Digital Audio Engineering

mbs5
MBS-5 fifth generational Digital Audio Work Station. MBS-1 appeared in 1998 in the same case above I designed. The logo is the bicycle from my dad’s card for Mallette’s Bicycle Shop from 1947. MBS-5 was updated last year. It can run on 12 volts for mobile use. Photograph by Dave. 

I have been doing location recording avocationally for decades. I love fine acoustic spaces and great music.

The first recording is the last piece and encore from the dedication concert of the Memorial Pipe Organ of the Church of the Annunciation, Lewisville, Texas in 2003.  I found that instrument at the Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, FL a couple of years before.  It was a “fixer upper” with an illustrious heritage.  Redeemer had a multi-million dollar gift to replace it from the John Ringling North family and were offering it for less than the value of the scrap tin in the pipes.  Fact is, though, it was still playing beautifully.  However, they needed it out of there to get their new one in, so the deal.  I’ll mention only the very basic facts about it here.  It started life as an E. M. Skinner and had those irreplaceable Skinner classic string stops that bring tears.  It was expanded later by Moller, and refurbished by McManis.  As I found it, it was 58 stops.   It was rebuilt by Patrick Murphy of Philadelphia, shipped to Texas and installed and tonal directed by Dan Garland of Fort Worth as a 28 stop instrument with room left to add a solo and choir division at a later date.  This was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.  Bradley Welch, winner of the 5th Dallas International Organ Competition, played the dedication.

This was recorded using a DAW (digital audio workstation) of my own design and construction (MBS-5 above), microphone preamp was a vacuum tube HHB Radius, the microphones were Oktava ML-52 ribbons placed about mid nave on the floor at what I felt was “the best seat in the house.”  The reverberation time at Annunciation is about 3.5 seconds and slap-free.  It’s one of the finest acoustic environments I’ve ever been in, and the best I’ve ever recorded in.

All these files are at 16/44.1 (CD resolution) except the Spanker and Widor files labeled 24/88.2.

Widor “Toccata”

J.S. Rheinberger “Abendlied”  This is the “softer” side of this instrument, with choir.  Rheinberger wrote this hauntingly beautiful piece at age 16.

SRWeb“Swampoodle Review” is a program focusing on the heritage of boogie-woogie, jazz, ragtime, rock and other American genre, musicians, and composers that have their roots in the Texarkana region. I am the founding member. This program will debut second quarter on our NPR station. The engine noise and whistle are live steam recorded  near here at the Texas State Railroad. The composition it’s based on is “Swampoodle Player”  and was written for us by Dr. John Tennison, world’s foremost musicologist in boogie-woogie,  and the voice overs are both mine.

Most of my recordings are serious music.  However, that’s as much due to circumstance as to preference.  Some years ago I got an opportunity to record a fairly successful Austin group called “The Asylum Street Spankers.”  I like their music and they are totally acoustic, even eschewing amplification for their singers.   The following is “St. James Infirmary,” a great jazz standard perhaps best known in performances by Louis Armstrong.  The recording was made live at the Saxon Street Pub in Austin.  I used two separate computers and four ribbon microphones.

This one was done with a very advanced Digital Audio Workstation I designed to handle 4 streams at once, and I used it to record an experimental surround recording at 24/192.  It was quite daring for the time as the resulting digital stream was in excess of 25mbps and the recordings take up over 25GB.   The other machine was the front channels only at 24/88.2.  I’ve also provided here at transcode to 16/44.1 or regular CD resolution.

The big black box is my 4 channel experimental surround sound recorder at 24/192 resolution. The smaller one was a stereo “alibi” recorder at 24/88.2 resolution. I designed and built them both.
Two Oktava ML-52 ribbon mics and two Beyerdynamic M 130 Double Ribbon Microphones made up my surround sound cluster.

St. James Infirmary

1861 Hook Organ, Holy Cross Church, Marine City, MI

I made this recording of the 1861 Hook Organ of Holy Cross Church in Marine City, MI while on a trip to Washington state.  I happen to have basic equipment as I was planning to record my niece’s senior recital.  The piece was composed by Daniel John Susan, former organist of my parish.  He’d left as he didn’t see a future without a pipe organ.  It was due to this terrible personal and parish loss I set to work to get the instrument now there as I never wanted to lose such a wonderful MM again.  This is an improvisation on the Anglican hymn “Earth and All Stars.”  Daniel was apologetic about not having anything “concert ready,” but I think you’ll find this pretty extraordinary.  The instrument is, off course, totally mechanical except for the electric blower.

Earth and All Stars

Worst acoustic problem I ever faced.  I’d have just said “no” except I’d promised my friend Paul Garner, DSO clarinetist, I’d record this piece.  It was part of a music festival in 2004 and he and other DSO musicians formed an “ad hoc” ensemble to perform the Schubert Octet for Strings in F Major.  It is scored for clarinet, bassoon, horn, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass and is one of the longest pieces of chamber music ever written at nearly an hour.  The location was a multi-purpose hall at Fair Park that seated perhaps 500 in folding chairs on a concrete floor with hard walls and ceiling, as well as a lot of loud side metal doors.  The stage was a nightmare.  Gorgeous view of a garden, as it had all GLASS back walls made even worse by having a 45 degree section on either side that basically formed a reflective horn.  Yikes.  The saving part was that I had my highest reach boom stand, so I put the ribbon mikes as high as possible, forward to the ensemble, and with equal distance to each player.  It was a plus that they were in a semi-circle arrangement.  I remain amazed that it sounds as good as it does.  The performance was truly excellent, with particularly wonderful work by the principal violinist on this movement, the final.

VI. Andante molto – Allegro – Andante molto – Allegro molto

 

Cover of my only commercial release. Watercolor by Ernst Kotzin, my wife's uncle.

The last piece is from quite a successful release, at least by classical standards.  When first approached by Michelle McDonald, pianist and producer, I was not happy with the venue.  It was the Mesquite Center for the Performing arts.  Acoustics are nice for large groups and when an audience is present, but, in my opinion, way too live for chamber music when empty.  However, it wasn’t my call and now I am glad it wasn’t.  I miked quite closely to reduce the empty hall returns, but left some space.  The resulting sound is pleasing to me.  This one is also a really excellent imaging test for your system.  I’ve never accomplished better imaging and you’ll hear the principal violinist on the left, then the cello, then the viola, and the piano with clarinet in front of it on the right if your imaging is good.  The violin is an Amati played by the principal second chair violinist (at the time, now retired) of the Dallas Symphony.  The piece is “Molly on the Shore,” by Percy Grainger performed by the Hubbard Chamber Music Ensemble, Michele McDonald, music director.

This piece is another example of how I handle poor acoustics, not quite as bad as the above but still pretty poor conditions.  The recital was in a converted fire station, and it sounded like a small gym.  The audience was in folding metal chairs that were noisy.  I miked VERY closely and pointed the back lobes of the ribbons at the ceiling to minimize both the building as well as the ambient noise.  I’ll try to post the opus, which escapes me at the moment.  However, it’s the final movement of a Prokofiev clarinet sonata with piano.  The clarinetist was Dallas Symphony principal clarinetist Paul Garner and the pianist is Michelle McDonald both of whom are also heard in the “Molly on the Shore” above.

Finale, Prokofiev Sonata for Clarinet and Piano

foster.jpg

Piano is considered the most difficult task for an audio engineer. Mono usually sounds best as so many stereo recordings are used with microphone patterns more suited to ensembles. The piano often sounds like it stretches the width of the speakers. I developed my own microphone plan that contains the acoustic image to a much more realistic sound.
Stephen Wayne Foster was winner of the first Dallas International Organ Competition. Many of my music maven friends consider this one of the best piano recording they’ve ever heard. However, some commented on Foster’s phrasing and pauses. I finally realize he is an ORGANIST, and organists play not only the instrument but the building as well. So, he’d hold long enough for the decay to be at the right point. I like it!

pianoplan

Claude Debussy “Claire de Lune” 

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