Tuesday, March 29

Gouging Oboe Cane, part 2

It might be interesting to explain what all the screws do on the machine, but if you have to ask the question, buy a one-piece construction machine that requires no calibrating! There is also a no adjustment machine called a ”Crank Gouger” only available at Innoledy. There is a thread on this machine at the Oboe BBoard. Personally – apart from preferring to save my money for an oboe d’amore – I like the idea of being able to change the shape of my blade, which I think is impossible on those machines.

Calibrating the machine – general principles.

Now comes the time to actually use the gouging machine. Again, a few principles for the adjustment. I don’t know if this is justified with any scientific theory or even practical experience, but intuitively, we want any end-to-end line on the cane to have exactly the same thickness. angleTaperingTherefore, of extreme importance is complete parallelism of the bed in comparison with the arm that the plane glides on. If there is a vertical discrepancy, either the ends or the middle of the cane will be too thin compared to the overall length at that point…. The middle getting thinner should be impossible regardless of which direction the guide or bed might be slanting. But this has happened to me a lot. Maybe my guide that has a curve in it… very possible.
gouge centerHorizontal (sideways) angles, no matter how small, means that the center thick part will not stay centered. In theory, this should actually produce a diamond-shape  thick part, but in practice… again, maybe the beaten-up condition of my machine. For years, without realizing it, my machine was unable to do anything else than this because little holes in the bottom of the bed were drilled by adjustment screws tightened too tightly! No matter how I pushed or pulled with the side adjuster screws, the under screws would pull the bed back in the exact same position by sliding back in the holes.
I fixed this by filing down a flat surface for the screws with a “Dremmel tool”, but most people would criticize (correctly too) that this risks the introduction other imprecisions.

Fitting the cane: chopping length.

_MG_2028This is so simple, I don’t know why I mention it. The chopping length has one purpose alone: to make the cane fit in the gouging machine. If you use an easel to score the cane before folding, and this easel is of a different length than your gouger bed, TOO BAD: it’s the gouger that matters! On either end of the bed are usually little plates to hold the cane in place: the spring-mounted hook “pinchers” actually do very little but prevent the cane from sliding above those end-plates. Because the plane glides past these plates, to let the blade can cut the entire cane length, there must be curved holes in them to allow free movement without damaging the blade or the plane bottom itself: the bottom helps hold down the cane to prevent ripping and lifting off the bed.
The cane can be a little shorter (up to 1.5mm), but the less snugly it fits, the more risk there is of snagging in the blade and being pulled over the end plates. My machine only has one end plate: I don’t care about the one in back (right side) because it was too difficult to get the right curve on it to prevent damaging the plane and the blade. The one in front (left side) is the only one that really matters, when we’re careful, because it’s the one that keeps the cane in place while cutting.

_MG_2020Shaving Thickness: cut vs. rip.

Pretty much all sources of information I have been able to find agree that the cane shavings must measure between 0.05mm and 0.1mm. Thinner than that simply does not cut enough: not only will it take a very long time to gouge (risking compression of the cane), but it just might not cut, period. More than that seems to rip the grains rather than cut them. This is significant because if grains are pulled or torn from each other, then the cane lacks its living properties; it does not “hold together” and all kinds of strange issues happen with the finished reeds.

This “video” is a bunch of still images taken at short interval. I flip the cane around every now and then because the blade stops cutting in that direction: I start the blade a little bit inside the cane, so the back always remains a bit thicker until the gouge is complete. The gouge is complete when the roller starts rolling: having reached the guide, there’s nowhere for the blade left to go. Towards the end, notice hat the cane came off the bed a little bit: this is because the cane is a bit concave (curving inward). This piece did not break and I was able to finish it nicely. The shavings change in thickness and appearance. Towards the end, it becomes barely more than dust. At that point I very carefully flip a few more times: even if the roller is rolling, there are often little bumps left over from some degree of ripping.

Grains: good and sponge-cane – a sharp gouger blade.

This is the last point on cane selection. There exist density testers for metals, hard woods, ceramics, polymers and so on. I don’t know how effective they are for cane. For myself, I roll the inside of cane on my thumbnail: if it feels smooth, it’s excellent cane (densely packed grains). There are varying degrees of soft cane and I usually don’t like them. One kind of cane I call “sponge cane” because when scraping the bark, the under part looks porous like a sponge. This is usually horrible and not worth scraping at all.
It’s actually hard to predict while gouging because a rough thumbnail roll is similar for both soft and spongy cane. Also, to really emphasize and clearly identify good, medium and soft canes, the gouger blade must be very sharp. I use the same techniques as I do on my reed knives, but with even better honing stones. Some oboists talk about leaving burrs on their knives…. aye-aye-aye-chihuahua!!! Burrs tear, they don’t cut! But getting rid of them requires great stones and a hard metal blade (always the case with gougers).
All in all, I actually have had a couple of amazing practice (not concert) reeds with sponge cane. So, again, I don’t throw much away anymore. I use coloured thread with bands of other colours to identify which reed is which and I log in a book the variables (thickness, cane quality, shaper used etc.) associated with each colour combination.

Once the machine is calibrated, no more need to measure, right? – WRONG!

The density and health factors of the cane will change the actual final thickness of the cane. This means that:
  1. the machine can be made of the best metals: this ensures tolerances of 0.01mm or less
  2. cutting other metals, polymers, ceramics and glass would confirm these tolerances
  3. cane is a plant (soft, not actually wood) and some degree of compression, “bounce-back” and ripping will occur.
I have not compiled any statistics (variance extremes and standard deviation), but as much as 0.08mm variation has been observed….. due to the beaten-up condition of my very old brass machine that does not even use ball-bearings? Perhaps, but the following observations should hold true on even the best of machines:
  1. The hardest (densest) cane seems to gouge the thinnest, but not always.
  2. The softest, spongiest cane tends to resist thinning due to “bounce-back”. It absorbs most downward pressure from the plane and seems to decompress afterwards. End result, less effective cutting.
  3. Sunny days tend to gouge thinner than cloudy/rainy days.
Until recently, I had always soaked my cane for at least an hour before gouging to prevent cracking. This naturally increases the degree of bounce-back, even in the hardest cane. Lately, I have started to gouge dry and have not noticed any extra cracking. It really makes gouging easier by providing more resistance to the blade, so less evasion of being cut. It changes nothing, however, in the density of the cane and the thumbnail rolling test still works.
Theoretically, gouging wet means the thickness measurement should reduce as cane dries and shrinks. This does not matter as long as measurements are always taken in the same state (wet or dry). And people have been reported to like their cane with thicknesses ranging from 0.42mm to 0.68mm, so the important thing is that each oboist determine her/his preference and go from there.

Friday, March 25

Gouging Oboe Cane, part. 1

Honestly, a person would be justified to ask what the blazes makes me an expert on gouging cane: I’ve only always used the same beaten-up machine for about 20 years (10 of which were almost absent of oboe activity) and I only actually fixed a very serious flaw with it (preventing any real adjustment) last summer!
Well, it’s true that I don’t know even a quarter of what a real cane producer does. But what I do know, I can substantiate with engineering principles and my beginnings were founded on the advice of machine-shop tool maker (my late brother, God rest his soul) who fixed and calibrated machines that built engine parts for air-craft used in the roughest manoeuvres! Also, information on gouging is very hard to find, so by laying out here what I know, I hope to be of service to advanced reed-makers who need something to start their adventure with gouging.
For a more detailed discussion, check-out this thread on the Oboe BBoard.
cane diameterIn my last blog post, I talked about how measuring the diameter can be misleading and the arc is more important than the diameter. This picture shows (top left) how using a micrometer or calliper or most diameter-rulers will measure what we think are the long diameter (DL) and short diameter (DS). But in reality, the real short diameter (DSR) is actually smaller and the real long diameter (DLR) is actually longer. Using a radius gage solves this problem by measuring the actual arc.
_MG_1981    _MG_1998
This means that, when you buy cane, you have to be sure that your supplier is measuring the same way (with the same tool) you are! But that only matters, when you buy gouged or shaped cane, because when you buy canon (tube) cane, the measurement range is really just an average of what you can expect. After a piece of cane has been gouged, it is virtually useless to do any kind of measurement of diameter or arc, because the actual tensions in the cane grains pull the sides together a little bit: a curl results and the arc has changed. Diameter measurements, then, must be done at before splitting or before gouging and then the cane must be stored in well marked containers.

Pitfalls of the scientific method.

Personally, I think we tend to over-value the importance of any given measurement. Cane is a plant, not a high density polymer! Diameter is one issue, but the thickness of the cane wall must certainly mean something too! There is also age, density, health and many other factors, not even considering the staple being used, the shape and the weather (when making and when playing)!
Do keep a record of measurements, binding, shaping and scraping characteristics (not to mention observations on cane quality), but don’t draw conclusions based on less than 5 to 10 reeds and don’t immediately discard cane or a reed you’re working on just you think one or two measurements were missed. I have had amazing reeds with almost all descriptions of cane and often the best “setup” has produced reeds that just went to the garbage.
Modern science works by attempting to isolate a single variable and see the effects when that variable changes: then the study is performed again by isolating another variable. This assumes that a model can be built from those different variable changes: a tenuous assumption at best which most serious scientists will hold as difficult. Proof: weather prediction is probably the most sophisticated and intensely researched multivariate model – how well does that work?
For making oboe reeds, this means that it might be best to just keep all the cane (throw away what we know from experience just won't work) and learn to adapt our technique to get as good as possible a reed from whatever piece of cane we get.

Gouging means correct measuring.

A serious reed maker should begin shaping cane as soon as possible. Jay Light wrote something to the effect of: "an intelligent chimpanzee can shape cane". But one of the really important elements of quality control in cane, especially for the oboe, is the gouging: the thickness and inner curve of the cane used. This is much more difficult than shaping, unless you know a vendor of gouging machines that will adjust your setup. The equipment is VERY expensive and there are different ways to gouge the cane. Overall, if you can get a good supplier of gouged cane, I recommend leaving it at that. But here's some theory for curiosity's sake!
micrometer perpendicular micrometer in-line
As soon as we start gouging, we need ultra-precise measuring tools. The micrometer is a dial (or digital) comparator mounted so it points to another pin, either perpendicular or inline. The perpendicular pin is necessary for the measuring of finished reeds, but the inline type is better for gouging because of the risk of incorrect angle.
In my last blog post, I showed pictures of a home-made wood base for chopping pre-gouged cane. I also made a base for my dial indicator ($35, at the time) because I could not afford the full micrometer ($250, at the time). I made the base of wood and the other point with a screw that I filed into a ball point using metal files and fine sharpening stones. I don't recommend anyone else do this or even use my micrometer, because any displacement of the arm will cause incorrect readings.
_MG_1988 comparatorSetting
In the image above (a) and (d) are correct because the ball-points of each are in line: this is evidenced when a piece of flat metal is perfectly perpendicular to the measuring prod. Otherwise, when there is displacement the read measurement is longer than the real thickness as proven by the equation familiar to everyone who did trigonometry:
realThickness = | measuredHeight X sin( angle )|
Perpendicular means sin( angle ) = 1, so no flaw in the measurement. Displacement can happen front to back and side to side, so when it gets maladjusted, it can take 15 minutes to get it right again!
Now, The blade is shaped to have roughly the same diameter as the cane tube. Because it is elevated from the base, when gouging, it will make the sides thinner than the center: this is usually what we want.caneGouge_1 In fact, most of us want a much thicker center compared to the sides for better tuning stability and warmer sound. Thinner sides also help the reed close, saving on endurance. Because my machine is old and beaten up, I do this myself by reshaping the curve of the blade.
Here is the blog page of one well respected American Scrape reed maker and vendor on his adventure learning how to make (and shape) gouger blades. This should be enough to dissuade anyone (even me) from attempting it! A lot of experience and skill is required, and the appropriate tools are not a luxury, they are absolutely required.
There is also another technique called "double-radius" whereby the blade is a little off-center. When the cane is flipped around in the machine, the offset automatically goes to the other side of the cane. This causes 2 grooves to occur in the cane producing a stronger center. In the picture, the 2 green blades illustrate how flipping the cane changes where the blade cuts the cane. Not all machines do this (mine does but I don't dare attempt it with its difficult setting screws), so sometimes reshaping the blade is the only way to get a thicker center <=> thinner sides._MG_1994
Different mechanisms exist to control the final thickness of the cane: the height adjustment of the blade assembly (plane) is stopped by a roller. My gouger uses a double-wedge guide: pull the bottom wedge to the left to make the cane thinner and to the right for thicker cane. There are pitfalls with this, most notably the difficulty in fine adjustment, but also it lacks any guarantee of parallelism with the cane bed.
If you choose to buy a gouging machine, I HIGHLY recommend you get one with the following characteristics:
  1. First choice: one-piece construction with fewest adjustments possible!
  2. Second choice: exchangeable beds so you can use most of the machine for oboe and English Horn.
  3. In all cases: height adjustment should be on the wheel, not the guide... keep away from those 2ble wedge height adjusters (like mine)

Sunday, March 20

Pre-Gouging and tootH yanking…

I capitalized that H because apparently I forgot it on a Tweet and got some good laughs! Embarrassé

First – human (caused) tragedy:

What is happening in Libya right now can cause a lot of anger, for different reasons, directed at completely different “camps”. Regardless of the camp, this can result in anger, fear and pain. I firmly believe that what the general population is told about the motivations is, at best, a load of half-truths. So I beseech everyone, regardless of your political opinions to simply speak for and keep your mind set on a peaceful resolution of the current situation.
warAmpsStopWarI did serve the Canadian Armed Forces: I am Combat Leadership certified. More on that some other time, but I did serve 8 years with pride and honour.
The image to the right is from the War Amps: an organization that raises money to help children with amputated limbs and their families. The image with the downturned rifle is the Canadian Armed Forces’ symbol for mourning dead soldiers (“fallen comrades”). The organization uses this as a logo for their efforts to sensitize people to the horrors of (all) war and to the importance of trying to avoid it and find peaceful solutions to critical situations. Some of you will argue in favour of action to prevent worse trouble: history has yet to show this works at all.

One wisdom tooth gone!

The operation went really well. The “deep sedation” (getting me to sleep) was quick and efficient and the wake-up process went quickly and well. The extraction took an hour, but evidently without problems: today (approx. 48 hours later) no pain, no swelling. 2 weeks to oboe! In the mean-time, prepare reeds for scraping!

Pre-Gouging: the conception of an oboe reed!

I was surprised, during the summer, to read LOTS of questions and discussions about pre-gouging. My wife took some excellent photos and I will use them to explain: many more can be found on her Flickr photostream. In a nutshell, “gouging” cane is giving it the right thickness and inner curve and “pre-gouging” is only about getting a piece of raw can to fit the gouging machine…. that’s all!

To me, the most important criterion for cane selection is flatness: this will greatly determine how “freely” the reed vibrates. Arching inwards will choke the reed and cause leaks close to the binding. Arching outwards will make the blades separate: I got excellent reeds with this, but they are usually difficult on endurance. I don’t care so much about “straightness” (side to side) as this will be cancelled by the shaping.

IMG_1885 IMG_1880 IMG_1881

Most references and stores only mention splitting in 3. For me, the inspection of flatness sometimes shows that it is possible to get 2 flat sides that would ruined by splitting in 3. Fully flat splits are not always possible, so I just aim for the best possible and choose to split in 2 or 3 depending on which will yield closest to flat.


The images below show:

  1. Split lengths from a canon (tube cane) split in 2, split in 3 and pre-gouged.
  2. The split-only cane in the machine: it can work, but risks jamming the machine and messing-up the delicate adjustments.
  3. The pre-gouged cane: much easier to gouge.
IMG_1895 IMG_1914 IMG_1918

In terms of quality of cane the important factors are:

  1. density and “health” of the grains: hard to tell before scraping – I’ve lately made great reeds with canes of almost all hard/softness
  2. flatness of the final cut
  3. diameter and thickness of the selection
IMG_1970 IMG_1974 IMG_1976

The thickness of cane will be the subject of another blog post (on gouging). As for the diameter, these pictures show that what looks like a HUGE difference in diameter can be as little as 1mm or 0.5mm. In fact, I consider the arc more important than the diameter because, in an ovoid tube, the diameter can be misleading, especially if you’re using drop-in rulers to measure it.


The pre-gouging demonstrations above work equally well with canons split in 2 or 3. I only have difficulty when a canon turns out to have a diameter for English Horn: a bigger pre-gouger (especially for E. H.) is required for that. In many internet guides on reed making, they show chopping the cane before pre-gouging it. I prefer the opposite because:

  1. it is easier to chop after the cane is thinned,
  2. some split cane lengths can produce 2 pieces for reed making, but the chopping first requires preparation that can ruin it.
For chopping, I removed the guillotine from my beaten-up old gouging machine and made a wood-base for it. The reason is mostly that I could make a fixed-length stopper at the end, making it easier to measure the cut. The base does not need any degree of precision at all (±1.5mm is good enough) and the side bar allows it to take the pushing force from my hand more easily. The guillotine blade needs to be sharpened once in a while, but its nothing precise at all. The gouging is the really sensitive part.

IMG_1952 IMG_1961 IMG_1965

The above images show: (left) cutting a little bit off the end to keep the flatter part in the middle; (center) sometimes, 2 pieces of reed cane can be obtained from the same split length; (right) again, what counts most of all is correctly centering the cut to keep the flattest part.
Other than the above, I pretty well keep all cane, soft or hard, twisted or straight. The reason is that I have it, might as well use it. If it does not work out to be a good reed, well I only lost a few hours of my time. But throwing away the potential for a fantastic reed is a horrible thing!

Tuesday, March 15

First Video: Musical Offering to #BachChat

45 Countries have visited my blog for a total of over 3 500 visits! StarC'est la fêtePouce levé 
The bottom of this page has the list: please let me know if I missed yours!

The Twitter event #BachChat is on Monday, but I'm getting a wisdom tooth pulled out on Friday: I won't be able to play for at least 2 weeks after that. I will spend my "practice time", during those 2 weeks, gouging cane, shaping cane and tying reeds.... I'll get to try out that new Cane Guide gadget.

So I had to hurry-up and get my video together on the weekend and today. This is the 3d movement from Bach's Sonata for Flute in E minor BWV 1034.
First “public appearance” in about 15 years!
I call it "le corps humain" (the human body) because it was the theme song and background music for a documentary series (named "Le Corps humain") by Université de Montréal in the 1980's.
I have only been practicing an average of 30 minutes a day for about 9 months now, after a near total absence of 10 years (average 30 minutes a month).... my apologies for trashing this beautiful piece!

My endurance has somewhat improved since the 1st video: two months ago, I would not have been able to perform this piece at all (practice, yes – perform, no), let alone do several takes for the video! In the take used for this video I'm already tired, so the tuning went off at times, otherwise I think my tuning has actually improved compared to 15 years ago. This might be due to the revoicing done on my oboe and better reeds.

Explanation of oboe reed crowing.
The reed I used in the video was very good, not amazing, but very good: satisfactory concert reed. There were questions on the Oboe BBoard about crowing, so here’s a demonstration using the reed I used in the video.

This time, I did a little bit of a warm-up (maybe 5 minutes worth) before the first take. More warm-up would have been good: I noticed my reed got easier, better sounding and simply played better after the 3rd take.

I did the MIDI accompaniment and managed to get rubato and dynamics in the most essential places. The computer played out the speakers and the recording captured that with me on oboe as if it were a live performance. It’s really hard to synchronize a cadenza and start the return of the melody with a machine that does not hear you! En pleurs

Getting the right settings for microphone gain (sensitivity) was difficult: 5% on the microphone, mic volume of 30% and no more than 30% gain inside the Windows driver, otherwise, crackling noise was just deafening. I don’t know if these settings change the sound, perhaps more gain on the mic and less in the computer would be better?…. need to experiment. For sure, it would have been MUCH easier if I had done multi-track recording like in my 2nd recording. I think the video capture software that came with the webcam is not suited for the complex sounds in music: I did not have these troubles on the device directly or when using Audacity.

Which to choose: better sound? Video really annoying!
Making a video is HARD!

What did not help my endurance at all are the computer problems during the recording! How many times did I start over just because it failed to start recording or because the accompaniment went berzerk? If you get the impression my computerized accompaniment sometimes “yawns” and stretches a beat or two: it’s true! Some of the takes I had to reject had much worse breaks in the video than this.
Maybe I need to get more memory and/or deactivate the Internet and a bunch of other things, because at every few takes, the MIDI playback would slow down terribly for a few beats and then pick up again.... was Windows 7 running updates in the background? Also, because I recorded directly to the computer rather than in the recording device, the computer seems to have added pops every once in a while..... maybe I need a MacIntosh? I still have to try Linux (Ubuntu Studio). I could not use Windows Movie Maker at all because of the pops!

IMS #6:

last week (#7 tomorrow), went well, but this was a rough week. The weather heated up a lot and this caused my arms and shoulders to get painful again... not as bad as a month ago, but stiff and sore. Towards the end of the video, there are two arpeggios including is that infamous dominant 7th on D. They are not "clean" because of strain in the shoulder: a few weeks ago, I had no trouble with these at all.

Thanks again to everyone

I get visits almost every day from every country on the list. I guess this means there is something interesting here! I really enjoy your (rare) comments and e-mails: don’t be shy to criticize, that’s useful too! One thing is for sure, your visits really encourage me. I hope this can also encourage you and motivate you in your endeavours too!

Thank you:
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Cyprus, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, U.K., Ukraine, U.S.A.,  Venezuela

Friday, March 11

Wave for the camera!

JapanFirstly, a moment of reflection on the tragedy in Japan....
…our thoughts, prayers and encouragements are with you!

1st (Re)Appearance on “Stage”

The previous You-Tube videos were to prove to myself that I am still capable of playing half decently. But all that playing with the microphones could let one wonder if I was really playing or did I do a bunch of software tweaking. So I finally got myself a web-cam for real You-Tube performances. When I tested it... well..... I'm not sure I want to show myself on You-Tube!!! Tire la langue

Music dances, but should the musicians?

In an Oboe BBoard thread, we had been discussing how ridiculous some oboists look by waving their bodies and flapping their arms while playing. Well you know what?  The opposite is not much better! Looking at the first web-cam video of myself, I was dismayed at sounding fine but looking like a telephone post! .... really boring!
I won’t name oboists who crack me up with their waving because the sound and feeling coming out of their instruments (well, some of them) is simply fantastic. I may not like to look at them, but I sure love to listen to them! So instead, lets see those I find have the right balance between waving and stiffness. For example:
Then I thought: "Wait a minute, when I just meditate on the piece and hum to myself, my arms, shoulders and whole body sways with the music. Surely I can do this while playing the oboe too”.
In fact, as a conductor, my choir signers and orchestra players used to like my movements because they were technically meaningful and expressive of the musical character. But it seems that when I try that on the oboe, I just get distracted and forget what I'm playing:
Many of you will be surprized to read this from me, but I also believe the perfect balance of movement while playing is in Heinz Holliger!
I know I'm repeating myself, but for me, the ideal performance is Albrecht Mayer.
And in preparation for #BachChat, here's a real treat:

Next Hobbyist Video:

So for #BachChat I'll put the recording of one Bach movement only when I get the hang of looking decent for the camera!

Sunday, March 6

Amazing Unknown…

Well, she’s not really unknown because she did study under Heinz Holliger, she did a decent number of recordings including at least one with H.H. and I believe she is a teacher and orchestral oboist in Switzerland… but I don’t know where and Google is not very helpful in getting information on her.


I was planning to record another couple of impressionist tunes, but I’m running out of decent performance reeds and I kind of promised I’d do something for the Twitter group #BachChat (find me @RobinDesHautboi – no ‘s’ – and join the fun!). They are having a party on the 21st and people are already going wild with it! I’m getting a wisdom tooth pulled out a few days before that, so I thought I’d concentrate on one Bach recording before then, next week.

Handel : Lascia Chio Pianga

Louise Pellerin:

So in the meantime, I really think this Canadian (born and trained) oboist is fantastic and she deserves to be better known…. or perhaps the music lovers everywhere deserve the pleasure of knowing her music better. Like I said, before discovering Albrecht Mayer, she was my favourite. So here are a couple more of her tunes recorded at the monastery Abbaye St-Benoit du lac (near Sherbrooke Québec Canada) with a treasure of an organist, the monk Dom André Laberge (Benedictine).

Handel : Flammende Rose, Zierde den Erde

Recording breakthrough:

In a few old posts (Recording Tricks, Microphone Tips #2), I mentioned that correctly positioning the microphone an lowering the recording level yielded a true sound. Well today I did that and plugged it into an old Aiwa boom-box: my wife was climbing the stairs and jumped startled when she saw me, she thought that was me in the other room playing!

Thursday, March 3

Hobbyist's Warm-up, Microphone Tips #2 and IMS #5

Scary stuff first!

I wanted to put a floor-plan of the house comparing where I stand and where I put the microphone for different recording sounds, but last night (after my IMS treatment #5), I was just too sore and tired! But it's definitely getting better: my neck was immediately and significantly more relaxed as I left yesterday's treatment and my right hand has pretty well been relaxed all week. Last week, my physiotherapist started working on my right forearm, and the reaction (pain and pull-back response) was much stronger than he had expected. He tried my forearms again yesterday, and the reaction almost broke off the needles in my arm! So he only did a few needles in each arm. But you know what? Since last week my right arm hawinterMountainsOboe_narrows been relaxed and this morning, my left hand is open and relaxed instead of being always tense and clenching - the first time in I don't know how many years! In fact, since the treatment, I don't even get strained from using the mouse at my computer so much! Seriously, this is the first time in maybe 20 years!

Now for the musical stuff!

As a professional software developer working a "day job" full time, my oboe practice time is short and precious. In fact, the last recording I made (2nd Recording here) was done without even doing a warm-up.... unless you consider the first "take" to be the warm-up for the second..... Outrage at the good ol' Oboe BBoard! But what can you do when you work all day and have to take care of the house and dogs at night? At least one contributor reminded me of exercises I had described myself:
  1. Breathing exercises using the staple of the reed to work on abdominal air support.
  2. Reed exercises to work on facial muscles and reed positioning.

The very competent players on the BBoard (proven with recordings of their own) consider those as actual warm-ups! A person with a full time day-job can certainly do those throughout the day: if people are allowed to take half a dozen cigarette breaks during the day, why not reed-buzzing breaks? ... urrrhhhh maybe because it's embarrassing as all Hades when passers-by or smokers catch my buzzing that strange little thing in my mouth?Embarrassed smile  Either way, the breathing exercise makes no noise, so every time I get up for coffee, lunch or the bathroom, I now walk with a staple in my lips to breathe in and out forcibly! I find that after doing it for as little as one minute, my lips have the same feeling as when I practice long-tones (sustained notes). So there must be some real benefit there. When spring comes and the weather gets warm enough to practice in my car at lunch time again, the extra time will make formal warm-ups easier. But in the meantime, with any luck, this will improve my sound and my endurance. I'll have to record some evening sessions at home to see if it does.

 Help wanted: it would be great if you left a comment of one of your own warm-up tricks!

Microphone Tips:

Today, work was slow so a nagging feeling in my mind kept getting louder: why would such an expensive microphone (recording device) add so much buzz that I have to play in another room to sound like myself? I figured, maybe the frequency sampling rate (file quality) was too high => higher frequencies are effectively what buzz is, so if I reduce the sensitivity, there should be less buzz... Turns out it was near lowest. So I jacked it at the high as it could get and put it on the computer desk to my side (mics point to me, I point away, to one side). Well, that helped! Reducing the ”gain” (recording level) also helped, but the actual sound remained about the same. Then I put it on a tripod behind me (same settings): OUPS, mega-buzz! In a nutshell, here’s what I observed (more experimenting needed):
  1. Microphone behind: more buzz, even if on a table.
  2. Microphone pointing in the same direction as oboe (e.g. both facing door): more buzz.
  3. Surround microphones with dishcloth: helps because the sides of my mics are open to pick-up reverberation from the room.
  4. Put the device to the side of the oboe and choose one of the XY formation microphones to from the pair to point directly/exactly to my oboe: much more realistic sound – no extra buzz (even without dishcloth).
  5. It is possible, but not conclusive, that my very cheap tripod transmits vibrations to the recording device, resulting in lots of buzz.

This is by no means a scientific study! I think there are just too many variables for this to be done. Recording and equipment layout becomes an art where experience is only led by knowledge and both end up building instincts on which the sound technician must rely. But in the meantime, if we share each other’s stories, we can help each other out a lot!

So go ahead: leave a comment with one of your own recording stories!