Archive for December, 2010

Ash Mountain

Where is my mind? is one of my favourite songs by Pixies. And every time I listen to them I fall in love with the complexity of their simplicity. But, how many times had I realized the importance/difficulty of the work behind that tune? Of course I had realized the creative labour of the band, their lyrics, their talent as musicians, etc. But how many times had I imagined the recording engineer trying to choose the best microphones for the guitar amplifier and their perfect placement to get the desired tonal balance? Never! Well, never….until now!

I had to deal with some of these issues recently (together with my classmates Rice and George), during our recording project for the Digital Studio Production module. We recorded some tracks of Ash Mountain, a blues/country/folk band based in Manchester, whose line-up consisted of acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums and vocals (and possibly a mandolin!). I just can say thanks to Ash Mountain for coming, for their patience and their great music! I will have to mix and master one of their tracks later on, in both stereo and surround 5.1. And It would be great if they were happy with the result! That is my main objective. After all, they are our clients!

Before the recording session, I prepared myself by doing some research about microphones and their placement, reviewing the signal chain (to prevent its possible conversion into a labyrinth during the session), and resolving the sometimes mysterious ways of headphone mix as well. As for the session, I suppose I could say it was fine since we had not serious troubles, apart from the common time limitations you all can imagine (time! Always rushing us!).

And now is when the critical moment arrives… what were my personal feelings about the recording session? Well, I feel that being so nervous and stressed did not help me so much. But my main enemy was without any doubt communication in English. It was really hard not to understand everything and being confused because of the language (I am sure some of you will understand how does this feel). I am a very calm person and every time I feel all the above factors I can’t avoid it: I change my skin to become a little Charles Chaplin. Apart from that, the most important conclusion I can get from this experience is that I learnt lots of really important things.

Here is the first one: A good sound engineer will be able to make things seem beautifully simple, making the complexity of his/her work unnoticeable.


Dolphin echolocation

In nature is possible to find the most intelligent systems. And sometimes I can’t understand why we don’t try to learn more from it and imitate them. Why do we automatically consider our iPod/mobile/laptop the most clever machine ever. After all machines are the fruit of our evolution, and so their evolution is completely dependent on ours. It is limited by our own intelligent. And now I ask myself… has human intelligence reached its maximum? Because evolution is absolutely linked to survival, not to consumerism. What will be the next step of our species? Will we develop the skill of procreating via Facebook? Will we have three more hands to carry more Primark’s bags simultaneously? Anyway…

Going back to natural systems, I will talk about dolphin echolocation, the natural equivalent to sonar (whereas bats hold the patent for the radar equivalent!). Dolphins use this system to detect really small objects underwater. They produce series of clicks of short duration and high intensity, at frequencies as high as 120 kHz, thanks to a region in their head which is called melon (not the fruit!). Dolphins point their head at the desired direction and project these clicks in narrow beams, which strike objects (sometimes penetrating through them) and produce echoes. Then they receive those echoes by means of their lower jaw and a complex fatty structure that transmits the vibrations to the middle ear. Finally, dolphin’s brain interprets the echoes, extracting information not just about the distance and direction of the object, but about its size, shape, texture and density as well! It seem that dolphin’s echolocation sense is closely linked with their visual sense, so they easily relate things heard to things seen, reconstructing an object’s image from its echo. For example, a dolphin could distinguish an aluminum dish from a copper one, even if they were painted with the same colour. Or it could distinguish a hollow pipe from a solid one!

Paul Langevin invented the sonar around 1915. And now, tell me, how many time had been dolphins using echolocation before that date?

Most of answers are in nature.


Today I am feeling a bit nostalgic, so I will talk about one of those little, but important, things that I had to leave in Spain. I will talk about my pet, Eny. A bonsai tree from the species zelkova serrata, more commonly known as Japanese elm. He is about 11 years old now, and I must confess he is the most beautiful gift I have ever had. Because he is alive and evolves in time together with me.  Because his life completely depends on me, but he just waits in silence for my cares. Never asking for nothing, but giving me a great sensation of peace. Surprising me with a new tiny leaf every day.

Bonsai cultivation is an art closely related to Zen philosophy. Every detail is important, and being patient is essential. There are many different bonsai styles or forms (broom, slanting, cascade, windswept, multitrunk, forest, growing on a rock, etc), and many different techniques to shape the bonsai according to each of them.

Thanks god when I received mine he already had his form: an informal upright style, which means that the trunk grows upright in the shape of an “S” more or less. Why “thanks god”? Basically because all the plants I had before Eny, died after suffering from my cares. And my friends and family were already expecting a tragic final from the beginning. Can you imagine what could had happened if I had had to put a rock among Eny’s roots!!??

But, despite of my “plant killer hands”, I have always tried to do my best with Eny. Putting him for a while under the sun when it is not so hot. Giving him a bath once a week (Yes! a bath, immersing his flowerpot until he stops bubbling!). Spraying his leaves with water to cool him down. Pruning his leaves in the perfect place so the next sprout grows in the appropriate direction. Putting him in the brightest place of the house so his leaves don’t become yellow or bigger and bigger. Cheating him by removing all his leaves so he thinks spring is starting again and he sprouts with new and stronger branches. Surviving together to fungal diseases and red spidermites. And talking to him so he does not feel alone and depressed in autumn.

I realize it is my fault if Eny has not an appropriate Zen style. Because I am unable to make any drastic decision to make him looks Zen enough, as pruning main branches just because they are ugly or putting wires around his small and fragile trunk. I really don’t mind if he is not the most beautiful creature in the world. Neither am I. The only important thing for me is to make him feel as the most loved bonsai in the world. And manage to keep him far from death!! Up to now, I think I am achieving it…