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Old June 24th, 2007, 05:36 AM   #1
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Recording classical music

My objective is to record small groups playing classical music. No voice-overs, no dialogue, just music.

The groups I will be recording will be brass ensembles (mostly brass quintet) as well as classical piano either solo or together with stringed or brass instruments( ie string quartet with piano) and occasionally woodwinds.

Most of what I've been reading up on about recording for DV seems to focus on dialogue rather than just music,so I'd appreciate some comments on the following

For the kinds of groups I've mentioned, what would be a good microphone recommendation? A couple of folks have mentioned Neumann 184 or KM 100 with the AK40 cartridge. Any comments, pro or con, would be appreciated

Also, for such small groups would X-Y or ORTF or M-S be preferred?

Output would be as audio/video on DVD, or web page, of performance excerpts, as well as stand alone audio CD of complete performances. I'm thinking of recording to an external recorder rather than to the camera.

Lots of questions! I'm quite new to all this, so any thoughts, comments, suggestions, etc would be highly appreciated.
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Old June 24th, 2007, 05:55 AM   #2
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I would fist make sure you also have a mixer setup and recode to both to the camera and a seperate external recorder. In this situation, the audio is too important. Get your self as many options as possible.

If I read your post correctly, you are recording them for a CD as well, so I would recommend thinking of it as an audio project first. Multiple Mics, one for each person, leveled for each person...

Then the camera would be setup the same way you would with any other project on top of what you did to get on the camera. Of course, syncing everything is key so either need some common time code or teh old tried and true slate with a clapper to sync by audio.
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Old June 24th, 2007, 10:43 AM   #3
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In my opinion, condenser mics are too harsh for brass and woodwinds. Consider ribbon mics, like Royer or Beyer. KM184 would be good for violin, but you won't like it with brass or flute. If your want to use condensers, use Schoeps. For a small ensemble ORTF gives a natural stereo image. Get a mixer/preamp with 70-80db of clean gain, and record to external unit and also feed to camera for scratch track.
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Old June 24th, 2007, 12:03 PM   #4
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If the intention is to record what the instruments really sound like, then whatever you do - do NOT multitrack, or multimic - you get a very sanitised performance. Classical music has it's own internal balance and close miking can destroy this - the mics are also damn ugly!

We do a fair bit of this kind of thing from the audio perspective, although rarely with video. My own preference is for a co-incident recording technique - spaced pairs tend to give a kind of hole in the middle effect. One thing you have to do is decide early on if you are going to aim for an audio recording, that has matching pictures or a video recording with matching audio. The BBC are pretty expert at this - We have frequent national broadcasts of classical music from the Royal Albert Hall. On radio, these are balanced for conventional stereo, while the audio for the television is slightly different - as the cameras 'pick' on individual or section specific lines, the level of these is sometimes brought up, above what it would be as just a part of an audio recording. So, if in bar 64, the Cor Anglais gets a lovely melody to play, the cameras will provide a close up, and a spot mic may well be blended in giving a closer perspective - on the audio only recording, this melody line may not be so prominent.

I'd suggest that unless you have the equipment and the people to do this properly, you concentrate on just getting images for the balanced audio track.

One trick is to try to avoid static camera shots. Slow and steady movement works really well - you can do lovely disolves and highlights if the background is dark - and brass instruments can gleam if you set up decent lighting. So a jib or two, or decent wheels on the camera support will all work rather well.

The art of stereo recording is quite a difficult one to master, despite the simplicity of the equipment. As has been said, Ribbons are lovely, but not so common, and I find that decent quality condensors work very well. Personally, I favour large diameter diaphragms (but that is because I simply don't have any quality ribbons). The new Chinese ones seem to be getting pretty good reviews - but need love and care to keep going.
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Old June 24th, 2007, 01:20 PM   #5
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"The art of stereo recording is quite a difficult one to master, despite the simplicity of the equipment."

Of course, music itself is sort of the same kind of animal. There are few things simpler than a tight string or a hollow tube, but mastery of the instrument is - difficult at best.

Thanks to everyone who has responded so far. Lots of food for thought. Please keep the comments coming!

I think I'm quite squarely in the camp of not mic-ing the individual instruments as, after all, what I'm aiming for is the sound of the ensemble itself.

The idea of a ribbon mic has quote a bit of appeal but I have absolutly zero experience with them and am not sure whether they'd be generally useful for other stuff as well or not, also I wonder about their robustness or other aspects of their care and handling. Comments and recommendations about specific microphones would be more than welcome.

I think (particularly considering the cost of mics and workload) that I would be better off thinking of this as an audio project with video accompaniment.

That's one reason I was thinking of video excerpts, as there isn't much of inherent visual interest in the rather static nature of these small groups, aside from individual expressions, so I agree completely with adding the visual element with camera moves and zooms as well as close up cuts to individuals during solos, etc. I think because of the small size of the groups it probably isn't as essential to mic from several different positions as it would be with the whole BBC. If you think I'm wrong on this point, please let me know!

I have thought of doing tight close ups during rehearsal to get material for the quick cuts, and then doing the slower and softer moves during the performance. Of course, I'd script the moves in advance to follow the score.

I'd appreciate any critique of the above as well as some recommendations for specific microphones that you think would work well, particularly for the brass, as well as some education on the pros and cons and ins and outs of ribbon mics.

I'd be buying new equipment for this. The budget I have in mind would be between roughly $1500 and $2500 for the mics - is this reasonable?

Thanks again!
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Old June 25th, 2007, 01:30 AM   #6
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If audio quality is the first concern consider using a matched pair of really high quality omnis (DPA or Schoeps, rent them) with a Jecklin disc (which you can make yourself for a few bucks). Good acoustics, fairly tight group, hang the mic assembly on wires about 7 feet in front and above the band (experiment). No mic showing in pictures, realistic stereo image.
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Old June 25th, 2007, 02:23 AM   #7
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Thanks much for the suggestion re Jecklin disks. Interesting idea!
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Old June 25th, 2007, 06:44 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Andrada View Post
My objective is to record small groups playing classical music. No voice-overs, no dialogue, just music.

The groups I will be recording will be brass ensembles (mostly brass quintet) as well as classical piano either solo or together with stringed or brass instruments( ie string quartet with piano) and occasionally woodwinds.

Most of what I've been reading up on about recording for DV seems to focus on dialogue rather than just music,so I'd appreciate some comments on the following

For the kinds of groups I've mentioned, what would be a good microphone recommendation? A couple of folks have mentioned Neumann 184 or KM 100 with the AK40 cartridge. Any comments, pro or con, would be appreciated

Also, for such small groups would X-Y or ORTF or M-S be preferred?

Output would be as audio/video on DVD, or web page, of performance excerpts, as well as stand alone audio CD of complete performances. I'm thinking of recording to an external recorder rather than to the camera.

Lots of questions! I'm quite new to all this, so any thoughts, comments, suggestions, etc would be highly appreciated.


A lot depends on the setup. Where the instruments are and the acoustic situation. The best mics in the world won't give you good results in a bad space, or if one person is PLAYING TOO LOUD. :)

Regards,

Ty Ford
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Old June 25th, 2007, 12:51 PM   #9
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Ah yes, sooner or later we all see the ugly face of reality!

Room acoustics in this case! I think outside of a studio or a well designed space we have to take our chances and deal with whatever hand reality deals us. And as you say, the best equipment in the world in and of itself won't make up for poor placement of mike and performers, crying kids in the 3rd row, air conditioners, fans, etc (particularly here in southern Arizona!) or fundamentally lousy acoustics.

On the other hand, great equipment (if one knows how to use it of course) can give us more options to make the best of the situation.

I have little experience with video, but have been a still photographer for a long long time, and I always sort of envied the guys with paints and canvas.

Much easier to just be able to put something else in place of the bear proof trash can chained to a tree in the middle of the scene, or the porta-potty, etc etc etc. Whereas we poor photographers had to somehow find a way to deal with it and still get the images we wanted.

Once I got my 5 X 7 Linhof, though, I suddenly found that I had a much better tool kit to use to fight back against reality. Mirror in the picture? Offset the camera and shift the front lens sideways until you can avoid the camera's reflection. Need extreme depth of field? Tilt the lens or camera back.

None of it was perfect, mind you, but it sure helped. And because the camera itself was certainly capable of capturing magnificent images, I could start elsewhere in tring to find out where I had messed up.

I think that's why I'm working so hard to get started on the right foot in this case. I'm certainly not under the illusion that great mics will make up for lack of skill or crappy room acoustics, but at least when trying to diagnose what went wrong I can start from a position of confidence that some shortcomig or excessive variability of the equipment itself isn't the most likely suspect and this should give me exponentially fewer suspects to rule out to tack down the culprit.
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Old June 25th, 2007, 12:58 PM   #10
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The problem with classical music (at least that's what my instructors told me) is that they're usually listened on million dollar hi fi systems. I'm exaggerating here but the audience know what they're listening to. Every squeak, unnatural colorization of the sound, they'll get it. Not counting a very wide dynamic range (ridin' faders.) Mics and crystal clear pres count for alot. But don't forget the acoustics. The room plays a very big part. Everybody else has covered the subject. Detail, detail. Pay attention. Use your ears, move the mic around the room with a very good pair of headphones. You might find that "sweet" spot.
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Old June 25th, 2007, 01:22 PM   #11
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Fortunately or unfortunately you're 150% right.

The fact that it's classical means that it's a classic, ie, people who are into classical music know what it should sound like because they've probably heard it played by real pros and listened to CD's made with million dollar equipment (and smart guys who know how to use it.)

They also know what French Horns and trombones sound like, and things like pianos and brass and woodwinds are notoriously hard to capture well.

My wife is a former concert pianist, and finding recordings that she'll tolerate is quite a chore. Interestingly enough, I've discovered that musicians are radically different than audiophiles. They can "hear through" the defects of speakers etc, and they all know that the sound of an instrument to a performer is largely transmitted to the performer through contact and so they know that what the audience hears and what the performer hears are different. I play brass myself, and I can hear/feel clearly that the sound comes from different parts of the instrument on different notes, for example.

But the balance and the overall sound and dynamics of the ensemble have to be right.

I think you've summed it up well. Good mics and crystal clear pre-amps are necessary but insufficient. Placement, acoustics, good ears and musical sense on the part of the recordist count for most of it.

But I think that the equipment has to be good enough to stay out of the way.
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Old June 25th, 2007, 02:55 PM   #12
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One additonal comment, your original post asked about the mic'ing arrangement. Since this project is destined for video you might want to consider M/S micing. I say that because it gives good results for stereo but when collapsed to mono avoids the phase problems that other mic techniqes can produce and it's a fact that a lot of stereo video gets collapsed to mono somewhere along the line for some of the audience.
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Old June 25th, 2007, 04:42 PM   #13
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Steve,

Thanks much for the comment. I had thought about M/S and interestingly enough the Schoeps web page seems to recommend ORTF for orchestras, but not so much for ensembles - they suggest M/S instead.

Probably because the small spread of the group wouldn't lend itself to a widely spread spatial context and ORTF might make it sound un-naturally wide - just my thought.

The point about mono on the web is a good one, and I suspect a CD from the M/S recording wouldn't sound so bad either, considering that the group is in pretty "tight formation", so what you're after is more of a sense of space and 3D ambience than a real sense of location of the different instruments.
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Old June 26th, 2007, 08:14 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Jim Andrada View Post
Steve,

Thanks much for the comment. I had thought about M/S and interestingly enough the Schoeps web page seems to recommend ORTF for orchestras, but not so much for ensembles - they suggest M/S instead.

Probably because the small spread of the group wouldn't lend itself to a widely spread spatial context and ORTF might make it sound un-naturally wide - just my thought.

The point about mono on the web is a good one, and I suspect a CD from the M/S recording wouldn't sound so bad either, considering that the group is in pretty "tight formation", so what you're after is more of a sense of space and 3D ambience than a real sense of location of the different instruments.
For what it's worth, the most realistic stereo soundstage I've ever heard was an analog master tape of the NY Philharmonic and chorus recorded using a Blumlein array, a single point stereo mic arrangment very similar to M/S. The M/S arrangement is just as capable of a wide stereo stage as other coniscident or near coincident arrangements. Plus if you record each mic directly and do the matrixing to stereo in post you can get a tremendous amount of control over the exact rendering of the stereo image, especially with some of the plugins such as the several M/S tools from Waves, etc..

The problem porting music to video applies to almost all video, not just that destined for the web. If people are viewing on a conventional TV, they may only have a mono set. Or if it's broadcast or cablecast, it can get converted to mono at any number of different places in the chain. If they connect a DVD or VTR to their TV with an RF adapter feeding the antenna input rather than the Audio/Video connectors those will almost always collapse the stereo down to mono as part of the conversion to RF. Even if it makes it to the viewer with the stereo intact, their sets may just have a couple of dinky speakers on the cabinet mounted so close together that they may as well be mono and the comb filtering from phase cancellation issues in the signal occurs in the air between the TV and the viewer.
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Old June 26th, 2007, 12:15 PM   #15
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Well, I might be curmudgeonly, but maybe in the end a good mono recordiing using one really excellent ($$$$) mic might be better than a stereo recording using two not so great ($$ each) mics, although maybe not as good as a stereo recording made with two really excellent ($$$$ each) mics.

Hmm - forward to the past as opposed to back to the future?

Seriously though, I'm starting to lean more strongly toward the M/S idea.

Any thoughts about what might be a really good integrated M/S mic for the job? Or am I better off with two separate mics?

By the way, do you have a link to the M/S plugins?

One thought might be a pair of the modular systems with three cartridges - two cardiod and one figure 8. I think with this kit as a base one could handle just about anything that came along.

Last edited by Jim Andrada; June 26th, 2007 at 12:19 PM. Reason: Add one comment
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