Venice, the Music and the Mics

29.09.2011..

Music has always been one of my greatest passions together with the image, both photographic and nomadic. Recently, during the realisation of a documentary about Venice and its relationship with the music throughout the centuries, I came across a very particular case of audio take. What did happen? In the documentary, besides the interviews with the musicians and other people, besides the pictures of the places, etc., we had several opportunities of recording music concerts, both audio and video, mostly classical, starting from ‘300 till nowadays.

For the “nowadays” category, we recorded the concert for laptop computer (oh, yes) held on 9th July 2011 at the Conservatory of Music Benedetto Marcello in Venice, within the Sound and Music Computing Conference 2011: an international music and computer forum. I must admit that the experience, from a musical and technical point of view, was very interesting. I was intrigued by the pieces and I found very particular the situation of the audio take.

The concert hall of the Conservatory of Venice is fine and ancient. It is medium size, with good acoustics, with presence of reverberations, but not prevailing, and a fair clearness in the direct sound. Let us say that it is possible to make a good recording of a concert with acoustic instruments in a variety of formations. You have just to consider, case by case, which are the best choices as regards the recording typologies, the microphones, etc.

I want to underline, however, that I am a real fan of the pure stereophonic take that uses only two mics, better, only two audio channels. I always try to find the best typology (A B, X Y, ORTF, Blumlein, M+S, Decca Three, etc.) and to choose with accuracy the mics, time after time, depending on the recording conditions.

Just in few cases, I had to use one or two extra mics to give more intelligibility to instruments that, for the given conditions, could not express themselves at best. But those were cases with no other solution. In fact, the treatment frequently sparks off some side effects, i.e. alterations and rotation of the recording phase, etc., which can actually disturb a good outcome.

Back to the topic of this review and more precisely to the concert hall. When I reach the place to check the set-up, I realize that loudspeakers cover the entire perimeter of the hall, so that the three-fourths are acoustically active. It is clear that the intention is to let the sounds reaching the listeners from almost everywhere.

On the stage, there are seven, eight laptops in half circle, each one with its amplified speaker. A digital mixer ran the system with the operator in the middle of the hall. At this point, it is very hard to choose the configuration of the microphone take. What am I supposed to do, then? I cannot think about a 5+1: sorry for the lovers of special effects! I do want to use a pure stereo configuration. Nevertheless, one thing is to record in a room where the instruments are on the stage and their main emission comes from there, and another thing is to face this circle of loudspeakers without knowing how they will operate. Once you have chosen the system of recording, it remains like that, and you cannot change anything in progress.

An event is unique and once you have make the omelette you cannot transform it into an oven-baked sea bass with potatoes!

Another critical point, in my opinion, is to give to the final listener the impression of the live performance or, at least, a close sensation. Obviously, other stuff is the studio take.

I personally love the omnidirectional mics, for their naturalness in reproducing the relationships of the various sound sources in space: they have no preferences! The cardioids, on the contrary, stress what you receive from the front and tend to exclude gradually the sounds coming from the sides and from behind. They are essential for certain recording, but in this case, considering the provenance of the sounds, they are not the most suitable option. By choosing the polar characteristic of the microphones, you can define more clearly the set up. For the considerations done before, the best thing is an AB with the mics between the stage and the audience at a distance of three meters and 1,60 m. from the ground to exclude any reverberation of the floor without appearing too present in the film shooting. This option allows me to record the sounds coming from every side with the natural difference of emission due to the distance from the listening point. It is like having the listener’s ears instead of the mics. Mm… ears far three meters one from the other. But this is a little poetic licence.

For the mics, I chose a pair of Beyerdynamic MCD-101 with the MPD-200 Digital Phantom Power supply. They were issued some time ago and they are digital and omnidirectional, therefore the mic preamp and the analogical converter are inside the microphone capsule. That means having a digital signal out on a balanced cable conforming with AES 3-1992(AES/EBU), which, as state by the company, is less sensitive to interferences, to the length of the cables, etc.

Actually, the system offers very good performances, thanks to the quality of the mics and the electronic in use, but also thanks to the excellent clearness of the signal, which relays on the insertion of the converters into the mics.

The limit of this system is getting older at the same pace of the digital technology. Therefore, the top converters, at 24 bit 48 KHz, are today, at least in name only, out-of-date.

However…. At the listening things are different. I mean, if a sound has a very high quality today, tomorrow, it will not be so terrible! With these Beyer the recording quality is really at the top. Furthermore, I need the recording for a documentary: the audio standard most employed in cinematography is 24 bit - 48 KHz. What a coincidence! Finally, the merits overtook the faults, so I can avoid a more complicated match of microphone-preamplifier.

In the end, the outcome was very good, with a high sonic naturalness. To take into account, though, that the recording was about electronic music reproduced by amplified loudspeakers. The presence in loco was noticeable and the spatiality too. The listening tiredness non-existent. Maybe only that one related to the musical genre, sometimes a bit demanding. But this is another story.

 

 

 
by Claudio Piovesana
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