Recording Session: Cello

DSCN2210Today I had the pleasure of recording cellist BJ Griffin for my upcoming project, Moments with Him. We connected via a Craigslist ad I posted looking for a cellist for just this purpose.

Long time readers may remember that at one point I thought I was done with My Jesus I Love Thee (see the saga here), but upon recent listening decided I just wasn’t happy with the results. The piano sample was just too bright for my taste, and the cello sample, even though programmed by a great string player, just didn’t have the sort of expression I was looking for. The fault was in the samples, not the player, though. Finally, the whole thing was just too slow, and the piece clocked in at over 5 minutes long – a little bit too long for the material.

I rerecorded the piano at my Steinway recording session. Then I looked for solutions for several months, exploring a variety of MIDI options before I came full circle and decided I just needed a live musician. I posted the aforementioned ad in Craigslist and within two days received a call from BJ. I checked out his website and he has an impressive variety of skills on the cello, including playing all types of classical music, singing R&B, and even playing the cello while singing! I knew that together we could get what I’m looking for.

The next question was where to record. I’m none too happy with my room at home for recording strings. My first attempt produced mixed results. The playing was good, but the ambiance was a little boxy for my taste. It’s possible that microphone choice and technique could result in an improved recording, but my house is none too clean right now, either, what with school wrapping up for the year.

I got it in my head that I wanted to use a church sanctuary, similar to when I recorded the Steinway, but maybe with less noise in the background. I scouted around town, intending to set up listening appointments to find the right one, but all the churches I could think of were located right on major roadways, with one wall of the sanctuary within yards of the street. Then my bride reminded me that the church that hosts our homeschool coop just built a brand new sanctuary. While the church itself is on a major highway, the new sanctuary is built behind the main building and away from the road. I visited one day over lunch and, sure enough, just right for my purposes. Thank you, Southside Baptist Church, for your hospitality. I will be back for future recordings until I get my home studio up to snuff.

DSCN2209We met this afternoon for the recording. I set BJ up in the center of the stage and he began warming up.

My most recent gear purchase was an Avantone CK-1 small diaphragm condenser microphone. Small diaphragm condensers, or SDCs, are typically thought of as appropriate for percussion, guitars or other transient rich instruments, but I had a feeling that it would be just the ticket on this cello. It’s a case of not really knowing what is supposed to be, and ending up with a really good recording anyway. BJ said that through his headphones his instrument sounded really good.

Above the CK-1 is my trusty Apex 215 set up with the sensitive sides of the mic pointed left and right. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time (God bless you if that’s you) you will recognize this is as a mid-side recording set-up.

Unfortunately, I had to jerry-rig the monitoring situation. If I had had more time, I would have copied the track that the cello was playing along with to the recorder so we could both monitor everything all the time. However, I only got the Zoom R-16 from it’s owner Sunday morning. Then I spent all Sunday afternoon and evening out of the house at various activities.

It also would have helped if I had remembered the 1/4″ to 1/8″ in adapter for my second set of headphones. In the end BJ put my earbuds in to hear the track on my iPod, and then put one of my headphones on to hear himself. I gave him my headphones after I set the microphones. I guess it worked – I just couldn’t hear the track as we were recording.

Well, five full takes and a bunch of partials later and we had enough material to work with. Thanks again, BJ, and you got me thinking about live performance of the music. I think some of the other pieces might be adapted for piano/synth and cello. Let’s keep in touch and maybe put something together this Fall?

One last, quick note: If you got here from my Facebook link, please leave your comments here on the blog. Many people get here from other sources (including Google searches and links I post on various forums) and the comments are half the fun! Thanks.

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