NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 2011: It was a unique confluence of events in late October that led to a mind-expanding technical tour for participants of the annual AES conference in New York City. Veteran classical music engineer and educator Bill Siegmund of Digital Island Studios, LLC, organized the “Live Organ Recital Recording” tour, a rather grey title for an event that ended up lively and colorful. The recording took place at New York’s famed St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Well known as ‘the jazz church,’ St. Peter’s current sanctuary resides below the Citigroup Building and was constructed with an ear for music. Celebrated organist Walter Hilse played the church’s massive Klais manual tracker organ, and Siegmund recorded it with the help of his trusty Metric Halo interfaces. The event allowed participants to reflect not just on the mechanics of mic placement and remote monitoring, but also on the philosophical underpinnings of recording and the place of recorded music in today’s technological zeitgeist.
Although Siegmund was excited to encourage experimentation regarding many aspects of the session, the core of his rig was, after years of development, set. He placed a Metric Halo ULN-8 and an LIO-8 (outfitted with mic pres) on stage, minimizing delicate mic-level cable runs. The Metric Halo boxes provided high-end preamplification and AD conversion. The digital outputs fed an RME MADI converter for the long run downstairs to the makeshift control room where DA conversion was handled by another LIO-8. There, a MacBook and a surround sound ensemble of Neumann KH 120 monitors paired with a Genelec 7070A subwoofer allowed all participants to travel back and forth between the hall and the control room for an “is it live, or is it Memorex?” experience.
Siegmund originally converted, so to speak, to Metric Halo converters in 2005 with a 2882+DSP. “The flexibility, compactness, and sound of the 2882 is what drew me to Metric Halo originally,” he said. “And when they introduced the 2D card I added one in 2009. But as I came to appreciate a few of the 2882’s limitations, I petitioned Metric Halo for an updated box that would overcome them. Quite independently, they introduced the ULN-8 just weeks later. Although I’ve never been an early adopter, the ULN-8 was like a dream come true. I purchased mine two days later, taking advantage of the deal Metric Halo extended to existing users. And when it arrived, my new ULN-8 came straight out of the box and with me to Nashville to record Schnittke violin sonatas for Naxos with classical producer and fellow MH user Jamey Lamar.”
“Now I use my ULN-8, together with the sibling LIO-8 (with mic pres), on every date. They’re road warriors! I appreciate the fact that each unit packs eight channels of fantastic preamplification, conversion, DSP, routing, and mixing into just one rack space. With all their mic gain, my ribbons never break a sweat, and my Schoeps, DPA, Neumann and Sennheiser condensers work to their full potential. Moreover, I can adjust gain and routing from a remote control room. I was able to sell my Rosetta 800 and eight channels of John Hardy M-1s, shaving valuable pounds from my remote recording rigs.”
He also cites the ability to pre-configure sessions via Metric Halo software – away from the stress of the actual event – as a great contributor to more effective workflow. “In May 2010, WFMT in Chicago hired us to do the first live radio broadcast from the newly renovated Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. We had mics for performers onstage, our two radio hosts, and their guests, set up in the stage left wing and we set up a control room in the back of the house. The ULN-8 was onstage, one of my 2882s was in the wing, and another 2882 was in the control room (I hadn’t gotten my LIO-8 yet). We didn’t know how many guests we were going to have nor when they would appear. And ISDN transmission lines out of the hall were only installed on the afternoon of the show! But with MIO Console I was able to set-up a mixer in advance, one with enough flexibility and room for expansion to accommodate the inevitable “oh, by the way” changes at the venue. The broadcast went to air flawlessly.”
Meanwhile, back at St. Peter’s, Siegmund began with a mic setup that he has used successfully there before. A pair of DPA 4006 TLs (with acoustical pressure equalizers to form an M 50-like polar pattern) together with an M-S pair of Schoeps MK 41 and MK 8, formed a Decca tree for the principle pickup. A pair of Schoeps MK 21s in an NOS-array was pointed away from the organ and used for surround pickup. “To produce the final mix, I use the surround mics to feed a reverb unit,” he explained. “It’s a wonderfully diffuse input.” The tree plus surrounds were about thirty-five feet off the floor on a custom mic stand. And since this was also an AES tech tour, Siegmund added three alternate stereo pick-ups for comparison. A pair of Neumann Solution D digital mics hung fifteen feet up. Sennheiser MKH-800s were used in a Blumlein array. Lastly, and most curiously, he used the room’s catwalk to suspend a spaced pair of Schoeps MK 2H omnis sixty feet off the floor.
“One of the students asked the very reasonable question, why are we putting mics in places where no human ears ever go?” recalled Siegmund. “Resident cantor and organist Thomas Schmidt beat me to the answer. He pointed out that, for instance, you can go to Carnegie Hall, sit in the back row, and still have a wonderful musical experience. But if you stuck mics there, you’d never be hired again! The information content and context of recorded music is quite different from the live experience, and the recording technique demands a different approach. As recording engineers, it’s our responsibility to keep a listener engaged when the visual and visceral elements of a live performance are not present. It turns out that an organ recording will often convey the excitement of the live experience with the mics high up off the floor.”
Very special thanks for a successful AES Technical Tour go to Allen Rowand and Jon Stern of Metric Halo, Chris Spahr of Sennheiser USA, Duke Markos of Duke Markos Audio, and AES Convention Chairman Jim Anderson.
ABOUT METRIC HALO Based in New York’s Hudson Valley, Metric Halo provides the world with high-resolution metering, analysis, recording and processing solutions with award-winning software and future-proof hardware. www.mhlabs.com