Meyer Sound Interview with Dave Hampton Surround mixer for Herbie Hancock At the 35th Montreux Jazz Festival
Interviewed by Tom Dambly, Marketing Communications Manager, Meyer Sound
Tom Dambly: How did you get started with Herbie?
Dave Hampton: About 10 years ago, I did some studio work for him – they were making changes in his studio electronics; my background was in computers and studio electronics. Over the years, I just took on more and more responsibility for taking Herbie's keyboards and studio into the next millennium. I also looked at some of the things he had done with technology early on, pre-MIDI, and tried to take that into the next phase with what's he's doing in the Future 2 Future project.
TD: When did you start doing live sound applications for him?
DH: This is really the first time I've ever taken on this role with him. We've spent the last three or four years with surround sound in the studio, remixing old material. So this application is kind of unique – it's not really being done by anyone else.
Knowing his music gives me the key to working with all the musicians onstage. I actually end up becoming another part of what's going on in a concert. The live sound, the surround sound and the audience itself are part of the overall experience.
TD: How did you feel about the quality of the sound last night?
DH: It sounded great. Overall coverage was good. It was nice to step in to Stravinski Hall and see that Meyer sound had taken the time to do the placement so that surround really happened. I think the audience enjoyed it.
TD: So this was the first tour you did with surround effects?
DH: Yes. In the last two years, we've been working closely with Tom Holman from THX, and remixing a number of Herbie's singles in the studio. He has really been thinking in a multidimensional plane for a long time, but was limited to stereo for so many years.
Recently we did a single show, with a 10.2 mix, at a consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, and it was well received. That was after Herbie's keynote speech at last year's AES show, where he mentioned he really did want to undertake surround in performance. This is that undertaking.
TD: How did you implement the surround signal flow in performance?
DH: We took a feed from all the musicians onstage and sent it directly to a Pro Tools system. This time, we had eight channels – we could have more, but we chose to start with eight – one from each musician. We took a direct signal from the bass player. For the trumpet player, Wallace Roney, we had a special microphone that's onstage just for effects. How he uses it all depends how he feels. If he feels like playing straight ahead, he'll step in front of his fixed mic; if he feels like seeing what the hall can do, he'll step in front of the other one. That's part of the free form concept: Herbie likes to leave it to the musician's discretion at all times. With Terry Lynn Carrington [the drummer], we take the Octapad triggered samples coming from some of the percussion she's playing, as well as some fixed samples. Darryl Diaz and Herbie both play special modified keyboards that allow them to have both main outputs to front of house as well as auxiliary outs that only send parts of their amplified signal to my surround setup.
DJ Disc takes a direct effect signal out to me. That allows me to play with various-and-sundry plug-ins to help accentuate aspects of the scratching. Scratching is very common on records nowadays, but there are a lot of elements to the scratching that make it musical or rhythmic, so through the use plug-ins and some other things, we can accentuate certain frequencies so that it's more pronounced, because there's a lot of information, a lot already going on in the music.
You want to leave things up to the musicians and their dynamics. You don't want things to get out of control, so we try to keep some things to a minimum. For example, we sometimes used fixed pan locations, and arrive at some predetermined moves, through testing in rehearsals, and we developed some templates that we start each song with – certain basic surround panning positions. Most of the time, when people think of surround, they think of things passing overhead; it's not always that -- sometimes it's just subtle nuances. Sometimes it's just the ability to feel like you're just that much closer to Wallace Roney when he's playing the trumpet; or sometimes you can hear certain elements in front of you, others you can hear on the sides.
TD: So directionality in surround speakers is an important factor?
DH: Absolutely. That's one of the things I noticed yesterday.
TD: Would you say that technology has changed the music?
DH: I'd say it has changed how we make music. We always look to technology to help us do things faster, better. We do a lot of corporate things over the last couple of years, and at all times, we carry a backpack with us. Inside the backpack is a PowerBook, an audio interface, and an assortment of microphones, special connections, and some kind of MIDI interface, and that allows us to at any point in time, stop and be musical within five minutes.
TD: We'd like to see if we could get you fit a couple of [Meyer Sound] CQ-2's into that backpack.
DH: I'd love to.