Recording Sitar?

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by BobRogers, Mar 30, 2008.

  1. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    One of my daughter's friends is spending her HS senior year at a school in India and is getting sitar lessons. She'll be bringing one back in June. She and Alice have been singing and performing together since fourth grade. It will be interesting to see if the sitar fits into the mix. So I'm curious about how to record one. Any pointers? (Please assume zero knowledge about the instrument, other than the ability to look up the names of the parts on Wiki.) Thanks.
  2. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    I've recorded a few sitars since 2004, with varying degrees of success. Here's some advice you might find useful.

    Personally, I think there is no need to use more than one mic, or a coincident pair, placed about 30cm in front of the vicinity of where the strings are plucked. You're wanting to capture the best balance between the articulation of the playing, the drone strings, the resonance of the gourd and the resonance of the hollow neck. So, start about 30cm directly in front of where the strings are plucked, and move left or right along the instrument's axis until you get the desired balance. Then adjust where the mic is looking (turning it towards the left or right, along the instrument's axis) to fine tune the sound.

    You need to make sure the mic is perpendicular to the soundboard/neck, in the vertical plane, so that you get the drone strings and so on properly balanced. This is harder to achieve than it looks because when it is being played the top of the sitar usually ends up leaning slightly away from the player, resulting in the soundboard facing slightly towards the floor. That means the microphone needs to be placed at a point where it is looking up to the soundboard from the floor area.

    Considering that the musician is usually sitting on the floor, this doesn't give you much room to move!

    Things I have tried:

    1) Putting the mic in very close so that I could get the desired angle. This caught the desired brighness, but the overall sound was too close and didn't represent the entire instrument very well. The floor was carpeted, so I had no problems with reflections, but I wanted to move a bit further back - which would've meant boring into the floor!

    2) Putting a solid reflective surface on the floor in front of the sitar and trying to mic it from above, pointing downwards a bit to capture the reflected sound. This worked okay, but not brilliant. A technique best left for the didgeridoo...

    3) Putting the sitar up on the edge of a higher floor (say, a stage floor) so that I was able to bring the mic in underneath. I actually tried this last technique while recording a sitar player on a rowboat on the Ganges, in Varanasi, in January. It was a beautiful starlit night, not a cloud in the sky, about 9pm, and my students and I were blissing out on our own private little rowboat with our private little sitar concert. Some were laying on the floor of the boat, looking up at the stars. Others were smok... er... back to the details...

    The musician was sitting on the bow of the boat, about 60cm above the bottom of the boat. So, I asked him to move to the edge of the bow, overlooking the seating area, and brought the mic in from under there. Worked quite well, but not so useful due to the resonant cavity created in the hull of the boat where the microphone was. But I am sure this is a good idea and look forward to trying it again - except not on a boat! Many of the studios in the Himalaya have small platforms for recording floor-sitting musicians on; they're typically about 30cm high and will be just right for this purpose.

    I think the sitar is an instrument that lends itself very nicely to being closely miked (about 30cm or so) with an MS pair. You can adjust the MS ratio to get more or less of the neck sound, which can be handy.

    I've used my Schoeps MS rig for most of the recordings mentioned above, but I think a large diaphragm condenser would also give a very nice result.

    Okay, I hope that is helpful...
  3. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Many thanks. This is very helpful. I'll probably go with gin for the bliss. Bombay Saphire has at least an appropriate name.
  4. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    You know, it took me ages to realise that you were replying to my previous message. I'm thinking "Gin? Bombay Sapphire?". Then I made the 'bliss' reference to my message, and decided to hit Google:

    Got it!

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