Advice needed for cello CD

Discussion in 'Strings' started by David French, Jul 24, 2005.

  1. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    First I apologize for having two demanding threads going at the same time (this is the other one), but some poor fool has hired me to do a CD of a three piece CD of cello music. A newly crowned Doctor of Music, he will be using the CD to get a job; naturally, I want to go absolutely all-out on this one. The pieces are Beethoven's Sonata for Cello and Piano no. 4, David Popper's Hungarian Rhapsody, and Prokofiev's Cello Sonata.

    I am here to kick around ideas. This is the first time i'll have total control over a project. I get to decide where they sit, the acoustics of the hall, etc., etc. I feel I could to an ok job, but since I know that any of you could smoke me, I would love to hear what you would do. I have alread read all relevant threads on this site.

    A couple things that I do know are that the piano sounds crappy from the front center at medium heights. Also, I want to create a very smooth sound for the cellist and make him the clear center of attention but without sacrificing the piano sound. I will have access to just about any standard mic you can think of.

    Naturally, I'm pretty nervous, and perhaps the true purpose of this thread is to calm me down. Thanks in advance guys. You're the best.
  2. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Congrats in advance, Dave! And no, you're not being too demanding; frankly I wish we had a little activity overall on this forum - it's what it's here for, remember. :cool:

    Couple of early questions to ask about the room, etc. What are the acoustics like? Will you have some reverb to capture as well, is it a recital hall, symphony concert hall, or....?

    It's good you've got control of everything; you'll have a great time doing this. I'm hoping you'll be recording to mutlitrack as well, no matter how great it sounds there on location, you'll no doubt want to be able to make adjustments after the fact.

    Just off the top of my head, it's been SOP for me to use a stereo pair of omni's on the piano, sometimes a third mic at the tail for some detail on the bass strings, a solo mic (or two, at least initially, for choices) on the cello, and another pair of omni's out in the hall for ambience/reverb. Beyond that, it becomes fair game game for placement and choice. I know what I like and use, you'll no doubt get a ton of good advice here as well.

    As for placement, it's probably a good idea to start with the standard cello-in-front-of-the-crook of the piano setting, and modify from there. Your musicians may want to modify this a bit to better suit their visual contact and comfort. I like pulling the cello out in front more, to give you a little room for the piano mics, and to let them have a better view of each other. I've got some good pics of previous cello & piano sessions; one with a Bosendorfer, of all things, the other with a Steinway D. I'll try to post them, or get them to you. Both had their moments. ;-)

    Other than that, let the games begin, you'll get off to a great start with advice from this group. :cool:
  3. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Hi Joe!

    The hall is the same one i've been working in, Sursa Hall

    It's a 600 seat, tall shoebox style hall with variable acoustics. There are floor to ceiling panels on the sides that can either be wood or fibrglass. Also, there's a curtain system on each wall, the ones on the sides closing off a small reverb chamber. I think we have an RT60 range from about 1.5 to about 2.0. Depending on how you mic it, you can get bright or dark verb, and the very is nice and homogenous. It really is gquite gorgeous ambience to my ears and I would definitely like to feature it on this recording. Check any of my recent recordings for the sound of the hall.

    I was delinitely thinking about butting a good deal of space between them, 10-20 feet, and having the cellist face the piano. Spaced omnis between with a spot to anchor the cello in the center is one option i'm considering. I doubt a blumlein in the middle will work because the piano sounds crappy from the center in my experience thus far.

    Joe, I'd love to hear any cello and piano stuff you've done if it's possible. Also, could you, or anyone else, please expound a bit on your ambience capturing philosophies? I've been toying with the idea of aiming cardioids at the back of the hall.
  4. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    All this is opinion and it may only be worth what you are paying! That said, my first comment is DO NOT have the cellist face the piano. BOTH instruments must speak into the hall for many reasons.

    Next, the cello is the hero, so find mics that make him sound like he dreams of sounding. TLM193 (U89, TLM170-- all same capsule), maybe MKH 40s or Royer stereo ribbon. Mic him in stereo, because the instrument has width. Adjust with panpot/mic technique to make the width appropriate. If the condenser cardioids win, then start at zero degree angle and 8-inch spacing, at least 4 feet away. Try having him sit/play on a wooden platform for added resonance and to avoid floor reflections.

    For piano, try for full stick. The M-S MKH sound of yours from a while back was excellent. Make it wide but not too wide, and rich but not too close.

    Finally, a good pair of omnis (4003/6 or Schoeps) out to at least edge of stage. Pan hard L/R and adjust height and spacing to taste.

    That is where I would start. Allow at least 30 minutes for adjusting and multitrack so you can make critical mix decisions in a known monitoring environment.

    And one final thing-- charge at least 10 times your usual rate!

  5. klaukholm

    klaukholm Guest

    Congratulations on all the work you are getting!
    A good friend of mine worked there as the conductor I believe, Tomasz Golka.

    I have a couple of thoughts about live recording of recitals.
    Its important to let the performers do what they do unobstructed.
    The better they are, the more they will have thought about placement and balance. They will adjust their sound and articulation to the hall. And finally, they will use the banners to their advantage. Remember the cellos best sound eminates in a 90 degree spread from the top/lid of the instrument. From the side the sound will be less clear (and the cello will sound 20% cheaper)

    Typically stringplayers and pianists have different opinions on banners. This is where the fun starts. Pianist often like less banners in the back than strings. Here you have both. Dont get in the way of their choices - listen and learn.

    Few mics will work for you if the hall is good, which seems to be the case. I have heard great recordings of recitals done with a simple ORTF. My choice for the best cellosound would be spaced omnis DPA 4003/6 or schoeps mk2. However, you could run into audience noise problems. Maybe a modified ortf with wide cardoids would be a good compromise. Make it wider and aim the mics even more out.
    If the cellist really needs a good recording, I would suggest getting some hours in the hall before the recital and record without an audience with spaced omnis. After the recital he/she migh just not want to play the program again.
    It should be unnecessary to use spots on a well rehersed duo with those compositions, and it will look a lot better to the audience.

    Wish you the best
    Kjetil Laukholm
  6. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Rich, thanks a bundle for the advice. What do you think about having the cellist sit behind the piano? That way they could both fire into the hall, but they could still communicate. I'm trying to set up a position that would be ideal for communication and recording. One thing I will not do is have the cellist off to the side.


    Yes, Golka did Die Fledermaus here. I never met him, but I've heard nothing but good.

    This is a reocrding session, not a recital. There will be no audience.
  7. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    I do not think the musicians would (or should) agree to putting the cello behind the piano.

    Instead, try seating the cellist so he is almost directly facing into the hall. Rotate the piano counter-clockwise so they can see one another and the rest should be relatively easy to sort out.

    With that arrangement you could try tall spaced omnis at the edge of the stage and a touchups on cello.

    The most valuable thing you can use here are the ears of the players-- even tho the location monitoring may be lacking, have them listen and tell you what sound right and what sounds wrong and then figure out how to fix it. Go with the ears and your instincts. And don't put too much pressure on yourself. Chances are that when you listen to this in 10 years you will wish you did things differently regardless of what you do!

  8. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    I don't follow you. If you rotate the piano 90 degrees counter-clockwise, they would be back to back, right?
  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey David -

    This is a friggin cool gig - one that should be the highlight of your classical portfolio. As such, make sure you get the artists to sign release forms allowing you to use the recordings (copyright permitting) wherever you feel the appropriate need.

    As for the piano arrangement Rich is talking about, you should swing the piano around so the the tail is facing back stage left at about a 45 degree angle - just enough that the pianist and the cellist can have a clean line of sight - not too much though (45 degrees might be way too much, it's just a frame of reference).

    Try the tall omnis as Rich said. Space them well and be sure that you get the good distance between the mics and the players. Your ultimate goal on the spacing and placement of these two mics is so that, if someone were to hold a gun to your head and say "drop all the levels but 2!" you could easily use just these two mics and still get a viable recording. IOW, don't let too much ambience fill the mics and then fix it with spots. Simply put, get a good balance.

    Then, spot just a tad (I was about to put in a very tasteless PMS joke here - feel free to make up your own). Perhaps a spot on the cello to help accentuate some of the articulations and maybe a spot on the tail of the piano to make sure that the low end doesn't become a wash.

    Let us know how it goes.

    BTW - didn't BSU just get one of those huge CrapTools consoles? What do you think about it?

    Oh yeah, I've burned the other track to disc now. Thanks!
  10. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Man, I must be having a brain fart or something, becuase i'm still not getting this arrangement you guys are talking about. If the cellist is facing the hall and the piano is pointing to the back corner of the stage, they still can't see eachother.

    Yup, we have a D-Control. I've been using it for a year and I actually kinda like it. It's ideal for controlling PT, but it ins't strictly necessary. It's just a big, overpriced control surface.

    Also, did you see this?
  11. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Yep, I sure did. I'll be adding comments to that one soon. BTW, I love the pic!!! My wife gets jealous that I look at pictures like that in the same manner that I used to look at her!

    As for the set up here's a graphic (a rather sucky one - the lines are representative of the instruments)

    Piano / Cello | (Down is the front of the stage - the pianist has their back more or less to the non-existent audience but can easily see the cellist for their body language and tempo indications. As well, the cellist can see the pianist out of their peripheral vision.)

    Does this make sense or do I just need to go to bed?
  12. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Isnt' thsi just like the dreaded soloist-off-to-the-side situation we all know and hate? How am I going to get a good cello sound on a main pair if i'm micing the cello from the side? Also, won't me very be lopsided if i'm not symmetrical in the hall?
  13. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    My $0.02...

    First of all, have your cellist sit in whatever position he is going to feel most comfortable in. The most important thing is the quality of the performance. You'll only get that if they are sitting in a standard performance position.

    Now, being a recording session, you are (of course) able to set things up as you'd like.... I'd first try to make it sound as good as possible as an ensemble- in other words, try to make the stereo pair work. You may find that the height of the mics for the cello is significatly lower than for the piano. If this is the case, you may want the hall to provide you with a riser for the cellist- raise the height of the instrument to make both work. Keeping a cohesive ensemble sound acoustically (without lots of extra mics) will probably benefit you substantially.

    Beyond that, then spot the cello and the piano- you may want to add these mics in at a very low level (time aligned) to clarify their sounds. If it is a quality hall, I'd also put ambience mics out in the hall. Either a pair of omnis out in the back would work well or perhaps a pair of hypercardiods facing back from the stage would work...

    It looks like a beautiful hall to work in... Should be a fun gig.

  14. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I worked with a GREAT producer for a number of years. One of his kudos was "keep the musicians happy and everything else will be easy" I think you need to keep the musicians close to each other for eye contact and I personally think they will feel the most comfortable in their "normal" concert arrangement. Having said that you do not have to have them front stage and you may find that by moving them back from the edge of the stage that they will be easier to record and you may have more control over the situation and that the reverb and other acoustical factors maybe more improved with a different placement on stage. I use to work in a hall that had a large stage but was rarely used for large ensemble work and most of the stage went unused for concerts because most of the concerts were small ensemble or solo in nature. I was able to get some really great recordings by simply using the middle of the stage and not doing everything at the front. One recording I did in this way was so succesful that it got a three month's run in Stereo Review as an Editor's Choice. As to microphones - all the suggestions so far have been good. If you do not have the capabilities to do phase timings of the omni microphones I would simply not use them. I am, as you know, very partial to the Decca Tree for recordings and think that this maybe a good technique for you to use on this recording but only you know what will work for you and what you will feel the most comfortable with and that will make the recording that much better. A dream gig and I hope it goes well for you.

    MTCW and FWIW
  15. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    We have found that the best sounds do in fact come from having the players in the middle of the stage instead of the edge; all concerts in the hall even feature this placement. Might have somethign to do that we are surrounded on three sides by RPG diffractals.

    I do have time alignment capabilities and use them frequently. I am using a Yamaha DM2000 and tracking to DP. I have never used Decca Tree and as such should probably avoid pulling it out for this one. We do have a nice set of three M150s though. :shock:

    Still confused on musician placement...
  16. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Imagine that the the cellist is in the center of the stage facing the audience. Now imagine the center of the piano is in the center of a clockface-- rotate it so the foot is at 1 or 2 and the pianist is at 7 or 8. Now pull the piano towards the front edge of the stage until it the cellist is about even with the pianist.

    That is the point at which I would start, and move things and people until it works.

    Listen carefully to make sure that the RPGs do not generate such strong reflections that the imaging is murky. No one will have any trouble hearing each other with a duo, and you may find the sound cleaner without the influence of the RPGs.

  17. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Still confused on musician placement...

    Dave, I think what everyone is trying to suggest is that, within reason, you must work with how THEY perform together. As tempting as it is, you cannot be the tail wagging the dog when it comes to how the musicians want to sit and interact with each other. (Follow the Audio Hippocratic Oath: First, Do No Harm! :wink: )

    If your job is to truly capture what's happening in that space as it's being performed, then you need to be ready to address how they set up, and not force them to YOUR rules. Certainly, an inch here or a slight turn there is ok to attempt, but it's counterproductive (from their perspective) to force them into something uncomfortable, or simply the opposite of what they've spent their careers learning to do.

    For both the pianist and cellist, they've learned these pieces inside and out the tried and traditional way, and unless you're Maya Beiser or someone really experimental, you'll probably want the same setup that countless cello's and their pianist have used over the centuries. NO WAY in the world should you even suggest putting the cello behind the piano.

    There's always a sweet spot and mic combo that will get you there, with minimally invasive techniques. If you expand their basic setup to allow room for mic placement, you should do quite well, esp if you track it on multitrack and mix the best elements together later, after the visiauls and distractions are over.

    Before you put a mic anywhere, try to attend a rehearsal, and simply walk around them playing together and just LISTEN. Make no assumptions, don't do a thing to distract them, and keep an open mind/ear. Move out front, move downstage, roam the house if you want; you'll hear something different in every place you stand. Sleep on it, if you have the luxury, and then go with your gut.

    The rest is a crap shoot like everything else in this biz. You'll get it right, I'm sure.
  18. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Boy, if there was one mic array that I would not use on a small ensemble, it is a Decca tree. They sound wonderful on large groups (orchestras, bands, etc...), but for small groups, I can't stand the imaging.

    I really don't see a need to stress- Have the face into the hall (the stage is built to project sound into the hall) and sit in a manner that they are used to. From there, you'll have the performance set so you'll get a good performance. Micing then becomes secondary to the music.

  19. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I would go for a normal setup cello in the curved part of the piano (wider than normal spacing between the cello and the piano) with the piano on full stick ( or off althogether if that is allowed )since it gives a very nice open feel to the piano but does not push out the sound as it would on full stick. Two omnis on the piano should do it justice and a seperate omni on the cello. If the hall is at all good, and I assume it is from your comments, then use it to its full advantage with Omni mics. MTCW
  20. David French

    David French Well-Known Member


    I understood what the placement looks like; what I don't understand is how this setup is conducive to recording. if you want to get them both with a stereo pair, you would have to have the pair between the players. The piano sound should come fairly easily, but you would be micing the cello from the side which would result in a dull sound. Also, I think, with just about any standard configuration, the reverb, coming mostly from the direction of the hall, would be concentrated in one side of the image, right? If i'm way off base here, please let me know, but I am very new to this so I hope you all forgive my ignorance.

    Joe and Ben, thanks for the encouragement. Th reasons i'm stressing are self doubt, youth, and the desire to do well. I'm sure you guys remember a time when you were young and unsure. Thanks for being here. I really appreciate it.

Share This Page