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Loreena Mc Kennitt : Behind the Scenes of her New Album "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" (2010)

Making The Wind that Shakes the Barley
- Official Press -
Recording and mastering the album
- a behind-the-scenes peek (Photos Terry Manzo)
-


Recording an album in an 1832 temple in the middle of a sizzling hot Canadian sum- mer was no easy feat. But then recording engineer Jeff Wolpert thrives on challenges.
Mastering engineer B
ob Ludwig does too, but his challenges have a different focus. His job was to put the final finishing touches on the album to make it as perfect a listening experience as it could possibly be – including a vinyl version.

Loreena’s latest release, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, was recorded over nine days in July at the historic Sharon Temple north of Toronto. Jeff Wol- pert, the award-winning, Toronto-based recording engineer, captured Loreena and 13 other musicians performing nine songs for the new album, which represents a return to the traditional Celtic roots that first
inspired her.

The album, which will be re- leased as a CD, digital download and for the first time in 16 years on 180-gram vinyl in a numbered, limited edition of 5,000, features such rich classics as “The Star of the County Down,” “As I Roved Out” and “Down by the Sally Gardens,” plus one of Loreena’s original compositions.

The three-tiered, symmetrical temple was built by a small religious group whose founding values were peace, equality and social justice. Loreena felt the temple’s historical and architectural significance, as well as its exquisite acoustics, would be suitably inspiring for recording the album.

“The technical challenge was we had to turn an 1830s building made entirely out of wood into a recording studio,” says eff, “and it was right beside a major road, which wouldn’t have been a problem back in 1830 but it is now.” There were passing cars and motorcycles to contend with, not to mention plenty of birds since the temple is in a wooded park. Then there was the heat. The temple isn’t air-con- ditioned and Jeff’s equipment won’t function well if it’s hot, so he had to set up a small room outside, known as a ‘cookhouse,’ where he kept the record- ing equipment cool using fans.

“It’s not as unusual as you might think not to have a direct visual,” Jeff explains, “because I can still hear everything and that’s what really counts.”

Setting up microphones was another conun- drum. Jeff wanted Loreena and the other musicians to be able to see each other, but didn’t want to hang microphones 12 feet above them all since everyone would be recorded at once which limits editing and mixing options later on. Instead, he opted to put a microphone up close to each musician then put soft barriers between them so their individual sounds could be slightly isolated.

These days, most albums are recorded in studios where musicians come in one at a time or in small groups, play their parts, then the pieces are added together later one by one. The fact that Loreena re- corded the album live speaks to the quality of the musicianship, Jeff emphasizes. “Not everyone is tal- ented enough to do that – to perform live flawlessly. A lot of people can think of good music, but it takes them quite a while to perform it, or they need a lot of technical assistance.”

“To make an album like this you need to have great musicians and good elationships between them; you need great material, but you also need a place for it all to happen. When you want the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts and you’re in a place as inspiring as the
Sharon Temple and you’re playing live with people you can relate to – now
that’s really making music.”

Loreena is no stranger to recording in exotic locations – and nor is Jeff. He was the recording and mixing engineer for Live in Paris and Toronto, where he captured Loreena’s performances at To- ronto’s Massey Hall and the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Jeff was also the
recording and mixing engineer for Loreena’s live 2006 concert at the Alhambra, a Me- dieval Moorish palace in Granada, Spain. The per formance became an American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television special and was later re- leased by Quinlan Road as a deluxe two-CD/DVD set, called Nights from the Alhambra. Last year, Jeff was challenged yet again,
recording Loreena live in several exotic locations during her 2009 Mediterra- nean Tour, including Lebanon, Hungary, Italy and Greece. (You can read about those experiences in a story written by Jeff himself.)

During the 2009 Mediterranean Tour, Jeff was restricted to bringing only two suitcases of equip- ment weighing no more than 50 pounds apiece (about 23 kilos each.) By comparison, the recording equipment he brought for The Wind that Shakes the Barley filled a 20 by 20
foot truck (six by six metres) and it took four men to unload it.

Once the album was recorded and mixed, off it went to Bob Ludwig, founder of Gateway Master- ing Studios in Portland, Maine in the United States. The multi-award-winning mastering engineer has worked on albums for some of the biggest names in the music industry.

“Mastering is the final creative step in the record- making chain,” explains Bob. “We’re the ones who determine the final sound on the CD, download, vinyl, or whatever’s distributed. It’s what some peo- ple call ‘sweetening’. If I listen to something and it doesn’t sound quite right, I imagine in my head how it ought to sound and then I know what knobs to move to make it sound like I think it should.” There’s a big difference between mixing and mas- tering, he
adds. “Mixing is very difficult because you’re starting with such a clean palette that can go in so many different directions. Even if one re- corded in a closet, the mixing engineer can make the finished mix sound like it was recorded in a stadium if they wished. Mixing is about getting a great balance and meeting the artist’s vision as much as possible, plus you have to get all the bits in.”

In essence, mixing is pulling all the pieces together so they sound right. Mastering is adding that extra bit of polish at the end.
When Jeff mixed The Wind that Shakes the Bar- ley, he mixed it using high-resolution digital that’s twice the resolution normally used. That means the digital master would be sampling the sound it was going to digitize at 88,200 samples of sound per second, as opposed to the
CD’s 44,100 per second.

“That recording is later reduced in its resolution in order to fit on a compact disc and for downloads it’s reduced even more – significantly more.”
(While the quality of digital downloads varies re- tailer to retailer, the two available through Quinlan Road are very high-quality. Most outside down- loads are either 128Kbps or 192Kbps. In contrast, the QR Shop downloads are either 256Kbps down- loads, or FLAC files, which stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, and they retain as much quality as the CD.)
And then there is vinyl.
For the first time since 1994, Loreena’s latest re- cording is also available on vinyl. The Wind that Shakes the Barley is being offered as high-quality,180-gram vinyl in a numbered, limited edition run of 5,000, and these are anticipated to become col- lectors’ items.

“There’s definitely a resurgence in demand for vinyl,” acknowledges Bob. “It’s from all ages really, but there’s a huge demographic that grew up with vinyl that definitely misses the warm sound it can give you on a good playback system.”

And while CDs and downloads have reduced resolutions, vinyl can reproduce some aspects of the music best of all because it’s mastered from the full- range, high-resolution digital master, not a digital- ly-reduced CD. “Vinyl gives you a wonderful warm sound and compared to a CD, even played on a good system, the sound of Lorenna’s vinyl is slightly wider because it comes from a better source,” ex- plains Bob, adding that vinyl is also able to capture an entire octave of high frequencies that CDs can’t.

Bob masters a lot of rock and pop music, but working on Loreena’s latest album was special. “Working on a project like this is like getting your ears cleaned,” he says. “The Wind that Shakes the Barley is acoustic and it’s gorgeously performed, recorded in a great acoustic location by a great engineer. It’s just a fantastic listen from an audiophile’s perspective.”


Loreena's latest release, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, was recorded over nine days in July at the historic Sharon Temple north of Toronto. Jeff Wolpert, the award-winning, Toronto-based recording engineer, captured Loreena and 13 other musicians performing nine songs for the new album, which represents a return to the traditional Celtic roots that first inspired her. The album, which will be released as a CD, digital download and for the first time in 16 years on 180-gram vinyl in a numbered, limited edition of 5,000, features such rich classics as "The Star of the County Down," "As I Roved Out" and "Down by the Sally Gardens," plus one of Loreena's original compositions. [READ MORE 500Kb PDF]
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