October 6


Folks in the semi-pro and pro video world have heard my discuss the shortcomings in the audio portion of the Sony HVR-V1U video camera. Now I have put the essential points in a video documentary on YouTube:

The problem is serious enough that I feel public pressure needs to be placed upon Sony to live up to their advertised specs of 20-20,000Hz.


October 12


This weekend is happening big, with my firm commissioned to do the filming and recording of a major symphony orchestra on the 13th. Part of preparing for such an event is the process of attending rehearsals, equipment setup and testing, days in advance of the real concert.

I got the preliminaries worked out on the 11th, which includes determining mic positions, camera positions and secondary audio. Today was the monumental step of actually making it so. With the help of several union stage technicians, we strung an aircraft cable across the theater at about 18' elevation, over the forth row of the audience seating. Attached to that cable is the front of the specialized array that I designed specifically for orchestral recording. Two rear support points were tethered to the balcony spotlighting support plumbing to make the grid plumb.

The grid contains five microphones, spaced and aligned phase-coherently to provide maximum channel separation and neutral pickup with minimal coloration. That was aloft in the auditorium in less than an hour. The electrical check went perfectly. I was amazed at the detail that I heard in the audio. The tympani player was rehearsing alone at first, and I heard a rattle in my headphones. I walked out on stage and listened to the tympani myself. They were indeed rattling slightly. The mics, though a distance away, picked up every little sound as if they were inches from the instruments. That's probably due to the very low noise floor in the mics, preamps and the fact that the auditorium is dead quiet. You can hear a pin drop in this place, literally, when no one is playing.

I'm listening to today's dailies from the session and I am very pleased with the audio results. With today's equipment, and the amassed knowledge of miking techniques, the audio becomes the easier part of the project. It is the camera work that will take much more effort. Shooting footage each rehearsal gives me material to analyze for framing, exposure and camera techniques. Attending the rehearsals is essential to familiarizing one's self with the way the orchestra plays and its strengths, giving me awareness of how best to choreograph the camera work.

To those curious about the custom array I've concocted for concert recordings, here are a few photos:

Close-up of the array, 18' above floor level (balcony seating in background).

Medium shot, showing the mics and a bit of the hall.

Wide shot showing mic placement, relative to the stage.

I had to move Heaven and Earth to get the perfect mic placement, but once the theater people knew whom they were working with, I was able to enlist their full cooperation and support and they were a joy to work with.

The project includes a 3-camera high definition video shoot. I arranged the "golden triangle" of camera vantage points. And, with the luck of the way things worked out, I was able to get the conductor cam to double as the facial closup of the pianist, a young lady from Venezuela, who plays Beethoven like it is in her blood. Her expressions are very intense, and I want to capture some of that in this video. Another camera is in the balcony, for the "reference shot" and has a powerful zoom lens on it that can get close enough to read the sheet music. That camera will focus on various sections of the orchestra as they come into focus in the performance. A third camera will be at stage right (which is where these photos above came from--they are frames from test video that I shot earlier this evening.)

I heard a lot of Steinway piano in these past two days and I've had a realization, which relates to my Kurzweil K series samplers: members of the Kurzweil music group forums have long been baffled by my observations about a "thunk" sound in the middle C range of the Kurzweil piano samples. I researched it extensively and found out that the sample is from a Steinway Model D, which resides in a studio in Houston, Texas. For years, I had thought it was just a bad sample to blame for that "thunking" sound in Middle C and the fifth above it. But as I stood in the auditorium, listening live to the Steinway grand, I was hearing that "thunk" as she ran up and down the scale while playing Piano Concerto No 1 Op 15. I went backstage to my recording console and put on the headphones. There it was again--that "Kurzweil" piano sound. So I mentioned it to the sound technician at the theater and he heard it too and was aware of the anomaly. Apparently, it is an attribute specific to Steinway grand pianos. To my ear, it's a bit annoying, but to others, it doesn't detract from the sound. I must be very attuned to my pianos, because few musicians notice it. And now, as I write this, I listen to the daily from tonight's session and there it is again. I guess I need to change my opinion of the Kurzweil piano sample. They are accurate in fact, "thunk" and all. That's the sound of Steinway.

I'm hearing so many nuances in the music that it is almost too revealing. Every chair squeak comes through clearly, along with the tiny rattles on the sound board of the celli, rattles in the tympani drum heads--just lots of incidental noises that, during pianissimos have little to cover them up. The orchestra is very dynamic, and soft passages are very soft, but then they can erupt into a fortissimo that fills the concert hall a moment later. With the lack of noise, I hope that none of the orchestra have butterflies in their stomachs, lest they be heard in this recording!


October 19


The "grunt work" of getting the bits and bytes off the cameras and laptop computer that recorded the audio is behind me and synching of all camera tracks and audio tracks was done by Monday evening. However, that was not easy. Either the HDV tapes experienced some sort of dropouts during capture, or, as many Premiere users are claiming, Adobe Premiere Pro CS3's capture tool may be responsible for the problem.

At any rate, I spent 6 hours getting all the "dropouts" located and fixed (I had to watch the whole concert, essentially three times and look for the one frame where things went haywire and cut the clip, separate it from its audio and slip it appropriately in time to bring it back into synch), I am finally to the point of editing the A/B/C rolls.

We used one small camera up on the shell, as a "conductor cam" and it had a slightly different color cast in the shadow range, which I corrected with a pedestal adjustment in the green channel. That and a little unsharp mask, and the Canon footage is matching the Sony footage very nicely.

I did a rough cut of the camera switching this evening, and am now watching the result, stopping now and then and shifting the timing of my cutovers, to tweak the timing to perfection. Once I get all the cuts the way I like them, the next step is to determine which cuts get dissolves and for how many frames. That will depend on the tempo and the emotional effect that needs to be conveyed.

I also rendered a short MPEG2 standard definition clip from the timeline, just to see how the DVD resolution version will look. I am pleased with the results so far.

I've been listening to the 24/96 master audio from this concert and comparing the "balcony track" with the front main mics in the surround array that we hung at the front of the theater. The hall definitely has enormous room gain in the bass registers as you move further back. That balcony mix has more bass, is a bit darker-sounding and heavier, but also detailed. The front main mix is "to die for." It's very articulate, but not 'hyped'. It has amazing transient response, letting the pianoforté parts come through with natural, effortless clarity. The orchestra sounds expansive and majestic. It is so nice to hear Beethoven without compression and EQ and the hiss that normally accompanies so many digital recordings that I already own.

Effectively, I have achieved, almost single-handedly, what it takes big recording companies massive resources to achieve, and with a superior quality in all areas of the production. To think that we pulled off a video shoot and and audio recording session in a major hall with a major orchestra, and managed to work it all out with the orchestra union to get this done, is nothing short of miraculous. Other production companies would be angry if they realized how small my crew was, despite what we accomplished. But then, it's been my philosophy that you can do big things with limited manpower, if you plan carefully and use clever techniques.


October 24


After some debate, I've decided to open a discussion forum on this site. There are several tech-related forum discussion areas, plus one dedicated to discussion about this sound system and one general forum for whatever folks feel like discussing.

We're still debugging things a bit, so if there are any problems or issues, please let me know, so we can focus attention on finding a solution. The forum software is rather new to us, and we're still learning how to configure it. But don't let that stop you from signing up and joining our online community.

We have two moderators overseeing the forums 24 hours a day, and we hope to promote vigorous and engaging discussions on audio, video, home theater, music, etc.

Forums are accessible from the main Basspig.com home page, at the top right menu button.