Composer Dominik Scherrer discusses location recording for Amazon & ITV’s ‘The Widow’ in South Africa with the RME Babyface Pro audio interface.
Dominik Scherrer is a British-Swiss, Ivor Novello award-winning and Primetime Emmy nominated composer, best known for his award-winning music for Ripper Street, Marple & The Missing. Working primarily from his studio in Spitalfields, London, Dominik recently scored the music for the BBC One & Netflix series Requiem (co-written with Natasha Khan, aka Bat for Lashes), and the four part sci-fi adaption The City and the City.
For his latest project, Dominik recorded and composed the soundtrack for the Amazon Studios US / ITV UK thriller The Widow, the majority of which was recorded in South Africa with an RME Babyface Pro. Described by the Los Angeles Times as “a compelling puzzle, a potato-chip show — as soon as you finish one episode, you reach for another,” The Widow stars Kate Beckinsale and Charles Dance, and is currently available to watch on ITV1 in the UK, and on Amazon Prime worldwide.
Here, Dominik kindly gives us a run-through of the recording process for the project, along with his thoughts on the RME Babyface Pro and RME Fireface UFX II audio interfaces.
“The Widow is an eight part thriller, commissioned by Amazon Studios US and ITV UK, and written and executive produced by Jack and Harry Williams,” Dominik explains. “I’ve worked with the Williams brothers in the past when I composed the score for both series of The Missing; the mini-series One of Us; and the recent Baptiste on BBC One.”
“The show is set in Wales, England, Holland, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). My working method on these kind of projects is to start early, if time allows. I write and develop themes during the shoot, and interact with the cutting room to feed them the kind of rough themes they need to make the cut work. I’ll then shape those themes into cues, orchestrate, record and get them mixed. I record a lot of the solo instruments early on, particularly where some improvisation is involved, so there is room to explore music avenues that would otherwise be difficult during the hectic post-production process.”
“I like to maintain a dialogue with the director and the producers, so I spent 17 days in South Africa, where the majority of the cinematography was taking place. For a week I was in a well-equipped studio in Johannesburg, where I recorded solo vocals, vocal ensembles, rhythm sections, and ethnic instruments. The aim was to create a thriller score, with weaved-in Central African compositional and instrumental elements that reflect the Congo, where most of the action is set.”
“I took a small portable Logic and Pro Tools based rig with me, which served for composing as well as recording. The rig needed to be lightweight, small, quick to set up, and inconspicuous, and consisted of an i7 MacBook Pro (with internal and external SSDs), and the RME Babyface Pro.”
Mobile Recording With The RME Babyface Pro
The Babyface Pro is RME’s compact, professional 24-channel desktop audio interface, and exemplifies many of the characteristics we’ve come to expect from RME. Clean, quiet microphone preamps, pristine AD and DA conversion, super low-latencies, rugged build quality (moulded from a block of solid aluminium), and equal performance on Mac, Windows and iOS.
The user-definable front panel controls, allow for quick access to functions like levels, gains, mono/stereo switching, 48v phantom power, level recall and many others.
To top it off, comprehensive routing and mixing is available with TotalMix FX, with EQ on every channel, Reverb and Delay effects sends, functions like loopback (internally route any input to any output, like a virtual patchbay), and extensive analysis tools in the form of RME’s DIGICheck.
“The preamps in the Babyface Pro are crystal clear,
and must have breathed new life into this mic!”
“I was going to take a selection of up-market mics, but was told ‘You don’t want to walk around Johannesburg with a [Neumann] U-87 in your pocket…’,” Dominik tells us. “So in the end all I took was my ageing, inexpensive AKG C3000 microphone. I recorded vocals in a hotel room in Durban, and later I had a beautiful house near Cape Town for recording guitars, bass and vocals.”
“Everything came out very high quality, even with the C3000 – the preamps in the Babyface Pro are crystal clear, and must have breathed new life into this mic! (I actually just bought another C3000 on eBay – the first generation, Austrian-built apparently sounds much better than subsequent versions). I also recorded electric Bass via the Babyface Pro DI input, which worked out very well too.”
Monitor Feeds With TotalMix FX
TotalMix FX is RME’s powerful monitoring and routing software controller, included free with all RME audio interfaces. Alongside EQ (and Dynamics on the larger interfaces), Reverb and Delay are available on every audio channel, and can be used for providing enhanced monitor mixes to artists during recording.
“I always use TotalMix FX during all my recordings, so the artist can enjoy a latency free headphone mix, which definitely helps with the timing”, Dominik continues. “Vocalists normally get a bit of TotalMix’s built in reverb for monitoring comfort, and potential intonation aid. Everything was recorded dry into Logic, and I did some rough mixes of the new themes while on the road, to feed to production.”
“Recording was taking place at a furious pace, and every morning between 7am and 10am before the sessions started, I had to compose new music on the mobile rig, to be recorded on the same day.”
“I always use TotalMix FX during all my recordings, so the artist can enjoy
a latency free headphone mix, which definitely helps with the timing”
“Back in London I did further mobile recording of Paul Clarvis, one of London’s eminent percussion session players. Because of the wide range of instruments involved we recorded in Paul’s garden studio, where he also keeps some of his huge collection of large and small drums, ethnic percussion, kits etc.”
“I took along my RME Fireface UFX II audio interface, and using the internal preamps we recorded with a Neumann U87 (close) and two DPA mics (stereo room). With the addition of some reverb courtesy of our Bricasti M7 and the Exponential Audio Nimbus reverb plugin, those recordings sounded huge, as they had to!”
“Meanwhile on our 2nd, nearly identical setup, my assistant Martin Thornton was editing, cleaning up and tightening recordings. The ‘B’ setup utilises a Mac Pro 2013 with an original RME Fireface UFX, with the A-rig using the new UFX II.”
RME Fireface UFX II – 60-Channel Audio Interface
The RME Fireface UFX II is RME’s 60-channel flagship audio interface (alongside the 188-channel RME Fireface UFX+), and is the update to the classic RME Fireface UFX. Special features include the DURec function, which allows for direct multi-track recording to an external hard drive or USB thumb drive, and a direct connection for the RME ARC USB, RME’s dedicated remote control for TotalMix FX.
We’ve previously spoken to Dominik about running the Fireface UFX II in his London studio – click here to read the full article.
“Once the cues were finalised, a string section (Chamber Orchestra of London), plus more large percussion, was overdubbed at Angel Studios in London into Pro Tools HDX. Those recordings were then re-transferred into Logic, and engineer Steve Parr mixed the score on our ATC SCM50ASL based 5.1 system (UFX II again), with final delivery in surround in 9 stems in Pro Tools again, to the re-recording mixer Richard Davey, at Jumbuck Film and Television in London.”
Finally, Dominik gave us his opinion on the Babyface Pro, and hinted about where he’ll be taking it for his next project.
“The Babyface Pro is compact, rugged, and has a convenient form factor, and the preamps are very good, with plenty of gain. We rarely have any technical issues with our two main rigs (UFX II and UFX) or the mobile rig (Babyface Pro), and everything is meticulously installed and maintained by my assistant. I am currently getting ready for more recording in Asia, for a new project that’s set there, recording in a big studio in Bangkok, as well as more recording on the portable rig.”
Our thanks to Dominik Scherrer. To find out more about his work as a composer and film scorer, visit his website at www.dominikscherrer.com
The Widow is currently available worldwide on Amazon Prime, and on ITV1 in the UK. The soundtrack will be released later this month on Dubois Records.
Find out more about the RME Fireface UFX II
Find out more about the RME Babyface Pro