LOS ANGELES IS BURNING
When the hills of Los Angeles are burning
Palm trees are candles in the murder wind
So many lives are on the breeze
Even the stars are ill at ease
And Los Angeles is burning
Lazerus shakes his head,’ “Damn, they’re at it again.” Scene fades. . . .
The first thing you notice after mixing Bad Religion Live at the Palladium in 5.1 surround will be the formidable, hyper-catchy, philosophically rockin’ earworms that gnaw their way into your head like mental floss. They will sing to you at the most unexpected times for weeks on end thereafter. It’s been tough on my Master’s degree studies, for sure. Bad Religion’s music is like that — it hits you on a lot of different levels and you love it for that reason. For the dynamic surround mix for the soon-to-be-released concert DVD, the band performs a choice selection from their massive musical catalog for a live performance at the famous Hollywood Palladium that is . . . something to behold.
But it’s been a few years since I was involved in a live concert recording and mix session. The last one was an unusual gig in London with members of Pink Floyd, the horn section from the Scottish band Wet, Wet, Wet, and Tom Jones who sang songs like EMF’s hit single, “You’re Unbelievable.”
For Bad Religion Live, I used the Audio Cube system, which I was introduced to when I began working for Chace Audio in 2001. The Audio Cube, or AC-5, is designed by Cube-Tec, a German company. It is a PC-based workstation and works seamlessly with Nuendo and Wavelab software platforms for its innovative new tools. It was my discovery of the Audio Cube that eventually led to a sound revolution as I found more opportunities to work with music in film. The Audio Cube is both a multi-channel digital audio workstation and a forensically sophisticated audio restoration platform.
And so for Bad Religion Live at the Palladium I tried a new and experimental approach I’d been considering for some time. This involved using the Audio Cube’s mastering tools, which were so effective on stereo material, and deploying them on each individual track of the multi-track live recording. To do this, I imported the original Pro Tools live multi-tracks into a session in Nuendo and then set about using the mastering tools in the Cube on a track-by-track basis. The live recording sounded good and there was decent separation thanks to the team that did the original remote recording. I set up a configuration of tools and started with the kick drum. I used a set-up that cascaded the Cube’s Analog EQ and two multi-band compressors to deal with specific aspects of the sound.
I then went into the Cube-Tec Vitalizer, which allows the user to do a variety of things from adding compression to an analog EQ to additional bass and, of course, vitalizing. I also used a tool called the Loudness Maximizer, which handles the overall sound in a new way that allows for wide range of dynamics and control — like packing the sound into a fat dynamic range and increasing volume without changing the sound. The concept worked beautifully and I applied this technique to every track from hi-hat to the bass to all three of the guitars. As a result, I could now optimize each sound for its specific need. Fat, controlled lows on the bass guitar and kick drum, increased depth on the snare, and a crisp edge on all the guitars. I was even able to enhance the natural ambience of the audience tracks in a very refined manner. And all of this occurred before mixing even began.
When I was finished with multi-track mastering, the session was exported to FireWire and set up in Pro Tools. For the mix I worked alongside Chace’s surround mixing ace, James Young, using the Harrison Series 12 mixing console. It was great to work with Jim as he taught me a great deal about mixing in surround. He explained that one of his pet peeves is that so many good music mixers are shy about using the center channel. This is because we have grown up accustomed to mixing with a false center of stereo mixes and are unfamiliar with using a designated center channel.
Jim played several different music mixes, which he had collected in surround, and all were good but the mixes that embraced the mix technique using the discrete center channel for things like vocals and kick drum and bass guitar sounded far more dynamic since they used the full perspective of the speaker layout. This is a key aspect that music mixers can learn from film mixing. Brett Gurewitz, Bad Religion’s guitarist/writer and president and founder of Epitaph Records, was present at various stages throughout the mix process and was intrigued with the surround dimension of the live mix. Brett is a mixing engineer and producer and was very erudite in his understanding of what goes on in the studio environment and offered some good suggestions along the way.
And so the multi-channel mastering experiment I conducted before the mix paid off and made the final mixing process much easier, as I had taken some time to really sculpt the individual sounds. The individual tracks sat very well once I had created the first initial mix and with a live show and time constraints, that is a very positive outcome. The fact that the band is so great live is what this DVD is all about.
Scene opens: Peaceful yard at dusk, Lazerus is home watering his plumeria trees, stares at the sky, drops hose, shakes head:
“Damn! Earworms in the garden.”
Well here I go again, everything is alien
How does it feel to be outstripped by the pace of cultural change?
My deeds are senseless and rendered meaningless
When measured in that vein
I could go supersonic, the problem’s chronic
Tell me does life exist beyond it?
When I need to sate, I just accelerate into oblivion. . . .