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July 10, 2017 / Randy Coppinger

The Flapamba Principle

Years ago I had the opportunity to work on a session with legendary percussionist Emil Richards. He came to the studio to record for a film score. He had all kinds of crazy instruments that he brought and played for the various music cues. The most memorable for me looked like an ice cream cart with a marimba on top, called a Flapamba.

Once we started recording the Flapamba, a discussion began in the control room about a squeaking sound that could be heard every time he played a certain note. There was a loose nail in one of the bars, and depending on the angle of his strike, it would squeak against that loose nail. Sometimes the squeak was loud and obvious, other times it was less noticeable. We concluded that once a listener heard it obviously, they would be distracted, listening for it the rest of the time. In between takes Emil was kindly notified that the Flapamba was making this occasional noise and asked what he might be willing to do about it. He answered that he was not going to fix the problem, that in his opinion, it should have that audible squeak.

This response caused some cognitive dissonance. We figured he didn’t notice the noise, and asked him to fix it reluctantly because we didn’t want to cast doubt on his ability to hear what he was doing. But for him to say that he not only heard it, but also wasn’t going to do anything to get rid of it, that was very confusing. So someone was bold enough to ask him why he wanted that squeak to remain. He replied, “That’s how you know it’s not a keyboard.”

I began to think through this idea, that keeping the flaw helped reveal the authenticity of the instrument. We didn’t hire a keyboard player, we hired a percussionist, and then asked him to play the score on acoustic instruments. For Emil, that squeaky note was sonic proof that listeners were getting a real, acoustic Flapamba.

There have been times since that session when I have identified some aspect of a project as undesirable. On my better days, I remember Emil’s words and ask myself if the current “squeak” might be tied to the authenticity of the performance, story, etc. Sometimes I can find my way past perfection to accept something I initially wanted to remove as a necessary part of what helped make the whole. A few times, I have come around to the idea that the very thing I wanted to eliminate is actually the best part. That’s what I call The Flapamba Principle: an intentional embrace of flaws to make things better.

February 6, 2017 / Randy Coppinger

AES Convention Memory

The current President of the Audio Engineering Society, Alex U. Case, has invited members to share their memories of conventions past. Here’s one of my favorites. 

Graham Blyth performed pipe organ in one of the big cathedrals in San Fransisco, as he has for so many years as part of AES Conventions. Ron Stretcher held a class before the concert on techniques for recording that pipe organ, including a Decca Tree. He asked those of us attending if anyone knew how to assemble his AEA Decca Tree. I had just purchased one and assembled it a few times, so I raised my hand. And I was the only person who raised a hand.

So there I was assembling Ron’s microphone positioner in front of the entire class, and though I might have been nervous about it, instead had fun putting it together. After everything was setup and ready, our class was invited to sit in the choir seats right underneath the front organ registers. As if that listening perspective of the glorious music wasn’t enough, I was just a few seats away from audio luminaries Wes Dooley and Rupert Neve. I thought to myself: THIS is why I am a member of the AES.

Here’s a pic of my Decca Tree
for a different recording situation.
Decca Tree, Before the Show

September 26, 2016 / Randy Coppinger

AES LA 2016 Meetups

135th Audio Engineering Convention in New York City entrance banner

Are you going to be in Los Angeles for the 141st Convention of the Audio Engineering Society?
Let’s meet in person!

Thr, Sep 29

12:30pm UPDATED
Bring your lunch, or just hang

West Hall Groundwork eating area, near West Exhibit Hall entrance 

3:30pm
We might talk about microphones. A little bit.
South Hall Exhibit Area
Booth 406 – Roswell Audio & Microphone Parts

Fri, Sep 30

10:30am UPDATED 
Seems like a good time for caffeinated beverages

West Hall Groundwork eating area, near West Exhibit Hall entrance
12:30pm
Buy your lunch, or just hang

El Cholo – 1037 S. Flower Street (walking distance from Convention Center)

See you there friends.

May 5, 2016 / Randy Coppinger

Erin Fitzgerald

On the occasion of Erin publishing her e-book about how to get started in voice acting, I took the opportunity to talk shop and glean some wisdom from my very talented friend.

I asked Erin:

(1) How did you decide to create an e-book?
“There was a license plate in front of me that said, “write.'”
“I thought it would be a pamphlet… with some links. That’s how it started.”
“This one afternoon I sat down to start putting this pamphlet together – it poured out of me.”
“It’s written the way I talk, so it’s very conversational.”
“Even if you don’t like my opinion, or my stories, or any of the advice I give, just the links alone with be worth their weight in gold.”

(2) When you work with others — producers, directors, engineers, other actors — what can they do that really helps you act? What things make it more difficult?
“I mention in the book how important a good engineer and director are…”
“The best engineer: you don’t even notice they’re doing their job.”
“When I’ve become a character, there’s a flow…”
“If I’m blessed enough to be with other people in the room, which always makes it more honest for me; my acting always goes up to a much more real place when other actors are in the room. It’s a huge blessing.”
“A really is engineer is so intuitive, that they’re three steps ahead of me, and I don’t even know where I’m going!”
“The director says, ‘Did you catch that? And the engineer’s like, “Of course.'”
“The directors, the engineers, the other actors – everybody adds. I can’t speak for other people, but my acting gets better when there’s a beautiful team of people who are working together and each one of them have the permission to use all of their intuition, to use all of their talents and their strengths. And then we never have to pay attention to the weaknesses. We don’t have to because everybody compliments each other.”

(3) Tell us about recording ensemble.
“My favorite is prelay when we’re all in the room together. There’s no question. Or if I’m doing a videogame and I’m not going to get to have other people in the room, a video game where I’m not being pushed to deliver a hundred lines per hour, a videogame where the director, and the writer, and the producer in the room and we’re playing, and we’re really discovering a performance.”
“So to get the performance that you would get with another person in the room we have to do something more creative in order to really create the pacing, the flow, and that rhythm. So, that’s a real gift when that happens.”
“Things come up that would never come up one-on-one.”

(4) Who inspires you?
“I live in Los Angeles surrounded by the best talent in the world.”
“I love artists.”
“I love reading comic books…”
“I have to use my imagination. My eyes are closed most of the time. My imagery all comes from the inside because very rarely is the product already finished that I can look at it.”
“I like to go to art shows and just soak that in. And I feel like that helps build my inner universe.”
“I was a big fan of Emily Carr when I was younger.”
“There’s a great artist: Brian Ball… his artwork is so stunning.”

(5) What’s your favorite thing about being an actor?

(6) When you’re asked to create a character, what kinds of things do you want to know?

(7) What’s your favorite trick, tip, or secret weapon?

(8) If you could travel through time to have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be? And which of your roles would most likely delight that historical figure?

February 24, 2016 / Randy Coppinger

Film Soundtrack Story: Bird

The Feb 23rd meeting of the AES-LA Section featured Jason LaRocca and Bobby Fernandez, discussing their work as film scoring mixers. Bobby told a story that I found especially engaging.

Clint Eastwood got some recordings of Charlie Parker playing his sax. But the recordings were only his solos, and they had been recorded using a reel-to-reel tape machine, just hanging the mic from the chord, draped on top of the stage mic. Clint wanted to isolate Parker and re-record the rest of the band for his film Bird, made in the mid-eighties. That meant Bobby had to figure out how to minimize bleed from the original performance before digital workstations were common, and before robust noise reduction was really viable.

8200
Bobby said he put six analog GML equalizers on his left, and six more on his right, with the signal feeding through all of them. The left EQs were used to cut the backing players… drums, piano, etc. The right EQs were used to bring out Parker’s alto sax. From his description, it sounded like he would work on a passage, or phrase, or even a note at a time. That EQed segment would be recorded to an adjacent track, then he would adjust the EQs for the next segment and punch it, then adjust EQs, then punch, until the whole solo was isolated. Cleaning up that track would be a difficult task even with today’s technology, but I’m blown away by the patience and technique Bobby used to accomplish that isolation with the tools of the day. Inspiring!

December 1, 2015 / Randy Coppinger

Voice Acting Lessons from Daws Butler

Voice actor, writer, and legendary acting instructor Daws Butler has been celebrated in print and live presentation. Here are a few acting tips that I especially enjoyed…

Corey Burton: “They’re not voices, they’re characters.” Let another character inhabit your voice and you can create distinct personalities. These can be as memorable and real as actual people you know.

Nancy Cartwright: “I want to show how to get the words off the page.” Not just acting, but relating.

Joe Bevilacqua: Keep in mind the physicality of the character, the facial structure. Portray the character you are creating with your body. Think about how tall the character is, what age the character is, and where the voice emanates from the body.

Tony Pope: Try the same story in different dialects, different characters. Try to bring something new to a thing you’ve already done. “Never be afraid to be lousy. Always take chances.”

Joe Bevilacqua: Many of his characters had been a voice long before they were animated into a specific character. He collected personalities that he thought were interesting.

June Foray: “Daws would always have a little piece of paper…” on which he kept a list of ideas for voices.

Earl Kress: A comedy principle of Daws was to play opposite–Fast against slow, or slow against fast. Loud against soft. Contrasts.

Listen to the entire Tribute to Dawn Butler.

Daws Butler On Microphone RCA KU3a 10,001The book mentioned in the live tribute–Scenes for Actors and Voices–includes some additional tips…

In the forward, Corey Burton writes: “Performing is not simply reading aloud, but delivering the lines as if those words just naturally occurred to the character; as an expression of that character’s own thoughts and feelings at that particular moment in their imaginary lives.”

The words of Daws Butler himself: “We do not read lines–we ‘express thoughts’…in many instances, one ‘thought’ will wipe out another–it will take precedence, asserting its more valid importance to the continuity–this I would call ‘decaying.’ The end of the line seems to ‘fall off’ or atrophy–and the energy of the following lines snaps into position. Its vitality is a refreshment–a transfusion–and it excites the listener, because it seems so natural and spontaneous. Because it is representative of what happens in ‘real life.’ Remember–the actor’s stock-in-trade is being ‘real.’ All else is pretension.

Daws also encouraged: “I want you to understand the words. I want you to taste the words. I want you to love the words. Because the words are important. But they’re only words. You have to leave them on the paper and you take the thoughts and you put them in your mind and then you as an actor recreate them, as if the thoughts had suddenly occurred to you.”

[bold emphasis added by your truly]

November 30, 2015 / Randy Coppinger

Tribute to Daws Butler

Voice actor, writer, and legendary acting instructor Daws Butler was paid tribute in this recording from July of 2003, presented by his students and colleagues: Joe Bevilacqua, Corey Burton, June Foray, and Nancy Cartwright. Writers, producers, recording engineers, voice directors, and voice actors will enjoy and be nourished by the insights of Mr. Butler as shared in this full length presentation.

To read a few of my take aways from this presentation and the book they mention, see Voice Acting Lessons from Daws Butler.