Tierney Sutton Records at Conway

Sep 10, 2003 12:00 PM, Editors


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Tierney Sutton's upcoming CD, Dancing in the Dark is a tribute to Frank Sinatra and was recorded at Conway Studios (Hollywood) for Telarc. Engineering tasks were handled by multiple Grammy Award-winner Michael Bishop.

Pictured: Four Sennheiser MKH 800s and a Neumann KU 100 handle the string orchestra's overdub session with Michael Bishop.

"The idea was to have Tierney record a collection of tunes that made Sinatra famous," said Bishop. "'Come Fly With Me,' for example, is as well-known for the Nelson Riddle arrangement as it is for Sinatra's impeccable vocal. Having a female vocalist sing these songs turns things around right away. Another twist was the new arrangements by Tierney and the band. Tierney has a fantastic band, and we started out recording her and the trio live to DSD. We'll add strings, winds and light brass later as a DSD overdub.

"Our initial plans," continued Bishop, "were to record the basics in Studio B over at Capitol Studios in Hollywood, where Sinatra worked. But Diana Krall and Tommy Li Puma were working in Studio A at the time we were going to track, and their record was similar to ours, so it didn't quite feel right. We moved over to Conway, which is like a recording heaven! In this day and age, a lot of recording goes on in personal rooms and hole-in-the-wall studios that have Pro Tools rigs and there's a certain sameness to lots of the releases. Only a first-class facility with world-class tech support would cut it on this project. I always depend on a great room that will give us that certain edge in getting a unique sound. The bleeding-edge gear we use demands the best in studio support staff. Even though we were working with just a trio, I wanted to record in a large space in order to get the sound of the room into the recording."

To capture the sounds of a grand piano, Bishop used a pair of Sennheiser MKH 800s on the Steinway Hamburg concert grand during the sessions. "How you mike a piano depends a lot on the nature of the recording itself," said Bishop. "Classical recordings require moving mics out into the room. Close-miking is often used on jazz and pop piano recordings, but I wanted the option of moving the mics further out from the instruments for a bigger sound at times. Studio C over at Conway is large enough to track a small orchestra in. I essentially used it as a piano room, but I was able to take advantage of the size of the space to help me capture the sound and body of the instrument, and the altitude as well, which gives some great colors. Recording the ambience of the room itself is critical, as important, in fact, as the instrument itself." According to Bishop, this record will be released on SACD, as well as in the conventional CD format. "If you have any shortcomings in the room, the microphones or in the signal chain, they'll all be revealed on the high-resolution release, so we're particularly careful when we make recordings planned for these specifications."

In addition to the 800s, Bishop placed a Neumann KU 100 behind the main mics for surround pickup. On the band tracks, the KU 100 was used for overheads and main pickup on the drums. For the string session, it functioned as surround pickup in addition to being a big part of the stereo sound. Bishop also relied on a Neumann Solution-D mic, which he had previously used on Sutton's last Telarc release, Something Cool. "The principle attraction of the Solution-D is its extreme transparency," he continued. "Tierney doesn't need any help on her voice. We don't want to cover up or enhance her sound at all, and the Solution-D doesn't impart any coloration. I use a very simple signal chain, in part because the Solution-D requires no external preamp. We go straight from the Solution-D to a Prism DA2 converter—one of the best PCM D-As ever made—at 96 kHz. Then we hit a GML 8900 dynamics controller, which handles some overall compression when it's needed. The D's internal high-frequency limiting is great to have when you're working extremely close to a vocalist and you have to worry about sibilants.

"I control everything from my laptop in the control room. The Solution-D software lets me send control data over the same AES cable that the signal is coming into the control room on using the system's AES 42 interface. I can change a pickup pattern or alter the sensitivity and gain, and insert high frequency and peak limiting without ever leaving the control room! All of these functions are controlled at the microphone itself. Add to that the openness and the clarity of the microphone, and you've got a fabulous combination, which has become an invaluable tool for me. I couldn't imagine going into a session with a vocalist who has such a wide tonal range and using any other mic but the Solution-D. I've tried all sorts of classic microphones on Tierney, but I haven't found anything that beats the D."

For more on the microphones, visit www.sennheiserusa.com or www.neumannusa.com.

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