Recording Bluegrass Part 1 – Field Recording

This semester I’ll be doing a project on recording techniques. I’ll be recording three Bluegrass songs in three different ways and compare how the environment and recording technique affects the results.

This post is about the first recording: Field Recording. The song is I’ll Fly Away, a hymn written in 1929.
Alongside with the recording project Im also making a video documentary about the project and the process which you’ll find below.

On Tuesday afternoon Sep 23rd we met up in a part of Stockholm called Gamla Stan (Old Town). Like the name suggests it’s an old part of Stockholm with lots of alleys and cobblestone.
We set up camp in a small little square under a huge Chestnut tree. The tree was amazing for creating a cozy vibe but not so amazing for the lighting, that I soon will tell you about.

I decided to use a miking technique called MS (MidSide) which you can read more thoroughly about in this article. A short description is that you use two microphones, one that takes up the audio from the front (cardioid) and one that takes up the sound in the shape of the number 8. You set them up with the cardioid angled towards the middle and the 8 above the cardioid angled to pick up the sides.
MS1

Instead of using a computer and a sequencer program (such as Logic or ProTools) I used the Roland R-44. Its a 4 channel recording device that gives you Wave files which you then can edit in a sequencer program. Since I also had two cameramen, Ben Cotton and Hannah Nyström, filming the recording for the documentary I recorded in 24bit 48000Hz. It was a lot easier to just bring the R-44 instead of having to bring a sound card and a computer since we didn’t have electricity on the location. The R-44 can run on AA batteries and can also give phantom power to the condenser mics, I used two mice of the same kind, the AKG 414.
ROLANDR-44AKG414

 

During soundcheck we recorded shorter parts of the song to listen to the blend of the instrument and moved around until we found a natural mix. Since I was singing lead I was in the middle, the problem was that I also played the mandolin chops which are very loud so I ended up having to angel the mandolin away from the mic and lean in towards the mic when I was singing. The acoustic guitar was the bassiest of the instruments so Joppe was standing next to me in the middle. That left the banjo and the violin on the sides.

Before we started the recording I did an on-camera interview with all the musos separately. I asked them what the challenges were and how they’ve prepared for the recording. They all pointed out the cold weather as the biggest challenge. It was only 7 degrees Celcius outside and that affects the string instruments and the fingers a lot.

We wern’t expecting an audience since we weren’t standing anywhere close to a lot of people but with the sound bouncing off the walls people found us anyway. We informed them that this was a recording and apologized for the fact that we’d only be playing the one song, but many of them stayed.

The arrangement:
Improvisation with banjo and violin
Verse 1, only banjo and violin
Verse 2, mandolin and guitar comes in
Solo banjo
Solo violin
Verse 3, scaled back
Double chorus, full band
Ending, rit with just vocals

Swedish:

English subtitles: