z Gear Stories episode 12

Gear Stories #12   Iron Curtain Mics and Instant Film Score!


Hey there gear fans!  It’s that time again!


If you’re joining us for the first time, there’s a couple of things you should know…


If you don’t want to get this e-mail, let me know and I’ll unsubscribe you… but give it a chance… it can be fun!


Second, I generally write about two products a month, and hopefully at least one will appeal to you, but it is my goal that both portions of the newsletter will at least be fun to read!


So let’s dive right in….





One fine day in 1995 in Holland, when shooting a television show for Dutch T.V., An American record producer and jazz musician named Skipper met a Russian engineer named Martins, and they decided to start a microphone company together.  (I’m sure it took a little thought and conversation, and even Vodka… but I try to keep these from getting too long!)  They wanted to make quality, hand built microphones that sounded great and had a wonderful sense of style about them, too.


The name of the company is “Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics” …I  don’t know what universal is supposed to mean in there, (other than to help them make an acronym B.L.U.E…. not that they’re acronymonius… but they are Russian!  O.K.  TECHNICALLY, Latvia was never really part of Russia, but ask a Latvian lady to say “Moose and squirrel,” and you’ll know what I mean!)    I’ve got to tell you, they beat us into space, (though not to the moon!) and they sure got microphones right!


BLUE is a company that has been making a big splash in the pro microphone business, and is now more and more entering into the world of project studios and home studios as well.  They are known for being mics that you plug them in and open up the channel and they sound good… they were not engineered to have a perfectly flat signal response, but to make a pleasing sound that would be like what an engineer would be going for after he carefully listened and tweaked the EQ for half an hour…. right out of the box.


They also look really cool!  There was a TV commercial recently in which Bob Dylan was seen singing into a Blue Baby Bottle.  The mic looked so cool, it was the star of the commercial (At least for geeks like me!)  And the funny thing is, Bob brought it to the shoot himself…  It’s the actual mic he records with!


Their big kahuna is the BLUE Bottle.   My first experience with BLUE was a side by side test of the BLUE Bottle next to a number of other high end microphones like the Neumann U87, and the AKG 414, and many other top names.


I remember thinking “That Neumann Sounded pretty good…  I like the character of that one, Hmmm, I don’t like that one so well… and WOW!”  All the other mics in the test sounded like really good mics… the Blue bottle sounded like the singer walked up and started singing in my face!  …which is cool, if you’re into that kind of thing.


But BLUE has a wide variety of mics available in a wide price range, and they serve different purposes.  They have cool names like the Kiwi (which was designed to be a high end instrument mic), the Cactus (Probably the best mic for recording backing vocals I can think of), the Mouse (A great mic for instruments in the lower end of the frequency spectrum, like acoustic bass),  the Woodpecker (which is a ribbon mic in a cool wooden housing… it looks like apiece of fine furniture!), the blueberry, the dragonfly, the Bluebird, and the Snowball.


Cool names and a unique sense of style, great sound and a wide variety of price ranges to fit anyone’s budget and look/sound great in anyone’s studio!  I feel every studio should have at least one blue mic.


My personal favorite for recording my own vocals is the Baby Bottle (And if you heard my voice, like Bob Dylan’s voice, that might not impress you that much)  it’s great for people with lower voices…  It’s rich and resonant.   It would sound perfect with James Earl Jones doing the voiceovers for the Verizon commercials.



So as a belated celebration of the end of the Cold War, take 10% off all blue mics.  Here’s the link…




So we can arrange to meet, and I’ll talk to you about which BLUE mic is right for you…  When you come in, say this…(Read this next part in  a hushed, understated spy-code voice…)   The Bear no longer slumbers….


And if I respond with  (under my breath…)  “Nyet,  it lumbers.”  then you’ll know the room is not bugged and it’s safe to speak.


So now we move on to our next story… papers, please…


Spectrasonics, OMNISPHERE, making dark, ominous tones.



Recently, I watched this silly little movie called “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” in which the main character was a composer who was famous for making the soundtrack for a television show similar to C.S.I.  He was always noted for creating “Dark, Ominous Tones.”


This meant basically one thing… He used Omnisphere.


If you’ve seen a film or a television show anytime in the last few years, chances are you have already heard Omnisphere (or Atmosphere’s) many times already.


What Omnisphere is, is a virtual instrument (a synthesizer made of software that  works as an application in your computer.)  It works as a plug in in your favorite D.A.W. software, OR in standalone mode as it’s own thing.


I had an opportunity a while back to use it’s predecessor called “Atmospheres.”  I have this very dreamy world music project I’ve been working on for a few years (When they finally release the seven albums I’m in the middle of, I’ll let you all know!)  In the project, I add ambient electronic musical settings around layered vocal tracks of singers that I record singing traditional pieces in their native language.  This project is a BLAST to make, by the way!


One of my biggest challenges is finding new sounds to use to make these settings.  One day, my buddy Andy loaned me his laptop with a MOTU traveller hooked to it, and I synched it up to my studio through  my MIDI and audio interfaces, and I acted like his computer was just another synthesizer in my rack of keyboards.  I booted up Atmospheres and had a LOST weekend!


For three days straight, all my spare time was spent going through sound banks and creating textures that I could not achieve in any other way… or at least not without an incredible amount of time, energy, and creativity.


There was one sound in their preset library called “Romeo & Juliet”    It is almost impossible to describe, other than it had such an elegant and sophisticated texture that was constantly evolving, I put my finger down on one key and held it through a five minute song and it seemed to evolve with the sound of the song and never sound the same.


In those three days, I barely scratched the surface of what could be done with this amazing instrument, and yet Omnisphere is like Atmospheres on steroids!  There is SO MUCH MORE available!


The people who make it (Spectrasonics) came to Sweetwater to show us their new creation, and it was mind blowing.  First of all, the great lengths they went through to create the most unusual and compelling sound library available was amazing!  There are a series of sound called “Burning Piano” in which they actually recorded a real live piano on fire.  They recorded the whole thing, and then created a series of sounds based on the death rattle of this old acoustic piano!


They showed us a video… in fact on the web, they have a number of videos you can observe.  Check out the link below.


Back to the example from the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” … making film soundtracks with Omnisphere is like shooting fish in   a barrel…  Each sound in the library has so much personality that often, holding down one key will make something interesting enough to stand on it’s own, so you can just watch the screen, play a couple of notes and start collecting your royalty check from ASCAP!


There was a scene in the movie where the main character was in a session, and he was doing just that.  EASY!  SIMPLE!  Imagine if you actually spent some time with the sounds and applied your own creative spin to these things!  Truly amazing music could happen!


So here’s the deal! Through the month of February, you can get Omnispheres from me for a mere $450.  If that seems like a lot for a box of software, remember, if you wanted a synth that could do what this one does ten years ago, it would have cost you upward of ten thousand dollars.


So call me and start booking your soundtrack gigs!




Here are the videos about Omnisphere:  http://www.spectrasonics.net/omnisphere_teaser/explore.html


See you next time on GEAR STORIES!!!!


Jon Gillespie, Sweetwater Sales Engineer


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