South Windsor, CT, August 2023 –TELEFUNKEN has participated in a live immersive recording session of the Voce Chamber Choir at Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford, CT. The engineer and co-producer was Prof. Scott Metcalfe, Chair of Music Engineering and Technology at The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.
Metcalfe describes the recording environment, “This was a multi-day recording session. I’ve done a lot of live performance and studio session recordings with this group over the years; this time it was for a release of music by British composer Patrick Hawes. I’ve engineered and co-produced several albums with Voce where they focus on a particular composer who’s currently noteworthy in the choral music world.
When recording a choir of Voce’s caliber, my goal is to capture a balanced vocal blend where individual voices don’t stick out, while maintaining enough articulation for the text to be understood by the listener. The ratio of direct to reverberant sound depends on a number of factors, with the primary considerations being how the room complements the music and the subjective preferences of the conductor, Mark Singleton, the composer and myself.”
For technical details, Metcalfe continues, “There are seven primary microphones that correspond to each of the monitors in a 7.1 configuration comprised of three in front (L-C-R), two to the sides (Ls and Rs) and two behind (Lrs and Rrs). Four Telefunken small diaphragm FET condenser M60s with hypercardioid capsules are placed in coincidence with the L-R and Ls-Rs mics but aimed upwards (Ltf, Rtf, Ltr, Rtr) to capture “height” information.
These ceiling reflections are reproduced through the speakers that are above your head aiming down creating a really immersive experience — where you feel like you’re in the space where the music was being performed. Everything was directly tied to this Atmos rendering of the performance but with careful attention to a fully compatible stereo version for the initial release.
I preferred the sound of the Omni capsules on their own for this application, although I suspect the adapter spheres will be useful in the more conventional ‘Decca tree’ arrangement over an orchestra where the added directivity in the high frequencies adds detail and immediacy to the strings (something I plan to explore in the fall with the Annapolis Symphony).
The vertically aimed mics are the FET version of their small diaphragm M60 FET with TK62 hypercardioid capsules for picking up ceiling reflections for the Atmos height channels, and providing additional natural reverberation in the stereo mix, particularly useful for tracks with pipe organ accompaniment.
“Telefunken’s Omni mics were somewhat new to me and not commonly used yet in the classical world, so I assembled a more conventional NOS configuration behind the group’s conductor and artistic director, Mark Singleton. I knew I’d get a good ‘picture’ of the group from that perspective if I needed it.”
Elaborating on the NOS setup, Metcalfe says, “I used the two cardioid TF51s spaced 30 centimeters and aimed 90 degrees apart. Although the spacing is roughly twice the width of the average adult human head, the rejection of the angled cardioids and the inherent time-of arrival differences offer a capture that is similar to what you would hear with your head in the same location.”
The final track on the album includes piano accompaniment. To add detail and focus to the piano, two TF51 cardioids in an ORTF pair were positioned just under the edge of the open lid and aimed to capture the full range of the instrument. To avoid too much bleed of the piano into the main microphones, the piano was turned 180 degrees with the lid open on its short stick and facing the choir, using the back side of the cardioids to reject much of the choir’s direct sound and as a bonus, making it easier for the singers to hear the accompaniment.
“The only other microphone used on the project was a stereo ribbon Royer SF12 that I have grown comfortable with over the years when close placement, but less high frequency detail is called for. The Royer was used as a spot when the chorus was towards the back of the altar, under the organ pipes.”
And how was this ambitious project recorded? Metcalfe explains, “I’ve been a big fan of Metric Halo equipment for many years. In 2002, I started using their 2882 interfaces and believe it or not, I still have the same boxes in use on location and in my studio today. The older 2882 interfaces have been upgraded from FireWire to USB-C, more processing power has been added, as well as Metric Halo’s proprietary audio-over-IP and control system called MH Link. All of the preamps used on this recording are from a combination of their newer ULN-8 interface for the primary channels – due to its abundant, clean gain and excellent A/D conversion – and the 2882s for closer mics needing less amplification.
“What we’re looking at on the MacBook Pro in this photo is the user interface of the Metric Halo system. They call it “MIO Console.” It allows me to remotely control all functions of the interfaces – preamp levels, signal processing, routing, etc. – as though the interfaced were collectively a 24 input digital control.
The remote capability allows placement of the interfaces close to the microphones, thus minimizing long analog mic-level runs back to the control room. Alongside the MacBook is a rack with a simple control surface and monitor/talkback controller, as well as a corner of one of the Genelec 1029 monitors.”
Looking back earlier in his career, Metcalfe recalls, “I spent a number of years teaching music production technology at the Hartt School in Connecticut as part of the University of Hartford. A few years later I had an opportunity to take a faculty position at Johns Hopkins University in the Peabody Conservatory, running the recording arts and sciences program there.
“Over the last couple of years, I’ve been exploring more immersive recordings, surround and Atmos style captures. I realized that this was such a beautiful room and Voce is such an amazing choral group that it would be a really great project to capture in that way.” Voce is based in Hartford, Connecticut and I’m originally from Hartford. Telefunken’s headquarters are in the town adjacent to Hartford, South Windsor. I thought it would be cool for this Hartford-based group with an original Hartford recording engineer and the microphone’s coming from nearby. We ended up with 13 Telefunken microphones and I added my two M60s to create the Atmos configuration that I was going for as well as a stereo pair that was a spot for the choir. We got it dialed in and the composer and conductor were very happy with it. We’re expecting release sometime this Fall from Signum Records in the U.K.”
Scott Metcalfe holds the rank of Full Professor at The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. He has engineered hundreds of recordings in many different styles of music, with a primary focus on location classical recording. Notable projects include engineering numerous studio albums of choral works and editing, mixing and mastering of orchestral and electronic music for video games.