Venue Problems!

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by John Stafford, Jan 14, 2005.

  1. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    I have to record a concert in a church in March. The problem is that the organ is at the back of the venue, while the choir will be on the altar steps.

    Normally the organist wears headphones so she'll be listening to the choir without a delay, so the sound of both sources sound synchronised about half way up the church.

    Here's my dilemma. When the sound of the choir hits the back of the church it will be picked up by the organ mics so there'll be an echo on the recording. If I delay either set of mics, it will only make the echo happen even later. I can't think of any solution to this problem, except placing a single array of mics midway between the two sources, but it's a large Georgian building, so it's extremely reverberant, and I'm afraid it will sound like mush.

    Another recording is taking place in a mediaeval cathedral. It's a stone building, so I want to capture its character. The problem here is that the organ is up over the left side of the altar. I was thinking of using a shot gun to mix with the right channel, but the chance of matching the sound in a convincing manner seems pretty remote. I'm afraid the recording will sound odd if the organ is on one side only, although there's a stone wall about twenty feet away on the right hand side of the altar, so I'm hoping that the sound will have bounced around a bit by the time it gets down to the mics, so that it won't sound too one-sided.

    Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

  2. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Hey John; I love challenges, don't you? :twisted:

    Seriously, sounds like you may want to have a clause in your production agreement with either one of these places (just in case it doesn't work out; you need to CYA!)

    In the first situation, hopefully the organist has done this sort of thing before, and knows how to handle a sluggish choir.

    Is the organ antiphonal; are there pipes up front as well as the back? That could work out ok indeed, if the organist calls the shots and simply monitors the choir to know they're still singing along.

    If not, (and if the pipes are only in the back) they may all just keep slowing down...the organist follows the singers, who will always hear the organ late, who plays in time with the singers...who keep coming in later and later. It's like what happens when non-pros speak on a mic in a room with really long

    IMHO, the BETTER way to do it for either cases is to have a conductor, with arms visibly waving about and all that, and BOTH parties - the choir and the organist - follow the conductor, NOT each other. The conductor could possibly stand in the middle of it all, or better yet on a video monitor for one (perhaps the organist) and in-person, in front of choir. (I've seen things crazier than this on football fields at major half-time events, with hundreds of marching bands and performers hundreds of yards apart, watching one of two or three conductors, all watching each other across the 50 yard line, on either side of the field. Someone is the "Real" conductor, of course, while the rest keep (hopefully) accurate time.) Your problem, though, as you said, is to make it sound GOOD. :?

    You'll probably want to mic each group fairly closely in their own zones, (on multitrack) and hope for the best. You will get SOME pickup of the delayed sounds as well, but it could possibly work out if everyone's truly in sync.

    Perhaps put a stereo pair on the choir (and front organ pipes), a stereo pair on the organ (in the back?) and another pair in the middle - which would actually become your reverberant mics for BOTH, when you stop to think about it. If they do pull this off in sync, then you could mix the choir & the organ together across the front as a stereo soundfield, and dial in the "middle" mics to taste, as your ambient/reverb pairs.

    OR, if you did a surround mix (there I go again!) you could put the organ in the back, the choir up front, and spread the stereo ambient pair around the middle-to-rear of the whole mix. (Could be fun, esp with those organ pedals!)

    I've actually done something like this recently in a smallish (75'-100' front to back) church with minimal problems. Organ, chamber orchestra and small choir in the loft, main choir down in the front of the alter, with conductor at front, and a "relay" conductor in the loft. Aside from the fact that the chamber orchestra mucked it up in a few places, the timing worked out great.

    As for problem-child #2, Are all the organ pipes on the LH side of the santuary?

    If so, why not mic the organ just as it is, in stereo as well, and "move" the image over into the rest of the soundfield when you mix. (Also, does it play alone, as a solo instrument, or will it be accompanying more singers in the front?) Although the organ is physically situated on the LH side, can you not mic it in stereo with respect to ITS location, but not the church's? You could put seperate ambi mics up anywhere you'd like in the church for reverb and "natural" sound, but for the direct portion of the sound coming from the organ, you may just want to capture it as it comes right out of the instrument, as you'd face it, (with the altar to your right, behind you) that of course means putting both mics up on the left side, away from the middle of the church.

    Dunno if either of that will help, but you'll certainly be the expert on this, after you're finished! (I'm curious to hear how you fare in a more reverbertant space, I've got another one coming up very similar to yours in the spring, in a MUCH MUCH more reverbertant space, with huge delay times to deal with.)

    Good luck!
  3. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    I sure hope you post clips for us when you're done, John!
  4. mathieujm

    mathieujm Active Member

    I made a lot of recordings in this situation with my gregorian choir, but never did the organ play with the choir. It seems to be very uncomfortable for the players and listeners (and the recordist...).

    Here in France in this situation, we always turn round the pew and the choir stay at the back under or in front of the organ. And we get a video to the organist to see the conductor. I made a Jongen Mass CD recording like this with an amateur choir and it was very difficult...

  5. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Here's a stupid question for you John... why can't you move the choir to the back?
  6. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Thank you all for the input -I appreciate it very much.

    David, I'll post clips if I'm not too embarassed! They won't let me put the choir at the back as it's a concert. In that particular venue, the choir is always at the front anyhow, divided in two with sections facing each other. I don't know how different churches are laid out around the world, but here Protestant churches often have the choir in this arrangement, and Catholic churches are more likely to have the choir at the back. This particular place comes from the Protestant tradition, although it's now multi-denominational, and the choir is always at the front. This begs the question; why is the organ at the back? Bizarre, but that's the way it is.

    Jean-Marie, I think they might have a video link between conductor and organist, or maybe they use a mirror. I'm not sure about the visual side, but there's an audio link with the organist wearing headphones.

    This particular organist and the choir always work this way, so they don't have any sagging problems, although I don't know how visiting choirs cope!

    The pipes in the organ are all behind the organists head, facing the front of the church (she has her back to the choir, whith the pipes in between, so she can't see what's going on!).

    Iv'e been thinking of some very elaborate solutions to this problem -most of which are probably unworkable! The simplest idea is to use a pair of omnis a bit back from the choir. These will pick up both choir and organ. Then if I use cardioids with some sort of simple baffle close to the organ, this should minimise the effect of the arrival of the primary wave front. Hopefully, the worst that will happen is that the reverb will appear a little longer.

    Another idea is to use M/S with omnis with one side of the fig8 facing the organ. If the omnis are phase coherent enough, I should get a very sharp distinction so that left is choir and right is organ, so I can junk the choir input. I'm not sure this will work, but I might try to experiment with something like this.

    Regarding problem no2, I was afraid that if I do that there will be a lot of choir on the left hand side of the organ pair, but it looks like this is going to be much easier than I thought, as the organ sound bounces all over the place, so it doesn't really sound like it's at the left at all -phew!

    Thanks for all the input!
  7. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    I really love reading what you guys have to say. If this problem came up in one of my projects, i'd probably try to close mic the organ with a 57 ;) :lol: Seriously, coming from a pop, pop, and more pop world, this acoustic recording stuff really seems fresh to me. Kepp writing and i'll keep reading and learning! You guys are great.
  8. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    A Neumann U57, mmmm.... was that between the U47 and U67?

    Sorry I couldn't resist!

    Seriously though, it did cross my mind to try some sort of dynamic. The 57 would be my first choice, but that's partly ignorance on my part, as I don't know many dynamics. It would be interesting to put several across the front of the organ, in which case they'd have to be in rather close to avoid phasing issues, but I don't know if the organ would take kindly to being close-miced, given that some pipes are a good bit further back than others. It could happen that some notes would appear to jump into the distance. It's worth a shot though.

    Thanks for the suggestion!

  9. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Actually, If I remember my Neumann history correctly, the UM 57 came before the U47. It was one of the first multi-pattern mics ever made. Uses the same capsule as the 47 but different electronics. Sound is similar, but lacks some of the high-end that the 47 has. Still a beautiful "larger than life" sounding mic.

    Thinking of using them for my next decca tree needs...

  10. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member


    One of my favorite expressions -

    "If you can't impress 'em with knowledge, dazzle 'em with bullsh*t."

    So, on that idea, here's my take on how to get the best out of this no win situation.

    Mic the choir the way you would normally mic them. Personally, I would try to keep them as dry as possible - quite a task in a venue like this. So, maybe ORTF.

    Then, try to close mic the organ. If they'll actually let you into the pipe catacombs, try to put a couple omnis in there. If not, perhaps another ORTF aimed at the various pipe chambers.

    Then, I would fly a pair of omnis in the center of the building. Try to keep them as equidistant from both sound sources as possible.

    You'll get bleed, but don't worry about it. Pull the omni mics into the equation for that "you are there" reverb. Take it to the point where it's just about syruppy and then back it off a notch. It may not make the best recording ever, but your audience/customers will probably dig it. Afterall, they're gonna put it on their Aiwa stereo systems and put the surround sound mode on "Arena."

    Do I sound bitter at the world right now?

  11. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Ben, while I was joking about my ignorance of dynamics, I have to admit to being rather ignorant about this mic. I know it's available at a lower cost than the U47, but the repair/restoration costs still keep it way beyond my means.

    I wonder how good the current Microtech Gefell issue is?

  12. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    The Recent Microtech UM 75 (the 57 limited edition reissue) certainly looks cool. I was talking with the folks that distriute MG at the NAMM show this week and they basically said that the 75 was made to emulate the best UM 57's ever made.. Sales speak I'm sure, but knowing the quality and attention to detail that MG has, I would't be surprised at the level of quality.

    I believe the UM 92 is also a UM 57 clone and I'm sure it is fine, but I've never used it...

    Still, with all of these re-issues, in many cases, I prefer the originals. The UM 57 has kind of a high noise floor by today's standards, but the sound is just so lush and huge. When I've used them on orchestras, it just sounds massive. I balance the lack of top end with a good pair of flanks, but when done, it sounds great.

  13. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Thanks Ben
    I'd be very interested to get my hands on one of those. Perhaps some time in the future....

    I'm going to London in a few weeks, and I'm sure I'll be able to find an MG dealer -I'm interested in trying so many of their mics. Their Irish dealer is further from where I live than London.

  14. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    For some reason my reply to your post never showed up. Maybe I hit the preview button instead!

    Anyway, I appreciate the ideas. If I had my way, I'd record during rehearsals. I'd like to record the choir, and overdub the organ, or place the choir underneath the organ. A previous organist from the venue in question showed me a cool trick to blow the bellows up -maybe I could break in the night before, so they'd have to sing a cappella!

    It did occur to me to place a pair of mics halfway between choir and organ, but using a different overall arrangement. I think your solution would work better. The only problem is that I still don't have enough equipment, but I have two months to sort something out.

    My dilemma now is whether I should spend my money on something like a MOTU Traveler or one of the RME boxes to get more channels. I've been quite surprised by how difficult it is to get digital audio onto a laptop -I would have expected there to be so many different options. Maybe I'm just a miser, but I hate spending money on anything that isn't a microphone!

    BTW I know you've spoken highly about Sytek amps in the past. How do they stack up against others such as the Grace? I'm also thinking about the DAV BG1 or BG2 (4 channel).

  15. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member


    For the money, the Syteks are good stuff. In comparison to Grace - they're not quite there, but they are pretty nice. I missed an opportunity to get a set from one of the users here on the board and every once in a while, I kick myself for it.

    I also urge you to look at the Benchmarks. For the money, they can't be beat - I would say they are very similar to the Graces. I think I had a small debate with them regarding their quality with Chris from LDA somewhere here on the forum, but in all, I think he agreed they are quite good for the money.


    FWIW, I would seriously consider the RME stuff if you need to add a few extra channels. The stuff is good - not world class, but really good.
  16. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Thanks Jeremy
    I really only need the RME for the more lowly conversion. I've heard the dedicated Benchmark converters are pretty special (and on my list), and once the RME is verging on 'professional' standard, it should do nicely. The benchmark pres would also solve a lot of problems too.


    PS looking forward to hearing you talk about you new Microtech Gefells!
  17. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Putting mics in pipe chambers would yield a sound as unblended and strident as putting a mic inside the bell of a brass instrument. Even close micing gives a nasty sound-- at least to the ears of any organist. Better to get back a few meters and use a smooth cardioid.

    Getting a good organ sound is as "easy" as getting good piano sound. And that applies to touchups too. Too close is still too close!

  18. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    It really depends on the size of the catacombs - if they are a decent size, you'll get great mids and highs - the lows however will be non existent. You will have to depend entirely on the external mics for that. Of course, you should also take advantage of the directive nature of the mic and not aim it at any one pipe. If anything, aim it away from all of them - maybe even into a baffle of some sorts.
  19. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    I just found out yesterday that I'll be dealing with similar fun at a concert in March... I'm recording a performance of the Britten War Requiem and the children's choir will be placed at the back of the hall- a big church here in So Cal. This thing is going to be huge- 2 orchestras, 3 soloists, and 4 choirs... Looks like it is time to start rounding up mics :D

  20. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Just as you as a horn player deplore the sound of a mic close behind the horn bell, organ builders, organ voicers, organ tuners, organists and organ lovers will deplore the sound obtained by putting a mic in a pipe chamber (which are not referred to as "catacombs"-- that is where the dead are buried).

    Spend some time in a chamber while the organist plays and you will hear way too much upperwork and mixtrues, plus reed attack transients and slider motor noises and other mechanical noises that are the last thing you want to hear.

    Putting a "baffle" in the chamber will have a negative effect on the voicing of the instrument, not to mention how the sound projects. Never mind the difficulty of the cable-- the shades MUST be able to close all the way.

    Some instruments are not intended to be listened to or miked at a close distance, and the organ is one of them. Why? because the room is the most omportant stop on the instrument. It is almost like putting a quartet in an anechoic chamber.

    If there is a balance problem so severe that such an idea is considered, then the solution should be sought in a different direction.


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