by Christopher Walsh
Berlin, Germany--The European Union has demonstrated a forward-thinking approach to environmental conservation and alternative energy, having committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 2020 and lead negotiations for more ambitious targets.
In Germany, one audio professional is demonstrating just how light a carbon footprint a commercial recording business can have. As stated on its website, blumlein records specializes in “high-quality (up to 24-track) live recordings and sessions in stereo and surround (24-bit & 44.1-192 kHz) with [a] mobile, environmentally friendly studio (traveling by bike, train and bus).”
Andrew Levine, who studied violin and voice as well as computational linguistics and cognitive psychology, receiving an M.A. in 1998, has operated this minimalist remote recording rig since 2003. After researching audio technology and aesthetics, he explains, “I launched into recording professionally. In 2005 I was accepted into the German Tonmeister association (VDT). In some ways this was the result of a period where I developed multimedia CDs and web apps, lectured on advanced software design and produced video interviews on a range of educational topics. It was then that I realized that the sound could be improved, and that started my transition to ‘audio person.’”
The highly developed mass transit infrastructure of Berlin and Hamburg, Levine notes, allows him to operate a remote recording business without a vehicle of his own. (He occasionally travels to and from small, local gigs by bicycle, weather permitting.)
The extensive railroad system of Europe, and Germany in particular, allows him to venture further afield. But, he adds, “I designed my mobile studio to be eminently portable from the beginning. Being a friend of main microphone (Hauptmikrofon) setups, using spots sparingly, I don't usually set up more than eight to 12 microphones for live recordings. The maximum capacity of 24 channels is rarely reached, usually only on the occasion of my doing some additional sound reinforcement.”
Time spent traveling to and from location recordings, Levine reveals, “is maximized by my being able to prepare, audition and edit material in the train. Having to lug around the gear sometimes is the price I pay for not having to go hunting for a parking space near the event's location. I pack carefully, usually several bags, so that I can distribute the weight well. For larger gigs I mounted a large metal box on a sack barrow. The main problem traveling with this ‘monster’ is getting in and out of trains. Since it is quite heavy when fully loaded it can easily get stuck and is not easily dislodged.”
Blumlein’s equipment selection reflects this methodology. Levine employs Metric Halo’s 2882 8-channel and a pair of ULN-2 2-channel Mobile I/O (MIO) units, all with the +DSP processing environment and integrated 2d card. Microphones consist of matched pairs of Royer Labs SF-1, Earthworks QTC50, Elation KM201, DPA 4060 (“versatile and very small”), Rode NT4, United Minorities UM-1 (a new, large diaphragm dual-capsule mic custom built in Germany), and United Minorities-tuned Oktava MK-102; three matched pairs of Rode NT5; and an Earthworks QTC40. He also employs a pair of Ultrasone PROline 750 headphones and (mobile) stereo and (stationary) surround monitors by United Minorities.
“For nearly all recordings--except the occasional overdub--I use the Record Panel built into Metric Halo's Console software,” he explains. “The Console--in combination with one or more of the MIO's--is the hub of my studio. Recording, mixing, routing and most processing is done externally in the MIO, controlled through that piece of software.” In addition to Metric Halo’s ChannelStrip, Altiverb 6, by AudioEase, is his main plug-in. Also used: Audiofile Engineering's Sample Manager for batch processing; Airwindows' Ditherbox; Elemental Audio’s Eqium and Firium; and IK Multimedia’s T-RackS, although Metric Halo's 2d character inserts, he says, do the job most of the time.
The system runs on an Apple Macintosh PowerBook G4. Levine edits in Logic Pro 8, which is also used to capture stereo and surround real-time mixes. Final tweaks are performed in Logic’s Soundtrack Pro.
“I know from personal experience,” says Levine, “that high-quality stereophonic and surround recordings can be accomplished with my setup, which is exceedingly mobile. I like to communicate that to my colleagues, and several of them have taken the hint that it might be kind of a good direction to evolve in.”