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.