Found Sounds: Matthew Herbert On Composing With Landscapes

Outfitted with an arsenal of fieldrecording equipment—as well as the singular goal of creating what he calls “a documentary of music”—Matthew Herbert mixes samples captured from various exotic locales with precise instrumentation on There’s Me and There’s You [CFP Domestic]. To hear the electro-musician/producer tell it, making a record from a foundation of field recordings is business as usual. His 2006 release, Plat du Jour, used samples recorded at factory farms to make a statement on the quality of mass-produced food, and 2001’s Bodily Functions centered around samples recorded from the human body. What is notable about There’s Me and There’s You is Herbert’s message about the current state of the world, and the locations he sampled to serve as sonic examples of what he considers to be a huge downturn in the global quality of life—locales that included the British Houses of Parliament, a McDonald’s restaurant, and even a local landfill.
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For recording locations where going stealth isn’t necessary, Herbert relies on a Nagra V 2-channel harddisk field recorder that delivers highdefinition sampling (24-bit/96kHz), portability, and long battery life. His mics are a pair of Neumann KMR 82 shotgun mics and an Audio-Technica AT825 stereo mic.

For situations where discretion is critical, however, Herbert uses a wide arsenal of smaller recording devices. True to the mission of his recordings, he places the content of the sample over the quality of the medium. “When I’m in a suppressed situation, I go for whatever I can get away with,” he says. “It might be a mobile phone, or a cheap MP3 player with a built-in microphone. It doesn’t matter what it’s recorded on. If I can capture the sound of something extremely prolific, then the story trumps the medium.”

After collecting the samples that will serve as the basis of each track, Herbert moves his ensemble, the Big Band, to Abbey Road Studios in London where he tracks additional instrumentation. Afterwards, he exports the tracks to mix at home using Apple Logic 8.

“Sometimes, I have up to 300 or 400 channels of audio to sort through at the end of a session,” he says, noting that keeping all of his tracks organized can be quite a challenge. His solution—create three master folders for each song: one for the field recordings, one for the Big Band masters, and another for his vocals.

When starting to mix, Herbert begins constructing each song by creating a submix in each folder. “I prefer to make each element sound like itself first, before worrying about the overall mix,” he says. “It’s very important to me that the Big Band sounds like a Big Band, and that the field recordings work together on their own.”

An analog aficionado at heart, Herbert says that, although he works largely in a digital environment, he edits his samples with an Akai S612 to ensure a tactile mixing experience. “The S612 was the first sampler that Akai ever made, and it has this great ability to edit samples physically, using levers and buttons,” he says. “There are no internal menus or selectors—it’s the closest you can get to an analog feel in a digital sampler.”

After he has edited his samples using the S612, he mixes them with the Big Band tracks and vocal stems into the final 2-track mix that goes off to the mastering house. Herbert says he is awed by the recent technological leaps that have made producing greatsounding recordings cheaper and easier than ever—most notably in the field of portable recorders.

“It’s a revolution in music, because composers have long written about places,” says Herbert. “But you can now go out and record the actual landscape! I no longer have to write a song about going to a McDonald’s. I can actually go there, take my gear, drop chairs and tables, stomp on french fries, blow into straws, and record the noise of a Coke. I don’t even have to put words to it—it just is what it is. It’s an incredible liberation.”

WINNER ANNOUNCED FOR JZ MIC GIVEAWAY

Congratulations to Matt Ramey of Raleigh, NC-based act Gods of Harvest, who posted the following on www.eqmag.com’s Letters to the Editor forum:

“I was trying to get the perfect kick sound to my ears—deep but not woofy, sharp but not slappy. After many hours of trying, here’s the setup that worked best. I used a Groove Percussion 22 x 18-inch kick, miked with an AKG D112 and a Røde K2. The D112 was placed just outside the sound hole (about three to four inches away from the rim, facing directly towards the back end of the kick). The K2 was placed about 12 inches away from the kick, dead center, set to a cardioid pattern. These mics were then run into a PreSonus Firepod into Logic.

“The D112 really picked up the attack without sounding too slappy, and the K2 picked up the bottom-end boom. The room we recorded in—which measured about 20 x 20 feet—had hardwood floors (with a rug underneath the kit, of course) and vaulted arch ceilings. It was an absolutely beautiful room to record in, as the reverb was nice and lush without being overly so.”

We suggest you check out Mr. Ramey’s band by heading over to www.bandmix.com/godsofharvest. Good stuff for sure. He did manage to a get nice kick sound using tools that are practically in any recording musician’s budget. And now he has a brand new JZ Black Hole to aid him in the quest for the perfect tone! Stay tuned for more giveaways in upcoming issues of EQ.