Recording “Vox Cosmica”

Here I give an introduction to my sound-technical approach to the recording of the CD “Vox Cosmica” with Arianna Savall & Hirundo Maris.

The recording of the CD „Vox Cosmica“ took place in the Heilig-Kreuz church in Basel-Binningen, in February 2014. This church is a comparatively recent building dating from 1896, situated on the top of a hill overlooking the city, and is for most of the time sufficiently silent for acoustic recordings, despite its closeness to the city center. Thanks to the geometry and the construction materials being mostly hard stone, very little wood and little interior, the church features a strong and bright, long-lasting reverb. What could be seen as a disadvantage when producing rhythmical complex music or bigger ensembles, played directly in our hands in this case: A smooth, ever present and colorful room sound, which I let become part of the essential character of sound of this recording, almost like a natural extension of voices and instruments.

I still remember that moment in our first sound check session with singer Arianna Savall, when the sound of her incredibly lucid voice, flowing through the ceilings of the high nave and vibrating like liquid light, completely overwhelmed me. My brain really needed a few seconds to bring into conformance what I heard and perceived in that moment with what could be seen and felt in the “reality” of the actual room.

Speaking of recording equipment, I have used mainly RME devices: Two Octamic XTC preamplifiers and converters were set up right next to the musicians in the church. The audio signal was transferred through optical MADI to a RME MADIface XT in the control room, and recorded on hard disc via PCI express onto my laptop (HP Elitebook). The talkback system (to communicate with the musicians) was realized over the very same MADI connection. The recording software used was Magix Sequoia. The system was clocked on 192 KHz and recording resolution was 24 Bit. The channel count varied from 6 to 16 channels depending on repertoire and line-up.

I like to have the converters directly in the recording room as this allows me to use rather short microphone cables (here I used 5m Mogami-Quad and Sommercable Galileo), minimizing electric hum and crosstalk and also saving a lot of setup work and weight carrying compared to conventional analogue multicore systems. In fact I managed to transport the complete equipment for this recording in one big Pelicase trolley and thus to travel by train from Berlin to Basel (microphone stands and power cables were provided from the location).

The approach to using the microphones was based on the idea of two-track recording, which only uses two microphones that are then reproduced on the two speakers of a stereo system, and allows for a maximum of sonic clarity and transparency. I also had spot microphones for each musician, but used them only very carefully in the mix. In some pieces you hear only the true two-track sound, in others I used the spots to add tiny hints of warmth, closeness or color to individual voices or instruments. I also used two room microphones placed more in the back of the church for a possible surround edit, but these were not at all used in the stereo mix.

The main microphone is a pair of Neumann M149 tube large diaphragm microphones, which, according to some experts, do not sound overly precise and realistic, but still are incredibly beautiful and have a finely nuanced overtone spectrum which proved to be the perfect choice in interplay with the bright and reverberant room. For the voices of Arianna and Petter I used two DPA 4011 small diaphragm cardioids which sound very neutral and let me add the voices in the mix in an unobtrusive way. The other instruments were recorded with Neumann KM140 and KM184 small diaphragm cardioids.

The recording does without any artificial reverb and without overdubbing (recording of single voices) of any kind. The musicians always played together in the same room, which was absolutely necessary for the intimate and emotional atmosphere that we strived for. The balance between the instruments and voices was largely established already in the recording session through placing some instruments closer to the main microphone, others further away, sometimes even using risers to place an instrument a bit higher than the others. My ambition was to create a sound that conveys the closeness, immediacy and emotionality of a good studio recording and at the same time keeps the instinctiveness, authenticity and dynamics of a puristic two-track recording.

If you want to hear the results yourself, find the finished album on the Carpe Diem Records website:
It is available as CD, MP3 and High-Res FLAC (96Khz/24Bit).

Jonas Niederstadt 2014

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