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Recording a piano concerto - well above the head

Discussion in 'Piano' started by ghellquist, Jan 7, 2005.

  1. ghellquist

    ghellquist Guest

    still reeling from the experience a month later. I´ll try to post a few bits here and there of my experience, hopefully for your amusement. As I have thought about doing this for a while, I guess I´ll just start here and see how much I can manage to make into the first posting.

    So here it is.

    The amateur orchestra is going to play with a piano soloist. The main piece is the Britten Piano Concerto, opus 12. This takes a full orchestra, including four timpani, harp and the trimmings to go.

    And of course a good piano. After several tries we found a new, large, lovely Steinway in a museum. Only thing is that the people we talk to are a bit "unused" to having concerts. Anyway, planning goes ahead.

    A few other pieces are added to the program, among them Charles Ives - the unanswered question. This is played by a string ensemble, a lone trumpet off somewhere in the building and a wind section off somewhere else (start to see the "fun" I had).

    The day before the concert I was able to get half an hour to move a few cases in place. No setting up though, the guards where anxious to close the place up.

    On the big day, early rise. Fetch the timpany, drums, note stands, note stand lights, and of course the recording equipment -- five boxes and a number of stands. We were a few people helping out there.

    Great big rush in the place. A hundred chairs to move, setting the stage. And yes setting up the recording euipment.

    Scratching my head. This looks like nothing I have ever seen before. It is a rather large "room", but not really intended for concerts. On one of the long sides the piano stands on a small podium. The orchestra comes in front of the piano. The wind players told me afterwards they were really playing in the same time as the piano player (well, they should, sitting a meter in front of it). And the audience to both sides. Interesting to say the least.

    Now to make it even more interesting, I´ve never really recorded a piano in my life. And a few days before the concert the piano soloist told me she wanted to have a video and a recording to bring back to her home country to run on TV. The technique I generally use, ORTF, to my experience does not translate well into mono. And to make matters worse, I have only a day to make the mixing for her - my daytime job clashes here, having to go on a two day crammed business trip.

    Ooh, by the way, I´m playing as well, the bass trombone part. And while I´m at it I´m going to be the presenter as well.

    I´m in deep water, thats for sure. Well above the head it feels like.

    (To be continued )

    Gunnar Hellquist
    humble amateur
  2. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    an amazing story, Gunnar...... Hope you'll do OK in the next phase. (Making a mix of it!) I want to hear how you fared!

    This could almost go in the "horror story" folder. (did that get lost, or just buried at the bottom of the posts???? hmmm....worth resurrecting, for sure...)
  3. ghellquist

    ghellquist Guest

    I´ll be back with part two of the story. A bit busy right now, so will just point to two pictures and a sound snippet.


    (sorry for shouting).

    I will make compressed versions later.

    two pictures from dress rehearsal (about 1.3 MByte each)


    and a snippet of sound (about 12 MByte).

  4. ghellquist

    ghellquist Guest

    Anyway, part 2.

    There I am, trying to get everything in place. Luckily I had rented a 30 meter multi to be able to tuck the computer stuff away, it is a bit on the noisy side.

    At the same time I, just for the fun of it, had rented an AKG C414. Not sure about exact vintage but it was, lets say well-used. But it was also the only figure 8 microphone I had been able to scramble up on short notice.

    So here was the plan -- MS for the main pair. That should ensure mono compatibility, and I had plenty of time (I thought) to test things out and then bo back to plan B if it did not work out. Never done an MS before, but I have read about it. Fixed something together and up it went in the boom. Picture 2 shows it.

    But now problems started out. The orchestra had sort of filled out the full width of the room. And we had orders to leave 1.2 meters absolut minimum as an emergency escape route. A few of my high-school pals died in a restaurant fire on their graduation day, I´m not going to take that part away I had time to think. And the wall is a piece of museum art, probably not replaceable. Careful. So the mics end up real close to the wall and very far from the orchestra. Not and ideal position.

    As always things take longer time. When everythings finally set up, I suddenly realized I have no clue about how to listen to the effect of the MS mic pair. I´ve since figured it out, but a bit of panic there.

    And I find out that the harp player will not come until at the concert, not beeing part of the dress rehearsal (she had played with us at an earlier rehearsal). Anyway, in a great big hurry everything is in place. I add a mic here, add a mic there and suddenly I am out of my planning. Cannot remember which cable goes where. And the sound of the piano in the spot mics is terrible.

    And suddenly the doors are open. Time is out. Where are the video cameras? Aah, a friendly person has set them up. (Later found out, no one remember to start them up).

    Anyway the concerts goes real well. A make the audiency laugh and relax, the music comes as expected. Even the Ives piece, admittedly not easy listening goes home. And, well the piano soloist takes everyone with a storm. The concert has been a big success!!

    Time to relax. NO. Have to put things down in the boxes first. A helping hand places all my 30 meter cables in a big spagetti heap, amply mixed with cables belonging to the museum PA system. Takes a bit of work.

    Off to return the timpani and drums. Home to dump the stuff -- the orchestra is celebrating at a nearby restaurant. Me, no. Too stringed up. Early night.

    (To be continued)

  5. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    wow, gunnar, I feel for you! (having been there, sort've, done something like that...)

    Being a performing musician as well as the engineer is a daunting task, to say the least. You are often answering to two mistresses. (I used to run a tape recorder for the bands i worked in...whenever we needed a cheap demo or trial recording, I usually got the job.)

    Still, I enjoyed your account of the events. (And there's NEVER enough time, is there? :cry: )

    But time will tell about the results....and you've got Samlitude, as well. At least you'll have fun mixing it.

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