QURULI feat. Vienna Ambassade Orchestra @ Pacifico, Yokohama, December 2007


An eMail-Interview with “Sound & Recording“-Magazine, Japan, April 2008 (complete English version below)



Questions by Susumu Kunisaki, RittorMusic, Inc.

Pictures © by Andreas M. Frei –

Q: What are you mostly doing in your home-country? Are you a mix engineer, or are you a recording engineer?

A: My job-description would most likely say "Mixing Engineer", although I prefer to see myself as a musician with an expanded instrument called "studio". Of course, I do a lot of recording, too, but I quit being just the submissive "service provider" in this role. If people choose to record with me, they know that I'll involve myself, and that I won't keep my mouth shut when I have something to say.

I had formal training at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, where I studied Sound Engineering. Yet I'm convinced that you can't simply "learn" mixing - you have to _do_ it. A famous mastering engineer once said something like "Only the first thousand albums are tough!", so I still have some mileage to go :-) ... but I really have to be thankful: This year started especially good. The week I'm writing this, I have a #1 album and a #1 as well as a # 4 DVD in the Austrian charts, which I mixed and (partially) co-produced.

In addition to my studio-work I do quite a bit of development and audio-mangling for the Vienna Symphonic Library since it's foundation. One could say I'm the chief audio-engineer for this company.


Q: Could you tell us about the settings of the recording at the concert? For example, what kind of system did you use, what kind of recorder, what kind of microphones for how many, any tricks/ innovations on microphones settings, etc?

A: Equipment-wise, I had the chance to work in pure luxury. Quruli wisely decided to hire the well-equipped and perfectly maintained recording-mobile from SCI for the task. This is actually a remodelled autobus with an SSL C200-console on the front-end _and_ a Neve VR-console on the back end. In between, there was a Studer line-mixer, a rack full of GML mic-preamps, and two independent, but synchronized ProTools HD-systems with 72 inputs each. In addition to that, I had the possibility to use the best analogue outboard one can think of: Urei 1176, 1178, Teletronix LA2A, TubeTech CL1-B, a Neve Bus-Compressor, and so on.


For the microphone-setup, there were no tricks - just tried-and-tested audio-engineering. You have to see that with just a few exceptions, the FOH-guys and us recording-guys had to share microphones. So the most important requirement was reliability. I teamed up with my Austrian friend and partner Andreas Frei from, and we really tried to make our homework in advance. We had some intense discussions with the Japanese technical team on this topic by e-mail, and we came up with a setup that fit all our needs. Andreas also came along with me to Yokohama, to make sure that I get it right ;-)

An idea maybe worth mentioning is that in addition to the usual close-mics on stage, I added some semi-distant mics for more spaciousness. This is why we had small condensers for each string desk (mostly pair-wise), and a broad A/B-setup above the whole string section. I also added an M/S-setup to the overheads of the drums which wasn't used for the PA.

Then we had three stereo-systems for capturing the audience and the ambience (shotguns pointing from the stage to the back of the hall, four omnis coming down from the ceiling), plus a 5.0-Decca-tree surround-setup, standing halfway between the stage and the back of the hall.

Mind you ... most of this was decided without actually knowing the venue! But we were lucky: In the end, we were looking at almost 70 live-inputs, but it was a really uncompromising setup.


Q: What did you think was difficult / challenging while you were recording? Please tell us if you came up with any solutions too?

A: During the actual recording, the only challenge was to find something useful to do! As I wrote above, the preparations done by Quruli's live-engineer, the highly esteemed Mr. Itoh with his team and the guys from the SCI recording mobile, namely Mr. Okada, were perfect, up to a degree that it was almost a vacation for me to be in Japan.

My biggest concern for the actual recording was to keep the noise on stage down to a bare minimum, and to have as little crosstalk between the single instruments as possible. My experience with other live-recordings showed that the positioning of the players on stage can make all the difference, so we discussed the stage setting painstakingly.

We ended up with a bit unusual solution, with the choir to the far left, Yuko's drums to the far right, and the strings from left to center on a multilevel platform. The string-players got surrounded by a wall of Plexiglas gobos (acoustic room dividers), as well as the drums and Shigeru's guitar amp. - We used to call these Plexiglas arrangements "fish tanks" ;-D


In addition to that, Mr. Itoh had come up with a highly elaborated monitor-concept, mostly based on in-ear monitors. His idea to give each of the 16 string players an own, individual Aviom monitoring system shows very clearly how much care was taken for this issue.

So - was it worth all the trouble? I'd say yes, because I've hardly heard raw live recordings of this quality before, technically as well as in regards of bleed and crosstalk. This gave me enormous degrees of freedom during the mixdown later on.


Q: Let us ask you about mix down. Where did it take place? Was it at a private studio? Or, was it at some commercial studio?

A: It was clear from the very beginning that due to my tight schedule, the mixdown would have to take in Vienna, although I found the idea to stay in Japan for the mixdown enticing.

To choose the studio for the mixdown was an easy decision, as I know from the very beginning that I would prepare everything for a 5.1-surround mix, too. Dedicated music-studios with full-blown surround-capabilities are still not very common. My favourite studio in Vienna for this task is TR Music Production - actually a producer's studio, owned by the locally well-known Thomas Rabitsch.

I did quite a few of productions there during the last 10 years or so. Although this is not the typical "commercial" studio, it has a lot to offer: During the last decade, Thomas and I built a very flexible setup around a massive Neve Capricorn Digital Mixing Console, connected to both a PC-based Nuendo-System with 96 outputs and a Mac-based ProTools HD3 with 64 outputs. Some years ago I planned an unconventional, but convincing surround-monitoring for this studio, so I know the acoustics of the place pretty well.


Q: Please tell us the settings for mix down. Did you just use DIGIDESIGN Pro Tools, or something else also?

A: As far as Audio-Workstations are concerned, I use everything I'm thrown at. As a freelancer, I don't have always the choice. Tell me what's there and I'll use it :-) ... My favourite DAW is Steinberg's Nuendo, though: Nuendo 3 was my main tool for the complete edit of Quruli's live-album, and also used as a "smart" multi-track-machine during the mix-down. On the other hand, I do a lot of work on ProTools, too, and as I mentioned before, the two Yokohama-concerts we're talking about were recorded on two parallel 72-input ProTools-HD-systems, supplied by SCI.

The Nuendo-system in Thomas' studio is based on a fast Dual-Core machine, equipped with two UAD cards, so I've got plenty of DSP-power and a great variety of possible "colours", in terms of sound. In addition to that, I used ProTools as an external "DSP-farm" via Nuendo's latency-compensated "External Insert"-option. This means that I had the best of both worlds.

.... I have to admit that planning, routing and testing this setup took me almost one and a half days for the Quruli-album! 8-) But in the end I was able to mix the stereo- and the surround-version independently, but at the same time.

For the mixdown of Quruli's upcoming live-DVD I will most likely switch to the more recent Nuendo 4, as this version offers even more advanced surround-features.


Q: Could you tell us the flow beginning from live recording to mix down? (What procedures did you take from 1.recording to 2? 3? 4? final mix down?) What process did you go through (briefly)? How did you deal with QURULI during the process?

A: Huh - describing this _briefly_ is a real challenge! :-D … but I'll give it a try:

0. Recording

1. Rough edit of the raw recordings (Which songs? Any parts to combine form different versions? What are the highlights? Or is there anything missing?)

2. Fine edit (Any technical issues or musical errors?)

Steps 1 and 2 took place in my own small working space in Vienna.


3. Mix setup (Routing and basic processing for overall sound idea of the whole concert.)

4. Basic mix (What does each individual song sound like? Individual processing dependant on the mood and the necessities of each song.)

5. Final mix (What does the album sound like? Final touches of levels, sound processing and effects according to the findings made during the basic mix of all songs.)

Steps 3 to 5 took place in the mixing studio. Due to the full recall capabilities of the Neve Capricorn it is very easy to come back to a mix at a later stage to modify some details

All songs were set up for the stereo and the surround mix in parallel. The massive routing options of the Capricorn allow for common processing, but individual levelling for both output formats. Usually, I do two stages of automation: I use the mouse for "surgical" changes within Nuendo, but I like to rely on the "real" faders of the mixing console for quot;musical" balancing. The advanced automation of the Capricorn make this final part a real joy.

Apart form the decision which songs and which versions to chose, the band got involved during steps 4 and 5, when they came to Vienna for a week to listen to the results I got so far. It seems that they liked what they heard, back then. :-)


Q: What kind of plug-ins did you use for mix down? If you used any, was there any innovations or twist that you add to plug-ins? For example, EQ, compressor, reverb, etc???

A: Well - you know, most of the time the best solutions are the simple ones. All "conventional" processing was done on behalf of the on-board processors of the great-sounding Neve Capricorn Digital Mixing Console, namely filters, EQs and dynamics.

Using ProTools as plugin-farm for Nuendo was maybe the most unusual part of the setup. As I said before, this uncommon solution gives me the chance to use the best parts of both worlds.

Some of the lesser known processors I used during the mixdown:

Blocc "hiPass": A Lo-Cut Filter with 192 dB / octave steepness and almost no side-effects. Due to the excessive lo-end we got from the PA, I had to reach out for this little-known VST-plugin to tame the bass range, especially of the individual string tracks.

CraneSong "Phoenix": Using this TDM-only plugin is close to press the legendary "better-button" :-) … "Phoenix" offers virtual tape-saturation, also known from CraneSong's "HEDD"-hardware processor. It is safe to say that I used it on almost all tracks at one stage or the other.

For true surround echoes, I like to use a self-programmed ensemble for Native Instruments "Reaktor 5" VST instrument.

A common problem are the lo-frequency "pops" on vocal tracks. I had lots of them on Shigeru's voice. I got rid of them on behalf of splitband-compressor, namely the "C1-SideChain" from Waves.

For the surround-mix for the upcoming DVD there will be use for Waves' "IR-360", a surround sampling reverb (but only if I can sort out the problems with the silly iLok dongle I encounter right now).

Apart from plugins, I used several stand-alone applications on several tracks prior to the actual mixdown:

Algorithmix' "ReNOVAtor", my main tool for tricky denoising issues.

Celemony's "Melodyne Studio 3" was used for aligning some tracks rhythmically as well as melodically. I don’t want to remember the times _before_ this incredible program was invented.


This was the "official" stuff, according to the schoolbook ;-) … but there's one dirty little trick to share: When I heard the recordings from the spaced A/B-omnis above the string section, I was both overjoyed by the sound, but at the same a bit anxious about the fact that the drums were clearly audible, on the very far right side. I knew instantly that I wouldn't be able to use this track in the mix, unless I could get rid of this panning problem. So I _en_coded the track to M/S and used it without _de_coding! That way, the drums moved to the center, while I kept the beautiful ambient sound coming from the strings section. Of course I lost all signal-inherent panning, but used as some kind of strange reverb track, it served my purposes perfectly. :-)


Q: We interviewed QURULI before this, and they mentioned about using “sampling reverb”. How did you use it?

A: Sampling Reverb - or Convolution Reverb, as it's called too - is one of my pet techniques. I lead the MIR (Multi Impulse Response engine) development at the Vienna Symphonic Library, and I think this explains a lot :-). Coming from this background, it was more like an automatic reflex than a real necessity to record some sweeps in the Pacifico-hall.

The idea was to have the identical reverb from the hall at hand, just in case that there would arise the need for severe edits or overdubs. In the end, it was not necessary to use these impulse responses at all. I had beautiful surround-recordings from the live ambience in the hall, using the 5.0 Decca-tree microphone array I mentioned above, and I could rely on them completely during mixdown. The sweetening reverbs you hear now on the CD are mainly derived from a t.c.electronic System 6000, as well as from a Lexicon L224 and an L300.


Q: Did you use the recorded rehearsal take when you were mixing down too? If so, when?

A: The rehearsal takes from the strings section were used for doubling on most tracks, especially to emphasize the cellos (there was lots of drum-bleed in all cello-microphones, as they were located very close to the drum-set), and to sweeten the overall sonic picture of the string section (... close-microphones alone tend to be a bit screechy).

The hard part was to time-align those additional string-tracks, as some songs were played without click-track. Lots of manual edits …


Q: Rock band sound is mainly guitar and bass. I suppose there are times the sound of rock band collide with orchestra sound. How did you solve this problem when mixing down?

A: Did I really solve it? I don't know ... Actually, I like the idea of having the "two worlds" competing with each other sometimes, while they perfectly harmonize during other parts. Working for the Vienna Symphonic Library since its foundation, the classical orchestra found its way into my rock/pop/electronica-mixes quite some time ago. In this context, the orchestra is just one (or a few) more instrument(s) for me, and I try to be not too reverential when dealing with it. If it finds its own space - fine; if there are clashing interests - even better :-) ... I even mixed a production last year of a German HipHip-act playing with a full-blown 80-piece symphony orchestra, which worked out nicely.

In the special case of Quruli, the marvellous arrangements written for the string section by Flip Phillip were especially unconventional, but efficient nonetheless. After I had cleaned up each single instrument track of the string-players and found a nice basic ensemble-sound, the orchestra just fit into the sound of the band. No black magic done here.


Q: I think the mix of Track 11 ‘World’s End Supernova’ is marvelous. How did you make it sound so simple when the song has so much elements such as sequence, vocal, band sound, orchestra?

A: Thanks for the kind words - glad you like the mix! First of all - a good song helps a lot to make something sound good :-), and "Supernova" is a great song.

Maybe the most important edit was to time-align the sequenced disco-beat to Yuko's great live-drumming. This was easy to achieve with ProTools "SoundReplacer" and some manual edits. That way, her snare-drum triggers the synthetic clap without flams.

All other elements fit in easily after a found a good balance both level- as panning-wise. I think there's a reason why this song got so popular! :-) Especially the elegant, almost chamber-musical strings-arrangement makes for a good contrast to the hard, funky elements.


Q: I think the balance of your mix indicates clearly where the band and orchestra were positioned. I also felt that your mix balance gives more depth and stretch-out. Is it important at the live recording to set their positions so that their relations are easily comprehensive?

A: Good question. Actually, while roughly mixing the recorded tracks "live" during the concert in SCI's recording mobile (mostly for reference-purposes), I had the positions of each instrument panned exactly like on stage: Choir hard left, drums almost hard right, vocals and bass in the center, the string-section half left, the second guitar half-right. It had that certain, Beatles-like 60ies-flavour - actually very interesting and charming, but nothing you would expect from a recent production.

For the actual mixdown, I tried to imagine a stage-setup like "it could have been", with the strings-section larger than life from far left to far right, drums in the middle, and the choir spread around the Shigeru's main voice. Masashi's incredible bass-playing is very important for each of Quruli's songs, so the bass sits right in the center, too, to give everything the proper basement.

Soundwise, I think this is maybe the clue for the whole production: To give an unusual concert a seemingly conventional layout.



Q: Is there a song/track in the CD which determined the direction of your mix down? Which one is the most crucial track in sense of mix down?

A: I made a series of pre-mixes, just to get the feel for the concert as a whole, but "Jubilee" was (again) the song that took my heart within the first second (... I'll come back to that later). - What you hear on the CD is actually the first rough-mix of this song, done within one hour or so, with just some finishing touches later-on.

The hardest song was one of my favourites: "Guilty" (3). The dynamic differences between the soft parts of the song and the big climax, plus the very dense and almost "off-key" strings-arrangement made it very challenging to find an adequate balance for this piece, without stretching the aesthetical outline of the concert as a whole too far. It was the painstaking work of the mastering engineer, Martin Scheer at the Vienna-based Swoon Factory, which gave "Guilty" its final form.


Q: What do you think is the attraction of this CD? What’s the most appealing point of this CD in your opinion?

A: It's live, it's performed incredibly well in any sense of the word, it's different and unique. It has lots of high-impact energy and catchy tunes at the first encounter, but many captivating details to discover when you listen to it again (and again). The fact that there is this "classical" Viennese string-section playing with the band on stage gives it the final spin.


Q: When we interviewed QURULI, they praised that you were very professional. How do you define your work “mix down”? Do you try to draw out the best of tracks? Or, do you try to bring the tracks to the perfection?

A: Thanks a lot, I feel honoured by these kind words.

Without trying to sound esoteric: I'm convinced that there is an inner logic to the sound of each song. I simply try to listen to a song and to hear what it is trying to tell me (... not the lyrics. The song!). Ideally, I have an instant idea of what this song - actually: this recording of the song - should sound like once it is mixed. I have no real pre-conceptions or "cooking recipes" for a mix, and I hardly do things exactly the same way twice. As a matter of fact, it may happen that a song turns out very different when I re-mix it on different day, just because the facts of life lead me to a different sonic idea.

For me, mixing is far apart from a strictly technical process. Actually I still regard myself as a musician mainly, and I try to see the studio as my musical instrument. There are times when I have to draw all registers to play this instrument with virtuosity (even if this means to be a bit ruthless and to alter things), while there are other occasions when all that's needed is a little "Bling!" here and a small "Ding!" there.

In short: As a mixing engineer, I see myself as "the finisher". I simply love to do whatever it takes to make an enjoyable piece of music from a bunch of tracks.


Q: As a sound engineer, what do you think of this Japanese band QURULI? If there was any memorable moments with them, please tell us.

A: "Jubilee" was the ignition - a song that I could connect to immediately when I heard it. It was the first song I was given the chance to mix for Quruli about a year ago, and it was the last song I finished for the live-CD. For me, this piece has a certain magic which is hard to describe. It encompasses all what Pop Music is about for me: A physically perceivable pulse for the body, a memorable melody for the heart, unexpected harmonic changes for the brain, and this special "psychedelic" edge that makes you suddenly see everything from a heightened point-of-view.

When music succeeds in these respects, it doesn't matter whether it is from Japan, the US, Great Britain, Cuba, South Africa, Iceland or Austria: It's the only global language. Quruli knows to speak this language. They are remarkable artists. And they are great guys on the top of it. I enjoyed every minute I had the honour to work with them.

Finally, let me say a wholehearted "Arigato Gosaimasu" for giving me the chance to recapitulate this highly satisfying production. I worked on a lot of CDs during the last 15 years or so, but Quruli's "Philharmonic or die" is most certainly one of my best experiences so far - both musically as well as technically.


.... meet the Recording Team: