The Hot Club Of Cape Town – A Knowledgeable Bunch Of Artists

After much communication, THCCT was finally able to spare some time from their condensed performing schedule, and offered 5 hours of their time on the night of the 23rd of May to record several performances that would eventually be prepared for a small release.

The group is certainly experienced in the art of recording and conducting oneself in the studio environment – as they were more than familiar with the various procedures that need to be performed before the record button can be engaged. They utilized the time whilst I was preparing the live room and the signal chain to warm-up and rehearse their songs, all the while satisfying their curiosity with a brief question here and there about what microphones, techniques, and setups I was using to capture their performance. They are certainly a very knowledgeable bunch, and I particularly enjoyed their bantering on music history and tastes whilst they were rehearsing.

From the start, the group was set on recording live takes of their music, in order to capture the interplay between each of them and to ensure that the energy of each performance evolves and fluctuates – apparently essential with this sort if music. I was on board with this approach immediately, since it would spare the necessity of scheduling additional studio time for more recording, however, this forced me to make careful decisions in my approach to microphone choice, techniques, and placement. As a result of capturing live takes, the band was extremely well-prepared and needed only a little bit of rehearsal to ensure that what we recorded to disk was more than adequate.

I arrived at the studio an hour early to eliminate several preparatory tasks that would otherwise have wasted time, such as retrieving all of the appropriate equipment from the equipment closet, running cables, switching on equipment, preparing Protools recording sessions. I’ve had more than enough encounters with studio sessions where things didn’t go exactly as planned, and as a result lost valuable minutes. I saw this extra hour to prepare as an attempt to iron out and troubleshoot any potential issues that may/may not present themselves – if I’ve learned anything about hosting a recording session it’s, if anything can go wrong – it will. Luckily and for the most part, this was not the case with this session!

The Setup

IMG_2701

The THCCT Live Room Setup

I had the band all seated comfortably in a triangular arrangement – with the Dan situated at the top point, while Mike and Elton were seated at the left and right points of the base respectively. I spread them part at least 3 arm-lengths apart as to not make the final recordings too claustrophobic and encumbered with cross-bleed. The triangular fashion was essential as it was directly linked to the room microphone technique I would be using for this session. I constantly had the stereo image of the final recording in mind, and as an addition to all of the close-mics I decided to use a Blumlein stereo technique to fill up the sides of the mix, and ultimately add a natural spread to the mix. Keeping the triangular arrangement in mind, I placed the Blumlein rig at the center of the triangle, with the nodes of the Blumlein pattern pointed at the sound sources – as a result the setup would capture a good mix of room reflections with majority of Mike’s guitar on the left, Elton’s resonator on the right, and more or less equal amounts of the violin on both the left and right sides. I panned each microphone signal hard left and right for the full effect. I incorporated close-mics on each instrument as well to provide me with more control of the center image of the mix – I knew that I would have to be able to bring each instrument forward in the mix at specific parts.

Microphone Techniques

Violin

An overhead large-diaphragm condenser in cardioid, the Miktek C1 in this case, pointed at the resonant chamber of the violin, and approximately an arm’s length above the instrument.

A DPA 4099 condenser microphone that was clipped onto the body of the violin, and pointed at the strings approximately 3-inches away. I was aware that the violin would alternate between bowed and plucked parts – and I opted for a close-mic to be able to capture the softer plucked parts – eliminating the possibility of being masked by the other instruments.

Resonator

I utilized a dual close-mic setup for the resonator, an AKG C451 at the neck of the resonator to capture the attack and natural sound of the strings, and a Rode NTG1A situated at the bottom of the instrument, pointed directly at the resonant chamber of the resonator. This setup allowed me to formulate a mix between the resonance and attack of the entire instrument.

Guitar

A single Tull F47 placed at the neck/body joint, angled towards the sound-hole – effectively mixing between the attack and resonance of the guitar. I also made use of a DI to capture the direct out of the guitar – in the event that I needed more isolation of the guitar.

Room

2x AKG C414s in a Blumlein arrangement and a figure-8 pattern.

Conclusion

Once I had completed a line check of the entire signal chain, it was simply a matter of having the band perform a song to finalize the sound check, and prepare their cue mixes. By 18:30 all preparations were complete and we had until 22:00 to record. In those three and a half hours, we managed to record 8 songs, with at least 2-4 takes each. The beauty of recording a band of this caliber, is that in many occasions you’re just hitting the record button, rather than guiding them through every part that needs to be played. In this situation, I was more concerned with the delivery of each take and saw it as an opportunity to provide critical assessments of their performances to ensure we had a variety of takes that differ in their delivery – which would later be compared for selection for the final release.

The night felt like it had passed within moments, and seemingly without much challenge, however, in retrospect and with all things considered – we managed to complete a lot. The band took a listen to each of the songs we had recorded before the end of the session, and were thoroughly impressed with the results of the setup – I even demonstrated how the Blumlein arrangement added to the overall mix, and it left them in a state of curious awe. It was certainly a pleasure to have THCCT in the studio for a few hours and to record their amazing talent and skills. And I’m certainly looking forward to our future endeavours.

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