Getting Your Musical Vision Across: Playing and Recording by Victoria Voronyansky

The following post is by Victoria Voronyansky.

With greater familiarity of the physical properties of sound and the technology of microphones comes a reasonable question of how to put all of this information to practical use in a recording situation.

The first point that needs to be addressed is frequency versus volume.  Since the scope of frequency response in a microphone goes beyond the actual needs of a violist, while volume response is significantly below the typical level used by violists, one has need of a solution for keeping a wide dynamic range while not sacrificing the genuine qualities of sound: this solution is to move the microphone a significant distance from the source of sound (viola).  Furthermore, it helps to use less pressure and more bow speed in getting the string to vibrate to its maximum ability during instances when high volume is desired.  What this accomplishes is an illusion of greater volume through increased scope and resonance of the overtone series above each fundamental note.

The next point is how low is too low, when it comes to dynamics. When the microphone is set close to the player (1 to 5 feet), one can use a palette of colors typically unavailable when playing in a hall for 1000 people.  Occasionally so-called “air” in the sound becomes a commodity rather than a defect when one aims to play with a whispering, soft sound.  Sound that is very focused and direct often becomes one-dimensional when recorded, and loses roundness or a sense of space. Sound in soft dynamics does not always require a solid core.  The string needs the space to resonate and vibrate in softer passages, and a more relaxed, even breathier approach to sound production can bring unexpected and wonderful results.

Vibrato is another “Achilles heel” when it comes to recording. Often, vibrato – without the player even realizing it – is too narrow or tight. When this happens, it does not come through as a tone enhancing tool, but rather makes the sound simply flat and dull.  Vibrato needs to be on a slightly wider side for recording, and frequent enough to be warm and noticeable – but not so frequent as to sound frantic.  The tip of the vibrating finger needs to be loose in order for the string to have the maximum chance to vibrate on its own.  If a vibrating finger presses down on the string too much, it cuts the string’s natural flexibility and vibrations and the vibrato’s effect is thus minimized, since the string does not respond favorably to force.

In conclusion, recording is a highly personal journey.  The information listed above can aid in resolving many practical matters in a recording process, but as with all theoretical knowledge and self-criticism, it is important to never lose sight of what you set out to do from the start of any recording process.  Ultimately the goal should be to share your musicianship with the audience, and in the process grow and learn a little bit more about yourself.

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