Swineshead and recording a group in a different acoustic (1)
by, 05-13-2011 at 04:39 PM (1842 Views)
By this time I had done a first edit and preliminary mix of "Cold Genius" - see my blog entry of 23 June 2010. I was hired back for a long evening session resulting in at least 15 minutes of finished product for the group's promotion and publicity. I knew there would be several more musicians participating, and that sadly the location for our previous recording was not available. They made the arrangements to rent out a church. On the day of the sessions, I printed out the directions from Google Maps, loaded up the Jetta Diesel Wagon and headed into the country.
Once I turned into the final street to look for the address, I knew I had been there before. This is the location for a prestigious private chamber-music concert series; so prestigious that the series sells out almost immediately and the organisers don't bother to advertise or invite critics to the concerts. I was lucky to tag along with one of the board members and hear some of the concerts over a three-year period, sitting in different locations and hearing different ensembles. How would this work for recording?
A church acoustic can mean anything from "bathtub" to "dry and unpleasant", and range in size from a Gothic cathedral to a relatively small room. This church is shaped vaguely like a diamond with two corners cut off unevenly, and the benches and "stage" curving . The small end would be where the "stage" is, and the large end where the audience sits. In addition, the floor slopes toward the "stage" and there is a curved balcony filling about 2/3 around the space.
The first challenge was that the "stage" was bisected horizontally by a rail, the area closest to the wall being raised a few inches. I decided to place the harpsichordist there so the instrumentalists would have enough space below. Since there were more performers I moved the main and surround mic stands back further than before - I DO keep a stage plot and measurements of every project I record (in addition to mics, levels and gear)!
The slope meant that the rear mic stand would be higher than the front one - would this matter? The carpet would mean a rolling off of high frequencies - how would this affect the pickup of violins and harpsichord? The group would have to be splayed wide horizontally - would I lose clarity of the instruments placed far left and far right? If so, would increasing the distance between the left and right main mics solve this or detract from proper imaging? In an ideal situation, I would have placed the group "campfire" style around the main mic stand so they could hear and see each other better. The presence of benches prevented this...
I ended up using LESS distance between the main mics than previously. Instead of using spot mics on the two solo violinists, I placed them closer to the main mic stand for presence without being "in your face". I used spot mics for the other instruments. I ended up dropping the height of both mic stands; surprisingly this resulted in less harpsichord. One might expect more presence of a keyboard instrument when moving near (or below) the horizontal point of the top of the open lid. However, in this acoustic the results were different. There were the usual problems of traffic and unwanted occupants slamming doors elsewhere in the building, but we did get the required amount of music covered. I was home at 1am
When doing the final mix, a high-pass filter helped tame the boominess of the lowest-pitched instrument; in the stereo mix I also used less of the surround and centre channels. The amount of natural resonance in the building (plus a bit of the surround mics in the stereo mix) meant that I didn't need to create a reverb feed this time around. All in all, an intriguing foray into the world of natural acoustics and how one deals with them in real time!