A few technical aspects of the string quartet sessions

In a lot of the literature on mixed music, I have found that the level of information on the technical and aesthetic aspects of recordings to be quite lacking. A lot of time is used to explain why the electronics are on tape or live, etc but very little is explained about how to combine both in a (for example) studio production. Having worked as a mixing engineer, FOH engineer and stage hand this perplexes me quite a bit. Both researchers and composers have often left these aspects to the mercy of whatever house technician is there, to greatly varying degrees of quality.
Therefore, as part of my research I find it important to bring to the fore several aspects of production. And of course, there is a large discrepancy between in concert and in the studio, but the practical and aesthetical aspects of the production itself will still have a large role in the final product. This post is not about going through all of the possible combinations or aesthetic versus practical arguments. The point is simply to go through the current set-up as it is currently going to be, for the sake of clearness but also to start to address certain issues.
The studio at the university is becoming quite versatile with a new patchable system, as well as the possibility to start connecting yourself remotely. I won’t go into the details of this system as they are not part of my research, and could not explain as eloquently as many of my colleagues. However, an important aspect of it is that it seamlessly allows me to be able to patch pre-amps between my own laptop to run electronics, and the studio computer. This gives me an extra security that the recording is on a second computer, in case of for example jitter. The set-up would also easily allow me to connect a second laptop to do a back-up recording if wanted.
The current set-up is like this:

A note on the current diagram is that it will be 16 pre-amp channels going through to the DAD to my laptop, just in case I need more lines. The same will be done with my computer’s outputs as well. I will also be adding a stereo patch from the Pro Tools system back to my computer to be able to easily run processing tests then and there in the playback room. This can be especially useful to show an effect to the musicians for example. In effect, one could say I will have 16 ins and outs from my laptop to the Pro Tools system. Monitoring is also easily done in the software to Aviom a16-ns which will let each musician create their own mix if wanted. The musicians will not necessarily be using monitoring, as it will be to their discretion. In my own experience, it really depends on the piece for most musicians.
This system is flexible, and easy to patch differently since it is done with the Dante Virtual Soundcard software. It also allows me to export a stereo output, with additional “processing spots” if wanted. For example, I could send back to the studio computer raw sound out from physical modelling software which I will mix in later, or any other possibility. This makes it robust, useful for research but also for actual productions.
On the recording side, the system will be quite easy. The rehearsal room used is quite small, and designed for anything from acoustic music (mainly jazz) to popular music. Therefore, it is relatively dry. However, it is not dry to the point of being uncomfortable for most string players. The recording rig can essentially be separated into two different entities: one to make a production, and the other to be used for processing. There are several reasons for this, the first one being that a closer sound is often better for processing. It’s also much better when it comes to signal analysis for score-following. Another aspect is that this can then be used aesthetically for the processing sound. For example, changing where the spot mics are on the instrument to get a different sound. Another reason is to minimize the amount of bleeding between the processing mics. In a concert situation, it’s also very useful to minimize the risk of feedback. The typical microphone to use for this is a DPA4009, however the university currently only has one. At this point it is on my to buy list if the quartet receives any grants. Otherwise I will have to check the possibility to loan some for rehearsals.
The second rig is a proper recording rig. This will most probably be done as an AB pair with omni capsules to have a good capture of all four instruments, such as shown in King (2017). It will probably be a bit on the dry side to hear the details of the performance, with added reverberation afterwards. The natural reverb of the room isn’t the most flattering for string instruments, but it’s also not disturbing.
Additionally, I will try to film the sessions with a single camera on the string quartet to have a visual reference when thinking of which synchronization techniques make them most comfortable or uncomfortable. This will also give a clearer picture (no pun intended) of how the rehearsals are going.
Bibliography:
King, R. (2017). Recording orchestra and other classical music ensemble. New York, USA: Routledge.

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