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ARSCLIST  January 2008

ARSCLIST January 2008

Subject:

Re: How not to mike an orchestra

From:

Punto <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 1 Jan 2008 23:20:11 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (80 lines)

Mike Richter wrote:
> Bob Olhsson wrote:
>
>> I got hired around ten years ago to record a woman who turned out to
>> have
>> played flute in both the NBC Symphony and the New York Philharmonic
>> where
>> she met her husband who played clarinet. Before leaving, we sat down
>> with
>> the couple and had a conversation about the recording and
>> broadcasting of
>> those orchestras. After some wonderful anecdotes about Toscanini and
>> Stokowski, I was shocked to hear them say they believed "recordings
>> improved
>> so much after the modern technique of using lots of microphones
>> instead of
>> only one started to be used."
>
> What else would a flautist say? That is, she would probably have been
> unable to hear herself in the ensemble with only one or two mikes.
> When she has one all to herself - or to the winds as a group - she
> would perceive her contribution more easily. Whether that microscopic
> view and the resulting clarity of inner voices aids the overall effect
> is up to producer, conductor and engineers (in no particular order).
>
> Note, too, that musicians may be poor judges of recorded sound; in
> general, they are not looking for the same things that make a
> recording effective to the home listener. In addition, they do not
> know what the orchestra sounds like when they hear it from within the
> group.
>
> I have had very good results with limited experience recording with a
> pair of cardioid electrets crossed and mounted somewhat above the
> stage, one-third back and horizontally centered in a small hall. But
> whether that would satisfy the performers I cannot guess; it may have
> sounded too 'realistic'.
>
> Mike
This is a very interesting thread, though no more likely to lead to
consensus than a discussion of "historically correct" performance. I see
that some would advocate going back to the score and trying to divine
the composer's intentions so that the recording setup can be optimized
to reproduce what Johannes or Wolfgang heard in his head. There are real
limits on how far this can be pursued. Who is to say that the composer
was imagining the concert-goer in Row H when he put ink on paper (or
fiddled with his Sibelius software)? Maybe his internal ear was located
directly on the podium or in the center of the ensemble or on some
other, totally artificial, cerebral sphere. Frankly, I have worked with
many composers who found that the experience of hearing their work
performed was a revelation and not at all what they heard inside their
head while creating. There is no one "right" sonic perspective. I have
spent most of my life inside of ensembles as a performer and that has
had a tremendous impact on how I perceive the sound of orchestral and
chamber music. This might not be in sync with Joe Audiencemember or Mary
Recordlistener but is it "wrong"? Is it farther away from the concept of
the creator of the music or just refracted differently? I think that one
can make qualitative judgments on recorded sound, but it seems foolish
to me to say one way of capturing sound is more correct in absolute
terms. I know good when I hear it since it pleases my ear (and deeper
recesses), but it ain't good just because the team of performers and
recorders has read the composer's mind. Listen to the Glenn Gould
recordings of Sibelius piano music where he has engineered the acoustic
perspective to an extreme degree. You may totally hate it (I have
experienced various reactions to it myself), but there is a point. The
performer and the listener are living organisms in a changeable
environment and there is nothing fixed and absolute about the notes in
the score that is violated when the parameters of performance and
environment are altered. In my mind, if I follow some of the arguments
about microphone placement and mixing, there would be only one perfect
seat located in a unique venue to listen to music.

Multi-miking may lead to excesses of bad taste and I love the old
Mercury (and other 2 and 3 mike) recordings, but I have no problem with
putting on a CD or LP that sets me in the center of the action and
reveals details that might have blurred in a large concert hall.

New Year's best to all,

Peter Hirsch

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