Articles in Category: Audiophiles

Engine - A NORPA Production #256

Engine –


A NORPA production.

Written by Janis Belodis, Directed by Julian Louis.

This month I’d like to talk about a theatre project – Engine - that I have been involved with as the sound designer and composer. The play opened in Lismore at the end of July and is touring to Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay, Murwillumbah and then off to Brisbane at the end of August. The story revolves around the family and friends of a teenage car crash victim as they come to grips with the tragedy. The narrative unfolds in a manner where the characters shift (2 actors play multiple parts) and the past and present merge.

The play features plenty of sound cues, some quite literal and others more abstract. Some were fairly explicit in the text such as revving car engines, horns honking, screech of tyres, crash sounds, and the ticking of hot metal. For most of these I used material from foley CDs. (There are many of these available commercially that feature all manner of creaking doors, explosions, animal noises and such). However sometimes the sound required was a little more specific, such as the sound where an engine drops from a chain and pulley system in the middle of the play. I tried unsuccessfully to piece together various chain and pulley sounds from my foley library but I finally found the sound I needed at the Dunoon Garage. My local mechanic, Russell, was happy to pull his garage door up and down a few times while a got a decent recording and the results were exactly what I was after.


Another more complex literal sound was for a scene set on a headland at night with bass heavy music coming from a parked car. For this one I started out by going to the Byron Lighthouse one night and recording the ambient sound from the carpark. However, whilst the mood felt right, the sounds didn’t convey this with any great clarity; the ocean was a dull roar and the cars that came and went didn’t really have a suitable party vibe. Instead I assembled the various elements as separate layers (see the screenshot of the Pro Tools session). I combined 2 layers of ocean sounds and a layer of night crickets from a foley CD. A fourth layer was a recording of some Year 12 students from Kadina High School (who were involved in the production) chatting away in party mode. To this I added a doofy track I wrote with most of the mid and high frequencies missing to give the impression that it was being played in a car some distance away and some occasional cars coming and going. The various layers were then panned across the stereo field to give a sense of the space.

Other scenes required a more abstract association with the stage action where the director (Julian Louis) wanted a particular feel such as ‘pain and insomnia’, ‘anger and frustration’ or ‘blissed out’. Translating these qualities into a sound that conveys these qualities, and satisfies the director, can be quite challenging. In preparing the more abstract cues I found it very helpful to have a lot of sounds on hand. This process involved scrolling through the presets of various software synthesisers and selecting suitable starting points or wading through my catalogue of drafts and offcuts from various other projects to find things that might fit the bill. I would then present a number of options to Julian for him to select from and with a bit of tweaking and redrafting the right qualities emerged. Like most digital sound constructions, the tweaking can be endless and it is nice to have a deadline where it all must stop and be handed over.


Audiophile #255

Luke Vassella - 
All Those Paper Planes

I recently attended the APRA Song Summit in Sydney, a 3-day convention/conference/series of workshops for songwriters, producers, and surrounding hangers-on run by the overseers of copyright in Australia, APRA. Amidst the chest-beating about the theft of music online and the new economic models for the industry, the Song Summit had some very useful practical tips for songwriters including a great workshop from Berklee teacher Pat Pattison on prosody in lyric writing. It is this workshop that I’d like to weave in with Luke Vassella’s new album.


All Those Paper Planes is Luke’s 6th album and the liner notes boast that it is the first time he has done it all himself (produced, recorded, mixed and mastered) and I must say he has done a fine job. The album comes in two parts, originals and covers, and although I will be focusing on the originals, the covers provide a list of Luke’s songwriting heroes - including Dylan, Van Morrison, U2 and the brothers Finn. There are some very strong songs on this album and armed with Pat Pattison’s prosody tools I will attempt to deconstruct a couple of these.

Prosody refers to the rhythm and stress of speech and can be utilised to great effect in writing to reinforce or give impact to lyrics. For example, according to Pattison, a phrase that begins on beat one is stable whereas a phrase beginning on, say beat 2 or 3 is unstable. Pattison gave the example of how the sentiment of the simple lyric “I really like you” can feel different depending on where in the bar the phrase begins. If you put the ‘really’ on beat one it is a sure thing (‘yes, I really do like you’) but if you put it on the third quaver in the bar then there are some reservations (‘I like you, but…’). (You have to try singing it out loud on the different beats to feel the difference).

Applying this to the opening track Dreaming Tonight we can see that Luke has an appropriate combination of uncertain/unstable lyric sentiment (“Sometimes I took my hand off the wheel/Sometimes I drank it down til I couldn’t feel”) with a phrasing that begins between beats 3 and 4. However, Luke wasn’t paying attention to Pattison’s prosody rules in Lismore Girl. The seemingly stable and certain lyrics “I’m driving home along the north coast shore/ Home sweet home Lismore/Life’s a simple luxury/For a Lismore girl and me” are destabilised by the rhythmic placement of the second line (starting between beats 2 and 3) and the fourth line (starting on beat 2). Does this make it a bad song? Hardly, but it could suggest that there is something a little sinister in the waters that Luke is not letting on.

Pattison gave other tools that can be used to achieve stable/unstable feelings in the listener including: regular vs irregular rhyming patterns, varying phrase lengths, even vs odd bar lengths (for example, would the Beatles’ Yesterday be so powerful if it wasn’t for a 7 bar verse form?) Of course, as with all music theory rules, there are plenty of exceptions but the point that Pattison was trying to make was that these are tools available to the writer, they give some options to help you polish and perfect those rough diamonds in your song collection.

PS - If you have a recent recording you’d like featured in this column please send a copy to me at PO Box 8136, Dunoon 2480.


Audiophile #254


Red Belly Black Album Cover

Red Belly Black – Smile On Your Face

So first up I better come clean – I’m in the band and I produced the album. So now we’ve got that out of the way I’ll carry on with an insider’s account of how this album came to life and hopefully give some insight into the CD making process. All up the process took the best part of 18 months, juggling work, children, other projects and everyone’s schedules. It began when my new neighbour and ex SCU mate Andy wanted to play a few of his songs with me. These initial jams were fluid and soon bass (Julian) and drums (Phurba) were added and we were away.

As far as the songwriting goes, Andy generally brought vocals and guitar parts to band jams. With this style of music (bush rock, I call it) I don’t like to know what the chords are, I try to hear a part in my head the first time we play a song and then work it out. I think it is a trap a lot of jams fall into – the “what chords are you playing?” question shuts down your ears and you fall back on known shapes/patterns/rhythms. If you wait and listen before jumping in with that E chord shape you know or that pattern you’ve been working on, I find much more interesting things happen. Although it’s good to agree where beat one is first because I’ve lost a lot of killer parts in other bands because my beat one wasn’t the bass player’s beat one and then when you try to sort it out the vibe is gone. Having worked up a set of songs we then followed a fairly traditional route for new bands: i.e., play a few parties, record some ordinary sounding demos, change the lineup (Nick on Drums, Ian on guitar - then Mick) and then start to make plans for world domination.

The next step was the CD. We recorded the big stuff (drums, bass, guitar, keys, vocals) with Sam Bartlett at Meridian Receiver – Dorroughby, and added the bells and whistles at my home studio (extra guitars, keyboards, some backing vocals). After the initial couple of days to get drums, bass and keys down in a fairly ‘live’ fashion there were lots of 2 and 3 hours sessions (lead guitar on this, backing vocals on that, keyboard part on this, synth pad on that) required to finish the job. When working between various studios there are a few important technical things that need to happen. Having the sessions on an external hard drive helps portability. The initial bed tracks were recorded using a Pro Tools HD system, I was then able to open these sessions on my own Pro Tools system at home (LE but still compatible) and then take the sessions for mixing with Christian Pyle – another Pro Tools user. I do some work with another producer who uses Cubase and the difficulty in transferring between the two systems is a pain. Ideally you’d know them all very well (Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic, Sonar, etc. etc.) and you’d have both Mac and PC systems running smoothly at home - but somehow that doesn’t seem to be the case for most people I know.

Oh, and how does the CD rate? Well I don’t think it’s up to me to say, but I have a couple of copies to giveaway to the first two people to email me atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

PS – If you have a recent recording you’d like featured in this column please send a copy to me at PO Box 8136, Dunoon 2480.

Audiophiles #253


Christian Pyle

Christian Pyle – Nothing Left to Burn

I recently had the unnerving experience of being unable to stop my ipod shuffling. I found listening to Neil Young’s Harvest or Cold Chisel’s East just wasn’t the same when the two orchestral pieces on Harvest (tracks 3 and 7) were next to each other or when the drum fill at the end of ‘Standing on the Outside’ (track 1, East) wasn’t followed by the drum fill at the start of ‘Never Before’ (track 2). In the old days albums had a track order and you didn’t mess with it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a vinyl fondling luddite and am quite a fan of the single track download thing but Christian’s album reminded me what it is like to listen to an album.

For someone who’s day job is making records it is no surprise that Christian Pyle’s solo album is a cracker. From his home studio in Goonengerry Christian has produced albums for many local and further afield acts such as Jesse Younan, Renee Searles, Glory B, Billy, Luke Vasella, Jodi Martin, The Re-Mains, as well as his own bands Acre and Ghost Mountain. On this album, Christian does everything – sings, plays guitar, keyboards, drums, bass, some banjo, and (with some engineering help from Michael Worthington) weaves his magic mixing wand to create 13 tracks that are definitely an ‘album’, not just a collection of songs. In the single track download age Christian remains an exponent of the dying art of album making.

Variety in texture is one of the keys - some tracks start with piano, some with acoustic guitar, some a drum fill, one a wonderful dreamy effected Rhodes. There are the short (mostly) instrumental ‘ear fresheners’ (‘Ryuichi’ and ‘Green Goblin’) placed strategically in the playlist at 7 and 12 and the obligatory hidden track (well actually two spooky tunes fittingly on track 13 if you leave the cd running long enough). There is also the simple dedication to his Dad on the inside cover that gives me an emotional hook into the lyrics that seems to be an underlying theme for many of the songs. The songs are strong and the arrangements focus on supporting the vocal melody lines. Piano and guitar lines are often in unison with the vocal melody. Christian inhabits subtly different characters for each of the vocal performances that seem to embody each song. The rambling delivery of ‘School Without Dogs’ really suits the nostalgic stream of consciousness lyrics whereas the multitracked vocals of ‘Trees and Stone’ or ‘Ray of Your Sunshine’ really fit the singalong character. The chords aren’t complex but he does a great trade in the ascending or descending bass line and I’ve transcribed two examples here to illustrate this very effective device. Both use the B bass note to change between C and Amin and elsewhere he uses the F# bass note as the route between G and Emin. Well worth tinkering with on your next songwriting date.

PS – If you have a recent recording you’d like featured in this column please send a copy to me at PO Box 8136, Dunoon 2480.

Audiophiles #252

Still Living in the Garden of Eden – Trip Poppies


The Trip Poppies have produced a veritable forest of an album filled with a multitude of sonic creatures. The cover art gives a clue to the music – some dense and complex foliage populated with some jungle folk reaching and looking out. Turnover the cover and we get a rainbow, kombi van, cup of tea and a flying pig and my listening stage has been set.

The 12 songs on the album traverse a range of styles and textures. I hear influences like Zappa, Steely Dan, Sly and the Family Stone, Beach Boys, and some pre-Ziggy Bowie. The instrumentation is complex but generally the arrangements and mix handle the sonic riches well. Regular textures such as vocals, guitars, keyboards, bass and drums are augmented by percussion, flute, trumpets, string sounds, synths and field recordings. Sometimes the foreground seems cluttered, for example there are multiple instruments soloing in a somewhat unrelated way. However I really appreciated the variations in texture within songs.

Trip Poppies

Highlights are Greg Samuelson’s very sweet ‘Paralysed Again’, a strong song well complemented by a supportive arrangement featuring strings and trumpet. Ditto Samuelson and Dez Hoy’s, ‘Rainbow Café’, which grows from acoustic guitar, rhodes and vocals to a packed anthemic singalong with flute and distorted guitar. But the standout track for me is ‘Nocturnal in the Brain’. The subtle lead vocal treatment really makes the track hang together and Dan Brown’s bass part is a wonderful rollicking 3 bar phrase (see the transcription – and before you tell me you can’t play a low C on the bass ask Dan how he did it, or if indeed it is a low C! – 5 string bass maybe?). This is a great example of how things don’t always have to happen in 4 bar phrases and a great exercise for practicing hammer-ons on the bass. Use the open strings where possible - it goes at about 135bpm.


The CD is available at Music Bizarre and All Music and Vision in Lismore or I also have a copy to give to the first person to send me an email atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

PS – If you have a recent recording you’d like featured in this column please send a copy to me at PO Box 8136, Dunoon 2480.

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