O'Reilly    
 Published on O'Reilly (http://oreilly.com/)
 See this if you're having trouble printing code examples


Steve Horowitz
Composer Steve Horowitz, high above Manhattan. (Click to enlarge.)
It's hard to know where to begin when talking with Steve Horowitz. This affable composer and bass player is the audio director for Nickelodeon Online (www.nick.com), churning out interactive soundtracks for Nick and other clients. (His recent soundtrack for Worldwide Biggies' Princess Bride game broke new ground in audio for Flash games, weaving together music and sound effects in a way more evocative of cinema and console games.)

Horowitz also wrote the score for the hit movie Super Size Me, served as music supervisor for MTV's I Bet You Will, and won a Grammy Award for engineering a bluegrass record.

Today, though, we spoke about his digitally enhanced chamber music. From composing for computerized pianos to touring with his electroacoustic ensemble, The Code International (TCI), Horowitz continues to combine acoustic and digital instruments in exciting new ways.


On September 10 and 11, TCI will perform at Score Fest in New York City, playing Horowitz's The Re-Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Invasion from the Chicken Planet. These 30-minute live soundtracks pair 12 live players with giant video projections; it's live music for movies that may or may not exist. We'll hear some excerpts during the show. (DMI 08-28-2008: 28 minutes 31 seconds)

Production Notes: Recording

I called Steve Horowitz at his home studio using Skype, recording our conversation on my Mac with Ecamm Call Recorder. Lately, I've been noticing my Mac's insane fan noise bleeding in to Skype recordings, so I initially tried the new Extralabs Skype Recorder program on my far quieter Windows laptop, but couldn't get it configured in time. I dealt with the noise during editing, as detailed below.

As usual for Skype interviews, I recorded my Logitech 250 USB headset. It doesn't sound as good as the more expensive professional mics I use for the voiceover, but it's light, comfortable, and maintains a consistent position from my mouth with no effort. Horowitz used a cheap headset as well — a Koss i15. I should have asked him to move it away from his mouth, because it picked up frequent P-pops and B-thumps, but I got too interested in the conversation, so I cleaned those up during editing as well.

Call Recorder saved the recording as a two-channel, audio-only QuickTime file using AAC compression.

The Code International
The Code Ensemble, Steve Horowitz's chamber group, fuses acoustic and digital instruments with video. Horowitz is at center rear.

Arrangement and Editing

The final interview recording was 65 minutes long, but most of the good parts were in the middle, so I opened the file in QuickTime Pro and made a rough edit, snipping off the top and tail. (QuickTime Pro is fast for that because it doesn't stop to draw a waveform.) I then exported the conversation as a stereo AIFF file with my voice on the left and Horowitz's on the right.

Scorefest Poster
Scorefest merges movies, panel discussions, and the Code Ensemble's galloping music and electronic textures.

Loading the AIFF into BIAS Peak, I temporarily panned the both sides to the center with the Destroy FX Monomaker plugin so I could edit them without going dizzy. I snipped out "ums," pops, and false starts, and then used a combination of Izotope RX and gating to remove the fan noise my mic had picked up from my Mac.

I then used Apple QuickTime Pro and an SE Electronics USB2200a condenser mic through a CEntrance MicPort Pro USB preamp to record my voiceover. (QuickTime Pro's CPU hit is so low it doesn't trigger the Mac's fans.) After snipping out P-pops, tongue clacks, and false starts in the voiceover with Peak, I imported the vocals and music examples into an Ableton Live template containing the Digital Media Insider theme music. I slid the elements around on the timeline to get the best flow, enhanced the vocals with Izotope Ozone, adjusted levels with envelopes, and rendered the mix into a stereo AIFF file. Finally, I converted the mix to an MP3 in iTunes, where I added the cover art.

The Digital Media Insider theme music came together in Live as well. The opening sound effect is a compressed mouth noise spliced onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan.

The theme also features a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, it took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.

Re-Taking Pelham One two Three Stills
For the 2005 premiere of The Re-Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Steve Horowitz assembled 14 musicians. You can see video clips of the performance on the band's MySpace page.

Links

You can find all 27 episodes of Digital Media Insider on the show's home page, http://digitalmedia.oreilly.com/podcast-audio.

Copyright © 2009 O'Reilly Media, Inc.