The Choice of the Recording Venue
"With the advent of digital recording, the selection of a recording site became more crucial than ever before," Renner affirms. He and Bishop look for sites that possess an acoustic capable of supporting a recording made with minimal miking, which also requires that the location be as quiet as possible—inside and out. At times, the engineers have had to modify or move the acoustical shell in certain concert halls, or even add plywood over seats in order to "gently extend the reverb time in a natural way," says Renner. "It's Telarc's policy to avoid tampering with a recording's sound in an artificial manner." Once the site has been selected and physically balanced according to their satisfaction, Renner's and Bishop's next step in making the recording is to determine the type and placement of the microphones, which is critical to capturing the performance within the ambience of the venue.
The Microphone Array
When Renner talks about "minimal" miking, it means using the fewest number of microphones that are absolutely essential to get the job done. This means using only two, three, or four main microphones for recording a full symphony orchestra. Only in extreme circumstances will he employ "highlighting" mics. "It really depends on the acoustic of the hall, the size of the group being recorded, and on the repertoire—whether the texture of the score is extremely complex, and only if we can't achieve a critical detail from a certain section of the orchestra without additional mics. That is what I call a distinctive Telarc Sound. That sound is a result of using omni-directional microphones for the main pick-up, and the way they are placed so that the acoustic of the venue and the performing group are successfully integrated into a single, successfully-balanced sonic picture. In addition, the quality of the entire recording chain adds its own personality to the finished product."
Renner acknowledges he is conservative in his microphone selections and likes to stick with his favorite set-ups. He often uses two pairs of high-quality Schoeps omni-directional microphones, as well as vintage Neumann M50 omni microphones with tube electronics. "We choose microphones for their unique sonic characteristics," says Renner. "Microphone choice depends upon the acoustic, as well as the repertoire—for instance, the Bruel and Kjaer (B&K) condenser microphones tend to be particularly accurate for piano recordings." Renner emphasizes, however, that the choice of microphones is only one aspect out of many when it comes to getting the desired results.
"It's fine to take into account the laws of physics when deciding where to place microphones, but the real key is instinct achieved by working for many years in hundreds of different environments around the world," Renner reflects. "For an orchestral recording, I normally start with the inner pair of mics some ten feet above the floor of the stage, and between three and five feet from the first row of musicians. Then I position my outer mics around twelve to thirteen feet from center stage. From that point, fine-tuning adjustments are made until the desired sound picture falls into place."
Renner also prefers a simple microphone array for chamber orchestra and operatic sessions. In addition to the central microphones used in an opera recording, he will use additional mics for solo singers and choruses that help give definition and balance. The output from these microphones is integrated into the main mix only at the lowest level necessary.
Jazz recordings present different challenges to the engineers, but both agree that they transfer the "less is more" approach used in classical recordings to all other acoustic genres. "This," says Bishop, "also includes studio recording." Bishop draws on his eighteen years of studio experience before coming to Telarc, as well as his classical recording work, to create his own composite of the two techniques.
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