Michael Bishop, head of engineering for Telarc, has been recording multichannel sessions for many years. He has also been a big fan of Direct Stream Digital technology. We do a lot of recording to the [Sony] Sonoma workstation, using the EMM Labs DSD converters, Bishop comments. We also have been using Pyramix, SADiE, and Sonic Solutions DSD setups. Every SACD weve released for the past year has been multichannel. Bishop is currently finishing up a Tierney Sutton jazz multichannel and stereo project called Something Cool. It was recorded at OHenry Studios direct to DSD. Interestingly, Im using a pair of the Neumann Solution D digital microphones on the vocal. The mics are mounted vertically, head to head in an XY, using a near-cardioid pattern. The Solution Ds at 96 kHz (which have no preamp) are coming through a pair of D/A special edition PSX 100 converters from Apogee, then to the Millennia Media mixer, and then to the DSD converters. It sounds amazing. In the studio, Bishop mostly uses standard studio miking but with additional stereo and ambient mic setups straight to DSD. When going live to DSD, I need to include any analog processing I need inline at the time. Sometimes I use six to eight extra tracks to create surround at the sessions.
Bobby Owinski, managing/executive director for California-based Surround Associates, is a veteran of over 100 surround mixes, ranging from Willie Nelson to the Who. Ive done five projects from top to bottom with surround in mind, all done at 96 kHz, he states. Most of the things recorded in surround were drums, but also Ive done things like capture pianos, dobros, or even vocals in surround, he continues. Ive utilized the Soundfield Mic a lot, but also used a Holophone and the Brauner Atmos, mostly on drums and percussion. I did a few songs on LA Joness last record where it was just him and a dobro, and we did it in surround with just the Soundfield and a little TC 6000. On one session, Owinski happened to have had five Neumann M 50s on hand, setting them up around the drums in a large room. Believe it or not, one of the things that amazed us was the sound of the assistant walking through the room to reposition a mic, he says. Ive also recorded with five B&K mics in what I call a halo, a round piece of steel placed over the drums. With that I also did a record with the Agape Beat Percussion Ensemble, who were set up around the microphone itself. The results were amazing – one of the best things Ive recorded.
We recorded the album thinking we would be doing the surround mix, comments engineer Chuck Ainlay, on the tracking session for the upcoming Mark Knopfler release, The Ragpickers Dream. If youre going to capture elements for multichannel, you need more tracks, he explains. We had 16-track head blocks for a pair of Studer 800s, which we locked up with a Nuendo system at 96 kHz. We captured most of the rhythm tracks to analog, and recorded the ambience tracks – things that would not necessarily benefit from the analog sound – to Nuendo. Most everything was recorded with ambience mics, such as the acoustic [guitar] using a close mic and maybe a Neumann U 67 further out to get more of an overall picture of the instrument. I actually used them in the stereo mix, but Ill be able to spread them out for the surround mix when we do it. Same with the electrics – for Marks amp, I would use a U 67 pulled away from the amp and a Shure SM57 along with a Royer. With upright piano, Ainlay used a pair of AKG 414s on the back, a pair of DPAs over the top, and an AEA RCA 44 copy down near the legs. The sound was amazing. Its monstrous, especially for soloing, says Ainlay. We have to be thinking about the future, even if youre just recording with the thought of archiving. These people with all these home theaters will want to listen to their music in surround.
Chip Davis, founder and composer of Mannheim Steamroller, recently finished his popular Fresh Aire series with the comprehensive new Fresh Aire 8 multichannel DVD, released on his American Gramophone label. Produced over a four-year period, it features a double hub format – a DVD-14 with a DVD-A layer on one side and a DVD-V layer on the other. Also included with the package is a bonus CD mix of the material. It put a whole new breath of life in our engineering staff, and everybody just loves working in this format, Davis says. Working with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) on several cuts, Davis was able to explore and expand his passions for surround. What I did with the LSO is make is sound as if I were standing in the second row of violas. For example, you have violins in a crescent shape all the way around to the cellos, and youre placed pretty much the way a conductor would view it. Listeners can access the 5.1 surround mixes by placing the DVD with the red-labeled side up into a universal player for 24 bit/96 kHz DVD-Audio, or the green-labeled side up for the Dolby Digital or DTS mixes on DVD-Video players. DVDs arent just for movies. You now own the best hi-fi youve probably ever owned in your life.
Another artist who has fully embraced multichannel production is the aforementioned Mickey Hart. This is new territory, its a new science, and a new physiology about how sound affects the brain, he aptly states. Surround sound frees us out of the stereo field. It allows us to not only mix in the field, but compose in it. As an artist, I find that exhilarating. Hart has released several multichannel titles both from the Grateful Dead (Rhino) catalog and on his own. His latest, Mondo Head, by his group Koto, is available on DVD-A as well as SACD. I found out that SACD had a little more air on top, and DVD-A had a little more robust bottom, but they were really close. Hart, who was recording a live show to Pro Tools HD the night I spoke to him, mentioned that he finds something new every time he works with surround. Ive used the Soundfield mic and also additional room mics. I like to use a lot of microphones because drums are my specialty, and their sound takes time to open up. I use it all, as it gives you the most options and also the most definition. Sometimes I mix looking at the rears, or even sideways. There is no one technique for any one thing that will work. Once you get into it, the possibilities are limitless within six channels.
Producer/engineer Frank Filipetti is also a big fan of capturing for surround. I did a James Taylor project with the idea of going that way right from the beginning, he notes. The new Korn record (Untouchables) was also set up from the beginning as a possible 5.1 project. When I am miking, Im thinking of the surrounds as rear speakers, he continues. If Im doing a 5.1 project, I try to put myself into the head from the get-go where do I want the singer, where do I want the band, and where do I want the person listening to all of this? I also think about the rears and the sub. With Korn, for example, who were very into the headspace of 5.1, I purposely recorded sub information for the guitars on a separate track. On drums, Filipetti used two Neumann U 47s behind the kit, about 10 or 15 feet away. The same mics were also used in the two-mix with the front room mics. Now, when we do the surround mix, we would have real tracks coming up in the back as if you were standing in the middle of all this. Filipetti is also continuing to prepare projects for multichannel release. Im heading to England to do this classical project, and its a full orchestra. I will set up not only your standard Decca tree, but mics in the back for surround as well. Generally speaking, I tend to use a situation where the listener is in front of the band or orchestra, but also getting information from behind. I like to mic 5.1 sessions that way from the start.
I myself have captured several discrete multichannel sessions, both live and in the studio. On one recent session at Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck, NY, we recorded world/flamenco guitarist Romero for an upcoming 333 Entertainment release. I was able to actually monitor live in surround with a full 5.1 Genelec setup through a Sony DMX-R100. This allowed me to position mics (mostly Earthworks and DPAs) around the instruments and make immediate changes, knowing exactly what the surround sounded like. The band was then able to come in after each take and experience full multichannel playback. Afterwards, they felt they actually played better because they knew any mistakes would be unforgiving! Ah, the joys of new technology.