Pro Techniques 11.1.2002


Pro Techniques from Peter Wolf

By Randy Alberts


If you watched early MTV or listened to radio in the '80s, the name, "Peter Wolf" conjures up images of classroom centerfolds, freeze frames, and stinky love. With all due respect to that band's rollicking lead singer, there are songs by another Peter Wolf you've heard and continue to hear a million times more often than any by the J. Geils Band. And if you currently live outside the U.S. and own a television, you're hearing this Peter Wolf's music every single day.

Going "A" through "Y" in Wolf's lengthy resume is like reading an archival history of the '80s. He produced eight #1 albums and 40 "Top 40" hits, including six Starship records, The Commodores' Night Shift, and the soundtracks for Top Gun and Inner Space; played keyboards and programmed tracks for Boz Scaggs, Heart, and Big Country; and was a member of Wang Chung. Then you get to the "Z's", as in Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

"I was a Mother, and there aren't many men who can say that," laughs Wolf in his German accent from his oceanside Malibu home/studio facility. He played keyboards and synthesizers for Frank from 1976 to 1980, as a member of one of Zappa's numerous critical mass bands that included Terry Bozzio, Patrick O'Hearn, and Adrian Belew, who performed on albums such as Joe's Garage, Sheik Yerbouti, Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar, and Tinsel Town Rebellion. Some 140,000 Zappa zealots at the famous Knebworth Festival had a message for the headliner. Recalls Wolf, "They carried this huge 'Zappa Is God' sign through the whole festival! Frank was great and we all really loved him. He was an articulate genius."

Who's Da Kommissar?
Following Baywatch each week, Wolf scores the soundtrack to the most-watched television show in the world. The German-produced weekly drama, Kommissar Rex, a cross between NYPD Blue and Rin Tin Tin, is, outside the U.S. and England, the #1 or #2 show in more countries than space permits to list (including Afghanistan!). Wolf and Paul Erickson, his engineer, piece episodes of Rex together every week in Malibu with his new Pro Tools|HD system and a Synclavier.

"I'm a piano player, arranger, and composer who somehow slid into being a producer back in 1983," says Wolf of the time David Foster asked him to produce Night Shift. "I'm an analog guy with a Neve console, old outboard gear, and a couple of Mitsubishis who just bought a new HD system. I've always loved the sound of those tape-based digital machines, but I've been missing, all along, the things I can do now with Pro Tools. The 192 kHz rate has made Pro Tools sound so good that I couldn't resist any longer! [laughs]"


Pro Technique 1 —
Copying Groups to build cues

"This isn't groundbreaking but rather a simple tip that saves Peter and myself so much time working on Kommissar Rex each week," says Paul Erickson, Wolf's scoring and music mixer, editor, and engineer, whose credits also include work with Celine Dion, Oleta Adams, and Patti Austin. "Instead of re-recording all new tracks for each time a new theme or cue comes up in the show after the introduction, I just Group-copy the whole thing and then make little changes here and there to give it an entirely different feel."

Each episode of Kommissar Rex opens with a music theme Wolf composes that sets the feel for the various homicide and criminal investigations encountered by Rex and his partner-in-crime-fighting officer friend, played by Gedeon Burkhard. These large cues are typically 32 tracks deep and repeat with subtle variations throughout an episode, so Erickson opts for the simplest out: Copy and paste.

"Using the Group function, I highlight the tracks so that those tracks become darkened and then I just do a copy," he continues. "I'll just go to our next cue and find the first frame of the picture and do a paste. I use the 1 and 2 keys on the number pad to nudge all 32 tracks into place, or if I'm in Timecode mode, I'll just nudge frame by frame. In Slip mode, which is selected in the upper left-hand corner of the Pro Tools edit window next to Grid, Shuffle, and Spot, I can move the whole group frame by frame once I've also selected Frame in the nudge window above the Timeline. Then, using the Separate Region command (Command/Ctrl + E), I'll first delineate a certain section to start and end, then separate that region. Then, I do Command/Ctrl + M to mute a whole section of a track and it becomes shaded. I'll separate and mute various tracks within my new section like this to quickly change the feel of the theme at each subsequent cue."

Pro Technique 2 —
Using Pitch 'n' Time globally

Similar to the technique outlined above in terms of saving the Wolf/Erickson production team loads of time, this Pro Technique has to do with changing a group's pitch, tempo, or key globally at a new cue.

"When Peter needs a tempo or key change to a new group cue, I like to use Serato Pitch 'n' Time's AudioSuite plug-in to change the length or the pitch of the whole group to mix things up," concludes Erickson before heading back to Malibu for another week's episode of the world's second-most-watched television show. "I simply do the same copy-and-paste group move as in the previous tip but, this time, I use this plug-in to change the tempo of the whole group or to experiment with different tempos. Once I have the Serato setting just right, I can repeat those steps for the remaining tracks. And if it's not a huge key change jump, then I can use Serato to do a pitch change to an entire group."