perjantai 23. syyskuuta 2011

Juppu's past adventures in hi- and lo-fi #1: Vesa-Matti Loiri, part one

This is the first post in a series of recollections and memoires from some of the most memorable sessions Julius has been involved in. Some of these will be more in-depth than others, some will be not much more than funny stories or anecdotes.

This one is very long and divided into parts for several reasons: it is possibly the most memorable session I've ever been in and it involves Vesa-Matti "Vesku" Loiri, who's one of the most influental, loved and respected performing artists in the history of Finnish recorded music, film, theatre, opera, football or falling over (and yes, all of those qualify as art). Also, there were only three of us involved in the sessions that took place near the town of Ivalo, in northern Lapland, 1100 km from Helsinki. I also have a feeling that the other two (the artist himself and producer and my dear friend Hannu Pikkarainen) may remember different sides of the sessions. Or then not. They may or may not have written down or recorded them. I don't know.

And the part about dividing it into parts, well, it is about three albums and there are a lot of things to remember. I hope this makes it a better read!

Anyway, here's my take on the subject of 

The making of Vesa-Matti Loiri's "Ivalo", "Inari" and "Kasari".

Part one: Background

In the spring of 2006, before my involvement on the project, the record label (Warner Music Finland) had come up with this idea of making a record based on Johnny Cash's fantastic "American Recordings"-series of records - mostly acoustic, low-key, slow tempo versions of Finnish classic pop songs - with emphasis on songs with strong and moving lyrics. They had the artist (who, interestingly enough, never had been a big fan of Johnny Cash's music), they came up with a guy who would be just the right person to produce it (Emma-winning producer and guitarist Hannu Pikkarainen, more about him later), they had a release date, but they also had a problem.

Loiri likes to spend his summers in a little hideout cabin near the town of Ivalo in Lapland - about as far you can get in Finland and still have some services of the modern world (such as an airport, decent grocery store, two hotels). But due to the projected release date, the record would have to be made during the summer and Vesku had absolutely no intention of coming to Helsinki to make the record. Why should he? He had everything that he wanted there and he wasn't originally that keen on the idea of making a new record. He had other things planned, such as spending time with his two sons and taking it easy. His message to the record company was loud and clear: he wasn't coming, the record would have to be either postponed or cancelled altogether. The guys at Warner (at the time Pekka Ruuska and Pete Eklund) were under a lot of pressure, they had counted on this record to be one of their major products for the final quarter of the year (you know, Christmas and stuff... When people used to buy records in the old days) and it looked like it wasn't going to be made. Shit.

After a number of very stressed hours or days, Pete came up with a solution of taking the studio to Lapland. The artist agreed, as long as his other plans weren't going to be affected and I was contacted by Pekka to gather a mobile recording set and go do the record. Why they called me was because Hannu, the producer had mentioned me in a discussion about engineers. What's interesting is that we barely knew each other at that point. We had worked together on a very short overdub session for an artist he was producing. I remember having to be talked into doing the session by colleague and friend Juha Jäntti (thank you for insisting!), since it happened in the most rushed, stressful and panicy phase of the building of our studio. I agreed to do it and we got along really well with Hannu and based upon the vibe he got from me during those maybe three hours, he recommended to hire me.

(Side note: I don't know what would've happened if I hadn't done that overdub session but I guess the moral of the story is NEVER to look down on a gig, no matter how minuscule it may seem, you never know what may come out of it.)

So there I was, going to record Vesa-Matti Loiri - whom I had never met - with Hannu Pikkarainen - with whom I had worked for three hours - in a makeshift studio more than a thousand kilometres from home and we were told to come back only when we had a finished (save mixing) record, preferably one that would have the potential to be very successful.

But to be honest, I didn't have the time to think about all that, I was busy trying to work out what to take and how to make sure we had everything we needed. That was sort of difficult because I had no idea what our to-be-studio was like (to start with, I didn't know whether it had electricity or not). For some time I tried to inquire about it, but as it was a remote, rented house that had just been bought by a new owner (whose contact details we, conveniently enough, didn't have in the Helsinki end) and the old owner was something of a hermit (whose contact details we didn't have either for that matter) - my attempts were in vain. At this point I just had to figure out all the things that could possibly go wrong and work out ways to overcome those things - part of the job description, as any self-respecting recording engineer knows.

For a few weeks, I was all "What if such-and-such-part breaks?" and made historically and hysterically frequent visits to Yleiselektroniikka, our then-local supplier of audio connectors and such to get the oddest audio adapters, fuses, wire, AC splitters and maybe a little more than enough spare XLR and 1/4" connectors. And a few RCA's that probably won't hurt.

But then a few days before the trip I was all set, I had absolutely everything covered. I had the core studio equipment (more details next time), I had every possible audio connector and cable I might need (and of course a soldering iron and connectors), I had the phone number of the closest audio related and IT companies if there was a catastrophy related to those things and I even had the phone number to the local electricity company in case there was a need for a diesel-powered generator. However there was a technical hurdle waiting for us in Ivalo, but I'll leave that to next time (yes, I just needed to have a cliffhanger).

I was quite confident everything was going to be ok, or if not, I could come up with something. I was nervous, of course, but prepared. Until the last evening when my mother casually asked the question:

"What happens if you don't get along with Vesa-Matti Loiri?"

Thanks, Mum, I really needed that.

Part 2 coming soon! Until then, enjoy the Spotify playlist I made of the records.


maanantai 19. syyskuuta 2011

Delay Trees song featured on "Grey's Anatomy"!


Again, this is concerning the wonderful Delay Trees! "Gold", the title track of their eponymous debut album - produced, recorded and mixed by Julius Mauranen here at Studio Kekkonen - will be featured in the next episode of the immensly popular and - here musically speaking - very influential TV series "Grey's anatomy". The episode will air this weeks thursday in the US.

For those of you who don't know, Grey's anatomy is not only watched by millions and millions of people around the world and is one of the highest revenue earning shows on US television, it's also known for acting as a platform for highlighting and promoting music - as a matter of fact, Grey's anatomy is something of a pioneer in the field (Yes, I did learn a lot of that on Wikipedia).

For those of you who don't know, Delay Trees are the greatest band in Finland and you should all go and buy their self-titled debut album now, either on CD from Levykauppa Äx, on vinyl from Cargo in Germany or as digital version in iTunes in the US. And if you're a sceptic, have a listen on Spotify (where the opening track is misspelled as "Cold" (facepalm...)) and THEN support new music and its makers and go buy the album so we can make a new one. You can also download their new Before I Go Go EP for free on their website! As said before, the album is produced, recorded and mixed by Julius Mauranen, the EP is produced by the band, recorded by Teemu Vilmunen of Ultramariini, mixed by Julius.

We don't obviously yet know the scene or how the song is featured in it, but even if it was only three seconds of leakage from a patient's iPod headphones while he's being rushed in the ER in the background with Meredith and Derek getting divorced and re-married in the foreground by a priest dressed as Elvis (do not ask how I know the characters, I don't even have a television), it'd be HUGE news. Why's that? Well, a LOT of music is being pushed to the show and to get through - especially as an indie debut act from some peripheric european country - it really, really must have made an impression on someone who's willing to put it out to millions of viewers. Credit for that goes to Dan Koplowitz and his whole hard-working team at the mighty Friendly Fire Recordings, GREAT WORK! Naturally, credit also goes to Delay Trees themselves (and of course their producer/engineer who made it sound so amazing - watch out for future blog posts about makings of great past records, Delay Trees will be most definitely be featured).

Gold by Delay Trees

Very happy Julius

sunnuntai 11. syyskuuta 2011

51 songs from Studio Kekkonen

Here's a little (well, ok, it's 3 hours so not really little) Spotify playlist for your enjoyment!

51 songs from Studio Kekkonen

We just gathered a lot of the stuff we've done over the years into some sort of a manageable thing. We did leave out a lot of stuff, honestly.

On the playlist you find anything from Joonatan Rautio to Fireal to Delay Trees to Ismo Alanko to Sakilaiset to Vesa-Matti Loiri. This is just to present the scope of projects we've gone through. A lot of the stuff isn't on Spotify, some of you may not have Spotify, so watch our Soundcloud for more music (in the future, too!).

This playlist is as much (or even more) of a reference list as a playlist. I mean, we don't really expect the same audience to dig all of this stuff (or on the other hand why not, it's all good?). It simply portrays what we've been up to for the last 5-7 years and isn't categorised by engineer (Mikko, Janne or me) or genre or anything else, but serves a purpose, if not for anyone else, perhaps for us - at least when amnesia creeps in.

I promise you that there will be more concise and thematic playlists in the future! Meanwhile, you can listen to this and go through a lot of different worlds...


keskiviikko 7. syyskuuta 2011

Suvi Isotalo - P.S. Maj'lle

Here's a video off one of my favourite records that I've mixed this year, Suvi Isotalo's second album "P.S. Maj'lle" (out on September 21st 2011 on the Sound Of Finland label).

About the record...

It was such a fun record to work on. Produced by the ultra-talented Timo Kämäräinen, the album is something a bit different than Suvi's first album "Jollet rakasta" - which, BTW is great too! Whereas the first record leaned more towards 1970's singer-songwriter tradition, on "P.S. Maj'lle" Suvi and Timo wanted the record to have an edgier feel to it. There's more experimentation and playfulness in terms of the soundscape, but at the same time the themes of the album are very personal, some of them very dark.

Well, as this is not a record review (that'd be really weird) and I most certainly aren't a music journalist, I won't delve any deeper in this wishy washy description of music - which anyway is practically impossible. But maybe a few words about the mixing? I did - after all - mix the album!

Slightly geeky stuff about the recordings...

The album was recorded in various places, two (or three?) studios and different other locations. Timo recorded a lot of it by himself and his tracks sounded excellent. With such great musician as Timo (who is an extraordinary guitarist, check out anything out of his discography), Olli Krogerus (drums, they also have a duo called Toot toot with Timo) and of course Suvi herself (amazing singer and songwriter!) you can't go wrong. The arrangements were spot on (including some great strings, though edgier than on the first album), so my job was really just to enhance what was there and go crazy when it was appropriate.

Technically, as the music was recorded in different locations over some time (and one of the tracks was originally a demo), there were some variation in the sound of the recordings. That sometimes introduces problems, but in this case it felt like every sound had a reason, so there was no need to jump through hoops to get everything up to some imaginary line or standard. Having great musicians, great arrangements and a charatceristic sound to start with is really the optimal situation to start mixing a record!

Very geeky stuff about the mixing!

A little bit of something for the geeks (like me) then... The album was recorded in 96kHz (save that one song that was a demo originally) and recorded and mixed in ProTools at Control Room 2 in Studio Kekkonen, by yours truly, Julius Mauranen. My way of working is a kind of hybrid, balancing, routing and part of the processing is done "in the box", but I use a lot of analog processing. When mixing a record in 44.1kHz or 48kHz, I often sum the mix on our heavily modified MS Audiotron Multimix desk, but as the outputs to the desk are via RME ADI-8 DS D/A converters (ADAT optical) that only operate up 48kHz, I opted to keep the material at 96kHz and just bring the 2-buss into a custom-made stereo channel on our desk, where I could use the fantastic onboard EQ as a master EQ.

By the way, the MS Audiotron was modified and the custom channel with its Sontec-style EQ were done by Jaakko Viitalähde of Virtalähde Mastering a great mastering engineer who's built practically all his gear himself. And some things for us too! There's a mod in the desk that allows me to use outboard preamps as a summing amp, which is just great! On Suvi's album, I used the Knif Audio V804 preamp - possibly the best pre I have ever used - as a summing amp. The preamp (as well as some other gear we have) is designed and built by Jonte Knif, a Finnish genius tube equipment designer / god. His gear is absolutely stunning. Anybody who has anything to do with recording, mixing or mastering should try out his products. They are simply mindblowing. More of them in a later post, I promise you.

From the desk, the signal went to a Gyraf G-SSL built to order by my friend, ex-SSL tech Dave Evans (link to be added!), who did some nice quirks into the design. The album was mostly mixed with a ratio of 4, attack of 30 and release of either 0.3 or "auto". From the compressor (inserted inline), the signal went to our Otari MTR-10 1/4" tape machine (with RMGI SM900 tape at 15 IPS) and then back to ProTools. This is my master chain 90% of the time. I love it.

Suvi's vocal chain, if I recall right - was LA-2A clone "Laakkonen" into a 1178 clone built by Tapio Rantanen, tech at Finnvox. For reverbs I used our Stocktronic RX4000 plate reverb (also used by Tore Johansson), a Roland RE-201 Space Echo and various plug-ins, including Soundtoys' Echoboy and TL Space.

(On this particular track, I don't remember exactly what I used for the filtered vocal sound, but I'll update it when I can check it out.)

Meanwhile, enjoy the song and video and check her stuff on Spotify! And of course, support new and fresh music and go buy the album on September 21st!


Suvi Isotalo - P.S. Maj'lle video on Vimeo!

perjantai 2. syyskuuta 2011

Prehistory of Studio Kekkonen: The old place

So, this year Studio Kekkonen as it's known these days has been in its place for five whole years. There will be more posts to come on the subject, but we'll kick off by looking at the very beginnings of what has become one of the finest studios in Helsinki (if you don't mind me saying that).

So here we go:

Prehistory of Studio Kekkonen (From 2003 to 2005)

Back in 2003 or so, Mikko and Janne were looking for a shared studio space (Juppu joined in a little later). They even had a starting point: Janne had previously done some work for a real character called Toni, a keyboard player who was a known figure in the Finnish scene of traditional popular ("Iskelmä") music and a kind of gear collector. Any gear. As in ANY. He had a few (rather grotty) spaces in Pitäjänmäki, north west Helsinki. Some of the spaces were for storage of his stuff and one was a office space, converted into a studio. Well, the converting had consisted of putting a window on one of the walls, running a multicore and calling the other room "control room". Really, it was a room with speakers and other recording gear in it. We knew this, but were happy to have something. These days a lot of people call that kind of space "a studio", but that's another story. This place was dirt cheap and it was something.

The gear we had in the beginning was a PC, a pair of Genelec 1030's, NS-10's, Digidesign Digi 001 (later 002), a few instruments (guitars, amps and keyboards), a few mic stands, cables and semi-pro mics. So really, nothing to write home about. By then we had already been around the block enough to know that it wasn't much. But then we had Toni's gear, of course. Now when I said he collected gear is a bit misleading. He really just gathered stuff. Any stuff. In the dark corners of his storage rooms you'd find a dozen 12"-17" VGA displays, none of which worked, some sort of automatic line mixer they use in malls, karaoke machines, PC components, semi-pro patchbays, bits of PA systems. Et cetera. Rubbish. Junk. Stuff. But there in the middle of the stuff, there would be a Neumann U47 (arguably the most wanted mic on the planet, besides the ELAM 251). Or an AKG BX-20. Or ANOTHER Neumann U47. Then another 4 broken VGA displays. Then a RCA 44. I kid you not. He had absolutely AMAZING vintage mics and outboard gear, yet it was all stashed in with the rubbish. Then he kept praising some dreadful Spirit digital console or a pair of hideous-sounding Russian mics. He REALLY is a character. So we got to use this weird mix of very pro-sumer, average stuff and this amazing, classic but poorly maintained gear (one of the U47's was later named "Frankenstein") included in the rent. Just a few years later we were fortunate enough to acquire some fantastic vintage equipment of our own, but only one mic - the Neumann CMV-563 - was originated from Toni's "collection" - I actually found it fallen and forgotten in the back of our mic "locker" (and even that (and some cash) we traded for a stereo pair of the same type). That was mostly due to two factors: firstly Toni didn't really keep his gear in great shape and secondly he was very difficult to deal with - purchasing that one mic from him required about thirty phonecalls, three meetings where he just didn't show up and when he finally did, the first thing he did was drop the mic on the parking lot (in its case and only from the car floor height, so it wasn't damaged - miraculously).

Another great feature of his was the fact that you NEVER could guess whether the gear would be there when you got to the studio. Twice I remember walking into the studio and to my horror see that the mixing desk (yes, that same horrible Spirit digital thing) was MISSING and once I got there seeing that it was not only missing, but replaced with a Behringer desk. Toni had other strange habits, such as suddenly changing languages in the middle of the sentence. Even in the middle of a word. Finnish, English, Swedish all happily mixed up. At the time these things were both hilariously funny and extremely annoying, but later I've thought that my life wouldn't have been quite as fulfilling had I never dealt with this guy. He's a warm-hearted and well-meaning chap and secretly we all really liked him despite his certain absurd traits. Plus we had access to his great gear.

Mikko left the place at some point in 2004, cause he got accustomed to working in places like HIP Studiot and Finnvox and the now-defunkt Crystal Sound and did not really need the old place any longer. Juppu and Janne continued working there until the summer of 2005 (that's when the dub collective next door started rehearsing a bit too often for comfort) and then began the hunt for the new studio - what we thought would be just a "slight improvement" to the old premises. Little did we know...

I wish I could post pictures of the Old Kekkonen here, but there is only one known picture of that place (Janne has it, I'll post it when I have it). That sort of tells something about that place. It wasn't really too photogenic... If any reader of this blog has any pics from the old place, send them to us!

Stay tuned for more history!


torstai 1. syyskuuta 2011

Aves video!

Our aforementioned friends at Stereotype Helsinki are keeping busy, they've just put out an amazing video for Aves' "You, Lucid" that I posted earlier - expect more tracks to appear as time goes by. But until then, you can watch this on repeat. It's one jaw-droppingly stunning visual experience. Plus early on in the video, there's a figure who seems to walk amongs gigantic rhubarbs. Nobody can resist gigantic rhubarbs, that's a proven fact. And if in my earlier post I said the track itself takes you on a journey - this takes you on a complete trip. Director for the video is a visual artist called Juho Risto Aukusti Lähdesmäki. That's a very long name. The song was mixed at Studio Kekkonen by yours truly, Julius Mauranen. Enjoy:

Aves - You, Lucid from Stereotype Helsinki on Vimeo.