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mic'ing a pipe organ?
Old 29th November 2003
  #1
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mic'ing a pipe organ?

I am hopefully wrapping up negotiations to record a large pipe organ and would like to hear from anybody who has done this before. The first question that comes to mind involves mic placement; how do you mic an instrument that is located all over the room? The pipes on really big organs are often located all over the place - the ranks located near the console are often only a small fraction of the total number.

I'm gonna guess that the best answer to this situation is to "mic the room" as the sound is not coming from a specific point. If I have time, I'd like to try a few different stereo configurations, including the OCT (optimised cardiod triangle) layout I just learned about. How do you determine the center of your stereo image when setting up the mics if there is no defined point source for the sound?

What are the commonly accepted methods of mic'ing a large pipe organ in a theatre or church? I'd think that spaced Omnis might be the favorite as they might provide the best chance of capturing the thundering low end of a big pipe organ. As the low end is noticeably less directional, has anyone ever tried using a single ribbon or omni as a "bass mic" and folding it into the stereo mix (especially if forced to use cardiods as the main stereo pair)?

Any other ideas?
Old 29th November 2003
  #2
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Omnis are your friends with organ recordings. Don't mic the instrument but mic the room. Organ sound is as much of a function of the room that it is in as it is the actual instrument.

Now, are you doing a session or a concert? In a concert- spaced omnis up really high and call it a day. In a session, I'll probably place a few extra mics to offer detail on ranks that may be located outside of the main ranks... In the end, though, the majority of the sound comes from the main pair of omnis. Image isn't really an issue because the listener (and performer) of an organ is so far removed from the performance that all they hear is the diffuse field sound anyways.

--Ben
Old 30th November 2003
  #3
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Ditto what Ben told you about omnis. They are wonderful. If you are not familiar with the room, ask the Music Director at the church/concert hall where the sweet spot in the room is. They will usually know. This is a good place to start.

You will want to listen carefully if you raise the mics high. I have had instruments that get way too shrill if you are too high - I suspect it is reflections from the ceiling. This may be a good or a bad thing in your space.

Oh, and since are going to use omni's, do listen very carefully in the empty room and be sure to ask if the heat/AC will turn on during the performance. Good omnis will capture air moving through the ducts with wonderful precision!

At the last organ recording I did, as I pulled up to the church, I saw a roofing contractor pulling out ladders to work on the slate roof. I asked him politely if he was going to be on the roof, as we had a recording session planned. Thankfully, he had been told, and was planning to work on a different roof on the adjoining building.

Be sure to have the organist/music director point out to your where all the chambers are located... Not so much because you will mic differently, but for balance. In good spaces, when you sit in the sweet spot of the hall, an organ concert is often true surround sound, and I've had organists who've taken the time to register the instrument such that polyphonic lines swirl around you from the various chambers. It can be astounding when the right person is at the console. It also makes you realize the severe limitations of stereo recording. A very different thing than a string quartet.

What you are hoping to catch is that good spot where all the chambers sound about the same, or, at least in the natural proportion of the hall. The organist in particular will be able to listen to a test recording and tell you that the gallery organ is weak compared to the chancel, or whatever. Depeding on the instrument and repetoire, some of the instrument may be little used.... that may skew your decision more toward the area where the action is.

Oh, and bring your very very very clean mic pre amps. Depending on all the usual variables, you may be a bit away from the instrument. Of course, really high output mics like the DPAs won't need anything close to 60db.
Old 30th November 2003
  #4
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Remoteness's Avatar
As a side bar:

Some eye food for your consideration...
Hauptwerk Virtual Pipe Organ Project
There's tons of interesting information on this shareware MIDI Pipe Organ simulation.

Here's how Martin Dyde went about...
"Recording a Pipe Organ"
Old 30th November 2003
  #5
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally posted by Nathanael

Oh, and bring your very very very clean mic pre amps. Depending on all the usual variables, you may be a bit away from the instrument. Of course, really high output mics like the DPAs won't need anything close to 60db.
as another strategy - sometimes the uber clean mic preamps do not compliment the room so well.

try bringing along two small 1x2 splitters (vhirlvind makes these). If you have a main pair of mics you are relying upon - and excess tracks, why not split that one pair of mics into both a clean preamp, and something with a bit more beef?
Old 2nd December 2003
  #6
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I recently recorded a cool version of Holtz's "The Planets" on a great organ in the "burg" and used 2 different stereo pairs. First was earthworks tc 30s through the lab 102 pre. 2nd pair was MKH 800 in omni with avalon pres. ended up mixing them about 30/70. I went to the space a week before and TEFed the room out to find some good spots for placement. Good Luck!
Old 4th December 2003
  #7
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I just learned a little more about the theatre pipe organ that I will be recording in a week or so. The one fact that sorta surprised me is the location of the pipe ranks. They are equally divided between the two side walls of the theatre; the pipes begin near the front left and right corners of the stage and continue along both side walls until just before the balconey overhang.

I've been limited to recording primarily acoustic music for over one year now so I've gotten a little too comfortable with just throwing up a single stereo pair and getting consistently good results. But this situation is almost more like trying to record a loud rock band from the 1st row. Unlike the rock band, there is no sound coming from the stage; but in both circumstances, the main sound is coming from your extreme left and right. (with the rock band, the sound is coming from the left and right PA stacks, in my case its coming from the pipes installed along the left and right side walls of the theatre. (yeah, I know its not a perfect analogy, but its what came to mind.....)

I haven't visited the theatre yet, hopefully in a few days. But from the way its been described to me, I'm thinking that the front edge of the balcony might be a good location for my mics (and the rest of my gear - the balcony will not be in use for the event). From this location, all of the pipe ranks will be in front of me (and off to the sides). If I set up at a typical "good seat" down on the floor, not only would the pipes be on both sides of me, but they would start in front of me and continue to a point well behind me. This might be very cool for a surround recording, but I'm thinking that having all of the direct sound coming from the front (and sides) might make things easier.

I'm not going to have a lot of time on the day of the recording to try drastically different mic locations. I'm pretty sure that I need to make the floor-or-balcony decision in advance and live with it. Has anyone ever recorded in a situtation similar to this? Does it make more sense to locate the mics so that all of the direct sound is coming from the front or would the "surround" location make more senes? Can anyone comment about any other benefits or disadvantages from placing mics at the front edge of the balcony?
Old 4th December 2003
  #8
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If you don't mind me asking what theater in LA has a pipe organ? I know Royce Hall at UCLA and (of course) the new Disney Hall have them, but beyond that... Most of the other ones I've worked in have to bring in organs when they are needed.

Will you be able to hang microphones over the middle of the audience or are you stuck with stands or hanging them off of the balcony?

--Ben
Old 5th December 2003
  #9
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If you don't mind me asking what theater in LA has a pipe organ? I know Royce Hall at UCLA and (of course) the new Disney Hall have them, but beyond that... Most of the other ones I've worked in have to bring in organs when they are needed.


Wilshire Ebell
http://www.ebellla.org/Locations/filming6.htm


Will you be able to hang microphones over the middle of the audience or are you stuck with stands or hanging them off of the balcony?


no "audience" - its a holiday party. I was thinking of cantilevering over the edge of the balcony with a small boom stand. (over the rail, out a couple of feet and down a couple of feet; far enough to avoid any reflections from the face of the balcony) But it depends on the height of the balcony, the height and projection of the pipe ranks and a few dozen other factors. Until I actually walk around, I'm just spinning my wheels.

But I really would like people's opionions regarding my question about keeping the entire organ in front of me versus setting up in the middle of the floor where the pipe ranks would stretch out behind me along both walls.
Old 5th December 2003
  #10
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The non-conformist option to your balcony plan would be to put a blumelein pair of Fig-8's up.

Lot of reasons why it might not work, but it would let you mike between the two walls and still offer a plane of null.

The Royer would give you pretty close to point source if you can rent it. If you will be far from the instrument though (like 30-40 ft), I can't really recommend the technique... It got too "narrow" - kind of like listening through a tunnel. The imaging was perfect, but too centered the last time I tried this.

Omnis will, of course, still work great in the middle of the room. It's suprisingly unimportant to have the organ "image" in the traditional sense of the word (like a string quartet, say).

My experience is that capturing the spaciousness and deep bass make a big difference.
Old 5th December 2003
  #11
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The Ebel is a strange space... I've worked there a number of times (didn't even realize there was an organ there) and it is always difficult to get a great sounding recording.

That said, there is nowhere to hang anything there so I believe your only option is going to be from the balcony. (The pit that you could set up in is right at the lip of the stage and I don't believe you are going to get a particularly good sound for the organ at that position) If there aren't going to be people whose sightlines you need to worry about, you may be able to boom some microphones out over the downstairs area with some success. Also, it is not a particularly reverberant space so you won't have to worry as much about that (good or bad). As I remember, they also have a bunch of extra stage weights and sand bags there that you can use to stabilize your stands.

If you don't mind going 4 channels, the blumlein pair mentioned by Nathaniel could work well... 90 degrees should get you pretty close to aiming right at the ranks. In addition, I'd also place a pair of omnis as wide/flank mics as well. The Blumlien will pick up the detail, but the omnis will add ambience and a much better low end.

If you get a chance, you should check out the ballrooms there. The theater is kind of run down these days (you can imagine what it looked like in its prime), but the ballrooms are stunning. I've recorded concerts in there as well and the main room in the front is a great acoustic. A bit noisy from Wilshire Blvd, but a chamber orchestra sounds stunning in there...

Have fun. If you have questions about the room PM me, and I'll give you my phone number.

--Ben
Old 5th December 2003
  #12
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally posted by fifthcircle
If you don't mind going 4 channels, the blumlein pair mentioned by Nathaniel could work well... 90 degrees should get you pretty close to aiming right at the ranks. In addition, I'd also place a pair of omnis as wide/flank mics as well. The Blumlien will pick up the detail, but the omnis will add ambience and a much better low end.
--Ben

So what are 'yalls favorite omni's for this kind of situation???


thanks,
-dave
Old 5th December 2003
  #13
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The ones that I own heh (I know that isn't very gear slutish of me) I have B&K 4006s.

The Neumann 582's with the gold omni capsules are pretty stunning sounding on organ.

--Ben
Old 5th December 2003
  #14
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Plush's Avatar
Thought I'd chime in cause we're specialists with organ recordings. Whether theatre organ or traditonal church organ, it's made to sound IN the room, not up close. Often very good results are obtained by using two pairs of mics. Believe it or not, I like spaced cardioid or spaced wide cardioid, closer in with another spaced pair far away. The distant pair gives you some room bloom (if there is any) and the closer pair gives detail.

I wouldn't use any figure 8 mic because the low end is rolled off. Imaging is not what it's about so an XY is not so important.

Theatre organs usually have interesting percussion sections and bells --as well as chimes and maybe even a caliope section.
You want detail on these. Omnis far away will do nothing for you
unless there are some 32 or 64 foot pipes.

When you visit the theatre, have the organist play and face the main ranks. Then step backwards slowly until you hear maximum bass report still with good focus of sound. That's where your first pair would go.

From there on out, it's just adding in some natural hall ambience.
(might not be much)

Hope this helps,
Best from Chicago
Old 7th December 2003
  #15
SLS
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I've never recorded a pipe organ solo per say, but often record orchestral and choir performances that have organ in it. Occassionally the organ will have a solo piece though, so I have to mic the hall in such a way that is good for the overall acoustics.

Having said that, I love using my Earthworks QTC-1's in those situations. If you don't know, they are known as the "quiet omnis" and have a frequency response from 4hz-40khz. They are real clean and give a rich low end. Have to fool with placement sometimes though, they don't quite respond like traditional mics. But they will give some amazing results.

Most of the time I use the Earthworks in conjunction with cardioid pairs like the Neumann KM-184s or similar; and if there is an orchestra, sometimes there will be other mics open as needed. I believe the combination of omnis and cardioids well positioned can be very nice to control the acoustics in the hall.
Old 9th December 2003
  #16
Gear Maniac
 

as someone else mentioned, being close to the sound source ( ie within the reverberation radius of the soundfield) is crutial when using omni pairs. If multiple tracks are avaible, a pair of directional mics would be a good call in addition to the omnis.

see if you can get the organist to play frankenstein for a warmup
Old 9th December 2003
  #17
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I got a chance to check out the theatre yesterday, although I couldn't stay long. The good news is that the pipe ranks are located closer to the stage than I had believed. I'm waiting for confirmation that the balcony is not going to be used during the event. This will allow me to set up my equipment in the balcony and position my mics on a boom stand hanging out over the rail.

Because this should be a low-stress gig (press record, hang out for three hours, press stop), I am going to try out a few different mic arrays. (this is the biggest benefit that I have found to an 8 track recorder; I'm still recording 95% of the time to 2ch stereo, I just have the opportunity now to put up 2, 3 or even 4 pairs of mics and compare the results after the show. During my DAT days, I had to pick one stereo mic setup and hope that it was the best one for the job.) I'm thinking about adding an M/S setup and possible an XY pair also. Having the balcony to myself means that I don't have to be concerned about blocking anybody's sight lines or worry that somebody is gonna bump into one of the stands and send a pair of mics heading towards the lower level.

I'll try to remember to bring a camera and post some photos. I saw the crew setting up the organ yesterday and its a big mutha. Three or four people were crawling all over the thing and it looked like little kids playing on a giant playground version of an organ. I'd hate to have to move one of these things!
Old 5th January 2004
  #18
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So Steve....

How did the gig go? We never heard about the results. What did you end up doing and how did it sound?

--Ben
Old 5th January 2004
  #19
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Hey Ben,

The holidays hit right after the gig and we just got back home last night. And now I have to go through huge piles of mail, both snail and electronic varieties.

I'll try to squeeze in a write-up some time tonight as I've got plenty to report.

While on the subject of the holidays, I hope everyone in the remote gang had some well-deserved R&R. This was only the 2nd time (in 11 years) that we didn't go back east for the holidays, but we still had an incredible time. We took the money we would normally have spent on the expensive trip and spent it on an in-town vacation instead - 4 nights at one of the best hotels in LA. It was so much fun that we went right back for another 4 nights over the New Years weekend!

My gear buying will be seriously impacted by the cost of this holiday madness, but we haven't had this much fun in years. And good times like that are even more satisfying than a rack full of cool gear......

Let's all have a Great 2004!
Old 5th January 2004
  #20
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Sounds like a great well-deserved vacation... I rather enjoyed not working much this vacation, myself. I really needed the break.

Let us know when you have some time.

--Ben
Old 6th January 2004
  #21
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Pipe Organ recording extravaganza

I knew that this was going to be a loose gig, it was a holiday party, not a formal concert. But I didn’t realize the many ways that would impact the recording. Instead of an orderly progression from one song to the next, folks would take a seat at the organ, fool with the countless controls for several minutes, loosen up with 10 second snippets of various tunes and then launch into their chosen song with no warning. This meant that I had to leave the recorder running from the moment someone sat down at the recorder until they walked away from the stage. Leaving the recorder running continuously would have been pointless, as there were long breaks between performers. But even with this stop / start method, I only recorded about an hour of material while burning through over 3 hours of hard disk space! I got a chance to mark edit points prior to leaving on our Christmas holiday and I hope to perform the cut & paste compilation some time this week.

I will never forget one lesson I learned long before the first performer took the stage. I had previously checked out the theatre while the organ tech crew was giving the instrument a tune up the week before the show. A quick walk around the facility while someone played led me to determine that my best mic location would be the front lip of the balcony. Unfortunately, there is no elevator in the Ebell, and there are a large number of steps between the orchestra floor and the balcony. I will readily admit that I’m officially too old to carry all of my gear up that many steps, ever again.


Technical Issues

I set up two separate stereo pairs, both on boom arms hanging over the leading edge of the balcony. I went with a pair of KM184s in XY as my primary source, while also putting up an M/S pair, mostly as an experiment. Just for fun, I set up the two arrays coincident to each other; with the XY pair immediately below the “M” capsule and the “S” mic above the “M”. I did this so I could later listen to both arrays simultaneously without any phase problems. Soon after the show began, I realized that the M/S array wouldn’t be of much use, possibly due to the location of the pipe ranks. But I was very glad that I had set up the “M” mic coincident with the XY array. I’ve always had great luck with XY pairs prior to this recording, but I was getting a noticeable “hole in the middle” on this day. I checked to insure that the signals from the two 184s were reaching the recorder in phase – that wasn’t the problem. But when I slowly brought up the “M” fader along with the XY signals, the playback suddenly sounded exactly like what I was hearing in my seat.

I know that XY stereo isn’t supposed to need a center mic (it never has before in my experience). But how different is this than the days of 3 channel stereo where a center channel was mixed down with the L&R channels to produce a stereo master? I can’t offer an explanation as to why it worked on this day, but adding the “M” mic made all the difference on this recording.

Unfortunately, there were several other problems that were beyond my control. Almost immediately after things got started, the control that triggered the snare drum started slipping into rapid fire mode without warning. Imagine a blistering 30 second snare drum roll in the middle of “Silent Night” …….try fixing that in post!

After that, the other problems seemed inconsequential, although they would have been significant under better circumstances. One very noticeable issue was the inconsistency of the overall volume level, and I’m not talking about two different performers playing at markedly different levels. It seemed like someone had a master fader for the overall output of the organ and was constantly fiddling around with it. During a held chord, the volume would hold steady for several seconds, then almost disappear and then, during what should have been the fade out, the sound came blasting back and remained at that elevated level for several bars. I know that organ players can control swells and fades while playing, but this seemed completely random and unrelated to the music – and it occurred continually regardless of who was playing. I’ve got to believe that it was another technical problem.

Finally, there was the hall itself. I had been warned that the Ebell was not one of the better theatres for live music and I now agree with all of you. I noticed an unusual degree of variance based on where I was in the room. In most theatres, I typically only notice big changes in the sound of the room when moving between three areas: the main floor, the area under the balcony and the balcony itself. There are minor changes as you move about within any of those three areas, but you only notice major changes as you move from one of those areas into another. That was not the case at the Ebell; just within the balcony, where I spent most of my time, there were surprisingly large differences when moving as few as 10 or 15 feet, just a few rows.

Conclusion

Although I’m glad to have made the recording, it certainly didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. Out of the 18 or so complete songs that were recorded, there are maybe 5 or 6 good performances and none of these are free of technical problems. I will be hard pressed to produce a single song that I would consider a decent recording. But I certainly learned a lot, beyond the need to inquire about availability of an elevator. I ended up bringing a film camera with me, not our digital camera, so I might have some interesting shots to post, but not until later this week.
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