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Number of mics for Orchestras
Old 27th March 2005
  #1
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Talking Number of mics for Orchestras

For some reason I was under the massive impression that classical orchestral recordings rarely used more than two or three mics. At most a Decca Tree of them would be used.

However I went and saw the Boston Symphony Orchestra the other night (i'm going in a few more days too so i'll check this out again) and I counted at LEAST 16 mics flying in the hall. I couldn't see at all what they were using, but i'm sure they were the best available.

My question being, is this normal for recordings of symphony orchestras? I seriously thought that almost all such recordings just used a few mics, not 16+ mics????
Old 27th March 2005
  #2
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Try the Remote forum.
Old 27th March 2005
  #3
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It used to be a HUGE debate (as bad as analogue v digital ever was) but I suspect it isn't anymore.

It's hugely dependent on the hall for starters.

If a stereo pair sounds terrific, then it's hard to beat for clarity and perspective.

But often it ISN'T perfect and the solo flute is getting lost.. so you put up a spot mic.
And pretty soon you find you also need a spot mic on the percussion or the condictor says he's not hearing the double basses in the Andante... so another mic.

Or the hall itself is just blurry or noisy and the only way to get a clear shot at sections is with spots...

or the conductor simply wants a more "modern" sound or wnats to feel "inside it" rather than in the audience...
for whatever reasons, it's a whatever works decision.

But most orchestral recording these days is a mix of stereo pick-up, ambience/audience, and spot mics on sections and soloists.
Old 27th March 2005
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This seems really interesting. Symphony Hall is normally seen as being one of the best sounding halls in the world- so i doubt the large set of microphones is to compensate for poor playing dynamics or a poor hall. They must be looking for more control and/or for a more modern sound. With Levine conducting, he is obviously pushing it in a more modern direction overall.

Does anyone know if those mics have recently appeared as a result of Levine taking charge of the podium?

I put this here instead of Remote, because I don't consider the BSO to be a remote recording location. It's a permanant installation, and when they record at times they DO take multiple takes. It's just as much of a 'Studio' for recording an orchestra as Air in London.
Old 27th March 2005
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Hi Mr wittman. Is it a correct assumption, that the conductor is also the producer for classical records?..Thanks.
Old 27th March 2005
  #6
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There may also be a producer, but the conductor is always going to have a good amount to say about what he wants "his" orchestra to sound like.

Symphony Hall is a great space.. but I suspect AIR does many times the number of orchestral recordings in a year (with all of the film work, etc. that they get)
Old 27th March 2005
  #7
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In most orchestral recordings the conductor is considered the artist and has to sign off on everything.

SOP is to set up every conceivable mike you might need as insurance but most recordings still primarily use one stereo pair with spot mikes brought up for only a moment here and there to focus the sound of solo passages.

Live recordings are also set up differently than dedicated recording sessions would be.
Old 27th March 2005
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Thank you very much for the replys. I always believed that the conductor has as the primary concern, to get the best posible performance (sound) in the Hall, I mean that's what he is conducting...a live mix, and there for the most accurate reproduction of the conductor's vision would be a stereo represntation of it.
There must be a complete different aproach for a recording only session...maybe with over dubs and everything!!
Old 27th March 2005
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Unfortunately, the conductor is not always the 'producer'. During sessions (not live recordings), it happens the person doing the 'musical direction' seems more qualified then the conductor. Not only soundwise, but also musically (intonation, rhytmic problems between woodwinds/percussion etc).

It takes a great conductor to have really the final control over everything.

Concerning the amount of mics, I remember the anecdote about a classical producer who needed a mic cabinet of 80 mics to rig a big symphonic orchestra.
All where used in the final mix.

More than one would whish for, me and my colleague are under the impression the main mic is NOT used, or barely - as an ambient mic - and the 30-40 spot mics are used to make the balance in a big classical recording.
Old 27th March 2005
  #10
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Orchestral set-ups usually depend on the tastes of the engineer, the style of music being played and the acoustics of the hall. I'm of the opinion that it is a rare event that just a single stereo pair will work for an orchestral recording. I just don't get the kind of balance and sense of space that you would get in the hall. Remember, our ears work very differently than a pair of mics and we often have to compromise on dogma in order to get a sound that we like.

My usual classical orchestral setup is an array going across the whole front of the orchestra. Usually a stereo pair/mic/rig (ie decca tree) and omni flanks. Then, there are usually 2 spots on the woodwinds. From there, instrumentation, acoustics and style of music dictates. I usually spot harps, and piano/celleste. sometimes a timp spot helps, but it is somewhat of a rarity. Soloists are almost always spotted. On my website- the Brahms example was recorded with 6 mics.

For more "commercial" music- ie film scores, etc... I'll have a setup that can approach 48 channels for an orchestra. The concept is the same, but the implementation is quite different. Numerous string spots, brass spots, each woodwind section/harmony instrument, etc... get their own mics so that I have total control over a mix. The main array provides the cohesion/blend to the sound, but the spots give you a closer and more controlled sound. On my website, that is exactly how the large film examples were recorded.

As for the role of producer- it depends on the ensemble. Some conductors are picky, others aren't. In the end, I try to stay out of the way. Even with multiple mics used, it isn't to change the ballance of the ensemble. Rather, it is used to clarify the sound as you go back into the group. I have found very few conductors that want me to change what I've given them...

--Ben
Old 27th March 2005
  #11
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Hey Ben, Thanks!! Great recordings! So, in the film score, you end up using about 40 mics and mixing them in real time to a stereo recorder?...it was your own conducting, balancing of the orchestra? you must had great isolation from the sound in the house!? Thanks again.....Joaquin.
Old 27th March 2005
  #12
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The film orchestra thing has Bruce Broughton (the composer) conducting. This recording was made before I had any multitrack recorders so I did everything direct to stereo. I was just sitting behind the orchestra shell and mixing on headphones. If I remember correctly, we had a couple of Yamaha digital consoles cascaded together (likely an O3D and an O1V) with some preamps coming from the board and others outboard. The front array was a Schoeps stereo mic and a pair of B&K omnis. Spots on the strings were 460's and UM71's. Winds had TLM 103's overhead, Perc- B&K4006's, Brass TLM170's and U87 on tpts and bones, MD441's on horns, piano-414EB's, etc...

The Brahms was I believe 4 Neumann 582's with the gold omni capsules spaced in front of the orchestra and Schoeps 221B's on the woodwinds. Those went through Vac Rac Pres, mixed on a Yamaha O3D (re-clocked via Aardsync II) and recorded to either a Masterlink or a Nagra Digital (can't remember what we had at that point).

--Ben
Old 27th March 2005
  #13
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Since you mentioned that you went to a performance of the Symphony, what makes you sure that ANY of those flown mics were being used for the performance (either for broadcast or for recording)?

It seems that most halls these days have mics above the stage - for choirs, dramatic performances, or whatever - even most churches have them. That doesn't mean that they're being used for recording purposes, though.
Old 27th March 2005
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Ben, I'm listening to the Brahms piece and sound simply amazing!!
So I guess you use the converters in the Yamaha console...what sample rate and resolution?

The ather question is: usually after you mic everybody in a live to 2 Traks situation, like in the movie score, I guess you balance the internal sections and create stems to stereo buses, wich you record a couple times and listen back with the conductor?
Tho the Movie score definetely sounds like one... the internal balance and the distribution of space in the orchestra denotes a bit more Human intervention what ever that means.
Thanks for sharing....Joaquin.
Old 28th March 2005
  #15
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I did my internship at a studio that specializes in soundtrack work. it was really a great oppertunity to see all of the diffrent approaches the producer/music director/concertmasters would take to get their sound. what i noticed was these patterns. if the music was the complete work (not for a movie) the choice was to take a bigger orchestra to make a bigger sound and use less mics. if it was for a movie the idea was to use much smaller groups in sections, using more mics, and doing stacked takes if the composer wanted the sound of a big orchestra. (overdubs) this gave the producer and the mixing engeneer more flexibility when mixing the final product. there were some eceptions to this but they were rare. both ideas have there valid place, and both sound good.

now iam am working with an experimental mic design that uses four fixed position omnis with gobos to capture a stereo image. this is to me my favorite sound ive herd so far. i incurage everyone to check it out www.isomike.com there are demo discs avaible in mulitiformat redbook, 2ch sacd, and 4ch sacd. you do not need a sacd player to listen to these unless you want to hear that format. all that we ask is for a small donation to the weber state university. the university is nice enough to give us access to their facilities and to performing ensambles to test the design. if you are not big on collage performances you can also check out some of the professional releases, one of my favorites is http://www.frystreetquartet.com/

Bob Olhsson, Ben, William Wittman, iam really curious to what you three have to say.
Old 28th March 2005
  #16
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looks cool. I guess is the same principal behind the "Blumlein Difference Technique" where you could place a divition between the mics that resembles a human Head. I guess that this is the Idea here too, use the acustic shadow our head's create, in order to achive a more realistic stereo image...shoulders included?!
Old 28th March 2005
  #17
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Not MY head.
Old 28th March 2005
  #18
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Old 28th March 2005
  #19
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The Iso Mic is a great system. I have had the chance to get to know Ray Kimber and use his product along with mixing quite a number of songs recorded with the Iso Mic. I just used it in a totally different style of situation in Austin on a SXSW recording of 6 bands and using it to record the acoustics and sound of the club and the PA. It was really great and captured a really great representation of that the band sounded like live in the club. (Except for the fact that most of them really sucked. It didn't make them sound any better ) I have also used it to track some small group film music and multiple acoustic instruments. My only complaint is that I want to use it on a 65-100 piece film score but the set up and rigging required are just too expensive and time consuming to justify it at this time. Ray has done some nice recordings with it with some college groups in a nice hall and the results are very dynamic.

His mic cables are the real deal (Read into that not the Monster Shnable crap)

But I don't know and I don't care about the power cable stuff. It will take a lot of convincing to ever get me to believe that kind of stuff.

To get this back on track, in my experience with live orchestral recording and also having recorded over a couple hundred scores of various styles and sizes, you just make sure that your basses are covered with as many mics as you can get away with. In most scores I mix that are played well I rarely use much more than the Decca tree and the surround mics. I do use close bass and celli mics and harp, piano mics so that I can focus in on the sound or the presence of the sound. The section mics usually only get used for articulation and solo's. But again. That is what I did last week. Next week will be something totally different I am sure.

Michael Greene
Old 28th March 2005
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joaquin
looks cool. I guess is the same principal behind ORTF where you could place a divition between the mics that resembles a human Head. I guess that this is the Idea here too, use the acustic shadow our head's create, in order to achive a more realistic stereo image...shoulders included?!
yeah the idea is not a new one.

kinda of.... but not so much to replace the human head. it is the shape of the baffle and its low end ebsuprotion that dose the magic. it basicly shears off the low end passing from side to side, mic to mic. this will intern inhance the sensitivity of the mic by a great deal. its dynamic range is amazing, it basicly what you hear in the performance. and its stereo image is percise. we are always playing with the design of it. the real constent is the baffle. i just got back a few moments ago from putting together a new setup for a session tommorow. like i said this is a giant experiment, we still have several more ideas to try. but the sound only keeps getting better. i am just glad to be apart of it.

RE:Originally Posted by the1Hub

www.isomike.com



uh-oh

i dont mean to open a can of worms but why the uh-oh?
Old 28th March 2005
  #21
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Hey Micheal, are you working down at Big Idea a lot. How is chuck doing?
Old 28th March 2005
  #22
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I do work with Chuck quite a bit. He as a great guy and a great friend and I just spent 4 really stressful days with him in Austin. He is doing great and loving the ISO mic.

Where are you doing your work at?

Michael Greene
mjgreeneaudio@comcast.net
Old 28th March 2005
  #23
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Old 28th March 2005
  #24
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iam doing mostly live stuff right now. Working with a couple of indy label to record there bands live when ever they come to town. did a great session out at the sandy ampithear with ryan shupe last fall that turned out great. the video footage did not come out so well so iam not sure if it will ever see the light of day. other then thay am just working with Ray. did you go to sxsw last year with them?
Old 28th March 2005
  #25
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Old 28th March 2005
  #26
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Orchestral Recording

When I was interning with the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, we broadcasted the Vienna Philharmonic from the Musikverein every Sunday.

For nearly every gig, the engineer chose the mics and their position. The producer was the person that worked with the conductor or soloists and not the engineer directly.

We regularly used over 24 mics.

Decca Tree, Omni Outriggers, Pair of Fig8s for Surrounds, Rear Facing Cardioids for Surrounds, Concertmaster Spot, Violin I spot, Violin II Spots (inner and outer), Viola Spots (inner & outer), Celli spots (inner and outer), Contrabass Spots (first and second parts), Timpani Spots, Clarinets, Oboes, Flutes, and Bassoon Spots (one for each major section of the woodwinds).

With that, sometimes for an oratorio there would be 4 choir mics as well as soloist mics. Sometimes there would be a tuba mic, extra percussion mics, organ mics, piano mics, etc etc.

Same sort of setup for recording sessions.

You really have a sense of accomplishment after an orchestral recording. A lot more fun than doing an hour of synth overdubs in the studio.

Just thought I'd share some experiences.

-C
Old 28th March 2005
  #27
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a question that i asked my self many times is how they pan stereo spot mics,
I was in a session and there were stereo spot mics on the percussion section and the woodwing they were obvously offaxis with the main stereo pair.
any idea?
Old 28th March 2005
  #28
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In my experience, the goal is usually to recreate the sound image as it was performed (with some modifications every now and then). This is for live concert recordings or recording sessions of classical music.

If there were stereo spot mics, then their stereo field would be panned in relation to the main stereo spectrum. For example, if the percussion was centered at -45 degrees of center, and an ORTF pair was facing the percussion, that might be panned at -55 degrees and -35 degrees (spread depending how big the section was and other factors of the spot mic placement, these were all arbitrary numbers for the example).

Usually spots like that are used to be able to bring up some parts of the percussion that might not cut over the orchestra (eg lower octaves on a marimba) or to give some localization to help recreat the stereo field. Sometimes without a timpani spot, the timpani sound can distant, and it's position is a little hard to pinpoint aurally. A single spot on it with just evert so slight a level in the mix can lock down it's position and give you some upper harmonics that are masked by other factors.

-C
Old 28th March 2005
  #29
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Hi, I found this article and thought may be useful: http://mixonline.com/recording/appli...io_decca_tree/

If you People of knowledge could please refer to your experiences with surround recording and mixing would be most appreciated. I think that there's an enormous potencial for classical composition involving surround recreation as part of the concept!! Would be amazing to be surrounded by an orchestra, many of them, or any combination of instruments for that matter
How do you aproach listener positioning when mixing surround?
How do you deal with reverb and close micking when mixing?
Thanks...........Joaquin.
Old 28th March 2005
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joaquin
Ben, I'm listening to the Brahms piece and sound simply amazing!!
So I guess you use the converters in the Yamaha console...what sample rate and resolution?
24 bit, 44.1KHz. Yamaha O3D (original- not the new line of Yamaha mixers).


Quote:
The ather question is: usually after you mic everybody in a live to 2 Traks situation, like in the movie score, I guess you balance the internal sections and create stems to stereo buses, wich you record a couple times and listen back with the conductor?
Tho the Movie score definetely sounds like one... the internal balance and the distribution of space in the orchestra denotes a bit more Human intervention what ever that means.
Thanks for sharing....Joaquin.
No, actually the client just trusts me to deliver a product that they'll be happy with. I've done enough of these things that I can ask a couple important questions of sound before the gig and get an idea of what is expected. I've also spent many, many years sitting inside orchestras as a performer so I have a pretty good idea of what it is like inside it. In the end, I've found that as long as the recording sounds pretty good, most conductors are pretty open about how you arrive at the sound and exactly what gets delivered. It is amazing how "low tech" parts of the chain can be and still get a good sound. Put the technology/sound where it matters most (ie microphones and getting them in the right place) and much of the rest of the gig pretty much falls into place.

Quote:
a question that i asked my self many times is how they pan stereo spot mics,
I was in a session and there were stereo spot mics on the percussion section and the woodwing they were obvously offaxis with the main stereo pair.
any idea?
When I record a classical orchestra, I set up my microphones to reflect a natural position in the orchestra. Except for in very rare cases, all of my mics are summed Left, Center and Right. There really isn't much else. I find that especially the mono compatability really suffers when they aren't panned that way. There are just too many variables to screw up a recording otherwise. For example, a blumlein pair at 90 degrees may create a great stereo image, but when combined with flanking mics, the image becomes too wide and diffuse. In that case, I may narrow that center pair to as little as 75 degrees. The result is a firming of the center. For choirs with the orchestra, I'll either pan L-R or L-C-R if there are three mics (see my thread from a gig I did last summer: http://gearslutz.com/board/showthread.php3?t=17725 ) The woodwinds are panned center. Harps are off to the left when used, etc... This way you get a great firm sound of the orchestra that will sum perfectly to mono.

With a score, things are a bit different because of the number of mics involved. However, many of the principles are the same. The strings are either L, R, or C. Woodwinds are generally center, but may be spread out a touch and so forth... The aforementioned film score example is recorded that way.

--Ben
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