Monday, October 31, 2016

Miking and Multipliers

The Nikolai Kachanov Singers are kind of the Seal Team 6 of the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York. They're a smaller group and they have a wider mission of doing more modern music from around the world. Not exclusively modern, of course, that's not Nikolai's style. There's some ancient stuff in their repertoire as well as Messiaen and Arvo Part (and much younger composers). And they are freaking fantastic.

So. This concert. First of all, this venue is terrific sounding. St. Ignatius up on West End Avenue in Manhattan. The only downsides are that they have no piano and the heating is... well honestly the heating is a very weird joke as they have these two monstrous and incredibly loud heating units in the back of the church that look... like monsters. You can't see them in this picture.
The pipe organ is wonderful. You can actually hear what's going on around you. But no piano (and honestly I don't see how they could afford to keep a piano tuned due to the, er, vagaries of the heating and humidity situation.)

My sinuses are suffering today from breathing this stuff yesterday.
Ho-ly cats do they pour on the incense on Sundays. Holy cats. I mean, we walked in at 1pm and it was like being on the set of Blade Runner. Like OSHA would insist on respirators. Pretty though.
Looking toward the front of the church.

So the music had a fairly wide range of orchestration. One piece had a lute, one had a harp, one with a percussion section and a string quartet. So we're looking at a fairly wide dynamic range. Also, the chorus moved around a bit depending on the piece. For most pieces the chorus is upstage of that railing in the part of the church called, if I understand correctly, the "choir".
The left Rode NT-1 sat in the first row of the pews on the left. The right one is not visible in this picture.

Other times the chorus was down on the steps and the percussionist was up in the "choir" with the string quartet down on the floor (where you can see the conductor in the rehearsal above.)
Oh, and a quartet of singers was sent off to a side chapel for one piece to be an "echo." I generally don't go chasing after things like that with microphones because the whole point is that they sound far away.

So the basic deal is that my tendency is to want to go relatively close with microphones to pick up the articulation and detail, and Nikolai is wont to put microphones further away because he doesn't want to hear individual voices. So for this concert I was thinking about the details and locations of various instruments and came up with another notion.

1 and 2 are large diaphragm cardioid microphones spaced about 6 feet apart. Number 3 is a stereo pair of small diaphragm microphones up in the air, showing the kind of distance the maestro prefers overall. (Note these numbers are not the channel assignments. If they were 1 and 2 would be in channels 3 and for, and 3 would be a stereo pair in 1 and 2. If you aren't confused, just keep reading.)
Probably 90% of the sound you want is a pair of nice supercarioid microphones in an X/Y pair in the first "sweet spot" you find as you listen to the chorus and start to walk backwards from the conductor's position. It's kind of funny and awesome that I have a conductor who will make that walk and ask for a particular mic placement. I think it's somewhat unusual to have a musical director that sophisticated in recording.

For this recording I wanted some options though. And those options involved having a couple bigger mics closer to the music. And it turned out that except for one piece I was wrong and Nikolai was right but not for the reason I expected. The mix and the blend are vastly better for almost all the music with the X/Y pair set three rows back. So what are those very far apart microphones good for?

When mixed in with the center X/Y pair those far apart microphones add a bit of widening to everything. Which, you know, makes intuitive sense now that I write it down but. Well yes then. And when I say "mixed in" I mean at least 10dB quieter than the center pair. When I recorded I set all the gains to record the sound on the stage at the same level on each recording track. So if somebody sang in the center of the stage, the meters on all four microphone channels would light up exactly the same.*

The percussion setup was really very cool. Not shown well are these sweet little bells. Ooh. I think they're called "crotales".
But in the mix those NT-1's would be 10dB lower. I think I said that.
Pay no attention to the amount of compression and even parallel compression added to this mix. Ahem. That would be illegal in classical music. But note that channels 1 and 2 are the center mics and 3 and 4 are the Rode large-diaphragm mics and that the Aux channels only have 1 and 2 in them.

Actually, in the mix they're significantly lower than that even.  But I think that just the bit of sound we get from them, varying from piece-to-piece obviously, adds enough to make them worthwhile.

The lute. Pretty. But quiet. Insert your own joke here.

Now I made one exception to the general "don't move microphones" rule. That was for the piece with the lute. I scooched the NT-1's to where you can see them here for this one piece. And when I listened to the quick temp mixes I made today, I favored those mics over the ones about 30 feet away just because... because.

But now I'm all down with how I've got an 8-channel Zoom recorder, I may as well go crazy with microphones and track counts. Right? Right. I'm thinking a very wide modified Decca Tree. Because the fact is, if we don't like a mic placement -- we can just mute it in the mix.

*Yes, this is technically only true for a single point source and would fall apart as soon as someone changed position, but I had a chance to come up with an average and that's what I stuck with. Let's just pretend that all the microphones were getting the same amount of signal onto their respective tracks and leave it at that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016