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Rode NT55

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 another post in due course: the My Røde Reel competition deadline is 20th October.

Audio Gear

Omni mic pair in a single blimp

January 8, 2021

I’m a fan of omni SDC pairs for outside recording. For music I will often use these in Rycote Baby Ball Gags mounted on a stereo bar, itself on a substantial stand (usually the Manfrotto 1004BAC). But where I want something more portable and more windproof, I mount the two omni mics end-to-end inside a single windshield – the Rode blimp Mk1. Joining the two mics end-to-end is easy with a rewired and drilled female-to-female xlr coupler (well, actually, the female-to-female XLR connector is actually not off-the-peg, but made up of three items: two Neutrik NM3FXI and one Neutrik KM. Neutrik’s own female-to-female XLR connector doesn’t unscrew). This places the mics  (a pair of Rode NT55 mics with the excellent NT45-O omni capsules) at a 360mm spacing, which renders a good stereo image and is exactly the ideal length for the Rode blimp (i.e. the same length as the straight part of the blimp). Being pure pressure omni mics there is, of course, no phase issue arising from the fact that they are pointing different directions.

So the end result: a simple robust set up, less fiddly and more portable than common field-recording set-ups for ORTF pairs etc. and – being all enclosed – more windproof. It’s not something I have seen or read about, but I imagine – or hope – others are doing the same.

And here’s a detail of the easily modified connector: just drill a couple of holes for the cables.

Audio Projects

Recording a singer-pianist: Ginny Dix

January 7, 2021

Recording a singer-pianist seems so simple, but it is nothing of the sort. Recording a piano itself is hard enough: do you go for one of the wide range of classical approaches to mic positioning (and if so which one?), placing the piano in its (hopefully) good room acoustic, or do you adopt a closer mic technique used more for jazz, rock and pop? And then how do you avoid spill from the piano in the vocal mic and vice versa? Avoiding, or reducing, such spill, of course, cuts the chances of phase issues and lets you edit or process the tracks differently: perhaps a bit more added reverb or compression on the vocal. Overdubbing would make life easier, but, naturally enough, not many singer-songwriters wish to do that: it is unfamiliar and risks the greater problem of a sterile recording. Norwich-based singer-songwriter Ginny Dix certainly wanted to play and sing at the same time and, just to make life fun, required her performance to be filmed at the same time during the recording of her new song, ‘Woman’, in 2017 (recorded in the Barbirolli Room in the Ethelbert Gate at Norwich Cathedral).

I’d previously recorded and filmed Ginny’s song ‘Run Away‘ at the Wharf Academy in 2016, with help from three others. This time, however, I was on my own, so cut out the crane shots and kept it simple: one locked-off shot along the piano, a second tripod shot mostly locked off for close-ups, and one handheld camera moving around, all the time while monitoring the sound and watching those meters. A couple more arms would be helpful. Kit was small and simple as usual: a Lumix GX80, a Lumix LX100, a Nikon D810, a Rode NT55 omni pair for the piano, and an AKG CK93 hypercardioid for vocals. Far from perfect, I know, but it worked out OK: it was interesting to use an SDC on vocals instead of just grabbing the usual LDC. And, yes, Ginny prefers quite a bit of reverb on her voice so that was enhanced with a convolution reverb while editing in Reaper.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy Ginny’s performance.

Film Projects Live Music

Busking in Andalucia

January 7, 2021

As live music goes, this was about as easy as it gets for the sound-engineer: the band (Rattlebox) decided on a long weekend in the south of Spain in May 2019, to play a largely acoustic gig at a bar and to busk for the first time. That meant no PA and no mixing, but I tagged along for the craic and took the chance to make a short film. Not as simple as you might think: the handy flight from Norwich to Malaga was delayed, and we only arrived in La Tahá in the Alpujarras in the early hours, and there was never a chance to catch-up on sleep. The band kept pace with the lack of sleep and the booze, but, goodness, I felt rough: getting too old for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle? And equipment-wise, things were tricky: it was nearly all hand luggage to keep costs low and to squeeze into the single seven-seater hire car, with underpants and socks stuffed into musical instruments, and my cabin baggage allocation mostly given over to the band. So I bought a Páramo Halkon traveller jacket with 15 pockets, which I stuffed with gear for that low-rent Hulk/shoplifter look. As for the gear, well that was mainly a Lumix GX80 camera with a Zhiyun Crane M gimbal, and a Sony M10 recorder with a stereo pair of Primo EM172-based Clippy mics): can’t get much more minimal than that.

It was a lively gig at the La Cueva de Mora Luna in Mecina Fondales on the Friday night, even if slightly surreal with cars driving past between the band and the audience. Spectacular pizzas afterwards on the house. The next night we were invited to a wake in the neighbouring hamlet of Ferreirola (never met the chap alive) and ended up muscling a grand piano down impossibly narrow streets followed by a local on her penny whistle. And on the Sunday we made it to Granada for busking. No time to visit the Alhambra, but made enough for dinner. Satisfying.

Anyway, here’s a rather rough and ready film that captures something of the weekend. The first song (Hares on the Mountain) was recorded back home in Norfolk, outside in the woods with a pair of Rode NT55s with the omni NT45-O capsules.