Creative Microphone Placement


Part of “qdss”
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dotara mikingWe recorded the foundation tracks for this seriously chilled quartus, dotara, shoki quartet (or “qdss” – see Our Instruments) at the end of the seemingly endless period during which we’d been alternately devoting one week to our music and one to building our new WordPress powered web presence.  It was just before the final brain and eyeball numbing push to process all of our pages and sound files, and we wanted to get something down which would help restart our music after the stressful weeks we realized were inevitable before the launch of our new site.

It was definitely a hail Mary situation.  We knew we were totally fried, but we also knew it would be our last chance to record for at least three weeks, and since all during this crazy three month push we’d had the feeling that everything we did was turning out outrageous beautiful only because it was scripted, we figured we might as well go for it.

And so on the very last day when it was possible to record before hunkering down to complete our website, we took a deep breath and pressed the record button.

Which is why we were more than pleased that as soon as we’d played the first few notes we knew that the Force was with us, that one more time the Mountain, Our Lady, Corn Mother, and Krishna had our backs.

Of course it also must have helped that to get back into the swing of the combination, we’d devoted 3 days to playing quartus and dotara amplified, and that during that time we’d worked out new ways of miking both instruments.

The biggest change was the way we positioned the dynamic mikes.  As we explain on our recording page, by the time we recorded our second CD we’d already figured out that placing our dynamic mikes in direct contact with our instruments in effect turned them into pickups.  However back then we were just strapping them across the necks of our Bowus Family instruments, and laying them on top of the keys of our Kalimba Family instruments.

quartus mikingBut now we realized that since our Shure SM-57’s were highly directional, it made more sense to have their noses actually touching our instruments, and since we didn’t have any clips or stands which would make this possible, we decided to do it with the aid of gravity.

……and of course with the aid of a few books, bookends, and rubber bands.

Which feels totally appropriate since we’d been already using stacks of books to prop up the necks of our bowus instruments, because we live surrounded by books, and because especially old books are absolutely critical for our sanity.

And lo and behold it worked !!  The weight of the microphones held them tightly enough to the instruments so that they didn’t rattle, and with the new positioning they picked up so much sound that we could dial down our preamps and still record a rich big signal.

We also made a small but significant change in the placement of our AKG C2000 condenser mikes by nudging them much closer to the instruments so we could reduce the amplification of our M-audio’s and thereby cut the hiss that these inexpensive condenser mikes (the cheapest that would even somewhat work….and the most expensive that we could afford, making this an area where when we have a bit more bread, that is when we can pay our rent with real not borrowed money, we’d love to do some upgrading) introduced as soon as we turned up the mic preamp knobs much beyond 12 o’clock.

Together these changes greatly improved the behavior of our recorded signal.  We no longer were always flirting with  the red, while the troublesome hiss which in previous posts had bedeviled our condenser microphone tracks was greatly reduced.

Equally wonderful, our new miking arrangement made dotara sound much warmer.  Of course part of this may have been because the new positioning allowed us to play our instruments more softly, and we always sound better when we’re playing softly.

This was particularly evident in the instrument’s plucked sound, but you won’t hear that in this particular quartet because our first editing move was to separate out all of the plucked sections and to set them aside for the vocal piece which we will be posting in about three weeks.  In part this is because the plucked and bowed sections sound so very different, but also since we’re still trying to quickly build this blog up to the point where it has four posts (each centered around a new piece of music), whenever we can save a little time we go for it.

Also when we had proceeded in this fashion for our previous two posts, it worked nicely because the wilder bowed sounds helped make “bbqq” an exciting instrumental, while it was easy to sing the words of “Dynasties Fall” on top of the more chilled plucked sections.

shoki mikingIndeed though initially it was just a move to speed the process of populating our blog, we may again use this method of crafting both an instrumental and a song from a single fundamental track recording session.  So far as we know, there’s no law against this, and especially since we’re exploring our own untravelledpath, even if such a law existed, we would feel free to disregard it.

We also tried a new and simpler miking arrangement for our Shokis which involved using just one condenser microphone placed on a pad of cloth with its face turned towards the side of the instrument.  Our hope was positioning the mike this way where it would not directly be hit by air blown through the flute would reduce nasty sibilant noises, and this turned out to be the case.  Not only that, this placement produced so much signal that it was unnecessary to dial our M-audios past 12:30, which meant our Shoki tracks also were relatively hiss free.  However since we were still not pleased by the number of speaker rattling Shoki booms, at the final stage of editing we struggled for many hours to control these wolf notes by tweaking the equalizer settings and volume levels for dozens of individual clips.  Though at first it didn’t look as though we were making much progress, in the end we got them under control, and in the process took a few more steps towards figuring out our 4-band equalizer.

In any case and as we’ve already noted, when we recorded our basic Quartus-Dotara foundation tracks the Force was with us and they turned out to be as clean and artistically interesting as anything we’d ever previously recorded, but still two weeks ago when it came time to start overdubbing the Shoki tracks, we were both very nervous.  It had been nearly a month since we had done any recording (though during that period we had done quite a lot of sound editing), and since we hadn’t been playing any Shoki, our lips were nowhere.  Also we were far from sure that our Shokis would sound good on top of the extremely chilled Quartus-Dotara foundation tracks.

But one more time, within seconds of hitting the record button we knew we had another winner.  And later when we listened to the Shoki tracks we’d each recorded that day, not only did they sound remarkably good on top of the Quartus-Dotara foundation, there were even sections where they worked when simultaneously played on top of the foundation !!

So despite our anxiety, our very first overdubbed Shoki tracks turned out to be good enough to use.  However since we can’t afford to fail, we each recorded overdubbed shoki tracks two more times, and in the end the piece offered with this post turned out to be crafted with material from all six of these tries.  Of course weaving together so many different tracks is easier to say than it was to do, but as with tweaking all of those individual clips, the process of meshing so many different tracks took us into a whole new realm of sound editing…

Focusing on recording our Shokis also got us back into our old habit of playing them for at least a few minutes every day.  Now the longest and lowest pitch one again lives in our living room where we can pick it up whenever the impulse hits, representing both a welcome return of an old friend and an unexpected and delightful result of restoring music to the center of our lives.  Of course since we plan to use Shokis on future cuts, that’s another good reason to be playing them regularly, because it’s difficult for us to get good Shoki tone unless we have our breathing and lips in shape.

Which is perhaps just another way of saying that our Shokis make it abundantly clear that the instruments which we are really playing are ourselves.

So it was both auspicious and correct that during the past two weeks when we’ve been struggling with this piece, we also found the time to rake the fallen aspen leaves from the beds and walks around our house, to fill our fridge with fresh cooked food and fresh baked banana bread, and to hike our favorite trail up into the mountains.  Without these vitally important activities, we would never have been ready to cruise and qdss would never have grown into such beauty.


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