Meeting Topic: Glenn Gould's Approach To An Old Problem: Music, Acoustics and The Microphone
Moderator Name: Rob DiVito
Speaker Name: Paul Theberge — Professor at Carleton University; Lorne Tulk -- Audio Engineer
Other business or activities at the meeting:
Rob DiVito greeted everyone. He began with an invitation for new members for the executive committee. He thanked one of the sponsors - HHB - for their support donating the playback monitors for this evening's meeting.
He announced plans for future meetings including the Neil Muncy tribute scheduled for December.
He discussed the planned the day long event in collaboration with Indie Week, a 'Mixdown' event to be held at Recording Revolution.
Meeting Location: Ryerson University - RCC 361 Rogers Communications Building - 80 Gould St. Toronto ON
Rob introduced Paul Theberge. Rob provided a brief history of how this present meeting finally came about. It also arrives at an opportune moment as Paul's work with Gould's recording of the Scriabin 5th Sonata - a two-disc wet entitled Glenn Gould: The Acoustic Orchestrations - was recently released early October!
Rob gave the audience a brief synopsis of what to expect and then filled them in on Dr. Theberge's background and credentials: Paul is a Professor at Carleton University, in Ottawa. He is cross appointed to the Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture (where he was formerly Canada Research Chair and Director) and to the School for Studies in Art and Culture (Music). He led a career as a composer and occasional sound recordist on music and sound projects designed for live performance, radio and film before taking up graduate work in media studies.
He is the author of the award-winning book "Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music / Consuming Technology", and has published widely on issues concerning media, technology and music.
Rob noted that Lorne Tulk will join the presentation after the break and would offer his background at that time.
Paul thanked everyone and in particular Vice Chairman Frank Lockwood for his help in coordinating the particulars for this meeting.
Speaking informally from prepared notes and with the accompaniment of slides to illustrate most points, Paul started with a general background discussion regarding his thoughts about recording music in different acoustic spaces and its evolution over the last century.
He sees this as a backdrop to his recent project with Sony, since Gould's approach to recording was more different than any other artist Paul has encountered.
He began by stating that the 19th century concert hall set the acoustic model for how Classical music was received at that time. He frequently referenced Emily Thompson's book "Soundcscapes Of Modernity" which is a historical account of early scientific approaches to acoustics in the early 20th century.
Pop music is more variable as to the types of venues it's performed in, in that Classical was bound to the concert hall.
Early sound acoustic recording could hardly achieve realism. So acoustics weren't much of an issue. The microphone changed all that. It was capable of actually capturing the space music was recorded in. Two camps of engineers formed: one that preferred a more present, intimate sound similar to radio; and one that preferred the more reverberant sound of the concert hall.
There followed the problem of playback acoustics. "Would the acoustics of the captured sound recording conflict with the acoustics of the space in which it was being played back?" Paul found it interesting that it would be posed as a problem at that time; that the relationship of the instrument and the space it's played is posed as a problem, and that the ratio of sound to its reverb is a problem to the engineer.
Referencing Emily Thompson again, he notes that, during the 1920's and '30's, acoustic spaces ie: halls, are changing to mirror more the expectations of the intimate sound heard over the radio, embracing shorter reverb times.
So while engineers were pondering their original question, acoustic spaces themselves were changing, redesigning what is the norm/ideal in sound.
By the '50's Paul relates an article by Bruce Sweiden that notes that many studios were embracing this 'radio sound'; that modern music would work with shorter reverb times.
Using an image from Emily Thompson's book, Paul noted the introduction of artificial reverberation began as early as the late '20's. The image was a diagram from NBC studios showing someone speaking into a microphone, with the sound being channelled through a sound tunnel and the output being combined with the original.
Paul next discussed Capitol studios and their underground reverb chambers. He noted how the use of reverb becomes 'selective', in that different sounds are given their own individual reverb spaces. He played an extract of a Sinatra recording to illustrate the different reverb spaces between his voice and the orchestra's. Sinatra is close miked. The accompaniment is drenched in reverb space.
"The chambers become as important as the recording studio" since many studios began hiring Capitol just to put the sound of their chambers on their recordings.
He discussed different techniques of creating reverberation including plate reverb. The original chambers were expensive to build and maintain hence the impetus to create simpler and cost effective solutions. Many studios soon had multiple artificial spaces which of course continued electronically with digital reverbs. The idea of a multiplicity of spaces emerges in pop music.
Paul noted again the difference between Classical and Pop music: Classical had its "inhabited" space while Pop was less rigidly defined. With increasing use of multiple echo effects "it becomes less about an acoustic than a special effect".
He played a demo of a Roland Space echo, noting it wasn't an attempt to create an acoustic space as much as an artificial space. The effect becomes a sound in itself since it no longer refers to any architectural spaces.
Dr. Theberge next discussed the inevitable resistance and reaction, noting how someone like Paul Horn recorded in unique spaces like Taj Mahal, The Pyramids and the Grand Canyon. His important point about this is that the space influenced the improvisations/music that resulted. "He has to work with the space".
He discussed the Cowboy Junkies' coming to a similar conclusion with Trinity Sessions. They were influenced by R&B recordings of the '50's and the "wholeness and cohesiveness" that seemed to be lacking in modern recordings. One Soundfield mic was used with the band arranged around it. He played back a short example. Discussing the album's tempo and mood and how the church's space contributed to the final result: "they had to respond to the space".
An audience member asked what was different about their instruments that would preclude them from playing quickly than previous performances in the history of the church.
Not having discussed this with the group, Paul guessed they probably felt that with 5 to 6 electrified instruments going on at the same time things were getting out of control, referencing Trinity's fairly long reverb time. Given their pop esthetic and the dry sounds from studios, they were looking for something different. He felt that they "might have bit off more than they could chew; they found it more overwhelming than they expected". The fact that the 25th anniversary recording of the event was done differently may lend support to this view.
Rob DiVito noted the acoustic space dictated the composition.
Dr. Theberge followed this comment by stating that Gould didn't like live performance, since he had to constantly adjust his interpretations for the space. He had to play slower in concert halls than in his apartment for example.
He discussed convolution reverb playing back a video demonstration of some of the Altiverb algorithms.
He noted the claim of "You're actually being put in this space....there is a reality claim being made" as far as marketing hype goes for convolution reverbs that is out of keeping with the way most people use artificial reverb, that we are being brought back to a real world as opposed to a virtual one. Dr. Theberge doesn't quite buy into this.
With all this kind of manipulation "the idea of reverb is still problematic in a certain sense...what is the relationship between sounds and microphones and spaces; and how and why do we manipulate them; and what kind of claims do we make about that whole process?"
In this context, this is why he finds Glenn Gould interesting.
He discussed Gould's multi-miking approach to certain recordings where he placed different ranks of mics at different positions to his piano: some very close to the strings, some 6 feet away, others further back, and finally a pair actually facing the back wall picking up just the reflections. What was unique was that Gould wanted a dynamic, film-like technique to his approach as opposed to a static one: moving from one mic perspective to another as the music would dictate, in Gould's view.
Gould made the space part of his interpretive process.
Gould once said "The act of recording is something quite special and particular, and it's in no sense a reproduction of any other act". Glenn Gould felt recording had to be unique unto itself. He used sound and space in an integrated fashion.
Dr. Theberge played back part of the film The "Alchemist" where Gould discusses his recording philosophy and his multi miking technique. Gould's reason for recording is to make it in a completely new and previously unheard of way.
Paul mentions Gould's cinematic metaphors in his later discussion of recordings as opposed to medical metaphors ie: using the mic as an x-ray of the music. Microphones are now "sound cameras". Paul felt it was more closer to the use of light in cinema and felt that was more appropriate to what Gould was doing.
Then Dr. Theberge played the passage of Gould actually directing the mixing of a Scriabin prelude. Paul points out again how Gould was using the space to handle his interpretations.
Another audience member asked how this multi-mic approach is different than using the piano pedals? Paul stated it was different in the sonic character of the result. But he noted that in the Sibelius recordings he felt that he did indeed sometime use the furthest rank of mics as a pedal. However what goes on in the Scriabin is in no way comparable with the pedal at all.
Paul went on to discuss the preparation for the Scriabin 5th project. His work consisted in editing the original 8-tracks because no work had ever been done, other than a 'flat' posthumous release. The recorded tracks of the furthest rank of mics needed restoration since they had picked up the sound of passing trucks for example.
Paul displayed a quote from an interview with a Rolling Stone author Jonathan Cott where Gould discussed his test mix of the opening of Scriabin's 5th Sonata.
Beyond the opening passage Glenn never discussed any other mix ideas for this recording. This is where Paul's work started. All that had previously been done was a posthumous release of the recording utilizing only the tracks with Gould's standard mic perspectives.
When he discussed his work with the original producer, Andrew Kazdin, he found out that this was the only work where Mr. Kazdin had to decide what takes to use for the final edit, as opposed to being told by Gould. He also found out that it was only those two tracks extracted from the multitrack that were edited and not the entire mic perspectives. With no sessions notes available, Paul had to decide which takes to use for which passages considering all four mic perspectives.
Finally, Paul had to work out a mix "choreography" - to use Gould's terminology - to "orchestrate" the various passages of the sonata.
Paul discussed his editorial approach occasionally when playing back a portion of his mix. (Here he played a video simultaneously showing the fader moves and the corresponding music score). Re-addressing the question regarding using the room mics vs. the pedal he said you don't get quite that sound quality using the pedal in comparison to a distant mic - and Gould was still using the pedal in any case. Each theme of the Sonata had its own characteristic mic positions/movements. Key relationships may also have been enhanced by the different mic perspectives.
From the audience, some one mentioned it "sounds better if you don't watch the faders!"
Paul fulfilled Gould's ambitions of releasing a "home editing kit" because the CD release also includes a CD-ROM of the .wav files of the edited multitrack tapes so listeners can create their own interpretive orchestrations.
He was asked how long this project took to complete? He replied it took months mainly because he was teaching, though the actual number of hours was "not much". He discussed his analysis and research. He noted there were 54-55 edits. This was interesting because Andrew Kazdin used about as many, though there were some differences.
Paul discussed Gould actually overdubbing a complex passage for clarity. This was notable because the overdubbed parts don't appear in all the mic perspectives, which dictated some of the editing, and made it mandatory to include certain mic perspectives in order to adhere to the Scriabin's score.
An audience member asked Paul to comment on the idea why Gould didn't take this approach to the extreme by overdubbing individual parts and manipulating the individual parts. Paul stated something to that effect happens in his mix in that he used multiple mic perspectives where thematic materials become layered. He also stated he used EQ as well as fader positions in the mix. However, he had no idea if Gould ever intended completely overdubbing all parts in a work.
Another member observed that Gould's resources in his day were limited by what we have nowadays.
Paul noted he couldn't see how many of the edits that were needed could be done in the analog domain due to the delays inherent in the placement of the microphones. It made more sense digitally. Gould was much more careful, when making the Sibelius recordings, about where to stop for editing considerations. Paul made this remark after having seen Gould's editing notes for the Sibelius project.
Paul was asked if digital delays could have been used to line up the Scriabin tracks. He said it would have been possible (he had spoken to an engineer about this who said that's what would have been done), but ultimately felt it was appropriate to leave them the way they were making his work less cumbersome, and making his edits more 'analog'.
Another question asked was about Paul's thought processes on panning convention and whether he knew the distances of the various mic ranks and applied a formula for their delays.
Paul stated whatever notes were taken for the session seem to have been lost. When observing the delays from the various ranks in Pro Tools, this is where Paul discovered that the mics were moved during different takes. He panned the distant mics 100% hard left and hard right. However the image shifted (widened) with the varying ranks. So the panning was narrower the closer the mics were. Paul discusses his arguments with the mastering engineer who felt the panning should have been 100% all the way with all the ranks. Paul attempted one mix this way, but got his way in the end when this 'experiment' didn't work!
He was asked whether there was some compensating for phase differences between the different ranks of mics. Paul said the phase issues became more apparent when attempting to line up the different tracks referring back to dealing with the delays. He added it was more of a time issue with different ranks playing simultaneously. There was a 'raggedness' in the attacks when certain combinations of ranks were brought up past certain levels, which Paul chose to just 'live with'.
A final question before the break asked whether he would want to redo this project (with another pianist performing) in more controlled circumstances to which Paul replied he would like to.
After the break Rob DiVito introduced Lorne Tulk and read the following bio:
"Lorne Tulk is an audio technician who began working at a very young age in his father's recording studio. Since then he has been involved with entertainment for five decades, working in theatre, film, and television, but mostly in radio-broadcasting. Thirty-eight of those years were spent at the technical department of CBC radio in Toronto. His career has taken him from cheap rooming houses, to encounters with royalty, from the hallowed halls of academia to the highly charged world of news and current affairs and into the world of drama, from the excitement of sports, to the depths of the ocean (he once had an assignment on a British nuclear submarine). He has worked with some of the most outstanding people of this (and the last) century, brushing shoulders with composers, poets, scientists and politicians.
A large percentage of his time was spent mixing documentaries for The CBC's radio program, "Ideas". It was here that he re-established his relationship with Glenn Gould. They had actually met in 1950. Tulk collaborated on many of Glenn's radio documentaries, films and participated in most of Glenn's international recordings, for the 'Masterworks' division of Columbia Record's (now Sony). They developed a very strong and deep personal relationship as well, which lasted until the pianist's death in 1982."
It should be noted that Glenn Gould's piano tuner, Mr. Verne Edquist, was also in the audience and made significant observations during the discussions.
Referring the Alchemist film, Paul asked Lorne about the discrepancy of the mic placement during the recording segment and his earlier interview with Bruno Monsiageon. Lorne said simply the Glenn had never seen the final setup to be used in the film (which was done following the interview) and that indeed the closest mic pair was about 8-9 feet from the piano. The mics were closely spaced at 90 degrees.
The next question concerned the use of an additional centre mic alongside the stereo pair as Gould's standard pick up and the intention behind that and whether it was for a more uniform sound. Lorne replied they were going after a spatial sound and trying to capture a tighter sound, the full sound of the hall, and variations in between.
Asked about the actual mics used in the Alchemist recording segment, Lorne answered they were U87's. The back pair were figure 8 or omni to avoid bounce back from the walls. The only one of the three multi mic projects Gould did that Lorne worked on was the Scriabin preludes in the film.
Paul briefly discussed the mastering of the recent CD release noting that some EQ-ing was used on the Scriabin 5th which was recorded at 30th Street Studios, in order to match sound of the recordings made at Eaton Auditorium (now the Carlu Theatre). Lorne said the studio had an acoustically controlled sound whereas the Auditorium was more like a church.
Paul asked Lorne if Glenn ever discussed with him the origin of the idea of the use of multiple mics and the use of space in recording. Lorne believed the idea came to Glenn solely based on the particular piece. He added it was known Scriabin implied a spatial dimension in his compositions and that it was only Glenn (not Lorne himself) that understood that space.
Paul discussed the coda of the Latecomers, the second of Gould's contrapuntal documentaries. Paul wondered if Gould was preoccupied with space in his thinking at that time. Lorne said he really didn't know.
The next topic concerned Gould's ideas of "the participant listener" and "home editing kits", referring to Gould's article "The Prospects Of Recording" published in High Fidelity magazine. Paul wondered if Gould kept thinking along those all through his career. Lorne stated that Gould always did so as long as he'd known him, and, for example, that a listener being able to shape the sound of a recording with a tone control to his own liking was a great thing! The idea of 'kits' was an expansion of that idea. Paul was curious about peoples' reaction to that idea as it seems 'outrageous' for its time. Lorne said he was rarely aware of how the audience received Glenn's ideas.
Paul observed that not many years later, that very idea was taking shape within the Rap and Hip Hop community with sampling and using turntable playback in un-heard of ways ie: "scratching". Lorne responded Gould thought it would be wonderful that listeners could do their own mix, as the recent Gould release allows. Paul added listeners can have multitrack recording 'for free' via Garageband. Lorne said Gould would be far more excited about the opportunities for listeners today than in his time.
Audience question: Why have Gould's approaches not caught on in the Classical world? Paul felt it simply a pervading conservatism. Gould often edited more than other performers in his time. Even today classical people don't think of using the recording process as an interpretive medium the way Gould did, arriving at an interpretation by objective listening.
Lorne added Gould spent a lot time listening to the playback of different takes, more so than the actual recording of them.
An audience member noted that no other Classical artist went beyond the instrument and utilized recording as a new additional tool as Gould did.
Paul replied Gould involved himself in the process more than any other artist. He discussed the Sonata recordings saying Gould's Take 4 finally establishes the mood of the interpretation. And the last third of the piece was recorded in sections. Gould became aware of exactly what he wanted. The process was very integrated in that Gould perfectly matched the tempo and dynamics of the disparate inserts. The final result was more dynamic than any of the earlier 'complete' takes. He was "pushing the envelope" on every insert take.
Lorne and Paul briefly discussed Gould's recording/editing procedure. Along with some audience members, it was remarked that some people are using these techniques occasionally (ie: editing and manipulating space) but not in the manner or extent that Glenn was.
Another audience member had a comment about his experience with the culture among symphony players and it was basically: "you don't mess with what we're doing".
Lorne admitted that as an engineer, his objective was exactly the same. It was Gould who wanted to do things his way because he saw them differently. Lorne was prepared to listen to Glenn in terms of what he wanted.
The discussion continued regarding re-doing Gould's project today under more controlled conditions. Paul noted that there was an idea to redo the Scriabin preludes in the Carlu in a fashion similar to that in 'The Alchemist'. He noted, in principle, that possibility may exist with some of the 'Quad' recordings made in the '70's by various artists.
Lorne stated the essence of anything beyond stereo, whether is was quad or multi-micing, is to bring in more room ambiance.
Returning to the conservatism in Classical music, Paul added that there is an incredible reverence for the score, where Gould took interpretive liberties. Gould "re-composed" the work was Lorne's response! Gould's hero was Stokowski who also took liberties like Gould. Paul added it was a natural extension for Gould to take the essence of these liberties to sound recording.
An audience member added we've always had freedom to interpret as we wished.
Paul responded that in the study of early piano rolls of composers performing their own work, they took some incredible liberties with their written score.
Verne Edquist offered the point that Gould was "always pushing the envelope to provoke as much as possible". He then asked Paul if it's possible that modern piano recordings were doctored with additional reverb noting many current recordings he's heard are "swimming" in reverb. Paul said it's possible, and done rather frequently. Verne remarked "a person could flub a note and you'd never hear it! When your work was performed by Glenn, you were naked!!"
Another member, referring to the film where the mixing of the Scriabin preludes was in process, wondered if Gould ever actually touched faders (or edited tape). Lorne said Gould never did, though he did so in the film because the producers asked him to. Gould left it up to Lorne.
Lorne was asked what his standard mic placement was for Gould. He said it was three mic's across the piano about 8-10 feet back with the distance and height very carefully marked. Gould was recorded without the lid on the piano. Verne added that he also had to 'raise' the piano two inches for Glenn with blocks, commenting on Gould's seated position at the piano. Lorne said Gould liked to "pull down" on the keys as opposed to "pushing down". That's why he sat so low.
The Carlu was discussed. Lorne mentioned later in the evening Glenn recorded there, not because of the sound, but because he played his debut there; it was comfortable - "it was like a worn out shoe"!
Lorne was asked what Glenn's favourite piano was. Lorne said he loved the Steinway CD318. Verne qualified it with "it was good before it was dropped". At the end of his career, Glenn fell in love with the Yamahas.
Verne mentioned Gould's love of CD318 was like Linus' love of his blanket. Verne said he would have advised Glenn never to buy it because Steinway at the time weren't doing their own casting and Verne felt that process wasn't properly engineered. He also noted that in subsequent attempts to restore the piano, the treble was 'buzzy' and weak. Verne verified with Andrew Kazdin that this was compensated for by boosting the treble on Gould's later recordings: "So there's another bit a doctoring!"
Paul asked Lorne if Gould would ever change his three-mic placement positions between recordings. The decisions were Lorne's. Gould would ask Lorne's opinions on placement. Lorne said he might occasionally suggest moving the mics further back if the music dictated it. But generally Gould liked their 'standard' placement. Gould did things that were "comfortable".
Discussion of the Zenph technology (where note data was extracted from actual piano recordings) ensued and it was suggested it would have been a very worthwhile project to re-do the Scriabin 5th as previously mentioned utilizing Zenph's technology. It was also agreed that Glenn would have loved the Zenph technology and its possibilities.
Binaural recording discussed. Paul noted a binaural version of the Zenph recordings of the Goldbergs was offered at Gould's position when he played the piano. But the sound was terrible - Gould played at that position because of the advantages in technique and not the sound.
Rob DiVito thanked Lorne and Paul, and Carleton University - the other sponsors for this evening's meeting. Rob presented Paul and Lorne with an AES "Certificate of Appreciation" and the 'newly minted' AES mugs! During the applause Paul said "it was a pleasure and a wonderful discussion".
Written By: Karl Machat; bios by Earl McCluskie