Recording orchestra in a pit for the "Nutcracker Suite"...Just in time for Christmas!

Discussion in 'Orchestra' started by plus4db, Nov 19, 2010.

  1. plus4db

    plus4db Guest

    I have been hired to record the Nutcracker Suite for a TV broadcast for a local PBS station. Since most every one knows that particular Suite I am not listing the instrumentation here. The orchestra will be in a pit and I'm limited in being able to suspend any mics due to camera angles, etc. Any suggestions on how to get the best sound for this show? I have access to some decent mics (U87, AKG 414 & 451) for the main stereo pair. Which would you use since it may be a close proximity to orchestra and what kind of spot mics may be required?

    Thanks in advance for any input!
  2. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Ahhhhh yes. The Nutbuster season is upon us. Here is why I need to know which version, there are about seven different reductions in orchestration that I have played personally and likely numerous others I haven't-in addition to the full orchestra original. I mean the McAllister version is goofy but it was revised by someone else into a better arrangement. You get my drift. Actually, it doesn't really matter for a pit like it would in a concert stage.

    In general, the tympani and string bass are likely to be booming if it's a true pit. You will want low pass for them. Your main stereo pair in this situation is likely to be either M/S or AB omnis. IMHO the 451 will be too bright for a typical pit. If you can find some 460's or 392's that would be better-or a second 414. In a pit orchestra situation you often don't get clearly defined stereo separation due to the inevitable cement walls of the pit itself and the platform. Also, AB omnis (about 17cm spacing) will help diffuse some of the bass overload from the tymp and upright. You might want to spot the string section (stage right) with an omni as well as the celli (stage left) with a hypercardioid or pzm taped to the side of the pit wall beside them. The brass and winds will shoot out of there just fine. Trust me. If you haven't played this show or recorded it before, you will likely want a transparent limiter for the mouse/nutcracker battle scenes (6&7), Pas de deux and Apotheosis. Even a reduced pit will likely blow their scrotums out of their ears in these three sections. Err........I sensitively to the scenes on stage.

    Damn. Now I'm humming the horn part in my head after the mouse king dies and the couple head off to the dream sequence at the beginning of #8. (Shoot the oboe player if they try to double that no matter what the arrangement says!!!!!!)
  3. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Nutcracker season indeed. Hysterically useful information Jack!
  4. plus4db

    plus4db Guest

    Indeed!! Most useful and amusing!
    I was remiss in saying that I had access to a pair of U87s, a pair of AKG 414 and 2 pairs of AKG 451s. I also have some Senn MD421, SM 91, AKG D112 and some other stuff. I agree the 451 would most likely be too bright and I am interested in trying the PZM or hypercard for celli and omni for strings. How far behind the conductor and high over his head is acceptable with a M/S when you're trying to keep it as low as possible because of grumpy directors?
  5. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Is this a lowered pit? Or is this just out on the floor?
  6. plus4db

    plus4db Guest

    It is a lowered pit. The tip of the conductors head is pretty level with the stage floor...ugh.
  7. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Oh well, I'll just assume it's in a "proper" lowered pit. The orchestra will be below the stage and barricade wall so you won't have your mic's swinging in the breeze like if you were micing an orchestra on a stage. Often, the head of the conductor is below the barricade with his back literally to the wall on his 2x6 + plywood podium. Without seeing your particular scenario I'm going to say you could put the main mic's right smack behind/on top of the barricade pointing down into the pit. If you find a pzm, I would tape it way down next to the principal cello's knees. For the fiddles I might do the same or if I used a pencil omni I'd somehow just stick it in the middle of the concertmaster and conductor. You could place one of the U87's down by the tymp's too. You might pick up some definition this way rather than the pillowing rumble you otherwise might. Be aware that the spots may or may not fold back into the mix since this is for broadcast. M/S with the C414's would be your 100% guaranteed pattern to work for broadcast but I think I'd still go for the 17cm spaced omnis (probably still the C414's). The reason for the omni's is to diffuse all the 1.2 kabillion reflections you are going to have even from the strings. Also, the only reason to space the main pair even 17cm is that most pit orchestras are spread sideways more than front to back. In this way you might have to tape off six seats just in front of the pit but you won't intrude on the video of the ballet at all. For situations like this, I have typically used a round based singer/mc type stand with a boom arm on it. I put a sandbag (or in my case three bags of lead shotgun pellets-hey, it's Montana!) and I also have several of those On Stage Stands 7" and 12" toothed extensions. Basically the stand looks like an upside down U with the mic's of course hanging inside the pit just above the conductor's head.
    On-Stage Stands 7" Mini Boom |
    On-Stage Stands MS7201B | (mines an atlas but you get the idea)
    On-Stage Stands MS7411B | (just take the top off of one of your other stands and use it)

    If you place stands in the pit itself, be advised that quarters are ALWAYS cramped down there so you have to think out your placements otherwise the drummers and low brass will kick them over and the violists will trip on them coming in and going to intermission.

    Oh yeah, there is a children's chorus that will join in at one point. You will have to find out from the ballet master or the music director where they will be so you can shoot a cardioid their way. If it's in the pit you are golden. If it's on stage you'll want a little extra something for the broadcast. One year in a production I did the chorus was split and standing on the wing stairs to the stage. That sucked. I had hired someone to press record and I was of course playing in the pit where I couldn't see anything. Fortunately my lackey was there for the dress rehearsal (I always insist on walk throughs!) and we made some adjustments for the actual performance (a pair of CK98's on a stereo bar behind the main stereo pair).
  8. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    And if you find a Sabra ST4 to use as your stereo bar you can make very very fast adjustments of your main stereo pair.
  9. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Pits aren't that bad to record in. Done plenty of ballets and operas over the years. I usually will go with 4 omnis across the front of the pit wall- usually dpa 4006 mounted on the top edge. One on either side of the conductor and one at about the 2nd or 3rd row of strings. Don't usually need many spots- for the Nutcracker, perhaps the celleste depending on where it is located, perhaps woodwind spots, but not likely needed, and almost certainly harp. Keep it simple and you'll get fine results.

  10. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Good stuff Ben. If it's a reduced pit and the harp is reduced to keyboard, many times it's a Clavinova of some sort where you can get a direct feed too.
  11. plus4db

    plus4db Guest

    Thanks so much for the input. It feels a bit less ominous now. One final question/clarification.... since I don't have four pencil omnis to put across the front as Ben suggests I'm leaning toward the M/S pair. So that would be the 2 414s in Omni pattern (maybe still with the 17cm spacing) and what would you use for the center? Keeping in mind that what I have the most of is the 451s (cards) which I agree would be too bright. Maybe I could use them for spots in some cases. I guess I could also use the U87s in omni pattern for the centers and the 414s around the third row as Ben recommends.
    Haven't been able to find out the version but did find out the choir is in the pit and will have to split mics with the house there.
  12. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I think you have got a bit confused about M-S miking. You need a cardioid pattern (or fig-8) as the M microphone and a fig-8 pattern as the single S microphone. You can use a pair of C414s for this configuration. The capsules of the two microphones need to be set up on an axis perperdicular to the principal sound plane. The mounting axis will normally be vertical or off vertical inclined towards the centre of the stage.

    As an alternative, it would be interesting to try the U87 in cardioid as the M microphone.
  13. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    If you were going to use MS, then put one 414 in figure of 8 and one in cardioid. Mount them on a stereo bar so the tips are facing each other and at a 90 angle. If this is live broadcast you will need to decode at the preamp or mixer prior to sending the signal to broadcast. If you are mixing later in a DAW and sending tracks to the station later, don't worry about decoding yet. Just get good levels peaking about -12dB.

    To decode in your DAW place your cardioid file in track 1. Place your fig8 in track 2 and 3. Pan 2 100% left. Pan 3 100% right and invert the polarity. adjust the center with the pair of side channels to taste. To do this live on a mixer without the benefit of a MS decoder, you have to duplicate the fig8 into two channels via a splitter and pan/invert as described.
  14. plus4db

    plus4db Guest

    Well I definitely had it wrong! Obviously haven't used that technique in the past. We are recording live to tape so was hoping to come up with the best solutions to kind-of set and go... the turnaround is tight so no time to edit.. no decoding.
  15. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Do you have a mixer? To do this live you either need a decoder preamp like a Grace or True, or you need a mixer and a 1-2 split like the ART ProSplit. Tell me what you have or can rent and will advise from there. Might as well tell us what city in case someone here can recommend specific shops or hook ups.
  16. plus4db

    plus4db Guest

    It's being done in the Winston Salem NC area on a small, well-used analog Mobile Unit with a, ahem, 32 ch. Alan and Heath GL4000 console... 2 yamaha reverb units, a couple of compressors, 16 channel passive splitter and the mic complement mentioned earlier... that's about it.
  17. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    OK. So bring the cardioid C414 into channel 1. Put it on the bottom of the array facing down into the pit. Put the other C414 into figure8 with the "front" side facing left. Run this one into the splitter. Run the direct out into channel 2 and the transformer out into 3. Pan 2 left 100% and pan 3 right 100%. If you want to be high speed send 2&3 to a sub bus. Then you adjust your width with a single fader. Remember to turn on p48 on 1/2. Now the patterns of the 414s will stabilize after about five minutes. Adjust the initial gain identically on 2&3. Set the bottom faders at unity 0dB.
  18. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Forgot. Make sure the polarity is inverted on channel 3. Feed the main outs to the video guy making sure all faders in use are at unity/0dB.

    And I'd forget about spots. You won't need them and they'll just muddy the waters.
  19. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Example facing down into pit. Cardioid on left, figure 8 black side to stage left/audience right.


    How it looks facing the stage. Cardioid on bottom. Fig8 on top black side toward stage left/audience right.

    Now here is how it looks with the Sabra-Som ST4:


    Attached Files:

  20. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    I would be cautious with an M-S pair as your center in a pit for one reason. You have a conductor and sightlines to worry about.

    Mid Side can be good for orchestral work, but in a pit, you generally have to hide mics from the audience to keep sightlines open. This is the reason why I usually recommend 4 mics spaced evenly across the pit. Makes up for the lack of good placement options and still will sound quite nice. Sometimes I'll also use 2 cardiods on stands on either side of the conductor's podium. However, the issue there is waving hands and the conductor's sightlines with the orchestra. Some conductors don't mind it, but others want absolutely nothing near their podium.


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