Professional Sound - Indepth

Capturing The Natural Sound Of A 300 Year Old Cello Part 1 by Ron Searles

![](/content/images/PS SndAdvice Aug10 Ron.jpg)When first setting out to make this recording – Canadian cellist Winona Zelenka recording Bach’s complete Cello Suites – I realized that capturing the natural sound of the cello was paramount. Winona is playing the “Starker” Guarnerius cello, made in 1707. It is one of the finest cellos in the world today. Our first challenge was finding the ideal place to record. We needed a great sounding space, with few noise interruptions – a constant problem in most churches. Because this was to be a long-term recording commitment, the space needed to be available over a long period of time.

As luck would have it, a friend who had hosted many afternoon chamber music performances in his house was very enthusiastic to help us out. He has a very large, beautiful home north of Ajax, ON that fulfilled all of our requirements.

We started by doing numerous trial recordings in various locations – living room, front lobby, upstairs balcony overlooking the foyer, etc. – finally settling on a very large room at the back of the house. The dimensions of the room are about 35 ft. by 50 ft. with about a 25 ft. height. It has a clay tile floor with sloping cedar ceiling and glass walls; the acoustics are very similar to those of a small church. The cello sounded wonderful!

To capture this sound, I chose a custom-matched set of very high-quality ribbon mics. They seemed to “hear” the cello in a way I really liked – no hype, very natural, with good off-axis response, making the room sound lovely as well. The “figure 8” pattern of the ribbon gives a nice pickup of the distant and denser reflections from the back of the room, while eliminating the closer hollow sounding reflections from the sides. I’m not a fan of adding any artificial reverb for this type of recording, so the way the mics respond to the room’s reverb is crucial for me.
Next came the mic placement. We wanted an intimate sound, but with some bloom from the room – similar to what Winona might hear while playing the cello in a hall. For a number of chamber music and film score recordings, I’ve employed a three-mic array, based on the Decca Tree for the core set-up. Experimentation yields the best final results, but I start with the left and right mic about 6 ft. apart, the centre mic dead centre but about 2 ft. forward of the left and right mics, and in this case, about 4 ft. from the cello’s strings, a bit above the contact point of the bow. Any asymmetry (even a fraction of an inch) will throw off the left to right balance. The 3 mics create a good stereo image, with a more control of centre image than just using a stereo pair.

*See Part 2 of Ron’s article in the October 2010 issue of Professional Sound. *

Ron Searles is a three-time Gemini Award winning recording engineer, with an additional six nominations. He has hundreds of album credits from all music genres and has recorded and mixed the scores for many award winning feature films including The Sweet Hereafter, Being Julia, and Capote. Ron is employed as a Senior Post Audio Engineer at CBC, his most recognizable work there being the current theme to Hockey Night in Canada.

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About Andrew King
Andrew King is the Editor-in-Chief at Professional Sound. He is also a co-host of Canadian Musician Radio and NWC Webinars’ series of free music and entertainment industry webinars.
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