We are big fans of Patricia Barber at Roon and so are many of our community members. We had the privilege of going behind the scenes of the making of Patricia’s latest album, Clique, with the album’s husband-and-wife engineering team, Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz, who enjoy decades of combined recording and technical experience as well as many well-deserved Grammys, awards, and wonderful accolades.
Clique was recorded at Chicago Recording Company (CRC) and mixed at Skywalker Sound in January 2019 by Jim Anderson, and mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering in 2020. Patricia Barber’s previous album Higher was recorded in the same sessions, and mixed at Skywalker in 2019.
[Editor]: During the recording process, were all the musicians in the same room, or in separate booths with individual microphones?
The studios at CRC are built for recording and allow for flexibility in recording and mixing.
All of the musicians are in the studio at the same time, but in their own separate areas: Patricia is in the main room with her piano, a Fazioli, and vocal microphone. She can see directly through the glass doors to the band, all in their own areas. It’s one giant visual circle.
I’ve found that if the musicians can see each other well, that can make up for any deficiencies they might have hearing each other in their headphones. Good visuals in the studio can allow for snap decisions to be made while recording, allowing musicians to have spontaneity in their performances.
These separate recordings allow me to have the maximum amount of flexibility when it comes to mixing either in stereo or in surround, and I can optimise the sound of each instrument without worrying about acoustic interference from other instruments’ leakage.
Patricia’s experience with accompanying herself, live, and working with her band comes into play in the studio. She innately knows how to balance her voice with the piano and doesn’t overplay. This makes recording possible without having to blanket off the piano and disturb her performance.
Can you tell us more about the Horus/Pyramix digital recording system that you used?
For every album of Patricia’s that I’ve recorded, I’ve always looked to see what is the ‘state-of-the-art’ (SOTA) available at the time. For Cafe Blue SOTA was using a full 16bit analogue to digital converter. Modern Cool SOTA was using a Sony 3348 open reel digital recording system. Now with Higher and Clique we’re recording at 352.8 kHz and 32 bit.
Over the years, we’ve managed to increase the transparency and texture of our recording through increasing the sampling and bit rate of the digital systems that we use.
The Horus/Pyramix system is used, for the most part, in classical recording, where one wants the most compelling and revealing sound possible. This also allows us to release in high resolution.
For Higher and Clique we recorded ‘double system,’ using the studio’s ProTools system, which is what the musicians heard in the studio and in the control room. While the recording was taking place, Pyramix and ProTools were synced, allowing us to use the studio system as a back-up, in case anything happened to the high resolution recording.
All of this detail should be transparent to the performers and to the listeners. They should just think: “This sounds really good!”
For our readers, can you explain why you decided to mix the album in analog and why you chose the Neve 88 Legacy board?
I am an “old school” mixer, I’m most comfortable sitting at a large format recording console. At the Neve, I have access to everything that I need right in front of me and I don’t have to look at a computer screen or anything that can slow me down.
We use computers when we mix primarily as a playback device. I like the sound of how analogue signals sum, over how sounds can sum when combined in the computer.
All the words associated with analogue sound, warmth, depth, transparency, etc., come into play. I don’t have to ‘emulate analogue’ in my recordings and mixes.
Roon supports MQA decoding. It’s interesting you also did an MQA CD as one of the formats for the album. Can you tell us more about this?
I’ve not worked with MQA in the past. Knowing about MQA, I thought that we were missing a large part of Patricia’s audience and they would enjoy having her music available in as high a quality as possible.
MQA allows listeners to hear in their homes the music in the quality as it was recorded, mixed, and mastered.
I love Roon! Listening to Roon has drastically upgraded my opinion of listening to music streaming in the home and on the computer, as well. Thanks, Roon!
Clique is being released on vinyl. Were the vinyl masters cut from the digital or analog master?
Bob Ludwig presented the DXD (352.8kHz/32bit float) mixes and the mixes on ½” tape (15 IPS, Dolby SR, +0/185nWb) at the start of the mastering session in A/B comparison to me. It was immediately apparent that the DXD mixes were far superior in frequency range, localization and overall stability of the image.
They sounded so much better and transmitted the bounce of the bass and the music that is happening on this album.
It was clear that the DXD files were the source for mastering. The DXD master Bob made from this source is the basis for the vinyl cut.
Can you tell our readers more about the MERGING+CLOCK-U technology which was used in the engineering process?
We were very excited to get our hands on such an exquisite piece of gear. The more precise and low noise the clock, the less jitter and more stability your recording/mix/mastering will have. The Merging+Clock-U is the Ultra Low Noise version of their digital clock spectrum. It is precise to 20 parts per billion (per second).
We had the Merging+Clock-U shipped to Skywalker for the mix of Clique 2.0, 5.1 and Higher 5.1 Surround. Higher was recorded in the same sessions and mixed in 2019 at Skywalker Sounds. Clique was mixed in 2020.
If you compare the 2.0 versions of Higher and Clique you will hear the difference of the Merging+Clock-U versus the regular Merging Clocks. Patricia’s voice sounded freer, the bass had more bounce, there was more spaciousness in the overall sound.
We also didn’t have any fatigue listening and working for long hours. Another advantage we want to keep.
The album was mixed at Skywalker Sound, a legendary studio. Are there any unique tools available in that studio and/or did you bring anything with you to the sessions?
Skywalker is in many ways a legendary place. The staff’s attention to detail and willingness to let us bring in any sort of extravagant gear is unique.
For this project we brought in our Pyramix/Horus system as a playback and recording system, with the added perk of the Merging+Clock-U.
The base frequency of this ultra high clock needs to work with the automation of the analog mixing board. Since the Merging+Clock-U is designed as a standalone consumer piece, it needed a bit of convincing to work in a studio environment. This is where the excellent technical staff of Skywalker shines.
Skywalker also have access to the analog reverb chamber that we like to use in our mixes.
Mixes we do at Skywalker hold up in any other environment. What we hear at Skywalker is what we get. If it is great there, it will be great anywhere. There is no higher praise than that for a mixing location.
Are there any unique technical approaches that were used in the mix to prepare the album for mastering?
For this recording session we exchanged every power cable in the recording chain at CRC with custom made power cables and/or power accelerators of Essential Sound Products to lower the noise floor to infinity.
We also used custom made IX-3 AccuSound cables for all interconnections in the recording chain. We took them to Skywalker for the mixing process.
The laptop that was used for the recording was custom built and was the first of its kind in the world, allowing 64 channels of DXD recording.
Those are technical details that support the magic of the sound. The real brilliance is in the recording and the mixing.
Other than that, Bob Ludwig worked according to his principle of “Do no harm” to the mixes and carefully mastered Clique to its brilliance. Bob presents every master he does for us also in MQA and we decide if we want to embrace the MQA version for the download or CD version. Clique was a prime example to do so. I am very happy that we decided to have this as our streaming and CD version.
Follow Jim Anderson on Instagram. Follow Ulrike Schwarz on Instagram. Stay tuned for our next post where we speak to Patricia Barber.