Surround Stage Recording for Classical Music
Ray A. Rayburn
Berlioz’s Te Deum is a large work for orchestra, chorus, tenor solo, and organ. It was performed with audience at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York in 1996 during a convention of the American Guild of Organists, Dennis Keene, conductor. The Cathedral is the largest gothic structure in the world, with a nave extending 183 m (601 ft) front to back, and the reverberation time of the occupied space is about 5 s. The orchestra was positioned in the large crossing, and the chorus was located on multiple risers in the sanctuary. The vast dimensions of the space are such that there are virtually no early reflections. The first reflections are from walls that are about 25 m (83 ft) distant, so that the reflected sound blends in completely with the onset of diffuse reverberation.
As the postproduction of the recording got underway it was apparent that the chorus sounded “very present and very distant” at the same time. The obvious solution was to add ambience to
the recording using a program in the Lexicon model 300 reverberation generator. This program adds only a set of simulated early reflections and as such gave an effect of immediacy and naturalness not present in the basic recording.
Another problem we faced was where to put the house microphones. The audience in the nave numbered 4000, and there was no way to position stereo microphones 40 m (130 ft) above them. The solution here was to position the house microphones 25 m (80 ft) above the chorus adjacent to the organ pipes. As a result of this, you will hear the organ and reverberant signature of the Cathedral both from the rear channels; this is very much the way the work was originally heard in Paris in 1855, where the organ was in the rear gallery.
As with the previous examples, the stereo monitor mix was recorded on tracks 1 and 2 of the digital recorder. Figure 16.8 shows views of the recording and microphone setup, and Table 16.5 shows the deployment of microphones. Figure 16.9 shows the resulting stereo and surround sound stages.
Selections from Carmen Ballet by Bizet-Shchedrin The Carmen Ballet is an arrangement of music from the opera Carmen for strings and large percussion resources. The recording was made by the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by James DePreist, on June 24 to 27, 1996, in the Salle Garnier in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Figure 16.10 shows views of stage and microphone layout, and Table 16.6 shows microphone and track deployment.
The engineer and producer made the decision early on to assign each of the percussion microphones to a separate track. This provided utmost flexibility in rebalancing any of the percussion resources as they might crop up later in postproduction. In a sense, the percussion elements were an unknown quantity in terms of balance and relative levels, whereas the string ensemble was, by comparison, very stable and predictable.
Another important decision involving engineer, producer, and conductor was made regarding the relative perspectives of the string ensemble and the percussion ensemble. Physical constraints meant that the large array of percussion instruments would have to be placed behind the strings, but musical balance required that the two ensembles be essentially equal in all respects. In other words, they had to occupy the same apparent location on the recorded sound stage as the strings rather than be heard from their natural position behind the strings.
The solution was simple; it was to place an identical set of main microphones in front of each ensemble, treating them equally in terms of presence and level. Figure 16.11 shows the resulting sound stages for both stereo and surround presentation. Concerto for Piano and Strings by Alfred Schnittke The recording was made on the large scoring stage at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Ranch in San Rafael, CA. Constantine Orbelian was both pianist and conductor of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. The recording space has dimensions of roughly 27 m(90 ft) by 18.3 m(60 ft) by 9 m (30 ft), and its boundaries can be configured for a variety of acoustical requirements. For this recording the room was set for “moderately live” acoustics. Figure 16.12 shows details of studio setup and microphone placement. Note that the piano has been placed, with its cover removed, so that it is well into the middle of the string group. Removing the cover was a necessity for
ensuring eye contact among all players. Table 16.7 shows details of microphone and track deployment. Both stereo and surround sound staging are shown in Figure 16.13. Because of fore-aft spacing limitations in the studio we introduced an additional 20 milliseconds of delay to the house microphones in order to “position” them as desired.
Excerpt from Ray Rayburn’s Eargle’s Microphone Book.
Ray A. Rayburn is a Senior Consultant with K2 Audio LLC. He is a member of the AES Standards Working Group on Microphones, and Chair of the Standards sub-committee on Interconnections. He is also a recording engineer with a lifetime interest in microphone use, testing, and design. Ray is also the author of the recently published Eargle’s The Microphone Book, 3e. Visit the book’s companion site!