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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.

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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!

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