Monday, June 15, 2009

What we talk about when we talk about mixing...

(note: Currently I’m writing about the process of composing music for choreographer Sasha Soreff’s newest evening length work The Other Shoe. See below for previous entries describing the early rehearsals for this project.)

The Other Shoe runs at Ailey Citigroup Theater
405 West 55th Street
June 25th, 7:30pm
June 26th and June 27th 8:00pm,
June 28th, 7:00pm
Tickets $22/$14 (student/senior/artist)
More info at

Tune in to WBAI 99.5 FM Tuesday, June 23, at 2pm (ET) for an interview with Sasha Soreff on Arts Magazine. Some of the music I’ve composed for The Other Shoe will be played during the show.

Throughout the development and rehearsal process for The Other Shoe, composing, tracking, and mixing the music for The Other Shoe has occurred simultaneously. Although I have two days set aside for final mixing and another day scheduled at a recording studio for final FINAL mixing and mastering of the score (with Tony Maimone at Studio G), from the very start I’ve tried to bring tracks to Sasha and co. that sounded close to what they would end up with in performance in the Ailey Citigroup Theater. So mixing is a part of the compositional process (as is recording, which I’ve written a little bit about before…).

However, mixing on a budget (i.e. without a recording studio designed for that purpose) is a challenge. And being a New Yorker, I am guilty of doing the dreadful “headphone mix” more than once in order not to disturb the neighbors in my building. For the music for The Other Shoe, I found myself moving between doing these sort of guerilla mixes with headphones to mixing through monitors in my rehearsal space (again, not the ideal mixing environment). Playing back the tracks over the PA or sound systems in One Arm Red or DTW has allowed me to check levels, bass, and other issues with the mix while providing the dancers with music to rehearse to.

06/16/09 Update: Not that anyone asked, but you might wonder what's wrong with mixing your tracks on headphones? I don't want to say that any one technique is "wrong" or no, but in my experience, the problem with mixing with headphones is that you can't accurately determine how loud your instruments and sounds are in relation to one another. A single instrument that sounds too loud in your mix might actually - in a world without headphones - be getting lost amongst your other tracks. But since your whole mix or portions of it are pounding right up against your eardrums (as opposed to coming through a decent set of monitors), you just can't hear what your mix will actually sound like when played over a PA or stereo.

Any composer who has attended dance rehearsals knows that the playback equipment can vary wildly in quality depending upon where the rehearsal is being held. Generally speaking, more rental money means better equipment. But that isn’t always the case. However, you the composer will – if you hear your music back in a variety of spaces over a variety of systems – be able to gage the quality of your mixes accordingly. I should also point out that I check out my mixes at home on a portable CD player as well as over our speakers in the front room which is pretty “dead” thanks to rugs, curtains, and sound proofing material. What I’m listening for is a consistency to the levels and bass. That’s basically it.

Knowing that the speakers in the Ailey Citigroup Theater are probably spaced waaaaay apart left and right, I’ve avoided using extreme panning when placing my instruments on the virtual soundstage. A single drum part panned hard left might end up completely inaudible during playback to those audience members seated in front of the right speaker. I haven’t heard music played back in that particular theater, so I’m making sure my mixes are pretty conservative when it comes to panning. Although I am using reverb generously, but my assumption is that the theater is probably relatively “dead” thanks to carpeting and 244 people in their seats.

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