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Re: [ARSCLIST] How not to mike an orchestra
Mike Richter makes the most important and pertinent point about how a
musician views recorded sound. Just take the most present Mercury
Living Presence and knock up the presence about times 10 and that's what
it's like sitting inside an ensemble. You can hear all kinds of detail
that not even the conductor can hear. The conductor usually is getting
a good dose of winds projected at his head, so he can't hear some of
what a Bass player or Tuba player would hear. There are times when
things are so loud, all you can hear are the six-ten players immediately
around you, especially if you are a brass/percussion guy. SO, for them
to hear 100 microphones all mixed down to two channels isn't going to be
objectionable. They hear the guy wheezing next to them and why would
it sound out of place on a CD?
One thing that the couple could be talking about is the marked
improvement in background noise levels since the '60s. From the
microphones, to the cables, to boards and electronics, everything is
much quieter than in the '60s. They might be comparing
multi-microphoned Columbia recordings from the '60s to something similar
from the '90s. Because everything has a much lower noise floor, they
perceive this as an improvement in recording technique, when the
improvement has been in equipment and storage. All the microphone
techniques used today have been with us for a long time. Because of
modern materials, we can hear more detail (detail that an audience
member can't hear).
Also, don't discount the fact that many players suffer from some amount
of hearing damage (it's very prevalent in brass and percussion
players). I know trombone players who played in jazz bands that have
Another thing about musicians is that they tend to project what they
expect to hear over what they are actually hearing. It's like our
spouse hearing a "yes" when we clearly said "no". That happens. If
they've heard a particular piece hundreds of times, and they've played
it too, they stop listening to details because they're intimately
familiar with it. The recording is taken for granted. They just hear
things that are "out of the ordinary", like a note that's changed due to
errata, or some extreme of tempo, or a dramatic change in
interpretation, etc... This is like our daily commute to work. How
many can say they actually pay close attention to their surroundings on
their daily drive?
Another thing: Maybe musicians are their own worst customers. I can
draw an analogy to a home contractor that has unfinished jobs at his
house (holes that need repaired, carpet that needs replacing). The
musician plays music all day and doesn't really put that much effort
into reproducing music.
Most musicians don't listen mid hall when they're listening to a
rehearsal. I've noticed they get as close to the ensemble as possible.
The mid-hall perspective is foreign to them.
Mike Richter wrote:
Bob Olhsson wrote:
I got hired around ten years ago to record a woman who turned out to
played flute in both the NBC Symphony and the New York Philharmonic
she met her husband who played clarinet. Before leaving, we sat down
the couple and had a conversation about the recording and
those orchestras. After some wonderful anecdotes about Toscanini and
Stokowski, I was shocked to hear them say they believed "recordings
so much after the modern technique of using lots of microphones
only one started to be used."
What else would a flautist say? That is, she would probably have been
unable to hear herself in the ensemble with only one or two mikes.
When she has one all to herself - or to the winds as a group - she
would perceive her contribution more easily. Whether that microscopic
view and the resulting clarity of inner voices aids the overall effect
is up to producer, conductor and engineers (in no particular order).
Note, too, that musicians may be poor judges of recorded sound; in
general, they are not looking for the same things that make a
recording effective to the home listener. In addition, they do not
know what the orchestra sounds like when they hear it from within the
I have had very good results with limited experience recording with a
pair of cardioid electrets crossed and mounted somewhat above the
stage, one-third back and horizontally centered in a small hall. But
whether that would satisfy the performers I cannot guess; it may have
sounded too 'realistic'.