As Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas toured the UK at the end of 2019, virtuoso violinist Sandy Cameron was presented with a new miking technique that used Point Source Audio’s EMBRACE EO-8WL earmount microphone. The on-ear, as opposed to on-instrument solution, came from Emmy-winning audio engineer Paul Bevan, who has been working with Danny Elfman on his live projects for five years. This experience led him to assert: “This will be a permanent change to our approach for Sandy’s featured performances during Danny’s concerts. I highly endorse it for any application where a violinist has to be miked and still have the freedom of movement.”
As a production, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas features a screening of the whole movie, with the dialog and sound effects from the original film, but with all the music performed live. “As an entr’acte before the beginning of the second half of the film, Danny has arranged a medley of songs from the film, for solo violin, accordion, saxophone and upright bass, to mimic the ‘street band’ featured in the movie,” explains Bevan. “Sandy Cameron, who Danny has a long relationship with, leads this ensemble. Previously we had used a clip-on microphone into a wireless pack, and anyone who has used a clip-on mic understands the compromise inherent in this approach. Because it is attached to the instrument, it tends to have a slightly unnatural sound, with too much body and too much ‘zing’ from the strings. I wanted to find an approach that would give a more natural sound.”
To achieve this natural sound, Bevan opted for the EO-8WL from the EMBRACE family. EMBRACE microphones are engineered for concealing, but the mounting system keeps the mic placement consistent. It was an approach he had tried before when using the technique for the first time with violinist Joshua Bell for a TV show that presented similar challenges of natural sound while looking good on camera, so he was confident it would also work for the tour.
“The microphone is placed on top of the left ear, so, during performance, it is sitting right over the violin, but the extra distance from the instrument gives a much more natural sound, with more ‘air.’ I was anxious to try this approach with Sandy and she was keen to try something that would more accurately represent what she herself was hearing from the instrument.”
Reflecting on the tour, both Bevan and Cameron have been highly impressed with the technique. “It sounded much more natural to her and I had to do almost no EQ’ing to get it to sound just like the acoustic instrument,” says Bevan. “There was so much gain before feedback that we were never close to ringing – even in arenas, with huge P.A. systems and a full monitor system. An added bonus was that, as the microphone was attached to Sandy and not the violin, she could put it down and walk away. After a few years of using a clip-on, it took her a while to remember that she had this freedom! Also, because the microphone was hidden by her hair, it was completely invisible to the audience, even on tight camera shots. The clip-on with attached cable always looked untidy.”
Having experienced the benefits the EO-8WL can bring to live violin performances, Bevan is certain that he will be using the technique again.