Testing on Donny G

We’re always attempting to improve both the quality of recordings and the education experience. From the average chamber ensemble where we study surround sound recording techniques, to the complex production that goes into an opera, we like to keeping pushing our recordings forward.

This year, IU’s first opera performance is Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The stage production (sets, lighting, costumes, special effects) are incredible and detailed. To match this in the audio world, there are some booming sound effects, surround sound chorus, and a modified recording setup. This recording setup hopefully will make our audio sound better when paired next to our new HD video camera and DVD production system.

To start the recording, we are capturing the MAC’s hall sound on two B&K 4011 (cardiod) hanging next to the supertitles. All of the mics on stage and in the pit are time-aligned to these mics. This reduces phasing, especially as the singers move on stage. For orchestra, we are using two Crown PZMs (hemispherical) mics on either side of the conductor. These are complimented by two B&K 4006 (omni) about 15 feet out from the conductor to catch the rest of the orchestra. This simple orchestra setup lends to a clean sound that is balanced by the conductor… making our job easier. The only addition we put on the orchestra is a spot AKG 414 on the solo harpsichord.

Foot mics at Don GiovanniTo capture the stage is always a challenge when there is such aFoot mics at Don Giovanni wide/deep performance area such as the MAC. In the past, we have use many mics spaced across the stage, leading to phasing issues. For Don Giovanni, we used six Shure SM-81 (cardiod) placed in three stereo pairs across the stage. These mics are taped directly to the stage floor in front of the pit (not using wooden boxes over the pit as in the past). This gives us the coverage we need, but with only two points of “phasiness” compared to 4 or 5! Since there are some scenes with important dialogue far upstage, we placed two more Shure SM-81s in the scenery left and right. There were only ever turned up during those particular scenes; even then, they were just to enhance intelligibility.

This more minimalist setup makes setup easier, but also gives us a cleaner sound with far less phasing. In mixing, the orchestra is gently pushed up during their overture and such, but the focus is the ambient sound in the hall and the singers on stage. Some “following” of the singers was done with the outside mics. But for the most part, the mixing is simply keeping a good balance between the orchestra and singers and enhancing the ambient sound.

So far, the results seem good with the only complaint being the singer hitting the mics with props and costumes.

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