Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Two Mistakes

As much as I like talking about those improvised, minimal, experimental pit orchestras, perhaps it is time to share what the real thing sounds like in full flight.

Below the fold, for those of us with slower connections:

Classic pit, though not quite the size of the good old days. About 23 members. So what was the "mistake?" The concept was to have the Winkies march during several of the scene changes. And either we didn't have enough male singers in the ensemble to be sure of a good sound, or the orchestra didn't want to play the march over and over again. So they asked me to pre-record the whole thing.

We set up in the rehearsal hall. I took ten tracks (as much as my hardware could support) so I could create a mix that could be seamlessly incorporated along with the live playing and singing. Riiight. Mic on the upright piano, on the cab used by the 'cello player (who had her own pickup), and over the one floor tom that was used in that song. Two choral mics. Section mics over the two or three violins, the three brass, one on high winds and one on low winds and french horn. I think that was it.  The rehearsal space was small and way too live, my positions were compromises and there was little time to set up. Came out decent, though.

We never used it, of course. Never even tried it out in the theater.

This mistake was all mine.

Full pit orchestra again. I was worried about getting that close-mic'd, pop feeling the score demands, and the director was also very concerned that the band sounded muffled. But there were only two or three open inputs down in the pit, and the board op refused to have anything to do with mixing a band in addition to minding the wireless microphones.

So I tried a sub-mix. We'd made it work once before; for Into the Woods the orchestra was backstage, behind the set. I did a minimal mic-by-section, plus keys, and ran the cable out to the orchestra pit. I literally mixed in the empty orchestra pit, then left the mixer set up for the show. Unbelievably, it worked.

This show needed more serious mic'ing, and was more dynamic. Setting a mix and leaving it didn't work. The only artifact I have left of that time-wasting experiment is a mono recording I took off the feed I was sending to the house system. Which was produced on the fly, with me hunkering down behind the brass section (and getting blasted by them), so the levels are all over the map. I'm amazed it sounds as good as it does. Especially since the band was a bit off through opening weekend. They tightened up considerably!

Section mics on brass (two bones and a trumpet, I think, but might have been two and two or even two and three). Winds (sax, of course) and a spot mix on the "Irish" flute. Kick, snare, and a generic overhead that also had to cover the amplified sound from his Roland hardware. Plus I think there was a pair of timps crammed in there as well. Electric violin. Electric guitar with a whole bunch of pedals. Electric bass -- and by this point I was out of mics and out of stands and I hit it with a Karma "Silver Bullet" gaff-taped to a chair and pointed at the amp.  Two keyboards, patched direct with a mind-boggling set of different splitters and powered monitors in the mix.

The selection is "Elle's Return/Back in the Game" from late in the Second Act. Long, but at least it gives some sense of the variety of colors and the sheer energy that pit could put out.

(More technical detail; this was a live mix-down on headphones from a position right behind the brass, on a Mackie 1604 with an ART two-channel compressor and two channels of Lexicon reverb as outboard. Streamed a back-up copy into Audacity at 44.1/16 bit through the 1/8" jack on my Powerbook.)

(For this blog entry, brought the track into Reaper, ran a false-stereo plug, some corrective EQ, multi-channel compression, manual fader rides to smooth out the dynamics a bit, and a bit of overall reverb. Brought the track back into Audacity and did bit-level editing on many of the drum hits to allow normalization at a higher level without clipping.)

(Then brought the track into iMovie along with a representative graphic, exported mp4 and uploaded that to Blogger -- sound support doesn't appear to be native, but video is supported here.)

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