Creating a ‘live’ performance

I often analyse musical pieces to learn more about how they tick; how did the composer use harmony, rhythm, et cetera, to give this piece its specific character. This week, I was working on Schubert’s ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’, the second movement. I had recreated the piece in Sibelius, using Cinesamples Solo Strings for the individual players. After having done so, I decided it might be fun to try if I could make it sound like a live performance; and so I did.

First, I exported the individual parts to WAV-files, removing any effects or panning from them for a completely dry output. I then imported the parts into Cubase Pro 10, and started thinking on what gives the impression of a live performance.

The first thing that came to mind is: an audience! One rarely sits alone in a concert hall. There are other people, shuffling, coughing, breathing and all those other annoying little habits that confirms the presence of others around us. So, I started off with tracking down a free sound sample of an audience coughing, shuffling and breathing, using that to start the track. This dies down somewhat as the performers start playing, of course, as tends to happen in a concert hall. However, I then took a few coughs and placed them strategically throughout the performance, panning them in different places in the hall. One cough in front, another to the left, the other to the far right and slightly softer. This keeps reminding us of the presence of others while we listen to the performers.

Another important element was roomtone. A stage or concert hall is never completely silent, that would feel unnatural. So, I hopped over to the Cinesamples website and downloaded their freebie ‘Sony Room Tone’, which is a recorded noise floor at the MGM Scoring Stage in Los Angeles. This I placed underneath the audience and the performance, giving the sensation of a constant ‘sound’ underneath it all.

Then it was time to blend everything together with the right reverb. For this I used Altiverb, my absolute favourite reverb plugin. I used 6 tracks with Altiverb’s Berlin Philharmonie IR: Three for the roomtone and the audience, and three for the performers. Every instance used microphones at different positions throughout the hall. I find using three instances, combining different mic positions, adds an enormous amount of realism and sensation of space.

Why different reverbs for the audience and the performers, you might ask? Well, the reverbs for the audience is much closer by and at the forefront, which makes sense as we are in the audience when we listen to a performance. On the channels for the performers, I used Altiverb’s amazing Positioner tool to place the source of the sound much further in the distance. After all, we’re not next to the performers, we’re observing them from the audience on the stage ahead of us.

It was a fun experiment, and I rather like the result of it. You can listen to this ‘live performance’ here:

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