Friday, March 28, 2008


So I was leafing through some old data cd's the other day, and I stumbled upon the multitrack masters of some recordings I had done many moons ago. Much of my misspent youth was consumed while playing in a band called Felix Amour. We did the bar circuit throughout Western Canada for a couple of years, and eventually had ended up doing some basement recordings of original material for an EP. Originally the recordings had been done on an 8 track Fostex reel to reel unit; however, since tape degrades, a few years back we had gone into a studio to have them transferred to a digital format for long term storage. To transfer to disk we had used Nuendo (a media production suite from Steinberg) to raw dump all of the tracks from the tape individually to tracks in Nuendo. After that, we burned raw to CD, put them in my filing cabinet for safe keeping and I promptly forgot about them... until last week.

Since I had a recently built Fedora 8 box lying around doing very little, I thought I'd investigate the current state of multitrack recording in Linux. After a couple of searches, it looked like Ardour was the rough equivalent of Nuendo in Linux - so I did a quick 'yum install ardour' and voila! One multitrack recording facility installed.

The interface was completely intuitive and within minutes I had imported the recordings and was doing a rough mix. I did run into a couple of issues, mostly having to do with the fact that I had been using the onboard audio card - so I finally threw in a secondary audio card I had lying around (just a cheap SoundBlaster Live!). Once the new card was installed, I had to go back into my recording to remap the audio connections (tracks to master out to alsa out) - but again, within minutes I was back in business.

The next steps were to actually attempt to remaster the tunes. To start I had to clean up all the tracks - blanking the dead air, inserting filters to lessen hiss where required, etc. Also, since originally these were on an 8 track we had maxed out usage on all 8 tracks by inserting instruments on any available gap on the tape. Since with ardour we don't have the 8 track limitation, I separated all the distinct parts into actual tracks - thus turning the 8 track recording into something closer to 12 - 14 tracks. With the first song I attempted, there wasn't too much more to do - I added some effects to a couple of tracks here and there and attempted a mix. Remember, I had been using this software for less than a day, and I had successfully imported, edited, mixed and exported a 14 track song. Impressive!

Everything was very intuitive. I was grouping tracks, automating all of the levels including panning, track level, effect level, and navigating through the timeline quickly and easily - zooming areas, doing quick edits, etc. All in all, so far its been great.

The second song I attempted was much more complex. The tape had eroded slightly on the one edge (the 8th track) so some of the audio was occasionally munged on that track. Fortunately, that track was the drums. Basically, I was able to go in and cut/copy/paste bits and pieces of the drum track to cobble together a full track again with absolutely no hint that I had patched it up. Again, remember, this was the second day I had used it - and I was doing what I consider to be very intricate editing and splicing.

Unfortunately, due to the complexity of this latest song (about 20 tracks all with effects/processing/automation), I have found that I'm running out of processing power (somewhere). The live playback has started crashing ardour if I attempt to do a full playback with all tracks active; however exporting still works. I've got around this by doing the mix in groups of tracks, which has been not too bad - keeping all the levels relatively even - then exporting out to .wav.

Expect to seem some posts very soon on this topic with copies of the songs and more details on the processes, thoughts etc.

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