Recording the epic Haydn’s Creation

Here’s the gory technical details of my recording services & how I recorded the Maui Master Works production of Haydn’s Creation Symphony at the legendary Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

My digital mixing board can take up to 16 inputs & send them to their own track in my Pro Tools via FireWire. At the Macc we had over 28 stage mics, plus my pair of ‘Large diaphragm condenser studio quality mics’ & their pair of ceiling mics. I ran my mics directly to my digital mixer, connected the ceiling mics to a pair of Tube mic pre-amps and recorded these to a stand-alone CD recorder as a secondary back up to my main multi-channel mix. All went well as planned, so I imported the CDs into my Pro tools session for a total of 18 production tracks.

The ceiling mics sounded awesome by capturing the stunning characteristics & natural reverb of that legendary venue from over 100 feet away…
’reverbs just don’t get no betta than the real thing’ ;-)
My studio mics in the balconies captured a real clear sound of both the choir & the orchestra, by being optimally placed close enough to pick up details, they also captured some of the venues room sound from a closer distance, that of an audience perspective front row or front row balcony seats would have,
These two pairs of mics worked very complimentary to each other to form a good base to which fill in with the individual instrument tracks.

For this production I used intensive Mix/Mastering procedures in which each track is optimally processed using multiband compression/limiting, EQ, gain control, harmonic frequency enhancement…the things done when mastering a stereo mix for a CD release, just this is done for each of the 18 tracks in the mix.

In the case of an epic performance like the Maui Master Works Choir & orchestra, I need to make the most of their very huge dynamic range by using the entire 32bit height for ‘mastering each instrument track & to control the final mix buss. Careful use of multi-frequency band compressors & limiters can help tame the loud raging sections provided one doesn’t squeeze the life out of the track. Other gain controlling audio maximizing processing does amazing things with intelligent reshaping of a loud peak to lower peaks without any of the artifacts that even multi-band compression/limiting can do.
Here’s a common issue with a basic normal one-band compressor often heard at loud noisy nightclubs. The loud boomy kick drum triggers compression on the stereo mix like it should but it effects all of the frequencies & you hear the high end pumping with compression even though by itself, the hi frequency’s level is not loud enough to trigger the compression.
So each frequency band is carefully dialed in for no more that 3db average compression & 6db max peak compression. The same gain control reduction levels are used for the ‘level maximizing’ processor. As a rule, these gain reduction guidelines would be used for all usage of compression, limiting & gain control maximizing processing from instrument tracking to the master buss of the final mix.

All of this ‘fussing about’ helps the over all mix so you can clearly hear the soft, barely audible sections while not loosing the effect of the over blown loud parts to feel like they can take your head off; the loud parts are still sound real loud compared to the soft sections, their dynamic range is controlled but not lifelessly compressed in ways we only dreamed about just a few years ago.

I used automation to fade out each mic when it’s not in use.
I wrote volume automation around each solo vocalist in order to remove their breaths, or at least the big air gasps…Devas’ shouldn’t have their breathing recorded, (perhaps they are immortal & therefore don’t breath; it’s fun to do what I can to perpetuate this myth & up hold their vocal nobility ;-)

Performing an instrument is pretty straight ahead, during a performance you simply deliver what you’ve been practicing all your musical life.
Bob’s pre-show is a challenge similar but big magnitudes greater than the average club musician ‘setting up’ the next song, a sometimes awkward interchange with an audience that although rehearsed, also requires a natural ‘ad lib’ flow. This is something ya can’t really rehearse for…ya just gotta wing it… & in front of 1000 strong :-O…Bob was a bit nervous at first which was only perceived by isolating his close range mic & hearing heaps of gasping breaths during the pre show dialog; he got much better by the part one intro... So there’s a few hundred volume edits… You do this anyway in a studio recording just to eliminate the tiny headphone bleed into the mic, so this is well worth the effort. Done in real time while writing automation to keep a consistent ‘well mannered’ dialog level doesn’t add much more time. It’s OK for words to be enthusiastically belted out, but they may need a bit custom tailored volume automation to keep from being distracting. The same with low volume words as such when the performer’s head turns away from the mic while speaking; this is not ‘intended dynamics’ so these levels should be compensated for.

It’s nice to offer an amazing sounding mix that exhilarates the listener, however a large part of a well engineered mix is not so much what is obviously heard but rather what is NOT heard. For example, by taking out all those breaths, no one expects to hear excessive gasping & breathing (unless it’s Bono’s lead vocals from U2 or dialog from a porn movie...) so the hours spent removing breaths from a dialog or vocal track is often as rewarding as peeing in a dark get a warm feeling inside but no one really notices :-O
The same is true with the many hours of dynamic volume adjustments, you eliminate unintended dynamics so the vocal performance or dialog sounds like it should; listeners expect this so after spending many tedious hours writing the perfect volume automation, the end result does not jump out & say wow, that’s sounds noticeably well it just sounds like it should naturally...again the warm wet dark suit theory applies here as well :-O

The moment I first stepped into the venue & heard it’s exhilarating acoustical sound I had the plan on using the four venue mics, ceiling & balcony, as a source for all the reverb required in the mix, in other words, I had hoped to not need to add reverb, even a very high quality custom ‘digital’ reverb & just use the natural room sound. But this could not be done while effectively maintaining the essence of venues live sound.
When each instrument mic is mixed for the house live sound system, the sound of course comes out of the speakers but immediately starts it’s long journey through out the spacious venue‘s reverbing walls…
the audience’s perspective…& that’s the sound that we like to capture.
When I take this same instrument mic signal & blend it into the mix, it has no huge opera house to float around in so no matter how well each & every instrument track is blended in, it is contributing a reverb-less instrument sound which doesn’t quite blend well with the 4 venue mics…
I had to add reverb :-O

Each individual instrument track needed a reverb that would closely resemble the venue’s true & natural reverb sound. Typically, reverb tends to take away clarity so along with selecting an opera house like reverb, setting the Hi, mid & low frequency hang times & pre-delay… I used an 8-band EQ to enhance the good parts & duck out the offending parts plus used various types of multi-band harmonic exciters to bring clarity, depth & presents to the quality & detail of this custom reverb. I used an aux from all instrument tracks to add varying amounts of reverb to match the apparent sound of the 4 venue mics.
All this detail for creating the custom instrument reverb & yet only the slightest amount was used, just enough to take away the raw close mic sound & to give each instrument it’s own space in the venue’s acoustics; it’s nice to have all the instruments sound like they are in the same room or concert hall… plus it helped a bit to cover up a bit of out of tune notes by making them blend in a bit more:-O
In a real full blown album release mix, I’d have spent hours using a pitch correction process unless we could save time & get better results by dragging in the offending instruments…with all due respect of course…. Re-record their part ‘IN tune’… & like other orchestral gigs I’ve had when the composer gets compassionate about the capturing the perfect mix of his epic & his name is on the line…many, many overdub parts could be recorded, in tune, to create a very monumental ‘near perfect’ recording. This could cost 1000’s but sometimes when ‘going for broke’, ya gotta go a bit broke to get there :-O
(& I’ve got a sure fire way to make a million dollars in the music biz…
“Start off with 10 million $$ :-O !! ;-)

This custom reverb is a processing pig so once I’m real sure of the final mix & reverb aux send levels, I ‘print the effect’, recording the reverb to another pair of tracks so I can have heaps of processing power for the final two track master tracks.

I recorded 16 tracks of audio inputs at 24bit 48kfs, added the ceiling mics & reverb for 20 production tracks, the processing is done at 32bit floating 48K which I maintain this audiophile format through out the mix process & also for the final stereo mix files.
From these audiophile formats, I use high quality processing to dither & convert the signals to any other popular format, so in essence, the lower resolution audio format for a video or a16bit 44.1 CD will come close to the fidelity of the 32bit 48k audio file by capturing the ‘most significant bits’ in the digital audio file & ‘thoughtfully’ removing the ‘least significant bits’ at the bottom of the file using complex algorithms.
It’s really not as complex as this sounds, but its’ cool to know what happens when ya’ just point & click ;-)

I feel like I achieved the mix I was going for, a sound that perhaps only the conductor would have…the clarity of hearing the fine details of each voice & instrument along with the legendary acoustic ambiance of the world class Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

My recording services are available for any event from a child’s first solo recital to your next 100+ piece orchestral gig at Carnegie hall.
No gig too big,
No gig too small ;-)

Roger Curley 808 463 8194