I was dressed as Ned Flanders when I was called to record a world renowned digeridoo player, but I'll come back to that.
First, a huge congratulations to William Barton & Veronique Serret on their win at the 2023 AIR Awards, with their album "Heartland" taking home "Best Independent Classical Album or EP". They're both incredible composers + musicians, and I'm glad to see them getting recognition for their work. Figured this was a good opportunity to talk a bit about how we recorded the album and share some photos of the experience.
Background Saturday, October 30, 2021. I got a text at 2:30pm from Ian Haug (world renowned guitar master in Powderfinger + The Church, and owner of Airlock Studios, Brisbane).
Ian: "I'm stuck for an engineer to record William Barton, world renowned didgeridoo master, tomorrow. Any chance you can do it?" Me: "I should be up for it, that guy's a legend! What time, is it a half day?"
Ian: "10am start. He reckons he will only need a half day, but as long as it takes I guess. You up for it? Have you recorded didgeridoo before?" Me: "All good. I haven't tracked didgeridoo before, but I've done clarinet/saxophone/flute." *Texts have been edited for clarity.
Those aren't really similar instruments at all, but it sounded like a great opportunity. Me and my partner Imogen (world renowned Maude Flanders impersonator) dressed as Ned and Maude Flanders for a Halloween party that night. A little after 6pm, Emily Hopley (world renowned audio engineer + studio manager at Airlock at the time) called to confirm the session details for the next day.
Around 9am the next morning I arrived at Airlock, and began setting up for a half day tracking a solo didgeridoo player.
William Barton and Veronique Serret arrived soon after, and as we loaded gear into the live room I realized the session might be a bit more complex. Didgeridoos, check, but also violins, pedals, guitars, percussion, multiple vocals, "My Mum is coming by later to record too" said William. I learned they wanted to record an entire album, live in the room, with no overdubs apart from Aunty Delmae's vocals.
We did two takes of the album in full, live and without stopping. The takes ran 43 and 41 mins each as you can see from the Pro Tools session below. We did some alternate takes of some sections afterwards as an option come mix time.
Gear and Routing
In order to get through multiple songs, with multiple instruments, in one take with only two players, microphones and routing were key.
With so much of the album being focused on ambience, tone and texture, my main goal was to capture everything as naturally as possible in the room. William and Veronique are completely in sync and needed to perform in the room together.
William sang, alternated between two different didgeridoos, and acoustic guitar.
Veronique sang, played two different violins, and various percussion throughout the take. Her violin setup also required 4 tracks to be captured simultaneously; her acoustic violin mic'ed in the room, a DI straight out from both violins, and a separate line which ran through her effects pedals to an amp mic'ed in an isolation booth.
Aunty Delmae dropped in after the live takes were complete in order to add her additional vocal parts.
All lines ran to Airlock's 44 channel Amek Media 51 desk preamps and EQs, into Pro Tools HDX. Everything was monitored through Crane Song HEDD 192 converters out to a pair of Amphion Two15 monitors, plus some trust old Yamaha NS10s, pictured below.
Here's a breakdown of the microphones and routing used:
Acoustic Guitar -> AKG C414 B XLS, + DI
Digeridoo 1 -> Neumann KM184
Digeridoo 2 -> Neumann U87 AI
Vocals -> Shure Beta 58a
Violin 1 + 2 -> AKG C414 B XLS, + DI
Effected violin signal -> Fender Bassman -> Shure SM7
Vocals + Percussion -> Neumann TLM 102
Vocals -> Neumann TLM 102
Ultimately the session wrapped just after 6pm, once everyone was content with the full live takes and alternates. The album was mixed by Daniel Denholm, and released via the ABC Classics label. For me the recording was a fantastic challenge and learning experience, a good reminder that you can't be prepared for everything, to go with the flow and go back to the basics - capture everything as naturally and fully as possible. Listen to the artist, find out what they're looking for. Keep the energy going. Great musicians in a great room always make things a lot easier.