"I do want to address the subject of mic'ing different
"I do want to address the subject of mic'ing different orchestral compositions. My answer is, using
the Mercury 3-mic approach, yes the same mic techniques work with all composers."
I would agree that a minimal use of microphones should work with most any music, but for me, the art of recording opens the door to recomposing. Taken to the extreme, a multitude of microphones could give us a very different view of the music of Wagner.
As to the comments comparing literature to performance…I don't understand the analogy. As a composer, I would revise and rethink a work to the point where I was ultimately pleased with the score. But, for me, performance (live or in recording) is very different. It exists in time.
I am reminded of a particular recording I heard of the music of Bach. When I listened to it, it sounded odd indeed, but I could not figure out why. Checking with the producer, I found that there had been a multitude of edits. Continuity was lost. For me, as a musician, every note is played in relationship to every other note of the piece. To be able to "correct" an error one needs to have the entire context of the performance in mind. This is not something that can be done easily…if at all, depending on the length and complexity of the piece.
As brilliant as many musicians were in the past, the limitation of the duration of a side of a 78 still must have been challenging. You come back to the studio perhaps weeks or months or even ten minutes later to re record a certain side. Your expression will change. It should change. While the difference from one moment to the next might be almost subliminal, it is likely to change. I would assume that from an engineering perspective, depending on the expertise of the engineer, many of us can spot edits. Yet, I would wager it is far more difficult to point out minute changes in musical continuity. Changing a note here and there is one thing, but inserting a phrase or several minutes of music can be something very different.
I came to think this way when I found that I was not enjoying most studio recordings as much as live performance recordings. My conclusion…right or wrong... was that many studio recordings lacked both that subliminal continuity and/or spontaneity. Without addressing the art of improvisation, I want the composition (the notes on the page) to be totally thought out, but I find a difference between the art of composing and that of performance. For me, studio recordings, at their worst, can be like all of those photoshopped faces on the covers of magazines. Another analogy I like to use…hearing a performance, either in concert, or on a recording, that is note perfect, is, for me, a bit like going to a sporting event where you know who will win before the game begins.
And of course, this opens the door to the notions of how recordings have taken the heart and soul out of live performance by conditioning audiences to want it to "sound like it does on the record."
No doubt we all look for different things in our listening experiences.
On Tuesday, November 18, 2014 7:15 PM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
No sense getting into a "performance documentary" vs. "produced" recording preference, it's personal
taste. The type of recording you say you prefer has definitely won the day, so your choices will
continue to expand.
I do want to address the subject of mic'ing different orchestral compositions. My answer is, using
the Mercury 3-mic approach, yes the same mic techniques work with all composers. It was up to the
conductor to array the orchestra and conduct the score to bring out the point of the music. The mics
were there to capture a realistic sound-picture of the entire orchestra within the acoustic space.
The dynamics, voicing and pacing were up to the conductors.
By the way, it's pretty much the same with live performances. Unless you pick your seat in the hall
based on the repertoire, how the sound-picture is produced for your seat is up to the conductor.
The most contrasting approaches I can think of are Decca's Phase-4 many-mic'd productions and Andrew
Kazdin's many-mic'd multi-track productions for Columbia. In those cases, the final balance and
sound perspective is more up to the record producer than the conductor.
I did a presentation comparing and contrasting classical mic techniques from 1 mic high-fidelity
recordings of the early 1950s up to Kazdin's productions in the 70s, presented at AES NYC Convention
in 2013 and ARSC NYC earlier this year. Both times, discussion and stated preferences proved
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Karl Miller" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, November 18, 2014 12:53 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Recording technology
> Tom wrote: "Live concerts can be more sloppy because of audience enthusiasm. They tend not to hold
> up as well to repeated listening outside of the live venue. A great recording is closer to
> perfection as far as each note being rendered correctly within the larger context of the music."
> For me, it depends on what one wants from a recording. I prefer listening to broadcast
> performances of live concerts. With all of the editing done these days, I am drawn to the days
> when broadcasts were live. I prefer a manic live performance by a Munch, Koussevitzky or a
> Mitropoulos over anything done (live or studio) by a Szell, Karajan, Solti, etc. These latter
> conductors were remarkable musicians, but If I want "perfection," I simply open the score and
> I find most studio recordings to be sterile. Having done some conducting in my past, I found I
> would take chances in concert…sometimes to the frustration of the musicians. In my limited
> experience as a producer, I find it all but impossible to get musicians to recreate the
> spontaneity and visceral excitement of a live performance. It is that visceral excitement I look
> for, and I don't get bored by hearing it repeatedly.
> I am reminded of the story of when another conductor was substituting for Munch. He asked Munch,
> "what tempi did you want me to use." Munch supposedly replied, "I never know what tempi I will use
> until I get on the podium."
> Thinking about this, I am reminded of listening, last night, to the first performance of the
> Dutilleux Second Symphony, conducted by Munch. Was it a note perfect performance…no. Was it
> perfectly balanced…no. Yet with perhaps a dozen recordings of it to choose from, I can't imagine
> listening to any other performance. To my ears, even Munch's commercial recording palls in
> As to the thread of recording technology…for me, it is the same as performance. Each engineer, as
> each conductor, will bring their own perspective. I can appreciate a John Eargle, John Newton and
> Lewis Layton, just as I can appreciate the perspective of different conductors. Some will
> stimulate me and others will not.
> Should you mic Wagner the same way you mic Berlioz. As I would teach in my orchestration class.
> Wagner's orchestration was absorptive and Berlioz…his was differentiative…Wagner wanted a molding
> of sound…hence the design of the orchestra pit at Bayreuth. Berlioz wanted the oboe to sound like
> an oboe. Do you mic a Walter Piston Symphony the same way you mic a Shostakovich Symphony? Well,
> you can, but each approach gives you a different perspective. As an engineer, do you see your
> responsibility to record the "orchestra" and rely on the composer's orchestration to convey the
> intent? Or do you try and adopt your approach to recording to support the compositional and
> coloristic intent of the piece. For me, "one size, does not fit all."
> Similarly, I am reminded of a live performance I have of Koussevitzky conducting a Chopin
> Concerto. He plays the first movement as though it was a Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. Is it Chopin,
> no, its Koussevitzky's vision of Chopin. Yet, the real question for me, is "does it work for me?"
> On one of our CDs we featured Scriabin playing some of his own music. (Welte rolls) While you can
> argue over the dynamics and other particulars, the pitches and their duration are fixed on the
> roll. Scriabin played his music very freely. Brahms would complain that musicians played his music
> too literally. There is that phrase, "great art transcends the intent of its creator." Likewise, I
> believe we are free to reinvent interpretation and our approach to recording…for me, both are a
> science and an art. Was Glenn Gould's approach to Bach, "authentic?" I doubt it. Does it work for
> you? Great! Personally, I hate it.
> On Tuesday, November 18, 2014 9:51 AM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> The small boutique labels probably work on a shoestring budget with second-tier non-union
> and conductors willing to work for 1/10th of what Karajan got. It's doable, but certainly not
> There are a lot of well-trained musicians in eastern Europe and Asia. Notice that big orchestras
> like the LSO and Chicago have gotten into releasing their own recordings (mostly just concert
> recordings, but occasionally a real-deal produced classical recording somewhat akin to what used
> be done). My own taste does not favor any of this stuff to the best "golden age" recordings. I
> need "new" when it's not "better."
> Don, you are wrong about musicians playing "better" live, not if they're good musicians. Perhaps
> today, orchestral players have so few opportunities to do real recording sessions that they don't
> know how to do them anymore. But, back in the "golden age," both the best orchestras and the most
> successfully-recorded conductors were very clear on the fact that a recording session is different
> from a live performance and were very good at the kind of super-precise and quick-on-the-draw
> music-making that is required for successful recordings. Live concerts can be more sloppy because
> audience enthusiasm. They tend not to hold up as well to repeated listening outside of the live
> venue. A great recording is closer to perfection as far as each note being rendered correctly
> the larger context of the music. Conductors like Dorati, Reiner, Szell and Solti (coincidentally,
> all Hungarians, and there were many other "golden age" conductors of other nationalities who made
> long-loved recordings) really understood this and made many great recordings.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Don Cox" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Tuesday, November 18, 2014 10:34 AM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Recording technology
>> On 18/11/2014, Tom Fine wrote:
>>> Find a top-rate orchestra in a good acoustic space, get some serious
>>> funding to restore the vintage equipment (last I checked, Schoeps
>>> wants several thousand dollars per mic to factory-restore M201's, and
>>> they can't guarantee results since they have no original parts on
>>> hand; Steve Jackson at Pulse Techniques can make near-clones of the
>>> Pultec preamps for several thousand dollars per channel), gather up a
>>> whole bunch of digital gear to test, and we're ready to roll, just for
>>> the feasibility-testing stage though! I won't hold my breath. ;)
>>> Seriously, I thought about this at one point and came up with a $25k
>>> budget just to get started, just for gear and gear restoration (figure
>>> several multiples of that to pay a producer/editor, recording engineer
>>> and mastering engineer). Maybe 10-15 albums per year, at a cost of
>>> about $15k per album factoring in travel costs, and then add more for
>>> manufacturing of the end product (which is what? single CDs? they're
>>> supposedly toxic to profits in the classical business. SACDs? can't
>>> live on sales of a few thousand units. downloads? what format? how
>>> will you market them?), marketing, etc. There is no classical
>>> recording business plan except a crazy rich patron that works for that
>>> kind of craftsmanship today.
>> I wonder how companies such as CPO or BIS manage to finance their steady
>> stream of issues of single CDs of often little-known orchestral works.
>> Don Cox
>> [log in to unmask]