Tom; this is another great idea for a thread, and it fits in perfectly with the concept of this forum!
You got me thinking about a number of interesting & challenging recordings we've done over the years; including empty aparments for solo violin, footballs fields and marching bands...hehehe. And god knows, I LOVE a challenge, although I have learned over the years to build a few caveats into our production agreements with clients about things beyond our control; who pays for 'EM, and what happens if there's a forced cancellation, etc.
First thing that comes to mind is a number of Carillon recordings we've done - three "instruments", three different locations. All of them incredibly challenging both in terms of capturing the monsters themselves sonically and the other impurities: Sounds of the world around them.
The first carillon we ever recorded was simply an audio bed for a video documentary for a completely restored carillon on Rittenhouse Square in Center City Philadelphia. ($650K for the restoration alone...wish they had left more $$ for the documentary!) Being quite naive at the time, we arrived to 15 degree temps in early January (at least the mics were in the sun!) and 30 MPH winds. (We used every kind of wind sock we could find - including FUR - which always seems to work the best!) We had to record some automated (midi) tracks in the middle of a weekday, so re-takes weren't a problem. We were only able to put up a stereo pair, and ultimately found the alley-way between the church and a 30-story highrise was the best spot. Fortunately, it was only a soundtrack for a video documentary, so we were able to bury the worst of it....sirens, busses, even the competing chimes of Phila's City Hall tower 6 blocks away.
This has led to other commerical recordings of carillons in the area (a market unto itself, we've found!) including one at Valley Forge and one at Longwood Gardens in Kennet Sq., PA. The Carillon at Valley Forge (Washington Memorial Chapel) is problematic in that it's only about 100 feet from Rt. 29; the ONLY road going through the entire area linking King of Prussia, Valley Forge and Phoenixville PA. While one would think it would be QUIET, it's not the case, even at night. Plus, there are people living nearby, so even if we COULD close the road in the wee hrs of the morning (with a permit from the National Park service), we'd have to get about 15 families alternate rooms in a motel for the night, or expect them to put up with endless retakes of carillon performances. (And anyone who's ever heard this can attest to how painful THAT can be! heheheh)
In the end, we chose early evening hours to record, and put three pairs of mics up around the perimenter; one was an incredibly wide pattern on each side of the base of the tower (The out-riggers, we called 'em) for detail on the smaller bells, and then a front and rear stereo (x-y) pattern for the main sound of the instrument. With 52 bells, this baby had a wide diffusion pattern, and an insanley HUGE dynamic range; not to mention incredible delay times, sonic build up, etc. The instrument itself is about 90 feet in the air (top of a tower) and about 15' on each side. We did three sessions out there in the early spring (best time to record: Minimal birds, bugs and critters) but we did get wind and rain. Aside from the wonderful experience and learning curve of doing this one, I also now have the hysterically funny (sort of!) sound of a pair of mics on a 20' stand wobbling and falling through the air, finally CRASHING to the ground and bouncing. (It's called: "Oops!.mp3" if anyone wants to hear it....) It was the wind that knocked it over (we added sandbags after that!) and fortunately the stand pole itself hit a bench, while the mics never actually touched the ground....whew!
Last but not least, this all led to another referral - to Longwood Gardens' Carillon in Kennett Square, PA - and we're in the middle of mastering a second commercial CD for them as well. This one was built in 2000 by a foundry in the Netherlands specificially for the place, and it's at least in a better environment, in a tower on the grounds of a 1000 acre arboretum, with the highway MUCH farther off. (So one would THINK, anyway!) Using everything we've learned to date, we were able to record at night, after the place had closed, with three seperate mic pairs (Two distant omni & one cardioid, up close) and still found amazing challenges. In addition to wind (and some rain), we got night birds, ferral cats, fighting squirrels, planes (jets & props), trains (Amtrak isn't far away, we found...) and automobiles - most of them hotrods & trucks, but wow, the sound really DOES carry easily, esp at night. Using walkie talkies to cue the carilloneur (that's the person who PLAYS the bells, for real), we dodged the flight-path of commerical airlines, timed the takes, and recorded between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. most nights.
Simply amazing how noisey our world really is, even way out in the suburbs of Kennett Square, PA.
I dunno if this is good or bad, but as more carillon owners get copies of these CDs, we get more calls....hahaha....I just have to remember to pack my ponchos & longjohns, my wind screens, prop lights, and longggggggggggg extension cords to power the rig - running out of my makeshift studio in my van! (Can't even run the heater in the car, of course...too much noise!)