thoughts on music, design and literature

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Issues In Recording Orchestral Strings

One of the decisions that I've been struggling with in the past week is what size string section to use at Abbey Road. My two main options are:

A) 16 1st violins, 14 2nd violins, 12 violas, 10 cellos, 8 basses
B) 14 1st violins, 12 2nd violins, 10 violas, 8 cellos, 6 basses

The only difference between the two is that the A size has an extra 2 players per section, or in other words, is 60 players instead of 50.

The tradeoff is that you get a larger, fuller sound when you add those extra 10 players--however, you also lose a little bit of definition and nimbleness. The larger string section definitely will sound fuller, and lends itself well to bombastic held out chords (Lord Of The Rings was recorded with that lineup)--however, when you get into faster, intricate passages, of which there are a few in my album, you lose a bit of the clarity of the attacks.

There's a secondary consideration; Abbey Road is a rectangularly shaped studio, and when you have a 60 piece string orchestra, it becomes too wide to fit in a portrait-style configuration, and you have to reorient 90 degrees and lay out your orchestra landscape-style. When that happens, because the back wall is a lot closer, you lose a little bit of fullness to the sound. (When you situate an orchestra portrait-style, you have a lot of empty, reverberant space behind you that allows the sound to fill out before coming back at the microphones.)

So, 60 strings would give me thicker string sound, less articulation, less fullness from the natural acoustics of Abbey Road.

And 50 strings would give me slightly less thick string sound, more articulation, and more fullness from the natural acoustics.

Dilemmas, dilemmas.

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