The banjo break at the beginning comes almost directly from Pete Seeger’s How to Play the 5-String Banjo. I worked out the banjo part in the verse by ear, following the melody and drawing inspiration from Buell Kazee’s recording on the Anthology of American Folk Music.
The electronics part uses multiple looping delays to create a rhythmic texture from the banjo. The timing for each delay line is based on the time between consecutive instances of a given note played by the banjo. One delay line changes every time the computer hears the note g , another changes when the computer hears f, another for b-flat, etc.
The tablature above more accurately represents how I’d play the tune on a fretted banjo. When I play the fretless banjo, as on the recording, I throw in more slides on the 3rd and 4th strings.
Michael Eck of The Albany Times-Union reviewed my Post & Beam recording recently along with releases by Mathew Kane and Kevin Bartlett. Here’s what he wrote about Post & Beam:
Hopson similarly has no fear of manipulating sound with anything near at hand, be it fingerpicks or a laptop computer.
On “Post & Beam,” however, he actually hews closer to Alan Lomax than Kraftwerk, with a haunting, often mesmerizing album of old songs and new sounds.
Throughout, he plays the banjo straight, with a gentle claw hammer behind his fragile-but-captivating voice. There are aspects of Sam Amidon and Chris Whitley at work here (especially in the original tunes), but Hopson’s individuality shines.
What pulls “Post & Beam” out of folk festival mode are the murmurings behind the songs. Atmospheric tangents (including the voice of NOAA weather radio) bubble and squeak without ever distracting. Oddly, they put an even tighter focus on Hopson’s vocal delivery, especially on appropriated chestnuts like “East Virginia,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” and “Bowling Green Green.”
There’s a tendency in freak folk towards atmosphere, a wind-blown, gauzy lope. Hopson certainly has it on “Post & Beam,” but his relaxed stride has a purpose, a goal, a destination.
This is the second of a two part post about my recent studio remodel and acoustic treatment. Read the first part here.
Once all the acoustic treatment was installed and the furniture was moved back in, I took another series of audio measurements. All my measurements are quasi-scientific, using materials I had on hand: a Max patch to generate test tones, a home-built omni mic, a spreadsheet. I only tested the frequency response for lower frequencies (20 Hz to approximately 350 Hz). I made no attempt to measure the reverberant response of the room (RT60). Given these limitations, the data nonetheless show a clear improvement in frequency response in the room.
My goal was to flatten the frequency response of the room, knowing that a perfectly flat response isn’t practical given the dimensions of the room (or of my wallet). The chart above shows a range of approximately 50 dB in the untreated room, with the lowest reading of 51 dB at 122 Hz and the highest reading of 100 dB at 151 Hz. After the treatment was installed the range is approximately halved to 26 dB, from 67 dB at 62 Hz to to 93 dB at 148 Hz.
One unanticipated difference between the tests is the difference in low frequency readings. In the untreated room, my sound level meter registered nothing below 35 Hz. Once the room was treated, the meter picked up readings beginning at 31 Hz. This bass extension may be due to my ad hoc test equipment, but I seem to hear it.
Listening tests in the treated room were revelatory. Overall bass response is noticeably more even. Much more striking for me is how much the stereo imaging has improved in the treated room. The soundstage seems more defined and both wider and deeper. I’m shocked by how much improved even older stereo mixes sound in the treated room.
Listening to the Beatles “A Day in the Life” in the untreated room I felt like I heard the hard-panned mix just fine, despite some muddiness and boominess in the toms. In the treated room, the toms are clearer and more even, as expected, but even the hard-panned stereo image is more defined. Many tracks in the untreated room suffered from the “hole in the middle” syndrome, whereas in the treated room the sounds are more evenly distributed. I noted that Miles Davis’ “So What” seemed to have good imaging between the bass and trumpet in the untreated room. Listening to it with the acoustic treatment installed I can hear more than just the separation between the instruments–I can hear the sound of the room the instruments were recorded in.
Not Going Back
Remodeling my studio disrupted my work and schedule, but the results are well worth it. Even though it seems pedestrian to spend time and money on acoustic panels rather than boutique microphone preamps or the fashionable plugin du jour, I’ll continue to choose the former over the latter. I’ll never work in an untreated room again.