Sax mic, techniques for woodwind ensembles
My daughter is a sax player, and I may be recording her in various ensembles this fall.
My first question is what you guys use for recording solo sax. I haven't really gone through all the combinations of mics and preamps in my collection as she has just been recording practice sessions and a Rode NT5 through the Brick sounds pretty good. But there is always room to improve, and I'd like to hear what people with more experience are doing.
As far as ensembles go, I've recorded practice sessions of her in a sax quartet before and I might get a chance to record a woodwind ensemble (nine or ten piece). What would you use for these? Would you do any spot micing of the ensemble?
What's the ensemble layout? How many of which instruments? Is it conducted? Is it studio or auditorium?
I've done lots of wind band/ensemble recordings under various conditions. The rule I work to is to do almost anything to avoid using other than a single overhead stereo pair. If you can get the players to adjust themselves backwards and forwards a little relative to the centre mic position (but not so much as to compromise their music making), you can usually avoid the need for spot miking.
A lot depends on the makeup of the ensemble, the acoustics of the room/studio and also the repertoire. Flutes are particularly difficult to get balanced with the rest of the ensemble, especially if there is more than one.
Any ensemble with saxes has a different balance problem, and there you might opt for spotting on some of the quieter instruments, if you can do it without adding key mechanism noise.
Good luck with your ensemble, and I should be interested to hear of your experiences.
The instrumentation last year was 2 clarinets, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, bassoon, bass clarinet, bari sax, two french horns. Might change a bit this year due to some students moving on. (It's a high school ensemble directed by one of the professors at Virginia Tech.) They array themselves in an arc, and I was hoping to record a practice so we could try to do a few things to optimize recorded sound without detracting from the performance.
That grouping should be OK. Try starting with a pair of SDC microphones overhead and a little in front of the conductor. Choose the configuration (co-incident crossed pair, ORTF etc) and see how it balances up in rehearsal. You can add spots maybe to add a bit of kick to the bassoon, but the flutes should be OK. You might want to add another ambient pair further back, but this will depend on the performance venue.
For solo sax work, (Jazz combos, wind quartets, etc.) I've come to rely on the MXL V6 quite a lot these days. I reviewed one for Mix a while back and fell in love with it. (And I ended up keeping it.) It's designed to emulate a tube sound (it's transitor, however) and it's advertised as being very warm - like a tube mic, but without the tube.
They sound as good as they look, and they're really not all that expensive (about $250, I think?) so you can take them out on gigs without too much worry should they get damaged or (gasp!) stolen.
I found it to have a lot less of the dreaded "Squonk!" on reeds, esp saxes, and it's got a smooth off-axis sound as well. It still seems to hold up when the player moves around a bit - as sax players tend to do.
There's plenty of other great mics out there for solo sax work, but this one's worth a listen before you consider buying anything else for more $$.
Wow...that's an odd instrumentation.
Considering the instrumentation (minus the horns) I would suggest overhead ribbons (perhaps M/S or Blumlein).
However, horns do NOT sound good through ribbons.
How are the acoustics?? Is it in VT's recital hall or performance hall? If so, I would say, go for a good overhead pair of omnis or wide cardioids.
If not, perhaps ORTF.
Spot mic'ing shouldn't really be necessary so long as your hornists aren't Conn 8D elephent emulators...
I recently got a chance to try Wes Dooley's stereo ribbon (don't recall the model off the top of my head) and it sounded quite nice! It wasn't as big as I though it would be either. This might be the exception to the ribbon rule with horns - it might actually work. If you could get a hold of one of these, I think you would be quite happy with it.
Let us know how it goes.
Yes, interesting instrumentation. Blacksburg is a medium small high school. [[url=http://[/URL]="http://www.music.vt.edu/people/faculty/casey/index.html"]Patrick Casey[/]="http://www.music.vt.edu/people/faculty/casey/index.html"]Patrick Casey[/] put the ensemble together for a music educators workshop in NOVA. I think adapting to the personnel you have was part of the point (e.g. my daughter, Alice, is playing bari and covering a bassoon part). It was a good experience for the kids and he got a good performance out of them last year.
They practice either on the stage at Blacksburg High or in a large practice room in Squires (VT). The high school stage does not have the best acoustics, but it's not terrible. I've only been in the practice room at Tech a few times and never listened critically. My impression is that it's pretty neutral. The small recital hall in Squires is a great room, but they haven't used it before. Maybe I can get them in there.