebrating the orchestra’s 40th year, from the day before. The session was produced by Rob Griffin and engineered by Rob Griffin and Todd Whitelock assisted by Bob Mallory & Tim Marchiafava.
Thanks to the NY State film tax credit program, we have been doing a lot of work for film and television.
The film score to Jimmy P. starring Benicio Del Toro and directed by Arnaud Desplechin was recorded in Studio A with producer / composer Howard Shore, engineer Sam Okell assisted by Tim Marchiafava and Tyler Hartman.
A couple of film scores were mixed as well – Gods Behaving Badly (producer: Chris Young, engineer Gary Chester) in Studio G and And So It Goes (producers: Rob Reiner, Marc Shaiman, Scott Riesett, engineer Frank Wolf) in Studio B.
Avatar also played host to multiple sessions for the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty directed by Ben Stiller. Included were a tracking (in Studio A) and mix (in Studio B) session for a trailer featuring the music of Jose Gonzalez and St. Vincent. The sessions were produced by Teddy Shapiro, George Drakoulias and engineered by Chris Fogel assisted by Tim Marchiafava & Tyler Hartman.
Other film projects that Avatar hosted in various capacities included Monsters University, American Hustle, Frozen, August: Osage County, Rio 2 and more.
As we have for previous seasons, we continued working with producers Stewart Lerman and Randall Poster on the music for Boardwalk Empire Season 4, most of the sessions taking place in Studios A and C. The sessions were engineered by Stewart Lerman. Selected music from the show was compiled and recently released as the album Boardwalk Empire Volume 2: Music From The HBO Original Series.
The music for NBC’s Sound of Music Live!, which aired on December 5, was recorded in Studio A with some overdubbing done in Studio B. The sessions were produced by David Chase and engineered by Frank Wolf assisted by Tyler Hartman and Nate Odden. Footage from the recording session was shown on “The Making of The Sound of Music Live!” televised on November 20. The Sound of Music” was presented as a live three-hour broadcast on December 5 on NBC. Five-time Grammy winner Carrie Underwood starred in the coveted role of Maria Von Trapp. Acclaimed British actor Stephen Moyer, best known to U.S. audiences for his role as Bill Compton in HBO’s “True Blood, portrayed decorated World War I hero Capt. Georg Von Trapp. From Universal Television, “The Sound of Music” was executive produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan. Beth McCarthy-Miller and Rob Ashford served as directors. The live holiday production was based on the original 1959 Broadway production of “The Sound of Music.”
Other noteworthy TV projects included music for HBO’s Six by Sondheim, a documentary about the art of legendary composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim (currently airing), music & footage for HBO’s Josh Groban: Sing Your Song: A YoungArts Masterclass (airing Jan 21) and a voice over session with Tom Hanks for Disney Pixar Halloween special Toy Story of Terror.
Music for a new video game Forza Motorsport 5, as performed by the singers of the New York Film Chorale, was recorded in Studio B. The session was produced by Paul Lipson and engineered by Roy Hendrickson assisted by Tyler Hartman. Forza Motorsport 5 was released on the same day as the Xbox One on November 22.
Olivier Deriviere recorded his original score for Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag – Freedom Cry with La Troupe Makandal’s distinctive drumming and vocals at in Studio A with multiple Grammy® award-winning engineer Silas Brown assisted by Aki Nishimura. The session was produced by Marion and Olivier Deriviere.
Over the course of the year, we recorded music for a fair number of jingles. The following is a sampling of some of the end results.
Giving Love Through Arts Education: Tony Bennett & Gap:
The orchestral music for the American Museum of Natural History’s Planetarium Space Show: Dark Universe was recorded in Studio A with producer Robert Miller, engineer Peter Hylenski assisted by Tim Marchiafava and Nate Odden. The narration with Neil deGrasse Tyson was recorded at Avatar as well in Studio G.
Cirque du Soleil recorded their Zarkana cast album in Studio A with producer Nick Littlemore, engineer Roy Hendrickson assisted by Mike Bauer.
Brooklyn Babylon by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, currently nominated for a 2014 Grammy Award for best large ensemble jazz album, was recorded at Avatar Studio C with engineer and co-producer Brian Montgomery, assisted by Tyler Hartman & Tim Marchiafava. The album is available on New Amsterdam Records.
1. Can you explain the concept of the project?
When composer Darcy James Argue first contacted me about recording and mixing the Secret Society Brooklyn Babylon project I thought, perhaps, it might be just like any other big band / large ensemble record. What I quickly learned was that was definitely not to be the case.
First off, the album had a concept, complete with multimedia animation and live artwork by Croatian visual artist Danijel Zezelj, which dynamically accompanies the music during live performances. The story of the record takes place in a larger than life, mythic Brooklyn, where past, present and future coexist. In this town, plans are afoot to construct an immense tower – the tallest in the world – right in the heart of the city. The master craftsman who is commissioned to build the carousel that will crown the tower finds himself torn between his personal ambitions and his allegiance to the community.
In addition to the story concept for the record, Darcy also had definite ideas about wanting to somehow incorporate the flavors of various other musical genres such as indie rock, disco punk, classical, 70’s jazz and even Balkan music to all help set the stage and paint a musical picture. This project was far from ordinary and certainly not your dad’s Count Basie record.
2. How did you prepare for this recording, which involves 18 musicians in total? Were there any special accommodations you had to come up with to make the session work? How did Studio C aid in the recording process?
After I had agreed to be involved in the project, Darcy sent me a few links to a few YouTube video clips of the debut performance of the Brooklyn Babylon piece at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see it in person or attend any rehearsals in advance. When we initially began planning the project we started our dialog by discussing what studio venues would possibly work to suit the piece. As I learned more information about the project I quickly realized that Studio C at Avatar was the absolute ideal location to pull it off. Just having 18 musicians to contend with alone can often be enough to think about, but add in doubles and triples on almost every instrument and things can get out of hand pretty quickly. In addition to the obvious considerations for the band, we would also need a studio with a console large enough to accommodate the eventually massive number of tracking inputs (preferably one with automation to make things more manageable with VCA grouping). Studio C definitely checked off all the boxes.
My initial approach with any project is always to keep things as simple as possible. My preliminary sketch for the session consisted of about 48 inputs where some of the inputs would be swapped out for some of the musician doubles, depending on what it was they were playing at the time. This concept was short-lived though as I soon realized that not only were the musicians doubling or tripling instruments but they were doing so all within the same piece of music. At any one given time the piano could be switching from acoustic to electric, ditto for the bass and guitar (both acoustic and electric as well). The drums also shared doubling duties on percussion and the low brass had switching between trombones, tubas and euphoniums. The woodwinds had the more commonly seen doubles and triples between saxophones, clarinets and flutes. To cover it all, I soon realized that we’d need to have almost all of the inputs available “full time” so the setup quickly ballooned to over 60 inputs with microphones everywhere to cover and accommodate the additional instrument positions.
Having so many open microphones can sometimes be a phase nightmare so it was important to find a studio that not only sounded good but also had as much isolation as possible to allow as much flexibility as possible in doing punches / fixes and also to maximize control in mixing. Studio C at Avatar has five isolation booths as well as a decent sized main room, all with excellent sight lines. There is also a fairly large sound lock adjacent to the control room that can also double as an additional isolation booth as well, bringing the grand total to a whopping seven individual recording spaces (all of which where used).
The conductor and horns were arranged in a semi circle out in the large main room while each member of the rhythm section had his own separate iso-booth to contain their respective collections of instruments as well. The guitar was actually split between two booths since there were to be screaming loud electric guitar sections in addition to quiet acoustic guitar in some of the pieces. A through-wall link was able to safely connect the guitar player to his amplifier humming away loudly in the booth next door.
Darcy also indicated that he wanted to have some control over the soloists on some of the pieces to allow them to possibly do multiple takes so we used the sound lock to isolate them as well (at times up to two players at once). I honestly don’t know of any other studio that has quite so much flexibility in recording spaces that could have come close to pulling this off. Studio C at Avatar is truly a workhorse. Plus, having been on staff there for years, it also gave me “home field advantage” that helped make an incredibly complex project run very smoothly. Though it felt like I had spent almost as much time preparing and planning for the project than I did actually recording it, all of that prep work certainly paid off in spades.
3. The music is accompanied by a highly visual, multimedia presentation. Did you do anything special during the recording or in the mix to complement the visual style?
In addition to the multimedia visual element, the music is performed live in a unique horseshoe arrangement where the horn players encircle the centrally located rhythm section on a multi level ramp. It was obvious from the start that we should try to stay faithful to this arrangement when it came to seating the horn players in the room so that they would be presented as such in the mix. During the live show, the opening piece, “Prologue,” finds the various members of the band slowly entering the performance space from off stage. Some of them even emerge from the audience as the piece develops until finally all of the members of the band convene on the stage risers. From the beginning, Darcy wanted to try to replicate this for the opening of the record. We even went so far as to record a few takes with the band walking into the room from the hallway while playing to try to get a sense of motion. Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out as dramatic as we’d hoped so we wound up having to automate a lot of panning and reverbs to simulate this effect during the mix.
Darcy was helpful enough to make a field recording one day of one of the trumpet players walking the streets of Brooklyn playing the piece so that we could have a frame of reference as to what it might sound like with horns passing through the stereo field. I can only imagine what some of the neighbors must have thought when they heard that and looked out their windows to see what was going on!! During the mix, we also incorporated some additional field recordings that Darcy made by the Gowanus Canal along with some other sound effects that help “visualize” the scene at the albums opening.
4. As co-producer of the album, what additional considerations did you have to deal with?
The co-producer credit caught me completely off guard. Having invested so much time and energy from the preproduction planning stages all the way up to the end mastering I suppose Darcy felt I might have gone well above and beyond what most other engineers might have. Knowing that he was looking for quite a different sound than anything that had come before, I did make some additional considerations towards my approach to EQ’ing and compressing the drums in particular that one might not do on a typical big band record but, other than that, I was just trying to help accommodate whatever ideas he wanted to try. It wasn’t until we were knee deep into the mixing process that Darcy told me that he wanted to give me a co-production credit because of my efforts in bringing things to fruition. It was a pleasant surprise to say the least.