I call this banjo tuning the “So What” tuning since it produces the same voicing as the horn chords in the Miles Davis tune “So What”. (Bar all four strings at the second fret. Strum. Release. Strum. Whattya know! Modal jazz and mountain modal banjo tunings…same difference.)
I wrote most of the lyrics while pushing my son around in his stroller, wondering what would be worse: global warming or my first upstate New York winter in ten years.
The electronics part was originally all about a piercing drone that slowly oscillates between a and b-flat. The movement between the pitches is based on the gestures played by the banjo and would sometimes produce amazing microtonal difference tones. Listening back to my recordings I realized how painful the experience could be for the audience. With the encouragement and discerning ears of Troy Pohl I pushed the electronics far into the background.
One of my goals when I moved to Albany was to set up a good-sounding room for my studio. I had done enough recording in my previous spaces to realize that the biggest limiting factor for me to capture a good sound had become the acoustics of the room itself. Sure, I’d still love a boutique preamp and collection of the finest mics, but they can’t overcome the properties of physics at work in a poorly designed acoustical space.
One corner of the finished studio, showing broadband absorbers mounted floor to ceiling (black) and two wall-mounted absorbers (orange). There's a glimpse of a white ceiling panel visible in the upper right corner.
My original plan was to treat my new studio before unpacking from our move, but there were more pressing renovation projects around the house: roof, kitchen, two baths, and nearly every other room but my studio. I also had various projects that required immediate work recording and editing sounds, so I unpacked and set up what I hoped would be a temporary studio.
Two years later I was still working in an untreated room, so I finally made a plan for the acoustic treatment I needed. I used Mitch Gallagher’s book Acoustic Design for the Home Studio as a starting point for my plans. Soon after, I began building some broadband absorbers. I followed the well-known technique of using rigid fiberglass panels–gift wrapping each one in funky, bright IKEA fabric chosen by my wife. The panels then languished in my basement for almost another year before I was able to pack away everything in the studio and clear the room for painting and installation.
Bye-bye Pepto Bismol pink walls!
While the room was empty and untreated I took a series of audio measurements which confirmed the laws of physics–modes predicted by the dimensions of the room–and my own experience recording and mixing. I conducted a series of listening tests using familiar musical material. (More on these test results in Part 2.) Clapping in the empty room produced that characteristic boxy sound with fluttery echoes.
After installing only half of the wall panels I already noticed a significant difference in the sound of the room: now the echo I heard when clapping seemed to come from the hallway outside the room rather than the room itself. The broadband absorbers were clearly working.
Mounting the Panels
For wall-mounted panels I screwed eye hooks into drywall mounts which screwed easily by hand into the rigid fiberglass. With a little picture wire it was a simple matter to hang them from a nail in the wall. To increase bass absorption, I velcroed 2″ or 4″ spacers cut from scrap wood to the back of some of the panels.
For ceiling-mounted panels I built simple wooden frames that were hung from eye hooks mounted in the ceiling.
Back of the wall-mounted panels, showing the picture wire used for hanging.
Detail of the nylon threaded drywall anchors used to secure eye-hooks to the backs of the panels