Didjerinews issue 10 Vol 1

by Ed Drury

Composition Techniques for Didjeridu Part One, fun with recording

Starting another series for the old newsletter! I'm going to write a series of articles that will hopefully spark some creative ideas about composing, performing, recording and producing didjeridu tracks. We'll start in the recording studio, project studio, basement studio or bedroom studio – any place where we might find a recording device (digital or analog) capable of multitracking.

Multitracking, or just tracking for short is a method of recording that allows for the separate recording of multiple sound sources to create a cohesive whole. I'm going to demonstrate just a couple of tracking techniques that you may find inspiring to use to help you with the creative process and to develop your own specific didjeridu sound to mix with other instruments or stand alone. We'll save subjects like click tracks, adding pads and melodies for future discussion and move right into free playing. This is a fun exercise to create an ambient piece but I've also used it in more structured rhythmic pieces with multiple instruments and percussion tracks.

Since it's helpful to actually hear an example, I'll present my ambient track which was used for the opening scene of the film “Good Teeth”. A little background on this sound track assignment. The director wanted an ambient soundtrack that represented the soul of the lead character. Think of a monitor in a hospital like an EEG or EKG monitor, only rather than monitoring the patients brain or heart's electrical activity, this sound monitors what's going on inside the persons very soul. An ideal application for the didge. Knowing the character of Jack helped a lot. Jack is a very deep and complex character. On the surface he seems very dark, but somewhere underneath there is a very real sense of honor and dignity to Jack – though in reality, Jack does terrible, terrible things. Soulless things, really! In this opening scene, we have a character who is imprisoned and while he doesn't know it, is about to meet what could represent the devil himself – our hero, Jack. Here is the soundtrack for the opening scene of “Good Teeth.” Click here to open a sound click player in a new window and you can listen to it while you read.

To construct this track, I made three recordings playing a B natural agave didjeridu. Notice that you can hear my breaths on the recording. That was intentional, well more or less, since I wanted to capture the harmonics of the didj in the room as much as possible I used several microphones placed at different locations. Near the bell, pointed toward the side of the tube and up around my head. Now here is the technique I wanted to share and it involves panning in the mix. Once I'd produced three tracks one at a time I began the mix down and controlled the panning on each track in the following way. Track one is panned dead center. Equal volume to both the right and left channels. I start the mix with track two panned all the way left and track three all the way right. Then while mixing, I reversed the panning of tracks two and three back and forth to opposite sides of the stereo fields. I could have used an effect called auto panning, which automatically does this for you, but being somewhat of a control freak, I rather like the idea of doing it manually. It also had more of a sense of live playing to the track.

Doubling is a technique that allows you to thicken up the sound of a track by a couple of useful tricks all centered around have two exact copies of the same take. So it is not so much multi tracking as having the capability of manipulating the two copies independently. With digital recorders and computer audio software (DAWs) obtaining your second copy is usually just a matter of copying one track to another. With older analog equipment the easiest path is just to do a stereo recording of a take. The most common technique to make an instrument sound thicker (or huger, or larger, or whatever) requires you have some pitch control over a track independent of the other tracks on a multi track recording. This was not common on older decks as pitch manipulation was largely accomplished through tape speed control which would off course change the pitch of the entire recording. Fortunately, most digital equipment has a tuning feature. The idea here is to shift the pitch slightly down on one track (only a few cents) and slightly up on the other. In effect making the two together fill more of the sound spectrum than either one on it's own.

But there are other creative things you can do by having two copies of the same track to work with. Easiest to accomplish is simply to pan them apart a bit in the stereo field. Now rather than having one track split equally across the stereo field right and left, you have more control over the width of the track. That's a good first step, but we can go a step further by applying different effects to each track to make them sound a bit different on the right and left sides. For example, you might want to try a little delay to one track and leave the other track dry. Different amounts and degrees of reverberation to either or both. Or even adjust one to have different eq settings. Finally, you can set your second track to come in just a little bit later than the first track so that when played together you have a very real kind of echo effect throughout the entire piece. The variations are really endless when you have two copies of the track to work with!

My track, “Chasing the Wind” uses doubling. It gets up to around 150 beats per minute, there was no way I was going to play two takes at that tempo! To open a window and listen to the track, click here.

Well that's it for this installment. Next time I'll write about some ideas about song structure and in the future we'll get into things like sampling, looping and other fun stuff.