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What's up with classical piano recordings these days?
Old 12th October 2008
  #31
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Plush's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianHanke View Post
Yes, this is exactly what I had in mind! :o) It's pretty clear from older recordings how the sound was achieved. There's something about newer releases that is harder to indentify though, perhaps because of the increased complexity of the techniques being used?
No, I assert there is no magic. It sounds like it sounds on the speakers and that is the recording.

I can tell you that if you are recording in Carnegie Hall, you have the sound of the hall working for you.

Many people never get to work in superb halls, so maybe they do not know how they sound.

Some of the sorcery (engineering tricks--mostly multiple mics--try nine mics) in piano recording is secret and I doubt you will see the sorcerors discussing it.
Old 12th October 2008
  #32
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Sounds good, Gaston!

We have now heard from three different engineers on this thread, and listened to the results they have achieved recording solo piano. Each recording sounds good, sounds real and doesn't leave me scratching my head wondering what techniques were used. Now turn back to the samples I posted. They sound a lot different than what any of us is doing. Why?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gaston69 View Post
As promissed yesterday.

I just got back from the recording gig and couldn't wait to post a little audio sample in order to get some feedback from you guys.

Because I have recorded this in a Onno setup with DPA4060 and my brand-new Painpot recorded on a Korg MR-1000 24 bit 44.1khz.

The Mic stand was approx 80cm from the piano and on a height of 160cm, distance between the DPA4060 = 38cm.

Piano = Yamaha

Recorded in live concert, small church in Paris France

Let me know if you like what you hear.

Gaston
Old 12th October 2008
  #33
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Aha! The truth starts to come out at last... :o)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
No, I assert there is no magic. [snip] Some of the sorcery (engineering tricks--mostly multiple mics--try nine mics) in piano recording is secret and I doubt you will see the sorcerors discussing it.
Old 12th October 2008
  #34
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Gaston69's Avatar
Hello PLush & Brian,

Well I had never the change to record a piano in a concert hall, the sample which I posted was recorded today and was my 3rd piano recording ever.
However I do know that recording in a concerthall is different as you said you can let the hall work for you.
When I recorded today the piano I heard to much reverb in the church therefor I choose to place mics a little closer as they are omni mics.
It looks that I will get more jobs in that church which is most of the time used as a small concert hall (4 concerts per week).

Anyway I am still learning.

Gaston
Old 12th October 2008
  #35
Gear Addict
 

I really enjoyed the sound you got, and I think the pianist plays very well too. I love this type of recording. It sounds real, and as a pianist I can hear all the details without any harshness or glassiness. That being said, having this as my personal preference doesn't make me any less curious how the "sorcerers" get their very unusual piano sounds.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gaston69 View Post
Hello PLush & Brian,

Well I had never the change to record a piano in a concert hall, the sample which I posted was recorded today and was my 3rd piano recording ever.
However I do know that recording in a concerthall is different as you said you can let the hall work for you.
When I recorded today the piano I heard to much reverb in the church therefor I choose to place mics a little closer as they are omni mics.
It looks that I will get more jobs in that church which is most of the time used as a small concert hall (4 concerts per week).

Anyway I am still learning.

Gaston
Old 12th October 2008
  #36
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianHanke View Post
Aha! The truth starts to come out at last... :o)
Yes, I do believe you've hit on it.

If someone said... "You have a piano recording gig in Carnegie Hall today. Take these Schoeps, DPAs, Forssell pres, Lavry Gold A/D and set them up EXACTLY like this... " Well, you'd basically create just as great of a recording as the person that it took 10 years to figure that out.

The problem with "trade secrets" in general is that they are kept so secret because it is often so easy to replicate them once you know them. (The formula for Coke, for instance?) It isn't like giving someone a bunch of Messiaen scores and recordings and saying "now go compose something great." Even if you could replicate Messiaen's sound, no one would care because it is his sound and they wouldn't care to buy it if it came from you.

However, if I had a comprehensive recipe book for thousands of situations that got me within 85 percent of the skill level of the best engineers out there (there will always be something that the recipe book could not cover), people would hire me, and I would infringe on their business... and I would probably charge less (because I wouldn't know any better) and bring prices down for everyone.

So, no one really wants to encourage that. It is actually a little sad. If knowledge was shared openly, perhaps recording technique would advance faster... like what happens in sports like tennis. It is no secret that you can hit the ball much harder now with the new rackets and different types of swings than in the past. Everyone can see for themselves what to do, they just can't do it because physical gifts (not just knowledge) is involved.
Old 12th October 2008
  #37
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boojum's Avatar
Nice recording technically and musically. I do like the feeling that I am in the room with the piano over the feeling I am in a recording studio with the piano.

Plush seems to be right about the magic. The vagueness in modern recordings would be from too damned many mics. Your ears will not be at 2, 4, and 10 meters from the piano, so why mix it that way? As my listening began with 78's I still prefer the simplest setup to get the job done. Listen to the old Mercury "Living Presence" three mic recordings of classical works to get the idea.

I kept bees for a number of years. Every once in awhile someone would have a great "new" idea. An old-timer would drag out a magazine or book and show where this idea had been tried in 1912 or something. I do not think there is a lot of magic left to be discovered in mic'ing either. There is refinement of what we know. Williams' work on mic angles and spacings is a very good read.

Anyway, thanks to the old-timers who keep us on an even keel and the new folks who ask the questions, and pose solutions for us to review. It is all part of what makes this board so darned good.

Oh, to have been in Paris with you. When good folks die they go to heaven. The really good get to go to France, and the stellar ones to Paris. I am an unabashed francophile from my short years of living there.

Cheers
Old 12th October 2008
  #38
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Agreed.

I don't begrudge anyone wishing to hold onto their secret sauce, but I find the almost total lack of information a little perplexing. I'm just coming at this from a standpoint of pure personal curiosity. I'm not in the recording business, and because of my own preference I wouldn't want to get that large hall, ultra-polished sound even if I knew all the secrets. I'm quite happy with two mics close to the piano with a little reverb thrown in, which ends up sounding pretty much like Horowitz and Gould. That's just personal taste, of course.

Quote:
Originally Posted by newyorker42 View Post
Yes, I do believe you've hit on it.

If someone said... "You have a piano recording gig in Carnegie Hall today. Take these Schoeps, DPAs, Forssell pres, Lavry Gold A/D and set them up EXACTLY like this... " Well, you'd basically create just as great of a recording as the person that it took 10 years to figure that out.

The problem with "trade secrets" in general is that they are kept so secret because it is often so easy to replicate them once you know them. (The formula for Coke, for instance?) It isn't like giving someone a bunch of Messiaen scores and recordings and saying "now go compose something great." Even if you could replicate Messiaen's sound, no one would care because it is his sound and they wouldn't care to buy it if it came from you.

However, if I had a comprehensive recipe book for thousands of situations that got me within 85 percent of the skill level of the best engineers out there (there will always be something that the recipe book could not cover), people would hire me, and I would infringe on their business... and I would probably charge less (because I wouldn't know any better) and bring prices down for everyone.

So, no one really wants to encourage that. It is actually a little sad. If knowledge was shared openly, perhaps recording technique would advance faster... like what happens in sports like tennis. It is no secret that you can hit the ball much harder now with the new rackets and different types of swings than in the past. Everyone can see for themselves what to do, they just can't do it because physical gifts (not just knowledge) is involved.
Boojum, excellent point. I do believe this is finally homing in on the reason I don't care for modern recordings and why they sound so artificial and nebulous. You're hearing many different sounds combined together that you wouldn't be able to hear together in real life! Of course, if this achieves a beautiful and original sound, then fine. But, perhaps because I'm a pianist myself, what it ends up doing is taking me out of the music as I question what exactly it is I'm hearing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boojum View Post
The vagueness in modern recordings would be from too damned many mics. Your ears will not be at 2, 4, and 10 meters from the piano, so why mix it that way?
Old 13th October 2008
  #39
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Plush's Avatar
Again, I don't see the problem. What exactly is the problem you are experiencing?

Could it be as simple as a matter of taste? --- as to how you like to hear piano recordings?
Old 13th October 2008
  #40
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If you want my secret method, it's very simple - Sennheiser MKH MS pair, placed opposite the rear leg of the piano, about four feet away, so that if the pianist extended his right arm at about 45 degrees to his nose he'd be pointing at it. The mics point towards the lid hinge nearest the keyboard, and are about 6 foot 6 inches above the floor. Width set slightly wider than standard.

Note that underneath a Steinway one of the major members points to where the mic stand is placed.

Start like that, then adjust to suit the instrument and the room. Walk round the instrument as it is played and try to hear where the focus of the instrument is.

At a piano recital people tend to try to sit on the left side of the hall to see the pianist's hands. The best place to hear the piano is more to the right of centre however.

Trouble is, my method is probably quite different from others' methods, and I'd not assert it to be better. It's just the way I happen to like it. And usually the pianists do too, which is just as well.

If anyone has the Olympia CD of Colin Stone playing Shostakovitch Piano Works OCD574, that's the one where I got the sound exactly as I wanted it. It was recorded at the back of St Philip Norbury, and the other end of the church had been stripped for refurbishment (as we discoverd on the first morning of the sessions!), giving a clean acoustic round the piano and a nice bloom arriving from the other end. A happy accident.


Review - Classical Net Review - Shostakovich/Scriabin - Works for Piano
Old 13th October 2008
  #41
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Larry Elliott's Avatar
I am trying to visualise this set up. Are the microphones behind the player?

This is a very interesting thread.

Larry
Old 13th October 2008
  #42
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Sit at the keyboard. Point forward with right arm. Now move right arm 45 degrees to the right. It's over there.
Old 13th October 2008
  #43
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boojum View Post
Williams' work on mic angles and spacings is a very good read.
Hi Boojum - do you mean this AES E-Library: The Stereophonic Zoom: A Practical Approach to Determining the Characteristics of a Spaced Pair of Directional Microphones by Williams, Michael Or is there another Williams document I should check out?

Many thanks.
Old 13th October 2008
  #44
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boojum's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Recording David View Post
If you cannot download that from the AES try this link: http://www.rycote.com/assets/documen...nic%20Zoom.pdf. It is a good starting point. I also bought Williams' book I of II on mic technique. His examples and charts are excellent as a guide for a starting array and position. They may need to be adjusted. If you are in a rush, they are OK. But a couple of slight adjustments may be needed.

I am very new at all of this. From the position of gross ignorance I believe that this is physics and much can be explained with physics. I study the books - OK, pros, quit laughing. - and I see that a lot fo mic'ing and sound is explained with the math of physics. I am out in the boons and there is no studio for me to learn from, even as a grovelling toady who empties waste baskets and butt cans in exchange for experience. I am obliged to read, read, read, follow this and other boards and get out with the mics and recorders. What I have read is nearly always if not always borne out.

Bob Katz, Williams, Eargle, Barttlett: these guys are great. Their books are readable and the knowledge in them is amazing. And remember the Jesuit motto of learning: "Reptitio, reptititio, repititio." Eddy Merxx was asked how to be good at racing bicycles. He said to ride a bike a lot. It transfers to this, too.

Best of luck. Stay close to this board. It is the best I know of and the pros here are generous with help and patient, so far. I am hoping I do not offend them.

Last edited by boojum; 13th October 2008 at 07:47 AM.. Reason: punctuation
Old 13th October 2008
  #45
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
No, I assert there is no magic. It sounds like it sounds on the speakers and that is the recording.

<snip>

Some of the sorcery (engineering tricks--mostly multiple mics--try nine mics) in piano recording is secret and I doubt you will see the sorcerors discussing it.

Rudy van Gelder who is famed for some great jazz recordings was legendary for his "mojo" approach to mic'ing. He would have a number of mics in from of a kick drum, for example. You would never know which he was using. He mic'ed the gig before anyone got there. He would not share any info on what or how he was doing. He had a good sound.

Some guys like Plush could expand on van Gelder. I only know what I have read.
Old 13th October 2008
  #46
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John Willett's Avatar
 

Smile

There are probably more ways of recording a piano that there are people recording it.

I tend to imaging where the audience will be when the pianist is playing and put the mics in that direction.

Actual height and distance will vary according to the piano, the hall and the music to get the best "feel".

If I have a room that is not really right (which I did on one occasion where the client had a very low budget and the recording was on a Steinway concert grand in someone's living room) I will experiment to get the best position in the room, which may not be what I normally use.

I do a lot of piano recording, so people must like what I do.
Old 13th October 2008
  #47
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Was listening the Murray Parahia playing three Bach partitas, a new Sony CD. Wonderful piano sound, recorded in Germany, with the same producer as most of his other very fine sounding CD's.

However, inside the clear disk clamp plate, a photo of the piano shows three close mics, a pseudo ORTF pair up high, and a third side address mic which might be stereo, low down on the same stand, knee height, presumably picking up floor reflections and some low radiation from the underside of the soundboard.

So, some of the mystery has been exposed. I am sure, as Plush indicates, there will be distant mics in the hall mixed with this.
Old 13th October 2008
  #48
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Was listening the Murray Perahia playing three Bach partitas, a new Sony CD. Wonderful piano sound, recorded in Germany, with the same producer as most of his other very fine sounding CD's.

However, inside the clear disk clamp plate, a photo of the piano shows three close mics, a pseudo ORTF pair up high, and a third side address mic which might be stereo, low down on the same stand, knee height, presumably picking up floor reflections and some low radiation from the underside of the soundboard.

So, some of the mystery has been exposed. I am sure, as Plush indicates, there will be distant mics in the hall mixed with this. Having a keen eye on CD photos and DVD's helps answer most of the questions.
Old 13th October 2008
  #49
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I also think actual piano recordings are very different from the old ones.........
I wouldn't say better or worse, but different in the piano focus and balance and also in the acoustic representation.
For sure Murray Perahia latest cds on sony are wonderful recordings, but personally I like very very much ECM recordings of piano albums by Keith Jarrett or Stefano Bollani (in particular his "Piano Solo" cd)...... Warm and detailed, airy but very focused.....
Do you know guys some ECM engineer piano recording secret or technique?
:-)))
Old 13th October 2008
  #50
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Of course photos of rigs point out some possibilities, but you can't tell what proportion of the output from each mic was used - if at all - and whether the balance is fixed or static. Particularly in the less than ideal circumstances of many location recordings, there's something to be said for grabbing an assortment of images and deciding which to use later. Disc space is cheap. And perhaps even the big boys like to experiment, putting out various additional mics apart from those they know they will use, purely for trial purposes.

Here's a consideration I'll throw in to complicate matters - unless the mics are pretty distant from the piano, during loud passages the immediate sound of the instrument will smother the reverberant sound in a way that might not match the live listening experience. Does one / should one increase the level of distant mics to compensate during such passages? I once recorded a substantial Messiaen two-piano work with an MS pair on a tall stand pointing straight down at the lidless instruments, and found it quite effective to slightly widen the image in fortissimo passages (but not so much as to create a flying piano effect!).
Old 13th October 2008
  #51
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I just recorded a chamber concert with DPA's (black tips on for high end boost) and Millennia HV-3D's.

I use Waves L3 Ultra Maximizer and sometimes Sony Oxford Inflator.

Classical music is often presented in finality as 'pure' as possible...... REALITY is that a recording a REPRESENTATION of the music ----

Hopefully better --- personally I like the over hyped sound.
Old 13th October 2008
  #52
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Now for my pet peeve ---- patching.

This more than anything takes away from the continuity and the special moments a pianist gets who is 'in the zone'.

Sure, you get a mistake free recording but it takes away from the overall recording. One moment in time with another from the next hour just jammed in because the performer can't deal with the supposed embarrassment of a few wrong notes. Perhaps the new Melodyne will help with this.....

Many people like the old recordings with mistakes.
Old 13th October 2008
  #53
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Wow, a flood of interesting responses! I'm reasonably satisfied at this point with the explanation that the sound of some recent piano recordings was achieved through many, many mics being mixed together in various ways. I don't expect to ever know all the details, but just having a general idea of the tricks involved is good enough for me.

Last night I played two different recordings of a Bach Prelude for my girlfriend, who is also a pianist. The first was Gould and the second was Schiff. On the Gould we both agreed that it sounds like a real piano, pure and simple. One could sit back and enjoy the performance without being distracted by the sound.

As soon as I clicked play on the Schiff though, we looked at each other and were like: "whaaat?" It just sounds strange. There is no piano in history that has ever sounded like that in real life, and I'm pretty confidant (thanks to this thread) that the reasons behind this are multiple mics mixed in ways that don’t reflect the reality of the piano sound.

One earlier comment here mentioned the idea of mixing different sections of the music in different ways: I think I hear that too in some recordings. Take the "recentC" MP3 that I uploaded. If I'm not mistaken, the perspective shifts slightly as the music becomes louder. Of course there's no way to know for sure, but I think it's a reasonable guess all the same.

Thanks to all that have replied here! This has been very instructive and I feel like I have a much better understanding of what goes in to making a contemporary piano recording. My curiosity has definitely been satisfied (for the time being at least)!
Old 13th October 2008
  #54
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John Willett's Avatar
 

Cool

Quote:
Originally Posted by piano View Post
Now for my pet peeve ---- patching.
I partly agree with you here.

The most important thing is allowing the musician to PERFORM.

I don't have a problem with patching, as long as it's done carefully.

When I record piano we normally do a couple of full takes of the complete thing with the pianist doing a real performance. If there are still some problem points we may patch, but not much.

The important thing is the performance and too much patching results in the musician playing notes instead of music.

So - patching is kept to the absolute minimum to retain the performance.

Otherwise it gets note perfect and boring and it will only ever be listened to once and never again.

The Satie recording I did with John Lenehan years ago (PCM-F1 shows how old it was) still gets played regularly in our house just for the sheer enjoyment of listening to it as it is an enjoyable performance to listen to again and again.

Actually - I *more* than partly agree with you ;-)
Old 13th October 2008
  #55
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John Willett's Avatar
 

Exclamation

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianHanke View Post
I'm reasonably satisfied at this point with the explanation that the sound of some recent piano recordings was achieved through many, many mics being mixed together in various ways.
The problem you get with mixing mics is multi-path distortion. IE: the same bit arriving at several mics, time-delayed because of the differences in distance between the mics.

This can muddy the sound and needs to be used very carefully, if you do it at all.
Old 13th October 2008
  #56
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Yes, that is definitely an issue. However, part of the problem I observe in some recordings is that the sound is in fact quite muddy and amorphous. Perhaps this is a side effect of multi-mic mixing techniques?
Quote:
Originally Posted by John Willett View Post
The problem you get with mixing mics is multi-path distortion. IE: the same bit arriving at several mics, time-delayed because of the differences in distance between the mics.

This can muddy the sound and needs to be used very carefully, if you do it at all.
Old 13th October 2008
  #57
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Willett View Post
The most important thing is allowing the musician to PERFORM.

I don't have a problem with patching, as long as it's done carefully.

. . .

The important thing is the performance and too much patching results in the musician playing notes instead of music.

So - patching is kept to the absolute minimum to retain the performance.
+1
Old 13th October 2008
  #58
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John Willett's Avatar
 

Smile

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianHanke View Post
Yes, that is definitely an issue. However, part of the problem I observe in some recordings is that the sound is in fact quite muddy and amorphous. Perhaps this is a side effect of multi-mic mixing techniques?
Very possibly, or room reflections doing the same thing, maybe.

I usually get the pianist to play and move around the room until I find the place where it sounds best to my ears - then put the mics there.
Old 13th October 2008
  #59
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Patching is fine, I would prefer to hear a note perfect recording than a smudged performance full of bloopers. I do a LOT of classical editing, particularly solo piano. The musicians I work with are so consistent between takes that I can match up waveforms exactly during the editing. This does NOT wreck a performance, and its a myth that too much editing destroys recordings. When the musicians are certain of what they are doing there is no problem.
Old 14th October 2008
  #60
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I agree with David. The performers know that in a concert, an error may pass un-noticed. On a recording intended for repeated replay, it becomes glaringly obvious and irritating. Knowing that the recording will be edited allows the performer to play freely and 'riskily' knowing that it doesn't matter if the risks result in faulty passages. The best performers know a great deal about the editing process and know exactly what sections to choose for replay, and where the edits are likely to come.
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