I was recently invited to travel to Leigh-on-Sea near Southend to record a small baroque quartet who wished to record a song cycle of 9 German arias by George Frideric Handel.
The quartet contained a Harpsichord which was the main reason for doing this recording on location – they are difficult things to move!
I agreed to meet at the house at 10am and setup before the rest of the performers arrived at 11.30, giving me plenty of time to get ready.
Location recording was requested due to the inability to move the harpsichord. This, however worked in my favour as the room lent itself to recording – lots of soft furnishings that meant that the acoustic was musical but fairly dry.
Not knowing what to expect, I inevitably packed more much more equipment than I ended up using but this afforded a certain amount of options during the recording.
The musicians were set up in the music room towards the rear of the house – affording some distance from road noise – and I set up in the front room. I ran a small 8-channel multicore between the rooms which afforded me some acoustic separation. This is really beneficial as monitoring on headphones when tracking without any speakers can be rather troublesome.
I used my trusty Presonus Studiolive 16:4:2 digital desk which fed my Macbook running Logic 9.
A pair of PC speakers were utilised for playback duties.
Once setup was completed the rest of the musicians had arrived which allowed me time to position mics and set levels while they warmed up and practised different sections.
The main limiting factor on sessions like this is the stamina of the players – particularly the singer(s) – so I needed to be capturing real takes right from the word go so didn’t have much time to tweak mic positions or levels. This all meant that I had to default to experience and go with common setup positions and re-adjust if necessary.
I had a main stereo pair positioned towards the corner of the room to give an overall “picture” of the recording space. These mics were used as the main sound of the quartet with spot mics to add detail. The mics were panned left and right when mixed but not fully hard left and right so as to not leave a hole in the middle or too wide a stereo image.
I used two AKG c414B-ULS mics in figure-8 pattern for the main stereo pair towards one corner of the room, aiming to capture a good balance of all performers.
The main issue was the positioning of the flautist directly ahead of the stereo pair, meaning it was picked up fairly loudly as it was already quite loud in the room.
I had the vocal mic on a large boom stand setup behind the singer so I could angle the mic downward. The Apex 460 also has 9 different polar patterns and I was set to one step tighter than cardioid so I managed to get a lovely full tone from the mic with good separation without the need for a pop shield – ideal for someone reading several pages of manuscript!
The Cello mic was positioned towards the f-hole with the null of the mic (it is ribbon therefore figure-8 pattern) pointing towards the flute and vocalist. The darker side of the mic was also pointing towards the harpsichord which was a good thing as it was quite bright and fairly thin-sounding in the room so needed a little help in this regard.
The flute mic was at mouth level around 2 feet away and the harpsichord spot mic was about 2 feet from the soundboard, diagonally pointing downwards.
David was very pleased with the tone of his harpsichord – they can be difficult to capture properly. I chose a ribbon due to its smooth top end.
You can also just see the same microphone used for the Cello – pointing towards the f-hole.
To the right of the frame is where the flautist was standing.
Once everything was set, the rest of the session largely consisted of capturing full takes of the arias, with the musicians popping in to listen to playback to check their performances.
Two tracks had small edits made – essentially splicing takes together where the first 4-5 minutes were considered “keepers” but a mistake was made thereafter. I suggested editing rather than repeating the whole track to keep the musicians from tiring. Once edits were performed the quartet checked they were happy with them before moving on.
There was a main stereo Blumlein array and spot mics for each performer.
For the blumlein array I used 2 AKG c414B-ULS microphones. For the soloist I used my valve Apex 460 which has had a C12 modification. I used GAP Ribbon microphones on the Cello and Harpsichord and my own branded “3C FET 47” microphone on the flute.
As you can see the flute spot mic was hardly used due to the volume of the flute in the room.
Rather than try to re-invent the wheel when it came to mix the session, I chose to mix on the Presonus Studiolive rather than transfer the recordings to the studio. My reasoning for this was mainly due to the fact that the quartet were already very pleased with the sound they had heard during playback – including monitor EQ and also a very nice Church reverb so I didn’t want to try and replicate this and possibly not get as nice a balance.
I ran the mixes out of the Presonus straight into the Apogee convertors at the studio and simply recorded them in for compiling to CD.
Final recording demo: Check out a demo track from the finished recording below.
George Frideric Handel – Das zitternde Glänzen der spielenden Wellen – HWV 203