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Corda
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4th February 2006
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Talking Recording an Orchestra.

Hi guys,

I'm working with an orchestra soon to record a film soundtrack which I wrote. I'm looking for advice on how to record the orchestra. I've done a lot of research on the internet and come up with a method, but I wanted to run it past you guys for clarification and advice.

Basically, after research, I think I'm going to be using a Decca Tree system. I have hardly any money to spend on the project, but I'm willing to spend some cash on hiring mics and stuff if it means a better recording. I can't afford a Decca Tree (as I'm sure you can appreciate) so I'm thinking of 'faking' one by buying 3 lighting stands and setting them up in a Decca format.

The recording system will be as follows. I'm recording into a computer with Nuendo, which has a good 10 in/10 out soundcard. The mixer will either be a 16 channel (8 mono, 2 stereo mic in) Mackie, or failing that a 4 mono/4 stereo mic in Behringer. I'm trying for the Mackie since I've been led to believe they are generally a better quality, am I right?

As for mics, I'm thinking of spending a bit and hiring some decent ones. Hiring isn't all that cheap, but it seems after some research that the most cost effective mics to hire might be AKG 414's. Would 3 414's as a Decca Tree work? Or maybe 2 414's and a different centre mic? Any advice would be great.

I'm not sure if I can use outriggers, because of cost and resources, but if I can they will most likelu be lower quality CS1000's or CS3000's by AKG. Is it worth me trying for outriggers like these, or should I cut my losses and just focus on the Decca Tree?

Now, I have some problems over whether to spot mic and, if so, what to spot mic. I know some engineers spot mic the woodwinds and brass, and usually percussion too. In my score I have a solo harp and solo violin, not in concerto setting (sat at the front) but probably sat in their usual positions in the orchestra. I'm pretty sure I will have to spot them, right? As for the rest of the sections, should I try to spot them, or just forget about it?

As for the sound I'm going for, I don't want a tight, punchy 'modern' film orchestra sound, but instead something more natural. I'm using the LOTR soundtracks as an example of what I would like. Something natural, but obviously I want to be able to still feel strength in the brass and percussion at points.

So basically, for my mics, I'm going to rent either 3 414's or 2 414's and another centre mic. I have available to me a few Shure SM-57's (though I hear they're a dirty word when it comes to orchestral recording!) and quite a few CS-1000's, in addition to probably several other different mics. I'll try and get a full list ASAP.

Also, for the record, the venue is a professional concert hall. It has a good ambience and is pretty free of flutter, and the BBC orchestras have used the place for recording, so I am confident it can produce a good sound.

We're recording over on the 24th and 31st March, so I have some time left to make decisions and prepare. I'm also documenting the whole scoring, from composition through to recording, mixing and mastering. I'm going to try and make a useful documentary on the more technical aspects of making a film score/recording an orchestra, so that I can post it online and hopefully help people to make decisions about recording large ensembles of their own for the future. Therefore, help and advice from anyone is greatly appreciated, and I will take anything and everything on board!

Thanks for your time!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Corda
Hi guys,


Also, for the record, the venue is a professional concert hall. It has a good ambience and is pretty free of flutter, and the BBC orchestras have used the place for recording, so I am confident it can produce a good sound.
Even more reason to hire and work with someone who has experience recording orchestras! (sorry to point out the obvious, but this is a forum with many pro engineers - support the industry and hire one)
To answer your questions:
414s may work in a decca tree, if you get the latest version that offers a wide cardioid pattern. But the sound has never been favorable to my ears for such use. There are many microphones that will sound less harsh. Tom Young likes shure KSM32s in a decca tree.
Your weakest and crucial link is your Anolog to Digital conversion. An onboard sound card may not give you the results you'll be happy with. Orchestras require large amounts of anolog headroom in both mic pres and amps. Consider renting a decent pre such as a Grace, millennia, GML, or Hardy. Connected to a Mytek, Lavry, or genex. If the budget is not there than a stand alone multitrack recorder like the Alesis HD2424 or tascam MX2424 will do.
Good luck and best wishes!

Don
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My advice would be to hire a professional with classical experience.
Having said that, here are my thoughts:

If you are renting mics I would abandon the idea of AKG.
If you have not done this before you should use something standard such as:

DPA 4006 (with the largest APE)

Neumann M50, tlm50 or tlm150

Schoeps cmc6/mk2S (or mk2H)

Sennheiser mkh20

You can do this type of ensemble with a pair of very widely spaced omnis - this is often favoured by BIS (neumann tlm50 pair with km184 and km100/43 spots),
or as you are thinking as a decca tree or 3 spaced.
The tree is in some ways more flexible with three stands as you can get a wider spread than the old decca tree specified. A wider spread is not uncommon today.
Consider a directional type of mic if the decca tree is to be used (that is kind of the point of the teqhnique)
Mics to consider are the old m50, or the dpa 4006 with an APE.

Do not mix mic types for the decca tree.

Spot the winds and the harp

If you have the resources, spot the strings with one mic per stand for the first 3 stands.

Use a clean mic pre of some quality. RME octamic is cheap and has been seen in upscale sessions.


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4th February 2006
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Hi Guys,

Thanks for the advice!

I appreciate the need to support the industry, and also to find somebody who can get the best sound for me, but unfortunately (very unfortunately) I quite simply just do not have the budget to hire a sound engineer.

I would of course, jump at the chance if I had even the slightest possibility of affording it. Not only does it maximise the quality of sound, but I'm very much in favour of supporting an industry that sometimes doesn't get the credit it deserves from the 'outside' world. Unfortunately, amateur is the name of this particular gig's game, and I just have to make do with the sort of budget I have (probably literally around £200 - around $430 for America). And it would probably be insulting to expect anybody to agree to work on two sessions for that sort of price.

Anyways, once again thanks for the advice, and of course, I'm always on the look out for engineers within my budget range.
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You've gotten some good advice here... Decca tree with outriggers and spots is a typical film score setup.

With your limited budget, I'd rent small diaphragm omnis for your decca tree and new set of omnis for your outriggers. Pan all these microphones Left-Center-Right. Place spots on each of your woodwind sections (4 mics), harp, piano, celeste, perhaps also a pair in front of your brass section (to give the similar mic'd prospective as the woodwinds). You may want to put a spot out for the concertmaster, but if your decca tree is placed well, you'll get a good pickup on it even without. This can be done easily in 16 channels.

In mixing, your main sound will come from your tree. All spots should be secondary, but you'll probably need to bring in just a touch.

If you value the sound of your group, stay away from the C1000 or C3000. Nasty sounding microphones... I don't know where you're located, but if you blow your budget on microphones here in LA, you can get a pretty darned good setup. Most of the decent mics out there can be had for about $25/day.

--Ben
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Quote:
Originally Posted by klaukholm
You can do this type of ensemble with a pair of very widely spaced omnis - this is often favoured by BIS (neumann tlm50 pair with km184 and km100/43 spots), ...
Like this:



best regards
Lars
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Is that Tonhallen?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by klaukholm
Is that Tonhallen?
Yes, the concert hall Tonhallen in Sundsvall, Sweden, earlier this week. The Nordic Chamber Orchestra[*] is working with Jens Braun and Hans Knipfler from BIS.



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Lars
[*] new name, used to be Sundsvalls Kammarorkester.
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You've gotten some great advice.

What about finding an engineer with his own kit? You might be surprised and find the perfect person with ideal mics, stands, and Decca array to match.

If not...I agree w/ the suggestions you got to follow the classical Decca techniques with B&K, Schoeps, Sennheiser, or Neumann M50s, only spot the solo instruments you intend to feature (or featured instruments you in tend to solo!) Get eight mics of the same type (or match the LCRs, the outriggers, and the spot mics) get eight channels of nice matched preamps, and you're almost there. If you go Mackie, record 24 bit. It's a WORLD of difference.
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Hans is one of the best producers I have ever worked with!
Great guy, very friendly.

What preamps were they using for this session?
I have seen them use anything from Lake People to ..... Octamic depending on who the balance engineer is.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by klaukholm
What preamps were they using for this session?
I have seen them use anything from Lake People to ..... Octamic depending on who the balance engineer is.
The Octamics on stage. Digital from there to the control room.



best regards
Lars
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Hey guys.


Thanks for all the great advice. Assuming still that I have to do this myself, I'm just going to run over what I think I've read so far, and try and clarify on the points so I understand the big do's and don'ts I've been been advised on:

* If I'm using a Decca Tree, its best to have 3 matched microphones, and generally speaking I should try and stay away from AKG's and instead focus on getting great mics (Neumann, for example).


* Definitely spot the solo instruments. And the general consensus on here seems to be to spot the woodwinds as well (is possible).

* Stay well away from the CS1000/3000's.


Also, just to let people know, I'm based in the not-exactly-musical haven that is South Wales, in the UK. This has been another factor in my having limited success in finding a suitable and accessible recording engineer. If anybody knows of anybody who might be located within this region, let me know, but I've done some searching on the internet and found nobody within my price range (which is admittedly poor, but it's all I have to work with, give or take). There are a few people within a 40 mile radius, but they are professional mobile studios complete with mobile trucks and trailers. While this would be great, it's simply not an option. If anybody knows of anyone with a small but competent rig who is either based in Wales or could travel there relatively easy, let me know.

Also, generally, should the outriggers and Decca Tree mics be matched? It seems from some of the threads that the general consensus is that matched mics are a safer and easier bet than mixing mics.

Thanks for everything.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Corda
* If I'm using a Decca Tree, its best to have 3 matched microphones, and generally speaking I should try and stay away from AKG's and instead focus on getting great mics (Neumann, for example).


* Definitely spot the solo instruments. And the general consensus on here seems to be to spot the woodwinds as well (is possible).

* Stay well away from the CS1000/3000's.

<<Snip happens>>

Also, generally, should the outriggers and Decca Tree mics be matched? It seems from some of the threads that the general consensus is that matched mics are a safer and easier bet than mixing mics.

Thanks for everything.
In general, use good mics whenever possible (hey you should have expected this answer, it is gearslutz, after all ) Your tree should be matched if possible. Outriggers don't necessarily need to be the same (I use B&K's with Schoeps outriggers sometimes).

Spots are good to have to provide clarity for the inner workings of a mix. Don't use them to change ballances, but rather to enhance the clarity of sections.

--Ben
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I use a 'tree all the time to record orchestras. I've found 3 variations to work well:

- 3 matched omni's
- 2 outside omni's with a center cardioid
- 2 outside omni's with a X/Y cardioid pair in the center.

I prefer the last one, as it gets all of the image that I want. If you do the placement right you won't need spot mic's. Spot mic's can lead to phase issues (like comb filtering) and you must time align them with the mains to get a coherant sound. If you can afford it rent all DPA's for the session. Use 4011's or 4012's for the cardioids and 4006's/4003's or 4041's for the omni's. I would add a pair of omni's out in the hall for ambience/surround pick up. All of the other mic's you mentioned have colorations that can't be changed in Posting. Rule #1: Do no harm! Take in the purest signal that you can and THEN do to it what you want to. This is especially true with classical music, IMHO.
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10th February 2006
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Recording an Orchestra

The Cardiff Recording Club, see if one of their members would be keen to help. They have a vast knowledge of recording and might be intested.
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I wish my client was applying a more traditional approach to recording a 40 piece orchestra for this teleproduction later this year...

They requested a 96 channel recording to PT HD with DTRS backup. When they originally suggested recording to 96 tracks, I assumed they meant a dual 48 track system... I figured they were asking for 48 tracks and we would end up with 32 to 40 inputs BUT, after further investigation we found out they were talking about a total of 192 tracks -- dual 96. Ouch! We added two additional system techs and another set of 48 mic pres to meet the obligation...

Crazy stuff but, I'm looking forward to the challenge even though three to five mics with a few spots on the orchestra and some audience mics would workout just fine.

I assume the music producer wants total control of the orchestra in post.
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This reminds me of a "producer" that thought he could record sections of an orchestra by themselves and then mix them together later. The resulting flat, 2 dimensional CD was the worst I ever heard. I refused the project because I knew this would happen.

I'm amazed at the requirements they want for this record. The resulting recording will be incredibly flat, with no soundstage or depth, phasing and comb filtering problems out the ying-yang, and almost impossible to edit until mixed down. I know you'd like to "educate" this guy, but probably can't. Have him listen to a Shawn Murphy soundtrack, done with a Decca Tree and just a few spot mic's.

Here's an article I wrote for a TV concert event. It's on the DPA website and was in Surround Sound Pro magazine. Too bad your producer can't be swayed.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf Bernstien.pdf (25.0 KB, 1378 views)
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14th February 2006
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Good lord... How on earth does one fill up 96 channels with only 40 players? Is this not a traditional orchestra? I could see filling 48 in a film score/studio kind of setup, but 96 seems pretty extreme...

[RANT]
As an engineer that deals with acoustic music (much orchestral, purist), I find it hard to keep my skin from bristling from a producer that wants to control everything. At what point is it the producer's performance and no longer the musician's performance? Ugh...
[/RANT]

Well, have fun....

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Quote:
Originally Posted by tenor39
I'm amazed at the requirements they want for this record. The resulting recording will be incredibly flat, with no soundstage or depth, phasing and comb filtering problems out the ying-yang, and almost impossible to edit until mixed down. I know you'd like to "educate" this guy, but probably can't. Have him listen to a Shawn Murphy soundtrack, done with a Decca Tree and just a few spot mic's.
Actually Shawn Murphy isn't a good example of purist recordings... Most of his are 48 tracks (or more). He's an amazing scoring engineer whose work blows me away almost every time I hear it. However, if you listen to Fantasia 2000, you hear what his approach does to a traditional ensemble. When he records a score, he can make a sound that is unlike anybody elses.

If you want purist, look to places like Telarc or some of the old school scoring mixers like Armin Steiner...

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I was thinking of the "Glory" soundtrack. It was much more minimalist than his usual style, at least according to Stereophile. He may record 48 tracks, but how many actually are used in the final mix? I hear the 'tree in the "Glory" tracks, mostly because the soundstage is great and the phasing effects are minimal.

Well, even Michael Bishop has gone off the deep end in his latest recordings. Telarc is no longer a "purist" label. He has used the most bizzare combinations of mic's that I've yet heard of. How about Senheiser's and shotguns as an M/S pair? Or the Neuman dummy head x2 as the main mic's for surround cannon shots in the 1812 overture? Sorry, I usually believe the KISS priciple is the best way to go.
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The majority of his sound comes from his decca tree and flanks... No doubt there. However, it is my understanding that he rarely doesn't have the whole orchestra mic'd up. I saw his setup for his recording of "Memoirs of a Geisha" when they worked at UCLA this summer. It was pretty impressive- from the mics, preamps, etc... Never seen anything like it. He's also got some tricks with reverb and working with ambience- both natural as well as digital that makes his sound so unified.

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192 tracks...on 40 musicians?

I recently A/B'd the results of mutliple mic'ing techniques for classical/score/orchestra/you name it.

The concept of using close-mic's on every musician leads to more presence, top-end, clarity. Very bright, transients that cut hard. It lends to a rather dynamic sound.

Simultaneously, you can get a great sound with four mic's facing the orchestra, + 1 mic from the conductor's perspective + varying mic's dependant on the amount of soloists. I believe also, there are additional mic's to be placed in other key regions around the musicians that I can't seem to recall right now.

And, of course, you can always place mic's at varying heights (will change for every situation) from the "audience perspective" and call it a day.

DPA's and Schoeps sound great, of course. But blending with almost irrational additional mic choices can really nicen things up.

I'd say, with limited options, move those mic's everywhere until you find what sounds best. There can't be definite standards when you're talking about something with so many varying characteristics.

2 cents.

Rob.

P.S. - Oh yes, there is also the three stereo mic pairs + conductor perspective method:

Simply divide the orchestra in flanks. Run completely level stereo mics down the center. Add a mic behind the conductor, facing the orchestra. Sounds pretty sweet.
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Please note, I have never recorded an orchestra myself.
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The original tree that Decca/Teldec engineers like Sengpiel used was not a fixed system, but always was made up from three independent stands. This is simple to understand, if one considers that each orchestra is different as to size and room around it, as well as the music to be recorded plays a role.

My 2 cents about the Tree history.

And another 2 cents to the situation:
Tree will be fine, but ALWAYS needs outriggers that are preferrably the same as the 3 tree mics. And Tree systems usually needs subsystems for woodwinds, brass, percussion, just to add clarity (and to fill the holes the tree setup leaves...).
So: 3 KM183 with SBK, outriggers either also 183+SBK or maybe 184 (best would be KM100/43 probably), winds Schoeps MK4 pair, Brass MK4 or MK21, percussion for score music can be SM57.
Soloist spotted with preferrable the MK4 or DPAs as well.
No AKGs here.
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The original decca tree was a fixed array mounted on a boom. That is more a practical question than anything and depends on acessability and visibility.

It is very common to have outriggers that are different from the tree. As a matter of fact they are, in my experience, different more often than not.

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And another 2 cents to the situation:
Tree will be fine, but ALWAYS needs outriggers that are preferrably the same as the 3 tree mics. And Tree systems usually needs subsystems for woodwinds, brass, percussion, just to add clarity (and to fill the holes the tree setup leaves...).
So: 3 KM183 with SBK, outriggers either also 183+SBK or maybe 184 (best would be KM100/43 probably), winds Schoeps MK4 pair, Brass MK4 or MK21, percussion for score music can be SM57.


Ive never heard that...and Ive never heard those mic combinations mentioned with the Decca Tree either...
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IMO, if your tree is leaving a hole in the image, you haven't set it up properly. It isn't the most subtle of imaging (I find that I'd rather use a Blumlein pair for that), but you certainly don't get holes. A well placed tree's inner mic also lessens the need for woodwind spots compared to many other systems as it is closer to and aiming right at the woodwind section.

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Are we talking about the same thing?
Unfortunately, most of the information I have about the Tree is in German - try for example Eberhard Sengpiel about Decca Tree - he is one of the real gurus and has done many recordings for Decca and Teldec - I think this clarifies the thing about spot mics. Other documents all say that most of the time they used three stands, and that mostly they had the Neumann M50 for Tree and outriggers.
Of course, for speed (and live also optical) reasons a fixed one-stand array is convenient, as long as it's not a really big setup with 6 ft between the mics.
As to the holes, try and listen to the Dorati's Haydn Symphonies on Decca. That is an early application of the tree, of course, but still it's a good recording.
Personally, I even like that sound of three string "clouds" with spaces between them. makes the stuff a lot clearer than many other setups.
One often DOES see smaller trees - but they are not the original Decca Tree then (according to E. Sengpiel at least...)
Outriggers are needed for bigger ensembles (as I presuppose will be in this case). One can do without but won't get really wide string sections as long as the Tree is not very much higher up than normally.
Of course the center mic is closer to the winds than in another setup. But it is just one mic and thus will focus the winds all to the center. I don't like that...

My mic recommendations are what is affordable with a smaller budget (for the original question of this thread...). KM183 + SBK "golfball" is as close as one can get to the M50 sound when one doesn't have the budget for M150 or TLM50 (or original M50...). I don't think there's any discussion about Schoeps. As to percussion: of course 57 isn't the best (especially in a Decca Tree context), but depending on the music it can be ok.
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The tree dates back to 1954.

Roy Wallace and Arthur Haddy at the Decca Studios in London were recording the Mantovani Orchestra. They constructed a T-shape steel array and attached Neumann M49 microphones to each of the three ends.The array was suspended from a large studio boom, above and slightly behind the conductor's podium.

Decca engineers Ken Wilkinson and Stan Goodall later made some changes and ended up with the M50 tree we know today.

As for the winds being focused in the centre - well that is were they are. You still ge a lot of winds in the flanks, but as ben said - the middle mic gives the winds a presence that allows you to dial in less wind spots than you would in other configurations.
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Ah, thanks for the information about Tree history
About the winds: I think that depends on the piece. There are pieces with lots of winds and brass (some Bach cantatas), and there are pieces with not that much wind (other Bach cantatas).
What I've never really understood is why some people put up an XY stereo setup as center mic. Seems to me this emphasizes strings more than necessary...?? I could see the point of a Blumlein pair though.
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