Shoin Chapel in Kobe, Masaaki Suzuki, Recording Stravinsky with Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Maestro Andrew Litton.
Classical music has few geographical limitations and the Swedish label BIS now travels all over the world to make recordings. Thirty years ago the company's recording equipment would easily fit into the boot of a car exploring its Scandinavian neighbourhood. Nowadays we fly half a ton of machinery to concert halls in Singapore and São Paulo, to a church in the English countryside, a student chapel in Kobe or to Lahti's superb all-wood Sibelius Hall.
BIS means different things to people with different musical interests. We are a highly respected "early music" label (recording with, among others, Emma Kirkby, Dan Laurin, Bach Collegium Japan and London Baroque) as well as one of the liveliest contemporary music labels (recording composers like Kalevi Aho, Sally Beamish and James MacMillan) and the Scandinavian music label par excellence - the jewel in the crown being our Complete Sibelius Edition!
Until 2003 BIS had only released a limited number of recordings in 5-channel surround-sound. It soon became clear to company owner and CEO Robert von Bahr that in order to continue to play an important role in the evolving music market, BIS would have to make clear moves towards the embracing of the new format. This was necessary in order to be of technical interest to HiFi and classical music enthusiasts alike as well as to showcase our cooperation with our established artists and to prepare the ground for new collaborations with world-class ensembles like the Minnesota Orchestra.
Their recordings of the 9 Beethoven Symphonies conducted by Osmo Vänskä, and released by BIS as SACDs, have been received with great acclaim.
When we decided to continue recording our ongoing series of Bach Cantatas for release on SACD instead of CD, Masaaki Suzuki, founder and leader of the renowned Bach Collegium Japan (BCJ) was astonished how clearly the acoustic of the Shoin Chapel in Kobe was reproduced by our first new RME Octamic D microphone preamplifier and A/D converters.
It is not difficult to understand that the making of over 60 CD/SACD recordings per year- the majority of them involving orchestras - with a staff of only 6 full-time Tonmeister/Producers (and an equal number of part-time freelancers), requires a streamlined work flow. (We can reveal that in the past we often made 90 recordings per year!) Unlike some other companies, we could not and would not allow ourselves the luxury of multi-track recording. It should be possible to create a mix of any kind of classical music on the spot - by two professionals in the case of orchestral music and by a single person in the case of chamber music.
We did briefly consider having a second control room for the surround-sound, employing a third professional for each orchestra recording in order to monitor and mix on location. But it was immediately clear that this was not the way we wanted to go. How could communication between the producing Tonmeister and the second control room be possible in an already complex work environment? He would simply be unable to judge how things turned out on the other side of the wall!
What had to be important for BIS was the ability to completely remix 32 to 40 microphones using the best professional tools available. This not only helps us to improve the sound of the new 5-channel format but also enables us to create the most natural sound possible for the stereo version included on the ordinary CD layer. For most listeners this is equally important. Archiving the edited multi-track versions also enables us to remix them later and in any future format.
While researching the state of computer-based recording back in 2004 it came as a positive surprise that the time finally appeared ripe for making the switch. And it was precisely at that moment that we understood the blessings of the MADI format which had been around for years, but had previously been available only in hardware too pricey and too big to be seriously considered for the mobile recording business. For BIS, the combination of RME's hardware and Sequoia/Samplitude software became the ideal solution for both recording and editing.
Freddy Kempf playing Prokofiev concertos
Today our orchestra recording set-up involves 4 RME Micstasy, which have their own native MADI capability and one RME ADI-648 that inserts one or more additional RME Octamic into the MADI loop. All of RME's MADI based units can be controlled remotely by the recording PC through its RME HDSP MADI interface. A Yamaha 02R96 (with MADI cardslot interfaces by Audio Service Schierbecker) provides us with enough mixing power for any of our classical recordings and the resulting mixes can be looped right back to the RME HDSP MADI interface.
Studio 3 at BIS Records in Åkersberga, Sweden
Being two musically-trained Tonmeister (Producer and Engineer) at each orchestra recording, we want to save some of the mixing work that we have done on location. So we usually record post-fader to one of two computers and use this version for post-production (unless something went seriously wrong!) This enables us, after editing, to set a totally independent static mix for both the 5-channel and the stereo versions as well as to do any dynamic correction we may deem necessary to either version, thus saving lots of time when compared with starting from scratch. The final mix can now be created under standardized conditions at our largest mixing studio. Those working with mobile recording who have spent countless weeks in backstage dressing rooms and tiny church sacristies will know what a difference that makes!
BIS now uses Laptops equiped with the RME MADIface as mobile recording solution for Orchestra recordings.
More information: www.bis.se
photos by Jens Braun and David Kornfeld