Yes, we all have a little ideology running through our veins, even if we try to avoid it. Some people pretty much live their lives with ideology, but that's their problem. In principle, I am opposed to ideology. So what is the difference between principle and ideology? Some cynical folks might say that it is just a matter of perspective: I have principles, but the other idiots just have ideology. Not true. Here is an example of a principle: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. That is a nice empirical principle expressed in a folk adage. And a very useful and true one. Here is an example of an ideology: the environment is fragile and constantly being threatened by human action, the most salient example being anthropogenic climate change (global warming). The difference between the two is that the folk adage tells you to refer directly to empirical facts, while the global warming one simply assumes its conclusion.
Here is a list of characteristics of ideology taken from the Wikipedia article:
David W. Minar describes six different ways in which the word "ideology" has been used:The purpose of an ideology is to control public opinion as is revealed in numbers 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6. It helps the persuasiveness if there is an internal logic of course. But there is something huge that is missing: empirical truth. Ideology does not have to be (and almost never is) true, it just has to be useful. It is always helpful, in evaluating an ideology to ask, first of all, if it is true, and second, who benefits from it. Examining the structure of the climate change ideology would be a very useful exercise.
- As a collection of certain ideas with certain kinds of content, usually normative;
- As the form or internal logical structure that ideas have within a set;
- By the role in which ideas play in human-social interaction;
- By the role that ideas play in the structure of an organization;
- As meaning, whose purpose is persuasion; and
- As the locus of social interaction.
But this is getting away from the real topic: music recording. The project is to record my twelve songs, written for voice and guitar. To this end we have brought down a very fine singer from Canada and booked time in a local studio. The owner/engineer of the studio is also a Canadian. I have worked with him a few times before and he is very good at what he does and has excellent equipment. Also very good ears!
The first day we ran into some real problems: the voice, in the upper register, was so powerful that it was coming through the guitar mikes as strongly as the guitar was! Let me back up a bit here and describe the setup. We were both in the recording space, a room about 20 feet by 10 feet with sound baffles. The singer, a soprano, was on a $4000 Neumann microphone and the guitar was being recorded with a pair of smaller mikes (I didn't notice what they were exactly) set at 90º to one another. This is pretty standard for guitar. But the blend was not good and the resulting sound was problematic. We tried separating the voice and guitar as much as possible and adding some sound isolating baffles, but there was only slight improvement and the sightlines were poor.
This is where my ideology kicked in. Nearly all my recording in Canada was done in CBC studios in Montreal and Vancouver. They achieved excellent results by putting everyone in the same recording space and positioning microphones appropriately. Also, if you look at photos of classical musicians recording, it is also done the same way: everyone in the same room with a small number of microphones acting as a kind of imaginary ideal listener:
The engineer wanted to go more the way that popular recordings are made: each instrument on a separate channel, which meant that we had to be in different rooms, with headphones and seeing one another through a window. I thought this was a terrible idea for ensemble and sound: classical musicians don't record this way. So I put my foot down and insisted that we try again, but using a different microphone placement. The results were ... terrible! The voice sounded like an amateur recording in someone's living room and the guitar sounded like it was in a barrel.
At this point the engineer begged us to at least try his approach. He did a couple of things. The guitar (played by me, by the way) was going to stay on the stereo 90º mikes, but for the voice, now in a separate room, he swapped out the $4000 Neumann for a small mike worth about $600! The reason being that the Neumann was just over-sensitive to the voice in a high register and he had had excellent results before with the smaller mike for voice. And so it was. When we tried a take with the new setup, we instantly adjusted to the separation and the voice and guitar, recorded separately, each sounded just as they should. An enormous added benefit was that if either the voice or the guitar made a small flub, that passage could be re-recorded separately. It's called "punching in" and saves an enormous amount of time and wear and tear on the musicians.
So I instantly tossed out my obsolescent ideology about how classical musicians are "supposed" to record. Turns out that the best way, at least in our situation, was to go with what the pop guys do: each track separately. Here is a video of a voice and guitar recording in the conventional way for classical musicians:
Wow, looks like two Neumanns plus two, maybe AKG? mikes on the guitar and a couple more Neumanns (with "pop" screens) on the voice. In a nice resonant studio. And maybe they did do it just this way. But, you know, I kind of wonder. The voice and guitar are too perfectly balanced. Anytime that the tenor sings a fairly high passage he is going to be about twice as loud as the guitar. So how do you balance that as his voice is going to be feeding strongly into the guitar mikes as well? I also know another recording by this same (very fine) guitarist, Xuefei Yang, the Concierto de Aranjuez with orchestra, and a notable feature of that recording is how overbalanced the guitar is versus the orchestra meaning that they used some kind of recording wizardry to change the natural balance. So it might have been the case with this recording that they did the tracks separated and then shot the video later, lip-syncing with the pre-recorded tracks. Or not, I'm not certain! Here is something we can compare. This is a video of Ian Bostridge and Xuefei Yang performing the same song at the 2013 Gramophone awards live, i.e. without any recording wizardry. Notice how the guitar is often covered by the voice, rendering what it is doing nearly inaudible?
So the bottom line is: what are the results? If you are not getting the right sound, then don't be afraid to try any solution, even if it is outside your ideological envelope. And listen to your engineer!