Recording Brass Quintet

Yesterday was my first time recording a brass quintet. In fact, I think it was my first time recording brass anything!

We recorded in a church that was relatively big – maybe 35ft wide and 50-60 ft long, with gable (symmetric) ceiling that was maybe 40ft tall. The room had a lot of hard surfaces – brick, wood, and some glass. As a result it had a little bit of slap back/flutter echo. It wasn’t too terrible, but noticeable when clapping my hands. I also found some fabric baffles there and placed them in front of the windows.

The band was seated in a U shape, left to right from audience perspective:
1st trumpet (D)

Trombone

Tuba (“bottom” of the U)

French horn

2nd trumpet (C)

 

I positioned to Coles 4038 in a Blumlein array at 10′ from the line between the two trumpets and 7′-8′ high. I also added a Sony C48 as a spot microphone on the tuba. It was positioned 3′ in front of the tuba and maybe 6-7′ tall.

It all sounded pretty good! Before I settled on this arrangement, I tried the same array but a few feet back and that sounded too far, almost like recording from another room. The tuba spot mic sounded fine, not as full as I would have liked, but enough to focus it.

Here are a few things I learned in the process:

  • When recording brass for classical music, the idea is to get their projection in the room. The recording is supposed to mimic a performance, so the microphones should be outside the line of sight of any of the bells. In other words, the instruments shouldn’t project directly into the microphones. That also means that the sound will be more balanced.
  • However, the group was seated, and the trumpets’ bells were facing the floor because they had to read the score. At the end of the recording the trumpet players listened back, and they said that there was a lack of articulation and some things they were doing (like tonguing) didn’t come through very well. I myself noticed that they’re facing the floor halfway through the recording and realized I should have lowered the microphones by about a foot.
  • French horns shouldn’t be mic’ed, and that makes sense. The horn is behind the player and sometimes they stick their hand in there! It’s supposed to be reflected back.
  • If you record classical music, it’s a good idea to be able to read and follow the score! It makes communication easier.
  • ORTF can be good for recording small groups. It’ll have a more direct sound and reverb can be added later.
  • A lot of people prefer spaced omnis for classical music. I don’t have a pair of matched omnis.

One thing I’m realizing I did wrong is that I didn’t listen to the whole group play in the room. I listened to a few individual instruments (trumpet, trombone, horn) and I walked around clapping and listening to the room, but I never stood where the microphones were and listened. I should have! That’s the most important listening test! I have to remember that for next time.

 

I will add a short sample soon.

 

 

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