Orchestra Session - The Final Chapter

Discussion in 'In the Studio' started by El Borrachito, Mar 21, 2010.

    Mar 21, 2010
  1. El Borrachito Premier Staff

    On March 8 my friend and frequent employer, composer Charles Sydnor and I arrived at East West Studio One to record his new orchestral piece, Aeschylus. The orchestra was 51 musicians from the elite group of full-time Los Angeles session players. The opportunity to record a group of first-class musicians this large was a rare treat indeed. Even better, the session was held in one of the most famous studios ever built.

    The piece is a 10-minute tone poem based on the writings of Aeschylus. Charlie composed this piece with the hopes of having it performed by and orchestra at some point in the future. Hopefully this recording will help make that happen. Our orchestra consisted of twenty violins, six violas, four celli, two basses, four French horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, three flues (one doubling on piccolo), oboe, clarinet, English horn, bass clarinet, bassoon, and harp. The percussion would be added later. It was every instrument one would see in a regular orchestra, just slightly scaled down from the usual 96 musicians.

    In the days leading up to the session, Charlie sent me a synth mockup of the piece. We then discussed the layout of the musicians in the room and the general approach to recording we would take. This session would differ from a typical scoring date in a couple of ways: since there would be no picture to synchronize with, we would not use a click track, and we would also only have 90 minutes to record ten minutes of music, instead of the usual three hours. Since we had a very limited amount of time, we decided to approach the recording like a typical scoring date. (ie: lots of microphones!) We also agreed to lay out headphones for the musicians, just in case.

    I took Charlie’s plot and drew in microphone types and placement. I provided the studio with this as well as a list of how I wanted the mics patched to the console. All of this would be set up before I arrived the morning of the session. The very capable assistant Mimi and the rest of the East West staff made sure everything was in good order. All of the equipment at the studio was in tip-top shape. The only technical problem was a scratchy pot on the Millennia HV-3D mic preamps that I brought from home. I had no doubt the musicians would be excellent, and they were. After one rehearsal pass they had it down. Three more takes were recorded. The finished version was the fourth and final take with a couple small edits from take three.

    For the main sound of the recording I used a “Decca Tree.” Originally developed by Decca Records engineers in the late fifties, it is still the most common microphone technique for orchestral recording today. The classic Decca Tree consists of three Neumann M-50s arranged in a “T” pattern over the conductor’s podium. There are countless variations on this approach these days, but I stuck with the classic. In addition to the tree, I placed “outriggers” of Elam 251s, about ten feet to either side of the podium. Ninety percent of the recording comes from these five mics. I also placed two omni 414s in the rear corners of the room to pick up ambience. The first violins, seconds, violas, celli and basses all received a section mic. These were C-12s placed above the front row pointed back at the middle of each section, except the basses, which was a U-47 right under their music stand. The concertmaster also received his own mic, a KM-54, since he had a solo passage at one point. The French horns got a U-87 positioned a few feet behind their riser. The trumpets and trombones each shared a Coles 4038 ribbon mic. The bass trombone and tuba each had their own U-47fet. The woodwinds were captured with AKG 451s, except for the bass clarinet and bassoon, which shared a U-87. The harp was back in the far left corner with an M-149.

    The trick with this kind of recording is to use as little of the individual mics as possible. Of the strings and brass, only the French horn mic was used throughout. Just enough was added to give them a little more oomph and feed some extra reverb. The concertmaster’s solo and a couple low string runs were also augmented with close mics. The woodwind and harp mics were used throughout, since they suffered from not having the usual compliment of two or three each. Ultimately the orchestra should be properly balanced in the main mics and only need small boosts from the close mics for presence and to bring out solos. The main mics went to my Millennia HV-3D mic preamps and directly to the recorder. All other mics went into the Neve 8078 console, and then straight to the recorder with no eq or processing.

    Having such a fantastic sounding room to work in is always a treat, but a group this large was on the verge of overpowering its 61,000 cubic feet. Though the ambient mics in the rear of the room were too close to the group to provide a balanced image, they did eventually prove useful for feeding the reverb. Some of the center tree mic, percussion, and French horns were also fed to the reverb in varying amounts. The reverb was TL Space, running an impulse response sampled from the rear of the Concertgebouw concert hall in Amsterdam. This added the depth that was impossible to capture with every foot of floor space in the room occupied with musicians.

    A couple days later, Charlie and I went to the home of percussionist Brian Kilgore. There we overdubbed timpani, bass drum and cymbals. The timpani were recorded with a TLM-103 directly overhead and a second 103 across the room for ambience. The cymbals and bass drum were recorded with a KM184 and the room mic as well. Again, everything was recorded through a Millennia HV-3D, straight to the recorder. In the mix, the room mics were enhanced with some of the Concertgebouw reverb to put them “in the back.” Overdubbing the percussion was a budget-saver, having to only pay one musician instead of three. It also eliminated the expense and logistical hassle of moving all of that equipment to the studio.

    The mix was done at my studio entirely in Pro Tools HD. Again, almost no eq or processing was used. The harp mic was brightened up with a little 10K from the Bomb Factory Pultec EQH-1 plug-in. On the master mix I took out a little 350hz from the center with the BX Digital eq and added a bit of “air” with the EMI RS135 eq. The only fix we had to do was to remove a couple of bumps captured by the tree mics from Charlie’s movement as he conducted on the podium. This is where working “in the box” is so handy. I used the notch filter from the Digidesign EQIII plug-in to find the fundamental frequency of the “bump” (about 60hz). I then automated the filter gain to quickly go from 0 to full every time a bump happened (four times total). This works better than kicking the plug-in in and out with the bypass, because when dealing with a low frequency instantaneously kicking a filter in and out can cause pops.

    Many thanks the musicians, everyone at East West, and especially Charlie for giving an opportunity to be a part of such a rewarding project.

    Here is the finished piece:

    [YOUTUBE]<object width="480" height="385"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/XtILQoCV42g&hl=en_US&fs=1&"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/XtILQoCV42g&hl=en_US&fs=1&" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="480" height="385"></embed></object>[/YOUTUBE]

    The Decca Tree:


    The control room:


    Charles at the podium:
  2. Mar 22, 2010
  3. T-BoneBarnet Kick Henry Jackassowski

    I feel like I'm learning a little more each time I read these threads. Some great information here, thanks for posting this. I wouldn't know the first thing about what constitutes good classical music, but that sounded pretty amazing to my ears.
  4. Mar 22, 2010
  5. Mark Wein :mad:

    This is great. I've never really known how a big orchestra gets recorded and seeing how you were able to work around the constraints of room size and budget (time and orchestra size) is pretty cool. I like seeing how few mics were used for so many musicians, too...
  6. Mar 22, 2010
  7. Prages User Error

    I hope to be able to check out the finished product when I get home. Might have to wait till tomorrow though. I have a few things going on this evening.
  8. Mar 23, 2010
  9. Prages User Error

    Finally got to listen to the clip. Very nice recording. Not my favorite piece of music, but very, very well recorded. :aok:
  10. Mar 23, 2010
  11. Kerouac weird musical dildo

    I. Have. Wood. :love:

    Question: If you were working in a larger room would you have used PZMs as a distance mic?
  12. Mar 23, 2010
  13. El Borrachito Premier Staff


    I wouldn't have used have used 414s either, but we were out of anything else I would have preferred.
    The important thing is to have omnis in the far corners of the room. Unfortunately, the room was so full that the far corners were occupied with musicians.
    The left mic was all French horns and harp and the right was all low brass. I got them as high as I could, but it only helped so much. I would have rather used a small omni like a KM83 or 451 with an omni capsule. A PZM would only work if you stuck it to the wall way up high, not really an ideal solution. If this had been a 5.1 kind of thing these are the mics that would feed the surrounds. Since we were just doing stereo, I didn't sweat it too bad.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2010
  14. Jun 8, 2010
  15. michel smith Banned

    I was accepted to MIT with my ACT score being a 19 XD... There are other methods to get into a University. The ACT/SAT aren't everything. BTW yes your scores are good enough.
  16. Jun 8, 2010
  17. Mark Wein :mad:

    This is completely random. I'm banning your account and if you have something to contribute you can email me through the site and we can discuss it then.
  18. Jun 8, 2010
  19. Kerouac weird musical dildo

  20. Jun 8, 2010
  21. mosiddiqi The Curry Master

    I see the fire has already been put out :weebz:

    *packs away banhammer, feels a bit frustrated, kicks the cat*

  22. Jun 8, 2010
  23. Mark Wein :mad:

    I'll let you get the next one. :)
  24. Jun 8, 2010
  25. Kerouac weird musical dildo

    *starts pr0n search*

  26. Dec 29, 2011
  27. d_sierra n00b

    Hi guys :)
    Sorry to post on an old thread but I was wondering if this piece was comercially available? i'm currently studying a degree in music and I would love to write my report on Aeschylus but part of the brief states it needs to be comercially available, I can't seem to find any CDs on the internet with this piece of music so I wondered if you guys could help me
  28. Jan 2, 2012
  29. El Borrachito Premier Staff

    PM me and I can hook you up.
  30. Jan 18, 2012
  31. ken a good kind of terrible

    First of all, thanks for this very detailed post. This is fantastic, and also, a great experience to record with musicians and a studio of this caliber.

    I was wondering why you choose to place the 414s in the rear corners. I'm assuming that they pick up more of the orchestra, but was wondering if you get a lot of bass build-up...or is the room large enough that this is not an issue, particularly since the 414s are in omni?

    Do you find that you have to do a lot of positioning to avoid phase issues, or is this a non-issue? Just curious. I do almost exclusively rock and folk recording in a studio, but find that with multi-mic setups such as on drums or acoustic ensembles, I definitely need to move the mics around to avoid these issues.

    I definitely see the benefit of going through Millennias, but was surprised when you mentioned using a Neve, as that's not typically the sort of console or preamp that I would associate with an orchestra gig. Are Neves fairly common to orchestra recordings, or is this considered unusual? Just curious.

    This is a great idea. Were there any issues with recording on a presumably much smaller environment and blending the percussion with the rest of the instruments? How far back were the ambient mics?

    In school, I did a recording gig with a choir at a cathedral. This was a fantastic opportunity. I figured I would mostly be doing rock and that this would be a really cool opportunity to do something different. We also used a Decca Tree and had two side mics (outriggers) on either side of the room, and I believe had one mic for a soloist, and that was it. It came out beautifully.

    Thanks again!

    www.blueberrybuddha.com - studio
    www.kenleephotography.com - photography
  32. Jan 19, 2012
  33. El Borrachito Premier Staff

    I chose 414s because I had run out of everything else. The room is 60,000 cubic feet, so bass build up wasn't a big problem.
    The big problem was the lack of space between the back wall and the last row of the orchestra. There wasn't enough space to get a balanced image, so they weren't that useful except for feeding some reverb.

    The spot mics are far enough away from the tree that it's not usually a problem, assuming everything is phase checked already.

    Not unheard of at all. In fact several of the larger rooms in town have Neves. (Capitol A&B, Conway C, Sony Scoring stage for a long time)
    Most of the big shot scoring engineers carry around racks full of mic preamps, so no matter where they are, they have their sound.

    The room the percussion was recorded in was pretty good size.
    The ambient mics were 6-8 feet away. With a little reverb it matched up just fine.

    Glad you enjoyed the post!
  34. Jan 19, 2012
  35. ken a good kind of terrible

    Awesome. Lots of interesting info! Thanks!!! Especially valuable since I'm always dealing with rock and experimental sorts of recordings in a very small room, and this is quite different.

    www.blueberrybuddha.com - studio
    www.kenleephotography.com - photography

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