The Low Down on the 2013 Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival: Day 3
Saturday, 29 June
Evert de Munnik – How Microphones Work and How Best to Use Them
“I’m doing my dream job and I’m always learning, you never stop learning.”
On my journey to further equip myself as a performing artist, I elected to attend a practical workshop on the use of microphones in both live and studio situations.
Evert de Munnik always dreamed of recording sound, spent many years as a sound engineer at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and now owns a mastering studio in Johannesburg called Ultima Mastering. He is the call to engineer for some of South Africa’s top acts including Mango Groove, Steve Hofmeyr and Paul Hanmer. He has also notably done sound for Def Leppard, Johnny Clegg, the North Sea Jazz Festival, SA Idols and the South African Music Awards (SAMAs).
His discussion on microphones encompassed the two main types of microphone and the various polar patterns that microphones use. Please scroll to the next section if microphone technicalities are not your forte.
Two Main Microphone Types
Dynamic microphones are mostly used for live stage performances and work with a magnet and a moving coil.
They are usually rugged, solid, durable and resilient enough to withstand falling, outdoor use and can even function in the rain.
One of the most common dynamic microphones is the Shure SM58, which is most often used when singing.
Condensor microphones work with a capacitor and often make use of phantom power – a method for transmitting electric power through microphone cables to operate microphones that contain active electronic circuitry. These types of microphone are very sensitive (unlike the dynamic) and are mainly used in the studio environment, although they can be used for live situations when used cautiously. Condensor microphone examples include the Neumann U87 (arguably the best known and most widely used studio microphone in the world) and the Rode NT1A (the quietest studio microphone in the world, which I use for my home studio recordings).
Polar patterns describe what area the microphone will pick up well, and what area around the microphone it will reject. Here are a few of the main types of polar patterns associated with microphones that Evert discussed. These include:
1. Cardioid/Directional – which takes the form of an apple (or heart) centred around the microphone, which is the “stalk” of the apple. It reduces sound from the rear and sides of the microphone, which in turn helps to reduce feedback from monitors. Cardioid patterns (like the Shure SM58 and Rode NT1A) are most used for vocal recordings.
2. Omnidirectional – picks up sound from everywhere
3. Figure 8 – which is often used in interviews where two people are talking, by receiving sound from both the front and the back of the element and rejecting sound from the sides.
4. Rifle/Shotgun – a highly directional microphone with a narrow area of sensitivity. They are most used on television and film sets, in stadiums, and for field recording of wildlife.
Denver Turner & Nash Reed – Rap and the Art of Balance
The next elective I attended was an amalgamation of two separate electives, one of rap presented by Denver Turner and the other, a vocal elective on the art of balance by Nash Reed.
Denver Turner/D-Form is a rapper from Cape Town who has previously performed with the neo-soul/hip hop outfit Moodphase 5ive and the hip hop 3 piece Tykoon Suit and has worked with a range of artists including the female hip hop trio Godessa.
South African Music Award nominee and Berklee alumnus Nash Reed, has been working internationally in a number of countries for the last 15 years, 10 of which were spent singing jazz in Japan. She performs as a soloist and in various eclectic ensembles with styles as diverse as funk, R&B, jazz, hip hop, pop and rock. She has performed for many dignitaries including Nelson Mandela (3 times) and currently resides in Cape Town, where she teaches singing at the Woodstock Academy of Music (run by Rus Nerwich – see more on him below), composes music for films and is creating music and choreography for a unique performance piece called The Forge, which makes use of compositions entirely sampled from an iron forge.
This elective centred around the history of hip hop in South Africa, which contrary to popular belief; had its roots in Cape Town in the late 70s/early 80s– as Denver went on to say. His quirky personality and vibrant storytelling had a packed classroom on the edge of their seats, particularly when describing the arid musical landscape in apartheid Cape Town before the emergence of hip hop in South Africa. Denver had immersed himself in hip hop culture from the get go with stints as a B-Boy (Break Boy or Break Dancer), DJ, Graffiti Artist and lastly as an MC – a glorified party starter.
Intriguing anecdotes told included the shutting down of informal hip hop gatherings by the apartheid police, the removal of scratches from early hip hop recordings by mastering engineers (since they thought that scratches were a kind of recording mistake) and the arrival of the first bootlegged digital audio recording software in 1995, by way of an employee who had unlimited internet access at Cape Town’s central library.
Once the digital recording revolution began, there was little stopping young hip hop artists from recording to their hearts’ content – since they had previously needed to save up enough money, over a period of many years to record in professional studios.
Nash’s contribution to the discussion centred on how the vocal technique utilised in rapping can be beneficial to singers, largely because of the quick syllabic and rhythmic content of rap, which requires good articulation and strong diaphragmatic action. How this technique can be better looked after and sustained was elaborated on by Nash, using a warm up technique from Ashtanga Yoga, which required students to get down on all fours – while keeping the feet flat on the floor and breathing deeply. Leading by example, Nash got up on to a coffee table motioning everyone to follow. Attempting the technique, I found that my sense of balance isn’t too bad – but in saying that, I also found the exercise quite painful. Later I had a conversation with an Alexander Technique practitioner, who referenced the same exercise in one of his own routines.
I had hoped to catch the entire length of the session, but before the elective was over – I had to sneak out to participate in a performance with my mixed-ability band. I will be following up this initial vocal technique session, with a full lesson with Nash this weekend.
With Shane Cooper (Bass) and Kesivan Naidoo (Drums)
Pianist Malcolm Braff was born in Brazil and raised in Senegal before moving to Switzerland at the age of 13. With 20 albums under his name as a band leader, he has performed a whopping four consecutive times at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival and has done numerous productions in dance, theatre and film.
On this particular night he was accompanied by 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Shane Cooper, and the ferocious Kesivan Naidoo.
What could otherwise only be described as jaw dropping was a performance so delicate and sensitively crafted, that one would swear this ensemble have played together over many years. For many of the collaborative shows at Grahamstown, it often is an arduous task when faced with distinguishing between the almost seamless musical connection between complete strangers and well rehearsed, familiar bands.
Jazz itself is often likened to a learned language wherein lines of communication are established and engrained in each performer before even making an interpersonal acquaintance – an almost telepathic connection, which I’ll admit I have experienced on a few fleeting occasions in my time as a jazz player. Even then though, those occasions occurred when I was performing with players I would regularly jam with, how much more the phenomenon when those who have never played together “meet” each other for the first time – and it just clicks, somehow.
It definitely clicked at this performance. In saying that though, what transpired was not your run of the mill traditional jazz. Malcolm Braff seemed obsessed with odd time signatures and seemingly random variations of rhythm on simple, melodic ideas. It would often be the case that Braff would introduce a supporting melodic idea in the bass register, which would then be alluded to by Cooper, looped for several instances before introducing a subtle or bold variation, steering the trio into a completely different direction. The transitions between these little threads were so sensitively crafted, that you could see the delight on Naidoo’s face as he tried to pre-empt Braff’s next move – much like that of a child trying to fit his/her footsteps into that of his father’s or when a dancer tries to emulate the moves of his/her instructor. There always appears to be a split second moment of uncertainty that gets rewarded in the moment directly after the preceding one has passed. In those moments, the audience is scooped up into the experience of a moment that will never again be repeated, and in that moment exists the beauty of jazz and improvised music.
Rus Nerwich and Collective Imagination – Under the Poetree
With Nash Reed (Vocals), Denver Turner (Rap), Dave Ledbetter (Guitar), Andrew Lilley (Keyboard), Wesley Rustin (Bass) and Kevin Gibson (Drums)
Rus Nerwich’s SAMA nominated Under the Poetree project is an amalgamation of various eclectic styles including acid jazz, R&B, hip hop, spoken word, electro, rock and reggae. To call it roof-raising would be a humungous understatement. Having cleared the DSG Hall of all seating arrangements before the performance (something that I’ve never seen done before in all the years that I’ve attended the festival), the platform was set for a fat, hip hop party – a throwback to the type of informal gatherings mentioned by Denver Turner in his talk on the roots of hip hop in Cape Town, and a homage to the rich musical texture of the 1990s. To top that, Nash Reed’s attire reminded me of Rhythm Nation era Janet Jackson with black jump suit and face paint to boot.
Underpinning a kaleidoscopic musical spectrum, was the tight rhythm section of Andrew Lilley, Dave Ledbetter, Wesley Rustin and the fat drum machine like kicks of Kevin Gibson. As soon as the first downbeat punched the ear, a wave of bodies started jumping up and down while chanting the emblematic crowd staple of golden age hip hop, “HAY HO! HAY HO!” while waving their cell phones erratically through the air.
While Nerwich ferociously soloed over Lilley’s smooth minor 9 sharp 11s, the crowd proceeded to form a dance circle where some kids got down in whatever manner of boogey came most natural, be it breakdance, pantsula, freestyle or headbang! Just as the circle started getting too vigorous to contain, the band injected the most irie drop reggae beat you’ve ever heard a bunch of jazz heads play and just then, the kids dubbed it out like no other. I was right there dubbing it too, jumping with zeal and stepping on a few toes, all the while keeping my fist in the sky like a true revolutionary!
The Under the Poetree project is as far as I know in South Africa and in my opinion, unparalleled in its execution of musical idioms with the precision characteristic of jazz. Nerwich manages to pull off the eclectic hybridisation of styles and genres convincingly and with due respect to the source material. In addition, it appeals to a younger generation of jazz aficionados who otherwise would not garner an appreciation for the form had it not been for this project’s accessibility. A massive two fist up in the air Rus!
Stay tuned for subsequent posts.