Innocent Ear

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Start with the Composer!

      The natural sound approach takes as its starting point the fact that the composer had in mind musicians playing together as a whole, in a natural acoustic space like a concert hall or church as opposed to a dry studio. The engineer's role is therefore to capture that sound in its entirety so that the home listener can re-create the experience in the home. This is done by using the recording equivalent of the listener's ears - two microphones for a stereo recording or 5 for a 5.1 surround sound recording. The important thing being to sample the sound at one point in space as much as possible. Sometimes, for example with a choir seated behind a large, well spaced out orchestra, another pair of microphones may be needed if the choir cannot be heard sufficiently above the orchestra in the hall. Just as we with our two ears hear the sound in a concert hall from just one place, with its particular ratio of direct to reverberant sound, so all natural microphone techniques capture almost the same thing. Also, it is important to place the microphones in a position aurally equivalent to a good seat in the house. Whilst we might accept a seat at the side or back of the hall in a concert with its lopsided or distant balance, this would be quite unacceptable on a recording that is to be heard many times. It is important to note that as the idea is to capture the sound in the hall, that this includes the width and distance perspective of the sound of the original ensemble. Recordings made with multi microphone techniques (which strictly speaking are not stereo, but multi-mono) almost always lack depth and are therefore one dimensional.

One common problem is that we often think that we know better than the composer. Take for example the wonderful Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo. This masterpiece rightly deserves its popularity, but today quite a few guitarists feel that they cannot play it without amplifying the guitar. They feel that they will be drowned out by the orchestra. However, Rodrigo wrote this work in 1938 without amplification in mind, and, because he is a great composer, he orchestrated the piece in such a way that the guitar is never swamped. Thus guitarists need not worry about being drowned out by the (chamber) orchestra. Amplification destroys Rodrigo's carefully considered balance by making the guitar too loud throughout. Particularly in the lovely Adagio, the guitar does a lot of accompanying of orchestral solos which need to be heard as they have the melody. If the guitar is too loud, it becomes difficult for the audience to hear the melody as Rodrigo intended. After all, it is fundamental in music with melody and accompaniment that the melody should stand out from the accompaniment, even if the dynamic markings are the same for both. Now we accept that there are some situations in which circumstances dictate small alterations to the composers balance, but these are rare and we are talking about the fact that people often forget that the composer has already balanced the forces involved and needs no help.