A Classical Journey with Metric Halo Print

Brian_PetersClassical music freelance recording engineer Brian Peters (center), shown with assistants Dan Czernecki and Jessica Parks, chose a combination of Metric Halo's digital audio interfaces to record a 42-piece orchestra during a three-day rain storm in New York City's Central Park.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: Antarctica was recreated in a Central Park ice rink in mid-October for a filmed conceptual art performance by artist Pierre Huyghe. Inspired by a month-long polar expedition in search of an elusive albino penguin, the performance featured an epic musical piece composed by Joshua Cody. Engineer Brian Peters, hired to record the 42-piece orchestra during rehearsals and the filmed performance using a Metric Halo multi-track setup, found himself also acting as a playback engineer when the days-long wet weather forced a last minute change of plans.

"We were originally scheduled to do the recording during rehearsals and also as they were performing live out under the tent on the ice rink," reports Peters, noting the complexity of the combination film shoot and orchestral recording session. The engineer used a total of five Metric Halo digital audio interfaces - three eight-channel Mobile I/O 2882 boxes plus a pair of ULN-2 two-channel interfaces, with an additional eight channels introduced via Lightpipe - to record 31 microphones plus timecode and also generate monitor feeds. But because of the rain, he says, "We recorded it in the locker room of the ice rink. There were no technical problems at all during this event except for the rain. Twelve inches in the three days in Central Park! I was concerned about the power situation with the orchestra stage actually being an island surrounded by five inches of water and 300 feet away, but as it turns out a good grip company made everything work well."

"Due to the rough weather, we ended up recording the audio inside the ice rink's locker room and then playing back the audio for the performance as it was still raining during the show. But that did not deter the crowd of 3,000 New Yorkers that showed up for the performances." The last minute changes forced Peters to move fast, and still be able to provide the high quality that the project demanded. Using the ULN-2s in standalone mode, he was able to have a high quality monitoring setup that didn't affect the stability of the recording devices. "I set up the ULN-2s for monitoring and foldback to the stage and producers' station as well as using their preamps for some of the mics. I then took them offline and recorded to the three 2882s," comments Peters. "One of the things I love most about Metric Halo products is how easily you can scale the hardware to the projects. Two to thirty two channels is easily done and rock solid with the Mobile I/O Record Panel." This hardware scaling and flexibility was the difference between a successful project and a rainout, he says.

"We did a two-channel mix of the project at night in Nuendo and played it for the director, Pierre Huyghe, the next day. After listening to the mix he suggested two minor changes to the theremin and electric guitar tracks. This was easily done and mastered again in time for the performance. We actually played the mixed down version to the audience as the film was being shot with the orchestra syncing to the playback."

Working as a freelance remote recording engineer for classical music, Peters says, "I want something that is portable, scaleable and sounds good. With Metric Halo, you can just hang boxes together and make your channel count go up to the limits of the operating system." Furthermore, he adds, "The recording engine software is extremely simple and solid when you're in data capture mode. I've been using it for two years now."

The "modified symphony orchestra," as Peters refers to it, primarily comprised low reed instruments and a few brass and percussion, but also incorporated unusual instruments such as theremin, heckelphone, serpent and didgeridoo, and additionally featured composer and electric guitarist Elliot Sharp. "I close-miked all the instruments and we ran 32 channels at 48kHz," he shares.Peters explains more about his two ULN-2s. "They're great for folding back audio to a speaker array. You can control the output volume with a knob. You can take them offline and they'll continue to work. Their preamps are great on low output mics. Their design allows them to be split between input and monitoring control. So one can be set up for a two-mix for the director and another for a different two-mix from another source. They also saved the day when the technical director said he was finished with the audio and changed his mind. With most of the audio system dismantled already, they wanted playback in three minutes. Not a problem, quick setup and recall is their forte. I was ready in less than that."

As Peters observes, he and his two-man crew were not about to risk getting tens of thousands of dollars worth of B+K, Neumann and Schoeps microphones wet. But erecting a tent over the rink posed a problem, too. "The rain continued and I said, if I set the mics out you'll get the sound of a tent being rained on. So we went inside." The rubber flooring and asymmetrical layout of the locker room offered a workable recording environment. "We got a very decent sound," he says."

"Using Nuendo," he continues, "we did a quick two-channel mix of the tracks so the director and the orchestra could hear something to attempt to synchronize with during the performance. They did a pretty good job, but absolute synchronization was not the requirement."

Handing off the recorded tracks for post-production at France's IRCAM facility was a simple matter, says Peters. "You have the ability to name all the channels using the Metric Halo record engine and that name is recorded into the sound file, so you don't even need a take sheet, because each take is date stamped and the tracks are all named. You can dump them into any workstation as SDII or WAV files. In this case, they wanted AIFF files. A simple disc transfer and the IRCAM engineer was on his way."

"A Journey That Wasn't," a combined performance and film shoot designed to feature audience members both as viewers and as film extras, was filmed at the Wollman Rink in Central Park. The presentation will be included in a new film by Huyghe that is set to premiere at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York next year.