From Mozart to Marsalis –
From Baroque to Bebop –
Mini-Music 2006





Mini-Music  Q & A

Recorded Music: 
A Bridge of Sound  Between Musicians and Their Audience
Prof. Martha de Francisco

A note to the audience

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear students of Mini Music,

Thank you for your participation in my talk and in particular for the many questions you handed in. There were many interesting questions on your cards that remained unanswered after the talk. I have selected a few here and I will give you my answers below.

For me it was a wonderful experience to talk to you. I hope you enjoyed Mini Music!

Martha de Francisco

1- Would you explain the editing process? When editing + mixing do you cut and paste? Eg. cut out a phase that doesn’t sound so great and replace it with one done at another time that sounds better? Is this done a lot?

Editing constitutes an important part of the postproduction activities of music recording. Editing may involve as little as trimming the beginning and ending of an otherwise unmodified run-through of a musical work. It may also involve a varying amount of exchange from one recorded segment to the next. In a typical studio recording of classical music, it is usual to record one or more run-throughs of the music, as well as shorter “takes” in which certain passages of the work are being played again. With the help of increasingly sophisticated editing technology we are able to replace segments of the music from different takes to form a continuously flowing unity. Live recordings are often edited between different performances, sometimes between performance with an audience and the rehearsal without anybody present.

The best results are achieved when the continuity of the music can be maintained. The great majority of classical music recordings are edited. Music editing is an art. If done properly, editing can enhance a performance and make the recording arrive at a higher level of technical and musical perfection. If done poorly, the recording may sound boring and uninteresting. This may reflect badly on the performers!

2- When you edit, can you take out the breathing sounds of vocalists or woodwind players (i.e. flute)?

We can, but we should not! Some noise is an integral part of the music and taking it away may make the music sound unnatural, artificial. On one occasion I edited an aria for two singers, removing on their specific wish the breathing before every new phrase. The results were terrible! We opted for bringing back some of the breathing and the music sounded naturally again. But yes, generally we try to remove the most disturbing unrelated noises that may happen during a performance. Since recordings give the opportunity to listen to the music repeatedly, we try to avoid the flow of the music being interrupted and disturbed by the same big noise every time you listen to that passage!

3 - How hard is to record music when the audience is present: They make noises like coughing, paper unwrapping. Can you edit them?

We have access to very advanced editing technology that allows almost magic ways of electronically removing audience noises, for instance coughs. If we have a choice of a second performance or rehearsal of the same music that was recorded in the same hall, we may want to edit the corresponding segments of music together, avoiding the noise. Of course if a noise is very loud or if it takes a long time before it is over, then there is not much one can do. I remember an instance of a live recording where a cellular phone set on standby caused electrical interference on the microphone signals. Long stretches of two songs were entirely ruined! That is why, like on airplanes, cell phones need to be turned off where recordings are being done.

Recordings with an audience are sometimes patched with retakes done without an audience. The empty hall usually sounds more reverberant than the full hall. Besides, listeners cause the sound to be reflected differently in the hall. In most occasions live recordings sound duller than recordings without an audience. There is the need to fine-tune the sound to make it regain its character. Multitrack recording and mixing are useful tools for that purpose: In the mix, the amount of ambient sound can be adjusted accordingly, sound differences can be compensated and necessary edits made inaudible. I can affirm that we have incredible tools -and the know-how to go with them- that allow us to make wonderfully spontaneous, yet somehow controlled and noise-free live-recordings.

4 - How do you recommend we set up the sound system in an ordinary living room?

Ideally the two loudspeakers and the listener should be configured as the points of an equilateral triangle. This gives the optimum listening pleasure since in music recording a lot happens “between the speakers”. We operate with virtual sound sources that come from both speakers. Loudspeakers should be allowed enough space around them, avoiding in particular the high frequencies to be absorbed by curtains or pieces of furniture right around them. Most people do not have much choice in the place where they can place their loudspeakers in their living rooms. But I would recommend you to listen critically to various options and choose what sounds best, not just what looks best or what is the most practical solution. 

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