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Old 24th May 2006
Gear Nut
JazzYoda's Avatar

In an ideal situation one would hope to have the ability to record a group in a great sounding hall with no A/C noise, no trucks rolling by the building, no clicking radiators, and no standing waves.

This is more often not available to us as we need to assist in the creation of good product even if the budget does not allow for Orchestra Hall in Chicago. I have made some very nice recordings of chamber ensembles and solo piano in a nearby recital hall that has a horrendous sound, is no fun to play in, and has noisy air conditioning (not to mention the sound of other musicians practicing coming into the room at odd times.)

The trick? Post-production. All of that stuff that "purists" don't want to use, and engineers are sometimes forced to use. It is there for a reason (and can be both used and abused). If I can produce a recording of solo piano performing Mozart in this dog of a room, and convince the listener that they are hearing a recital in a nice chamber hall, then what is to be gained by being a purist? Clearly the gig would not have happened had I waited for some nonexistent ideal situation.

In this case the problems were dealt with as follows:

problem: lovely Steinway D in a crummy sounding room

solution: microphones must be closer to the instrument than they would be if the room was nice. A pair of Lawson tube microphones on wide cardiod (their most flat setting) was placed about 1-2 feet away from the edge of the piano case. They had to be moved and anged until they began to reproduce the authentic sound of the instrument (rather dark, typical Steinway).

problem: the closeness of the microphones tends to make the mechanical action of the piano sound wrong.

solution: the lid must be removed entirely. this is actually a common technique used in solo piano recording and has been done at least since the 50s (that I am aware of). the lack of a bounce-back device allows the sound of the piano to be produced without extreme mechanical noise.

problem: The recording, although highly detailed, is way too dry for Mozart.

solution: Extensive listening and use of (i know i know, sacrilege) compression, limiting, equalization, and reverb to place the instrument in the proper soundfield for this music.

note: I doubt this would have been possible before the invention of convolution reverb and true room sampling. A sample of the Haydn Hall (or maybe it was the Mozartsall, not sure) was used. EQ was necessary to counter the proximity effect, but the hall sample then added much of the missing low register ambience (which the actual room had none of, terrible sound there). The effect of multi-layered dynamics processing also served to place the instrument at the proper distance from the listener.

The only people who heard the recordings after they were made (and it's out of my hands now) were classical musicians and they were convinced. I think it's a good idea to use the tools you have to their fullest potential (provided you know what this stuff is supposed to sound like, of course!)