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Roland

Film Projects

‘Of All The Sounds’ – making a short pt. 1

September 15, 2021
Filming the opening scene in a kitchen.

Yesterday, I began filming a drama production: this was the first for a long time. In this case a short three-minute film (an entry into this year’s My Røde Reel competition). It was good to work with two young actors (Daisy den Engelse and Christopher Sainton-Clark) rather than unfairly press-ganging inexperienced family members and mates into roles: but there was no let off for the mates as some were just coerced into providing a location and crewing instead (thank you Rob, Neil and Anji!).

We managed to nail the opening scene in a morning, with all the action – which sets up the slightly M. R. Jamesian premise – set in a kitchen (a rather beautiful one at that). I used a single camera (the Lumix G9 with a Meike 16mm cinema lens and Swit monitor) with follow-focus, on a half-bowl tripod running on a DIY dolly track (40mm PVC pipes): this allowed much better control of movement and rack-focusing and, indeed, permitted a heavier rig than would have been possible with a gimbal.

Sound was a mix of boomed mics and lavs. The idea of the Rode competition is to use Rode equipment wherever possible – and, as you can see from this blog, I have a good number of Rode mics anyway – so I tried booming with both a Rode NT55 cardioid and, since Rode don’t make a hypercardioid SDC capsule (wasn’t one originally promised?), an AKG CK93. With a fairly live room and bit more of a distance from mic to talent than ideal (due to framing), the latter was preferable.: this was hardly a surprise, with hypercardioids being the norm for indoor booming. The boom mics were routed to a Sound Devices Mixpre-3. The boom mics were for a seated character, so were set up statically on a light stand using a Boom Buddy. If I’d had sufficient crew, a boom operator might well have been more useful as it would have allowed more variation in mic height, as the camera closed in on the talent, although that would have required some experience. I added a Rode lav mic plugged into a Rode Wireless GO ii as an (unused) back-up for the seated (female) character. The male character spends the scene rushing about, so he was also given a lav mic, this time simply using the onboard mic of a Rode Wireless GO ii taped under his jumper. The two lav mic signals went to the RX unit plugged into the camera. I set the RX unit at -18dB and the Lumix G9 preamps at their lowest level. I also engaged the pad on the inputs of the TX units (-4dB), but the volumes were such that the additional headroom wasn’t really needed. Although there were no signal dropouts in the wifi transmission of the Rode Wireless GO ii , I used the onboard recording of the TX unit for the male character to ensure the (marginally) better sound.

The initial rough-cut of the scripted scene (using Sony Vegas as my NLE) was two and half minutes long, so some heavy pruning was needed – including some cutting of lines – to cut it down to the planned one-minute duration: a lesson in translating screenplay writing to film timings for me.

Next up, shooting goes outdoors, but that won’t happen for a couple of weeks (weather permitting). In the meantime, there is plenty to be done in the way of scouting the locations and, especially, gathering sound effects: two thirds of the film has audio from the past rather than the present. I’ll add posts along the way: the My Røde Reel competition deadline is 20th October.

Audio Gear

AKG Blueline mics

August 28, 2021
AKG CK91, CK92 and CK93 rigged for testing

Having had the hypercardioid (CK93) capsule of the the AKG Blueline modular mics for some years (with the SE 300B body/pre-amplifier), I picked up the fig 8 capsule (CK94) and another SE 300B a few months ago (see my post on it here), and have just now added the CK91 cardioid and CK92 omni capsules to the family: a good used bargain, all the way from Shetland, in excellent condition. Although the CK91 cardioid was apparently a staple of radio studios etc. for many years, in the filmmaking world a myth has built up that the hypercardioid was the cream of the crop and by far the best capsule. I suspect this came about since the AKG CK93 is an excellent hypercardioid, and much better than the few alternatives that were available for a modest price (e.g. the Oktava MK012) rather than based on any actual hands-on comparison between the different Blueline capsules.

Certainly, I have begun doing tests and am impressed straight away by how remarkably similar the capsules sound – initially just testing on acoustic guitar and vocals. There really is no stand out or weaker capsule amongst these four (I can’t speak for the CK98 shotgun capsule, which I don’t have and haven’t heard). And equally impressive is how rounded or smooth they all are. For instance, the CK91 cardioid has none of the brittleness of my Rode NT55 cardioid capsules. A surprising extra is that the AKG CK91, CK92 and CK93 capsules also have less evident self-noise than the Rode NT55 mics, despite the specifications suggesting the reverse (17dB vs 15dB). These really have to be some of the most underrated mics out there: great value new (if you can find stock still, as they appear to be being discontinued) and even better used.

I bought the latest two AKG capsules to give me more options for a mid-side pair with the CK94 fig 8 capsule. OK I could use other SDC mics I have (such as the NT55s), but it is nicer to have a more consistent sound across the pair in the mid-side array: that the AKG capsules also sound better is a bonus. When I get the opportunity I will post some samples with the various capsules.

AKG CK91 (cardioid), CK92 (omni), CK93 (hypercardioid) and CK94 (figure of eight) capsules on SE 300 B pre-amplifier bodies. Note some slight visual variations over time with the pre-amplifiers (oldest is on the CK94; next oldest on the CK91 and CK92; and the newest on the CK93): I can’t hear any difference in their performances, but have yet to compare the circuits.

Audio Projects Film Projects

Acoustic recording and video – in a summerhouse

June 24, 2021
Relaxed and ready to record: left to right, Richard Poynton, Lucy Grubb and Richard Ward.

As part of the promotion of her new EP, Lucy Grubb was keen to have videos made of acoustic performances of a couple of the tracks, to be made very simply in the summerhouse of her banjo player/guitarist, Richard Ward. This involved just two members of the band, providing backing vocals, guitars and banjo, so quite different from the full band, studio recordings on the EP.

With simplicity being the order of the day, and minimal set-up time, I went for a mid-side pair of SDC mics: the AKG CK94 fig 8 as the side mic and the CK93 hypercardioid as the mid mic, into a Sound Devices MixPre-3 recorder. Just to have an extra option, I also rigged up a third mic – a Rode NT55 with the cardioid capsule – as an alternative mid mic, but this really wasn’t the right polar pattern: the main challenges were the balance of the three performers (with a focus on Lucy’s lead vocal) and the difficult acoustic of the fairly narrow untreated summerhouse, all while trying to have a visually unintrusive set up. With hindsight, and given that birdsong is clear in the recordings anyway (in part due to the open doors behind the camera view in the photo above), I think I’d have preferred to record outside under the gazebo you can see in the background: but the band were warmed up and ready to go and, besides, the free-range chickens might have been more challenging still…

On the video side, I simply ran three Lumix cameras: a G9 close to hand on a fluid-head tripod so that I could move it as necessary, and a pair of GX80s on static tripods. Very basic, but it gives the two videos a bit more interest than a single static shot, without stretching the one-man audio recording and filming too far. We did two takes of the first song and three of the second, selecting the best in each case: there was no audio editing at all (processing was limited to a bit of compression and a little reverb), and the video editing was simple too (with colours left as straight off the cameras).

Mid-side recording, with the CK94 (centre in the photo) and CK93 (bottom): the NT55 cardioid mic (top) was not used. Incidentally, you can see the lower profile of the old-style Rycote back-to-back clips (between the bottom two mics) vs the clunkier newer-style clips (between the top two mics) with the wider spacing this brings.
And here’s the video/recording of one of the songs, ‘Waste My Time’.

Film Projects

A second music video for Lucy Grubb

June 18, 2021
Lucy making friends with Annie the shire horse.

After the fun with You Don’t Do Anything, it was great to be invited by Lucy Grubb to make a second music video – in this case for another of the four songs on her recent EP. This time the song was the more reflective title track – Waste My Time. And for this video, it was to feature Lucy only rather than the full band and to be filmed in rural Norfolk locations. With the May weather being such a washout, my plans for a few evening shoots – catching the wonderful light of the ‘golden hour’ before sunset – bit the dust, and we had to film everything in the harsh sunlight on the last Sunday of the month so as to have the video ready for release a week after the EP. After a brief visit to Stiffkey marshes – where the mud and half-filled creeks threatened Lucy’s outfit – we moved on to the rather implausibly located Iron Age hillfort at Warham (with its ramparts and solitary holm oak tree), then blooming oilseed rape fields, the stable and paddocks of a friend (to meet up with the star of the video – Annie the shire horse), and, finally, Swanton Novers Wood. Things went pretty smoothly, even – in spite of Fields’s warning to never work with children or animals – the shire horse session: Annie is a gentle giant and seemed unruffled by this being Lucy’s first time up close to a horse.

Filming involved a simple equipment list: a Lumix G9 with both the Meike T2 cinema lens and the Leica Lumix 12-60mm (the latter for shots with the gimbal – the Zhiyun Crane v2); and a drone for the intro and outro shots (using the diminutive DJI Mavic Mini). To keep things simple, I avoided lip syncing for the drone shots, but the rest was synced – as before – with the pre-recorded track played back through a Bluetooth speaker. Again, I edited in Vegas, giving it a fairly heavy grade to match the previous video: well insofar as possible given the very different weather and light.

You can play the song on Spotify and here’s the finished video:

Audio Gear DIY Projects

Mid-side with AKG CK94

May 25, 2021
AKG CK94 (top) and CK93 (bottom) in Rode Mk1 blimp suspension

I’ve had one of the AKG Blueline mics for years. This has the CK93 capsule, which is an excellent mid-price hypercardioid SDC mic that has proved great for booming indoor (and, on occasion, outdoor) dialogue. I have also used it for music recording where I needed a narrower polar pattern than cardioid. It is leagues above my Oktava MK012 hypercardioid – so beloved by indie filmmakers – in terms of build quality, handling noise, and features (having low-cut and attenuation switches).

From time to time I’ve wondered about the other interchangeable capsules in the Blueline range and, above all, about the CK94 – the figure of eight capsule. Of course LDC multi-pattern mics include a fig 8 polar pattern and, paired with another mic, this allows mid-side recording, which I have done many a time. And, as I have posted, with a massive DIY blimp I have even got such an LDC pair outside for field recording. That said, it would be useful and, for most uses, more practical to have a compact SDC mid-side pair. The standard for field-recording pros is the Sennheiser MKH30, which, while excellent and with the advantage of humidity-beating RF technology, has the distinct disadvantage of cost: it has a street price of around £1500, and even used ones seem rare below £1000. Add another Sennheiser MKH mic (say an MKH40) and wind protection to fit and you will need to spend £3000 or more. Unlike other polar patterns, SDC fig 8s are rare, and there are few more affordable ones: ignoring the clunky pseudo fig 8s made by Oktava and Kortwich (made using two cardioids mounted back-to-back, giving a T-shaped mic), the only affordable true single -diaphragm fig 8 other than the AKG CK94 is the Ambient ATE208 Emesser. The latter, however, has a lot of bass roll-off due to it being tailored to match the off-axis response of a shotgun mic (its intended partner). Recently, boutique Taiwanese mic-maker B9Audio has produced the CM180, but it is only available direct from the maker: so this means significant shipping and duty costs need to be added to the US$749 price. Reviews are also thin on the ground to say the least.

So, with all this in mind, the AKG CK94 remains the most viable affordable SDC fig 8 for general usage (i.e. music as well as film sound). Although now out of production (AKG/Harman/Samsung appear to be phasing out the whole Blueline family and the CK94 was the first to be discontinued), at the time of writing it is just possible to find one or two new examples for sale: with the SE 300B amplifier/mic body, street price is around £600. But I’ve been keeping my eye on the used market, and was please to spot one on the Saturn Sound website (where there is a list for a grand closing down sale of mics – with some very rare examples), and – together with the SE300B amplifier/mic body – the other day I became the owner of a very good condition example: indeed, during a pre-sales check, Ashley Styles of Saturn Sound thought the capsule a bit noisy and replaced it with one he still had. All this, plus delivery in person (he has retired not so far away), for a remarkably affordable £200.

I had no concerns about the CK94 for music or louder effects recording, but, with 22dBA self-noise (a long way from the MKH30’s 13dBA) my hopes were low for recording quieter ambiences. So I was surprised how good it sounded during an initial test recording the ambient noise in the garden (in a village in rural Norfolk). You can have listen here:

I was expecting something much noisier.

In terms of rigging it up for field recording, I purchased a couple of the older style (i.e. lower profile) back-to-back clips made by Rycote (ref. no. 048460), which, unlike the new fit-any-mic clips Rycote make for MS pairs, neatly fit into a Rode Mk1 blimp and have lugs to attach to the suspension bands: the mics sit centrally and with a healthy blimp diameter of 100mm there is still plenty of air space around both mics. The CK94 has to project further forward given the location of its capsule (the centres of the two capsules should align, of course). I’ve added a DIY conn box equivalent (a clamp for the two thin cables – Sommer Cicada – that go from the mics to the DIY boompole-top XLR holder) to avoid the two heavier cables entering the blimp, so I’m there with a very nice sounding SDC mid-side rig for a very modest outlay. And, of course, I can use the AKG C94 with mid-mics other than the hypercardioid CK93: for example, my Rode NT55 mics give me cardioid and omni mid-mic options. I’ll post other recordings – including music – with the CK94-based mid-side rig in due course.

With blimp on, and showing the double XLR holder at the top of the boompole
And a close-up of the DIY double XLR holder at the top of the boompole