Case Studies

Case Study: Indian Classical Ensemble

The Challenge: record, mix and master a small indian classical ensemble, often performing pieces up to 45 minutes long, maintining the ability to use multiple takes, while managing isolation of individual instruments.

The Solution: This was tricky. First, there was the recording stage. The ensemble consisted of a saxaphone, a violin, and a mridangam. For the sax, a dark tone was requested by the performer, so to accommodate that, I used the oktava 219-PE, run through a tube preamplifier, close-mic’ed. For the violin, a pair of small-diaphragm condensers were suspended over the violinist in an XY stereo configuration. The Mridangam received a pair of SM57’s direct-micing the heads of the instrument. A rode NT2 in omni mode was used to capture the room sound. An electronic tambura was patched directly into the board, and then fed to small monitors for musician reference.

Because of the constant push and pull of tempo, there was little use for either a metronome or bar counts, so most overdubbing had to be done by “feel” – playing parts multiple time then doing crossfades at opportune moments. The difficult parts came from the close-micing of both the sax and the mridangam – the sax, in that the microphone picked up the noise from the keys, and the drum in that it was direct-mic’ed so it lacked some of the more natural sound built up over distance. The latter was rectified with some judicious stereo panning of the individual tracks and the carefula djustment of reverb predelay to make it sound more natural in the mix. The former problem was somewhat (although not completely) reduced by mixing in the room mic signal.

Mastering presented a special set of challenges. As this was a classical recording, preservation of dynamic range was paramount. However, there was a natural need for loudness and the “glue” of buss compression as well, so the two requirements had to be carefully balanced. Large amounts of fader automation was required to tame some peaky passages, essentially performing manual signal compression without the sonic artifacting that usually implies. The whole album was then gently compressed and the gain increased by a few decibels to increase the overall saturation and signal strength without obliterating the high dynamic range of the pieces.