Harper Meader – Sweet Insomnia

Harper Meader at the CD Release Party for Sweet Insomnia.
Harper Meader at the CD Release Party for Sweet Insomnia.

I just returned home from Harper Meader‘s CD release party for Sweet Insomnia. Congrats to Harper for his first full-length CD! Doing his EP Honey was fun, but this album is even better. The party was great, getting a chance to hear a few sets of Harper’s music.

It’s always a treat to record in Ironwood Hollow, it’s such an interesting room. Havamal is probably my favorite track from the album:

This song, like all the songs on the album, was recorded in Ironwood Hollow. I set up Harper with his acoustic guitar and we recorded both at the same time as a basic track. I set him up between 4 RealTraps MiniGobos seated with his guitar. I used 3 close microphones, all 3 of which are figure 8 mics. This allows me to use the null points of the figure 8 mics to my advantage, to maximize the side null rejection patter those mics have. 2 mics were ribbons to give a gorgeous stereo picture of the guitar, with nice space up the middle for the vocals. I used a tube condenser mic in fig-8 for Harper’s vocals this time, and it’s a beautiful match for Harper’s voice.

I also recorded stereo room mics, about 20′ away from Harper, pointing at him. Ironwood Hollow is a big room so it sounds nice, and these mics captured the room.

Track 6 was a direct out from Harper’s Martin guitar, when he recorded songs with that. It’s his main guitar but he also uses a Yamaha without a pickup for some of the songs.

These 6 tracks are the foundation of the album for all the songs. Some of them, that’s what the song is. Other songs had some overdubs.

Havamal first had a hammered dulcimer overdub. This is a beautiful instrument, not unlike the internals of a piano, but rather than piano keys you just hit the strings manually with hammers. I recorded this with a cardioid large diaphragm condenser microphone about 4′ over head.

Next was the shaker part. Harper had a few percussion instruments, but I saw him get a twinkle in his eye…. “Wait a second. I have an idea…..”

While I was adjusting the microphone, he came back with a mead horn filled with some barley. This was the shaker. I can’t remember what I recorded it with, probably the same large diaphragm condenser I used for the hammered dulcimer.

These tracks came out beautifully, only requiring a bit of EQ and some volume rides to get them to sit right in the mix. But we weren’t done with this. We had one more on location recording to do, to really fill out the meaning of the song Havamal.

To hear Harper tell the story:

“Havamal” means “words of the high one,” Meaning the Norse god Odin. It is a collection of verses included in The Poetic Edda, purporting to be wise counsel from Odin himself. It includes the famous passage about how he hung on the World Tree for nine nights in his quest for wisdom, which came to him in the form of the runes.

I have a battered old copy of that work, much underlined and dog-eared, marking where, at one time in my life or another, particular lines touched me. Recently I started singing one section while playing an odd chord on the guitar, and the rest of it just followed along in short order. The song is made of paraphrased bits of many of my favorite lines, enshrining the values of friendship, honor, family, bravery, and respect.

The chorus of this song, “Pass the horn from hand to hand/Pass it along from friend to friend,” evokes images of campfires and drinking horns filled with mead. So of course the backing vocals had to be recorded outside, around a campfire, with the mead horn passing around. The men present sang the backing vocals.

Right at the end of the song, you can hear the voice of our friend Matt Dyer, who has quite a story to tell about his encounter with a polar bear in Canada. He has pretty much completely recovered, except his voice isn’t the same as it was. Did I mention the polar bear dragged Matt out of his tent by his neck, having basically Matt’s entire head in its jaws? It was really a blessing to add Matt’s polar bear voice to this song.

I recorded these voices around the fire with my portable Zoom recorder while we listened to a reference mp3 played through someone’s iPhone, and then imported the resulting tracks for the mix.

This mix came together quite quickly, despite it having the most tracks on the entire album. And it is without a doubt my favorite track. All the songs are very well crafted. This CD is worth a listen. Get one while you can. He also has mp3s available, so head on over to his site.


I have officially retired one of the racks, the mixer rack with the preamps in it. It was a good design in some ways, but it was not even close to portable enough. I now have a laptop for mobile recording. I still have 16 track capability, the same as before. I can provide several custom headphone mixes, and I still have the same mics.  All is quite well.

I’m now working fulltime for RealTraps as well. So I spend a lot of time thinking about how to achieve good sound. :-)

my creation…. LIIIIIIVESSSSS!

Both racks are up and running; the rig is fully operational. I’ve begun using it a bit for Freakwitch production, and everything is playing nicely together now.

The computer rack is great. I have a fantastic computer case, and 2 LCD widescreen monitors (20″). This is by far more screen real estate than I’ve ever had. It’s a treat doing audio work with this much space! I also have quite a bit of hard drive space, including space for backups.

Presently I am using WindowsXP and Sonar for my DAW, Sonar is great software that runs on a horrid operating system. I do plan to investigate audio production tools for Linux, most likely I’ll install Ubuntu-Studio (a version of Linux that is customized for multimedia production, which runs the Ardour DAW among many other things) on a spare partition and give it a try.

Anyway, I have 16 ins and outs, 16 mic pres, and a whole bunch of microphones. I just traced down the last wiring problem tonight (one of the channels wasn’t working…. turns out it wasn’t wired up correctly. All fixed).

Also, I got a chance to fire up my new Weller soldering iron. In testing the mic preamps, I discovered that one of my dynamic microphones wasn’t working correctly. No output at all. So I took it apart, poked around a bit, and discovered it was intermittent. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Did a little more investigation and found a cold solder joint on one of the wires connected to the XLR output jack. All fixed.

So the rig is fully operational now, but it is not yet portable as I still have to finish building the lids. Given that this is a holiday week, that it is supposed to precipitate for the remainder of the week, and that I don’t presently have enough carpeting, I doubt I’ll get the lids finished this week.

But in the meantime, the rig is in my living room, up and running so that I can work on music production. I’m rediscovering the joys of drum programming and audio editing, it’s been a few months since I’ve done much of this. I’m very happy to have this rig available to me at a moments notice.

I’ll post some photos soon….

inching toward completeness

Still working on the rigs every chance I get. The weather hasn’t been as cooperative as I’d perhaps like, but I’m still making progress.

The drawer for the headphone mixer is now installed in the analog audio rack, and I have the computer rebuilt inside the new rack-mount case. The new monitors rock, lots of good screen real estate, much more than I’m used to.

Weather permitting, I should make tracks (pun intended) on carpeting the computer rack tomorrow; once that’s done I need to build the lids and then I’ll be pretty much done.

More pics soon….

audio rack almost done

I have the audio rack nearly complete. The carpeting has been installed, as have the mixer and the preamps for the mobile rig. Still missing is a drawer that will contain the headphone mixer, I need to shave about 1/16″ off of it so it fits in better. It will go just below the mixer, and above where the preamp/compressor rack is. Tomorrow I should finish the drawer, and get started on the computer rack (identical to this but containing the computer rig), carpeting the front and rear panels, and building the lids. Lots of work ahead but good progress is being made, as you can see!



nice pair of racks!

I’m well into construction for the portable racks. These are turning out larger than anticipated, large enough in fact that they won’t fit into my car! Not good. But, I think a small cargo trailer is the best solution, and seems like a workable compromise.

Here are the pics…. One is further along than the other, the right on has the sides and the removable front and back panels done. These racks will ultimately be painted black and then covered with black carpet.


This is hopefully what the view from above will look like…. a mixer in the top of one rack, and 2 – 20″ LCD monitors stacked in the other.


A side view.


Back view. The one on the left has the sides and the removeable rear panel in place.


The view with the rear panel removed, leaning up against the rack.


The front panel installed.


The front panel removed and leaning against the rack.


For size reference, this is my beautiful 10 year old daughter posing.


The 2 racks. Indeed, a luscious pair!


Nice pair of racks, coming right at you…

construction begins

The parts are starting to show up here, and I have some lumber. Looks like I’ll be rack-building starting tomorrow. I hope to have the rig up and running by the end of the week, but we’ll see how it goes. I plan to take some photos…