The blog entries have taken a back seat over the past few weeks, as I’ve been traveling around the UK with a handful of different projects, most notably Bethia and its premiere at Hull Minster and follow-up performance at Royal Festival Hall. If you missed both of those performances, the live recording of Bethia is now available to purchase via NMC records (link) and the filmed performance will also be available shortly on the BFI Player, which features the stunning visuals of David Briggs.
So, about Islandia, where were we?
In the first of these “making of” journal entires, I mentioned the theory of creating a classical album with a recorded aesthetic that is a work unto itself, which is to say: using a recording to present the music in a setting that is different from how we, as an audience, would perceive it in the concert hall. Because Islandia is a collection of pieces for various chamber ensembles and electronics, I wanted to create something that, in recording terms, was very intimate and immediate; a heightened experience of the most intimate chamber performance.
After some discussion about this with Abbey Road’s Toby Hulbert, we opted to use a combination of ambient and close mics in order to find a blend that is somewhere between the listening experience of a concert hall and the immediacy of a contemporary album; Abbey Road Studio 3 being an ideal space in which to capture an intimate chamber performance. To get around the often brittle timbre of close microphone techniques, we assigned two microphones to each close mic position, so we could A-B test for the warmest sound: one common practice mic (e.g. a u47 on the cello) and one ribbon (the Coles 4038 was used extensively on the string section).
In practice, ribbon microphones have a reduced high-frequency response in comparison to condenser microphones, the latter being used extensively in orchestral and classical recordings. In a standard classical recording, the distance between the microphones and the ensemble (30ft, for example) would itself provide a natural roll off of the high frequencies, so we decided to replicate that effect with our reduced distance between the microphones and the ensemble by choosing mics that would naturally present less high frequency information.
In our A-B testing, we soon found that the close ribbon mics provided the intimacy we were looking for and had a warm, rounded timbre. In comparison, the condenser mics had much more “air” around them (read as: high-frequency information, sometime referred to as “sparkle”), but they also had a tendency to be shrill and brittle in the upper registers; the ribbons were the winners, hands down.
We applied this same logic across the entire project, including the electric guitar, for which we used an SM57 and R121 on the amplifier’s grill, blended with the room mics. For the room mics, we also made use of some ribbons, which — again — yielded the closeness and intimacy we were hoping for. I will respect the discretion of the studio to keep our exact microphone choice and placement under wraps, but here is our selection for some of the various room microphones:
Outriggers: Neumann TLM50
Ribbons: Royer SF24
Ambients: DPA 4006
Next up: on the session.