The Recording of Metropolis Ark 2 at Teldex Studio
Andy Jones visits Teldex Studio in Berlin to witness the recording of the follow-up to the incredible, 10/10 scoring Metropolis Ark 1 library from Orchestral Tools – and discovers enough to bring you his own guide to recording an orchestra… When it comes to using orchestral music in your productions, there are so many options […]
Andy Jones visits Teldex Studio in Berlin to witness the recording of the follow-up to the incredible, 10/10 scoring Metropolis Ark 1 library from Orchestral Tools – and discovers enough to bring you his own guide to recording an orchestra…
When it comes to using orchestral music in your productions, there are so many options these days: from using terrible GM sounds on ancient digital keyboards, to hiring your own orchestra – at enormous expense. The former won’t get you anywhere and the latter will not only cost, but is fraught with its own problems. You have to know what to do with said orchestra, where to place them, how to mic them, record them, feed them…
Luckily, there are plenty of companies that sit somewhere between those two extremes who can take a lot of the effort out of the equation for you, while still producing exceptional-quality results. One of these has quickly become a MusicTech favourite since we discovered it scaring its neighbours at the NAMM show with demos of its (then new) Metropolis Ark 1 collection.
This bombastic and dramatic set of sounds was described by the late, great Keith Gemmell as “a terrific orchestral library that contains just about everything required for composing and producing loud, powerful and epic music”, before bestowing that MusicTech 10/10 Excellence Award on it.
So when the makers of Metropolis invited us along to the sessions for the follow-up, we jumped at the chance: Berlin, the chance to brush up on our orchestral recording knowledge… what’s not to like?
Studio by Studio
We hate to admit it – and kinda have already – but that NAMM meeting was the first we’d heard of Orchestral Tools. However, the company has been around for five years and is based in the beautiful city of Freiburg in southern Germany. As the company’s Jan Lepold tells us, Orchestral Tools started because one of its founders, a musician himself, needed help…
“Hendrik [Schwarzer] founded the company with Manfred Mantik. At the time, he was working on a piece of music and he needed some orchestral runs that just weren’t available. So he started the company to produce our first title, Orchestral String Runs, followed by Symphonic Sphere.”
The two titles did very well for Orchestral Tools, but the original studio in Minsk in which they were recorded closed, which meant a change in recording venue for future titles. Jan came to Berlin to look at Teldex Studio which, in turn, helped spawn the company’s most successful series…
“I met Tom [Russbueldt, engineer] and listened to the stage here at Teldex Studio, and really liked it. We eventually recorded what became Berlin Woodwinds and have been coming here since.
“It was a success, so we carried on the Berlin Series here and we recently added to it with the release of Berlin Brass. Now we have the full orchestra all recorded in this room with similar mics and setups. It’s quite something.”
Jan continues: “For each title, we always record the players in the original playing position in the orchestra, so you retain the original orchestral panning positions. If you layer the titles in the series together, you should then have the right positions.
The Berlin Series is like the fine pencil. You really do get all of the articulations and can do really detailed instrumentation, but we’d say it’s really a tool for professionals, because you really have to know how to use the recordings. In Berlin Strings, for example, there is a huge list of articulations you have to understand.”
Recognising that the Berlin Series was all about fine quality, Orchestral Tools decided to do something a little more, well, ‘in your face’ for its next project…
“We decided to do a full collection for people who are doing other styles of music, not only film music, maybe trailer music or even rock music, things like that. Then we thought: ‘What if we do a collection for epic stuff?’ and that’s when we came up with Metropolis.”
It turned out to be the right decision and one that raised the profile of Orchestral Tools way beyond what they’d expected. “I think we generated a lot of new customers with it, because it was affordable and you got it all in one solution.“
Not surprisingly, the success of Ark 1 has led to Metropolis Ark 2 – but this time, the direction is very different. “The difference is that Metropolis 1 was for loud and epic music, so we recorded everything from mezzoforte to fortissimo, bigger samples that are loud and punchy. We also had other things in it like drums and guitars and the choir singing with loud voices.
Now, in Volume 2, we recorded everything from pianissimo to mezzoforte, yet Metropolis Ark 2 is not just for quiet and lovely sounds. It is still a workhorse to create epic music, but at low dynamics. ‘Low dynamic epicness’ describes it.
Many believe that they can only get an epic sound with everything really loud, but you can often reach a more epic tone if you record a low dynamic. With the right mic set up, you can blow these dynamics up to get a good volume – then layer these low dynamic sounds for the real magic. So Ark 2 is definitely a collection to create epic sound.”
From the session we witness at Teldex, the attention to detail is second to none. But there is also a sense that for this title, Jan and his team are trying to break some of the recording rules…
“We put together some really interesting ensembles to record,” Jan says. “For example, we had three Steinway pianos playing in an ensemble together for a wide and shimmering sound.
It was just an idea and a little inspired by Danny Elfman, who produces a sound that is often quiet and shiny and he has these wide piano sounds. We had them in this room on the right, the middle and on the left.”
“There was also an ensemble of six harps,” he continues. “We discovered that when they play together there is something that happens in the room with the sounds playing together that is different.
So the plan was to create these ensembles for very different results. And where I said before we always record the players in their original positions, for Metropolis, this is different as you obviously don’t have three pianos in an orchestra. So we just thought we’d do a wide and deep sound – so we have other rules for this recording!”
The Recording Process
And talking of recording, let’s get into the nitty gritty. We spend a little time with Tom Russbueldt, who reveals some of the specific techniques used when recording an orchestra…
“There are a couple of ways to do it,” he says.
“If you are recording a classical orchestra it should sound as natural as possible, but for film scores and sample collections, you have to find a way to make it more interesting.
For film-score recordings, you have to give more impact to the orchestra and get the emotion of the picture into the music. For samples it is a bit different, as you have to make the samples natural so the user has as good experience.
So, for example, you can’t use a spot mic as close as you would with a full orchestra as it doesn’t sound so good – it has to be one or two metres away.”
Tom then tells us about microphone positions, starting with the classic formation – the Decca Tree – which is a combination of three mics, two spaced a couple of metres apart and a third in the centre around one-and-a-half metres in front of the others.
The whole system can be raised or lowered, but is usually three metres or so above the conductor.
“Then we have got outriggers, which are two additional microphones on the left and right side of the Tree to make the recording more spacious,” says Tom. “We also have surround microphones behind that and between the surrounds and the Tree, we have another A-B microphone system. In this hall, if you then use a lot of spot microphones, these might not blend so well with the Tree; but you can then blend it with the A-B system if you need to.
“As far as the spot microphones go, we have two channel-top microphones; four channel-bottom microphones, which are physically placed lower down to get the bass sound, and four for the violas which are standard condensers and a Coles especially for the violas, to make them smoother.”
Jan adds: “With the library, we have the ability to kill all of the room microphones so you then have a really close sound. You will have a little room sound, but otherwise, it’s a very close sound.
And then you can take the close mics off so you then have the Tree sound, so you get the room. The mix of this is always driven by taste – if you want to have a close or room sound – but this is also an important feature if you want to blend our sounds with other libraries, because you can, for example, adjust to mix with another drier library.”
And as for the microphones used, it’s a fantastic range of Neumann classics as you might well expect…“For the Tree, outriggers and surrounds, we are using Neumann M 50s and for the spots, we use Neumann U 67s and U 47s and some modern ones like the Neumann TLM 103. People always say, ‘Wow, you have a great set of microphones’, but it’s pretty normal for us. We are just lucky that we can choose from a huge collection of very old mics!”
The microphones go into Pro Tools as 20-input channels via some top-end interfacing. Tom: “We use the Studer preamps and the best converters are the Merging Technologies Horus ADDA. We compared a lot of convertors but those are, to my taste, the best ones. Pro Tools is the DAW I am used to.” The session starts and the record button is pressed once at the start of a session and once at the end – that’s an enormous amount of recording…
“It’s up to 400GB, but the editing of that is not my job,” Tom laughs. “I try to tell them what to do with the spot mics, but that is about that.”