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Sarabande from Cello Suite No. 1 by J.S. Bach, performed on acoustic bass guitar.

Recorded by me today for the Introduction to Music Production class at Coursera.

Not meant to be a perfect performance, just a demonstration.  For those of you who don’t know the piece, Yo Yo Ma played it at Ground Zero to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Here is the text from the accompanying assignment:

For this assignment I completed a recording of my playing the Sarabande from the Cello Suite No. 1 by J.S. Bach on an acoustic bass guitar.  The following is a description of the preproduction, production, and post-production processes involved in making the recording.

This recording can be found at https://soundcloud.com/peculiaritiesandreticence/sarabande-from-suite-for-solo

First, I prepared the room, making sure I had adequate space to work, no distractions, and no stray noise (such as cats or dogs.  The house is empty as my family is not at home.)  I tuned the guitar, warmed up, and spent about 10-15 minutes rehearsing the piece (one I know well but am a bit rusty on, not having played it for a long time). Once I felt ready to play, I connected the guitar’s output jack to my bass amp via an unshielded guitar cable (since I don’t have any unshielded cables and the distance is short).  I placed the amp in front of me, facing away to avoid feedback.  I connected the amp to my computer through the line out jack, with a 1/4″ cable at one end and a phono jack at the other.  The jack connected to an auxiliary USB sound card, which plugged into my laptop.

I started Reaper (the first time I have used it).  I created a new audio track (a mono track, since I was recording input from one instrument), armed the track for recording, then tested levels and EQ, trying a number of variations to get the right sound without feedback, noise, or muddy levels.  Once I was satisfied, I pressed “record” and performed the track.  I did this twice, intending to have enough takes to edit and create a comp recording, then found that the input levels were really too low to be adequate.  I turned up the gain on the guitar and reset levels, then recorded another track.  This time I was satisfied with the levels, but recorded two more tracks, again intending to make a comp recording.  I therefore performed and recorded five separate takes of the Sarabande.

Then I put on my headphones and listened.  I found, to my surprise, that I was quite satisfied with Take 5 and had no need to edit further.  I did find, however, an annoying ringing noise in the recording that seemed to be from the guitar.  It sounded very much like an alarm bell ringing and was quite annoying, even though it was low in volume.  I found using the sonic visualizer that there seemed to be ringing overtones of this bell-like noise at approximately 4000 Hz and 8000 Hz.  I experimented with several techniques to get rid of the bell- low-pass filters, EQ, and others in Reaper, but strangely none of them eliminated the bell sound.  Giving up on this, I added ReaVerb (reverb from one of the stock VST effects in Reaper)- which converted the sound from mono to true stereo- and exported the file to wav format.

From there, I imported the file to Audacity, where a simple band stop filter applied at 4000 Hz virtually eliminated the bell sound (though it was hard to tell now as I was experiencing tinnitus that sounded ike it was at the same frequency!)  I added fade in and fade out.  I had read that bass guitar producers often apply a band pass filter at 250 Hz to eliminate muddy sounds, but after trying it I was not happy with the sound, so I undid the 250 Hz band pass.  I experimented with applying a low pass filter, but doing so took away the brightness of the timbre and the brightness of the higher notes, so I ended up leaving them alone, with a fairly clean recording that sounds much like it did in the room when I played it.

There are several things I would do to make a better recording.  First, I would consider rehearsing the piece for a longer period of time to give a better performance.  As noted above, this piece is comfortable to me but I have not played it in a long time, and it could have been sharper.  Second, I could do more takes so I could have more pieces to edit to create a better recording.  Third, if possible, I would find the source of the 4000 Hz bell noise and eliminate it if possible so it doesn’t get into the recording.  Fourth, if I had the technical capability, I would take input both from the pickup mounted to the guitar body into the amp and from a microphone placed in front of the amp, in order to better capture the sound of the performance in the room. (Unfortunately, this is not possible with my current equipment, as I would need a second computer to record- though I do have a preamp that might be able to be used for the microphone.)

I hope you enjoyed the recording and this description of the process.  Thank you for reviewing this assignment.