Helios: The London Sessions

Watch a preview here:

 

I was posed the question “If you could record anywhere in the world, in the hall of your choice, with any size orchestra to achieve the grandest, most powerful sound you could imagine… Where would you go and what size orchestra would you use?” After I realized this was a serious question, I thought it out a great deal and replied, “London-Air Lyndhurst with 90-100 players.”   Once Paul Dinletir, owner of Audiomachine set his sights on this concept, I was hoping he was going to make it happen. Now I know he means what he says. When I was asked to produce this new project with him I was humbled and ecstatic at the same time. The result of a hypothetical conversation and months of exciting work is now here; the astonishingly brilliant and sonically superior ‘Helios’.

 

How do I even begin to explain the process of producing this project…

 

Well, first I chose Air Lyndhurst  for the massive ‘live-ness’ of the hall. Personally, I prefer an extremely live acoustical environment. With it’s church structure and natural acoustics, the hall lends itself to a rich, ambient sound. As opposed to a ‘scoring stage’ acoustic. Deciding on Air was a cornerstone of our vision for this project….. Oh, and the twelve French Horns (but we will get to that later.) My first impression was “WOW! This place sounds amazing but will the orchestra fit in here with my wild set up?” The room is so deceiving. There was a ton of extra space! The first day we arrived in London I headed over to Air and began my set up for the orchestra and choir, laying the room out, guiding my team, choosing mics/preamps and procedures, and altering the acoustic space. Most people when they see my set up of a room I am sure they think “Bold to say the least!” Then I win them over with the results, not with my bedside manner of course:)). After a pep talk with the crew, we were ready for the next day’s recording.

 

The line up? 80 voice choir, 90 piece symphony, 5 percussionists. Hand-picked 1st Chair players from The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Philharmonic. Orchestrated and conducted by the incredibly talented Matt Dunkley.. During the recording process, my focus becomes ‘I mix while I record’ always mindful of where the music is going to be and what I invision it will become in the end. This philosophy influences everything from my set up of a hall to balancing each section’s dynamics to analyzing the performance. Not having the mixer present on the stage is a too often the unfortunate result of limited resources. This was the finest recording orchestra I have ever had the pleasure to work with

 

Hearing that Orchestra and Choir in a hall of that caliber made me feel like I had reached Musical Mecca. Seriously, the strings are like a machine!  They were almost never out of the pocket and always had perfect intonation. The Horns and Brass were unbelievably powerful and brassy when you needed them to be. You could stand anywhere in the room and hear ALL the players in the room sounding perfectly rich, cohesive and full. Unmatched. 

 

When it came time to mix, I would get a sound or color in my mind then I would implement that thought, seeing ten steps ahead and respecting how one element affects another, much like composition. Paul was very pleased with his writing, which is unbelievably fantastic, and he told me before the mix he wanted to ‘hear’ the orchestra. So I chose to look at this project as a “cinematic approach to a trailer mentality.” That means letting the pieces breathe rather than smashing them to oblivion; letting the dynamic range of this magnificent orchestra speak for itself.  I spent 3 days researching and exploring before I printed one mix (!!!) I took as long as I needed to produce the purest, most superior sounding music possible. In those three days I, A/B’d piles of outboard compressors and EQ’s (settling on Neve all the way) I then spent hours and hours on each section finding the most musically natural processing approach available, paying incredible attention to every detail. Each section sounded gargantuan when I found just the right treatment, and when I started to put them together….well have a listen to the preview. Once such a solid foundation was built, the pieces all fell quite quickly into place.

 

The common response when I played it for a few professional ears was something like, “Oh my God, I have NEVER heard anything like that before!” I would then deliver my favorite line: “I used virtually NO samples, and the mix has NO reverb added.” I loved being able to say that.

 

I am so grateful for the places producing and mixing has taken me; partially because I get to grow with each project and artist, there’s always more we can achieve artistically and technically. For me if the project fulfills the artist’s dream and the whole team walks away inspired, it’s a success. Producing this release with Paul took it to the next level, making me realize, after thirty years of mixing and producing, what is possible with quality music and vision.

 

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