Recording “Vox Cosmica”

Here I give an introduction to my sound-technical approach to the recording of the CD “Vox Cosmica” with Arianna Savall & Hirundo Maris. You can find more info about the album and even purchase it from here:


The recording of the CD „Vox Cosmica“ took place in the Heilig-Kreuz church in Basel-Binningen, in February 2014. This church is a comparatively recent building dating from 1896, situated on the top of a hill overlooking the city, and is for most of the time sufficiently silent for acoustic recordings, despite its closeness to the city center. Thanks to the geometry and the construction materials being mostly hard stone, very little wood and little interior, the church features a strong and bright, long-lasting reverb. What could be seen as a disadvantage when producing rhythmical complex music or bigger ensembles, played directly in our hands in this case: A smooth, ever present and colorful room sound, which I let become part of the essential character of sound of this recording, almost like a natural extension of voices and instruments.

IMG_2324I still remember that moment in our first sound check session with singer Arianna Savall, when the sound of her incredibly lucid voice, flowing through the ceilings of the high nave and vibrating like liquid light, completely overwhelmed me. My brain really needed a few seconds to bring into conformance what I heard and perceived in that moment with what could be seen and felt in the “reality” of the actual room.

Speaking of recording equipment, I have used mainly RME devices: Two Octamic XTC preamplifiers and converters were set up right next to the musicians in the church. The audio signal was transferred through optical MADI to a RME MADIface XT in the control room, and recorded on hard disc via PCI express onto my laptop (HP Elitebook). The talkback system (to communicate with the musicians) was realized over the very same MADI connection. The recording software used was Magix Sequoia. The system was clocked on 192 KHz and recording resolution was 24 Bit. The channel count varied from 6 to 16 channels depending on repertoire and line-up.

IMG_1977I like to have the converters directly in the recording room as this allows me to use rather short microphone cables (here I used 5m Mogami-Quad and Sommercable Galileo), minimizing electric hum and crosstalk and also saving a lot of setup work and weight carrying compared to conventional analogue multicore systems. In fact I managed to transport the complete equipment for this recording in one big Pelicase trolley and thus to travel by train from Berlin to Basel (microphone stands and power cables were provided from the location).

The approach to using the microphones was based on the idea of two-track recording, which only uses two microphones that are then reproduced on the two speakers of a stereo system, and allows for a maximum of sonic clarity and transparency. I also had spot microphones for each musician, but used them only very carefully in the mix. In some pieces you hear only the true two-track sound, in others I used the spots to add tiny hints of warmth, closeness or color to individual voices or instruments. I also used two room microphones placed more in the back of the church for a possible surround edit, but these were not at all used in the stereo mix.

IMG_1995The main microphone is a pair of Neumann M149 tube large diaphragm microphones, which, according to some experts, do not sound overly precise and realistic, but still are incredibly beautiful and have a finely nuanced overtone spectrum which proved to be the perfect choice in interplay with the bright and reverberant room. For the voices of Arianna and Petter I used two DPA 4011 small diaphragm cardioids which sound very neutral and let me add the voices in the mix in an unobtrusive way. The other instruments were recorded with Neumann KM140 and KM184 small diaphragm cardioids.

The recording does without any artificial reverb and without overdubbing (recording of single voices) of any kind. The musicians always played together in the same room, which was absolutely necessary for the intimate and emotional atmosphere that we strived for. The balance between the instruments and voices was largely established already in the recording session through placing some instruments closer to the main microphone, others further away, sometimes even using risers to place an instrument a bit higher than the others. My ambition was to create a sound that conveys the closeness, immediacy and emotionality of a good studio recording and at the same time keeps the instinctiveness, authenticity and dynamics of a puristic two-track recording.

If you want to hear the results yourself, find the finished album on the Carpe Diem Records website:
It is available as CD, MP3 and High-Res FLAC (96Khz/24Bit).

Jonas Niederstadt 2014

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GLOSAS This is the sequel to the “Yr a oydo”-CD by Spanish ensemble More Hispano. I recorded this one in the same recording session as the previous CD, but the music is quite different. Not much free improvisation, but more of Vicente Parrillas own embellishments on 16th Century music. Again with Raquel Andueza singing and all the other musicians from the band playing, but more in smaller settings, rarely playing tutti. Its a nice introverted CD with really beautiful music. And it is our first CD in the back-then new cardboard Profilepack packaging, which I chose to avoid plastic packaging as much as possible, and because it looks and feels nicer than the jewelpacks. We also printed the CD booklet on recycling paper. Cover and boklet photos for this CD were also made by Julia Steinbrecht.

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Engels Liedt

Engels Liedt
Today I present a CD that is very dear and special to me. Recorded in 2008, released in 2011, “Engels Liedt” by recorder genius Gerald Stempfel is not only one of many recordings of the music of Jacob Van Eyck. To me, it is more a piece of sound-art, or the destillation/manifestation of a unique interaction between the musician, the music, the sound engineer(s), and the room, here also including those who live in that room or who lived there, long times ago. Gerald Stempfel wrote about our meeting in the CD booklet:
“On the evening of the second recording day of the “John come kiss me now” chamber music album in August 2008, I was practicing the recorder by myself in the church, preparing for the next day, while Jonas, the producer, was storing away a bunch of cables. Then, it was all quiet. At some point, I took a break to make myself some tea. Jonas was still standing around in front of the church, absorbed in thought. Seeing me coming, he said he had heard me practice and thereupon come up with an idea for a van Eyck recording: during my play he had been hearing the Lachrymae variations of van Eyck in his mind’s ear. I was utterly puzzled – hadn’t it been Jacob van Eyck, and in particular his Lachrymae variations, which had moved me deeply as a child, such that I had been convinced of my vocation to become a recorder player. Thus, spontaneously, this solo album came about in a single night at the end of the chamber music recording. ”
What Gerald did not mention here was the ghost of an ancient knight who was buried in the church, and who visited the recording just at midnight, leaving the sound of his gloomy footsteps on our harddiscs. The presence of beings more subtle and immaterial than us boosted some great creative moments. Listen to these sound samples and see if you get a glimpse of it: (JN)

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Kurofune CD recording

Being my second collaboration with lutenist Toyohiko Satoh, this CD was recorded in one of my favorite recording spaces, the small church of Schönemoor, near Bremen. Toyohiko’s wife, Chiyomi Yamada, had conceived this program of Japanese and European songs from the 16th and 17th century, a beautiful compilation with a long and fascinating story to it, which you can read yourself in the CD booklet:-)
It was really interesting to work with those three musicians (David van Ooijen was playing theorbo). Chiyomi’s voice is so delicate and soft that sometimes the lute was almost covering her singing, which I have never experienced anywhere else. So we created a very silent music, delicate and fragile as a Japanese painting, or a flower arrangement. Photos for this one were taken by Toyohiko’s and Chiyomi’s daughter Miki Satoh near their home in southern Japan. It is an extraordinary place as you can see: (JN)

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Fortune my foe

This is the debut CD of Alina Rotaru which I recorded and released in 2010. I remember her playing a demo tape of her Sweelinck playing to me, and I was immediately hooked by the musicality and singularity of her interpretation. We recorded in a church somewhere in the middle of nowhere in northern Germany, but as people were cutting trees or something in the direct neighbourhood, we could record only in the evening & night. I recall it still took us only two days for the actual recording, as on the second day Alina got into an incredible artistic flow and just put in one piece after the other until it was done and over. The photos for this one were again taken by Leif Marcus. (JN)

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Style Fantastique – Le Concert Brise

To record this CD by ensemble Le Concert Brisé (dir. William Dongois) we went to Neuchatel/Switzerland. Actually it is a real live recording – the only one on the label so far. The ensemble played three concerts on three consecutive days in the museum of art and history, as they happen to have an original Ruckers harpsichord from 1632 there, which is a most beautiful instrument that I have used for another recording two years later as well. They played those three concerts in a way that each program would be different, but still every piece would appear twice during the whole time, so that we had some choice for the editing later. The music is beautiful, quiet and soothing, and the photos, taken by Dominika Bonk at the shores of the Neuchatel lake, add perfectly to this atmosphere. The recording work was done together with my friend and colleague Johannes Wallbrecher. (JN)

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Yr a oydo

“Yr a oydo”, recorded and released in 2009, is probably one of the most underestimated, and somehow overlooked, Early Music CD releases of the last decade. It features the Spanish group More Hispano directed by recorder player Vicente Parrilla.
Again I travelled to Sevilla for the recording, and we spent four insanely busy and creative days with those 7 musicians. The music that we recorded existed only partially in written form, much of it was spontaneous improvisation, and every recording take of each piece would be different and offering new possibilities, ideas and musical outcomes. I remember that in one piece, the band made it only once all the way to the end because they would always go astray in wild improvisations, so we had only one ending and it was a hell of an edit work to put everything together afterwards – but I believe I managed:-)
Other things I remember is the really spooky church that belonged to some really spooky catholic brotherhood, lots of cerveza during the breaks, the incredible voice of Raquel Andueza, whom I met there for the first time and immediately became a fan of, and a good amount of crazyness and laughter all over the recording.
The disc even got a rave review in the New York Times, but somehow never made it into the charts of classical music, which is a shame as it would really have deserved it. Never have I heard a Passacaglia, Chiacona or the like played so lively, joyfully and inventive, with a band playing completely without restricting themselves in any way musical. Still it is a “true” Early Music recording and has nothing of a superficial crossover project, which makes it a valuable proof for the fact that Early Music doesn’t necessarily have to be stiff, boring and narrowminded.
Photos for this project were taken by Julia Steinbrecht, a German photographer who accidentally happened to be in Sevilla when we were recording, and then came by and captured some singular moments for the CD booklet. The cover picture was…

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