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Recording the Brahms Requiem

This month is the Tulsa Symphony’s performance of Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem with the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. This will once again be broadcast on KWTU Public Radio Tulsa in about a month. This is a amazing piece of music and I am happy to be spending the next couple of weeks editing, mixing and mastering one of the most beautiful and powerful pieces of music ever composed.

Microphone set up is:

Main pair – 2x Neumann TLM 170R
Outriggers – 2x Neumann KM184s
Orchestra spots – 3x Neuman KM184s
House mics – 2x Neumann KM184s
Chorus Mics – 2x AKG C414-BULS and 2x C414-XLII
Soloist spot mic – Audio-Technica AT4050

Fourteen inputs total for this performance.

Protools HDX with Focusrite Red 4Pre and Red HD32R running on Dante with a Yamaha CL5 and a pair of RIO 3224D i/o racks.

The dress rehearsal on stage at the Chapman Music Hall at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center; with full symphony, chorus and soloists.

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Main pair of Neuman TLM170R mics and the Neuman KM184 house mic in the background.

CMH House

Sometimes you have to compromise your mic position because of the needs of the live performance. This staging was set up to provide the horns a bigger area behind them for reflection and the extra seats for the chorus did not require a full row.

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New this year, we have added a full digital audio workstation to the in house arsenal of audio gear at the Tulsa PAC. A new Mac Pro enclosed in a Sonnet Tech xMac Pro Server Thunderbolt expansion chassis houses our Protools HDX card, and two 1 TB solid state drives, one 1.5 TB hard disk drive, and two external USB 3.0 hard disk drives, all 7200 rpm. Counting the Mac Pro SSD, I have 6.5 terabytes of online storage in this set up. This rack also houses a Focusrite Red 4Pre and a RedNet HD32R Dante to Protools HD bridge which give me access to recording all 64 channels on the Dante network that our Yamaha CL5 and dual RIO 3224D i/o racks offer. We also use this DAW for playback with QLab 4 by Figure 53.

Many of my initial recordings will start out on this machine. But I will transition to my personal Protools system at home for editing, mixing and mastering, which is good because I have many more and better plugins than the building does.  🙂

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Automixing The Nutracker

For the ninth year in a row I mixed the Tulsa Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.

I was on a quest to do something a little different for this year’s production since I’ve long since gotten bored with it. One suggestion that I received was to set up use an automixer for the orchestra. Our Yamaha CL5 has a built in 16 channel Dan Dugan Automixer. My orchestra set up was 14 mics this year, so it fit nicely into the 16 channel Dugan automixer.

The Dugan Automixer is meant to be used primarily for voice for talking head type events. I’ve used the Dugan before, mainly for floor mics for tap dance shows and I think it works well in that respect and gets a little more gain before feedback. So I was curious to hear how it would fare in an orchestral music environment.

So, the thing about Yamaha’s implementation of the Dugan Automixer is; is that it takes up 8 channels of the graphic EQs on the CL5’s Number 1 Virtual Rack. Meaning that you can’t have both graphic EQs and the Dugan inserted at the same time in that rack. If you want to use 16 channels of the Dugan Automixer, then you have to use up 16 channels of the graphic EQ. So that leaves you will only Virtual Rack Number 2 for your graphic EQs, if you need them. It’s not a big deal for me, since I rarely use the graphic EQs on our standard console set up.

My set up is identical to last year’s set up, which you can read about here:

Eight Years Mixing The Nutracker

Except that I added one extra Shure SM81 for the percussion section since they were more spread out in the pit this year. This gave me 14 channels in the pit orchestra and fit nicely in the 16 channel Dugan Automixer.

Overall I was happy with the performance of the Dugan in orchestral music. It seemed to have a little more gain before feedback which I think helped the smaller orchestra sound a little fuller overall.

 

Radio Shenanigans

Today we had a load in for The Tulsa Symphony Orchestra for their concert to take place Saturday evening. Since I don’t have to do anything for the load in; I’m sitting at my desk reading about SSL consoles and Nuage control surfaces. I get a call over radio from our electrician. He asks me if I want to come up on stage and talk to the symphony’s production manager about hanging mics and recording the show.

“Umm…sure. I’ll be right there.”

Last year I recorded, mixed and mastered all of the symphony’s performances for broadcast on the local public radio station. But this year, no one had contacted me about hiring me to do the mix and master AND they did not mention recording in their preproduction info (I usually get an extra audio hand to help me run and check mics during load in). I was kind of bummed because I thought they either didn’t like my work and found someone else, or they cut the recording out of the budget this year. Either way I thought I had lost the contract and the fees that go with it, which is a nice little bit of extra income.

So I walk on stage and the PM for the symphony says they are recording all of their concerts for broadcast again this year and would like me to do it. (This is two hours AFTER the load in had started mind you).

“Sure, I would love to. When do you want to hang the mics?” Thinking to myself, rehearsal starts in three hours, and your piano soloist and conductor are going to be here in an hour…

“Can we do it now? We’ve got the guys for a four hour call and still have two hours left,” he says.

“Ok, let me go down stairs and pull the mics and cables.”

Long story short, it took me a little less than an hour and a half to hang and patch seven mics plus the solo mic for the piano which is on a short stand in front of the piano.

The mic set up is my, now standard, ten-mic orchestra set up:

  • two Neumann TLM-170s as a main pair over and slightly down stage of the conductor
  • two Neumann KM-184s 15 feet off center over the cellos and first violins
  • three Neumann KM-184s about fifteen feet upstage at: center over the woodwind section and fifteen feet either side of center to catch the harp/timpani/percussion on stage right and the end of the low basses and brass on stage left
  • an Audio-Technica AT-4050 on a short stand about five feet in front of the piano for the soloist
  • And a pair of Neumann KM-184s hung from our lighting cove position about thirty-five feet into the house and thirty feet above the floor.

Everything runs into the house Yamaha RIO3224D I/O racks on our CL5, and recording is done via Dante Virtual Sound Card into Protools 10 on the house Mac Pro. I’ll do the mixing and mastering on my personal laptop and Protools 11 system with my Focusrite Scarlet 18i20 either at home or at Advanced Recording Concepts in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

The symphony is doing more shows this year than they did last year. They are adding a pops mini series and I think I’m going to get to record one or two of those shows also, so it’ll be a bit of a change from the standard classical symphony and soloist routine.

Meyer Sound SIM3 Training and System Design

August 17th I traveled to Fort Worth, Texas to attend Meyer Sound’s SIM3 Training and System Design seminar with Bob McCarthy. The class ran from August 18th through August 21, 2015.

This class is an intense four day long class conducted by one of the world’s foremost sound systems designers. Bob McCarthy has been designing, building, tuning and optimizing (and fixing badly installed) sound systems since 1984 and has more experience than just abbot any one else alive in doing so. He is also a wealth of knowledge and has some great stories about the business that he has collected along the way.

This session was held in Fort Worth at the McDavid Studio at Bass Performance Hall right down town. There were about 15 students from as close as Fort Worth and as far away as Ecuador: a mix of sound designers, system techs, house techs, production company techs and freelance audio geeks.

Using microphones placed around the room at various predetermined locations, depending on what speaker you want to measure; you compare the sound coming out of the speaker to that of a clean signal that comes from a computer or other playback device, and are able to ascertain whether the live microphone sound meets your expectations of level, EQ, and phase coherency.  Other systems exist to do the same thing at various prices points, including: SMAART, SpectraFoo, SysTune, and REW, just to name a few. SIM3 is the measurement system sold by Meyer Sound and largely developed by Bob McCarthy.

Though the class is named SIM3 Training, it really is more of a general sound system measurement class, that just happens to use the SIM3 software and hardware system. Most other system tuning classes take a similar approach and purposefully try to be system agnostic. You do learn the basics of how to set up the software and read the data on screen, but the overall physics of sound and the math used in the software are the same no matter which piece of software you use. They differ only in the user interface, and access to different options that the designers and users have implemented to make their work flow the fastest and easiest for them.

While the SIM3 class was being conducted downtown; across town at the Gateway Church, Harry Brill was teaching a three day long class on SMAART. I have known Harry for close to 10 years now, and had the opportunist to take his class here in Tulsa back in January of aught-09. This is a somewhat rare occurrence: having two “competing” system tuning classes happen in the same city, during the same dates. So we couldn’t resist the urge to have a get together and planned to meet for drinks and dinner at the Flying Saucer in Downtown Forth Worth.  The two classes spent an evening talking audio shop and trading the sound nerd equivalent of big fish stories: each of us trying to out do the others with stories of the worst gigs and bad sound systems possible.

One of the many people that I got to meet at the SIM3 class was Ra Byn Taylor, who I have conversed with online for several years as we are both members of the the Theatre Sound Google Group. Ra Byn is a sound designer in Fort Worth and works often with the Texas Ballet Theatre, Fort Worth Opera and Dallas Opera. He runs a website called: audiomeasurments.com

On one of my evenings off I got to venture out and enjoy an evening at the Scat Jazz Club which was just a block away from my hotel. It was a nice place, located in a renovated basement. The entrance was through an elevator in the middle of an alley between two buildings. Granted it was the nicest and cleanest alley I have ever been in, but it was an alley none-the-less. You have to enter through an elevator. It felt like you were descending into a Cold-War era missal silo. The cover charge was only $5 and they had free refills on soft drinks, so it was an enjoyable and inexpensive evening.

Tempting Fate With A Big Box

On March 7th, 2015, the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra performed Gustav Mahler’s 6th Symphony in A minor (Tragische). This symphony is interesting because it includes some odd instruments, such as cow bells and a giant box which Mahler describes in his notes as “brief and mighty, but dull in resonance and with a non-metallic character (like the fall of an axe)“. This is the hammer of fate and sounds three times during the performance.

For this performance, the TSO Production Manager, Marc Facci and Stage Manager, Terry Abel constructed a wooden box which was struck with an 8lb dead blow hammer. The box was made from 3/4” plywood approximately 4′ wide by 3′ deep by 4′ high with wooden banding and a handle on each end. They also screwed a wooden impact plate into the top to help absorb the blow of the hammer and ensure that t he plywood did not split.

My, now, standard mic set up was used to record this symphony:

  • 2 Neumann TLM 170s as the main pair over the conductor’s podium
  • 5 Neumann KM184s (2 hung far left and right over the violins and cellos and 3 more upstage over the timpani, woodwinds and brass/basses)
  • 2 Neumann K184s from our lighting cove as house mics
  • and an Audix D6 and D4 on the Box

There were no soloists to deal with on this performance (unless you count the box as a solo sit!) or choirs or other odd set up issues. And I think that this symphony was one of my best sounding recordings yet. It was Broadcast on KWTU Radio in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Sunday May 3, 2015.

I have attached some pictures of the box and the general orchestra set up below.

One of the changes that I decided to make after the first rehearsal was to move the far stage left mic on stage about 6 feet to get a little more cello sound and less of the basses. I had to climb up to our lighting bridge to to make this change . While there, I took a couple of pics looking down at the orchestra set up from about 30 feet over the stage.

 

 

Recording the Mozart Reqiuem

On January 17th, 2015, hot on the heels of the Tulsa Youth Opera, the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra performed one of the all time greatest masterworks of the classical music cannon: The Requiem Mass in D Minor (K. 626) by W.A. Mozart. Also on this program was the Beethoven 8th Symphony. These pieces formed a program called “Simply Classical”. I got to record and mix this performance which will be broadcast on KWTU Radio in Tulsa, Oklahoma in March, 2015.

This performance required a slightly different approach to the staging and recording. The addition of a 100+ person chorus, four soloists, and a smaller orchestra meant the deployment of more microphones than is normally used to record a classical music ensemble. My normal orchestra recording set up is 6 to 8 microphones depending on soloist or other special instruments. To record this performance I used 15 microphones.

The main pair were 2 Neumann TLM 170s set to cardioid and hung from our lighting bridge approximately 12 feet over the stage. I used a length of 1/16″ black powder coated aircraft cable and a small VerLock to hold the mics in place and pull the stereo bar down stage about three feet behind the conductor.  The mics were positioned so that their diaphragms were offset from each other left and right by 90 degrees. Five additional Neumann KM 184s were hung pointing straight down as spot mics for the rest of the orchestra: two either side fo the main pair about 15 feet either side of center. Three more were hung in a line further upstage from a batten over the stage and in between the shell ceilings. These three mics were positioned over the basses, the woodwinds and the timpani.

The chorus was miced with four AKG C414s on tall boom stands. The mics were set directly in front of the front chorus riser and spaced across the chorus so that each mic picked up one each of the four chorus sections: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. The soloists were picked up with two AKG C451 small condenser mics. There were four soloists, a sproano, alto, tenor, and bass. I placed the mics a few feet down stage, and between the female and male soloists, respectively.

House mics were a pair of Neumann KM 184s, hung from our lighting cove position, approximately 35 or so feet from the stage. And I also recorded a feed from the wireless hand held mic used by the conductor for his speech prior to the performance of the Requiem, which brought me to 16 tracks total for this performance.

The Yamaha CL5 and it’s attached RIO3224D i/o racks were used as the audio interface and recorded into Protools via Dante Virtual Soundcard. Mixing took approximately 3 weeks and included manually time aligning the delayed audio from the house mics and pushing the chorus mics further back in the timeline to line up with the main pair of microphones. This dramatically increased the clarity and ineligibility of the chorus. I also used three separate reverb algorithms from the Waves IR-1 convolution reverb, one each for: orchestra, chorus, and soloists. A funny request came from the radio station after the December recording; that they wanted to hear more reverb in the recording. So I pushed it up a notch on this one to make the recording sound bigger.

March’s symphony program is the Mahler 6th Symphony, which includes the infamous “Mahler Box” and “Hammer of Fate”. I’m sure I will have an entire blog post devoted to the construction and recording of the box and hammer.

Mixing The Giver – Tulsa Youth Opera

Just like 2014, 2015 started right away with a medium-ish musical theatre production. The Tulsa Youth Opera staged a production of The Giver, composed by Susan Kandar and based on the book of the same name by Lois Lowry. This production was sponsored by the Tulsa Opera and comprised mostly of children and young teens with a couple of supporting rolls by some adult members of the Tulsa Opera studio artists.

This production took place in the Williams Theatre at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center; mixed on a Yamaha PM5D-RH, with a Meyer M1D line array, M1D-Sub cardioid subwoofer array, and supported by Sennheiser 2000 series wireless mics with Countryman B3 lavalier elements.

Unlike the Tulsa Opera, which performs in Chapman Music Hall, the Tulsa Youth Opera is approached more as a musical theatre production. The kids in the opera are not professional opera singers, and often times it’s their first time in a large production. So we mic them like we would actors in music theatre. Sennheiser 2000 series wireless belt packs with Countryman B3 lavalier elements are the tool for the job. Some of the cast get halo rigs built from elastic cord, some get over-the-ear rigs built with wire ear pieces and Hellerman sleeves. The cast was about 30 kids and a few young adults. The 10 principals  all received wireless mics and Jonas, the lead was double miced with a primary and back up mic (I never had to use the back up during the show). We also prepped two spare wireless mic packs but did not have to use them.

It’s worth noting at this point, that the same week that we had the Tulsa Youth Opera rehearsing and performing in the Williams Theatre; upstairs in the Chapman Music Hall, the touring production of Once was performing. Once carries over 70 channels of wireless mics, in-ear-monitors, and wireless coms and production radios. And while our measly 13 channels of wireless mics pales in comparison, it could have been disastrous for both productions if proper frequency coordination was not done ahead of time. The Chapman Music Hall sits right above (literally on top of) the Williams Theatre. If two wireless mics are on the same frequency or even frequencies that are too close to each other, then one show or another may hear pops, clicks, whistling or even full audio from the other show. Luckily, we were able to coordinate frequencies ahead of time, and neither show had any interference from the other show. Both were nice and quiet the entire week.

The orchestra was 10 players: two violins, a cello, flute, clarinet, trombone, harp, two percussion players and a piano. Five Crown PCC160s were used along the front of the stage next to the pit edge for chorus mics. There were no other hanging or areas mics, and no mics hung from FOH as room mics (which I would later regret not doing when I started mixing the recording).

This show was mixed line by line using the DCA groups on the Yamaha PM5D and the automation system to move the principal singer mics in and out of DCA groups on a scene-by-scene basis. DCA 1 was dedicated to Jonas and his back up mic. DCA 6 was dedicated to the PCC mics, DCA 7 to the orchestra, and DCA 8 to the stage foldback monitors. DCAs 2 through 5 would have different actors assigned to them based on who was singing or speaking in a particular scene. I had to follow the score for the show for my mic cues.

The PM5D input list was:

  1. Jonas primary
  2. Jonas backup
  3. Giver
  4. Father
  5. Mother
  6. Lilly
  7. Fiona
  8. Asher
  9. Elder
  10. Instructor
  11. chorus soloist
  12. Violins – Neumann KM 184
  13. Cello – Audio Technica AT 4050
  14. Harp – AKG C414
  15. Flute – Neumann KM184
  16. Clarinet – Neumann KM 184
  17. Trombone – Sennheiser MD 421
  18. Piano High – AKG C414
  19. Piano Low – AKG C414
  20. Timpani – AKG C414
  21. Percussion 1 – Shure SM81
  22. SM announce mic
  23. tech table talk back mic
  24. wireless handheld
  25. PCC1
  26. PCC2
  27. PCC3
  28. PCC4
  29. PCC5

Recording was done straight into Protools 11 on my 4  year old Sony VAIO laptop. I had 28 channels coming from the PM5D which had two MY16-AUD Dante cards installed to allow for up to 32 channels of audio. I had 28 channels of audio, all wireless mics, the orchestra, and PCC mics plus two channels mirrored off the main stereo FOH mix. Because I was recording direct out of the mic preamps, the recorded audio also includes all the off stage niose and talking from the wireless mics, which you don’t hear during the performance because those mics are muted at those times. It will take some time to edit and mix those channels to get rid of all that extraneous noise. Luckily I don’t have a tight deadline for this one.

Eight Years Mixing The Nutcracker

December 2014 marks the 8th year in a row that I have mixed the Tulsa Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. I started in December 2007 (and a full year before I was employed full time by the Tulsa PAC), just after returning from working for six months as the Lead Audio Tech for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. The then current house sound technician took off in December to go work another freelance job out of state, and I was brought in to sub for him and mix the show.

Over the past eight years (and more than 70 shows now) and four different stage managers, I have mixed this show on a variety of consoles: Innovason Live Serie SY80, Soundcraft K3, Yamaha PM5D-RH and Yamaha CL5. I have used as few as six mics, and as many as eighteen for the pit orchestra. The current mic set up is thirteen on the orchestra and four additional tech support mics. Unlike opera, the orchestra for the Ballet gets fully reinforced for both on stage foldback and the audience. My goal is to provide subtle reinforcement to just raise the levels slightly but still allow the orchestra to sound as acoustic and natural as possible. Gentle use of Yamaha’s Rev-X Hall reverb and Symphonic chorus effects help to give the illusion of a larger and more lush orchestra without being overbearing.

Also this year, the Tulsa Symphony decided to program Selections from the Nutcracker for their December concert; the recording of which I am now in the process of mixing for broadcast in January. So, I guess that counts as nine separate productions of The Nutcracker that I have now mixed. I think it’s pretty safe to say that The Nutcracker is part of my standard repertoire of mixes and I think I could almost mix it in my sleep by now (in fact some nights I do!)  Although, I’m not sure how well it would turn out if I had to do it in another hall, with a different orchestra and a mic package that is not nearly as nice as the one we have here.

This year’s mic plot and input list:

  1. 1st Violin – Neumann KM184
  2. 2nd Violin – Neuman KM184
  3. Viola – Neumann KM184
  4. Cello – Audio-Technica AT4050
  5. Bass – Audio-Technica AT4050
  6. Woodwinds 1 – Neumann KM184
  7. Woodwinds 2 – Neumann KM184
  8. Brass 1 – Sennheiser MD421
  9. Brass 2 – Sennheiser MD421
  10. Harp – AKG C414-XLII
  11. Celest – AKG C3000B
  12. Timpani – AKG C414-XLII
  13. Percussion – Shure SM81
  14. SM ANNC – Shure SM58 w/switch
  15. Tech Table – Sennheiser E835 w/switch
  16. Wireless Handheld – Shure SLX2
  17. Rehearsal Piano – Shure Beta 57

Stage foldback is a pair of Meyer UPJ-1Ps down stage right and left and a pair of Meyer UPM-1Ps upstage right and left. Load-in took about four hours. Load-out will take about an hour and a half Sunday night, after a two show day.

Upcoming highlights for 2015: three more symphony concerts to record and mix, two operas to record and mix, a youth opera, a five week straight run with no days off in March and April, at least three consulting jobs, a long dry summer with no big shows, and rumors of some possible summer theatre design/mixing work. Also, I may start taking saxophone lessons again (if I can find the free time in my schedule) and hopefully I will start building my recording studio.

 

Tulsa Symphony at Guthrie Green

One of my several side gigs is freelancing around town at various other theatres and venues when I am not buried up to my eyeballs in work at the Tulsa PAC. One of those other venues is the Guthrie Green, just up the street from the Tulsa PAC.

On September 5, I mixed an outdoor symphony show with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra. Now, the Guthrie Green is just an outdoor park with a concrete stage area and a metal roof. There are no walls of any kind to help reflect the sound of acoustic groups out towards the audience. So, almost every group that performs there needs to be reinforced, and sometimes considerably. Luckily, the folks at The Guthrie Green invested in a nice PA system to facilitate a wide range of performance types, from touring rock and roll bands, to theatre performances, to symphony orchestras.

The house PA system is a Meyer M’elodie line array, with 6 cabinets per side, and three Meyer 650HP subwoofers per side. The system processor is a Meyer Galileo 616. And we occasionally use QSC K12s as front fills or side fills when necessary.

For this show, I triple miced the high string sections, i.e. three mics on Violins 1, three mics on Violins 2, three on violas, two on cellos, and two on basses. I don’t remember how many I had on the woodwinds, I think it was six, one mic for every two players, and four mics on the brass section, and four or five for the percussion. I had 36 or 37 inputs, as I remember. And, because of the number of inputs, we had to rent another console instead of using The Guthrie Green’s Yamaha LS9-32. We brought in an Avid Venue Profile (it didn’t hurt any that the Avid console sounds better than the LS9 and has DCA groups, which were extremely important for me to mix this show properly) and a selections of microphones to bolster the compliment of house mics that the Guthrie Green has. There were lots of low end condenser mics and some dynamics for the brass and percussion: Shure KSM 137s, Shure SM81s, Audio-Technica ATM450s, a pair of AKG C414-XLIIs and a few others that were unremarkable.

This was a very rushed five our long load in and set up. And I only had 15 minutes to do a sound check with the whole orchestra and get levels dialed in before their performance started. All in all, it was a good day, and everyone enjoyed the show!

Welcome to my blog

My new website is well underway. Still trying to get the layout set up the way I want it, and finding original and interesting content to upload.

This is my blog where I will hopefully have lots of gig pics, and maybe even some sound files for people to listen to.

Check back soon.