Recording at Dartmoor National Park with Kate & Mike Westbrook and the JBL EON ONE Pro
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Recording at Dartmoor National Park with Kate & Mike Westbrook and the JBL EON ONE Pro

dBs Productions and producer Jay Auborn had the honour of working on the new album by Kate and Mike Westbrook.  The Westbrook's are UK jazz royalty, with a career spanning over 50 years and over 50 albums to their names.  The new album 'GRANITE', takes its inspiration from Dartmoor National Park in Devon and in particular an old Granite Quarry on Heytor.  To try and capture the essence of this spectacular location on record, Jay looked to the JBL EON ONE Pro...

What was the aim of the project?  What was involved?

We wanted to find ways to incorporate the sound and atmosphere of the Granite Quarry, to give the music a unique sense of place, somewhere between the natural world and how Kate heard in her mind.  It was about getting beyond the studio and making the music otherworldly and unique.  The Westbrook's were interested in this idea, of trying something outside of the normal studio process.  They have a tremendous progressive and experimental passion in their work.

Along with taking sound recordings on Dartmoor we wanted to capture the unique echo and reverberation times of the Granite Quarry.  This presented some technical challenges as we'd need a powerful speaker system that could playback impulse responses into the Quarry at loud enough volumes to stimulate the echoes.  The speaker needed to be battery powered and light weight for the long walk on the Moors.  Capturing an impulse response of a place allows us to rebuild the unique reverberation times of a space digitally back at the studio.  We can then place sounds in this space so it sounds like you are there.

The JBL EON pro seemed like the perfect solution, and in-fact until it arrived and we started testing it we wouldn't have thought it possible to get such a powerful speaker so light weight and durable in such a compact system.

When and where did it take place?

We transported our recording equipment and the speaker system up onto Heytor in March during the big snow storms we had.  The snow caused many delays to the albums production timeframe but also an opportunity to have the quarry to ourselves for quiet recording time.

How did you hear about the JBL EON Pro?

We set our student team a challenge of finding a powerful, light speaker system that was battery powered and covered a broad enough frequency spectrum to play back sine wave sweeps for impulse response capture.  We kept coming up short on the trade offs: battery life vs weight, size vs frequency range.. Then part of the staff team at dBs Music Liam Omullane put out word that they guys at Sound Tech might be able to spec and recommend a speaker system for us. 

The best stuff is always unplanned anyhow, you have to embrace and trust in this when you are working outside of a controlled environment.  Having rock solid equipment on hand lets you relax and focus on performances and the artists.

How was it suited to the project?  What were its advantages?

The JBL EON pro seemed like the perfect solution, and in-fact until it arrived and we started testing it we wouldn't have thought it possible to get such a powerful speaker so light weight and durable in such a compact system.  It took no time to figure out how to use the speaker and assemble.  It kicked out some very loud sine wave sweeps with minimal distortion and rattle.  The low frequencies during a 20-20k sine wave sweep tend to get speakers shaking like crazy and then spoil the impulse response recordings, but we were surprised at how well it worked for this. 

What are some of the main problems recording in this environment?  How did you overcome them?

Working outside without a mains power source is always tricky, especially if you're a studio based producer used to having tons of choice in tone / colour of equipment.  I am used to a certain quality of equipment that isn't always available when going off grid on location.  Seeking out well made, robust, clean sounding, reliable recording equipment is essential for this type of work.  Often if a device has a huge feature set, loads of i/o and runs of x2 AA batteries you've gotta think how can it maintain quality?!  More dedicated streamlined equipment often gives much better results.

Keeping unwanted noise to a minimum is also essential.  Imagine the artist at the peak of their emotional delivery and then a dog starts barking or a plane flies over; spell broken!  Setting a relaxed slow tempo to the work seems to help here.  Not being to precious or predetermined with the outcome.  The best stuff is always unplanned anyhow, you have to embrace and trust in this when you are working outside of a controlled environment.  Having rock solid equipment on hand lets you relax and focus on performances and the artists.

We were able to capture the echoes from the quarry and then digitally recreate them back in the studio.  The process can be used all over the album.  It gave the music a unique sound and colour.  If we are to do this process again I wouldn't hesitate to use this speaker system.

After completion, what was your overall opinion of the EON ONE Pro? 

The compact size and powerful output of the speaker system made it possible to capture high quality impulse responses.  It was easy to assemble and setup, and we carried it across the Moor with minimal fuss/back ache.  We were able to capture the echoes from the quarry and then digitally recreate them back in the studio.  We used two pieces of software - an Ableton Max for Live patch called IR, which comes with the Max for Live Essentials pack, and Waves IR1 which features downloadable sine wave sweeps.  We played back the sweep files via an iPhone.  

The process can be used all over the album.  It gave the music a unique sound and colour.  If we are to do this process again I wouldn't hesitate to use this speaker system.

Big thanks to Jay and Liam at dBs Productions for their assistance with this article.  The new album 'GRANITE' by Kate and Mike Westbrook is out now on Proper Distribution / Westbrook Recordings.  You can follow Kate & Mike Westbrook @westbrookjazz

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