Recording location sound on the new Werner Herzog movie „Death Row“

Since many years I have the honour and pleasure to do sound works for the well-established German director Werner Herzog. Although residing well-off in Hollywood, Mr. Herzog still creates very unique documentaries of special kinds with special topics indeed, just to mention the 3-D movie we have shot last year on location in France „Cave of Forgotten Dreams“.

So when my phone buzzed in January this year I learned about the slightly puzzling idea of meeting some Death Row candidates and printing interviews within state prison units across the south of USA. We knew in advance how highly fragile yet delicate this work was supposed to be. On the instant I realized I may not use average sound equipment, I knew it had to be unobtrusive, rather small, reliable in terms of dynamics and battery power, but very flexible with audio connections, too. This led me to intensive internet research till finally I bumped into the Marenius Company from Sweden. I have to admit, I had never ever heared of it before, so I started digging.

interesting sound mixer 4220

There was this interesting sound mixer 4220 which, at the first glance reminded me of some Sound Device mixers, but not quite. And there was a special feature within this black box that immediately draw my attention: push a knob and it does record on a CF-card in parallel. So this ment, I was able to run and mix 4 different audio channels down to stereo tracks, send it to the camera tracks plus run my own audio back-up within my mixer! All of this for the prize of a regular film/video  sound mixer…

In reality it means even if the cameras are turned off, many of the people do come up with further interesting facts by then quite often– You will get it by capturing at least the sound. I knew – this was the right gear to use, so despite some uncertainty and total lack of any user reports I took the risk and ordered the 4220. I got quickly in contact with the company. To my greatest satisfaction Mr. Leif Marenius himself mailed back solving all technical questions I had, giving all possible hints, shipped the mixer plus usefull accessories within a day to my recording studio in Austria – bingo! A few hours of tests was enough to find out, that I have picked the right tool. I set a 24-bit 48k resolution, tested the free run time code jam possibilities, which are printed right into the bwf.-files and off I went to the shoot in the USA.

Noise-free yet powerfull

Well, there is not much to say about. All worked fine, the circuits are noise-free yet powerfull enough to drive any source. Very clever is the idea of choosing the use of phantom power on either channel 1 plus 2, all 4 channels or none. This clearly saves battery power, a very effective charging unit comes with it to power the unit up within a very short time span. For ENG users there is an integrated 1k test tone which I personally used rather rarely. Since the mixer is quite small, You need to have good control of Your finger tips, but I have asked for minimum size, so I think this to be ok. The usual filters are provided plus a three-step gain control per channel, all which worked fine.

Only thing I have missed is a limiter. In 24-bit I could well get around it, but if You are in a rather tough field situation, may be on a war report, where unexpected noise sources may come up or even in 16-bit recording You may have problems. But I guess future developments will take care of this.

All in all I was served well. Since we had a road-movie situation, meaning we where constantly driving across the south of the US, visiting many rather uninviting places and never knew before, what to expect I had made my best choice. I never had a power brake-down, the 2420 made it safely through the shooting days.
I can only strongly recommend this fine unit to all of my sound colleagues. If You look out for something special, reasonable prized – this is what You should consider to buy.