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Author Topic: Is There A 'Correct' Approach To Recording Acoustic Instruments?  (Read 12941 times)

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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compasspnt

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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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PRobb

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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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natpub

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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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DavidSpearritt

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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.

Marik

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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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Mark Fouxman
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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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Sam Lord

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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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Brendan Thompson

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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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