The studio is traditionally regarded as a haven of geekdom. We can analyze sound in every-which-way imaginable. The tools that allow us to do so are now more available than ever, and it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae. That’s not to say that it’s not important, indeed having the technical know-how and experience to avoid certain pitfalls is essential.
This method is simply a way to comprehend the relationship between “musical” pitch (notes) and its technical counterpart (frequency) with the goal of using both skill sets to create better mixes
Popular myth suggests that approaching a mix in a “technical” way can hinder soul, feeling, or simply put: “musicality”. But what if these seemingly opposite methods were two sides of the same coin, and confused by semantics? What if both approaches to mixing were necessary for a healthy mixing philosophy?
In a wider-ranging interview on electronic music production for Ableton, Michael Bierylo from Berklee College of Music explores the technical and musical approaches to arrangement:
“In traditional arranging, there’s the idea of low interval limits that point to timbral problems when low notes are arranged at close intervals. In production, we talk about why a production sounds muddy with certain groupings of sounds in the lower register. Same idea, different approach, that requires a knowledge of sound and production in order to be effective.”
This holistic understanding of arrangement neatly sums up a healthy approach mixing. Engineers might tend to interpret pitch as frequencies, whereas an arranger or composer might think of instrumental choices to ensure that there is a full cross section of pitch available in a piece of music.
An example of where the two worlds coincide is the universal tuning note for the orchestra: the A, located in the octave above middle C on the piano or in frequency terms, 440Hz. Most instruments can play this note pretty comfortably – but it serves as an accurate reference point. Most instruments that play above this pitch form the middle to upper reaches of the orchestra (violas, middle range violins, middle range woodwinds, upper range brass). An octave higher, the sounds become more piercing (higher woodwinds, higher strings, very high brass) This range can also be easily identified in frequency terms – an octave higher is double the frequency, in this case, 880Hz. The same process can be repeated for exploration of lower pitches.
Of course, this isn’t the full story. The range of human hearing climbs toward 20,000 Hz and considering that almost all sounds are made up of multiple frequencies that occur simultaneously (otherwise known as harmonics), fully understanding pitch is a long process. This method is simply a way to comprehend the relationship between “musical” pitch (notes) and its technical counterpart (frequency) with the goal of using both skill sets to create better mixes.