NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 2008: For six hot days in June, hundreds of avant-garde jazz enthusiasts packed the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center in Manhattan for the 13th annual Vision Festival. All of the best and brightest avant-garde jazz musicians and groups performed to the eager throng, and Stefan Heger, audio renaissance man and chief engineer at Cologne's Supow Studio, was on hand to record it all in full surround sound. He relied on just one microphone for the surround signal, a SoundField MKV, which possesses the unique ability to capture spatial information with a proprietary signal. The spatial characteristics of the surround sound can then be altered during mixdown, in contrast to conventional microphone techniques, which permanently imprint their spatial information at the time of recording.
Having the ability to make changes after the fact was a huge advantage for Heger at Vision Festival. With five acts performing every night - thirty in all - some with just a few members, and some crowding the stage to an uncomfortable degree, it was impossible to find just one mic setup that would properly captures every act. On top of that, the avant-garde musicians had no compunction against switching their locations on stage or adding a member - or forty! - at the last minute, rendering any careful mic placement Heger decided on during rehearsal useless.
In the six previous years that Heger has recorded Vision Festival, he has tried all manner of microphone techniques to properly capture each act. However, the fixed nature of all conventional microphone inevitably would leave some acts sounding too small and some too large and most imperfect in other ways as well. With its specialized preamp, the SoundField MKV system delivers four channels of information about sound arriving at the multi-capsule microphone: its front-back location (X), its side-side location (Y), its vertical location (Z), and its absolute reference pressure (W).
Using SoundField's Surround Zone software with the four channels of information during mixdown allowed Heger to change every aspect of the imaging. If the musicians were "lopsided" on the stage, Heger could re-center the stereo image. He could change the virtual location of the microphone to emphasize certain instruments. He could change the width of the stereo or surround field to accommodate more or fewer musicians. For this year's Vision Festival, Heger flew the SoundField MKV above the stage a reasonable distance back. No adjustments at the time of recording were necessary.
"The ability to change the mic position during mixdown has many advantages," said Heger. "I can bring things closer to the listener without losing fidelity or introducing odd spatial artifacts. And the sound of the microphone, apart from its spatial ability, is clear, deep, open and wonderfully transparent. There's no coloration. During the performances, Heger usually monitored with a Dangerous D-Box using the preamp's stereo output and printed the four channels of information to his computer using an Apogee AD16x converter. The fact that the SoundField system required no adjustment during the recording allowed him to focus on the sound and placement of numerous spot mics.
William Parker and a handful of 'top-of-the-genre' musicians closed out the festival with a forty-members youth choir crowding the stage! "If I had been using anything other than the SoundField, it would have been a disaster," said Heger. "I wouldn't have been able to adjust the mics at the last minute and the pickup would have been totally inappropriate. But with the SoundField, it was no problem."
The many hours of recordings will have many fates. Apart from an archive of the event, the Vision Festival organizers have often put out compilations of the event on DVD with surround sound, which is likely to happen this year as well. In addition, individual musicians purchase, mix, and publish their tracks. "With SoundField's four-channel 'B-format' signal, musicians and engineers who have never touched the microphone will become acquainted with what it can do," said Heger. "I give them tracks labeled 'X' 'Y' 'Z' and 'W' and it generates interest. Using the software, they'll come to understand the power of the technique."
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(PHOTO CAPTION) Stefan Heger, chief engineer at Supow Studio, Cologne, Germany, recorded the 13th annual avant-garde Vision Festival held in New York City in full surround sound utilizing the avant-garde SoundField MKV microphone.
PHOTO CREDIT: (c) 2008 Luciano Rossetti