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Recording Harmonium & Tabla Condenser Microphones
Old 1st March 2006
  #1
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Talking Recording Harmonium & Tabla

Has anyone here had any experience recording these instruments?
What worked (or didn't)?
Old 1st March 2006
  #2
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Good Room-Bad Room?

Hi Sinsay,

Can you give me some more info on the type of room (live, treated etc.) and whether you are recording a performance with audience or just straight recording. I presume you want to record both together.

Also if you know whether the harmonium is single, double or triple read and the tabla is the high pitch or low pitch one (I am talking about the thinner of the two drums: there are two kinds; one is bassy the other sharp).

Baithak
Old 1st March 2006
  #3
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Smile

i've had great luck recording tabla using a ms config in the centre and spot mics on each drum
it was a long time ago, but i think for the ms i used a 414 and km84,, on banyan i used a d12e and on tabla a c535
good luck
Old 1st March 2006
  #4
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I have the latest issue of EQ magazine which features '200 tips' from notable mixers and engineers. One of them actually posts his tip for people who have "wondered how to get a cool tabla sound". As I recall, (and you might want to pick up a copy in the newstand to check the accuracy on this), he said you take a plain ol' SM57 point it downwards in between the drums halfway between the floor and the drums. Seemed pretty odd to me, and it seems you'd definitely need a wood floor to utilize this approach properly. Worth a try... I'm guessing a lot of the sound comes from the drum body if this works well. I was recording a thumb piano made out of a gourd recently and it became evident that the gourd resonance was a lot, if not most of the sound.

I'd like to try recording tabla sometime. That would be fun. I'd probably try an omnidirectional up fairly close or maybe a ribbon mic a little ways back. I could definitely see how a dynamic mic might work well though...something like a Beyer M201 or Senn 441...maybe even a Beyer M160. That's an instrument where I can really picture myself spending way too much time trying out every kind of mic and position. That's what I ended up doing on the aformentioned thumb piano to some degree. We actually got to joking about setting up a staged photo with a half a dozen mics pitched up around a guy hunkered over the thumb piano in intense concentration with myself as the studious engineer kneeling down and glowering in the background. Kinda like a photo spoof of a Mix Magazine "Classic Track" style of photo displaying our "quest for the perfect thumb piano sound in this legendary session". It would be interesting to know how some of the classic old raga recordings were done...the stuff on Ocora and Nonesuch, not to mention the Ravi Shankar performances.

Not sure what you'd do on that harmonium...treat it like you would a violin? I'm thinking room sound is pretty significant with those, much like a sitar. Not sure what the relative volume is on those instruments, but if they're playing together, I'd definitely be thinking about using a room mic for overall sound of the duo.

Seems like I saw a harmonium thread somewhere recently... Hopefully someone with some actual experience will chime in.

Good luck.
Old 1st March 2006
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sinsay
Has anyone here had any experience recording these instruments?
What worked (or didn't)?
I've recorded harmonium before - IMO, it depends on the role of the instrument/player: is (harmonium) a background part, or playing an integral role?

Most of the situations I've recorded harmonium is with it being a "pad" element. The mic's used were KM56's in XY stereo, and in another time, where the player was using it like a "wheezy donkey", the tone was too "dark" and it needed to cut thru more. I ended up used a pr. of 451's to give it more bite.

I don't think there is a right and wrong way to record them, just what serves the flavour of the song. If you have time, experiment a bit with mics and placement.

I don't have ANY experience with micing tablas, but - I'm hoping to get my feet wet in the coming weeks with an awesome player set to do some tracks!

All the best!
Old 1st March 2006
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by sinsay
Has anyone here had any experience recording these instruments?
What worked (or didn't)?
Yes I have, and I did it badly. The SM-57 between the drums trick is one I'd seen in live performances by Zakkir Hussain. (Most serious tabla players do NOT want you f*cking with the drum-to-drum balance.) So I figured to one-up this by using a 421. But the one I grabbed had last been used for voice and had max bass rolloff engaged, which I didn't notice. Result was I got the attacks, but almost none of the signature resonance. Did my best to dig some out after the fact, by means of extreme EQ and serious abuse of an STC-8. No substitute for miking it properly to begin with.

As for the harmonium, I can't for the life of me remember what I used up close. I think I mostly relied on the room mics.

P.S.: Have you noticed that some Sikh religious music includes a section that sounds exactly like jazz cats trading fours?

David L. Rick
Seventh String Recording
Old 1st March 2006
  #7
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I used an XY above the tablas, make sure they are not going to be whacked by the player. Choose whichever two condensers you would use for instruments. Harmonium can be any decent LDC, be aware that wind comes out of the instrument from the top so you do not want that blowing into the mic. Even a good dynamic can do the trick.

That is what I have done for studio, live is different. Live, it is common to tape a 57 to the top of a harmonium and just use a single mic for the tablas.

Have fun.
Old 10th July 2006
  #8
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Apologies if it is inappropriate to dig up old threads like this one...
Tell me if it is, and I won't do it again...

I've had a good deal of experience with the combination of Tablas and
Microphones - from both sides of the microphone, as it were. Therefore
I'd like to share a bit of that...

IMHO, the mostest bestest Tabla microphone is a single AKG C414...
Placed in between the drums, maybe with a slight tilt towards the
smaller drum (the actual "Tabla"), pointed at the inside edge of the
drum, where the index finger strikes.

I see no need whatsoever to use two or more microphones. a) for musical reasons, because the Tabla is one instrument and b) for technical reasons, because whatever the bass drum (Bayan) produces will come across just fine even if the mic is slightly tilted towards the Tabla. The tapping sound of the fingers hitting the skin is produced near the mic. So even that is faithfully reproduced...

With all due respect, I would consider the 4-mic setup mentioned above to be total overkill... There is no need for "spot mics" and also no need at all for stereo. The Tabla player usually sits to the left of the soloist, and that's where the Tabla should be located in the stereo spectrum. Spreading it apart by separately panning the two instruments makes no musical sense.

I have an EB P48 and a ULS and I've compared and much preferred them to the U87 (which somehow colours the sound of the Tabla). I've also preferred the 414 to an MTG UM70S and a few others. One of the biggest disappointments was the sound of an Earthworks SR-78, which is really not a Tabla microphone.. (nasal and unpleasant). As for dynamic mics, the Beyer M201 is indeed an excellent choice (it's been mentioned here also).

There's a certain depth or resonance to specific Tabla strokes that SDCs in general don't quite seem to capture/represent as well, I've only gotten that with the 414... It simply has provided an excellent result every time I used it, you can't go wrong with it.

The mic can be placed on a small stand in front of and slightly above the Tabla:

This position will leave sufficient space for the player's hand movements. It also does not disturb the audience's view of the musician and the instrument.

Note the windshield. This is not because of air movement, but to protect the mic from talcum powder... Tabla players dry their hands with it, and it does tend to fly about a bit... If you don't want it on the membranes of your expensive mics, use a windshield.

Regarding the harmonium, I dont think it's that critical. Most of the usual suspects for recording acoustic instruments in your collection should do the job. (Hope no harmonium player reads this...)

Daniel
Old 10th July 2006
  #9
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Recording Harmonium

I have been using Harmoniums and Pump organs for years.....I use a Royer 121....
Old 10th July 2006
  #10
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The indian harmonium is a bit different...

Daniel
Attached Thumbnails
Recording Harmonium & Tabla-harmonium.jpg  
Old 15th July 2006
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by d_fu
Apologies if it is inappropriate to dig up old threads like this one...
Tell me if it is, and I won't do it again...

No worries, I welcome it around these parts.

Thanks and please carry on!
Old 16th March 2007
  #12
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Daniel,

I was just wondering what pick-up pattern you use on your 414 (fig 8?) in the above technique that you discuss?

Thanks
Jeremy
Old 16th March 2007
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeremy - DVC View Post
I was just wondering what pick-up pattern you use on your 414 (fig 8?) in the above technique that you discuss?
Cardioid or Hyper, both will work well. Hyper if there's potential for feedback from a PA. Never tried Fo8, but it might work as well (but the 414's frequency curve may be a tad different)

For a pure recording (no PA), I might go back a bit further, but not much. I'm all for close-miking Indian Classical Music, the Nimbus or Water Lily approach doesn't do it justice, IMHO.

Daniel
Old 13th February 2008
  #14
hey guys,

im doing FOH with a harmonium + singer. any idea how to mic these up? will one mic close up be enough to capture the whole range, or go for two at each end? feedback will be an issue.
Old 22nd February 2008
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by d_fu View Post
The indian harmonium is a bit different...

Daniel
Yes indeed. I recorded one last week in ensemble.

In practise this instrument is something of a percussion instrument (like a piano) and if you get too close the sound of fingers hitting keys can be totally overwhelming, especially if the playing is fast.

There are two approaches to solving this.

The first is to get some distance (2-3 metres) for a natural sound, where the percussive sound of the keys is not too prominent.

The second approach is to get very close but well away from the keys, but I was never compelled to try this one.

Some distance is probably the better solution.

Regarding tabla, I have found that 1-3 metres is a good distance - but only with my own microphones.

The indian style of horribly close-mic'd tabla (usually clipped & distorted) is over-rated and is mostly used to make up for a lack of realistic dynamics in conventional microphones.

Andy
Old 22nd February 2008
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by andy_simpson View Post
Regarding tabla, I have found that 1-3 metres is a good distance - but only with my own microphones.
I would really like to hear some samples.

Quote:
The indian style of horribly close-mic'd tabla (usually clipped & distorted) is over-rated and is mostly used to make up for a lack of realistic dynamics in conventional microphones.
While I know what you are referring to, I'm still all for close-miking - with good microphones and no distortion...

BTW, have you ever noticed how distorted the sound is on Turkish TV stations, even during music programs - they really seem to like that...

Daniel
Old 22nd February 2008
  #17
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I've done a good amount of classical indian recording and I've found for both mridangam and tabla that spot micing each drum with a km84 and putting up an XY with 414's maybe 2 feet up and 2 feet back pointed down at the drums works amazingly well. The waves plugin TransX Wide is also fantastic when used with parallel compression for tabla.
Old 22nd February 2008
  #18
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OT: Stone me to death for what I will say now, but when I hear about playing and recording HARMONIUM with tabla, I feel butterflies in my stomach and even worse .... To me, so called Indian harmonium is the most absurd thing which ever happened to Indian music. Borrowing the harmonium from English who used it for accompanying some church songs and starting to use it in Indian music was like fist into eye.

Indian music is based on completely different principles than tempered dead fixed tones: very subtle microchanges, ethereal phrases etc. are the things which make soul and heart of Indian music. And what more - the same tones have often slightly different intonation in different ragas : and that makes the "soul" of a raga. This is the beauty of it.

And now use this dead quacking toy for playing a raga ... Or a singer sings phrases full of delicate slides and microtones and behind him this endless quacking goes on, reminding a sound of accordeon in Paris cabaret cafe .... It is a parody and defiling of Indian music. And this Indian harmonium cannot be considered even as a real and serious musical instrument, since it has no dynamics, no timbres change etc.

Yes - the sarangi (the instrument that was originally used to accompany vocalists) is very rarely used nowadays, because you need 10 years to master this instrument, while for harmonium 10 minutes are enough.

When somebody brought harmonium to Allaudin Khan (the guru of Ravi Shankar), he rushed and threw this thing on the road.
Rabindranath Tagore said: "harmonium is the bane of Indian music". And he was right.

In 70s, first only "A" grade radio artists were allowed to use harmonium, later the ban was relieved and now this sound pollutes most of the vocal performances. Fortunately only in Hindustani (North Indian Classical music). Carnatic (South Indian classical music), still sticks to violin as an accompanying instrument for vocals.

But the top of low taste and loss of any aesthetics is to perform "raga" on harmonium solo ... Imagine the majestic deep touching mysterious tones and phrases of ragas like Darbari Kannada, Lalit, Bhairav, Mian Malhar etc. played on this impossible toy ... It is like playing Beethoven piano sonata on Orph children metallophone or even worse ...

The great Indian musicians of the past must be moving in their graves hearing that and the Gandharvas (celestial musicians) must be weeping ... Me too ... Sodoma and Gomora ....

Now I am relieved heh
Old 23rd February 2008
  #19
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Quote:
Carnatic (South Indian classical music), still sticks to violin as an accompanying instrument for vocals.
ivo,

IMHO, the violin is the worst thing that has happened to carnatic music. carnatic music thrived for centuries, before the violin was introduced into it. the problem is simply that violinists tune the instrument in fifths, to whatever key the singer is singing in, and this makes makes for a scratchy, strident sound on most occasions. and when the violin is playing gamakaas (a very uniquely indian approach to modulation) in unison with the vocals, i think its just chaos, with nothing coming through clearly...

as regards hindustani music, the sarangi is still very much in vogue as the primary melodic accompanying instrument. it is true that the harmonium has certain limitations when it comes to exploring the entire scope of the music, but it makes for quite a nice pad to support the vocal and percussion. and if you've ever heard a brilliant harmonium player close up (and they are quite rare), you might revise your opinion. and there is a form of 'light' classical music called 'gazal' ('light' is a bit of a misnomer here, the music is actually pretty intense), in which the harmonium plays a key role, and does a damn good job of it.

to answer the OP, i mostly agree with d_fu... one close mic is sufficient in an amplified situation. however, if the music is not entirely classical, and you want a bigger and wider, if slightly unnatural sound, i recommend close micing using XY with a pair of SDCs. however, if the music is unamplified, contrary to d_fu, i believe that a minimalist non close mic'd (waterlily styled) approach will work best.

FWIW, here is a sample of tabla and guitar (!) recorded with a pair of avenson sto2s placed between the instruments.

regards,
Attached Files

neel_and_adi.mp3 (1.25 MB, 4393 views)

Old 23rd February 2008
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audiothings View Post
as regards hindustani music, the sarangi is still very much in vogue as the primary melodic accompanying instrument. it is true that the harmonium has certain limitations when it comes to exploring the entire scope of the music, but it makes for quite a nice pad to support the vocal and percussion. and if you've ever heard a brilliant harmonium player close up (and they are quite rare), you might revise your opinion. and there is a form of 'light' classical music called 'gazal' ('light' is a bit of a misnomer here, the music is actually pretty intense), in which the harmonium plays a key role, and does a damn good job of it.
I very much agree, as I've pointed out in reply to a similar rant from Ivo earlier...


Quote:
however, if the music is unamplified, contrary to d_fu, i believe that a minimalist non close mic'd (waterlily styled) approach will work best.
It all depends on the room. The Tabla tends to get unpleasantly overambient very quickly (also when incompetent recordists pull down the Tabla mic, because they think or someone tells them that "enough" Tabla is coming in through the soloist's mic...). I already hear a slight tendency of that in your sample, although the overall sound is pleasant.


Daniel
Old 23rd February 2008
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audiothings View Post
ivo,

IMHO, the violin is the worst thing that has happened to carnatic music. carnatic music thrived for centuries, before the violin was introduced into it. the problem is simply that violinists tune the instrument in fifths, to whatever key the singer is singing in, and this makes makes for a scratchy, strident sound on most occasions. and when the violin is playing gamakaas (a very uniquely indian approach to modulation) in unison with the vocals, i think its just chaos, with nothing coming through clearly...

,
Sorry, but that´s not a good example, because in principle and due to its nature violin can play and follow any phrase, microtones, gamakas etc. to the least detail. Similarly like sarangi, flute etc. these are instruments that sound closest to human voice and can reflect all the details and subtleties of Indian music (unlike harmonium, piano etc.).

Maybe for ghazals, pop tunes etc. it is OK, but for classical ragas, it is out of place ...
Fortunately - some of the Hindustani singers try to use sarangi as much as possible or violin (Pandit Jasraj being accompanies by the great Kala Ramnath). And dhrupad singers need no background "mirror" at all - which is probably the best solution ...
Old 23rd February 2008
  #22
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Quote:
because in principle and due to its nature violin can play and follow any phrase, microtones, gamakas etc. to the least detail.
absolutely ivo. but that is the whole problem! when two entities are attempting to play the same microtones at the same time (and this itself is tough, because a lot of it is improvised), the micro differences between the microtones get lost....
Old 23rd February 2008
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ISedlacek View Post

Indian music is based on completely different principles than tempered dead fixed tones: very subtle microchanges, ethereal phrases etc. are the things which make soul and heart of Indian music. And what more - the same tones have often slightly different intonation in different ragas : and that makes the "soul" of a raga. This is the beauty of it.

And now use this dead quacking toy for playing a raga ... Or a singer sings phrases full of delicate slides and microtones and behind him this endless quacking goes on, reminding a sound of accordeon in Paris cabaret cafe .... It is a parody and defiling of Indian music. And this Indian harmonium cannot be considered even as a real and serious musical instrument, since it has no dynamics, no timbres change etc.

.....
Ivo has a great point.

To me, this instrument is like the high-gain distortion electric guitar - it's either loud or off - binary dynamics - which doesn't help drums in rock music any more than it helps here.

In ensemble I found it to fill all available space, leaving only the room between the notes for other instruments to speak.

Andy
Old 23rd February 2008
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by d_fu View Post
I would really like to hear some samples.
I will open a thread with some samples shortly....

Quote:

While I know what you are referring to, I'm still all for close-miking - with good microphones and no distortion...

BTW, have you ever noticed how distorted the sound is on Turkish TV stations, even during music programs - they really seem to like that...

Daniel
The Indian culture of massively distorted & hyped HF seems amazing to me, considering how the music in question sounds in reality.

Even the 'highest-end' (eg. A.R. Rahman) of the industry seems to retain the problem but here it has shifted from horrible distortion & brightness to horrible compression/limiting/equalisation, which is altogether more fatiguing for music let alone a long film.

Andy
Old 23rd February 2008
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by andy_simpson View Post
The Indian culture of massively distorted & hyped HF seems amazing to me, considering how the music in question sounds in reality.
no doubt-- all this talk about loudness wars in modern music, but some of the bollywood stuff i have from the 60s and 70s is absolutely ear shattering.

tabla sounds-- as a tabla player (hence the handle), there's a bunch that have worked for me, and a bunch that haven't. If you're layering tabla in a tune with a bunch of other instrumentation already there, 57s can work great-- you don't need all the info condensers are going to give you.

for a lifelike sound, a single omni-- i love my 4050 in omni for this-- can work great but placement is key. i got a gigantic bayan (bass) sound with a nicely-balanced treble about a foot away from the bayan, pointing down at a wood floor.

have also had good experiences with the SDC neumann's , a few inches off of each drum.

the go-to idea of 2xsdc's can often get really ugly. tabla will give you TONS of transient and high-end info, very little of which you really need to capture the soul of the instruemnt. all the skin sounds and 'ticks' of the strokes are exactly what you don't want, as well as a gigantic hump in the attack of the bass side. some mics can handle it great-- as bright as they are, josephson c42's sound wonderful on most tablas-- some are just a thunky mess.

ribbons are almost always wonderful. royer 121s on tabla? mmmmmmm.... or a single ribbon, fig-8, between the 2 drums, can capture a nice, warm tone. YMMV.

and yes-- the style of the player, his technique (dilli or purbi, lots of single-finger strokes or lots of multiple-finger strokes), his power-- all make a gigantic difference in what you're capturing.
Old 24th February 2008
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by andy_simpson View Post
I will open a thread with some samples shortly....
Don't want to spoil your samples thread, and I apologize for being dreadfully blunt (my cat's disappeared and I hate the world... ), but apart from the fact that the Sitar and Tabla players can hardly be referred to as competent, the sound quality especially of the Tabla sample is IMHO an example of how not to record this instrument... It would have been interesting to hear how your microphones perform at closer distances, but given the quality of the playing and the instrument as such, there would probably not be a lot to be gathered from such samples... The ensemble sound is ok... Musically, I'd rather not comment.


Quote:
Originally Posted by andy_simpson View Post
To me, this instrument is like the high-gain distortion electric guitar - it's either loud or off - binary dynamics
I'm afraid that's just not right. In the hands of a competent harmonium player (yes, there is such a thing... Appa Jalgaonkar or Mehmood Dholpuri, to name just two senior masters), there can be more subtlety to the harmonium than you may imagine... And yes, it does have dynamics and "timbre change".

Quote:
Originally Posted by ISedlacek View Post
And dhrupad singers need no background "mirror" at all - which is probably the best solution ...
How can that be considered a "solution"? It's part of today's Khyal style of singing to have an accompanying instrument (whose role, BTW, is significantly different from that of a violin player accompanying a south indian vocalist or even instrumentalist). That's not something that can just be done away with.
In some cases, I actually prefer harmonium accompaniment in Khyal singing, e.g.with higher pitch female voices like Parween Sultana...

Quote:
Originally Posted by TeReKeTe View Post
all the skin sounds and 'ticks' of the strokes are exactly what you don't want,
I personally do want some of that...



Daniel
Old 24th February 2008
  #27
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Quote:
Even the 'highest-end' (eg. A.R. Rahman) of the industry seems to retain the problem but here it has shifted from horrible distortion & brightness to horrible compression/limiting/equalisation, which is altogether more fatiguing for music let alone a long film.
i am right here in the city of a.r. rahman, a brilliant music director with a world class studio and a neve 88r. while i must admit that things are getting a little bit better (it was unbearable in the early 90s... rahman's engineer told me in person that he likes the sound of vocal sibilance cutting through the mix), everything is still extremely compressed, bright and unnatural. try +15 dB @ 12 Khz and -8 dB @ 1 Khz, on a well well engineered CD, and you know what i'm talking about. this is my biggest problem as an engineer... i simply do not do any additive Eq unless I have to... a client once commented rather disapprovingly that my mixes sound kind of "analog" and what he needs is a "digital" sounding mix. when i said to him that i take it as a compliment, he couldn't believe me heh

an even more unfortunate thing is that the morons who frequently mix carnatic music here are trying very hard to make it sound like film music. (hindustani music in general is better engineered).

daniel, i'm surprised you're so in touch with the scene here. all the best with your cat... on one occasion, mine came back after a week...
Old 24th February 2008
  #28
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Nice design on your logo
Old 25th February 2008
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audiothings View Post
i am right here in the city of a.r. rahman, a brilliant music director with a world class studio and a neve 88r. while i must admit that things are getting a little bit better (it was unbearable in the early 90s... rahman's engineer told me in person that he likes the sound of vocal sibilance cutting through the mix), everything is still extremely compressed, bright and unnatural. try +15 dB @ 12 Khz and -8 dB @ 1 Khz, on a well well engineered CD, and you know what i'm talking about. this is my biggest problem as an engineer... i simply do not do any additive Eq unless I have to... a client once commented rather disapprovingly that my mixes sound kind of "analog" and what he needs is a "digital" sounding mix. when i said to him that i take it as a compliment, he couldn't believe me heh
Yes, I would agree that he is a good music director (from what I've heard). It is the sound quality that makes me sad.

HF appears to be something of a status symbol in Indian film recording.

This stuff must be painful in the cinema theatres. I know I tried to watch a few things (Rang de Basanti for example) with the sound running through my workshop mains and gave up because of the ear-fatigue.

A very (compressed) neumann & neve-ish sound from Mr Rahman, from what I've heard recently.

Andy
Old 25th February 2008
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by d_fu View Post
Don't want to spoil your samples thread, and I apologize for being dreadfully blunt (my cat's disappeared and I hate the world... ), but apart from the fact that the Sitar and Tabla players can hardly be referred to as competent, the sound quality especially of the Tabla sample is IMHO an example of how not to record this instrument... It would have been interesting to hear how your microphones perform at closer distances, but given the quality of the playing and the instrument as such, there would probably not be a lot to be gathered from such samples... The ensemble sound is ok... Musically, I'd rather not comment.
Well, there are not many Indians in Poland. It is too cold!

Still, the instruments are at least Indian and subject to the laws of physics which give them the basic material timbre, so the test is useful enough for my purposes.

And I'm sorry to hear about your cat. I hope he will return in due course, as is often the way with cats.

Quote:

I'm afraid that's just not right. In the hands of a competent harmonium player (yes, there is such a thing... Appa Jalgaonkar or Mehmood Dholpuri, to name just two senior masters), there can be more subtlety to the harmonium than you may imagine... And yes, it does have dynamics and "timbre change".
I really refer to the basic operation of the instrument. I would have thought that a basic accordian offers more control of dynamics but I will look up the players you suggest.

Quote:

I personally do want some of that...

Daniel
If you consistently feel the need to use extreme proximity to achieve this, perhaps you could consider different monitoring?

Andy
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