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Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Tom Ballinger » Sun Apr 15, 2012 4:15 pm

Hi guys,

Im recording a choir and organ next week and have no idea how im gunna mic it up. the organ is directly to the right of the choir.

i have access to rode NT2a (x2), Neumann TLM 103, Soundfield Microphone and a pair of SEa1.

the choir is small mostly women with one man singing bass they are very quiet compared to the organ as there is only about 12 of them

here is a very basic floor plan i drew up really quickly. Any suggestions? Please help! cheers.



http://s226.photobucket.com/albums/dd185/balli_photo/?action=view&current=choirlayoutyeah.jpg
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun Apr 15, 2012 5:37 pm

Tom Ballinger wrote:Hi guys,

Im recording a choir and organ next week and have no idea how im gunna mic it up. the organ is directly to the right of the choir.

i have access to rode NT2a (x2), Neumann TLM 103, Soundfield Microphone and a pair of SEa1.

the choir is small mostly women with one man singing bass they are very quiet compared to the organ as there is only about 12 of them

I'm worried about this idea that the choir is "very quiet compared to the organ". The organ is a musical instrument, hopefully controlled by an experienced musician. As well as playing the right notes, his job is to play at an appropriate volume so as to accompany the choir rather than overwhelm it. I'm sure he is competent to do this.

So let the musicians take care of the music! YOUR job is not to correct the balance, but to find mic positions which capture it well.

How many tracks do you have available to record to? Is this a set-up purely for the recording, or are you capturing an occasion? Will you be able to use up a control room where you can set up proper monitoring?
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby hollowsun » Sun Apr 15, 2012 6:09 pm

I'm with the Wombat here.

I was once a cathedral chorister (back in the late 60s) and there is (or should be) a natural balance between the organ and quire. Ours (at the time) was a damned good choir and we toured, sang at Windsor castle, etc., and recorded an album for Decca (now long deleted sadly - some lovely choral work on it). But anyway...

It was mostly done with a stereo pair of mics place appropriately. Sometimes, they'd have a mic for decani and another for cantoris mixed with the stereo pair but overall, it was a pretty simple, self-balancing recording.

Not quite the same but my daughter's involved in all sorts of youth orchestras as a violinist and I have made some reasonably decent recordings of their concerts with just a Tascam DR40 on my lap as I sit in the audience. If I could place that better (on a stand behind or in front of the conductor, perhaps), I am confident I could make decent recordings. Not Deutsche Grammophon perhaps but pretty reasonable, maybe/probably even releasable.

I fear you're worrying a bit too much about this but if you have genuine concerns, is there a way you could organise a quick run through with the choir and organist aforehand to practice getting some levels and mic placement, balance, etc.?
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby cfb4 » Sun Apr 15, 2012 6:36 pm

Yes, a run-through might help. If you could do test recordings of a rehearsal w/ organ that would be best. If there's an issue with the organist blasting out the choir then you can flag it to the conductor discreetly before the session. I recorded a choir with organ last week - ran separate mics for the organ and spot mics for the soloists - multicores everywhere. Turned out the organ and the soloists sounded better on the main mic array (a well-positioned M-S pair and an ORTF) in the end. Go figure!
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Tom Ballinger » Sun Apr 15, 2012 6:45 pm

This performance is purely just for recording there will be no audience, but I only have an hour with the choir unfortunately. I have 8 channels to work with. I was thinking recording the B format on the soundfield to mess around with it in post production but where to position it? I've not enough time to measure the critical distance unfortunately.

Thank you for the replies guys!
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby hollowsun » Sun Apr 15, 2012 7:30 pm

Tom,

I think it's unreasonable to be expected to record this well/properly without some technical rehearsal.

I (and none of use here) understand what this recording is for, exactly. If it's just a 'vanity' recording for the choir's benefit, then don't worry about it too much. But if this is for some kind of release (I dunno - a CD to sell to raise funds, whatever) then, sorry, but you, the recordist, need - have to have - time to set up properly to do a good job.
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Tom Ballinger » Sun Apr 15, 2012 8:52 pm

Sorry i should have mentioned. This recording is for a 3rd year university project. Unfortunately one hour is the time i have and i guess im gunna have to make the best of a bad situation.

would M/S be a good idea if i have little time? i could then have a bit more control in post production.

I guess my biggest question really is where exactly to place my chosen technique. I know its impossible to really tell from my floor plan but any suggestions? would i need to place the microphones facing the centre of the choir? surly that would be really unbalanced with the organ pulling the whole mix to the right?

My lecturer suggested close micing the choir and placing a stereo pair of mics in the room to pick up the organ and choir but im not too keen on that idea.

Its a very beautiful sounding room i just hope i can do it justice.
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:54 pm

Tom Ballinger wrote:Its a very beautiful sounding room i just hope i can do it justice.

And that's your answer! It's rooms where things DON'T sound good that are a problem! Put a stereo pair somewhere where audience would sit, where it sounds good to your ears. If you have spare mics and channels put them other places and experiment in the mix. But probably where it SOUNDS good, will be good.

Haven't I said all this already? :-)
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby hollowsun » Mon Apr 16, 2012 1:41 am

Tom Ballinger wrote:i guess im gunna have to make the best of a bad situation.
As is invariably the case in this biz - winging it and hoping for the best!
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Exalted Wombat » Mon Apr 16, 2012 7:44 am

Tom Ballinger wrote:My lecturer suggested close micing the choir and placing a stereo pair of mics in the room to pick up the organ and choir but im not too keen on that idea.

If this is for a college project, on which you will be graded, is there really any point in disagreeing with your teacher?
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Apr 16, 2012 10:25 am

It's a very common situation -- most churches are set up this way.

Ideally, you can find a position back in the main body of the church where the organ/choir balance is acceptable all is good! Stick the Soundfield there and press record. The organ sound will wash around the room, albeit with a right of centre base.

By all means use your NT2s and/or TLM to provide some additional spot focus on the choristers to help with diction clarity if required.

Given such a small choir, it might help -- if you can -- to bring the choristers out of the stalls into the main body of the church, as that would allow you to position them to get good stereo imaging and clarity on them, with the organ in a little more distant perspective and more central in your overall stereo image.

Close miking the choristers and organ separately and then rebalancing after the event can be done, obviously, but it wouldn't be my ideal solution.

Organs are generally voiced to sound good to people standing on the ground... yet people insist on mounting mics thirty feet up on tall poles. It can be a useful technique sometimes if you want clean organ sound and no shoe-shuffling as the choir or congregation precesses in and out for BBC R3's Choral Evensong, but other wise, think carefully about what you're trying to capture!

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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Exalted Wombat » Mon Apr 16, 2012 10:40 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Given such a small choir, it might help -- if you can -- to bring the choristers out of the stalls into the main body of the church, as that would allow you to position them to get good stereo imaging and clarity on them, with the organ in a little more distant perspective and more central in your overall stereo image.

It might help the recording, but it also might sabotage the performance. Assuming this is an established choir, used to performing in this building, they are accostomed to hearing the organ and balancing with it from THOSE positions. It could all fall apart if you move them into an unfamiliar acoustical space. And, for goodness' sake, don't boss them around! They have the skill, they are the product. You're just a tecchie!

I also smell the possibility that it's an ad hoc group consisting of "everyone else on the course". Under-skilled, under-rehearsed and thoroughly uncomitted to the whole project. Good luck!
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Apr 16, 2012 11:07 am

Exalted Wombat wrote:It might help the recording, but it also might sabotage the performance.


Possible, but highly unlikely in my experience -- but it is something that would need to be judged and discussed with the choirmaster/organiset/lead chorister at the time.

And, for goodness' sake, don't boss them around! They have the skill, they are the product. You're just a tecchie!


I don't agree with the attitude implied in the last sentence. 80% of the skill of a recording engineer or producer is in managing the situation through interpersonal skills. Obviously it wouldn't be good to 'boss them around'. However, if you can explain to them how, by relocating slightly, you will be able to achieve a much better recording (assuming that is actually the case), then they will either be happy to help, or explain why such a move is not possible, practical or whatever... and you can negotiate to find a mutually acceptable solution.

This event is set up specifically as a recording spession, after all, and the aim is to achieve the best results possible without the restrictions and compromises imposed by a normal service. think outside the box... You're not 'just a techie' you are the recording engineer/producer responsible for making the recording sound as good as it can possibly be. It's your job to solve technical, practical and musical difficulties in whatever way you can.

I also smell the possibility that it's an ad hoc group consisting of "everyone else on the course". Under-skilled, under-rehearsed and thoroughly uncomitted to the whole project. Good luck!


Sounds like the poster is committed -- why else would he be here seeking advice? Underskilled, of course -- he's a student learning the skills! That's the whole point. Under rehearsed? The choir is an existing group and I presume singing familiar material, so probably not.

My advice would be to show initiative and try to get the best results you can -- even if that means persuading your artists to try something a little different. If you only ever copy what others have done you'll never develop your skills or understanding beyond theirs.

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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Richie Royale » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:22 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote: his job is to play at an appropriate volume so as to accompany the choir rather than overwhelm it.

Out of curiosity, is it possible to play a pipe organ in a church louder or quieter? I presumed that the keys act more like switches to the pipes and do not respond to velocity, but I've never played one, so I have no idea.

http://www.lawtutor.freeserve.co.uk/organ.html

This indicates that there should be a volume pedal, but in the case he mentions, doesn't affect all the stops.
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:36 pm

Richie Royale wrote: Out of curiosity, is it possible to play a pipe organ in a church louder or quieter?

Of course! there are two ways, one static and the other dynamic. The static method is by choosing an appropriate 'registration'. The organ tone and volume is determined by the type and combination of pipe ranks being employed. Some 'stops' are quiet and gentle, some are louder and strident, and they may play at different relative pitches. The skill of the organist is to choose a registration of different sets of pipes to create the required tonality and volume.

The second, dynamic method, is that some sets (ranks) of pipes are often built into an enclosed box with louvre shutters that can be opened or closed to control the volume using a 'swell pedal' which is foot-operated. There may well be more than one 'swell box' of this type on larger organs.

A simple church organ with two manuals usually has a main set of organ pipes called the 'great' cna controlled from one keyboard, along with a second set called the Swell, controlled from the other keyboard, enclosed within the swell box.

I presumed that the keys act more like switches to the pipes and do not respond to velocity, but I've never played one, so I have no idea.

This is basically the case -- there is no real velocity sensitivity' as in a piano to controol volume -- although experienced organists often claim that organs with 'tracker actions' (direct mechanical linkages between keys and pipe valves) do exhibit a degre of velocity sensitivity because of the direct mechanical control of the valve opening action.

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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby MarkOne » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:39 pm

Richie Royale wrote:
Exalted Wombat wrote: his job is to play at an appropriate volume so as to accompany the choir rather than overwhelm it.


Out of curiosity, is it possible to play a pipe organ in a church louder or quieter? I presumed that the keys act more like switches to the pipes and do not respond to velocity, but I've never played one, so I have no idea.

http://www.lawtutor.freeserve.co.uk/organ.html

This indicates that there should be a volume pedal, but in the case he mentions, doesn't affect all the stops.


A common church organ config will have the organ split into two sets of ranks, the 'great' organ and the 'swell' organ. The swell ranks will all be built into a large box with louvres on the front which are opened and closed by a 'swell' pedal. Which of course controls the volume coming out of the box.

But even the great ranks usually include stops like nice quiet diapason and flageolet. Remember, a lot of sacred music was written specifically for a lone chorister, and organs have evolved to work equally well in that context, as well as accompanying massed choirs singing Handel cantatas.

EDIT: And Hugh types faster than me !
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Richie Royale » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:58 pm

Thanks for both of your responses. I'll probably never play one, just wondered how they worked.
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Tom Ballinger » Mon Apr 16, 2012 1:16 pm

Thank you for the replies guys!

The choir are well rehearsed. I guess the real reason for asking these questions is because yes i am a student with no experience of recording any kind of classical music at all, Iv done allot of reading on the subject but because its my first time im not entirely confident with my judgment. With only one hour with the choir iv not much time to experiment so i need to be as prepared as possible.

I think im going to put the soundfield at a nice sounding point where the audience would be not too far away though its a very reverberant room. ill spot mic the choir with the two NT2a's and give the only male singer his own mic just to make sure his bass vocals can be heard in the mix. what do you guys think?

I dont like winging things, im the type of guy who reads the entire manual of a piece of equipment before even getting it out of the box. But i guess in this line of work there will always be some degree of winging it.


Cheers!

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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Guy Johnson » Mon Apr 16, 2012 3:22 pm

I'd try Hugh's idea of bringing the choir more in front of the organ.
Or array the choir so their backs are to the organ.
and mic to taste with... Soundfield?
Image
Might be worth closer miking the choir ... sE1a co-incident miking, which could be mixed to mono ... you could mix in the two NT2s in Omni at the rear to give some stereo space and reverb. The sound from those should be dissociated enough to mix them in, maybe with some few extra milliseconds of delay and (shh!)... maybe a touch of good artificial reverb.

Then you (after deciding where the choir will be) you will have loads of mix possibilities:

~ Soundfield
~ Close pair stereo (or mono) with
~ Far room mics for reverb. Mono will negate any organ on one side, if you decide you don't want that.
That make 8 channels.
You can try when mixing combinations of mics, as well as tweaking the Soundfield mic's response ... but be careful of imaging problems and combing if mixing mic arrays!

I would ask the choir and The Man to balance themselves, rather than close-mic him. Though maybe he can stand a little closer to the mics. As long as he can see the conductor!

The organ. YOU could decide how it sounds. Why be the same as everybody else (I'm assuming a few will be doing this test?)
There are the plain flutey/tootly sounds, or spice it up with some high fractional stops, or go for a reeedier sound. What about the pedal stops? It all depends on the organ and organist, your inspiration, and how you interact with the musicians.

Does that make any sense? Bit difficult without being there!
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Apr 16, 2012 4:13 pm

Tom Ballinger wrote:With only one hour with the choir iv not much time to experiment so i need to be as prepared as possible.

Good planning with backup options is the right way to tackle these things. You need to be flexible on the day, obviously, but if you've already throught through a couple of approaches with contigencies in advance it's much easy to come up with a plan b quickly when you need to.

I think im going to put the soundfield at a nice sounding point where the audience would be not too far away though its a very reverberant room.

Yes, that makes a lot of sense.

i'll spot mic the choir with the two NT2a's and give the only male singer his own mic just to make sure his bass vocals can be heard in the mix. what do you guys think?

Yes... it could work... but Guy's points are worth taking on board. A coincident pair of the SE1s would be guaranteed to be mono compatible and thus increase your options if you need to fake the stereo image after the event becuase of choir position issues. Close miking a single source, such as your bass singer, could help with any balance issues but it will also make him extremely exposed in the mix and any tuning or performance flaws will tend to stand out. By all means record it, but mix with great care!

Rigging some space mics well outside the church's critical distance will give you options for, balancing the dry close mics, opening out the Soundfield if you end up with it closer for best diction, or if you need fake the streo later!

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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Tom Ballinger » Mon Apr 16, 2012 8:36 pm

Thank you so much for the replays everyone! im new to this forum and am very grateful. Ill do my best to help others with my limited student knowledge!

Iv got allot of ideas now i guess ill have to just hope it goes well on the day. Ill let you all know how it goes!


Cheers!

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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Guy Johnson » Tue Apr 17, 2012 9:32 am

We try to help! And post a link when it's done, too. Have fun.
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Exalted Wombat » Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:02 am

Tom Ballinger wrote:Thank you so much for the replays everyone! im new to this forum and am very grateful. Ill do my best to help others with my limited student knowledge!

Iv got allot of ideas now i guess ill have to just hope it goes well on the day. Ill let you all know how it goes!



Other musical events must go on in theis room? Sit in the audience for a few of them, holding your trusty Zoom H4 (or whatever). You'll either get a pleasant surprise, or realsie you have a problem.

If you can get this job done with a simple stereo pair (or - heck - use the Soundfield if one's lying around :-) it will save a lot of fussing. Sure, send as many other mics as you have to as many other tracks as you have. Belt-and-braces is good! But if you don't need them in the mix, rejoice!

Don't forget to monitor the recording - all the way through, if only on headphones. Find out about that noisy cable, that bad connection NOW, not when you're mixing. If I were your teacher, and feeling mischievous, I might even nudge my mobile phone right where it could do most harm half-way through! Not fair? It happens in real-life recording situations.

Edited to correct quote box syntax
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Tom Ballinger » Tue Apr 17, 2012 2:45 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote:
Other musical events must go on in theis room?

I managed to get into the church this morning with a musician and some mics Its a solo clarinet. Ill link you to it (in an hour or so) if any of you are interested in what the church sounds like? Would be nice to hear some feedback from you guys on my mix to.

Exalted Wombat wrote:If I were your teacher, and feeling mischievous, I might even nudge my mobile phone right where it could do most harm half-way through! Not fair? It happens in real-life recording situations.

Luckily he wont be there, part of this module is to organise the recording and find musicians ourselves. But i will take on board the advice, i will monitor all the way through.


The date of the choir recording has been moved to next week now so i have a little more time to prepare. Keep the suggestions coming.


Cheers!

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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Tom Ballinger » Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:27 pm

Ok guys heres a link to the recording i did today in the same church and the same position as the choir will be.

http://soundcloud.com/tommy-guns/st-giles-church-solo-clarinet

Its M/S pair (NeumannTLM 103 (M) and Rode NT2a (s)) this was placed about 3 - 4 feet from the clarinet pointing at the middle of the body of the instrument. Also there is a NT2a around 1 1/2 - 2 meters behind the M/S.

any thoughts?

Cheers!
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Exalted Wombat » Wed Apr 18, 2012 1:15 am

Tom Ballinger wrote:Ok guys heres a link to the recording i did today in the same church and the same position as the choir will be.

http://soundcloud.com/tommy-guns/st-giles-church-solo-clarinet

Its M/S pair (NeumannTLM 103 (M) and Rode NT2a (s)) this was placed about 3 - 4 feet from the clarinet pointing at the middle of the body of the instrument. Also there is a NT2a around 1 1/2 - 2 meters behind the M/S.

any thoughts?

I'm getting quite a lot of key-noise from the clarinet. Difficult to be sure on these speakers, but not much stereo field - I'm not hearing the clarinet in the room. All miked a bit close, perhaps?
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Folderol » Wed Apr 18, 2012 8:46 am

The room is definitely 'there' listening on headphones and sounds like it will be very forgiving. Background is nice and quiet - no passing trucks or helicopters!
Musician sounds like (s)he knows what they are doing too

Do let us know how it all goes.
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:42 am

Tom Ballinger wrote:Its M/S pair (NeumannTLM 103 (M) and Rode NT2a (s)) this was placed about 3 - 4 feet from the clarinet pointing at the middle of the body of the instrument. Also there is a NT2a around 1 1/2 - 2 meters behind the M/S.

any thoughts?

Sounds good to me. I had no problem at all with the clarinet's mechanics, and thought the room 'spread' was quite acceptable. As Folderol has said, the venue sounds quiet and the acoustics are quite benign so I don't think you'll have any real issues.

What was your thinking with the second NT2a and was it used in the mix? If so, that might account for the slightly centre-dominant room sound.

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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Guy Johnson » Wed Apr 18, 2012 10:42 am

Lovely room. And I like the breaths and clicks. Nice playing, too.

Tone is nice, though I thought the instrument was a bit undefined position-wise; and a bit to the left in the bottom registers.

Good idea to do this test. Where is the church? Any photos?
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Re: Recording choir and organ tricky position

Postby Tom Ballinger » Wed Apr 18, 2012 2:05 pm

well the second NT2a was to pick up some more room, but i think you may be right about the centred room sound.

I quite like the mechanical noise of it and the breathing, makes it sound real and human.

There is plenty of room to push the side mic up a bit further to make it a bit wider so ill give that ago. I think i was holding back because i do have a habit of piling on the reverb, cant get enough of the stuff!

I did end up pulling out around 2-3 dB between 2 and 5k, because the higher notes were quite harsh. Im pretty sure this is down to the natural harmonics of the instrument not the room.

It is a wooden clarinet, i do love the tone. Apparentley the instrment was made nearly 100 yeas ago.

The church is in Wrexham, North Wales. Its called St Giles. Iv no photos ill take some next week, i think there are a few online if you want to google it. Iv heard people call it one of the 7 wonders of wales. I suppose its quite an impressive building.

Cheers!!
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