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Advice on Recording Piano and Cello Duet
Old 4 weeks ago
  #1
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Tommy-boy's Avatar
 

Advice on Recording Piano and Cello Duet

Hi Everybody,

I’ve been asked to record an audition submission of a piano and cello duet. This type of recording is new to me.

Key facts:
  • Will be audio and video. I am responsible for audio. Somebody else is doing video. I will likely be responsible for combining the files. Given that the music is only 7 mins long, I will probably just use the “clap” technique to align the files.
  • To be recorded in a local church. Not sure if in the sanctuary or auditorium. I have not been in this church, so I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the acoustics. Pianist has described the acoustics (for both spaces) as lively, but not bad.
  • For the recording, piano presentation is as important as the cello. Pianist is driving this. Wants a good blend. Doesn’t want one instrument overshadowing the other.
  • Pianist has indicated that the cellist will sit in the curve of the piano, perhaps on the part of the curve closest to the pianist. Cello will be facing outward.

I’ve recorded several piano duets with other instruments. However, all of these have been wind instruments (which have plenty of volume). I have kept my piano duet recordings simple by using a single spaced pair (usually MK21s in AB30). I would switch to ORTF with MK5s set to card if the acoustics stunk. I have achieved decent blends by adjusting height / distance of the array, and occasionally moving the players.

I’ve not recorded any stringed instruments with piano. I have recorded string ensembles and have found their volumes to be much lower than wind instruments. Hence, my concern with using one AB pair as I have for other duets.

I have several Schoeps mic bodies. Capsules include MK5s, MK21s, MK41s, and one MK8. I also have a pair of recently acquired R0de NTR ribbon mics. My mic locker is deeper than this, but these are probably the most relevant choices for this engagement.

Suggestion on how to approach this recording would be most welcome:
  • Can I manage this with a single spaced pair, or are spots necessary?
  • Mic, array, and position suggestions

Thanks,
Tom
Old 4 weeks ago
  #2
Lives for gear
 

EDIT: if it'd be for a recording/broadcasting, i'd use spots and base my mix on them: a pair of spaced mk21's inside the piano and a mk41(or mk5 in cardioid) on the cello plus mk5/mk8 as 'mains' - i haven't got enough experience with the ntr's to comment though.

here's a pic of two mk21's being used on a grand piano in a church not too long ago - there was an additional tlm170 on the bass strings.

___


HOWEVER, for an audition submission, i'd better double check whether there are any guidelines: ime a jury mostly will not accept anything else than a recording from a stereo main pair and often, even a specific distance is mandatory and in some rare cases, even the mic technique was specified!
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Last edited by deedeeyeah; 4 weeks ago at 09:43 PM.. Reason: EDITED
Old 4 weeks ago
  #3
Gear Nut
 

I've recorded numerous chamber ensembles with piano and various strings, including only cello precisely in the configuration you describe.

For piano and cello, I recall using a pair of omnis A-B (~1m) pointing down, slightly angled toward, and suspended over and in front of the cellist (no pix, sorry). I also had a pair of spot mics on the piano, which was at full stick. I think the omnis alone would have sufficed handily for a nice balance between instruments, even though I did add a little piano in the final mix.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #4
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jnorman's Avatar
I would use a pair of mains just off-camera, and a single low spot on the cello (short stand to keep it unobtrusive in the video). I would not spot the piano. I would most likely use an ORTF main array instead of omnis, because putting omnis far out enough to be off-camera would likely be too reverby. I usually try to keep mics out of audition videos.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #5
Gear Nut
 

Jim raises a good point about mic visibility. FWIW, the overhead omni configuration I described wasn't for use in video; however, it could be out of frame and still sound excellent, depending on how tight the shots are. The mic stand itself would be intrusive.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #6
Well I wouldn't worry about the mics being visible - video people want it their own way far too much.

A good cellist should have a big sound. I would use a ribbon on the cello facing the F holes about one to two feet in front - depending on the acoustic. (Church usually a bit boomy and hard sound, so close mic, depending on reflections).

Piano stereo pair in the curve looking in.

Alternative - stereo pair on the two about a metre out - depending on how bad the church sound is ...
Old 4 weeks ago
  #7
A stereo pair of MK21 would accomplish this wonderfully. If you can’t control balance well enough with the placement of performers and mics, maybe add a mic in front of the cello a few feet to allow a bit of control.

I like my video work mic-free or low-key as much as is practical. With a chamber setup like this, that objective isn’t difficult to achieve:

I’d start with mk21 AB pair at 24-30” spacing, 10 feet straight out from the piano and 8 feet in the air, placed so the cello appears in the middle of the stereo image. Maybe a ribbon or cardioid SDC on a short stand in front of the cello 3-4’. Move the stereo pair up or down and forward and back to adjust perspective and balance between the piano and cello, and the room.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #8
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tommy-boy View Post
Hi Everybody,

I’ve been asked to record an audition submission of a piano and cello duet. This type of recording is new to me.

Key facts:
  • Will be audio and video. I am responsible for audio. Somebody else is doing video. I will likely be responsible for combining the files. Given that the music is only 7 mins long, I will probably just use the “clap” technique to align the files.
  • To be recorded in a local church. Not sure if in the sanctuary or auditorium. I have not been in this church, so I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the acoustics. Pianist has described the acoustics (for both spaces) as lively, but not bad.
  • For the recording, piano presentation is as important as the cello. Pianist is driving this. Wants a good blend. Doesn’t want one instrument overshadowing the other.
  • Pianist has indicated that the cellist will sit in the curve of the piano, perhaps on the part of the curve closest to the pianist. Cello will be facing outward.

I’ve recorded several piano duets with other instruments. However, all of these have been wind instruments (which have plenty of volume). I have kept my piano duet recordings simple by using a single spaced pair (usually MK21s in AB30). I would switch to ORTF with MK5s set to card if the acoustics stunk. I have achieved decent blends by adjusting height / distance of the array, and occasionally moving the players.

I’ve not recorded any stringed instruments with piano. I have recorded string ensembles and have found their volumes to be much lower than wind instruments. Hence, my concern with using one AB pair as I have for other duets.

I have several Schoeps mic bodies. Capsules include MK5s, MK21s, MK41s, and one MK8. I also have a pair of recently acquired R0de NTR ribbon mics. My mic locker is deeper than this, but these are probably the most relevant choices for this engagement.

Suggestion on how to approach this recording would be most welcome:
  • Can I manage this with a single spaced pair, or are spots necessary?
  • Mic, array, and position suggestions

Thanks,
Tom
I don't know what is the nature of this particular audition but my general feeling for audition submissions is that they are altogether different than recording for a CD release or even a YouTube channel. Adjudicators are well aware of the voodoo recording engineers have at their disposal today and do not want any indications that the musicians are made to sound better than they actually are. For audition recordings, usually editing to remove mistakes is not allowed. I'd be sure to look at the rules.

If you are changing camera angles during the video, be careful because it can appear you are doing so to edit out mistakes. If it were my student, I'd direct them to have a single camera angle the whole time so the adjudicators know it is a couple run-through without edits - a completely honest recording. It won't win a Grammy but then again, it's not the purpose here.

If the acoustics are good, I'd go with a simple pair of omnis. If the acoustics are subpar, I'd go with a pair of cards. That the cellist is sitting in the curve of the piano makes it handy. I'd just put some headphones on and while they are practicing move the mics around until you find the proper balance between the performers and a nice ratio between the direct and reverberant sound and leave it at that.

I say keep it high quality but simple.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #9
Lives for gear
As has been mentioned above, if it's an audition video then I'd take steps to deliberately have the mics visible at all times.

This is not a 'hide the miking' aesthetic at play here, but rather the opposite... a full-sunlight exposé of 'can these players deliver the goods without editing ?' proof.

If you're doing the editing, I'd even advise including a signed & dated statement to the effect of "this video is a true, complete and totally unedited record of the musician's playing"...include this, even if it's not specifically requested in the submission guidelines or rules, as proof of authenticity

Using one fixed camera only will allow you to make this declaration with complete fidelity to the spirit of the exercise. Recommend also spending some time and effort to get the camera settings and background lighting as good as possible !

Who's being evaluated here, cellist or duo ? If cellist, then the pianist's 'request' is likely to see the piano being over represented in the mix balance. Err on the side of piano being present but not overshadowing the cello. Piano should be supportive without dominance. The correct balance actually stands a good chance of leaving the pianist slightly miffed...tough bikkies, this may be one diplomacy contest which leaves a particular member having to eat humble pie...sometimes it's simply impossible to please everyone.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #10
Gear Head
 

I had a very similar assignment Sunday. The session was set up by the pianist's arts management group, who also did the filming. I just furnished the takes to them, they will do the video/audio syncing. I often record piano in the hall, it has one of the best NYC Steinways and I usually try to spot it (with Josephson C617s, large diameter Gefell caps, on a Jecklin disc towards the foot of the piano) because I really LOVE the deep sound of this instrument. The cellist sat nearer the keyboard than a normal "concert" positioning, allowing very close co-ordination of the two artists. I used a main pair of Schoeps MK4 mics in ORTF stereo arrangement, fairly low (maybe 3 feet off the ground) with the left mic pointing at the cello. The cello stayed prominent even mixing in the C617s to give the piano a really nice sound. If they want a remix to change the stereo imaging I will do that, no feedback yet.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post

Who's being evaluated here, cellist or duo ? If cellist, then the pianist's 'request' is likely to see the piano being over represented in the mix balance. Err on the side of piano being present but not overshadowing the cello. Piano should be supportive without dominance. The correct balance actually stands a good chance of leaving the pianist slightly miffed...tough bikkies, this may be one diplomacy contest which leaves a particular member having to eat humble pie...sometimes it's simply impossible to please everyone.
If I were judging this recorded audition I would be suspicious if it were obvious that the piano sound had been reduced (even by a smallish amount) to make the cellist seem to have a bigger sound. The duo should be balanced by the players and not artificially and the piano should have full sound and not have a poor timbre against the cello. If the cellist has a weak sound then hard cheese!
Old 3 weeks ago
  #12
My thinking has been for a while that if the sound is high quality and the mics can’t be seen, the listener is either not thinking about the technology, or has an awareness that the technology is not responsible for the high quality of performance they are witnessing.

Bonus points if you can accomplish this with a telephoto focal length.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #13
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lurcher_lover View Post
If I were judging this recorded audition I would be suspicious if it were obvious that the piano sound had been reduced (even by a smallish amount) to make the cellist seem to have a bigger sound. The duo should be balanced by the players and not artificially and the piano should have full sound and not have a poor timbre against the cello. If the cellist has a weak sound then hard cheese!
With all due respect Lurcher, this may backfire. If the balance is off in favor of the piano then those judging will not necessarily blame it on the cellist but potentially on the pianist. Fair or not, in collaborative piano work pianists are expected to be sensitive enough to adjust their sound to string players given that pianists are able to produce far more volume. And since this project is being spearheaded by the pianist I doubt she would like it if the recording if off balance in this way.

If a recording engineer is going to take the approach of "too bad for you you are off balance", it's probably best to let the musicians know in advance before taking their money!

Last edited by shosty; 3 weeks ago at 08:46 PM..
Old 3 weeks ago
  #14
I think I agrre with you in as much as I said this in my post "The duo should be balanced by the players and not artificially and the piano should have full sound and not have a poor timbre against the cello."

I do think a good duo would balance and certainly the pianist should not overwhelm the cellist or whatever instrument he/she was performing with. The other point I will make is that it depends on the repertoire. If it's a solo cello piece then often the pianist will play a little down especially in accompanying sections. If it is a sonata where the two instruments are of equal importance then it's much more equal. (Of course badly written works may have sections where the pianist overwhelms the other instrument, unless due care is taken).

So the engineer and/or producer making the recording should not interfere with this balance.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #15
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lurcher_lover View Post
I think I agrre with you in as much as I said this in my post "The duo should be balanced by the players and not artificially and the piano should have full sound and not have a poor timbre against the cello."

I do think a good duo would balance and certainly the pianist should not overwhelm the cellist or whatever instrument he/she was performing with. The other point I will make is that it depends on the repertoire. If it's a solo cello piece then often the pianist will play a little down especially in accompanying sections. If it is a sonata where the two instruments are of equal importance then it's much more equal. (Of course badly written works may have sections where the pianist overwhelms the other instrument, unless due care is taken).

So the engineer and/or producer making the recording should not interfere with this balance.
I approach these situations assuming the players are balancing properly unless it is obviously off and proceed to place the main pair with the goal of hearing a balanced presentation through the monitors (or headphones).

If the balance is obviously off, I'd politely say something. I find it's rare to have a situation where the players don't know how to balance each other.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #16
Lives for gear
Given that it's not a concert, and you can thus place mics anywhere you choose, and will have some mic adjustment time while the players warm up their fingers (and their ears to the acoustic of the room)...I'd recommend an optimally placed main pair-only recording.

If the players are going to front up for an audition-level recording, they'd better have their internal balance issues well sorted out by this point..which your main pair will capture handsomely. It's not your job to later 'rebalance' an out of kilter duet.

If they can't convince a simple main pair mic recording of their 'togetherness' now, how on earth can they expect to convince a judging panel ? Simpler is better, and less is more...at least in this scenario. Don't be drawn down that audio-Photoshop path by an insecure pianist.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #17
In a lively church i would start with a AB 40 1,2 m from the cellist and AB 20 at the tail of the piano, and add a hall pair 3-4 meters wide probably not far behind the cello pair.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #18
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Tommy-boy's Avatar
 

Quick update - recording was supposed to happen 2 days ago. Was cancelled due to covid-19. This is the right answer, but I am still disappointed. I was really looking forward to this engagement. The pianist is top notch and I was hoping the cellist would match. I was also hoping to try out my rode ribbon as a spot.

Oh, well. Gotta be safe in order to record in the future!

Tom
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