I attended a tonmeister workshop for immersive audio at Nagoya University of Arts (NUA) on 15-16 October 2022. I finally took time during the holiday to write down the insights I gained from this inspiring event. Assoc. Prof. Kazuya Nagae (長江和哉) of the Sound Media course at NUA organized the workshop. Kazuya-sensei has done extensive research on various aspects of classical music recording. The guest lecturer was Florian B. Schmidt (Dipl.- Tonmeister, Universität der Künste Berlin). Florian has been working as a freelance sound engineer for over 20 years and is co-founder of Pegasus Musikproduktion. I also asked him many questions about his tonmeister technique.
Tonmeister Workshop Format
First, the objective was to produce five pieces in a weekend to publish this material in the future. The pianist was Yusuke Azuma (東 祐輔), a master’s student in piano performance at NUA. The pieces were (in the order of first recorded to last):
- Rachmaninoff, Études-tableaux Op. 33, No. 3
- Rachmaninoff, Études-tableaux Op. 33, No. 5
- Babajanian, Elegy
- Babajanian, Poem
- Medtner, Fairy tale Op. 9, No. 3
Kazuya-sensei and Florian supervised the whole process. Also, Florian produced the first piece. What I mean by producing is that he provided constructive feedback while recording the first piece. He mentioned technical details about the performance and provided an artistic vision for specific points in the piece. The recording of the first piece was an example for the students since the students were responsible for producing the remaining pieces. Also, students were responsible for editing, mixing, and mastering the material for Dolby Atmos. The material will be released as a collaborative work under NUA Records – the university’s record label.
An important thing to mention about the workshop is that there had to be some compromises since it blended a lecture and an actual recording session. It was a public lecture, open to anyone but targeted at NUA – sound media course students. For instance, there was no actual control room. Instead, it was a large hall with ~40 people while recording. It is not ideal for a recording situation.
Another issue was when Florian had to explain something to the students, Yusuke had to wait – it’s again definitely not the ideal situation. Lastly, there were probably some language issues during the session since there was a constant switch from Japanese to English and sometimes German. But I think everyone was so involved in the process. It was intense, condensed, and smooth: a typical Japanese style with a German touch.
There were nine microphone pairs, mostly DPA mics. There was only one spot pair. Since the record was made for immersive, we can think that there were two main pairs: one for stereo (4006, 80 cm apart) and one for immersive (4006). The main immersive pair was coincident with another bidirectional pair (Straus-Paket). And then there was one LS – RS pair (Left Surround & Right Surround for the back of the seven speakers setup). For LSS – RSS, there were two pairs for two other ideas (Left Surround Side & Right Surround Side).
The rest of the microphones were for HL – HR and HLS – HRS that were placed on the intersection of the stage and the hall and solely on the hall, around the seats (maybe the sixth row). Another approach was to tilt down the HL – HR pair towards the stage to avoid too much direct signal on height channels. Such circumstances would also be distracting to listeners.
There were two reasons to have two microphone pairs for LSS – RSS besides the lack of a control room. These speakers are 90 degrees on the Dolby Atmos setup, so it would be too distracting if the signal going to these speakers is on-axis. Instead, a narrow image (to not shift the overall balance) must be kept on Side Surround speakers. But how to implement this off-axis & narrow image idea on microphone placement? The first one is placing a pair on the back of the piano. Or another pair on the ground that is facing the piano.
Lectures on Tonmeister Techniques
During the lectures, we talked about many topics: stereo recording techniques, stereo reproduction angle, angular distortion, immersive sound recording techniques, vertical interchannel crosstalk, and delaying the spot mic/time alignment. A few slides are below for further info.
Before the tracking started, we spent some time in the recording venue. Yusuke was practicing, the tuner was doing his craft, students were doing the line checks, people were asking questions… It was a mesmerizing moment to be there with other people interested in the whole process of recording classical music, at least for me.
Remarking the Score as Tonmeister Practice
We reviewed some basics of remarking the score since this duty was also assigned to students. We remark the score to create an EDL (Edit Decision List) that is used in the post-production session. Basically, we write the take number close to the tempo marking as: T #. If the section is good, we put a plus sign with the take number: + #. If it is not good, then we put a minus and the take number: – #. If we want to have the Take 1 for two measures, we put 1 in brackets: [1 … 1]. Let’s say, after two measures, we will switch to take 3. Then, we do the same thing: [3 … 3].
The fundamental issues in classical music performance are timing and intonation. So, there are signs for them as well. If a note is too fast, we put a left parentheses symbol: (. If too slow, then we have right parentheses symbol: ). If a note is too low, we put an under parenthesis. If a note is too high, then we have a parenthesis above the note. That’s pretty much everything about remarking the score. There are exceptional scenarios, but the key is writing down everything legibly and as quickly as possible.
All of the recording sessions went very smoothly. The communication between the producer and the performer is a whole new world. Since I do not understand Japanese, I did not understand the students’ approaches, but Florian tried to achieve an even focus on the whole piece.
The mix playback was done in Pro Tools. For editing, MAGIX Sequoia was preferred. I do not have much familiarity with it. However, it seems it helps distinguish between source and destination. It is much easier to do more precise work due to being able to adjust the in and out points, even during playback. Also, I liked the waveform display compared to Pro Tools. Pyramix is something between them: you can quickly go through takes, similar to Pro Tools, and do more precise editing than Pro Tools.
Dolby Atmos Studio
When I first heard the rough mix in Dolby Atmos studio, my immediate reaction was to look up. I felt heightened. My head felt higher, and I was higher! I guess it is the desired result. It is up to engineers to make this experience worthy of sharing with others.
To sum up
After two days of intensive recording, we had to conclude. It was a gem to be in such an environment and observe Florian’s excellent approach. I also needed to see different cultural aspects of sound recording. Overall, I was so satisfied with the things I learned this weekend!
http://soundmedia.jp/20221015TMW/Plan.html – A detailed plan of the workshop.
http://kazuyanagae.com – Kazuya-sensei’s research on classical music production.
https://pegasusaudio.de – Florian’s music production company based in Berlin.
https://www.allmusic.com/artist/florian-b-schmidt-mn0002220027/credits?1672761726250 – Florian’s discography on AllMusic.
http://www.sengpielaudio.com/ – For more lectures on tonmeister techniques (in German).
The rights of photographs belong to: Nagoya University of Arts, 碓井陽香 (Haruka Usui)、長谷川伊吹 (Ibuki Hasegawa)、土井綾夏 (Ayaka Doi)、長江和哉 (Kazuya Nagae).