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Marlan Barry Audio

Classical + Acoustic Recording & Production

Summer Lovin'

It was a fun summer; I managed to get away to a deserted beach in Puerto Rico for a week of sweet oblivion with my wife and make several jaunts up to Cold Spring, New York to float on a pristine lake. I even helped a couple of friends renovate their groovy 1970’s houseboat in the Rockaways. But it’s not all playtime here at Marlan Barry Audio. Here’s a roundup:

A History of Summer


I recently played cello in a reading for A History of Summer, a new musical by my friends, musical theatre writer, Adam Mathias and composer, Jonathan Monro. A History of Summer, surveys the last century of summers of America’s earliest established gay communities—Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines—and explores the residents’ lives and loves, hopes and heartbreaks. Very sweet!

 

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Tristan, et cetera


I finished editing five operas including Tristan and Isolde, Xerxes and Don Giovanni from Houston Grand Opera’s 2012-2103 season. They’ll air on WFMT in Chicago beginning in the November. Check my Facebook page in the Fall for an update on streaming information so you can listen in.

Nights at the Museum


Over the next year I’ll continue working with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rose Augustine Foundation to record a lot of the guitars from the Met’s rare instruments collection for an HD video series to promote the collection. Not only did I get to record the amazing Jorge Caballero and Vladimir Gorbach, I get to hang out in the Met late at night! I’ll continue recording the series this month recording guitarists Mattias Jacobsson, David Starobin and Ernie Jackson. Check out the first videos here.

Gods of Winter 

In mid September I'll be on location at the recital hall of SUNY Purchase to record an original score by composer Louis Karchin and The Washington Square Contemporary Music Ensemble with baritone Thomas Meglioranza and violinists Miranda Cuckson and Curtis Macomber.

CD Round Up
--The Brentano String Quartet with pianist Sarah Rothenberg playing Tobias Pickers "Live Oaks" quintet for John Zorn's label, Tzadik.
--Duets for violin and viola by Glière and a piano trio by Bruch performed by the Miller-Porfiris duo with pianist, David Westfalll
--The music of Spanish composer, Tarrago, with soprano Camille Zamora and classical guitarist Cem Duruoz.
--Violinist Gregory Harrington on a solo CD featuring selected transcriptions of J.S. Bach

That’s my Summer Lovin’ -- now, what about you?

 

Don't Forget to Give Yourself Some Space

If you're getting ready to record your next album, you're probably thinking a lot about getting the best performances from your musicians, the mix, the cd packaging and how to pull off your Kickstarter campaign. But before you get started, give some thought to how you treat your chosen recording space. Here are three keys to getting it right:

#1 The recording space is another instrument

Your choice of repertoire, instrumentation and performers are reflections of your artistic vision, right? Well, so is choosing the space for recording. Like your instrument, acoustic environments have their own ambience, qualities, and reverberation times, as unique as fingerprints. Your space can elevate your recording or diminish its quality, much like an out of tune viola or a strident soprano.

Listen to this recording of The Robert Shaw Festival Chorus singing Rachmaninov Vespers (recorded by Telarc engineer Jack Renner) in the Church of St. Pierre, a 12th century cathedral in Gramat, France:

Moody Sergei Rachmaninov with his liturgical masterpiece, a nod to his many hours as a 19th century child sitting in the pews of the Russian Orthodox Church, would have been pleased. The ancient hall provides a seemingly endless decay, wrapping its ambience around the singers in a perfect dance: the music is timeless, eternal, ethereal.

Sometimes it’s about just getting out of the way and letting the magic happen: Rachmaninov wrote his Vespers in just two weeks;  the Chorus nailed their performance in five hours and Jack Renner managed to capture them with a  single pair of Danish made omni-directional microphones suspended in the center of the ancient circular space. 

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#2 Musically speaking, bigger isn’t always better

Although some halls and churches are exquisite live and reverberant spaces, they may be too live to record intimate chamber music like a string quartet or french art song. By the same token, some studios may be too small to record these specific genres without sounding too close, unnatural or “flat”.

Rachmaninov’s “All Night Vigil” is about a multitude of  flawlessly synchronized voices singing directly to God. Now imagine that crew stuffed into Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood, New Jersey studio projecting their instruments into that much smaller and drier space without the decay, the reverb, the spooky medieval romance of a cathedral in France.

Meh.

But listen to  A Love Supreme, Van Gelder’s iconic 1964 recording of the John Coltraine Quartet. Not one bit less spiritual: think of the droning mantra at 6:07 in “Acknowledgement”; you feel you are eavesdropping on four monks at prayer:

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Coltraine’s bop and later free form jazz developed from a long tradition of music created in tight spaces, for small communities, homes and watering holes and that’s how this record works too.

Warning: don’t read the next 78 words if you’re not a super nerd:

Rudy Van Gelder was famous for being extremely secretive about his recording techniques, although there are pictures which can explain the basic principles: great mics (which he often covered so they couldn’t be identified), little reverb, limited eq and a pure signal path. Check out the photo below of Herbie Nichols in Rudy Van Gelder’s living room: the mics on the piano are a Neumann U47 tube condenser microphone and an RCA 44 type ribbon microphone.

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#3 As Fleetwood Mac would say, "you can go your own way"

Jeff Buckley, the American singer songwriter, recorded only one album, Grace, before his tragic, early death by drowning at the age of 30. But we can at least be thankful that we have that recording.

Listen to track 8, the Corpus Christi Carol as sung and played by Jeff Buckley:

Although this a classical composition by British composer Benjamin Britten and originally intended for a traditional live sounding hall or church, Buckley went brilliantly rogue and chose an arrangement that utilized a rock recording studio. Although I’m sure considerable time and listening went into deciding how his guitar amp was miced and processed, the sound is pristine and ethereal. But what really stands out for me is the way his voice was recorded. It’s extremely close and clear but he uses his voice to create the color and timbre, as if the decaying stone walls of a cathedral in Quercy, France were coming up from inside his body. The mix has just the right amount of reverb and eq without “gilding the lily” -- truly sublime. I recommend stopping what you’re doing right now and listening to this entire album.

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Marlan Barry Records Tenor Nicholas Phan at a Multi-Million Studio and then with a Metric Halo ULN-8 and Macbook Pro

This article was originally posted in Metric Halo News February 20, 2013.

FEBRUARY 2013: Nicholas Phan is one of the most exciting new voices in classical music today, as evidenced by the tremendous praise heaped on him from just about every media outlet in the country. He frequently records with New York-based sound engineer Marlan Barry, and the two worked together on 2011's critically-acclaimed Winter Words.

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The New York Times flagged it as one of the best classical recordings of 2011. The duo joined forces to record 2012's Still Falls the Rain, which yet again made The Times' "best of" list. Of course, the talent and artistry of Phan and his fellow musicians, together with the sonic vision of Barry, deserve the credit for those critical acknowledgements, but it's interesting to note the distinction between the gear used to record those two albums. For Winter Words, Barry piloted the console at a multi-million dollar recording studio, whereas for Still Falls the Rain, he piloted a MacBook Pro interfaced with a single-rack-space Metric Halo ULN-8. Neither session was a compromise.

In celebration of the centennial of his birth, Still Falls The Rain is an album of songs and chamber pieces by composer Benjamin Britten. Philadelphia Orchestra principal horn player Jennifer Montone, pianist Myra Huang, and Harpist Sivan Magen joined the amazing young tenor, and the actor Alan Cumming complemented the music with a reading of Edith Sitwell's poetry. Avie Records released the recording, which took place within the exquisite and often-recorded acoustics of SUNY Purchase's Recital Hall C.

In contrast both to the earlier studio recording and to Barry's previous habit of lugging a studio's worth of equipment to location sessions, the engineer traveled light for the two-day engagement in Recital Hall C. A MacBook Pro coupled to a pair of Avastor external hard drive served as the recording medium, and Barry's Genelec monitors provided a familiar reference. Apart from a simple custom talkback system, the only other equipment consisted of microphones, stands, cables, and the Metric Halo ULN-8. "It was very minimal," laughed Barry. "I'm into minimal these days."

Four Sennheiser and Schoeps omni-directional microphones provided primary pickup of the musicians and their interaction with the acoustical environment. Depending on the composition and the instrumentation, Barry moved the microphones around to strike a perfect balance between direct pickup and imaging. A pair of Neumann mics covered the room's nine-foot concert grand Hamburg Steinway D piano. For one of the more essential components of the recording session, Barry also used two Gunter Wagner U-47 tube microphones to capture Phan's incomparable voice, as well as a stereo pair on the harpist.

"This was the first time I used Wagner's U-47 without an external preamp," Barry explained. "I went directly out of the power supply into the Metric Halo ULN-8. I wanted to capture the detailed sound of that mic and its unique tube saturation, without imposing any other circuitry's coloration on it. Nick's voice is so light and airy and beautiful – that mic and his voice form a magical combination. Sure, the ULN-8 has circuitry of its own, but I've found that unless I'm intentionally using Metric Halo's 'Character' algorithms, the ULN-8's signal path is refined, short, and transparent."

Barry cites the Metric Halo ULN-8's stable integration with his MacBook Pro via Metric Halo's MIO Console software as a critical component in fostering confidence in the stability of his sessions. Despite using the Metric Halo on a near daily-basis, he has never had so much as a tiny hiccup in its performance. "Conducting a recording session with the rock-solid ULN-8 not only gives me peace of mind, it affects the musicians as well," he said. "A reliable, high-quality recording setup inspires confidence. It is an amazing testament to Metric Halo that I have never had a single issue with my ULN-8 or its performance on my laptop or desktop."

When not in session, Barry uses a Metric Halo ULN-8 as the primary interface at his studio. While useful for voiceovers or overdubbing, it more commonly acts as the digital-to-analog converter that allows him to monitor his editing, mixing, and mastering work in Pyramix, Pro Tools, or Logic. "That's really the last check before a recording goes public," he said. "Truthfulness is paramount, and I've learned that I can trust what I'm hearing through the ULN-8."

A Hit Parade of Small Labels and Upstarts: The Best Classical Music Recordings of 2012

I recorded and produced Britten: Still Falls the Rain with Nicholas Phan in 2012 and Anthony Tommasini called it one of the best classical recordings of the year.

The article was originally published in the New York Times on December 20, 2012

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BRITTEN: VOCAL WORKS Nicholas Phan, tenor; Myra Huang, pianist; other artists (Avie AV2258; CD). The young tenor Nicholas Phan again proves himself an affecting interpreter of Britten’s music. His new recording, “Still Falls the Rain,” offers seldom-heard Britten works, including “The Heart of the Matter” (revised by Peter Pears), for tenor, horn, piano and narrator (the actor Alan Cumming). ANTHONY TOMMASINI

Marlan Barry Audio | 917.721.5613 | recordings@marlanbarryaudio