Feb 3rd Class Notes

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“Midnight Special” – class song for listening

(artist?  Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee)


here is what i heard:

  • harmonica, bass rhythm guitar, snare with brushes, lead & accompanying vocals
  • blues riff but kinda country sounding (very clear, warm vocals)
  • live off the floor with three or four microphones (perhaps a harmonica mic/ vocals & guitar)
  • mono recording


  • 20 questions bout mic tech (mono) -look all the way back to 1877 to 1930
  • more recordings, critical listening assignment & blindfolded listening 25 min

Listening (not quite) Blindfolded #2

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living near the Conestoga Parkway brings a variety of noise into my space which, admittedly, i have learned to ignore.

While taking a break from shoveling, i allowed myself to focus in on the sounds of moving traffic on the expressway.  I could easily distinguish between cars verses transport trucks, etc. and continued to listen until the sounds became even more distinctive and i could make out the difference in the sound of acceleration between what i imagined came from a four cylinder car from that of an eight cylinder car, the unique sounds of poorly maintained vehicles struggling to maintain speed, and the sound of a car driving at 100kph with a faulty exhaust system

Listening (not quite) Blindfolded #1

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My task was to size up a 2000 square foot warehouse converted into meeting space for sound quality in order to choose the best microphones and placement to record live action for a future video

A field recorder (Zoom H6) was placed in a central location to the action using three microphones in various locations to listen to the ambient noise in the space and become aware of what unwanted noise might be amplified by a microphone.  Headphones were connected to the recorder and i closed my eyes to allow for deeper listening as the action in the room began.  The main action was being projected from a speaker in front but  I was blown away by the variety of distracting noises that were being generated all around the room and easily amplified with the microphones.  There was the sound of moving chairs, rustling clothing, people getting up to grab coffee, whispering of semi-private conversations, coughing, cell phone noises, questions from “the floor” etc., and i was able to guesstimate what type of microphones would be best to record the action.  What was most impressive about tuning into the noise was the AWFUL sound of an overhead tube heater buzzing continuously the entire time.  This was the single greatest distraction of all and would have to be turned off to get decent audio for the future video recording session FOR SURE.

Twenty Questions about using Microphones

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Q#1 – Where should you place a microphone (ideally) to record vocals?

Firstly, if you clap your hands and get an echo effect, you should consider deadening the room using carpet, blankets, drapes, or other sound absorbing materials. Move your mic setup toward the room’s center to avoid reflective surfaces (walls/glass/etc).   Vocalist should be roughly 6 – 8 inches away from the microphone. Getting too close to the microphone tends to increase bass response and can create problems with plosive sounds – those popping Ps, Bs, Ds, and Ts.   Too much further increases the risk of picking up room ambiance and the effect of the vocalist “being in a bowl”.  A constant distance from the microphone will provide the greatest tonal balance

Q#2 – What’s a simple way to prevent unwanted noise?

Use a pop shield between the mic and the vocalist to prevent “bumping” sounds on “B” and “P” sounds.  A nylon stocking stretched over a wire (or wooden) hoop works.  Place the shield midway between the mouth and the microphone

Q#3 – Is there a way to test microphone placement?

To find the best location, wear fully enclosed headphones to monitor the microphone output while you move the mic around the performer.  As he/she through the material, you can choose the best microphone position by ear

Q#4 – What is “close miking”?

When miking at a distance of 1 inch to about 1 foot from the sound source. This technique generally provides a tight, present sound quality and does an effective job of isolating the signal and excluding other sounds in the acoustic environment

Q#5 – What is “distance miking”?

Distant miking refers to the placement of microphones at a distance of 3 feet or more from the sound source. This technique allows the full range and balance of the instrument to develop and it captures the room sound. This tends to add a live, open feeling to the recorded sound, but careful consideration needs to be given to the acoustic environment

Q#6 – What is “ambiant miking”?

Placing the microphones at such a distance that the room sound is more prominent than the direct signal. This technique is used to capture audience sound or the natural reverberation of a room or concert hall

Q#7 – How do you reduce the risk of phase anomaly when “stereo miking”?

This risk of phase anomaly can be reduced by using the X/Y method, where the two microphones are placed with the grills as close together as possible without touching. There should be an angle of 90 to 135 degrees between the mics. This technique uses only amplitude, not time, to create the image, so the chance of phase discrepancies is unlikely

Spaced Pair X/Y Method

Q#8- How can you use microphone placement to reflect different sound character ?

When you are getting a microphone placement for your singer, make sure to move the mic around sideways and up & down to see if you can get a better sound. Get closer and farther away. Change the angle and experiment with different polar patterns (pickup patterns).  When you do that, you’ll notice the sound changing character. A breathy sound close, more natural farther away. There are a lot of different subtle voice character changes in relation to position to the voice.   Keep in mind the style and spirit of the song. Some songs need a different character of voice (i.e. bright and bold vs. soft and dreamy). The singer can also change positions and vocal techniques during the song to change the character.   This is the real art in mic placement and technique. There is no shortcut to this other than experience

Q#9 – What is “bleeding” and how do you avoid it?

Bleeding occurs when the signal is not properly isolated and the microphone picks up another nearby instrument. This can make the mixdown process difficult if there are multiple voices on one track. Use the following methods to prevent leakage:
Place the microphones closer to the instruments
Move the instruments farther apart
Put some sort of acoustic barrier between the instruments
Use directional microphones

Q#10- Do foam wind shields prevent popping?

Some microphones come with foam wind shields that fit over the microphone grille, but in practice they tend to be ineffective against anything more than a gentle breeze, and they are no match for a full-on plosive. Furthermore, the thickness of foam invariably absorbs some high frequencies, causing the sound to become noticeably duller than it should be. Wind shields can be handy in live performance to stop the mic filling with drool, but they have a very limited effect on popping

Q#11 – How do you mike an acoustic guitar?

There are two optimum points for microphone positioning – either near the bridge or by the twelfth fret.  Placing the microphone in front of the instrument’s sound hole,  usually increases low frequency response to the point of making the instrument sound “boomy.”
Twelfth Fret Placement: Placing the microphone roughly 2 – 4 inches from the twelfth fret and aimed directly at the strings will generally produce a warm, full bodied sound with good tonal balance. Using this technique, the sound hole’s contribution will be moderated since the microphone is not pointed directly at it.
Bridge Placement: Similarly, you can position the microphone so it is 3 – 6 inches from the guitar’s bridge. This will generally produce a somewhat brighter tonal quality. You should also be prepared to experiment positioning the microphone slightly off-axis should you find yourself capturing too much low frequency response from the guitar’s sound hole

Q#12 – How do you mike a piano?

Ideally, you’ll want a minimum of two microphones. Usually, the microphone capturing the higher strings is assigned to the left channel and the microphone capturing the lower strings is assigned to the right channel in the final stereo mix, though the stereo spread generally is not hard left and right. While a single microphone can be used, the lower and upper extremities of the instrument will likely be compromisedIf you are using a single microphone to record a grand piano, position the microphone approximately 8 inches from the piano hammers (to reduce mechanical noise) and 8 – 11 inches above the strings – centered over the piano’s mid point. Pan position should be centered and the piano’s lid should be at full stick

recording piano positioning

Using a single microphone for an upright piano, it is generally recommended that you record from above, as placement of the microphone in the lower center may interfere with the performer’s ability to access the pedals and the microphone will likely pick up excessive pedal and other mechanical noise. Position the microphone just over the open top, centered over the instrument:

Piano diagram

Q#13- How do you mike a drum kit?

Stereo Overhead Pair: Position the two microphones approximately 16 – 20 inches above the performer’s head – separated laterally by roughly 2 – 3 feet and placed 5 – 6 feet out in front of the drum kit. Adjust the two microphone’s Pan position so that you achieve a good stereo spread, though generally not hard left and right
Single Overhead Microphone: Position the microphone approximately 16 – 20 inches above the performer’s head – centered in front of the drum set, and placed 5 – 6 feet out in front. The microphone’s Pan position should be centered for mono drums

Recording Drums

Q#14 – How do you mike an amplified speaker?

The mic should be placed 2 to 12 inches from the speaker. Exact placement becomes more critical at a distance of less than 4 inches. A brighter sound is achieved when the mic faces directly into the center of the speaker cone and a more mellow sound is produced when placed slightly off-center. Placing off-center also reduces amplifier noise.  A bigger sound can often be achieved by using two mics. The first mic should be a dynamic mic, placed as described in the previous paragraph. Add to this a condenser mic placed at least 3 times further back (remember the 3:1 rule), which will pickup the blended sound of all speakers, as well as some room ambience. Run the mics into separate channels and combine them to your taste

Q#15 – How does a Dynamic microphone work?

A microphone is a transducer, a device that changes information from one form to another. Sound information exists as patterns of air pressure; the microphone changes this information into patterns of electric current. In the magneto-dynamic, commonly called dynamic, microphone, sound waves cause movement of a thin metallic diaphragm and an attached coil of wire. A magnet produces a magnetic field which surrounds the coil, and motion of the coil within this field causes current to flow. The principles are the same as those that produce electricity at the utility company, realized in a pocket-sized scale. It is important to remember that current is produced by the motion of the diaphragm, and that the amount of current is determined by the speed of that motion. This kind of microphone is known as velocity sensitive

Q#16 – How does a Condensor microphone work?

In a condenser microphone, the diaphragm is mounted close to, but not touching, a rigid backplate. (The plate may or may not have holes in it.) A battery is connected to both pieces of metal, which produces an electrical potential, or charge, between them. The amount of charge is determined by the voltage of the battery, the area of the diaphragm and backplate, and the distance between the two. This distance changes as the diaphragm moves in response to sound. When the distance changes, current flows in the wire as the battery maintains the correct charge. The amount of current is essentially proportional to the displacement of the diaphragm, and is so small that it must be electrically amplified before it leaves the microphone

Q#17 – What are the various microphone pick-up patterns?

Q#18 – What is a “ribbon” microphone?

also known as a ribbon velocity microphone, a ribbon microphone uses a thin, electrically conductive ribbon placed between the poles of a magnet to generate voltages by electromagnetic induction.  Ribbon microphones are typically bidirectional, meaning they pick up sounds equally well from either side of the microphone

Q#19 – What is “reflection” & “absorption” of sound waves referring to?

Sound waves are reflected by surfaces if the object is as large as the wavelength of the sound. It is the cause of echo (simple delay), reverberation (many reflections cause the sound to continue after the source has stopped), and standing waves (the distance between two parallel walls is such that the original and reflected waves in phase reinforce one another).  Sound waves are absorbed by materials rather than reflected. This can have both positive and negative effects depending on whether you desire to reduce reverberation or retain a live sound

Q#20 – What is “diffraction” & “refraction” of sound waves referring to?

Objects that may be between sound sources and microphones must be considered due to diffraction. Sound will be stopped by obstacles that are larger than its wavelength. Therefore, higher frequencies will be blocked more easily than lower frequencies.  Sound waves bend (refraction) as they pass through mediums with varying density. Wind or temperature changes can cause sound to seem like it is literally moving in a different direction than expected

Recording #3 (x3) (+1 to pick up the slack from last week)

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Ok so i wanted to understand why nailing the vocal track is so problematic, so i chose to “learn” some songs from a CD Album received a month ago as a Christmas gift, and record the “sing-along” in the kitchen.  Songs are newish to me so as to not rely on long-term memory.

Alot tougher than i thought!  Gave up trying for perfect lyrics (& on key ) Ended up with a mixed bag of recordings from one song i could live with:

Artist:  Shane & Shane/ Song Title:  Your Love

Recorded songs as they were playing on CD through a home stereo in the kitchen using a Zoom H6 Recorder with the MS mic recording the room sound in stereo and a second dynamic microphone recording the sing-along vocals on a separate mono track.  Imported files into Audacity and experimented with basic editing & a few effects:

Recording #3 Take 1:   tried to hide the nastiness of the mono vocal track with effects

#3 Take 1 link to Soundcloud here:     https://soundcloud.com/sue-cunha/zoom0004-kitchen-blend       

Recording #3 Take 2:  used the “Paulstretch” effect on a section of the recording to create a haunting sound

#3 Take 2 link to Soundcloud here:    https://soundcloud.com/sue-cunha/the-haunting


Lets try something else:

An oldie:   The Allman Brothers  “Soulshine”

Recording #3 Take 3:  Just singing along with the Allman Brothers in my kitchen

#3 Take 3 link to Soundcloud here:    https://soundcloud.com/sue-cunha/zoom0013-allman-bros

Note:  Soundcloud was not happy with the “copyright infringement” of this gorilla recording.  Re-uploaded using “private” settings:  https://soundcloud.com/sue-cunha/zoom0013-soulshine-singalong but still NFG so y’all will have to miss out on my rendition of “Soulshine”

– probably for the best that it stays in the kitchen lol (but so much for picking-up-the-slack)

How about recording sound at the floor level?

Recording #3 Take 4:  Flamenco Shoes (warm-up): 

#3 Take 4 link to Soundcloud here:    https://soundcloud.com/sue-cunha/zoom0025-flamenco-warmup

I have no idea who the Artist is (to my shame)…Recording was part of a summer party playlist assembled by others

Made the recording as the song was playing on CD through a home stereo in the kitchen using a Zoom H6 Recorder.  The MS mic was recording the room sound in stereo and a second dynamic microphone was set up on a stand contorted so that the mic was recording the foot action on a separate mono track at about two feet above floor level



– using a handheld dynamic microphone for vocals allows for physical movement and artistic vocal expression – but takes practice for the artist to achieve the desired sound
– feels like your performance is improved when you are singing along with the sound of prerecorded music pumping-it-up in the room, BUT end result is closer to laziness (off key/poor tone/timing issues/and vocals often “not connected”)  if artist is relying on the recorded lyric track to carry the song
– editing & effects may cover a multitude of sins

Recording #2 on the ground @ iFly Toronto

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Top left: Foundations complete
Bottom left: Structural Steel complete
Right: Looking up at the base of the wind tunnel from the basement floor

Made a visit to one of our Projects underway in Oakville this week

to take site photos of

the progress of the Work

“Skyventure” iFly Toronto indoor Sky-Diving facility

It is an interesting building with
 unique structural & architectural features
 and i thought it would be cool to record sound
 in the basement plenum space
The foundation is constructed of 14" concrete walls
 reinforced with 1" re-bar in a 12" grid pattern
and the building footprint is 100ft long by 50ft wide with a basement depth of 25 ft

  Standing in the centre of the basement looking up you see an opening
 in the base of a 14ft diameter, 45ft long cylindrical tube
The opening appears to be roughly 1/10th of the diameter of the floating chamber where you chill
until the plenum is fully pressurized using four massive motorized louvers & propellers
generating an airstream capable of reaching wind speeds
of up to 300 kph to simulate the
free fall experience

The distance from the basement floor to the service deck is 80ft (8 stories high)

i used the Voice Note Recording feature on a BlackBerry (Torch), emailed the file to myself and imported it into Audacity

discovered that the file format was not recognized and was prompted  to download  the FFmpeg library

exported it as a WAV file


So how does one download & install the FFmpeg Import/Export Library?

The optional FFmpeg library allows Audacity to import and export a much larger range of audio formats including AC3, AMR(NB), M4A, MP4 and WMA and also audio from most video files.

  • Because of software patents, Audacity cannot include the FFmpeg software or distribute it from its own web sites. Instead, use the following instructions to download and install the free and recommended FFmpeg third-party library.
Warning icon FFmpeg 0.6.2 for Windows and Mac listed below should be used with the latest version of Audacity from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/.


  1. Go to the external download page
    Left-click this link, do not right-click.
  2. Look for “For FFmpeg/LAME on Windows”, then a few lines under that, left-click the link FFmpeg_v0.6.2_for_Audacity_on_Windows.exe and save the file anywhere on your computer.
  3. Double-click “FFmpeg_v0.6.2_for_Audacity_on_Windows.exe” to launch the installer (you can safely ignore any warnings that the “publisher could not be verified”).
  4. Read the License and click Next, Next and Install to install the required files to “C:\Program Files\FFmpeg for Audacity” (or “C:\Program Files (x86)\FFmpeg for Audacity” on a 64-bit version of Windows).
  5. Restart Audacity if it was running when you installed FFmpeg.
  6. If you have problems with Audacity detecting FFmpeg, follow the steps to manually locate FFmpeg.
  • Alternative zip download for FFmpeg 0.6.2
  1. Download http://lame3.buanzo.com.ar/FFmpeg_v0.6.2_for_Audacity_on_Windows.zip from the external download site.
  2. Extract the contents to a folder called “FFmpeg_v0.6.2_for_Audacity_on_Windows” anywhere on your computer, then follow the instructions below to locate avformat-52.dll using the Libraries Preferences.


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