SPAT. Say good bye to the old pan and send method of mixing and say hello to a true room acoustic simulator. On the surface, SPAT, seems as if it’s too hard to use for practical purposes. But that’s on the surface. I hope that this review demonstrates for you that once you dig around on it, SPAT is an intuitive and easy to use program that allows musicians, project studio owners and post production houses to achieve realistic room simulation with this one plugin.
For a great introduction to SPAT I refer you to Peter Alexander’s excellent reviews posted on Sonic Control.TV.
My review is coming from a slightly different place than Peter’s in that here I’m giving you a full application based on a big band arrangement I did with samples, mixing different libraries together to create the desired end in mind, which is what we all have to do when doing MIDI mock-ups and mixing libraries together to create our own ensemble.
I think it would be too involved to get into all that this program is capable of, including all the parameter settings. That’s why my focus for this review is on what I use SPAT for. In subsequent reviews I’ll get into into other uses for SPAT focusing on surround sound capabilities. So again, this review comes from the trenches, with audio examples, of SPAT used for a real life music cue that I had to deliver just recently.
The exciting part is for such a technically involved program, great effort has been made by Flux and IRCAM to make this program rather user friendly.
But first, a little history from the viewpoint of José J. Herring. Not at all historically accurate, but for sure exciting!
I first became aware of IRCAM during my conservatory days. I had come across a CD performed by Ensemble InterContemporain lead by one of my favorite conductors Pierre Boulez. IRCAM ((Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) is a leading force of music research and contemporary music of which many notable contemporary composers musicians and music technology professionals come together to further the art of music.
The particular recording I was in to at the time (circa 1990) had utilized an acoustic live chamber ensemble performing along side computers in real time recorded live. The music was referred to as “hybrid” music.
The entire CD was an acoustic phenomenon the likes of which I’d never heard before or since. Whatever they were doing, I thought, they do rather well and at the time was so cutting edge that I literally thought that this was the future of music. And to a large part the merger of live instruments and electronic computer based music, became the future of what I live with everyday.
Given my history with IRCAM through the Ensemble InterContemporain, I was really happy to get my hands on what I feel is a piece of golden technology, SPAT. I found that best way to get familiar with SPAT is to use it towards some creative purpose.
For this review I’m focusing on project studio music production. At the risk of exposing myself, there will be three examples of a big band piece I was hired to write utilizing clarinet recorded live, sax, brass, and rhythm section all using sample libraries. The first two examples highlight the problems I had with the production, while the final example illustrates how SPAT helped solved them.
The First Example: No SPAT
Booming Big Band (No Spat)
The above example is the cue where I used the old “pan and send” method to try and create acoustic space. No SPAT! Just me!
To restate the professionally obvious, as many of us working with samples know, we need to mix together several libraries. The problems inherent in that approach are many:
1. Samples recorded in different rooms;
2. With different amount of ambiance;
3. In different locations, etc.
In trying to compensate for that you have to do a lot of mixing and employ unusual techniques which I call MIDIstration– a counter intuitive mix of sample programming and engineering techniques made to get things to sound as close to real as possible. The results were less than stellar as you can hear.