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[ARSCLIST] How not to mike an orchestra/the death of high fidelity
Happy New Year
I found the two threads above related and thought I would combine them.
In recent years musicians and engineers have become very obsessed with
"perfecting" sound through micro-editing, using digital tools and
multi-miking, which allow "greater flexibility" when creating the final
product. As said by others, this destroys the character of the recording
and in the long run compromises the musicianship of the artists. I still
would like to think that most people pick character if exposed to it,
although there are still those who prefer Velveeta to P'tit Basque cheese.
For Christmas I got the new Simon Rattle/Berlin playing Haydn's
symphonies 88-92 on EMI. I do not know if I like the performance: I
could not get past how bizarrely flat (as in "lacking depth") the
recording sounded, which seems to indicate multi-miking (and perhaps
compression)(*). I agree with Peter Hirsch that there is not a "right"
way to record an orchestra (thank heavens!), but I like a sense of
place, a character, a uniqueness --what wine growers call terroir. This
seems to be lost in much modern recording. The "presence" in "Living
Presence" was about "You are there!", not about "They are here!" (they
being the musicians), which is what makes those recordings wonderful.
As a market engine, over-compression and saturation may actually work
wonderfully, at least in the short run: if I cannot stand a CD after one
listen, I will go out next week and get me a new hit. This is the
principle which makes MacDonald's work so well: one is hungry an hour
after having left the place. You want more.
I am using food and wine parallels because I feel that music is behind
the ball in terms of aesthetics (probably due to its reduced relevance
in our world). Recent trends in food (eat locally; your baker's
multi-grain is better than Wonder bread; the rise of micro-brewing) show
that people are finding that the over-sugarized, over-salted,
brightly-packaged items in our big supermarkets are ultimately less
satisfying. Yet we are still being fed Froot Loops and Budweiser over
I can only hope that the majority of listeners will some day rebel and
reclaim what makes music exciting. Music will benefit, even if the
market suffers. Then again, it may be precisely what the market needs.
(*) Which is too bad, as some of my favourite recordings come from
(earlier times at) EMI. If anyone has any inside stories on how this was
recorded, I would love to hear them.