This is a follow-up to my post on Drum Corps Planet forum, which appears to be too lengthy to post within the forum. So I posted this URL link to this follow-up on DCP
November 1, 2019
I might have missed it but I didn’t detect anyone here on DCP who was involved in any of the IsoMike corps recording sessions, over the years that would be in the 100s of persons - not counting more than 1,000 corps members being recorded. Let me give an overview of the effort.
For the hours of actual recording it needs to be as quiet as possible. The stadium at WSU is close to the chilling plant which serves the entire campus, of around 35,000 persons. The chilling plant is shut down during recording, meaning that the entire campus losses air-conditioning There are roads near the stadium which are typical arterial routes for campus and community traffic. These streets are closed during recording. There is air traffic from Ogden Airport. The tower at the airport issues a request to aviators to not overfly the campus. There is typically campus construction. We coordinate a pause in the projects. New electrical breakers were installed for the circuits used for recording. All panel connections were re-torqued. New WattGate (I own the company) wall outlets were installed for the recording equipment. A boom lift is given special permission to be positioned on the track to hoist the IsoMike. WSU Facilities Management turns off various fans, pumps, and motors in the stadium AND nearby buildings. There are nearby various other athletic facilities that are vacated. Yes we can clearly record tennis from 1000 feet.
As I am typing this I don’t recall the exact combined acoustic/electrical noise floor, but it was astonishingly silent. We recorded in 4.0 surround, we own several choices of microphones. I am lucky enough to be friends with many companies. So I would order matched sets of 5 microphones from various companies (so that we have a matched spare). The manufacturers would identify the picks-of-the-litter from large runs of microphones. Then select my set of 5 by hyper-matching the parameters and then assign sequential serial numbers. There was no solo miking, or close miking. From the IsoMike to the nearest instrument was at least 30' Just one microphone to one channel. On playback, one channel to one speaker.
A ridiculous amount of effort and budget (even by my standards) was spent on cables and connectors. Including a 4 day controlled cryo-treatment of some parts (we have our own cryo system)
We used only direct connections with no cable snakes, no mixers, no equalizers, no filters, and no limiting or compression - all the way through recording, editing and mastering. We have our own recording, editing and mastering systems. The absence of limiting deserves some special explanation IMHO. The goal with any recording is to have the loudest event be at 0.0 VU (inclusive of any headroom fudge factor), any more than that and the recording is ruined. Anything less just adds noise and reduces resolution. Like walking on a knife-edge tight rope, without a net. The easiest and typical solution is to have a serious limiter in the analog chain ahead of the AD convertor. But I didn’t want ANY limiting or compression, and I didn’t want higher noise either. The solution is to record a second lower level safety track for every actual track. With say a 5dB difference between the 2 tracks. For a 4 channel recording we record 8 tracks. All of the tracks are locked in time to identical sample sync. We can be brave/stupid with the gain control and likely will have a clipped event on the main tracks. For example if we have a 2 dB clip we turn down all the main tracks by that 2 dB, we turn up the safety tracks by 3 dB (5 minus 2 equals 3) and accomplice a sub-millisecond splice edit in the DAW, restoring the original waveform. I did have a custom pre-amp manufactured by the wizards at Millennia Media to accomplish this double-level trick.
We endeavored to make no sins in the recording, editing or mastering, no sins of commission and no sins of omission.
Usually we could pause construction on campus, but once in a while the construction project was so massive and/or behind schedule that we had to forego recording. That always made me a little bit sad.
In the meantime we tried to identify and solve other problems. For example one year I became aware that a member had a damaged water jug. The jugs all match and no local store carried that color, yep we had one sent by next-day air. After that we always kept about a dozen on hand. I became aware that providing special meal requests for the few members who have unique dietary needs sometimes is a logistic challenge. While the BK was in Ogden we catered one-off meals from a specialty restaurant. I never got the sense that the food truck wasn’t accommodating the special requests, but sometimes the choices were not exceptional. We provided pallets of drinks, including unusual interesting choices. Gave them special ice scoops, we took their old ice chests and replaced them them, year after year. We had 2 of our staff and a vehicle that shuttled ice from the campus DEC to the BK several miles away. At least for a few days I didn’t want ice to be rationed. We also assisted other corps.
At the end of the show I was the one who stood on the field and shook hands with every drum major during the announcement of scores. For the last few years I also presented an Anker multiport phone/pad charger - dated and engraved to each corps.
We purchased rows of tickets and worked hard to invite persons who would/could support Corps Encore with more than just a butt in a seat. We gave away hundreds of the SACDs to members. We bought full page advertising in the program. The SACD was a breathtaking net loss, just as we planned. I can’t think of much (if any) KIMBER KABLE product that was ever sold as a result of our support for the Ogden show, or the SACD, or playback demonstrations. In short, I never imagined that our support would result in financial benefit in return, my imagination was correct.
The decision to step away was crystalized over several years, along the way I always participated with the local Ogden Corps Encore committee, here is a copy of the message I sent to them a couple of weeks ago:
One thing leads to another.
This season I was out of town for the first 2 Weber State University home football games, along with getting the usual 5-figure invoice for my suite in the sky boxes. The last few seasons the employees, friends, and family who used to go to football games have other things going on in their life. People move away or now have a kid in youth soccer and the time of the football game competes. I used to know many of the staff, coaches, and players, but they have all moved on. We didn’t have a single person in our suite for the first 2 games.
But, a factor in having the suite was to be a base of operations for Corps Encore.
Initially I loved the challenge in capturing the magic of the sound in a recording. For the last few years we have not gotten anything close to a complete usable recording. Weather and construction were sometimes factors. I finally had to face the fact that I simply was not going to ever love the sound of WAV files, electronics and amplification for an acoustic event. We tried to figure out a way to directly incorporate the corps sound files into our IsoMike recordings after-the-fact. But the files were a fraction of the resolution we were trying to record. Additionally corps schedule was now dictated by the location of finals in Indianapolis, which meant we were trying to record earlier (less polished) in the overall schedule. So a few years ago recording had coasted to a dead stop.
This last year during the evening show I didn’t love the sound. There were a few glimmers of magic when the amps were down/off. It was like a once beloved restaurant where only the salad remains (occasionally) spectacular.
My groups that used to love to attend Corps Encore were dwindling. Mom will soon be 91 and her health isn’t compatible with the event anymore. One by one for an assortment of reasons my group of DCI fans couldn’t make it anymore.
So with my stepping back from drum corps I also cancelled the suite, which will sever a lot of the connections that I used to make things happen. Which logically curtails my involvement with the spirit squad, who provided me many man-hours of help during the show. So many moving parts linked only by my love of the acoustic magic of the corps.
I have shifted my priorities back to the Browning Performing Arts Center and will focus my efforts and resources there. We have made some spectacular recent recordings at the VBC and now have scheduled other exciting projects.
The High Altitude SACD had already sold out some time ago and as we made higher and higher resolution other recordings of other things we had stopped using corps music for our demonstrations, except in Denver at The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, when someone from BK visited us. Those visits had also dwindled – to zero.
There is a housekeeping item that should be addressed. I have some giant rolling bins of items I purchased for use at Corps Encore. Some items I purchased just for Corps Encore, we will donate the bins and those corps specific items. I will keep the items that we use for other things, but will give you the complete inventory list.
Other things like snacks, unlimited ice, meals, drinks, vehicles, towels, platforms and so much more are gone, I will be 70 before the next season so any return is unlikely, I am at peace with my decision. Personally everything works and nothing hurts, I wish the same for all of you.
Years ago at the first instance of drum corps amplification I was blind-sided, but I tried to think of ways to make it work - not only for recording but also for performance. But the amplification locker room swinging contest was swelling so quickly that I eventually wondered if fidelity was even, or ever, a factor.
If marching band is riding on an airplane..., then drum corps by comparison is jumping out. That is how I described the difference to friends and to attendees at our demonstrations. BTW you should hear the recordings when we suspended the IsoMike over the start/finish line at a major race track. Pure cutis anserina!
I have stood in-the-arc many times, including when BK rehearsed Nimrod by Elgar, and have recorded same. Even on playback it triggers the same emotional reward - every time (I cry). As someone once said, “it don’t mean a thing if it don’t have that swing” IMHO, as a praphrase, drum corps has natural sonic swinging prowess without resorting to the locker room equivalent of a falsie.