Friday, 9 March 2018

Top Three Snare Microphones

From the YouTube community we’ve seen a growing number of drum microphone comparisons, of both conventional pro-level and affordable microphones. These comparisons are of great value to new buyers and even to more seasoned engineers. In this article I will share my own current top three pic for dynamic snare-drum microphones. At least one of the mics should be familiar to most readers, and they vary in price from average to high as far as dynamic microphones go.
            The three microphones have slightly different profiles: one is the cleanest and clearest; another is the most trusted both over and under the snare; and the final has a pleasant high-mid punch for those snares that really should cut through the mix.

Sennhesiser MD 441

This is perhaps my all-time favourite to capture the top of a snare-drum. The advantage of this microphone is how it positions the snare-sound in the larger mix. My ears have always perceived it as more tidy and focused in the mid-range than the trusted SM57, when recording a whole kit. The micrphone includes a bass roll-off and a treble boost, but there have been different versions in the past and at least one I know of without the roll-off. This is an excerpt of what Sennheiser writes about the MD 441 on their web-page: ‘Dynamic super-cardioid microphone […]. Balanced sound. Precise and distortion-free reproduction even at highest sound pressure levels.’ Those words are very much in line with my experience.
            Home-studio owners might be hard-pressed to cash out for one of these right off the bat, but since it has been around for a while there will be a few in circulation in the second hand market. It is also a well worth microphone to save up for in the long run. Personally, I would rather start off with getting one of these for use on snare-drum, and wait with getting a whole line-up of MD 421s for the toms. The rational is simple: How many times per beat do you hear the snare vs. how many times do you hear toms?
            None of the examples I have come across on YouTube do proper justice to the results I have gotten from this microphone on recordings in the past. Perhaps the best sound excerpt are found on German online-shop Thomann’s web-page.

Shure SM57

As much as I have a soft spot for the MD441, I have never been disappointed with the sound of an SM57. It is easily the most trusted and predictable snare microphone in history and it is my personal top pick for a dynamic under the snare-drum. It is also my top pick for deep snare-drum sounds as it produces a really nice punch in the low mids. In addition to being a great snare-drum mic, it is one of the most versatile microphones you can own. Its most under-valued use may be on voice as the SM58 steals all the thunder due to its grille. Custom-made wind-screens exist and pop-filters can be found in most studios. The SM57 has been a top pick for drums for more than half a century and I guess my grandchildren will one day inherit my own collection and keep using them as nothing had changed. Which it hopefully won’t. I'm now in my 30's with no children, so it's not exactly around the corner. That should put some perspective on what I think about the future of this microphone.

Audix i5

This is the only microphone on the list that I have not yet used, but I have heard it in a number of comparison-reviews and come across it in articles from the industry-press. Sound on Sound did a great review of this microphone. Their article also tells you about the diversity of sound-sources this mic can be put to use on. It is intended to compete with the SM57 and they are closely comparable in price, and certainly not too far from each other in sound. Perhaps not surprising from Audix, the sound has slightly more high-end snap than the SM57. It also appears to be a tad clearer and more open sounding.
For high-pitch drum-sounds and piccolo-snares, this is the microphone I find most interesting on offer right now. Think about those haunting, piercing snappy snare-sounds in fast-paced funky grooves that keeps playing inside your head and prevents you from sleeping at night. This is what I would capture them with!
That this microphone is not in my own collection yet is just a temporary deficit. It is irrevocably on the purchasing-list!

A Pinch of Inspiration

Here’s one of my favourite YouTubers, Rick Russie, making great sound with a mix of Shure and Audix close-microphones. He has chosen one SM57 on the snare:

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio — Concert in Trondheim, Norway

Last year another jazz-legend visited Trondheim (Norway). Dr. Lonnie Smith brought his Trio and performed at the quirky and very popular venue Dokkhuset.
His set-up was a Hammond B3 with both a short and a tall Leslie. On his left side he had several keyboards running into a laptop and/ or a synth, and on his right he had drum pads.
Dr. Lonnie was stretching the envelopes of time and harmony from the very outset of the show. It was hard to know exactly where you were in time or texture, until it gradually became revealed to you. I tried to both take in the enjoyment of the sound and listen for the clues that reveal where the music was headed. One was gratified instantly, the other as the works unfolded. Dr. Lonnie’s style allows for highly experimental and very groovy pars to run over and into each other. He can take the listener back and forth between these two shores like waves — and just as naturally.
When Lonnie walked on to the stage with a cane I presumed he needed it (which for all I know, he might). What I didn’t know was that old men with walking-sticks could play as fast as this. At one point he rose up and looked a bit like Gandalf — that’s when we found out that the cane was in fact an instrument! At first it seemed more like a funny curio, but as he kept playing it started making sense. Seeing him wielding his cane it was impossible not to think of Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm!
I had a chance to speak with him after the show and told him that the Hammond Organ was one of the really important sounds of my own childhood. It could literally make me get goosebumps everywhere! My father had a friend with a Hammond he had re-furbished himself, and I remember the ground vibrating when I stood next to the Leslie. I went on to sing a lot of Gospel and Jazz and the sound of the organ stuck with me. Dr. Lonnie also used to sing Gospel when he was younger, and so did his Mother and siblings. The organ always stood out to him. When hearing it, he said, it was like electricity went through his body like a spear! He put a real emphasis on those words and I believe his experience of the sound goes beyond what most of us can fully understand. He isn’t just a musical legend who helped define how we hear this instrument, but the sound of the instrument might have connected so strongly with something inside of him that he himself might not have had much of a choice but to pursue it.

The band

Jonathan Kreisberg (Guitar), is a firework between lyrical passages and rapid breathtaking runs. His tone is incredible, even through a PA in a concrete room on an old shipyard. It’s not rare to come across nice guitar tones per se, but at this level it is.

Jonathan Kreisberg

Johnathan Blake (Drums). Blake is often the rails that Dr. Lonnie’s experimentation rides on top of. But Blake’s triplet-arsenal and his abstracting of metre also makes him an integral part of the experimentation. If the word ‘firework’ was to be used for only one of the band-members it would have to be him.

Johnathan Blake


Till next time!

After the show Dr. Lonnie and his band hung around on stage. They were clearing cables and packing up, and all were approachable for conversation and picture-taking. Mark of true gentlemanly down-to-earth-ness!
Dr. Lonnie was last in Trondheim six years ago. ‘It’s been a while’ he said while stating that he hoped it would not be as long till next time. Though if Trump became President he promised to be back earlier. While I don’t think Trump has been even half as bad as the media wants us to believe — Dr. Lonnie and his band are very welcome to move to Norway at any time!

Great concert — I got to see another legend!

Dr. Lonnie and his music-making cane!

Dr. Lonnie and his music-making cane!

Dr Lonnie Smith and Harald Haltvik
Yours truly meets Dr. Lonnie Smith
(Photo: Fredrik Thommesen)

PhD Conference at NTNU University, Norway

On the 30th of March this year the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), held a conference titled: The added value of a PhD – for all sectors of working life’. The audience were mainly: PhD candidates, supervisors and alumni, employees from all sectors including NTNU and other interested parties.

The stated goals of the conference were
  • Raise awareness of the added value of a doctoral degree in all sectors of working life.
  • Help to boost recruitment of PhDs in the job market through increased insight into the added value of a doctoral degree.
  • Strengthen the reputation of our PhDs as highly relevant to society.
  • Increase PhDs’ awareness of their own skills, what they can bring to the workplace and the challenges they can help solve.
  • Help PhDs improve their ability to market their expertise and the advantage of a doctoral degree over a first degree.

The conference reflected the main focus of the university well. It is a university with a long technical tradition; hence, engineering and science took centre stage. For creatives, you had to look under the radar to connect to the relevance. For me, hearing people’s stories of how their research has influenced the directions their careers have taken; and mingling with others, were the main outcomes. Amongst the attendees there were also people who were doing education research. Mingling was accelerated by dividing the (pretty huge) number of attendees into groups towards the end of the conference for round table discussions. Different tables dealt with different questions. The outcome of the discussions was written down, collected and presented to the whole room towards the end. The tables I attended were composed both of very seasoned people in the higher part of the age-bracket, and younger people. This worked particularly well to widen the perspective of the groups.

What would I like to see in similar conferences in the future? I would love to see a better inclusion of arts and humanities. I do not mean to trouble neither artists nor engineers with the particulars of each other’s interest fields. But people who study learning have something to teach engineers who manage organisations, historians have things to teach anyone who digs deep into any matter, and so forth. And perhaps a final note for a conference in English would be to find a keynote speaker somewhat more fluent in English? ;-)

At any rate, a day well spent by the river in Trondheim while meeting old and new friends over food and round-table discussions.

The conference was held at Royal Garden Hotel Trondheim.
(Image Credit)

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Three New Mixtapes — Soulful Beats & Vintage RnB

Here are three new mixtapes for you to dance and party to! The tracks are a mixture of Funk, Soul, RnB, Hip-Hop and some pop-vibes. For anyone who heard the DJ-sets I used to do in the UK the blend should be familiar! I’m at my happiest when I get artists like James Brown, Alicia Keys, Q-Tip and Lion Babe to fit side by side like they were always meant to be that way. There’s something magical in crossing the boundaries of generations, style and time while maintaining an illusion (or a truth?) of musical ‘oneness’. One of my greatest joys as a DJ was when I managed to sneak one of my own tracks into a set while the dance-floor and party was ‘business as usual’ — made me feel like I would belong side by side with my heroes for a moment. My internal imagery shows pictures of people dancing on Soul Train when I work on these tapes. I know I sometimes go outside of their repertoire, but I still hope Don Cornelius would be proud!

Playlists are on the Mixcloud page if you click on the links. Hope it makes you want to dance and have fun!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Photo Shoots for Musicians

High quality pictures are needed for anyone who is producing music or promoting an artist. This blog-post shows you the pictures from a recent photo-shoot, and I’ll share some reflections around the process. I initiated this shoot, and seen from my angle it had three components: an artist, sourcing a high-end photographer, and finding a visual expression that fitted the artist. The artist was Oda Kveinå Tonstad, and the photographer was Theodor Haltvik With (both might be familiar to regular readers).

Planning and process

1. The pictures from this shoot was for general use rather than for a song or album. This meant that we didn’t need to analyse any musical material to match with the visual expression. The pictures were to be used for professional online-use, and near-future music-releases should they come. The process was initiated with me compiling pictures of artists and styles that I felt represented Oda as I knew (and wanted to see) her. If I had produced a specific musical work (album, iTunes-single, etc.) I would have held on to the central coordinating role between artist and photographer (some music producers will want to give this process away; you’ll know for yourself). Theodor compiled my pictures into a mood-board while he and Oda both worked on their own compilations of images. Creatively this is where I left the process. Oda felt some of my pictures represented her while some were discarded. She came up with her own compilation of pictures that added new influences to what we already had. Theodor received our input and stretched some of them one step further, since he saw hidden potentials as a professional.

2. Oda and Theodor finalised the mood-boards and agreed on clothes, locations and a date. I believe a contingency plan was hatched in the event that the weather should turn unsuited for the outdoor-part of the shoot.

3. Photo-shoot. I rocked up for the studio-shoot; firstly, to make sure the key elements I wanted on film was captured, but mostly to create general mischief! :-)

Some thoughts on the process

- Oda is an accomplished dancer and some of the images are taken to capture this.
- Shots included both profile pics and whole-figure for different use.
- If you’re a management, studio or record-company working with an artist for the long-haul, it is useful to have a portfolio of pictures from the duration of the collaboration. Ideally, get the first pictures done as soon as you start working with the artist (perhaps even in the studio, practice room or in everyday settings). 

A selection of headshots for profile-pictures

Behind the Scenes/ 'General Mischief'

Yours truly having some fun with Theodor’s Smartphone :-)

In the 1930’s Oda worked for Walt Disney Company
under another artist name. Some of her old
friends came to visit her at Theodor’s studio :-)

Oda and Theodor at Work

I really liked the eye-contact between Oda
and this dinosaur!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

ICT in Education Conference

ICT and Education Conference at
Norwegian University of Technology and Science


The National Conference on the Use of ICT in Education and Learning was held in the city of Trondheim, Norway, from the 11th to the 13th of May 2016. The conference took place at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)’s science and technology campus, Gløshaugen. The conference is an event for working teachers, pedagogy students, ICT companies, governmental offices, publishers and researchers/ speakers delivering a packed program of presentations. I spent most of my time looking through the stands, but also had time to attend a few presentations. In this blogpost I’ll highlight some of the things that caught my eyes. It won’t be a complete overview over the whole conference, but in keeping with this blog: the blend of technology and creativity, and also technical education-facilities will be central.

This blogpost will be segmented into two:
1. The post you are reading will deal with publishing, networking, trajectories and reflections around ICT in education.

Presentation: learning-design in context.

Trends in Publishing

Large Media Companies

National broadcasters NRK (Norway’s version of the BBC) and TV2 have taken a great leap into the education sector by creating online platforms that lets pupils and students tap into the companies’ wells of recorded material. Comprehensive new material has also been created to address the need of Norwegian schools. I have not yet used their platforms, but judging from presentation, TV2 seems to hold the leading edge. The companies are operating as publishers (as opposed to traditional media-companies) when delivering services in the education sector.

Using platforms where extensive video-material covers (at least in the long run) the entire school curriculum has obvious advantages. Topics like modern history and social sciences are perhaps the areas where these platforms are most self-explanatory. However, content for topics like mathematics, science and language also seems to be well developed or under way. I do however, feel that a word of caution is in order. Norway is politically a country that for many decades have embraced left-of-centre politics. This has trickled into its media-coverage, and it’s a well-known fact amongst media-researchers that the media in general covers current events with a slight left-bias. Looking back at my own education it took me many years of travelling and higher studies to un-learn many accepted truths from my school-years that were clearly politically biased, especially in social sciences, but also in history. I’m all for presenting both sides of the story from a neutral middle-ground and if I have one concern with Norwegian media-companies now educating minors, it is an accentuation of an existing political bias. I am not trying to advocate removing certain views from schools, but rather complementing them in a more neutral and holistic sense. Let’s see what the future brings, but for teachers who use these platforms this is currently something one should look out for! To end on a positive note, the tools that have been developed by these media-giants seems packed with interesting content. The companies express a work-in-progress attitude, which tells me there will be more development of content (perhaps also on the delivery-platforms) in the very near future.

Views from around the conference-
area, and the stands.

Other Publishers

BS Undervisning (translates ‘BS Education’) provides a platform for coordinating sales and use of both printed and digital media. They have over 1500 digital learning resources in their catalogue and sports some of the biggest names in Norwegian educational publishing as collaborators. Amongst other things they provide a service that lets you search and link to the online resources that your institute subscribes to. BS Undervisning is part of a larger corporation that provides goods and services for libraries and places of learning.

One of my personal favourites was Norwegian publisher Gyldendal’s stand. Gyldendal had resources, tools for teaching and assessment in one place through their SMART programme. What caught the attention of the music producer in me the most, was that they are now offering guitar-course videos through one of their online platforms. They don’t have immediate thoughts on developing their music-teaching content, but were very open to the idea. As a ‘Sound and Music Production’ lecturer I used Lynda and AskVieo/ MacProVideo for students in vocationally angled higher education. These are great resources as a supplements, and sometimes even as radical improvement from traditional printed resources! It is therefore really good news for the future of music education in schools to see creative and artistic content becoming available alongside theoretical topics. Gyldendal seems to be a publishing house to watch for this sort of development.

Professional Network for teachers
and Online Safety for students

Senter for IKT i Utdanningen’ is an organisation that was set up under the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Education in 2010. It can be translated ‘Centre for ICT in Education.’ The centre is there to help lift the quality of ICT use in kindergartens, schools and for pedagogy students. In addition to working with the quality of ICT-education, the centre focuses on internet safety and the training of pupils to exert good judgement in ICT-based interactions. They are one of the initiative-takers behind the webpage and printed material for  ‘Du bestemmer’ translates ‘You Decide’ and is a resource that deals with healthy conduct, law, plus positives and negatives a person encounters when interacting across the internet. The ‘Centre for ICT in Education’ also provides research and initiatives that it goes outside of this blogpost to cover. These include development of regional leadership in the school sector and help with finding the right digital resources for use in education.

‘Klassetrivsel’ is a term that describes how pupils feel (positive or negative) about their class and their social interactions. It is an online tool for teachers that can assess how students feel about their every-day life and social interactions in school. It provides feed-back to teachers that helps them assess and address the experience of being a pupil in their class. It started as a project at a school in 2007, and is now a tool available for all Norwegian schools who subscribe to the service. Their webpage is:

Creative Software

Creaza is a platform where you can make mind-maps, video and audio presentations, and cartoons. Let’s say, the teacher shares a mind-map with the students. The students pick up the mind map and follow up with their own research. In the end a multimedia presentation is produced by the students over a topic given by the teacher. The tool is very well geared towards creative responses to assessments and incorporates ICT-skills in a fluid way. The video and audio editors looks familiar for users of Mac-software. I don’t believe tools like Creaza can take the place of reading and writing in a traditional sense, but it is a very diverse ICT-supplement. It is diverse in the sense that it covers all the bases of muli(ple)-media in óne platform — this should make it easier for the teacher, who don’t have to relate to three or four different software-packs but who rather can relate to óne. Creaza has won several awards and I encourage you to:
1) Look at their web-site, as the different tools included in Creaza is described in a very accessible way by clicking on the banners under the ‘Product’ banner. There is also a Creaza-blog that keeps you up to date on news about the software.
2) Look at Creaza’s YouTube user, which is packed with tutorials and examples.

In my own teaching experience, I’ve worked with higher-/ vocational education. We used softwares like Cubase and ProTools which are professional tools from the creative industries. Creaza, as far as I can see, belongs in primary and secondary education. The ICT-skills acquired from Creaza should be easy to transfer to professional platforms when pupils/ students reach a higher level of studies. I believe I would find it easier to train higher-education students who are familiar with platforms like Creaza on professional platforms. Apart from the obvious use in a modern classroom, I can see two other uses for Creaza:
1) Students who struggle to follow regular teaching for various reasons. Creaza is engaging and forces you to create, and not just respond like to a computer-game. It also looks particularly good at creating ‘narratives.’ Work with narratives is no foreign thought in pedagogy or social sciences. In 2012 I wrote about the research of Electro Acoustic composer Louise Rossiter, who explored the use of Electro Acoustic composition as a therapeutic tool for pupils from troubled backgrounds. The results were positive. Creaza is not an Electro Acoustic composition platform, but if used in similar ways I’d expect results pointing in the same direction.
2) Use for adult learners with limited skills, either in: 1) ICT, or 2) the topic of the class (including language). A good example would be for teaching immigrants with limited language and ICT skills, and limited skills on local society. Creaza would combine an intuitive ICT platform, and basic use of language in presentations; while allowing the learner to feel success in making a good product while still not in full command of the language. (As opposed to a presentation where everything is resting on language.) Examples of interaction and aspects of society can be animated in the simple-to-use Cartoonist application.

As this software caught my imagination I’ll add a quick YouTube video just to give you a visual idea of what it looks like:

Trajectories in ICT

New Media Consortium’s (NMC) Horizon Project has published a rapport about the trajectories the use of technology in Norwegian education. The rapport was published in 2013 and covers 2013-2018. It analyses the matter on three time horizons: one year or less, two to three years, and four to five years. The Norwegian rapport is a collaboration with The Norwegian Centre for ICT In Education. NMC have done rapports on several countries. Here is the link to the Norwegian rapport. NMC runs a conference and the website has a blog with their current news.

Is ICT The Way?

ICT is certainly a buzzword in education right now, but can we trust that ICT-tools really can take over for traditional learning tools? I think the answer is both yes and no. A future with more ICT and automatization clearly needs a workforce who is able to address the new tasks. But I’m also worried that we sometimes are over-emphasising the constantly changing technical aspects of the future at the expense of the not-so-changing human aspects of the future.

I guided in the Norwegian mountains for many years and I remember a study from the early 2000’s stating that children who attended ‘outback kindergartens’ (close proximity to outback, and much use of outdoor activities. Norwegian expression is: ‘friluftsbarnehage’) were better at a range of things, including problem-solving than children from inner-city kindergartens. Studies like these remind us that modern society is built on harnessing the potential that exists at the core of creation and of the human mind. Basic inter-human skills will not be addressed sufficiently through online platforms for collaboration, and the future will not be secure for job-seekers in decades to come just because they are proficient at today’s technology. With a growing number of companies not just addressing, but also helping to create demand for new technology in education we have to constantly evaluate whether we are developing the human potential in pupils and students as much as we develop our ICT-skills. I’ll underline this with an example from one of my own areas of study, Music Technology. I go to trade-shows and know several distributors and manufacturers of music production gear. Every year there are new equipment-releases and you’ll be constantly reminded you need the new products to really stay at a current professional level. However, most of the classic albums we teach in music-history classes are more than a decade old, and hence the technology is practically from the stone-age in the world of the technology-manufacturers. But tomorrow’s musicians, music educators and producers won’t be much effective if they can’t play low-tech wooden guitars, collaborate in bands and appreciate the potential in the tools at their disposal. To put it to its edge, I believe in a future where the most adaptable persons can chop down trees for fire-wood, counsel someone in trouble and write with a pencil; while operating technology, making global interactive collaborations and assessing the deployment of the tools they have available.


Thanks to NTNU for creating a meeting-ground for an impressive array of educators, researchers and ICT industry! This was more of a meeting-ground and an ideas-exchange, than an academic conference in a traditional sense. I’ll be going back!