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Classical recordings - which perspective


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Initial post: Dec 25, 2012 4:56:36 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 25, 2012 4:57:31 PM PST
Yi-Peng says:
I'm not referring to a MUSICAL perspective but rather the perspective of which position of the recording venue the engineers capture the sound from.

I would like to look at three positions: from the middle of the orchestra, from the conductor's podium and from the audience stalls. Each perspective has its merits and demerits. Listening to a recording as if you're near the instruments might mean a close balance that may be too close for some listeners. Likewise, the conductor's podium and the audience stalls might sound a little too muddled even though you can hear the orchestra as a unit and hear how each section relates to each other. Another issue relates to ambience in the sound (i.e. reverberation and natural acoustics of the hall).

It seems that there is hardly an ideal position to capture sound from a recorded performance. In ideal situations I would like a recording that can be clear and detailed, and yet well-balanced so that the instruments are not too close.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 26, 2012 5:41:48 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Dec 27, 2012 11:25:41 PM PST]

Posted on Dec 27, 2012 10:55:29 PM PST
Yi-Peng, I think we've seen every possible variation in microphone placement and track mixing---and there may not be one single solution applicable to all venues and to all scores.
Decca used a multi-microphone multi-track approach for years, very often producing spectacular results (e.g the Solti Ring). In the USA the RCA engineers used far fewer mikes---and achieved spectacular results (e.g. Chicago and Boston Living Stereo). The Mercury team used one mike for mono, and switched to two for stereo, but were not enthusiastic about multi-track approaches. They also achieved spectacular results (e.g Minneapolis and Halle/Manchester/Pye).

I don't think balance engineers try for middle-orchestra sound or for podium sound. My sense is that they try to create an illusion of how a listener in the hall's best seat would hear the performance. I would say that best-seat perspective is the illusion I prefer. You described this perspective perfectly when you wrote: "I would like a recording that can be clear and detailed, and yet well-balanced so that the instruments are not too close". This tends to rule out middle-orchestra sound and podium sound. Well, IMHO.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2012 10:58:15 PM PST
KenOC says:
Angelo, a question: At least some of Mercury's stereo Living Presence sessions were recorded on film or mag tape in three tracks. Were three mikes used or was the center track a mix?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2012 11:16:19 PM PST
Ken, my sense is that it was a true third-mike center track (which amounted to a mono master)---but they were relying primarily on the L and R stereo tracks. I think they weren't primarily mixologist engineers. I do think that in the mix down to a two-track stereo master they distributed the center track very conservatively into the two final tracks, adjusting the gain to preserve stereo separation while avoiding ping-pong. Obviously in a performance involving vocal soloists or concertos, the center track would be much more important and the distribution done accordingly. Does that approximate your understanding of what they were doing? (Which was spectacular in any case. Those 1956 Cozart/Fine/Auger PYE stereos with Barbirolli and the Halle are still notable. And of course the Living Presence material on which their fame rests.)

Posted on Dec 28, 2012 1:47:39 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 1:56:18 AM PST
Skaynan says:
You can get a very nice overview from a different POV:

Check out http://www.soundsonline.com/Symphonic-Orchestra

They produce "Sound Libraries"- I'm a heavy user of QL orchestral collections. But the interesting thing to read there is about the different mic positions the orchestral sections are recorded from. Basically there are three different "Layers": Close, Stage, and S (far end of the hall). By mixing and matching the three different layers you can achieve a different sound, obviously, and learn a lot about professional engeneering mic placements while you try different balances between the mic positions.

These sound librarys are used EXTENSIVELY in TV and Film productions, it's serious stuff, and very interesting page to visit.

Posted on Dec 28, 2012 3:18:15 AM PST
MacDoom says:
Over the years I have found that, as long as instruments don't drown one another out, I can live with almost any balance, at least after a short period of adjustment. What troubles me much more is shifts in balance as the music goes on. There can be different reasons for this happening. Microphone placement for small chamber orchestra and singers is usually fixed, but many first violins, flute, oboe and clarinet players, and most singers will simply not sit or stand still (particularly in live recordings)! As soon as the source of the sound moves with respect to the microphone, that can lead to balance shifts. The more closely miked, the more noticeable. But at least this is a problem created by natural causes.

When it gets really bad is where balance engineers can't leave their buttons alone. Each instrument in the orchestra, or at least each group, gets its own microphone and recording track, and then the fun begins - sliding soloists and whole sections back and forth over the podium, shining aural spotlights whenever their fancy takes them, and creating a completely restless sound image in the process. Such recordings are virtually unlistenable via headphones. Balance engineers of the world: find a good orchestral balance and then keep your fingers off!

Ah - that feels good. End of rant.
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
Participants:  6
Total posts:  7
Initial post:  Dec 25, 2012
Latest post:  Dec 28, 2012

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