Gear Talk
by on June 1, 2009 in Recent Activity

Here’s a forum to geek out about music tools, software, production techniques, etc. You can ask me questions in the comment window below, and I’ll try to answer as best I can, when possible. This idea was suggested by Brian McWilliams, who wrote:

“A lot of us ambient music lovers also end up dabbling in ambient ourselves and you are widely regarded for your engineering and gift with sound. For that reason, I think a lot of people might be interested to hear about your experiences and recommendations with gear. Even something like issues you are working out in your studio would be great to read about. As an example, I just found out that you worked on sound design for Camel Audio’s Alchemy. Would enjoy hearing your take on any of the above…”

So I’ll start by answering his question about Camel “Alchemy.” Alchemy is an amazing sample-mangling soft synth that incorporates several different resynthesis tools simultaneously, including granular, additive, subtractive and spectral resynthesis. My friend Tim Conrardy was working for Camel as sound designer and customer service. (Sadly, Tim passed away suddenly in late February, and we miss him dearly.) Last year, Tim asked me to contribute some raw samples to ship with Alchemy’s library, for which they paid me quite fairly. I had hoped to make some presets for the initial release of the program, but I got busy around that time and missed my deadline. So, this Spring I did manage to come up with some interesting sounds, and some of these should appear in the next revision.

Alchemy has a unique timbre due to its various digital mangling capabilities. Generally I find that it excells at creating more diffuse, abstract sorts of textures, rather than the sharp or discreet sounds that analog synths or straight samplers tend to make. Although it can get crunchy or edgy when desired, I find myself gravitating towards slowly shifting blurry sounds. It’s quite deep, and I consider myself a beginner in the earliest stages.

Feel free to ask any other questions, and I’ll try to answer when I can. – Robert

152 Responses to Gear Talk

  1. Brian McWilliams says:

    I hope other people respond to this thread… I’d hate to be the only one. I could certainly turn this into a gear interview since I have tons of questions!

    It looks like everything is moving towards the laptop for writing and mixing. What is your process like now? Are you mixing externally, on a computer or a combination of both?

    Do you see a day when _everything_ will be done on the computer and does that worry you?



  2. wasili says:

    hi all,

    this is interesting indeed.i have tons of questions’s a few i can come up with at this moment:

    1 : Robert,how do you get such a WIDE spacious kind of stereo sound(i’m not talking about reverb,that’s another question).what do you use for that?

    2 : i’m also interested in feedback systems on a software level.i absolutely love feedback,i use Native Instruments Absynth 4 as an audio fx for that right now,and Reaktor 5.any feedback / tips / recommendations about feedbacksystems would be greatly appreciated.

    3 : what’s a really good software reverb plugin?i really like Logic’s spacedesigner a lot(my best friend has Logic Studio 8,i don’t…..i use Ableton Live 8….well because it’s….live…obviously .

    Alchemy is truly amazing.i can create sounds with it that sound like something Robert Rich made……

    anyway,all the best to all of you!

    keep good music alive!

  3. Chris says:

    What i want to know is how the heck do you get those weird vocal signature sounds. E-bow modifications?

    It would be nice if i could find a way to re-create similar vocal sounds on my PC sense i do not own any instruments apart from what ever VSTi’s and sound sample librarys i have on disc.

    I love what you with the stainless steel. It is hypnotic and has an almost bluesy quality behind it.

  4. admin says:

    Wow! big bunch o’ questions. I’ll havve to come back to this tomorrow with more detail, as I’m a bit tired right now (almost midnight). What I can answer quickly:

    3. – vocal sounds – gliss guitar! Remember Gong from the late sixties? Daevid Allen invented it – or at least transmitted it to me. I just adapted it to lap steel guitar. The high bridge allows the bowing to get a bit more expressive without bottoming out. (Daevid used a Strat.) I use a part from a nut driver set, bowing on the high “e” string, with echo and a tiny bit of verb (not much verb).

    2. – Many questions – let me answer these tomorrow.

    1. – Tools is tools! Use what works. Doesn’t have to be the latest. Remember that there’s always a reaction to the “state of the art” a few years later when a few people start craving the sound of a certain era, and the old obsolete gear become valuable again. My feeling is that if you can still make music with it, it’s valuable, and ignore what other people think is cool. Trends don’t matter because they’ll cycle around soon enough. As for laptops taking over recording, pay attention to the sound, not the tools. If someone offered an engineer in 1950 the hard disk recording we have now, they would have jumped on it – and still made the same music. Dig into your own mind and create what lives beyond the tools!

    I’ll try to answer more tomorrow. – RR

  5. Peter Hrycenko says:

    When recording in the field, or just natural sounds in general, do you find it challenging to use the right technique to get the result you want?

    Do you also find yourself “fixing up” the sound/sample you recorded afterward in the studio, or do you normally try to keep the recording fresh and raw the way it was recorded originally? ( i guess it would depend on the scape you are trying to create).

  6. admin says:

    to 5. – I treat nature recordings as raw fodder, which I’ll modify as needed. I’m not a purist. I love the natural world, but when I record it, the sound becomes separate. I might slow a recording down, add processing, select the best moment or edit the noisy bits out from the smooth bits. No rules. The art decides the process.

  7. Chris says:

    I heard of Gong but never had the chance to listen to them. That was before i was born. 🙂 Thanks for all the information. I just came by instructions on how to build a lap steel:

    Although i don’t know how reliable this may be but i will look into it anyways. I don’t think any good sample librarys exist that i know of so why not build one. Another instrument i’d love to build is a “Beam”, that monstrosity used in Chronos by Micheal Stearns. I’ve always been attracted to that sound beside all those other worldly guitar harmonics. Fransisco Lupica did some nifty stuff with the beam as well.

  8. Sergio says:

    Hi Robert, thanks for sharing your great knowledge!, my question goes back to the liner notes on “a troubled resting place”, where you can read, ‘tunings based on the harmonic and inharmonic overtone relationships of constrained chaotic feedback and other complex resonating systems’, how did you manage to stablish the relationships in order to obtain the ratios between the notes, pitches?, take care

    Best regards

  9. admin says:

    Thanks for all the interest! I’m falling behind in my answers now. Let’s see….

    2.1) one secret to “width” in sound is actually depth. In other words, I try to find a place in the soundstage for some dry sounds up front, medium “wet” and wetter further back. Panning darker sounds toward the middle helps them feel farther away, smaller dry sounds can pan further to the edges to bring them closer – they sound like they are in the speakers instead of behind the speakers. The layers create a sense of wide and deep.

    2.2) I find that it’s easier to get interesting feedback performances by taking sources out into channels on a mixing board, rather than entirely in software. Outboard gear helps a lot here.

    2.3) I like Space Designer also. I still tend to use outboard reverb, especially Sony units. My R7 died recently so a friend found a used V55 for me. There are a lot of good impulse reverb plug-ins though.

    8) Tunings and feedback systems: the point of that liner note comment was to explain that feedback methods of sound-making tend to impart their own tonalities, without the need for analysis. Usually a harmonic series-like structure gets determined by the fundamental frequencies of short delays inherent in the returns from processor units. Resonances get imparted by comb filtering and such. It’s out of my control. Then I simply try to tune to what I hear. Sometimes the tunings are very blurry, and don’t really benefit from analysis.

  10. wasili says:

    thanks very much for those tips Robert.i’ll go experiment with that panning stuff!
    but first i have to go to work……

    gotta let go……

  11. Dale Lindsay says:

    I read in your tour diary where you talked about sending your requirements to a venue before you played a public concert. Could you tell me what you require from a venue? I’m about to release material and hit the road over the next year, so any other gear hints would be appreciated. Thanks for indulging us with this Q and A. 🙂

  12. Sergio says:

    your answer was really helpful, thanks a lot!

  13. admin says:

    Responding to Dale at (11), well, short of publishing my last tour rider, I’ll just summarize it by saying:

    -It explains what kind of gear I will bring with me, and what gear I need provided for me to make it work. (e.g. a PA system, power outlets, lighting, projection screen.)

    -It says how much I expect to get paid, and when I expect it; it asks to find me a place to sleep the night before and after the gig (i.e. the organizer’s hide-a-bed sofa)

    -It describes the nature of the show (one or two sets, how long, the fact that I don’t pause for applause, etc.)

    – It requires that backstage must provide two bottles of Veuve Cliquot Champaign and 2 oz. Beluga Caviar, and only the cute groupies get a copy of my room key.

    OK, I made up the last bit. The reality is that most of the organizers are people I know and trust, so I treat the tour rider as a way to explain things, to help things run smoothly, not a list of demands.

  14. James Sigrist says:


    About those Sony processors: The ones you mention I just recently bought on ebay. My favorite of all time is the V77 which I have in my studio. My question is this: As you know, the battery on Sony processors lasts about 5 years. (and that goes by quicker than beans these days) The V77 battery is easily user replaced, but the batteries on the earlier units like the R7,D7, M7 and V55 use a battery that is strap welded to the circuit board requiring it to be serviced by a tech or by oneself if you know how. Have you modified yours at all to work like the V77 battery and if so, what kind of parts did you use? Keep up all the great work and I look forward to seeing you in Portland next time you tour here.

  15. admin says:

    14. For many years I have offered a favor to my friends and updated their R7 batteries for them. Yeah, it’s a hardware bug and the batteries only last a few years. I am pretty good with a soldering iron so I remove the soldered battery and patch a socket into the spot so they can put a more beefy coin cell in its place. Any 3 volt lithium coin cell will work, just decide on the type and solder a matching holder in its place, it’ll be interchangeable. Any 3V lithium works, and usually the thickest last longest.

    The V77 is an impulse reverb and very different from its predecessors. It’s good but not the same as the old ones from Sony, which I use for plates and more abstracted ambience. The R77 resembles many of the recent crop of impulse reverbs, so you can save your money and use those if you have a DAW. Note that if you have the same conversation with my friend Steve Roach, he’ll say the same about how the Lexicon PCM70 differs from the others – so take everything with a grain of salt and use what you have to the fullest extent.

  16. James Sigrist says:

    Thanks for the info Robert. I’ve never heard the term “impulse reverb” before. Are Eventide products that way? Is the Lexicon PCM80 that way? What does “impulse reverb” mean? Thanks so much for taking the time with all of this and it’s exceptionally nice that you are sharing your thoughts on gear. Your albums all have amazing sound.

  17. admin says:

    16. Another term for Impulse Reverb is Sampling Reverb or Convolution. The idea is that many modern reverbs actually take a sample of an acoustic space (made with microphones and a starter pistol or balloon pop) and they perform a real-time multiplication of that impulse with the musical waveform passing through the algorithm. This works really well for synthesizing acoustic spaces, but it sounds different from the old reverbs that attempted to synthesize an acoustic space using many delays, randomized from a multi-tap time delay algorithm. Neither is “better or worse” they just sound different. The old acoustic systems are different yet: plates, springs, resonant rooms with speakers and mics. They all have their place.

  18. James Sigrist says:

    Very, very interesting. Thanks for the clarification.

  19. wasili says:

    hi all,

    just found an incredible reverb plugin called Aether( by Galbanum).
    for more info,follow this link:

    i.m loving it already!


  20. admin says:

    Thanks for the link. I hadn’t heard of them before. Looks interesting.

  21. Joe says:

    The pvc flutes and motm modular hardware synthesizer are cool. Ever think of making something like a pvc trombone? Or there’s always the udderbot:

  22. admin says:

    I build flutes because that’s an instrument I feel I can play OK. It’s a substitute for my voice, where I can express certain types of emotional content. I really don’t know anything about playing trombone. If I needed that sound I would probably just hire someone! The only real reason to build things from scratch other that the pleasure of the work, is when I need a sound or a tuning that I don’t know how else to obtain. So I still build stuff…

  23. wasili says:

    hi Robert,

    just finished mixing and mastering our new album,worked with those panning tips you gave,it sounds amazingly wide now,just like your music!
    so thanks very much!!!!

    question:do you know any good books about mastering?
    i want to step up my mastering skills.

    all the best to you!

  24. admin says:

    Best book that I know of for mastering is “Mastering Audio – the art and the science” by Bob Katz (Focal Press). I use it as a text for the college class I teach on audio mastering. It’s technical and accurate. – rr

  25. wasili says:


    i’ll have a look around for it.


  26. wasili says:

    i just called the music store,they had a copy of that book.
    i’m going to get it this afternoon.can’t wait.

    and i’m going to wait with releasing the new record.
    hey,why release it when tips from an expert could make it as good as in the dream realm,where there is abundance……


  27. phil says:


    An addition to question 2.1 (stereo width and depth) and your reply, which I found very helpful: Do you use different reverb settings for the dry/medium wet/wet sound fields or are these defined simply by the fx-send amount going to the same reverb?

    Also, I’m just learning the Turkish ney flute and have been experimenting with reverb and various delay effects for this instrument. Do you have any advice for interesting effect chains for flute in an ambient context?

    And one more reverb question (that shows that I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to sound production): Lush long reverb tails seem to get somewhat lost when added on instruments with long sustained soundscapes as backdrops, especially when the foreground instruments with reverb also play sustained notes. How can the reverb be made more present on droney soundscapey music without getting a soaked muddy overall sound?

    Thanks so much for your already helpful previous replies!


  28. admin says:

    26. – Regarding mastering, it’s often a good idea to check the sound of your mixes on speakers different from the ones you work on, and usually very accurate full range systems tell you much more than “typical” nonlinear systems, because there is no such thing as typical. That’s why mastering engineers have those big expensive speakers.

    27. Probably too much information to squeeze into a short answer, but I’ll try to summarize. (1) I find the quality of a reverb often matters more than the length or quantity. I typically mix with two reverbs, a short and a long. lengths differ from piece to piece. Often a choose a plate-style setting for my short, so it doesn’t muddy up the transients. I use the long setting more as a part of the sound design itself. Anything more unusual gets recorded along with the sound of a specific track if necessary. (2) Regarding ney and other flutes – or anything in the vocal range for that matter – I find that any reverb that sits directly on top of the sound tends to muddy it up. Often I use only panned delays, sometimes with a tiny bit of +- pitch shift, and if there’s any reverb on the sound it’s only on the echo returns. that keeps the lead voice clearer. (3) Either use less reverb or use better reverb. EQ’ing the reverb return also helps, reducing a few dB around 200 Hz or so. Depends on the reverb. If you want to create that effect with everything in a cloud, start with a very bright source timbre through a Lexicon PCM70 set to long hall at 20 sec., and use 100% reverb with no dry sound. I tend to opt for more variation, personally, but the Lexicon works great as a homogenizer. I prefer the clarity of the Sony reverbs. To distinguish sustaining lead sounds from the reverb wash, try the delay trick I mentioned above.

  29. phil says:

    Wow! Wonderful answer, Robert – VERY helpful!
    That gives me a lot to experiment with.

    Thanks so much!

  30. Wayne says:

    I am currently using all Vst synths and processing entirely “in the box”. Also I am using my sequencers ‘master bus’ for my final mix. I am never completely satisfied with the result. Although I realize that when I listen to one of your pieces it has been ‘mastered’ I cannot duplicate the spaciousness. I have read that summing through and analog device like the ‘Dangerous 2-Bus’ will open up my mix and give it more depth and dynamic range. Would you agree that summing to stereo through an analog circuit is one way to improve a mix.



  31. admin says:

    for 30. (Wayne) about analog summing: short answer – no, I don’t think you need it. Long answer is more complex. Analog summing CAN really sound better then digital summing if you have very loud tracks, lots of tracks, or if you need some “color” i.e. distortion, especially for a rock/pop/rap mix. If you keep your track levels 6 dB down from maximum, manage your digital bus levels carefully, then you can absolutely get a great sound in the box. I think more often the problem lies in the quality of soft-synths, internal reverbs, and trying to compose music with all-synthetic sources. I think a few microphones or external sound sources help immensely to breathe life into a mix. Also, trying to mix on small speakers, alone in a bedroom, using packaged loops or presets, tends to isolate the music from the heart, and maybe leads to decisions based on clichés. Excitement comes from experimenting and bending the rules, so going outside of the box often brings an element of surprise and nonlinearity that can help. Everyone just starts thinking they can solve their problems with new gear, but usually that just creates more problems. (Furthermore, if you want analog summing to sound good, you suddenly need 16 or 24 channels of good D/A conversion, and 2 channels of REALLY good A/D conversion if you don’t want to just flatten things down with jitter artifacts.)

  32. Wayne says:


    Thanks so much for your prompt reply to my question about analog summing. I will definately try to add some life to my compostions and overall sound field by introducing some external sound sources and as I listen to your wonderful traks more closely I am beginning to hear the life and realism that these sources can add.


  33. Emit Idy says:

    Thanks for the great info Robert!

    To Wayne regarding “mastering”:
    I used to think of mastering as a magical process that takes your song and makes it sound better, this seems like not necessarily the case although maybe it can be. You may know more about this than me but in case you don’t, here’s some info I wish someone told me a couple years ago.
    Speaking as a young audio engineer and recording artist who has gone through the mastering process on my own album, I have come to a few conclusions. One of things I found was what a mastering engineer can and can’t do with a finished mix. What they are great for is taking all the songs on your album and getting them to the proper volume so that the album flows. Also if there are frequency problems or imbalances the engineer can address that with EQ and multiband compression. With the right tools and the right ears they may be able to open the stereo field a bit and in extreme events the mastering engineer can do some aggressive processing and with EQ, etc., really sculpt your sound. However this aggressive approach is not ideal because any EQ adjustment that is done in the mastering process could be done better and more precisely during the mixing stage. If one instrument is making the mix muddy sounding, the mastering engineer can only duck the entire mix for those frequencies. It is much more desirable to clean up only that particular instrument in the mixing stage. So what I am suggesting to musicians is to get the mix perfect before mastering. Mastering is important because you are getting a qualified second opinion, however the less processing the engineer needs to do the better, especially because there is only so much they can do. I am probably not qualified to give this advice so anyone feel free to correct me where I am wrong. Meow. xo.

  34. admin says:

    re: 33. Emit – I couldn’t have said it better myself. As many of you know, when I’m not working on my own music I do a lot of mastering. I send my clients a long introductory email that basically says what you say, plus some tirades about the volume wars, and advice for submitting mixes. First and foremost I view the mastering process as a quality control activity, or perhaps like a nursemaid trying to help the delivery go as smoothly as possible. There is no such thing as fairy dust to sprinkle on a mix to make it sound good – the proverbial turd polishing applies here – and I have learned over the years that by showing and explaining everything to the clients while I’m working, they learn a lot, feel more happy about the results, and often return to me for the next album. That’s part of my reasoning for spending time answering questions on this forum. The better everyone’s music sounds, the better we all feel – it’s a collaborative activity, not a competitive one. I think we can all lift each other up and encourage quality and honesty above all else in our music – and heck, in our lives as well!

  35. Wayne says:

    A question concerning compression. It is obvious that most info concerning mixing and mastering in books and on the internet relate to the pop and rock genres. How do you approach compression. Do you tell your clients to avoid ‘master bus’ compression when submitting pieces to be mastered. Do you use ‘multi band compression’ when and where needed during mastering. Or …do you tend to avoid it so that the dynamic range of your compositions is not affected.



  36. admin says:

    35. Compression is a matter of taste. In subtle applications, it can help make uneven sources fit together in a mix. Obviously modern music uses compression as an effect in its own way, and when bus compression pumps a bit it can glue together the bass instruments (usually in pop music, the bassline tracks the kick drum, and heavy bus compression will make the whole mix duck a bit when the low end thumps, making the thump feel louder.) However, in almost all cases I think it’s better to wait to apply compression to the entire mix at the last stage, during mastering, where it’s easier to listen for the negative artifacts. This is a stylistic question as well as personal taste. I definitely think that modern mixes are overcompressed and overlimited (i.e. overloud, which is a different problem), and that people have forgotten how to use the volume knob. During mastering I do often use multi-band compression in a surgical way, but only after I found some good plug-ins that don’t wreck the phase relationship of a mix. I find that I can actually be more invisible, more subtle with these tools if they are well designed. …. a philosophical aside about compression: when we listen to acoustic music in a large space, the air itself, and the reverberance of the space, act as compressors to even out the natural dynamics of the instruments. In a recording environment, when we use a lot of close microphones and multitrack the sources, or use electrical sources that never pass through the air, we don’t have that natural subtle compression. I think that’s why compression has become so ubiquitous in recorded music, to try to emulate that natural smoothness that occurs over distance with acoustic environments. Yet most people don’t remember what purely acoustic music sounds like – they associate live music with loud PA systems. It’s amazing to listen to completely un-amplified acoustic music. It sounds gorgeous!

  37. wasili says:

    hi Robert,

    that book by Bob Katz is truly amazing!it got me hungry for mastering really,really helps so much to get advice from a professional engineer.

    i’d also like to know more about alternate tunings and intonation(to experiment with).any books etc you recommend?



  38. admin says:

    There are many very opinionated books on alternate tuning theory (Harry Partch: Genesis of a Music, Easley Blackwood, to name two). As far as a good introduction to Just Intonation with the most practical info, I recommend “Just Intonation Primer” by David Doty. It’s a private pressing through his website or the Just Intonation Network.

  39. wasili says:


    thank you very much!

    all the best,


  40. Tim says:

    From a philosophic point of view Robert, where do you say you gain your inspiration from? I understand you to be an artist of many dimensions. The acoustic/electric mixture of sounds is something artists (like myself) often try to assimilate into their music and it either comes out to choppy or unnatural sounding (this often happens to me).

    I apologize that this isn’t a completely ‘gear’ oriented question, but I feel that your personal philosophy on music and mixing reflects your choice of gear.

    Thank you very much for your time and music-


  41. wasili says:

    hi Robert,

    a little background info:

    last saturday,someone gave my best friend some information from a magazine article regarding the tuning of musical instruments down to 432 HZ instead of the standard 440 HZ.
    432 HZ seems to be a Universal frequency,connected to the heartchakra.
    i listened to some sounds and music that was re-tuned to this,it sounded and felt beautiful!(it also seems that loud music tuned to 432 HZ doesn’t damage your ears)

    do you know any really good software for retuning my own tracks down to 432 HZ?

    much thanks,


  42. Joe says:

    Great intro to just intonation tuning online:

  43. admin says:

    Response to 42. YES! Great intro to JI. Well explained.

    Response to 41. I’m a bit skeptical about small absolute frequency differences being responsible for psychological affects, outside of the fact that acoustic instruments will “relax” a bit more with looser strings (or equivalent) and sound softer. If you are still in Equal Temperament, I think any difference you hear is probably placebo, or sensed relative to the higher A-440. However, I won’t rule out the possibilities of unseen chakras affecting the tone. That’s out of my purvey. You can tune any electronic instrument to A-432 simply by using the global tune knob, and count 8 beats per second against an A-440 reference. (I think that would be 16th notes at 120 BPM). As for loud sounds not damaging your ears, look at OSHA standards and judge accordingly. White noise has every frequency and it’ll still hurt your ears. I’m sure a sine wave at 432 Hz will also hurt your ears if sufficiently loud.

    To answer 40. I’ll need a bit more time to try to answer that. As a vague answer, suffice to say that I’m inspired by some hermetic place hidden deep inside me, like a well that pulls water up from a deep ocean. I can’t exactly understand it, myself. I just try to dictate what it tells me, and I measure all of my small decisions against a template that I don’t see in its entirety. When I get stuck, it’s because I can’t find the well-head for a while, stumbling around looking for a drink. – RR

  44. Tim says:

    I can understand, trying to define the ineffiable is indeed difficult. As you use this metaphor of “stumbling around looking for a drink”, I think this describes the whole process of ‘being’ quiet well- grasping at the world but at the same time not being able to contain all of it.

    I feel from your music (subjectively of course), is much like the metaphor of the hand ‘grasping’ or ‘not-grasping’. Your compositions ebb-and-flow between these two- I feel that ‘non-trying’ and ‘trying’, as paradoxical as it sounds, are both vital to the music writing process and the balance you find is your innate talent.

    So to legitimize this question towards gear, and perhaps refine the question to not make it so vague, would you say that it is not primarily the tools, but rather the artist who defines and creates his music? In relation to this, and your philosophy, how do you write then, is it a meditative, intuitive process, or calculated and methodical?

    Thank you very much for your quick reply Rob,

    Best of wishes and respect-

  45. Ross says:

    First of all, many thanks Robert for taking the time to participate in this discussion. I have appreciated your work for a long time now and truly value your opinions.

    As Lance Armstrong said, “It’s not about the bike”. Similarly, the temptation to get hung up on the high tech gear now available to musicians is a great distraction and often gets in the way of making music. I know I’m guilty of that myself.

    Back in the early 90’s, Wordperfect was on it’s way out and MS Word was on it’s way up but in the business world at least, there wasn’t a dominant word processor (unlike now). Back then I asked a computing friend of mine, “which word processor is best?” (WP or MS Word)

    His answer was, “the best one is the one you are most familiar with. If you know it well then you’ll get more done. As opposed to using something that is supposed to be better but you struggle to use”.

    To a large degree that same principle holds true here. As you stated earlier, “Tools is tools!” If it works for you, get on with it!

    Many thanks again.

  46. admin says:

    In response to Ross #45: Well said. I find that too much obsession about gear usually indicates a creative block. It’s easy to blame one’s lack of productivity on something external. Tools need to be “good enough” and the rest relies on the user.

    to Tim #44: For me at least, the creative process resembles that cliché “10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.” I have periods of insight interspersed with long bouts of effort to shape those insights into a form that does them justice. Alas, I could wish my fingers dripped the honey of genius night and day; instead I need to use a slow-cooked approach.

    Regarding the tools, I try to make sure that the tools I’m using are allowing me to express what’s inside, rather than overtly determining the outcome based on their inherent design. So many of the modern looping/sampling instruments impose a “paint by numbers” approach with canned rhythms and rigid tempo/bar structures. People writing the software assume everyone wants to play dance music. For example, about 18 months ago I bought a Korg M3 for live concerts, and had to spend several days going through all the presets and turning off the disgusting “Karma” drum patterns and bass lines… cookie cutter junk! No wonder so much music sounds the same. So for me the key is to find my own voice in the gear, spend time programming it, not buy so much new stuff so I can concentrate on making music with what I have.

  47. Ross says:

    Many thanks for your response Robert.

    Making ambient music is definitely a different process to making Dance or Rock music. The presets on almost all software and the sample libraries available are geared toward the common structure of verse, chorus, bridge etc. and yes, so much music now does all tend to sound the same as a consequence (especially Dance ugghh)

    Bearing that in mind, I would be interested to hear from not only Robert but other Ambient composers, on how they go about building an ambient piece. I’ve been using Reaper for a while now with it’s standard linear approach to building tracks but just lately have been playing with Ableton Live and it’s Session view, a different slant on music composition that feels good to me and works quite nicely.

    From my digging around the web I have learnt that-
    Robert uses Logic
    Michael Sterns uses Protools
    Altus uses Fruity Loops
    Steve Roach uses Vegas (no midi?)

    Interested to hear how other composers do it and what they use that helps.


  48. admin says:

    Remember that the tools change every few years – whatever feels right this decade, use it. I started by recording live to cassette or 2-track reel. I’ve used Portastudio, mainframe computer, 1/2″ 8-track Otari, Protools bouncing to ADAT (from 1991-1999), Tascam DA78, Cubase from ’99-’04, and Logic after that. For the last few years I have used Ableton Live as an assistant when I perform. I stopped using Protools only because I got tired of Digidesign’s nickel & dime vampirism (deep down I’m a cheapskate.) Protools still works really well though, as do most of these DAW apps now. Remember – we all sound like ourselves regardless of the tools!

  49. Ross says:

    Thanks for the prompt reply Robert.

    I hear what you’re saying, loud and clear. I liked that last sentence, it is absolute truth. If you can’t play your guitar well, it doesn’t matter how much you paid for it – you’ll still sound the same.

    Thanks again. I’ll continue to watch this page with interest.

  50. karl ryan says:

    Hi RRGG (robert rich- glurp guru)
    My question is the same one the 2nd questioner asked.
    How do you get such a wide sound. I’ve always praised you for this to fellow musicians. You’ve heard the different ways I’ve tried recording my stuff. I’ve had problems not only in getting a middle range volume on all my songs, but problems in finding a way to play clean (without reverb falloff/effect dribble)and still get a wide sound that fits all the pieces together without throwing the mix/volume off.Making one track sound louder than the other. How are you getting that right in the middle-can be heard loud or soft-and still fill the room-equalized sound?
    And if it’s really top of the line pricey, can you make any suggestions that might help on cheaper or older equipment?
    what i play is:
    fostex mr-8 digital portable recorder.
    korg ms 2000 keyboard
    korg electribe mx beat machine
    audacity recording program for my computer.
    thats it…no open mic at all. straight into machine recording.

  51. admin says:

    Hi Karl! I wish I could tell you one simple recipe for making a deep and wide soundstage, but it comes from lots of small decisions. When I’m building up a piece of music, I try to make every new sound fit into the orchestration so it contributes to a sense of openness and depth. I do have one or two tools that help me create width. One trick is to use slightly pitch-shifted echoes left and right (one up a few cents, the other down a few cents), trailing behind sustaining lead sounds. I don’t put much reverb on these sounds, relying on the delays to enlarge their scope a bit. I’ll reserve the long reverbs for clouds and beds in the background. This isn’t a secret, just a habit that tends to work. I don’t have a magic bullet in this regard. – RR

  52. Dale Lindsay says:

    Thank you for your answer about going on the road.

    I was curious.

    How many tracks do your songs on average usually take up?

    Thanks for all the great music.

  53. admin says:

    Regarding (52) I generally try to keep my productions relatively sparse, as I find too many layers can cloud up the ideas in the music. It differs from project to project of course. At the simplest, I record my live releases to two track stereo, straight off the board. There might be 5 or 6 elements playing at once during an improvised concert like “Lumin” or “Mycosphere”. On the denser side of things, tracks from “Electric Ladder” or “Atlas Dei” might have climbed up to 30-40 tracks, in part because of the surround mix. One trick I use to keep track count low is to print stereo tracks of full performances with effects, trying to get the sound right with each submix when possible. The fewer the choices, the easier it is to mix. – RR

  54. B McWilliams says:

    Hi Robert,

    I have been doing more reading on software samplers as I consider how to replace my aging hardware sampler. A great number of people seem to think that hardware samplers sound better than software (and of course I would rather touch buttons than move a mouse). Though I agree it’s not the tools but what you do with them – I’m still interested in getting the best sound possible.

    So my question is really do you have any opinions on this – since I’m not sure how this could really be the case. It would seem to me that your audio interface would be the limiting factor. If you have a great interface, you’d think your samples would sound just as good in a software sampler as they would in a hardware unit. Of course, that’s overlooking the filters, envelopes, etc. found in a hardware unit.



  55. admin says:

    Hi Brian! In fact I use both software and hardware samplers these days. I love the EXS24 plug-in that comes with Logic, and it allows me quick access to sounds that I track into the computer. Within minutes I can take a recording and play it on the keyboard to create interesting textures. I think it sounds quite good, also. Having said that, I still like to have a hardware sampler when I perform, because it gives me a more dynamic interface than a computer screen. I bought a Korg M3 two years ago to replace my aging Ensoniq ASR10, and I chose it because it has several different ways to create layered sustaining performances, jumping among samples on the fly, similar to what I used to do with the 8 instruments that the ASR10 could load. It’s a different way of thinking. However, getting my own samples into the M3 has proven to be an annoyance, much less immediate than EXS24. So, they each have their place. – RR

  56. wasili says:

    hi Robert,

    i’m really impressed by Logic’s “Sculpture” instrument,and its vast soundcreations possibilities.
    however,my best friend has Logic,i use Ableton Live 8(don’t want to use anything else actually….Live keeps my creativity flowing like no other)
    so my question to you :
    is there any AU/VST software instrument that does similar things like Scultpture does?
    or any suggestions on how to create sounds that emulate real-world strings etc with different materials and such?



  57. admin says:

    Do you know about Applied Acoustic Systems “Tasman”? It’s a very interesting modeling synth. I think it should work inside of Ableton, at least I don’t see why not. – RR

  58. wasili says:

    thanks,will try it out!

  59. Glen Darcey says:

    Hi Robert,

    I was introduced to your music a few years back and got to see you at Partikel last year. I enjoy it very much.

    When you play live, how close to your original recordings do you try to get?

    I tend to work really fast, do a lot of real-time manipulation and don’t document much. This might make it harder to recreate which I might be OK with, not sure if people would be though if they are expecting something. How do you balance this? Do you use the original as rough template, like a jazz tune or do you work it so that you can match the original accurately?

  60. admin says:

    It depends upon the piece. Most of the time I try to make it sound a bit different each time I play, like a jazz tune, as you say. Because it’s electronic music, and some parts are controlled by computer, those of course will sound more or less the same each time. The fun comes with the lead voice, where I tend to improvise as much as the piece lets me, as long as I hit the major changes and remember the modes or inflections correctly! It’s probably most like Indian music, where the Raga sets rules for improvisation. My favorite moments, though, are the ones where I leap off the edge and go into pure improvisation. I try to reserve parts of any concert for those moments. – RR

  61. phil says:

    Hi Robert,

    This discussion has been really helpful and inspiring, and I come back every once in a while to read the new comments!

    I have a question I have been struggling with for many years. Professional recordings, yours included, all have a certain audio quality to them, a level of refinement and differentiation within a mix that has nothing to do with the music itself. When I compare it to my own audio quality, my audio signals (individual or a mix) sound good but too ‘thick’. I’m struggling, of course, with a description of the difference I’m hearing, but professionally produced/mastered records always sound ‘thinner’ but in a very good way.

    My attempts so far have included high cut filtering to make individual sounds occupy less room frequency wise and other EQing. Trying BBE and Behringer Ultrafex enhancers gave a bit of a polished and refined sense but at the cost of other flakiness in the general audio quality. I just don’t seem to get the quality I’m looking for. I assume that my equipment is good enough and shouldn’t be a factor.

    I would be very glad for any advice on how to get that kind of audio quality that your recordings also have!


  62. phil says:

    Oops, I meant high PASS filtering (or LOW cut).


  63. admin says:

    Some of the good qualities you’re referring to might emerge from good mastering, but you can go a long way by watching out for low-mid frequency build up in each of the instruments in your mix. Often it helps to make a small parametric (bell-shaped) dip in EQ around the 150-300 Hz area, which is often where the mud forms. Overuse of certain reverbs can also accentuate the low-midrange and build up clouds, so you might try dipping low frequencies a bit in the reverb return, if EQ’ing the original instrument makes things sound too thin. I recommend against using a high pass filter on the whole mix, as that can make it sound thin and lose important LF impact. Usually the low-mids are to blame. I would avoid using “exciter” effects on anything but a few instruments, as they can make things sound very unnatural. I hope this helps a bit?

  64. phil says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the tips about the 150-300Hz low-mid area and low frequencies in reverb tails! I haven’t worked much with EQ dips in that range and also need to pay more attention to how the reverbs build up certain frequencies.

    Could you elaborate on what type of steps during mastering could enhance the audio quality in the way I described? I would assume you are referring to mastering a stereo sum, in which case a high pass filter, as you say, wouldn’t be of much use. But I’m wondering which other processes might be used in mastering to achieve the quality I’m after and that your records clearly have?

    I would like to add a related question: I almost never anymore use a compressor on my music, but out of the dilemma above have been wondering if subtly using a mastering multi band compressor on the sum might help getting that refined sound. Maybe a Waves plugin or so? What’s your opinion on compressors for that purpose or compressors in general for ambient type music with and without percussive elements?

    Thanks for your comments!


  65. admin says:

    Hi Phil – It’s a longer discussion than I have time to tackle at the moment, but briefly: mastering mostly involves very careful application of EQ, sometimes compression, sometimes other tricks to get the best out of a mix. The key is to have a good enough listening environment so as not to over-process things or destroy an otherwise decent sounding mix. People tend to over-compress these days, and we have become increasingly accustomed to low dynamics in our music. That seems inappropriate for most ambient music, for which the idea of being “competitively loud” seems rather silly. It’s always better to solve the types of problems you are referring to, by controlling the dynamics and LF build-up at the individual track level than at the stereo bus or mastering stage. Multiband compressors are powerful tools in mastering, to allow certain problems to get solved more surgically than with overall compression, however it’s better to solve the problems in the mix, before needing a heavy-handed repair at the end.

  66. phil says:

    That’s very helpful, Robert! Thanks for all the good advice!!


  67. mukuta says:

    Hello Robert
    Could you do something on vinyl ????.As i love records 😉 instead of cds

  68. Maximus says:

    Hey Robert,

    You were right about the individual thing. I have tried to make music using solely the computer before and I have made some decent stuff, but nothing that I would be proud of. The computer just doesn’t give me that creative feeling, if you know what I mean. I am more looking for what kind of hardware to start with for making atmospheres and drones and all those nice things. I have a MicroKorg, a Sony PCM D50 field recorder, an acoustic guitar, a djembe drum, and I have a mixer coming in the mail, so I am going to be able to get going pretty soon. I also have a MacBook with Logic like you recommended, so I’m good there.

    I’m pretty new to this stuff, I know how to work the equipment I have right now but my knowledge of how things work outside of that is very little, I know the basics of Logic and I can mess around with some of the VSTs on there but I can’t get too deep into anything at this point.

    Like I said I would be really happy if I could get something with some buttons or knobs that I could use to make just frequencies and textures and drones and atmospheric sounds you know? I don’t know what would do that other than a synth, but I don’t know if I would be able to do any of that on my Korg. I saw a video of you using something called “MOTM 730”, I am pretty interested in that, is there a smaller version? =p

    Some of these questions might sound pretty dumb but I would rather ask them and look stupid than not ask them and be stupid forever, haha.

  69. admin says:

    For Maximus – these aren’t dumb questions at all, they are things we all struggle with. Finding the right tools is never easy, and the search never ends. The right tool this year might feel wrong next year, depending on the project. Honestly, most of my better sound design seems to come from processing. I use an assortment of outboard effects and software. Some of the software is free, like Sound Hack or Argeiphontes Lyre, both of which allow you to experiment with extreme mangling of sound files. ALso I get a lot of mileage from looping delays (I have one of each, more or less, but I especially like the Line 6 Echo Pro and the Looperlative), I like Eventide effects, and rely heavily on my old H3000 and Eclipse. However, “Delay Designer” in Logic does most of what they do, and sounds excellent. Good reverb is essential. I like Lexicon, TC and Sony reverbs. Audio Damage has a very affordable new plug-in reverb called EOS that I’m starting to use, and it’s quite nice.

    As for the MOTM, it’s very powerful, and I go to it frequently when I need inspiration. However, for someone starting out, I would warn of the expense that can incur over time. The MOTM 730 is just the clock divider module, only one panel in the system shown in the video. A minimal system for processing and simple sound creation can cost about $2000, and one like mine has grown well past $10,000. So I would consider a modular synth as a luxury item, not as an essential for getting started.

    You probably have your most powerful tool built right into Logic – the EXS24 sampler. You can take chunks of your own sound and turn them into instruments. It’s so much easier to use than outboard samplers, very quick and convenient. I recommend you dig into that some more.

    The key is to think of every sound as potential raw material for a texture. I think computer software tends to make us think “in the box” or literally, and we need to remember the unthought-of possibilities and bend the tools around our own ideas. – R

  70. George says:


    As an electronic composer/percussionist, I have always loved the tuned percussive sound you use in tracks like Mbira (Rainforest) and Terraced Fields (Propagation). Did you create these sounds with synths or were you playing a percussive instrument?

    On a side note… thank you for all the wonderful music over the years! – a fellow composer and myself always refer to you as one of the “holy-trinity” of ambient composers (along with Steve Roach and Michael Sterns)…

  71. admin says:

    Thanks for the compliment, George! I’m flattered to be lumped in with Steve and Michael, as they are both friends and great talents. As for the percussion sounds, most of those melodic mallet sounds you mention were either samples that I created myself from my own acoustic instruments (mbira, mallet kalimba, and muted Tibetan gong, in those examples); or they were patches on the DX7 which I created, aiming for more woody or rubbery timbres rather than the usual bell-like tones. On more acoustic albums like Seven Veils or Temple of the Invisible, those similar sounds came from actual performance on mallet kalimba, prepared piano, or a rubber-band percussion instrument played with ping-pong balls (“Talisman of Touch” for example.) I made some of the instruments from scratch, inspired by Darrell DeVore (now deceased) an old friend and instrument maker who introduced me to bamboo flute when I was 18. Hopefully this answers your question?

    All the best – RR

  72. Marc says:

    Speaking of tuned percussive sounds, have you noticed the demo at named Rich?

  73. admin says:

    It’s a nice demo, and with due respect my hunch is that the name of the clip is referring to Steve Reich, with an ‘e’ dropped. Perhaps it’s a pun, because one of the founders of Ableton (Robert Henke aka MonoLake) is a friend of mine and might have been playing a little joke. It sounds like him. The music sounds more Reich than Rich, if I dare say! 🙂

  74. wasili says:

    hi Robert,

    question about field-recording:

    next week i’m going to buy an M-audio microtrack 2 for that(unless you have a suggestion for a better one).
    do you know a suitable,good quality microphone to record with?
    also,what kind of microphone is best for field recording(normal,condenser,whatever)

    many thanks!

    all the best,


  75. admin says:

    Hi Wasili – For field recording I recommend either the Olympus LM10 or the new Tascam DR100. I have both of those and use them for different things. I also have a Microtrack but I strongly dislike the fact that it has short battery life and custom internal batteries. I was just in the mountains backpacking last week, and took the LM10 because it is very small and light, has 10 hour battery life from two AA cells, and sounds really good. I have been experimenting with the new Tascam and I love it even better than the Olympus. It’s a bit bigger than the Olympus, but has two different batteries (rechargeable internal and backup AA), long battery life, very good sounding microphones (a bit warmer than the Olympus) also with true XLR mic preamps and phantom power. This would be the best choice if you want to use external microphones.

    As for type of microphone, it depends a lot upon your intended target. Schoeps probably makes the best high-end shotgun mics for location work, but they are very expensive ($2000-ish). Audio Technica makes an interesting new stereo microphone that probably sounds good; I trust AT, but haven’t heard it. I have used a pair of Oktava MC012 with very good results, in places where I did not want to lose expensive microphones. Also, for Somnium I had pretty good results with a Crown SASS-PII binaural mic. My best results came from a pair of Neumann KM130 Omni mics, but those are also expensive. I hope this helps?

  76. wasili says:

    hi Robert,

    this is a tremendous help!thanks for all the advice,i’ll look into the olympus and tascam and those not too expensive mics.

    regarding the microtrack:the internal battery was the only thing i didn’t like about it.

    thank you for taking your time to answer all of my questions!

    all the best,


  77. Garfield Danclar says:

    Dear Sir:
    I saw a brief comment from you regarding the Tascam DR-100. I have a problem using earphones and would like to know whether the built-in speakers on the device produce sound of decent quality and volume for a portable recorder. I just returned the Olympus LS-10 because of the terribly low volume of the built-in speakers. I am a nature enthusiast wanting to record some natural sounds, and I would also like to record classroom lectures since I am a graduate student. Thanks for your help.

  78. wasili says:

    hi Robert,

    i am in need for some new studio monitors.
    right now i have the mackie HR824’s,used them for 6 years now,but have come to a point where they are too “forward” sounding,fatiguing,and lack of midrange clarity.

    my studio is 12m2,acoustically treated.
    i produce,mix and master music for myself and others.

    the new monitors should of the active kind,very revealing,neutral,non-fatiguing,and a low end that goes as low as 30hz.

    i’m willing to spend around $4000-5000 on those.

    which would you advise?

    thanks in advance!

    all the best,


  79. admin says:

    Hi Wasili,

    This is a tough question. I am very fussy about monitors, and I am not very excited about most of the powered speakers available that companies market to small studios. The Mackie speakers are not much worse than the others. If you prefer a small powered speaker, maybe you should listen to the recent Focal speakers, from France. Their mid- and top end systems are very nice, although maybe a bit bright. I think Dynaudio BM15 are good, in your price range. I like the Lipinski L707, but they are rather expensive, and need an external power amp. Often I think a better choice is with high-end consumer audiophile speakers, which will need an external amp but give much better imaging and depth than most studio monitors. I am fond of the designs of John Dunlavy, who died in 2007. If you can find Dunlavy SCIIIb speakers, give a listen. I use Duntech Sovereigns for my main system and Dunlavy SCII for surround and I am very happy with them – speakers like this are available used for good prices. (I don’t know where you live, though, so every region is different.) – RR

  80. Niclas says:

    Hello Robert!

    I know you build your own flutes, but what type of flute would you recommend to me with similar character ?

    I have never played a flute in my life, but for ambient music I do not need to be a professional, as long as I play with feeling.

  81. wasili says:

    hi Robert,

    that advice really helped me a lot,and really fueled my curiosity towards high-end audiophile speakers(like the ones you’re using and loving) and external amplifiers.
    i will look(and listen) around for those you mentioned.


    all the best,


  82. admin says:

    Regarding (80.) Niclas’ question about flutes: you can start looking for people who make flutes out of bamboo. Sometimes you can find them at craft fairs, but maybe they were easier to find 25 years ago. It’s very easy to make flutes out of PVC pipe, though, and they sound very good. Or, you could use mail-order from good music websites like Lark In The Morning: (again this depends upon where you live.) – RR

  83. Chad says:


    Had a few questions about microphones. I am looking into 1 or 2 large diaphragm condensers for the studio. I currently have a pair of ADK TLs and haven’t been that pleased with the top end sound of them. The stock models sound a little closed off on the top end making them sound a little strained. I see that you have a few of them with modded capsules. Considering maybe one of the Audio Technica models like the 4050. In terms of tonality I would like to find something that works well on voice and and has an open clear sound with very little coloration. So somewhere in the clear, transparent, open uncolored area but still rich in tone. Sounds like some “the one mic to rule them all” description that may be a little unrealistic. 😉


  84. admin says:

    Good question. I’m a bit obsessed with microphones, in part because they ALL have coloration. Each response is unique and interesting. They’re a bit like wine, that way. I first recommend you give up on your attempts to find a “neutral uncolored” mic that you are happy with in every occasion. If you want neutral, get a B&K omni small diaphragm condenser, but you won’t want to use it on voice. I have a bunch of beautiful pairs of small condensers, like the Josephson 606, which are unbeatable for high frequency clarity.

    The ADK TL has a rather “tizzy” top end, and the new “Vienna” capsules that I retrofitted mine with give a rather “C12” style response, smoother, also brighter, with a bit of an upper midrange scoop. Very useful on piano and female voice. I have since started using the ADK Zigma CHI series modular microphones, and I am more and more impressed. If you want clear and bright, try the CHI “Ela M” style 251 large capsule. For a warmer sound with connected midrange, open top, (maybe a bit honky on some sources) try the CHI “Neumann U67” style 67 head. These are very versatile and affordable systems.

    The AT 4050 is an excellent microphone, neutral and a bit bland on some sources but rarely “wrong.” It has a pleasant forward midrange and unhyped high end, making it great on female voice, flute, and bass guitar amps. For male voice, a slightly more hyped mic can work better than the 4050. The AT is also a bit “boring” on drums and such. However, it’s a great mic for the neutral character.

    I just recorded a jazz concert with the ADK Zigma CHI mics and I was very impressed. I used 47 and 67 LDC on the B3 Leslie (bottom and top), small diaphragm cardioid in ORTF stereo for drum overhead, and 47 LDC on guitar amp. (I used EV N/Dym 408 on snare and AKG D110 on kick, AT 818 on voice.)

    I am a big fan of the latest ADK mics, and I have been critical of them in the past, so I recommend you check out the Zigma system.

    All the best – RR

  85. Chad says:

    Thanks Robert for the input!

    Your analogy of microphones to wine is spot on. Kind of like all of the variances of analog filters. I will look into the ADK options for the TLs. The Zigma system might be a little pricey.

    I agree on the AT4050. The samples that I have heard using it are a little boring. Some of their other models like the AT4033 or the 4047 sound more interesting.

    When stating not having coloration, I think what I really mean is not having that cheap electronics sound ( kind of how the SM57 can sound ). Also mics that have that thick tube coloration in the high end that resembles a megaphone quality. Kind of the opposite to the Neumann rich, crisp high end .

    Well, lots to explore but thanks for this forum.

  86. admin says:

    Your description of “cheap electronic high end” is very helpful in the search. Certainly, many of the Chinese made microphones exhibit that. David Royer thinks he solved it with his Mojave brand – worth a listen. Another company with characteristically good yet bright HF response is Blue. I have a pair of Dragonfly mics that are excellent on many sources. Not even every Neumann has the smooth quality you seek. I have a pair of TLM103s that I bought over 15 years ago that I almost never use. Way too bright, edgy, weird sounding. Personally I would skip the AT4047 – I find it a bit murky.

    By the way, I’m somewhat convinced that the cheap sizzle you hear in many Chinese-made capsules is a resonance peak around 15 kHz. It reminds me of the sound I hate in Genelec tweeters, which respond to very high frequencies with a sound like a wire brush scraping aluminum siding, only correlated to the music. It makes my earlobes curl.

    The new ADK mics totally DON’T have that edgy HF resonance, and they feel very connected throughout the midrange. They aren’t that expensive either. I think you should be able to get a single capsule CHI 251 for under $500, about the price of an AT4050. The 251 would be a good choice if you want a bright open high end. The 67 or 47 would be good choices for a thicker midrange, but still open sound. I had good results modifying my ADK 51TLs with replacement 67 and C12 clone capsules, and you could ask them about that option, if you are really handy with a soldering iron.

    I have become somewhat of an endorsing artist for ADK, although I have to buy stuff from them anyway. I’m a new fan of the CHI systems (I recently bought six Zigma CHI sets) … You could probably email ADK owner Larry Villella directly and mention that Robert Rich recommended you try a Zigma lollipop, his email is “larry (at)” (replace “at” with @). Otherwise, try Blue, or maybe Mojave. Most of your other choices at that quality level will be over $1000. Most of the other Chinese clones don’t have me convinced about the HF response.

    Hopefully this helps? – RR

  87. Chad says:

    Very cool info Robert.

    Thanks. I will look into the TL upgrades. I e-mailed Larry a while ago and he was quoting $250 per mic to change the TL capsules.

    I’ve listened to some examples of the Mojave. I liked what I was hearing from the 201s best.

    I have a pair Peluso CEMC6 SDCs. These are really under valued mics.

    Decisions, decisions.

    Well, thanks again!

  88. Eelke says:

    Hi Robert,

    I had a question regarding recording flutes. I have a side blown bamboo flute and I’m getting a lot of noisy artifacts
    when I’m recording it. Is it my lack of skill playing it or are their special measures I should consider regarding recording and mixing a side blown flute?

    By the way thanks for all the great music!


  89. admin says:

    Hi Eelke – your challenges with recording flute could come come from a combination of causes. Yes, skill does play a part. Problems with your embucher will create more noise. The flute itself might also have a difficult character, either from the layout or size of the holes, shape of the mouthpiece, or even maybe a leak in the body from a crack in the bamboo. On the other hand, you’ll notice from my own recordings that I don’t mind a certain amount of wind noise, as it can lend a “distortion” element that adds energy to the track. In that case, the trick is to pick a microphone that doesn’t accentuate the spitty qualities of the noise, but more of the midrange. I like the AT4050 for that, or a U67-style capsule, with a smooth top end.

  90. Eelke says:

    Thanks Robert. I do not mind some wind noise myself because indeed it adds character and liveliness to the recording. I’ll look into the mics you proposed.


  91. Hello RR-

    It’s been a while.
    I love this feature on your site, but I’m not surprised. You really are one of the unique artists who makes and effort to be accessible to your fans.

    So, I thought I would start a small discussion on field recording.

    I do a lot of local film projects, including location and post audio. Much of the post I do also includes adding FX and foley. Since I like to record “real” sound as much as possible, I was wondering what everyone else- including you, uses for their field rigs. Not a cart rig, just a totally portable system. Leave the powerbook at home for this one.

    Currently I’m using a Tascam DR 100 (film sound settings- 16bit 48k) with AT 8035 (14.5″) or At 875 (6″) shotgun mics and an old $50 AT Pro 24 XY stereo mic that’s seen lots of love. I boom with a fairly common pole and shock mount, but I always use the best wind muffs.

    Any thought on field recording in general, use of stereo mics (which do you like, why) and maybe other shotgun suggestions… Sanken is great I’ve heard them. I’m not impressed by Sennheiser any more than my ATs of comparable price..

    Talk to you later

  92. Maybe we should throw headphones in there too. After all, live recording is nothing without good monitoring right?

    I’m currently using AT ESW9 for most everything now.
    I am really curious to see what others use in the field.


  93. admin says:

    Dear Mikoll – You might know more than I do on this subject! I mostly record ambiences for my own compositional use (such as those that appear on Somnium or Echo of Small Things.) I have used different tools over the decades. For a long time I used a Sony TCD-D8 DAT machine. I have an M-Audio Microtrack (which I don’t like at all), an Olympus LM10 (tiny – great for backpacking, long battery life but internal mics are quite bright) and a Tascam DR100 like yours. I really like the DR100. I use various mics. Somnium often used a Crown SASSPII binaural mic. Great imagine, but dry sounding and a fair amount of of self noise. Great results recently with ADK Sigma Chi cardioid pencil condensers. Quiet, and a smooth top end (a bit dark perhaps.) I don’t like taking my Neumanns or Josephson’s out because they are too expensive to risk damage! Headphones are a matter of convenience. In the stusio I really like Sennheiser HD600, but not for field. I just use generic Sony 7506 or little walkman era “twin turbo” mini headphones (the old kind with the band, as I don’t like the ear-inserting iPod style as they sound bad and always fall out of my ears.)

    All the best – RR

  94. Scott Vincent says:

    Hi Robert,

    This is a great new feature. I am enjoying getting in on some tips & tricks. Do you ever “proof” other artists recordings? Reason I ask is I’ve been working on a dbl-CD in homage to that fine film, “Stalker”. It’ sounds quite different from your recording (though I do use a a lot of gong samples). I’m not quite sure what to do with the soundscapes at this point. Care to give it a listen?

    All the best,

    p.s. gonna make it out to the Midwest for another concert anytime soon?

  95. admin says:

    Hi Scott. Last question first: I’m thinking of doing some shows again this year as soon as the new CD comes out, maybe starting in late Spring. In fact, if any readers out there want to contact me about possible stops in your town, we can start planning. First question about “proofing” albums: To be honest, I would rather not get involved in your work at that sort of judgement level, unless I’m hired as mastering engineer. I’m afraid my opinions would interfere with your creative process. I wish you success with the project! – RR

  96. Scott Vincent says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the heads up on the “proofing”. That might be a bit uncomfortable I can imagine.

    So what would it take to have you come out this way? There is a performance center at a local college which hosts top names in the jazz and classical worlds. Do you have a press kit you can send?


  97. Dale Lindsay says:

    I’m thinking about hitting the road this year, and the one thing I began to think about is compression. Do you usually compress each individual instrument, or do you just run everything through one compressor at your final stereo mixdown?


  98. admin says:

    For my live mix, I only use a bit of compression for musical purposes on my flute and guitar channels. I don’t compress the whole mix, nor any of the electronic instruments. It’s live, and I want to retain dynamics. Recordings are way too compressed these days, and live music should give us a chance to hear real dynamics, don’t you think?

  99. Dale Lindsay says:

    Well, that is absolutely awesome.

    I completely agree that almost everything that’s been released by most bands/musical projects in the past five to ten years is far too compressed. I’m currently going through the list of albums you’ve mastered to find releases that aren’t smashed. It’s one of the reasons I’ve gravitated towards your music. It has Life.

    I had assumed that you used compression on your modular since I found them to be really dynamic, especially when tweaking the resonance. I can see why you wouldn’t want compression on other sources, and it makes total sense. Once again, I find myself assuming something that doesn’t have to be true because of articles I’ve read in magazines. The question was started in my mind because I was watching a lot of live Tangerine Dream on youtube last night, and I was struck by how dynamic and organic everything sounded. I began to wonder if they just had better (hardware) compressors that made them sound so good, or if it had to do with just a difference in mixing/effects. Now that I’ve gone back and listened, I’m willing to say that there is total lack of compression that I’m hearing, and that’s what makes it so exciting. Live TD, along with your work and Steve Roach are my current favorites, and I think I just found one of the reasons why.

    Thank you for the insight.

  100. Adam Kocher says:

    Hi Robert,
    Thanks for answering my e-mail earlier re: analog vs digital synth. I am considering a modular analog synth to better conceptualize my understanding of this. I have looked into some of the packages on and was wondering if you had any opinion regarding what company is best for starting out. I have seen your demo on the MOTM clock divider and it appears modular analog is very interesting, and I’m sure challenging from a beginners standpoint. Do you have any suggestions? Can you recommend some literature on the subject? And where to start?

  101. admin says:

    I only recommend analog modular synths to people with a fair amount of money to spend. The addiction can get quite expensive. For pure quality, I’m a huge fan of MOTM and the 1/4″ plug format. However, it’s large size and expensive. I think I would have to recommend Eurorack format for beginners, because it’s more affordable, smaller, and there is a huge selection of modules from different companies. I would say, start with a basic system from Doepfer then augment it with cool modules from other companies. I was heavily involved in two Eurorack modules from Synthesis Technology, the Cloud Oscillator and Morphing Terrarium, both quite powerful and unique. Having said that, I think the real strength of analog modulars shines in pure sound design. They’re a great way to make abstract weebly noises, thuds, scrapes, whooshes. It takes an advanced user to break out of the Teutonic sequencer clichés, which come so easily out of the modular synth format. One reason I made the album “Bestiary” was to show what a wide range analog could do outside of those sequencer clichés. If you want to be more productive, and actually make tonal music most efficiently, you can probably save many thousands of dollars, stay virtual, and avoid the expense of analog modular. If you love experimenting and crave a physical interface, then I heartily recommend analog modular synths!

  102. Adam Kocher says:

    Ok, thinking about the Doepfer basic system, but what would be a good virtual program to consider if I go that route? Arturia Moog Modular?
    I downloaded Bestiary from CD baby last night- very cool!!
    Thank you for your time answering questions.

  103. admin says:

    I really don’t care much for the Arturia stuff. It doesn’t do most of what makes analog synths unique (such as complex modulation, or the fact that audio is always running, not just triggered by midi note-on.) For analog emulation, I like the WayOutWare TimewArp2600. It’s best for those who like the sound of ARP filters (a bit thin) however it acts just a modular synth should. But for the plug-in world, I don’t see a need to emulate analog. I love synths like Camel Alchemy, for example, which let you go very deep into the mangling of samples, a specific strength of digital. It’s very good for textural sound design.

  104. TJ Coleman says:


    I’ve been keeping tabs on this forum for a while and wanted to let you know that your responses have helped me greatly with engineering my own work. I highly respect and admire what you do as a music artist and just want to say keep up the great work!


  105. admin says:

    Thanks, TJ! I’m happy to be able to share information. Music is collaborative, not competitive. We all experience more pleasure when everyone’s music sounds as good as it can. – RR

  106. Adam Kocher says:

    Hi Robert,
    I was curious if you knew about the legalities of synth use “out of the box” . When you record something (and sell it) using a unadulterated pre-programed synth that you purchased, are there copy-write infringements? Is the same true for rhythm loops? I know it’s best probably to be as true to yourself as possible, and inject originality to a piece, but sometimes
    what’s there in front of you is the answer- Occams razor so to say.
    Adam Kocher

  107. admin says:

    Hi Adam – in every case that I know of, the sounds and loops that are included as presets with music making software are royalty-free, and can be used without permission in your own music. The companies always have their sound designers sign agreements that provide free-use licenses to users. Back in the 1960’s, the Mellotron corporation tried to make users pay royalties on the samples, and it backfired badly for them. The sounds generally sell the gear, after all, so it doesn’t make sense to keep charging for them after the sale. Now, on the other hand, if you decide to go to a company like deWolfe to use cuts from their commercial library, they will definitely charge you for the use, but that’s a different process entirely. Hopefully this helps. – RR

  108. Adam Kocher says:

    Hi Robert,
    Just downloaded Alchemy from Camel Audio. I am very impressed with the balance of ease of use yet very complex soft synth. I was glad to find some of your programs on there (hope you get some kickback- of course). I am hoping to catch you in Kentucky while on tour.
    Thanks for the great sounds!

  109. Adam Kocher says:

    Oh, one other thing that I wanted to mention about Alchemy from Camel Audio. I purchased the program with plans to use it as a plug in for my Mac Logic Express program. It does work well with that software, which is great. However, I would like to point out that it also works as a plug in for Garage Band on Mac as well. I was thrilled to find that out. This is great for Mac users who want a good soft synth and don’t want to upgrade to Logic express. As an amateur musician I am pleased with Logic Express, but sometimes Garage Band is just what I’m looking for, for it’s no frills ease of use, especially when recording just two or three tracks at a time. So, thanks for the advice. I think this program is exactly what I was looking for in the soft synth realm.

  110. j says:

    Hi Robert,

    I’m not sure if you’re still watching this page, but I’ve been reading your advice on microphones. I’m afraid I have a somewhat cliché question. I’ve been recording for a number of years with pretty cheap microphones, and I’m looking to bring up the level of my sound. The trouble is, I’m not sure exactly what sound I want, and since my music falls between genres–a little pop, a little classical, a little electronic, even a little jazz–I’ve had trouble finding reasonable advice on what mic to pick. For instance, rock producers like to say that you can use an SM57 on anything, but I hate the coloration it has and end up using my 50$ omnis instead. On the other hand, I don’t know what coloration I really do want, because I don’t have the opportunity to experiment at length with all the different options. Some say that I should go to the store and audition different microphones, but it takes me more time than that allows to figure out what I can do with a sound and whether I like it. I’m wondering, if you were starting out in my confused situation, with maybe a 1,000$ budget, what would you do? Since your music is similarly between genres, perhaps you can understand where I’m coming from and have a few good ideas. Are the AT4050 or Zigma CHI, which you’ve recommended above (though the latter seems to be going up in price), good options in this confused situation? I’ll be recording voice, acoustic guitar, piano, and on occasion classical chamber instruments.

    Thanks for your help,


  111. admin says:

    Hi John – I do indeed check this forum, and respond when questions need a response. (I get an email when someone posts.) Your question isn’t a cliche, it’s actually just rather universal. The answer is a bit harder. There is never just one great microphone. Every mic has strengths and weaknesses. Yes, the Zigma CHI or AT4050 would both be good choices for your needs. I recommend getting a matched pair, first of all. For $1000 you can find many good pairs. For most applications, cardioid is sufficient, but I also really like the way omni patterns lack coloration. Just because of supply and demand, many of the best microphone values are large diaphragm condensers. The Zigma CHI 47 lollipop capsule has been really impressing me lately, and you can probably find discounts on that for a pair around $1000. Mojave makes an excellent FET mic for around $500 I think. Some people really like the SE Electronics higher-end offerings, but I haven’t heard them. Actually, for a neutral, useful all-around mic I can still vouch for the AT4050, for any style of music, and it’s multi-pattern. Some of the Shure LDC mics get great reviews, and have a smooth, neutral response. Avantone also get really good reviews, and they are a cool, small company. To be honest, your problem is more a challenge of too many choices rather than not enough. Too many choices tends to freeze people, when they really just should get down to making music. Have fun! – RR

  112. j says:

    Thanks for writing back, Robert, it’s very kind of you. You hit the nail on the head at the end there, I’ve definitely been bewildered by the array of choices, but with virtually every mic getting a postiive review somewhere or other, I’m glad to have recommendations from a trustworthy source. The 4050 seems better priced, especially considering that it’s multi-pattern, but I do like the options for future expansion on the Zigma CHI. At any rate, I’ll be looking into one of the two. Interesting to know that large diaphragms are the best values, I hadn’t heard that before. Thanks again.

    Take care and best of luck on your tour,


  113. Dennis says:

    Here is more info about the Sony reverbs mentioned earlier:

    DPS-V77: This is a one space rack device that is a “best of” of the 7 series (M7/R7/D7/F7). It has algorithmic reverbs.

    DRE-S777: This is a two space rack unit that has convolution/impulse reverbs. There is a CDROM drive on the front for loading impulses. It was very expensive and is rare.

    See you in Santa Fe in June!


  114. Elan Hickler says:

    Alright, that does it! I’m determined to learn to build my own flutes/whistles. I am tired of trying to find the right wind instruments. I’ve always wanted a bass flute, but I can only find them for hundreds of dollars. I have a C bamboo flute, but it’s out of tune with the rest of the world. Too expensive, not the right tuning, out of tune, not low enough, too screechingly high… BAH! *end rant* :\

    Hello Mr. Rich, I saw you in Chicago a little while ago. Mr. Rich, what is the first step in learning to create PVC flutes? Is there a book, a manual, what do you recommend?

  115. admin says:

    Hi Elan – I recommend just using the trial-and-error method. Use a variable speed drill, with a set of different sized drill bits. Get some 1″ schedule 40 PVC, and some PVC end-caps or champaign corks to seal the blowing side. Start by cutting a length slightly longer than your C flute, and try to copy the holes on that flute for starters. Begin by drilling the embucher hole (always use low speed on the drill), and tilt the drill to make that hole oval shaped. You’ll learn more from doing it a few times – that’s the best way. It’s a bit sad to fill the dump with old plastic from failed attempts, but I don’t know any other way but to try a few. Have fun with it! – Robert

  116. David says:

    Hi Robert,

    I have another question about reverb here… more technical than anything. I’ve looked through the other posts and don’t quite see what I’m looking for in terms of application. I know you’ve said a lot is up to individual preference but in this case I’m trying to learn how to get specific results.

    I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with all sorts of different soft-verbs (no hardware as of this posting because I can’t afford it – nor do I really have the room for it at this time). I have played with ArtsAcoustic, CSR, Altiverb, Waves IR-1, Sonnox Oxford, Trueverb, Renaissance Reverb, Eos, SIR, Aether, and the newer Lexicon PCM Native bundle to name a few. Actually, the Lexicons, CSR, and ArtsAcoustic are my faves in terms or algorithmic reverbs and Altiverb takes the cake for my IR taste.

    Anyway, I have been spending countless hours testing and experimenting with all of these, layering them as inserts, layering them as sends, mixing various wet levels of different configurations, etc… I’m searching for a very particular sound and I’m just not getting it. I guess you could say I’m striving for that beautiful, puffy, cloud-like bliss that repeatedly comes from Steve Roach’s studio in his work (A Deeper Silence and Immersion: Three come to mind). I’ve heard it in your work as well as other artists who do this sort of thing, but not everyone can get that “Steve Roach” or “Robert Rich” sound. I know that a lot of it must be experience and knowing just how to configure everything, but I need some advice to get me pointed in the right direction. My efforts don’t seem to getting me to where I want to be in terms of a “recipe” for that huge, enveloping space. I can’t just put reverb on my synths. It needs something more. That’s what I’m trying to achieve, and I know hardware is involved there but I’m looking for methods I can use to at least get closer to it. The plugins all sound great but something is missing. Perhaps all I need is a process for how can be done with hardware that I can emulate with the plugins…

    I’m not trying to steal that signature sound secret, but I want to know how you guys do it so I can apply that knowledge to my work in my own way 🙂

  117. admin says:

    Hi David,

    Regarding reverbs, the answer to your question is variable, depending upon whom you ask and the mood they’re in. Most importantly, getting that lush sustaining sound depends a lot upon the source material – what you put through the reverb – as well as the context. It’s one thing to tell someone to go out and buy a used Lexicon PCM 70 and set the large hall algorithm to 20 seconds; it’s another thing to design sounds that bring those algorithms to life, and to put them into a mix context that gives a deep sounding ambience. Until recently, my own secret weapon was the old Sony R7, but only using settings that I came up with myself over many years of programming. That box tends to have a lighter more transparent sound than the Lexicon, but also not as lush. (It’s a dominant sound on Stalker, for example.) Plug-ins are still a bit behind the old hardware for these styles of use. Eos and Aether are very capable for swirling algorithmic tails (it’s important that they have a pitch-blurring feature to really emulate the old long tails, and many plug-ins don’t do that.) Another key is to spend a bunch of time programming your own settings. Trial and error is the key here. That’s about the best I can tell you – there’s no magic bullet. Happy droning! – RR

  118. David says:

    I had a feeling that the source material played a big part. You’ve helped me confirm a couple things, for example finding the right patches to feed the reverbs. I’ll concentrate more on the synth patches and let you know what I come up with. =) — David

  119. David says:

    I have another question perhaps you may be able to answer more specifically… speaking in terms of pitch-blurring, are there specific levels (amounts) of reverb tail modulation that you’ve found work better for certain types of musical applications (such as drones, acoustic instruments, synth pads, etc.)? What is your take on that based on your experience? I know that a lot of this is subjective but I’m curious to hear what you’d recommend for different styles to best emulate that hardware.

  120. admin says:

    I usually don’t go any wider than about +/- 10 cents, and the rest is completely by ear. Some people might go as wide as +/- 15 cents if the want a more swishy chorus-like sound.

  121. Sydalesis says:

    I have a lot of experienced with Cameleon 5000 , and some with Alchemy. They are obviously my favorite vsti’s along with a couple more analog oriented ones.

    My last album Path of Lights was composed stricly with Cameleon 5000 , Alchemy and a few Korg vsti’s (m1 and wavestation iirc).

    I like to create my own sounds in Cameleon 5000 there is something special to programming your sounds in there. I have developped a few tricks to find the sweet spots i am looking for.

    Thanks for the good read all and Happy Holidays

  122. David J says:

    I did read you use a lot of panned delays?
    can you explain more in detail the process and how you work with panned delays, cause what I Understand it is one of your keys in your sound. You prefer to use it more then the reverb, which was surprising to hear.

    I have recently discover that it is a great way to make every mix bigger without muddy up the sound details and transients. Do you simply route each delay to 2 separate buses left and right ? that is what I usally or I guess you do it with your effect boxses. There is plugins that does this in one stereo channel I am sure, but I have yet not found a plugin reverb that sound clean enough for panned/ping pong delays. I have recently found a very simple but very clean delay that seem to sound almost colorless and identical to the source called “ReaDelay”. I assume you mix the delay channels further with more tricks that would be interesting to hear.

    Anyway any help how use the delays would be interesting to hear, I have mostly been using reverbs earlier, but it’s easy to make it sound muddy. I try to use as little wet signal as possible it did took me some time to realize that, when I first got my lexicon I did usually have 60% wet signal, nowdays I hear when the detail and transiets starts to collapse, usually around 20-28% on the reverbs i use, if I use more it sounds just dusty and I do not like that.

    • admin says:

      Hi David – It’s hard to give specific mix directions in a quick answer. Briefly, though, the reverbs that I tend to use the most are medium length plate-styles. If I want a very long reverb I’ll use it only on certain sounds. I do indeed tend to use trails of delay on solo voices especially. Then I might add some reverb to the delay trails, to soften them a bit. My favorite delays come from the Eventide H3000, which I have used since 1990. I like to set one channel a few cents sharp (pitch shift) and the other a few cents flat, so there is a subtle chorus that helps blend the intonation better. These days I do the same with Delay Designer in Logic. I still have trouble getting the “glue” that I want when trying to mix “in the box” so I am still in the habit of sending stems out to my mixing board, which is a Yamaha 02R96. That also has 4 effects busses in it, so I have access to many different delays that I can put on different sources. Usually I keep the delays on busses, but with computers so powerful these days I can put them on each track although it can get a bit chaotic. Bussing tends to keep the clutter down and make mix decisions easier (“Too wet? just turn down the FX return.”) I hope this helps a bit. – Robert

  123. Eric Crowe says:

    Hi Robert-

    I’m not sure if you still handle questions or not, seems to have slowed down since 2009, haha. I have listened so some of your work, mainly “Trances and Drones” & the collaborative with Lustmord. My question is this, what is that huge piece of equipment you use with all the different patch cables plugged in all over the place? How do you use it? I see it a lot in images I’ve found online and am amazed and perplexed. I am a musician and noiseician creating sounds from harsh noise to minimalist, field recordings to industrial, and am looking for ways to further the sounds I create. Thanks so much for your time and any help and info offered.

    • admin says:

      Hi Eric – yes, it’s fine to keep asking questions here. The instrument you are asking about is the MOTM modular synth by Synthesis Technology. There are several companies that make similar systems, and there are a few different formats that have become standards of sorts. Probably the most affordable is the Doepfer “Eurorack” format. You can find some YouTube videos where I am describing how to use parts of the system, like this and this.

  124. Leo says:

    Hi Robert!

    I am looking for portable recorder with good built-in microphones, but it’s really hard to choose! I opted for the following options: Zoom H4n, SONY PCM-D50, Tascam DR-100, KORG MR-2. It’s hard to find comparison of these models in one review, actually I found the only one (but without Tascam) ( and some videos on YouTube I am a bit disappointed about sound of KORG MR-2 microphones, but it’s seems that SONY and Zoom sounds pretty good (especially SONY). I’ve seen you recommend Tascam DR-100, unfortunately I can’t find any suitable sample to compare it with rest of models. Are you satisfied with Tascam built-in microphones? Or maybe you can advise better option (budget < 800$)?

    • admin says:

      Hi Leo – I am only familiar with the Olympus LS10 and the Tascam DR100. I haven’t used the other models you mention. I think the Tascam mics are quite good actually. They have a smoother sound than the Olympus, and a decent noise floor. I have used it to collect field recordings on the last couple albums. For extremely quiet sounds you might find a bit of a noise floor with all of these recorders. Sometimes a bit of single-ended noise reduction does the trick. Best of luck on your search! – RR

  125. Jim says:

    Hi Robert, I stumbled across this blog in my never ending quest for ambient perfection. Thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge with music and sound design! It’s just amazing that a composer and musician that I admire so much is right here giving answers to questions about music and music production. There is a wealth of information here.

  126. admin says:

    Thanks, Jim! I have never felt a reason to keep any secret techniques. It’s all about what each of us chooses to express.

  127. Jim says:

    Hi Robert,
    I was wondering what level, in an approximate sense, you set your monitors to when mixing. Sometimes I find it challenging to get just the right monitor level for a mix – Too low and I end up saturating my output because of the tendency raise the level on tracks – Too high and I have the opposite result with a mix that is weak and having to boost it at the mastering stage. Thanks!

  128. admin says:

    As I teach in my mastering class, an SPL of about 83dB is the best level to make careful EQ decisions. But I often work around 78-80 dB when recording or writing to avoid fatigue. Good speakers and good room acoustics are also essential for making decisions. Also, it is OK to have a “weak” mix that you boost later in mastering. That is the correct sequence of gain structure – keep file levels lower at the mix stage (monitor loud if needed) and decide on your final gain structure in mastering. That’s what mastering is for. Keep your crest factor greater than 12dB (peak to RMS ratio.) Hopefully that helps. – RR

  129. Nico says:

    Hey there! I am a flautist who has practically grown up listening to your music (I’m perhaps one of your younger audience members out there), and have been greatly inspired by your use of flutes in many of your tracks. Ive been trying to bring my flute playing into more of an atmospheric realm, but am not entirely sure which sort of microphone is best for a wind instrument like the flute (I also mean silver flute, as opposed to say a wooden flute, or non side blown flute). Or if you perhaps have any tips on techniques to make flute recordings flourish with the rest of the track it’s being recorded with, that would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading!

    – Nico S.

  130. admin says:

    Hi Nico – Thanks for your inquiry. The answer is a bit complicated as I don’t know exactly what sound you are aiming for. As it seems from your description that you have some training in Western flute, my experience is that most classically trained flautists want a tone with less breath (air noise) and more pure tone. My target is actually the opposite of this as I find that the wind noise adds more emotion and expression to my flute sound. Actually one of the reasons I like to build my own flutes (other then the tuning question, and fingering difficulties with my bad right hand) is that I have learned that the inefficient emboucher of my flutes helps give energy to the sound. The breath noise that classical flautists try to avoid, is my friend. So – now that you know I prefer breath noise in my recording – my favorite flute mic is the Audio Technica AT4050, which has a beautiful thick upper midrange but never gets “spitty” so the air sound doesn’t seem like frying bacon. Another favorite flute mic which I travel with on tour is the EV N/Dym 408, an odd mic that was built originally for drums, but it captures the midrange air perfectly on stage, maybe a bit bright for studio. If you want a classical smooth sound, then I would recommend an omni pencil condenser, for example the ADK Zigma Chi system with omni capsules, which should give you a natural soft sound. Good luck with it!

  131. Nico says:

    thank you very much for your input! Sounds like I have some stuff to look into. Whats funny is, despite being “classically trained”,I actually play more along the lines of free form jazz. I also happen to much prefer a breathy tone over a clean one, I too feel that it seems to add emotional depth. I also get what you’re saying about that “frying bacon sound”. It’s actually what mostly lead me to ask you about mics with flutes in the first place, as I have tried out a few, and all of them seemed to not handle the breathiness so well. Thank you again!

  132. admin says:

    Happy to help how best I can. Since you say you like the breathy sound without the sizzle, I think Audio Technica mics are your friend. I have not tried the other models, like 4033, although I imagine they could work well also. With the 4050, I tend to play with my emboucher about 6-10 inches from the mic, the mic above my mouth (nose level, aimed slightly down) so it doesn’t get breath pressure directly. The sound comes mostly from the mouth-flute interaction, not from the body of the flute or the distant room effect – I want a direct connection to my “voice” even though it might be a synthetic image. It’s what I feel and what I hear in my head when I play.

  133. Ele says:

    Hi Robert,

    Your music has been very enjoyable!

    I’m curious what you use for your master midi start or signal? Is it Ableton or one of the keyboards? With the Wavestation do you create your own sounds or start with a patch and shape it?

    It was very nice to see you some time back live at Solar Culture.


  134. admin says:

    Hi Ele – In the studio I record to Apple Logic, but much of the time I use it more like a tape deck, without a click or complex Midi, then I edit later. In concert I have been using Ableton Live, which controls all the midi events to the hardware. In the past, I used different tools, these things change frequently. All the best – RR

  135. Dan Mott says:

    Hello Robert

    Not sure if you answer questions here anymore, but I thought I’d try anyway.

    I am currently working on getting some good depth in my mix, but funnily enough, I always struggle with the front dimension. I may have a washy pad in the background, followed by shorter verbs for my medium dimension.

    It’s always the front instruments that feel disconnected from the rest of the track. No glue. It is generally confusing as to where to put these instruments. Generally the stuff at the front are lead vocals/lead instruments/main melody, ect. I still want to keep it ambient, but if I put a long verb on the instruments in the front, I cannot hear it over the washy pads in the back.

    Do you have any general rules about depth from front to back, or do you just go with your gut feeling as to how to process these sounds.

    Thanks a lot. Hope that wasn’t a stupid question!

  136. admin says:

    Hi Dan – I do still answer questions here, and it’s not a stupid one at all. It’s always a challenge, in fact, to keep the fabric of a mix tied together. There is no one simple rule or trick. Certainly a combination of short and long reverb can help. One thing I do and recommend, is to keep the solo instruments panned toward the middle, and rather than using reverbs try using a pair of medium length delays, panned left and right. Sometimes I’ll use an Eventide Harmonizer patch I made years ago, with two individually tapped delays (i.e. they each have their own feedback duration, not just a ping-pong or something) with each duration set so that they never quite hit at the same time. On the Eventide I would make these slightly pitch-shifted as well, just a few cents, so there is a softening or blurring. Then I might put these delays into a bit of reverb. Using a setting like this on a solo sound, without using straight reverb, can clean up the muddy problems you mentioned. The lead sound can have a sort of “ghost trail” of echoes behind it, yet sound dry and clear at the first part of a note. There are other tricks., but this is one of the better ones. Good luck!

  137. Dan Mott says:

    I appreciate the help Robert.

    Thanks a lot!

  138. Inquiring Amateur says:

    Hi Robert,
    I don’t know if you still respond here but I would greatly appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction. I have experience in classical composition but anything synthesizer related is completely unknown to me at this point. I particularly was amazed by the tones that you created in your Stalker album, so much so, that I would like to make a synthesizer purchase. Are there any software synths that you would recommend for constructing the same kind of tonal wet sounds that you feature so predominantly on the Stalker album?

    Also, somewhat unrelatedly I intend to experiment with a 16-pitch scale alongside a standard 12-pitch one. Is there some software that would make doing so not a royal pain?

    Thanks for any help you can give!

  139. admin says:

    Hi there! I do still respond when someone posts a question. My main recommendation for getting the sorts of sounds on Stalker, is to use a sampler instead of a synth. Most DAWs have a sampling plug-in built in, so you don’t need to spend a penny more. Record your own sounds – household items, car parts, whatever you have around. Find new sounds around you, record them, loop them and mangle them with effects (reverb, delay, filters, etc.) That’ll set you on your own original course.

    As for multiple tunings, you might appreciate Apple’s Logic DAW,which has tuning tables accessible to be applied to its built-in synths and sampler (even it’s pitch correction can follow the master tuning.) Most of their scales are not microtonal though (in the sense of more than 12 notes per octave) but it should get you started. Also check out Camel Audio Alchemy, it has tuning tables also.

    I hope this helps a bit? All the best – Robert

  140. Inquiring Amateur says:

    Wow thanks Robert for the quick response! That does help a lot, but I think you opened up a can of worms. I have Ableton Live Suite but I haven’t worked with the built-in sampler yet. It seems you would believe this to be sufficient so I’ll have a go at it. The one thing I don’t have at the moment is good recording equipment. Is there any you can vouch for? Much appreciated!

  141. admin says:

    I have never used the sampler built into Live, but I think it would be up to the task. Live has some really good tools built in. All you need next is a microphone and mic preamp. If you are really in a frugal mindset, you can even get of a range of USB-microphones that have built-in pre-amp and DAC. Blue makes some well respected ones (look at a white one they call “Yeti” I think.) If you want to have a more full featured interface, I can recommend the ones made by Presonus, which sound quite good for their price point. MOTU “Ultralite” also has good features and pretty good mic preamps.

  142. Inquiring Amateur says:

    Thanks again, Robert. I think I am going to go with the Yeti. I don’t mind shelling out money for equipment but are there any painful limitations that can’t be solved by post-processing if I just get a USB mic? If not the added portability of the USB mic is huge because I plan on exploring nature a bit and seeing what I can get. And then I can put the savings toward Camel Audio Alchemy because I’d really like to get the feel of using a synthesizer and I’m always on the move so software seems like the much better route at the moment.

  143. Ben says:


    french speaker here – sorry for my mistakes 😉

    I just discovered this blog yesterday and read everything in one shot. Very nice to learn so much on one page. Thank you for this.

    I didn’t see any info regarding looping. Even if I dream of building me a modular one day and having several synths, it’s the looping portions with your steel guitar that I like the most, doing myself looping with a guitar thru FX, an EHX freeze (to create a drone over which I overdub/improvise with e-bow and volume swells) into a digitech Jamman.

    I’m a bit hitting a wall now as having just one loop is limiting me. Even with clean tones, after some overdubs, the output start to get really muddy. Can you share some thoughts on how you use the loopers? several loops? unsynced? with some “aging ” facilities to replace old content ? in a full range speaker iso a guitar amp?

    Thank you for this space


  144. William says:

    Hi Robert. I’ve been a fan for about 15 years now, and have even hung out with you a few times (When you recorded with Markus) but somehow I have yet to see you perform live. I live in Tulsa, OK now but I am going to drive to Dallas for your show because I feel like an idiot for not making it to one when I lived in the Bay Area.

    My first question is about the PVC flutes. I made 25 or so a year ago, including two that are decent instruments. They are diatonic flutes in D and Eb (meantone) intended for Irish music. I struggled for a long time with getting the second octave to play in tune with the first, and after trying several techniques ended up using a “Tipple Fajardo Wedge” design. I’ve been wondering all along how you solve this problem, if at all? It sounds like you use larger pipe than I do, and my experience has been that the problem is more prominent with larger bores.

    The second is about microtuning your instruments. Aside from my Virus KB, which supports tuning tables in a somewhat unreliable way, and experiments with the Scala software’s glitchy ability to retune using pitch bend, I have resorted to writing my own software synths for this purpose. It seems like not a lot synths support this. How do you deal with microtuning on your hardware and modular synths?


  145. admin says:

    Hi William – A bunch of good questions here. (1) As to the flutes, I find that the narrow bore longer flutes have more in-tune 2nd octaves, but they are harder to play the fundamental note. It’s a basic tradeoff of long-waveform efficiency vs. short-waveform pitch accuracy. I also find that the end-blown flutes have a better over-blow than the transverse flutes, and interestingly I find myself better at getting a good tone out of the transverse. I typically make many small adjustments for pitch by shifting my emboucher a lot, and I also get a lot of bad notes while I’m at it! (2) Regarding synths and micro tuning, it is a never-ending struggle. I have chosen not to own quite a number of excellent synths because of their inability to do microtuning. I was very happy when Logic on the Mac started supporting alternate tunings in all of its native soft synths, around ten years ago. That’s a main reason I use Logic. Recently Apple made it much harder to add my own tunings, and that bums me out a bit. But these tools keep changing, it’s never easy to do alternate tunings. Wishing you luck! – RR

  146. leah says:

    Hey robert
    I am a real beginner in this field.hope u dont mind if i ask a very basic question.i have a boss br 864 portastudio.a friend has bought me a henke proffessional condenser studio mic.i cannot get any response from it when plugged into my 8 track.i have another mic which works fine.what am i doing wrong? Can u help.feel bad for my friend,this is the second one hes bought me,that i cant use.
    Hope u can help.

  147. admin says:

    Leah – I suspect your mic needs phantom power – a 48 volt bias that can be switched on to power the microphone, applied on the same wires that carry the audio signal from the mic. If your Portastudio doesn’t have a switch that says “48v” or “Phantom” then the mic won’t work.

  148. admin says:

    Responding to Ben, comment 146 up above… sorry for the long delay, your question got lost in the interwebs. My reply about looping:

    I usually only use one loop at a time, starting with a hardware looper. My favorite looper is still the Line 6 Echo Pro, because it has a short delay built in and also emulates tape wow & flutter, which softens the sound. I do not generally try to sync the loops to midi clock or anything. I do not usually set the feedback to a fade-out mode, but rather keep it at 100% feedback, and I have to be very careful how many notes I play to keep things from getting too thick. I loop directly in-line, not through speakers. The guitar is processed electronically through a pedal-board like Line 6 Pod or (more recently) Boss ME70, before it goes to loopers. Also, when recording my loops I usually process them a bit after I lock them in. there are no secrets really, it’s just basic methods. I hope this helps!

  149. Robert Rich – Gear Talk | Drone Music Lab.

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