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Author Topic: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?  (Read 14518 times)

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Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« on: February 05, 2006, 06:00:18 am »

Hi everyone, I would like to challenge a couple of things about recording the acoustic piano, and invite comments.

Most people seem to place their microphones close to the strings.  This will give a different sound from what someone hears standing in front of the piano.  I can see why rock musicians do this as they want a tinkling sound rather than a real piano, and I can see why people do it in a concert hall to filter out other sounds.  But it seems to be the preference for recording classical piano in a studio too, which is paradoxical.  If the sound next to the hammers is superior to the sound a listener experiences then the piano manufacturer has surely failed.  (However, it may just be an inescapable fact of science that piano sounds lose something as they blur together in the air)  Or perhaps microphones just aren?t good enough to pick up the nuances from a distance?  

Even with two or three mics inside a piano I don?t see how you can possibly get an even dynamic across the whole range.  Some strings will be a dozen times further from the mic than others (Although much of the sound comes from the sound board, the sound is stronger near the string).  The use of directional mics will surely exacerbate this.

Cardioids seem to be almost universal but for solo piano there is no need to filter out other sounds so an omni placed a few feet from the piano would seem better.  

I profess no expertise and would be delighted to hear the experts? comments.
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Yannick Willox

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Re: Piano - challenging assumptions
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2006, 07:56:34 am »

Ultimately it depends on the music-pianist-piano-hall combination.

I agree 100% with your view: they have been building piano's for about 200 years, to sound good 90deg sideways, at a distance, and with the audience often sitting lower than the soundboard.

We are lucky to have one 'magical' chamber music/piano solo hall (concert hall of the Royal Conservatory in Brussels). It is a mid size shoebox (660 seats), with the back of the hall curved, probably a bit higher than it is wide. All wooden construction, with a glass ceiling (daylight !). It was constructed around 1870-80.

Whatever we do, wherever we go, there is no way to get a piano sound as good as here (even when the instrument itself is in fact superior): in this hall the 'audience' approach works great. The mic will be on axis, from 1m to 3-4m from the instrument, distance and height depending on the music and pianist. (and directivity of the M mic - yes we always do this in MS). On axis means the mic is at 90deg to the piano, and aimed almost exactly at where the curb starts at the right hand side. Height can be as low as the soundboard to 2.5m up.

But, then we get into different conditions, eg a large chamber, with 1/2 Bechstein, built in 1910. All of a sudden, there is a mic inside the instrument, and a AB couple 2m out. In this case it was the most convincing piano sound.

The point is, a piano is big. It radiates sound in all directions. Some engineers solve this by putting mics all around the instrument, which seems valid but does not work for me. Either you get enough distance to get more of the sound of the piano (which comes back as room sound) -which means a great sounding room- or you try to fake it. While not ideal, we regularly have cases where the latter approach gives better results than the former. You can' win them all ...

What I would like to challenge is the use of LD mics, or any condenser mic for that matter: for me the attack is never clean, always artificial (compared to the real thing). A good ribbon like the SF12 seems to solve a lot.

Unfortunately, a Blumlein approach does not work at all in our magical hall. We are waiting for a cardioid or omni SF1 !
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Gunnar Hellquist

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Re: Piano - challenging assumptions
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2006, 01:21:29 pm »

Very good answer from Yannick.

I agree with most of what he says (not that it makes any difference, me beeing a rather beginner in this). You need to look at all the factors, from instrument to room to music to select the best (or even least bad) position for the mics.

I do believe though that true pressure condensor omnis can do a great job on a piano, say DPA 4003 or perhaps Microtech Gefell M296. Have not really loved any usage of cardoids though for classical music.

Gunnar
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Barry Hufker

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Re: Piano - challenging assumptions
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2006, 01:48:46 pm »

To me the difference between close micing and "audience" micing is "bloom."  Acoustic instruments were meant to project their sound.  For me, there is a point where the sound become full -- and that is at a distance from the instrument.

The piano lid has one purpose -- to radiate the sound into the audience.  For me, the lid is optional, depending on the music, player, etc.  

Barry
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DavidSpearritt

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Re: Piano - challenging assumptions
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2006, 03:25:48 pm »

I find the most useful rule is stay at least one characteristic dimension away from the instrument to make sure acoustic mixing of all freqs radiated by the various parts of the soundboard has occurred most completely. In the piano, the characteristic dimension is the long dimension of the sound board, some 2-3m in a concert grand.

This is also a useful guide when miking an acoustic guitar. If one examines sound intensity plots of the radiation of soundboards, you can see that in some places and for some frequencies, sound energy is actually travelling back into the soundboard. Placing mikes there will make a very ugly sound.

Close miking of pianos and guitars is a very silly idea in general, and I can often hear the lumpiest, most unattractive results from such practices. One hears only resonant, narrow frequency radiation from just under the mike and this is always dissappointing. Listen to jazz piano recordings when there is a rare couple of octave "run", and you will be able to tell above which hammers the mics are, the notes stick out like ....

The other fact that has great influence on the sound is the volume of the playing. Most jazz and pop piano technique and music rarely gets above mp or mf at the most. This means close miking is more tolerable. For most classical performances on concert instruments the playing is often above f and sometimes fff.

I recorded a CD recently of the Bach Busoni Chaconne and other VERY LOUD piano playing. For this you need to be at least 3m away or it's a disaster on many fronts.

Klaus Heyne

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Re: Piano - challenging assumptions
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2006, 04:48:46 pm »

David Spearritt wrote on Sun, 05 February 2006 12:25

Close miking of pianos and guitars is a very silly idea in general, and I can often hear the lumpiest, most unattractive results from such practices.


The traditional assumption by critics of close miking is that the listener has an idea how an acoustic instrument sounds in a hall, and so he will be able to compare that to the recorded version and judge the recorded results accordingly.

This assumption is less and less valid, as fewer and fewer people venture out to listen to an orchestra, string quartet, classical guitar performance, and so on.

So then, the sonic aesthetic of a recorded acoustic instrument needs to be critiqued anew and by itself:
Is a close-miked acoustic instrument pleasant to listen to on a recording, regardless whether it was originally designed and perfected for distant listening?

For violin, the answer is easy for me: You need to go through extraordinary efforts in the recording process to tamp down the stridency of a close-miked violin, cello, or similar bowed instruments. It simply hurts my ears, and that is all the argument I need.

The same easy answer comes for me when listening to recorded flute or sax: I detest the sound of the valve action. It does not add anything to my listening pleasure.

Similarly, steel string guitar: the strident string screeches, when the player changes fingerings, especially over wound strings, is not nice to hear.

Finally, I judge any instrument as being recorded to closely when I can hear the player breathe.

Other than that, I truly think it's time to revisit the aesthetics of miking acoustic instruments in the absence of the traditional "hall experience" as a yardstick for what is "right".
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Klaus Heyne
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I would question the statement made in the original post "Most people seem to place their microphones close to the strings." How was this conclusion made?

I think it's very true that in rock, pianos (even overdubbed) are often recorded with close mics. In my opinion, there are two reasons other than the "brighter" tone: 1. within a rock or pop mix, it may be slightly to completely unnecessary to get a full tonal and dynamic range from the piano - neither the playing nor the mix (with drums, guitars, etc) require them. 2. The sound of a distant mic'd piano mixed with close mic'd drums, guitars and vocals may sound strange and out of place.

In jazz, the piano may be close mic'd if there are other instruments tracking at the same time, in the same room. To mic the piano from any distance, the mics would simply become ambient or "room" mics, and there would be no individual control over the piano level or tone in the mix.

However, in classical and solo piano recording, from what I have read and those who I have spoken with, mics "close to the strings" seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Obviously, the instrument itself, the music, the room and the pianist all influence how the instrument should be mic'd. I would think that in recording a piano, as well as any other sound, an engineer should place the mics where they sound the best, rather than where they "should" be placed. I assume that in any of these "close mic'd" recordings, that the producer and/or artist at least approved of the sound, if they didn't specifically request the close mics as well.

I am not specifically a classical music engineer, nor do I subscribe to some of the classical purist concepts. I have generally looked at live performance and recordings as two separate experiences. I have worked with some classical and folk artists who love the intimacy and detail of close miking.
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natpub

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Re: Piano - challenging assumptions
« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2006, 09:13:27 pm »

Klaus Heyne wrote on Sun, 05 February 2006 15:48

This assumption is less and less valid, as fewer and fewer people venture out to listen to an orchestra, string quartet, classical guitar performance, and so on.


This thinking is less applicable to musics like Bluegrass, traditional Country, folk, Celtic, etc., that are characterized by smaller, closer audiences on a frequent basis in an intimate setting, hearing the instruments and players in all their corporeality.

Quote:

The same easy answer comes for me when listening to recorded flute or sax: I detest the sound of the valve action. It does not add anything to my listening pleasure.

Similarly, steel string guitar: the strident string screeches, when the player changes fingerings, especially over wound strings, is not nice to hear.

Finally, I judge any instrument as being recorded to closely when I can hear the player breathe.


I couldn't disagree more! The sweat, huffing and puffing, and fingers flying are all part of the organic intimacy and (to borrow a Klaus word)"sense"-uality of natural music.

However, for those who want neutered music, we certainly have samples and samplers that can nicely provide pure tones stripped of their human operators Smile

Then again, understanding, selecting, and applying the most graceful or desirable of those living human sounds is the challenge. Balancing and mixing them with the tones of the whole is the art.



.
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Klaus Heyne

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Re: Piano - challenging assumptions
« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2006, 09:32:50 pm »

natpub wrote on Sun, 05 February 2006 18:13


The sweat, huffing and puffing, and fingers flying are all part of the organic intimacy and (to borrow a Klaus word)"sense"-uality of natural music.

However, for those who want neutered music, we certainly have samples and samplers that can nicely provide pure tones stripped of their human operators Smile.



I think we can disagree about preferred methods of recording without disparaging those with differing opinions.

The clicking of flute valves- part of "organic intimacy"?
Why then not also appreciate the player chewing gum, burping or farting - or is that not part of huffing and puffing?
I am simply not getting 'added value' when these noises are included in the music.

Keith Jarret's or Ramsey Lewis's (in)famous vocalizing during their piano improvisations are about as much distraction from their music as I am willing to take.
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Klaus Heyne
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Re: Piano - challenging assumptions
« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2006, 11:54:10 pm »

[quote title=Klaus Heyne wrote on Sun, 05 February 2006 20:32]
natpub wrote on Sun, 05 February 2006 18:13


burping or farting

Keith Jarret's or Ramsey Lewis's (in)famous vocalizing during their piano improvisations are about as much distraction from their music as I am willing to take.


These types of noises (as opposed to breathing or string/valve noise) might be worse with distant miking than close, especially on a piano. Interesting as I had a Jarret-esque bata drummer today, whose mumbling/singing was documented in the recording. In this case, with the mics close to the drumheads, I think it would have been more noticeable with a distant stereo pair (which we started with and abandoned).
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DavidSpearritt

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2006, 04:01:08 am »

When you close mike an acoustic instrument, you are recording some of its frequency magnitude response and some of its phase response, in other words you are getting a fraction of the acoustic information.

Now if this is what is desired so be it. But luthiers and piano makers all over the world and of all different cultural backgrounds must be pretty annnoyed that all the effort they go to in creating a fine radiating musical source, is only being partially captured, because of "tradition" or "that's what we did last time without listening" etc.

Yannick Willox

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2006, 05:43:26 am »

Klaus,

"Finally, I judge any instrument as being recorded to closely when I can hear the player breathe."

Well, this would exclude some of the finest Belgian (soloist) classical string players from being recorded. Their nose or mouth breathing noises are sometimes louder than the instrument (especially when playing a very expressive pp part).

Furthermore, you are excluding contemporary classical music. What about prepared piano, or a flute solo piece, based on breathing sound, key noises etc. ?

They are disturbing noises for you, for me (and a lot of composers or musicians) they are an integral part of the music.

Of course, in a lot of music genres you strive to have less artefacts, but still, eg in a Bach cello suite, once in a while you leave a breathing sound or a finger being placed with a quite loud 'tok' to prepare the next note in the editing - because it is the best take AND because it sounds less natural without those sounds.

I'm sorry, but you are clearly missing a lot of great music, that has been recorded magnificently, based on your quote ?

PS. I once worked with a composer on the sound for a bassclarinet/piano piece. Each played only the 4 lowest notes of their instrument. The clarinet player was contact miced with a stethoscope (in his nec) to amplify his instrument though his body - also amplifying his lungs (his breathing was even written down). Great piece by the way, the clarinet player always was on the edge of hyperventilating ...
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Klaus Heyne

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2006, 01:51:06 pm »

Yannick Willox wrote on Mon, 06 February 2006 02:43

Klaus,
[recording breathing sounds of players] would exclude some of the finest Belgian (soloist) classical string players from being recorded. Their nose or mouth breathing noises are sometimes louder than the instrument (especially when playing a very expressive pp part).


You are saying "If your don't change your aesthetics, you will miss some great performances".
Fine. You can listen to Breathing CDs. I 'll pass. There are enough offerings of fine performances to go around to satisfy you and me both.


Quote:

Furthermore, you are excluding contemporary classical music. What about prepared piano, or a flute solo piece, based on breathing sound, key noises etc. ?

Bad example. If extraneous noises are an intentional part of a composition and performance, I'll listen and figure out whether I like it or not.


Quote:

They are disturbing noises for you; for me (and a lot of composers or musicians) they are an integral part of the music.

I'm sorry, but you are clearly missing a lot of great music, that has been recorded magnificently..

I assume you got from the opinion I expressed this much: I made up my own mind  about what I like and what I don't in recorded music.  What may be a great performance to your ears may be annoying to mine. So "missing out" is the wrong term here, and feels condescending.

Best regards,
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rodabod

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #13 on: February 06, 2006, 02:22:34 pm »

In response to the thread title: No.

This is all a matter of taste.

Use more classical techniques if you want to maintain a more realistic reproduction.

I have mic'ed a grand piano using close mic techniques, but I balanced this direct sound with a stereo ambient setup to avoid this "head inside the instrument" sound. Careful attention needs to be paid to hammer noise and string balance, but this is easily achieved.

As for "breathing noises", again this is preference. I like string squeaks.... When they are suitable, or if it is part of the performance.

I just think the whole matter is very subjective. Some of my favourite recordings are un-natural sounding, and I almost appreciate this is some respects, whereas other material I can respect for its realism.

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2006, 11:17:11 pm »

I hope a comment on "vocal" breath noise is not out of place in this thread.

I recall reading (I think it was on one of these forms) some time ago about an engineer spending allot of time removing the vocal breath (inhaling) sounds from a Barbra Streisand session. When Barbra came in the next day and heard it, she said that she hated the sound without the breath noise and told him to put all of her breath noises back.

I must admit, that just this week I was listening to a Kelly Clarkson tune on the radio, and for the first time, really noticed her breath noises. In some way it kind of detracted for what I think is an otherwise tremendous performance.

-Andres
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Yannick Willox

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #15 on: February 07, 2006, 05:57:52 am »

Sorry Klaus,

of course I respect your opinion - it's just that I was a bit surprised by it.

It is my feeling that the difference between good recording equipment and great equipment is exactly how the 'nonmusical' sounds are handled.
Of course it is my primary concern that breathing noises, handling noises etc are an integral part of the sound. They must never jump out or sound detached from the music.

eg Most microphones detach the bow sound from the cello sound. If I read your quote literally, I hear: "I don't want to hear the bow". It is here I don't agree. Even in a live concert, at 20m distance, you can still hear the bowing sound. But it is an integral part of the cello sound.

Indeed, for me too, it is a necessity to have a mic and a recording that lets the listeners hear the global sound, not a cello and a bow (and a mouth breathing).

I'm sorry if I came over condescending, but this is a very important topic for me. By training I am a classical musician, my colleague is an (very) active classical musician, we got into recording exactly because there are too many unnatural sounding (classical) recordings. We do know how a decent instrument sounds in a nice hall (as opposed to - at 20 inches and then through a monitor), we strive for that sound (even if we have to lie a little ...).
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Scott Helmke (Scodiddly)

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #16 on: February 07, 2006, 08:44:04 am »

This thread reminds me of the classic "which way do you pan a drumkit - audience or drummer perspective" question.  It seems to hinge on whether you prefer the sound "from the audience", with attenuated (drowned out by the rest of the ensemble?) side noises, or the sound "sitting next to the performer" where mechanical noises are more evident.

For me it would depend on the music - often I like the sound of keys clicking, etc, as long as it's not exaggerated.  To me it better represents what the instrument really sounds like.  But I can understand the ideal of no extraneous noises, which is one of the classical music goals in complete control of the instrument.

Here's a related bit of speculation hinted at in other responses here - do the piano manufacturers really go for the best sound to the audience, or the best sound to the piano bench?  Which do you try to reproduce?  

(yeah, I know - it depends on the music, the situation, the people...)
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #17 on: February 07, 2006, 09:22:02 am »

Someone asked where I got the idea that close mic'ing was common for the piano.  The answer is that I have no experience of recording but have spent many hours researching because I want to record solo classical piano at home.  There is an amazing amount of advice / opinion out there and most of what I found does seem to be advocating putting the mics close, even after discounting those that were guided by the need to avoid leakage or the desire to obtain an unnatural sound.

The AMT people, who make a mic specifically for the piano (M40) actually advised me to put it close up. (This mic seemed good for me given my price bracket but having heard one on a website I wasn't very keen on it). I must admit that some of the other web-posted samples with close mics did have high quality sound, although not very natural.

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #18 on: February 07, 2006, 09:39:57 am »

Andres Gonzalez wrote on Tue, 07 February 2006 04:17



I recall reading (I think it was on one of these forms) some time ago about an engineer spending allot of time removing the vocal breath (inhaling) sounds from a Barbra Streisand session. When Barbra came in the next day and heard it, she said that she hated the sound without the breath noise and told him to put all of her breath noises back.



-Andres


You can make a strong argument that breathing is part of a singer's music.  Another example is the sound of a pianists fingers striking the keys.  However, when it comes to a cellist breathing I am not convinced.  It is worth asking this: if the cellist knew of a way to breathe more quietly without interrupting her concentration, would she do it?  

I don't think a cellist's breathing is properly part of the music.  It is, however, part of the experience.  You may want to listen music at home that reflects that experience, including breathing and the sounds of the audience twitching.  If I am watching an opera on television or a broadcast of a concert I probably do want the experience.  Personally I don't want it from a CD.  A CD is so far removed from a concert that I prefer to have the music clinically extracted.

Roland Davis
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Marik

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #19 on: February 07, 2006, 05:04:58 pm »

I almost exclusively specialize on recording of classical piano and have been doing it for many years. I am yet to see a concert pianist who would like to hear performance with close up miking.
So many fantastic performances even of the greatest artists were ruined this way.

First of all, for a serious recording (esp. for commercial release) I would not even consider recording in a studio. The only thing to go is a concert hall with acoustics not less than beautiful, on a piano not in less than in a perfect shape, with a top technician, standing by during the whole session. Of course, there are some very good studios, but I am yet to hear a studio piano recording, which would be as emotionally involved as made in the hall.

You should understand two aspects of piano performance:

1) The brain of the experienced concert pianist works differently. S/he hears not what is coming out of the piano on the stage, but first projects the sound into a hall, and then listens to the sound coming back from THE HALL.

Take it away from the pianist and 80% of the inspiration will be gone. Of course there are some exceptions like G. Gould, but he had his own, unique way of music making, and had a completely different concept of the sound. Needless to say, he used his own piano, which was "doctored" in the way suited to his (and only his) needs and thus was perfectly suited for studio recording.

2) Piano essentially is a percussive instrument. Most of the pianists (once again, with some exceptions) strive for overcoming this very nature. They want to sing on piano and want to hear their sound round and homogenous, with perfect connection between notes and music ideas, i.e. legato playing is a fundamental concept of piano performance.

You have to help the pianist with that. Close miking results in a "tiki-tak" kind of sound, which is essentially percussive, and defeats the whole idea of legato, and ultimately the whole idea of music making and how the artist wants to hear the final result.  You still need to have a good sound definition, so a fine balance, where the sound is already not "tiki-tak", but still not too "wet", can be a challenge.

When you record, you need to find a sweet spot between the complex relation of a pianist's personality and the piano/hall/type of music, where ultimately, sound itself expresses emotional context of the music and its ideas.

For a natural sounding piano try to mike it so, that afterwards you do as little electronic processing as possible.

In less than perfect situations my first choice would be MS recorded separately as two channels, where for 'M' I'd try a cardioid Gefell M294, and for 'S' a ribbon (besides perfect fig8 pattern, it tends to be more forgiving for room flaws). Then I'd edit the recording, and then treat/EQ each channel separately during a mastering stage.  

Best regards, Mark Fuksman
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #20 on: February 07, 2006, 06:15:26 pm »

Marik wrote on Tue, 07 February 2006 17:04



...In less than perfect situation my first choice would be MS recorded separately as two channels, where for “M” I’d try a cardioid Gefell M294, and for “S” a ribbon (besides perfect fig8 pattern, it tends to be more forgiving for room flaws)...



Very interesting post, Mark.

One question regarding the excepted quotation above...

What then would your mic'ing technique be in a perfect situation?
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #21 on: February 10, 2006, 01:25:05 am »

The answer is totally dependent on the type of music. For classical and accoustic jazz, there is a benchmark and that is the sound of the instrument. The goal is a high fidelity recording in the literal sense of the words. Fidelity means truth. The point is that what you hear in the room should come out of the speakers. So the "correct" method is the one that achieves this goal.

In pop music, it is a different story. A piano cannot be heard over a pounding rock drum kit and a Marshall stack. So the fidelity of the piano sound is irrelevant. A natural piano sound would be useless. In that case, micing close to the hammers and using compression and EQ gives an exaggerated, hyped sound that lets the piano work in an unnatural context.
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Re: Piano - challenging assumptions
« Reply #22 on: February 10, 2006, 04:13:08 am »

Klaus Heyne wrote on Sun, 05 February 2006 20:32


I think we can disagree about preferred methods of recording without disparaging those with differing opinions.



Yikes, I had not read back on this thread after posting and just noticed this. Sorry Klaus if my reply came across in any way as condescending. I read it now and see how it could read that way. I messed up wording what I intended, and was trying to be somewhat funny--which didn't come off correctly. My appologies.

I do still maintain my general position. As far as flute sounds, especially.  I am thinking of a particular live Jethro Tull song, can't recall the name, but the totality of his sound, the music, the breathing, the key pads slamming--it all makes the performance amazingly intense and conveys the intended passion so very well--only IMO, of course.
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #23 on: February 10, 2006, 05:08:15 am »

PRobb wrote on Fri, 10 February 2006 16:25

The answer is totally dependent on the type of music. For classical and accoustic jazz, there is a benchmark and that is the sound of the instrument. The goal is a high fidelity recording in the literal sense of the words. Fidelity means truth. The point is that what you hear in the room should come out of the speakers. So the "correct" method is the one that achieves this goal.

In pop music, it is a different story. A piano cannot be heard over a pounding rock drum kit and a Marshall stack. So the fidelity of the piano sound is irrelevant. A natural piano sound would be useless. In that case, micing close to the hammers and using compression and EQ gives an exaggerated, hyped sound that lets the piano work in an unnatural context.


I am wondering if the distinction is not classical or pop, but rather acoustic instrument or otherwise. A lot of "pop" music use acoustic instrumentation and if they are close mic'd they will sound bad no matter how much eq or compression or volume is used. If they are competing with a Marshall stack then I would also question the composition (song writing) quality. I must say I cannot understand the pop vs classical distinction, to me its all about sound quality.

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #24 on: February 10, 2006, 11:35:11 pm »

compasspnt wrote on Tue, 07 February 2006 23:15


What then would your mic'ing technique be in a perfect situation?


There is no such thing as a perfect situation, it is just different set of compromises.

When you have bad quality piano, or acoustics, or both, you have to fight those to make the sound at least more or less presentable.

When both piano and hall are wonderful the process could be much more tortureous, as you start trying not just something that would "sound OK", but have to make all kinds of artistic decisions. The intimate relationship between performer/piano/hall/composer/final result, is much more subtle and can take many hours to get the right compromise (which BTW, could be completely different on another day). Only your ears, experience, and talent can tell you the right solution.

The repertoire can also be a challenge, espessially if you need to put on the same disc such different composers like for example Mozart, Chopin, Ravel, and Prokofiev. Each of them has completely different sound aesthetics, and ideally would need different TYPES of piano, not to say different mics and miking techniques. So you have to decide and find an average sound, where neither of those composers would be out of context.

As for micing techniques, usually I use whether Jecklin disk, or MS, where for "S"  I put a ribbon, and for "M" (depending on situation) omni, fig8, or a special mic of their combination (if I need a cardioid pattern). Rarely I use a "conventional" cardioid mic, as I beleive only true transducers (like pressure, or fig8) can create a natural sound I want. The omni/fig8 mate, with all its limitations and some anomalies, suites my purposes much better than "ready to go" cardioid capsule. In fact, I even don't own a matched pair of cardioids, as I never found myself liking them for piano, and only rarely use  Gefell M294 for an "M", just in some certain situations.

When you record classical piano on artistic level, it is impossible to give any recommendations, as every situation dictates different solutions. For example, last year I was recording the full set of Bach's English Suites and last December the full set of his French Suites, with the same pianist, on the same instrument, in the same hall. For English Suites, with its quite dense music texture we found the Jecklin disk with one of my sets of omnies, working the best.

The French Suites are much more transparent and light, and after a brief sound check it was clear that MS, with omni "M" would work better, reveiling almost "human speaking voice" sound, the pianist wanted.

Another kind of situation... A couple years ago I was recording a very unusual CD, with very meditative type music, never getting above 'mf' range, with a tempo never going faster than Moderato.
It was clear that only Jecklin disk setup could give that very special sense of space, localisation, and atmosphere needed.
At some point I found a position, where mics would get a reflected sound from the piano lid so, that the mics would get this sound, then pick the sound getting back from the hall in a way when the hall would feel like an extension of the piano, and the sound would never seem to end...

Any other positions would give much clearer sound, but nothing would give that almost owerwhelming sense of that emotional
piano/hall/music engagement.

For me at that moment the sound was a little fuzzy and could be easily "fixed" by more direct mic positioning. Realizing that, very carefully I noticed to Maestro that sound purists would prefer to hear on a CD just clean straight sound. The answer was quite straight: "F**ck your purists. If they want, let them buy CDs made in a studio. You are not gonna change anything"!

After many hours of editing and mastering I still listen to that CD often... just for my own pleasure... despite on some fuzzines... which BTW, very well might be a part of that almost mystical atmosphere, created.  

   
   
BTW, little suggestion. Whenever you go to record classical music, always know the pieces performed from memory, and always have a score right in front of you.

Best, Mark Fuksman
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ted nightshade

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #25 on: February 15, 2006, 06:41:04 pm »

I'm as puriste as they come but I wouldn't call it
"correct". Maybe "naturalistic", but that might not shed much light either.

I think of it in terms of the performer's intent, at least today I do.

Mostly I do one-mic or two-mic recordings at whatever distance sounds right. This reflects the intention of the musicians- of which I am usually one. We're trying to create a sound in a room, and that's something we have in common with the classical folks. Given performers who are good at this and a room that supports it, the thing to do is to place the mic in the place in the room that best realizes the intent of the performers.

However, outside of the classical folks and a few jazz and bluegrass types here and there, there are very few acoustic musicians actually intending to create "their sound" in the room. In this age of mics and pickups just everywhere, more and more acoustic musicians are counting on the soundboard to make it all right.

So, mic'ing up a singer-songwriter who expects you to create the mix and sound for them, based on what they transmit to the close vocal mic and the pickup, is a different story. They have not studied at creating their sound in the room, so what they create in the room is nearly a complete accident.

It is my view that depending on mics, pickups, mixing boards, speakers, and the like hampers the intimate communication between artist and audience, but not a lot of folks think that way these days. The best way of recording anybody will be the way that connects them best with their audience.

I kind of wonder if some of these folks even intend to connect with the audience, but that gets pretty far afield...

I would say that if the performer is intent on creating a certain sound at a distance in the room, the right way to record it is to capture that sound. It's a shame when we get to hear what it all sounds like point-blank but that's not what the artist intended. But it would just be obstinate to assume all performers intend to create their sound in this old-school way, even if I am terribly prejudiced in favor of that approach...
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #26 on: February 17, 2006, 06:55:15 pm »

ted nightshade wrote on Wed, 15 February 2006 18:41

...I would say that if the performer is intent on creating a certain sound at a distance in the room, the right way to record it is to capture that sound. It's a shame when we get to hear what it all sounds like point-blank but that's not what the artist intended. But it would just be obstinate to assume all performers intend to create their sound in this old-school way, even if I am terribly prejudiced in favor of that approach...

*Awesome* post Ted, and very helpful to (aspiring purist) newbies like me.  Thanks, Sam
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #27 on: February 17, 2006, 11:35:39 pm »

DavidSpearritt wrote on Fri, 10 February 2006 21:08

A lot of "pop" music use acoustic instrumentation and if they are close mic'd they will sound bad no matter how much eq or compression or volume is used. If they are competing with a Marshall stack then I would also question the composition (song writing) quality.


Is this just your way of saying, "electric guitarists aren't real musicians"?

Anyway, the point being made was that a "natural" sounding piano will not always be the BEST sounding piano for the situation...
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #28 on: February 26, 2006, 04:34:01 am »

hfffoman wrote on Tue, 07 February 2006 09:22

Someone asked where I got the idea that close mic'ing was common for the piano.  The answer is that I have no experience of recording but have spent many hours researching because I want to record solo classical piano at home.  There is an amazing amount of advice / opinion out there and most of what I found does seem to be advocating putting the mics close, even after discounting those that were guided by the need to avoid leakage or the desire to obtain an unnatural sound.

The AMT people, who make a mic specifically for the piano (M40) actually advised me to put it close up. (This mic seemed good for me given my price bracket but having heard one on a website I wasn't very keen on it). I must admit that some of the other web-posted samples with close mics did have high quality sound, although not very natural.


Dear hfffoman,

This thread is really pointing towards the fundamental philosophical/aesthetic questions involved in making a sound recording.  As I see it, there are at least 4 different categories which can be used to create a 2 x 2 matrix. Please keep in mind that all recordings are merely REPRESENTATIONS and that the following categories have nothing to do with genre.  

1.A "creative" recording creates representations of sound that engineer/producers/musicians have in their minds. It often involves significant processing and multitracking techniques.

2.A "re-creative" recording creates representations of an experience of live (acoustic?) music (perhaps from the perspective of the audience or the performer as already suggested in this thread).  Please do not consider this approach to be any less creative than a "creative" approach.  This approach does not merely try to reproduce sound as captured in a room (from one or more positions) - such an approach is a MEASUREMENT not recording.  "Re-creative" recording aims at re-creating (enhanced?) experiences, which is much more complicated.

Think of taking a picture of a beautiful woman - do you simply calculate the proper angles and proper focus and take a picture (this is a measurement) ?  Or do you walk around the woman, find her best angle, adjust the lighting, and create a  representation of her beauty ?

3. Recordings which try to transport the listener INTO an environment.

4. Recordings which try to transport the performance or instrument to the listener's space.  

Do you want the beautiful woman to come to you, or do you want to go to her?

Ron Streicher has a name for categories 3 & 4 but I can not recall what they are off the top of my head.  

So, as you go about recording your piano you must ask yourself the following questions: Do I really want to attempt to re-create what I am hearing when I sit down at the piano? Do I want the performance to enter the listener's space , or do I want the listener to go to the performance?

Certainly there have been some great "classical" or "acoustic" recordings which have attempted both 2 & 4, necessitating a closer microphone  placement.  The recordings of Glen Gould were often idealized representations of compositions involving extensive editing.  They often tried to bring the composition into your living room as opposed to bringing you to Gould's space.  Gould made a prediction in 1966 that most "live" concerts would be extinct by 2066.  He may not be so far off with regards to so-called "concert music" in North America.

There is one more "technical" thing about recording in a small space like your living room.  The critical distance will be much smaller, so even if you want to have a somewhat "re-creative" recording where you bring the listener to your living room,  you will have to be relatively close as a consequence (I will guess less than 2 meters).  So you may have been advised to put the mics close for this reason.

regards,

k. walker
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ted nightshade

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #29 on: February 27, 2006, 07:02:42 pm »

A lot of times people are trying to avoid recording the room. This is usually because the room has an unwanted sound, or because the folks playing and recording don't know how to work the room. Maybe both. Or maybe the sound desired is a really close-mic'ed sound. I'm thinking most often the close-mic'ed sound is the familiar and thus desired sound because that's all that sounds good on voice in a lot of rooms, lacking unusually conscious singing and recording. So it gets to be a habit.

Some sources sound better with lots of relatively random reflections than others do. Vibraphone seems to love to be drenched in any room sound you happen to have, from the closet to the parking garage. Trumpets sound great with more reflected sound than direct, depending on your taste. But the human voice is very demanding, especially if intelligibility is desired.

I have a voice that rings the heck out of a room, and a nice bright pine-panelled room to small for such a projecting voice. But I've learned to get good vocal sounds not by avoiding the room sound, which seems to be nearly impossible in that space, but by finding the most flattering, longest reflections the room has to offer and placing the voice accordingly...

Then I make sure the voice is placed so it is IN PHASE with the room reflections, making the voice sound huge instead of washed out and swimmy. Mic placement the same.
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #30 on: March 03, 2006, 04:44:57 pm »

"This thinking is less applicable to musics like Bluegrass, traditional Country, folk, Celtic, etc., that are characterized by smaller, closer audiences on a frequent basis in an intimate setting, hearing the instruments and players in all their corporeality."

I do not think this is necessarily a valid assumption in today's environment. Certainly, it is getting less valid with time.

Like Ted suggested, most of the musicians coming through my studio nowadays want to sound like they sound in the local folk house. mostly, this is without a mic, through a DI. They also think that, because they are in a studio, the should be miced. The result is- close micing.

And, as strange as it may seem, the audience wants the same thing. many, many audience goers today think that the sound of an acoustic guitar is that of a pickup through a DI out a PA system. when they hear a more "classically" recorded guitar, they say "that doesn't sound like soandso, it sounds strange".

As Klaus said, the reference point is changing. Or, perhaps more precisely, the reference is splintering. At one time, those having sufficient leisure time and money to go to a concert were a relatively small group. Today, one need only enough money to uy an Ipod to listen music. And there are all kinds of listeners in between.  

What is the proper way to record acoustic instruments? Consider want the artist wants as an end result, consider who the intended audience is and then proceed accordingly.
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #31 on: March 03, 2006, 05:02:16 pm »

Quote:

Consider want the artist wants as an end result, consider who the intended audience is and then proceed accordingly.


Trouble is, most artists and general audience are clueless about sound. So considering their opinion seriously is not a great idea. Physics is a better guide.

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #32 on: March 03, 2006, 05:09:25 pm »

DavidSpearritt wrote on Fri, 03 March 2006 22:02

Quote:

Consider want the artist wants as an end result, consider who the intended audience is and then proceed accordingly.


Trouble is, most artists and general audience are clueless about sound. So considering their opinion seriously is not a great idea. Physics is a better guide.


You know, I try as much as possible to do what I simply feel is right, not caring too much about what others might think (don't tell any of my clients, please...) Comes from doing several projects that were impossible to compare with anything else out there. The instrumentation was way too weird, but still all acoustic.

All one can do in such a case is to trust one's instincts, which I believe is the best way to go anyhow...

Martin
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #33 on: March 03, 2006, 05:34:23 pm »

wildplum wrote on Fri, 03 March 2006 21:44

... most of the musicians coming through my studio nowadays want to sound like they sound in the local folk house. mostly, this is without a mic, through a DI. They also think that, because they are in a studio, the should be miced. The result is- close micing.
many, many audience goers today think that the sound of an acoustic guitar is that of a pickup through a DI out a PA system
And, as strange as it may seem, the audience wants the same thing. . when they hear a more "classically" recorded guitar, they say "that doesn't sound like soandso, it sounds strange"...
(my italics)

Please, tell me this isn't so!  I understand the need for DI'd transducers in some situations;  sometimes they're necessary.  They're easy to use, the guitarist can move around on stage, feedback's not a problem, but most of them sound terrible, including my own!  It never occurred to me that folks acutually like and prefer the sound of a piezo transducer to that of a microphone.
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #34 on: December 25, 2010, 06:53:16 pm »

Marik wrote on Tue, 07 February 2006 16:04

I almost exclusively specialize on recording of classical piano and have been doing it for many years. I am yet to see a concert pianist who would like to hear performance with close up miking.
So many fantastic performances even of the greatest artists were ruined this way.

First of all, for a serious recording (esp. for commercial release) I would not even consider recording in a studio. The only thing to go is a concert hall with acoustics not less than beautiful, on a piano not in less than in a perfect shape, with a top technician, standing by during the whole session. Of course, there are some very good studios, but I am yet to hear a studio piano recording, which would be as emotionally involved as made in the hall.

You should understand two aspects of piano performance:

1) The brain of the experienced concert pianist works differently. S/he hears not what is coming out of the piano on the stage, but first projects the sound into a hall, and then listens to the sound coming back from THE HALL.

Take it away from the pianist and 80% of the inspiration will be gone. Of course there are some exceptions like G. Gould, but he had his own, unique way of music making, and had a completely different concept of the sound. Needless to say, he used his own piano, which was "doctored" in the way suited to his (and only his) needs and thus was perfectly suited for studio recording.

2) Piano essentially is a percussive instrument. Most of the pianists (once again, with some exceptions) strive for overcoming this very nature. They want to sing on piano and want to hear their sound round and homogenous, with perfect connection between notes and music ideas, i.e. legato playing is a fundamental concept of piano performance.

You have to help the pianist with that. Close miking results in a "tiki-tak" kind of sound, which is essentially percussive, and defeats the whole idea of legato, and ultimately the whole idea of music making and how the artist wants to hear the final result.  You still need to have a good sound definition, so a fine balance, where the sound is already not "tiki-tak", but still not too "wet", can be a challenge.

When you record, you need to find a sweet spot between the complex relation of a pianist's personality and the piano/hall/type of music, where ultimately, sound itself expresses emotional context of the music and its ideas.

For a natural sounding piano try to mike it so, that afterwards you do as little electronic processing as possible.

In less than perfect situations my first choice would be MS recorded separately as two channels, where for 'M' I'd try a cardioid Gefell M294, and for 'S' a ribbon (besides perfect fig8 pattern, it tends to be more forgiving for room flaws). Then I'd edit the recording, and then treat/EQ each channel separately during a mastering stage.  

Best regards, Mark Fuksman



-- YES, BEST DESCRIPTION I'VE EVER READ OF THE APPROACH TO CLASSICAL PIANO RECORDING ON A VERY HIGH LEVEL. EXCELLENT THROUGHOUT.
======================================
Fernando Guilhon
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compasspnt

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #35 on: December 25, 2010, 07:20:45 pm »

Agreed.

I would personally have chosen different microphones in the last paragraph, but the philosophy is perfect.
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Fenris Wulf

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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #36 on: December 26, 2010, 07:28:54 am »

At one time it was in vogue to record classical piano with the lid removed and a pair of mics a few feet above the strings.

Here's a pop song from 1962 with an unusual (for pop) distant-miced piano sound.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8n4xA1yNbE
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #37 on: December 26, 2010, 08:46:18 am »

Listening to Fenris' post, it seems you can really hear that the piano is distant mic'd. What a great way to pre-place elements in a mix.

I remember hearing a Jimmy Smith recording through a friends "audiophile" rig and how loud the relay click was when he switched the Leslie. Loved it. Close your eyes and he was playing there in the same room.
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Re: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?
« Reply #38 on: December 26, 2010, 04:31:35 pm »

All this reminds me of a conversation I had with mastering engineer Paul Stubblebine, who picked up on my use of the aforementioned word, "naturalistic" when discussing my mastering preferences.
He very astutely made a distinction between, "natural" and "naturalistic" where the latter may well employ artificial techniques to give the impression of a natural presentation of a best of all possible worlds. IOW, do what works for you given your artistic vision.

Personally, I usually gravitate towards an elusive balance inclusive of the advantages of all relevant perspectives. For non-classical ensemble arrangements, I often like the "less confused" perspective of removing the lid on a piano with modified Crown SASSP stereo mic pointing down from 1 to 2 meters above the crook, assuming a decent room.
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