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Musings from a Surround Engineer

Musings from a Surround Engineer

At the 3rd and final Texas Music Festival Orchestra concert of the 2022 season in Houston, Mei-Ann Chen conducted symphonic music of Paul Hindemith, W. A. Mozart, and the featured work from William Levi Dawson, his Negro Folk Symphony.
For those interested in such things: after much practical experience in the Moores Opera House - the home of the summer Texas Music Festival and the resident Moores School Symphony Orchestra - finding an optimal main microphone configuration for recording a large symphony orchestra in 5-channel surround sound has been my goal. The results can be heard in the Blu-ray Audio discs released on HDTT, or with the multichannel digital download also available.
In the Moores Opera House, the main pickup trio of mics - channels 1, 2, and 3; or left, right, and center - is made up of the superb Peluso P-stereo condenser, in crossed-figure-of-8 mode. This stereo mic is an updated emulation of the Neumann SM69, which provides channels 1 and 2; and a Neumann KM83, which provides center channel 3.  At the lip of the stage, at opposite sides and on tall stands, are two more KM83s to provide channel 4, left surround, and channel 5, right surround.
The resulting configuration is simple and minimalist: five mics, five surround-sound channels, no mixing, no EQ, no adjustments after the maximum orchestral sound is tested in rehearsal. The result? Natural, realistic - almost holographic - placement of the listener roughly at the same location as the conductor. We call it "immersive surround sound."  Look for the recording of the marvelous Negro Folk Symphony of William Dawson coming soon from HDTT!
The most recently released HDTT BRA was recorded in a Houston English-Gothic-Style cathedral, Our Lady of Walsingham, featuring a world premiere recording of a hitherto unknown 16th century Spanish Requiem Mass by Antonio Gallego. It's performed in thrilling fashion by the Piping Rock Singers of Houston, a vocal ensemble specializing in early music. But as you might guess, a cathedral has a considerably different acoustic from the Moores Opera House. So, a lot of experimentation with mic placement during rehearsals is necessary.  Rich acoustic, dramatic Requiem music sung with passion, and an immersive surround-sound recording make for a satisfying listening experience. Available as all multichannel HDTT recordings are as either a Blu-ray Audio disc or digital download.
John Gladney Proffitt
Classical Music Producer/Recording Engineer
Bruckner Society of America, Member, Board of Directors

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