Professional Sound - Indepth

Capturing The Natural Sound Of A 300 Year Old Cello Part 2 by Ron Searles

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I always track the mics separately so I can adjust the balance in the final mastering, but I print a stereo fold-down at the same time for monitoring purposes. The centre mic is typically mixed in at a lower level than the left and right mics (approximately -6dB) otherwise it will sound too mono.

With any bowed instrument, the bow is also an important, distinctive part of the sound, and in this recording, a few of the world’s great bows were used. I’m not just talking about the sound of rosin on the string, but also the high frequency that comes off the stick, tip, and frog of the bow. These act much like the tweeters in a speaker system and make up a critical element in the mixture, akin to the thrust of “air” in a human vocal sound. I’m careful to listen for this to make sure it’s in proper balance. Height and angle of the mics can affect this.

Since the proliferation of the iPod, reproduction through headphones is a more important consideration than ever. By checking carefully with very good headphones as well as speakers, I varied the mic position until we had the right blend of cello vs. reverb from the room. Headphones usually make the reverb more obvious than speakers, so I leaned toward being a bit dryer than I might if I was only concerned with speaker playback.

Once the sound was established, we drew a diagram of the mic set-up, with measurements of location in the room, height, distance apart, and especially distance from the cello. All measurements were precise to a fraction of an inch. The positions of the mics and cello were also spiked with tape on the floor. I followed up with a series of photographs clearly showing the mic positions. These measurements, diagrams, and photos all remained carefully filed so they were available for the next (repeat) set-up of the continued recording.

Of course, mic preamp settings were noted and ProTools settings were carried forward from session to session. ProTools’ Session File Import is most valuable for this.

Finally, before going in to record on a new day, I would always A-B between the new “live” mics and a file from the previous session to make sure it matched.

Our friend and owner of the house also recorded through a separate stereo pair of tube powered ribbon mics, through hand-braided solid-silver wire cables and custom-built tube-preamps with solid-silver-wound transformers and power-supplies, all ending up on a vintage, professional analog tape deck. Analog tape-to-tape custom copies will be released later to the analog audiophile world.

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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