Can you please tell us a little bit about how you got involved in this record?
I have known Billy Gould (bassist, producer and engineer of Faith No More) for some years now. We like to talk about gear and music, and he asked me if I would be interested in trying out mastering the first single he had produced, engineered and mixed for a limited edition 7″ vinyl called “Mother****er”. A few months later, I had mastered the second limited edition 7″ vinyl “Superhero”, which he produced and engineered as well, but had mixed in collaboration with Matt Wallace. It featured a B-Side remix by Alex Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten.
Around February I got to master the whole “Sol Invictus” album, which was produced and engineered by Billy Gould and mixed by Gould and Matt Wallace. The two singles were remixed again by Gould and Wallace and I remastered them differently for the album, in order to fit with the other songs. The whole process was a natural progression from mastering the first singles and remixes to the whole album. Collaborating with both Gould and Wallace was very inspiring – both are very nice, down-to-earth, super talented people. I feel very blessed to be the mastering engineer on this album.
[L to R] Matt Wallace, Maor Appelbaum, Billy Gould.
About 7 years ago, I was working for producer Sylvia Massy up at Radiostar Studios in Weed, California. We drove down to Anahiem to the NAMM Show, and that’s when I first saw the Portico product line. After NAMM, we had gotten some units on loan to test the EQ, the compressor and the stereo field editor. I remember hooking them up to the mix buss inserts on her vintage Neve 8038 console and checking them out – they were very versatile, very easy to operate.
Later on, when I moved to Los Angeles and opened my own mastering facility, I was in the market for interesting gear, so every NAMM or AES I would come by the RND booth to check out what new products they were displaying. The first one I tried was the 542 Tape Emulator – and I liked it. It had a nice, warm tone capable of making things gel together, so I got two units.
The feature that I liked the most about them was actually the Texture function (Silk Red / Silk Blue) that appears in other RND products as well. So, knowing that, I had been thinking of what other options I could add to my ever-growing gear collection…addiction…whatever you like to call it…
The answer was simple: The Portico II MBP [Master Buss Processor] – a stereo compressor, limiter and the stereo field editor that I had remembered testing 7 years ago. All that with the addition of the TEXTURE knob and Silk Red /Blue option that I liked from the 542 Tape Emulator module. I tested the MBP and liked it, so I had to get one.
How do you typically like to use it? How was it used on this album?
First of all, I look at it as a tone box – I like the actual sound of the unit and tweak it to fit whats needed. There’s no need to compress too much in order to feel what the MBP can do. Even in low compression settings I feel the warmth it adds, and it grabs the sharp transients. Some projects benefit from a lot of compression and some just need a bit, or almost none – as most will say, “use your ears and turn the knobs til you find what you like”, and that’s true – no one specific setting will fit all, but you can always start with a low compression setting and hear what happens if you add more. If I find that I need to compensate for the loss of level due to the gain reduction I will use the make up gain knob and add more level till it sits right. The gain circuit on this unit sounds very good, so its easy to use it to add level without sounding grainy or blurred.
A lot of the current compressor designs have blend / mix knobs and so does this unit which makes it great for parallel compression. My Maselec MTC1X mastering console has a parallel blend function in it as well, so I don’t need to use the one on the compressor – but if you are using it as a stand alone unit inserted in your chain then this can be very handy.
What’s your favorite thing about the MBP?
The stereo field option is interesting as it lets you make changes in the perception of the stereo field and mono depth. You can move forward or backward mono information from the center with the depth knob, or widen or narrow the stereo field with the width knob, and change the perspective in between the two. A very powerful tool that can save a mix or make small enhancements if needed. I have used it in both situations and it worked well.
The TEXTURE knob and Silk Red / Silk Blue are a treat. Both work differently depending on where you turn the Texture knob. You can enhance dull mixes, or warm them if they are too brittle. It’s useful in various situations where I want to introduce some “character” to the sound.
On the Faith No More “Sol Invictus” album, the MBP was basically acting as a buffer by compressing very very little, but coloring the sound with the transformers. I set it to slightly compress the signal. Not as much to tame the big dynamics, but more for the sonic signature of the transformers in the circuit. They sound warm and open, but the transients are still present enough to give it punch while gelling them together to feel big and fat.
The sound of the unit is great. It’s a versatile compressor that can be used for a wide array of functions from dynamic shaping and stereo image controlling, to volume gaining and tonal coloration. All that with easy recalling. Its a very nice addition to the versatile collection of equipment I use and own.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring mastering engineers?
Find what you favor the most on a sonic scale and implement that into your workflow – this can be a certain style of sound or music you gravitate to. Listen to it on various systems and notice how it translates. The fundamentals will be apparent on most of them, and that’s part of the sound. In time, your ear will try to emulate it, and it will become noticeable in your work. Gear does help in getting results, but it’s important to remember that the tone is what we envision in our mind and ears, the tools are there to help us. Try different things and see what works for you. It’s always a journey – it can be fun and frustrating at the same time, but it’s all part of being creative in audio and music.
Thank you Maor!