9th January 2008
Tips & Techniques:Miking complex ethnic stringed instruments...
I've had the opportunity to record several hundred instruments many of you have never ever heard of... when faced with a new, complex instrument, I have a few tricks that help me get a good sound quicker.
With instruments like the oud, sitar, tanbur, and other bowl-resonator lutes, often the desired sound is a combination of the resonance projected out of the resonator and other sounds which may project different directions or may not project well at all. For some stringed instruments, the sound of the pick, or the sound of fingers striking the face while using the pick, needs to be accentuated well beyond what you might expect. I consider these instruments complex ethnic stringed instruments (though, often, classical guitar and other "non-ethnic" instruments" might fall into the same category). For others, you don't want to hear the pick at all, but may want to hear sound coming off the fingerboard.
Once I've determined what qualities I want to capture (say, picking sound and the main bowl resonance), I determine which mics might excel for each aspect of the sound. For example, a Neumann KM184 is thoroughly lousy for capturing the warm midrange of an instrument or its subharmonics, but can be excellent for capturing just the picking sound, or other very high noise frequencies. Likewise, a ribbon microphone will provide a nice round midrange, but most will underaccentuate the high frequency attack and other noise sounds.
I rarely record complex ethnic stringed instruments with 1 mic. However, I don't use stereo pairs, but instead, two different types of mic (say, ribbon+small diaphragm condensor, dynamic+large diaphragm condensor), with the capsules close to each other (to minimize phase cancellations), pointing different directions. Experimenting with positioning is very important, and in fact is key once you have an idea of what kinds of mics you might want to try.
So you track the Khorzemian tanbur with a large diaphragm condensor and a ribbon... now what? I tend to keep the two tracks discrete mono, though I will pan them depending on whether I want the instrument to act like a point source or as a stereo spread. I also never have the two tracks at the same level in the mix. The ribbon might be at -10 compared to the large diaphragm. I might eq each (chop bass out of one, roll off the highs off the other). There's a lot to play with here, a huge range of colors.
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