Michael Bishop Records 'Romeo & Juliet Suites' in Surround

Nov 3, 2003 12:00 PM, Editors


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Grammy-winning Telarc staff engineer Michael Bishop recently recorded, mixed and mastered Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet Suites with noted conductor Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in full surround sound using a Sonoma digital audio workstation and a matched set of ATC SCM-150 monitors.

"These days, concert halls are built using the most accurate measuring devices available," said Bishop. "And there are certainly benefits to the end sound when you use a modern HVAC system that keeps the humidity of a hall at a constant level, for example. The old concert facilities that I love so much—Boston Symphony Hall, Mechanics Hall in Wooster and the Cincinnati Music Hall where we recorded the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra under the direction of Erich Kunzel—sound so much better to my ears, though, and they were all built by designers who were going on instinct! To be fair, I think that the materials that were available a century ago were, on the whole, better than what we have today. The old growth forests, in particular, have been depleted to a large extent, and the woods used in modern halls don't have the same sound."

For this recording, Bishop recalled, "We really had fun on this one. The surround aspect helps convey the lushness of Prokofiev's orchestration and the dynamics of the orchestra's wonderful performance of the Suites. It was great to know that we could capture a very wide soundfield, and also that this image would be played back by listeners as we heard it."

Bishop relied on the Sennheiser MKH 800 microphones during the Romeo and Juliet sessions. "I spread four MKH 800s across the front of the orchestra and folded in a Neumann KU 100, which was placed in the middle of the soundfield, directly over the conductor. The sound of the binaural head on the KU 100 is gorgeous. Combining this output with the MKH 800s—one pair used to create the left and right components of the stereo mix, and another to help create the left front and right front aspect of the surround mix—was extremely effective. It's very important to use a family of microphones that yields a uniform sound, and that's why we rely so heavily on Sennheiser for these kinds of projects. In fact, we also incorporated a double set of MKH 30 and MKH 50 mics in a double mid-side setup into this recording. I find that blending in the output of these microphones helps me manipulate the imaging, front to back, with greater control over detail when it comes time to mix. I assign these mics to left front, left surround, and right front, right surround. During set up, I play around with the positioning of the mid MKH 50s, aiming them to give me the midfield sound I want. These microphones are very important, because it helps me connect the soundfield from the stage to the house. It also gives the impression of the height of the hall. Does this all sound complicated? Come to our next session and it will all make sense!"

To round out his soundfield, Bishop placed a pair of Sennheiser MKH 20 microphones in midway back in the hall. "The 20s complete the front-to-back image. As I said, you want the whole surround image to work cohesively, and that's only going to happen if you use a family of microphones. I need a complete sonic signature from front to back, and for me, that means using nothing but Sennheiser microphones."

The ATC SCM-150 monitors traveled to all of the field recordings that Bishop tracks for Telarc. "The SCM-150s are extremely revealing and tonally transparent. They're also very easy to set up, which is important to us. We use these monitors in our main post-production room, and we also take them on location in our own truck. We need that consistency of monitoring from recording through post, and it's important that we be able to set up monitors quickly when we're out in the field. Many high-end speakers are extremely room-dependent and take hours to set up just to find the perfect spot to place them. The SCM-150s are rugged, and their directional characteristics are not overly dependent on the room sound, which means we can align them quickly and get to work. I find it really hard to work well without our ATCs on session now!"

For more, visit www.sennheiserusa.com.

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