The famous song titled “A piece of Sky” sums up perfectly what it is to place a microphone properly: it is finding the angle, the position, that will reveal the glorious piece of sky you wanted and needed to see.
“The piece of sky” being a unique “take” or view that truly translates and enhances that “vibration” (that sound) so that it hits the listener precisely in that right spot. It is like looking at a view or a subject through a lens. Think of microphones as lenses, what the microphone sees is almost undoubtedly what it hears and picks up.
The question is, how do you place it so that the microphone not “only” sees the right “piece of sky”? How do you place it so that it translates beautifully that piece of “air” into a piece of “voltage’, a variation of electric current that most accurately captures the unique tones of the specific “vibration”.
To move from the philosophical to the practical, there are 3 microphone movements (in relation to the source you want to microphone).
1. THE BODY MOVEMENT, moving the microphone closer or further from the source.
2. THE FOCUS MOVEMENT, moving the microphone slightly left or right from the central axis of the source.
3. THE TONE MOVEMENT, turning the microphone at different angles from the source.
In the next articles we will consider the second and third movement as well as giving some notes on “bleed” and microphones interaction.
But for now, let us start with movement 1.
1. THE BODY MOVEMENT
Every sound has a “body” length (I am not referring to wave length). Every sound has a distance or proximity at which its tone is most complete. Take a snare-drum for example, most people think that the best microphone position for its sound, is a placement very close to its top skin. Yet the sound and tone of a snare-drum comes from its shell and the snare mounted on its bottom skin. The top head is simply the “trigger”.
Listen to the following 2 clips:
Microphone 8 cm in front from snare
Microphone on top of the 1 cm on top of snare-head
When placing a microphone you need to start by figuring out how long its “body” is, or better how much of its “body” you want into this piece of sky you want to shoot.
The closer you get to the source the smaller (or partial) the body is. Up to a point, the further you go from the source the more complete its body, beyond which the body will start to become smaller and further (softer).
Think of it as zooming with a lens: you can see the whole person, head to toes, just its head, or place a person on the horizon. The question is what do you want to see (hear)? If you are too close you will only see / hear a detail of the sound if you too far you will see the whole picture but also many other things.
It boils down to knowing what you are looking for. However there are 2 sonic thresholds that are unhelpful to cross: too close to something and its natural beauty is “distorted”, too far and its prominence within the sonic stage (made up of all the sounds produced at the same time in proximity of the microphone) is gone.
Next time you place a microphone consciously think of the body of the sound and what you want of it. Too many engineers place microphone with no understanding nor insight, like a photographer shooting a tree while truly desiring a piece of sky!
Next week we will look at the second and third movements of microphone placement.
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