Eclectic Blah: Panning Rules

Panning choices – there’s a lot of different approaches. You could start with an approach that properly resembles the acoustic setup on the stage. Or you could do the “Beatles panning”, from the time when a pan pot was actually a three-position switch with right, center and left. Or take approaches from different epoques of pop music (e.g. snare on the audience right vs. dead center, toms radically panned all over etc.). Here’s what I did for the Eclectic Blah album.

General Considerations

First of all, I wanted to make something that worked well audio-engineering-wise. That’s not too hard; if you remember to pan the important bass sources (i.e. bass drum and bass guitar) dead center, you’re safe.

Secondly, a pleasing sonic experience was sought – whatever that means.

And finally, with the tracks coming from different concerts, with different lineups, a somewhat coherent picture was the goal. You wouldn’t want the instruments to jump around from track to track.

When we look at the instrumentation, we have always trapset, bass guitar, guitar and synthesizers. Additional instruments include acoustic guitar (Spheres), percussion (Spheres, In Deep Water, Dreams of Hesse, The Porcupine), and saxophone (In Deep Water).

And of course, everything is different again for Driving Home Slowly…

The Standard Choices

Easy choices start with the trapset (always recorded on four channels as overhead L/R, snare drum and bass drum) and bass guitar. Overheads were panned hard left and right, and the bass drum and bass guitar dead center (obviously).

A first gentle surprise is the trapset’s snare drum: different to pop/rock choice, it’s panned half-right (where it is in the trapset), opposed to the standard center position.

Now to distribute the remaining standard instruments: I opted for guitar on the right and synthesizers on the right.

Additional Performers…

Let’s start with the percussion: on a lot of the relevant tracks, the percussion part is dominated by an additional snare (with snare off), played by Gruber, making for some beautiful interplay with Wechtenbruch’s trapset snare. So as the trapset snare is on the right, percussion (all of it) goes to the left half of the stereo spectrum.

For the remaining parts (acoustic guitar, saxophone), the remaining place of choice is center.

…and Additional Parts (and other Choices)

There’s also additional parts on some tracks, coming from the use of loop recorders both by Kühner (Harvey Wallbanger) and myself (Horst’s New Condominium). For Jan’s parts, I decided to somewhat pan them around wildly against Jan’s realtime playing, to emphazise the call-and-response Jan generated. For the part in Horst (which is the passive theme of the track), I used the center spot.

Also, in the same approach, I made small changes to the standard panning: the introductory synth didgeridoo (Nord Modular) on Tiny Bugs sits center, as does the massive polysynth on The Porcupine, simply because there’s no guitar in that section, and that leaves room for the snare interplay on that track’s coda. The same is true for the percussive Waldorf Q sound in the opening for Solid State – this is kind of a bass drum, so it should go center.

Eclectic Blah Panning Chart
Eclectic Blah Panning Chart

The Driving Home Slowly Special Case

For Driving Home Slowly, the available recording is a 2bus of the Reverse Engineering realtime remix performance by Luke and myself – meaning everything sits where it is on the recording.

More specifically, it puts bass drum, bass guitar and Luke’s guitar in the center, the snare half-right, the arp synths hard left and right, the polysynth left, and percussion and hihats wandering around (sometimes wildly).

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