The 'Living Stereo' Sound

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arthound
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The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by arthound » Mon Apr 26, 2010 5:19 am

I have been enjoying a lot of the 'Living Stereo' CDs lately - particularly Reiner's and Munch's recordings. As is well known many of these works have wonderful sound that arguably outclasses recordings made decades later. What I want to understand is how was this sound achieved and how come later recordings have not been able to easily replicate this type of sound - is it because recording techniques have changed or has a different type of recorded sound become the ideal?

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Lance » Mon Apr 26, 2010 10:49 am

I used to know the history behind the Living Stereo success. The sound was, certainly incredible for that time and, as you say, even for the present day. These recordings are, indeed, "living" performances to the ears offering a reality that is in a word outstanding. I cannot recall the story completely. It seems to me the was included in the leaflets of the Living Stereo CD issues, but also elsewhere as well. That history is documented somewhere in a book. I'll try to do some research on it. ♪
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Chalkperson » Mon Apr 26, 2010 12:47 pm

I don't remember the complete story either, but, I do know that many of the best LP's were recorded on a Three Track Tape Recorder, not a Two Track...that gave them better control over the sound and also the SACD's that were recently released were three track discs, Left Right and Center...John F probably knows more about this...
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by HoustonDavid » Mon Apr 26, 2010 1:13 pm

According to Wikipedia:

On October 6, 1953, RCA held experimental stereophonic sessions in New York's Manhattan Center with Leopold Stokowski conducting a group of New York musicians in performances of Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1 and the waltz from Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. There were additional stereo tests in December, again in the Manhattan Center, this time with Pierre Monteux conducting members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In February 1954, RCA made its first commercial stereophonic recordings, taping the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Münch, in a performance of The Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz. This began a practice of simultaneously taping orchestras with both stereophonic and monaural equipment. Other early stereo recordings were made by Toscanini and Guido Cantelli respectively, with the NBC Symphony Orchestra; the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler; and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner. Initially, RCA used RT-21 1/4 inch tape recorders (which ran at 30 inches per second), wired to mono mixers, with Neumann U-47 cardioid and M-49/50 omnidirectional microphones. Then they switched to an Ampex 300-3 1/2 inch machine, running at 15 inches per second (which was later increased to 30 inches per second).

These recordings were initially issued in 1955 on special stereophonic reel-to-reel tapes and then, beginning in 1958, on vinyl LPs with the logo "Living Stereo." Sony Music and predecessor companies have continued to reissue these recordings on CD.
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maestrob
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by maestrob » Tue Apr 27, 2010 11:13 am

What prompted these recording sessions was the invention and markeing of the first generation of microphones able to capture the full range of human hearing (30-20,000 CPS or cycles per second, now known as kHz or kilohertz), first marketed to studios (and Hollywood) in late 1953. What made the RCA and Mercury recordings unique was that only 2 or 3 microphones were used, suspended above the orchestra, thus capturing a natural stereophonic balance (one each for left, right and center).

Columbia, DGG, Philips and London/Decca went another route, preferring to multi-mike the orchestra by placing microphones near groups of instruments and mixing the results on a board specifically designed for the purpose, thus introducing more noise and distortion onto the master tapes (and upsetting the natural balance of the orchestra): inaudible on LP's through "normal" playback equipment, but quite noticeable on high fidelity playback. This is what CD remastering is all about: eliminating the hiss and compression introduced by this process, and it's why RCA and Mercury CDs have such a reputation for superior sound over their more complexly recorded counterparts.

Command Classics, Everest as well as Mercury briefly recorded three-track 35mm film master tapes during the late fifties and early sixties and produced some outstanding results. (The Command Classics tapes (mostly with William Steinberg/Pittsburg, but there were others) were picked up by Capital Records/EMI).

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Neytiri

Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Neytiri » Tue Apr 27, 2010 11:44 am

And what technologies are in use now by the major recording labels?

Who uses what?

And who uses 3 microphones and who multi-mikes? :)

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Heck148 » Tue Apr 27, 2010 12:00 pm

maestrob wrote:What prompted these recording sessions was the invention and markeing of the first generation of microphones able to capture the full range of human hearing (30-20,000 CPS or cycles per second, now known as kHz or kilohertz), first marketed to studios (and Hollywood) in late 1953. What made the RCA and Mercury recordings unique was that only 2 or 3 microphones were used, suspended above the orchestra, thus capturing a natural stereophonic balance (one each for left, right and center).

Columbia, DGG, Philips and London/Decca went another route, preferring to multi-mike the orchestra by placing microphones near groups of instruments and mixing the results on a board specifically designed for the purpose,
yes, most interesting...the Mercury and RCA recordings were remarkable because they hung out 1 [mono], 2 or 3 [stereo] mikes, and let the orchestra play. whatever hit the mike, got recorded....this does produce a more natural sound...provided the mikes are placed judiciously.

once the spot-miking, multi-miking got going, we would hear all sorts of weird balances distortions, incongruous sounding parts, instruments popping in and out of existence, if the engineering was done indiscreetly...
my own experience with recording, which is considerable, esp live, on-site recording, leads me to think that mike placement, and mike quality [frequency response] are really key elements to successful recording.
the best recording equipment - DAT, whatever, will not overcome poor microphones, or incorrect placement of the mikes.

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Lance » Tue Apr 27, 2010 12:26 pm

I have been doing semi-professional recording for years, since around 1960. I used a Magnecord half-track 1/4" tape recorder, Revox 1/2 track and 1/4 track 15ips recorders, mixers, Pearl condenser microphones, Shure mics, with up to six or eight microphones at a time, carefully placed for natural balance in venues with good acoustics. These were mostly vocal recitals, trumpet recitals, orchestral concerts, a capella choruses, and most of all, piano recitals. I still do recording today on a very limited basis, but generally go with a one-point high quality condenser microphone and record digitally. My thought is somewhat like Mercury Records of yesteryear. My sense is that we have only two ears. I try to capture what two ears hear. The one-point stereo microphone replaces the ears. There are times I would like to reinforce singers or a solo piano (with orchestra), though any recordings I have made for people have been much appreciated. What I do is kind of for fun in music, though I aim for absolute professional quality. At one time, I thought I might really like to the next producer for EMI, like Walter Legge, but also be the recording engineer. Why not have dreams? :) But life didn't work out that way. It's probably just as well.

What are the Big Guys doing today? They are using fancy multi-microphone mixers fed into complex digital recorders. I don't particularly like many of the newer recordings I hear today, especially the orchestral ones. Solo instruments and vocal recordings come out fairly well. Hyperion seems to have a good sense for making exquisite solo or piano concerto recordings.
Neytiri wrote:And what technologies are in use now by the major recording labels?

Who uses what?

And who uses 3 microphones and who multi-mikes? :)
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Chalkperson » Tue Apr 27, 2010 1:26 pm

Lance wrote:At one time, I thought I might really like to the next producer for EMI, like Walter Legge, but also be the recording engineer. Why not have dreams? :) But life didn't work out that way. It's probably just as well.
Legge's genius as a Producer was also in his ability to put the right Singers and Conductors together, he rarely failed to produce the goods...
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Neytiri

Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Neytiri » Tue Apr 27, 2010 1:48 pm

Thank you, Lance, for the reply! :)

So this three-mikes system is no longer used? Even though it might provide better results than the latest gizmo technology of 77-mikes directed all towards the various points in the orchestra? :?

The Living Stereo is also dead?

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Wallingford » Tue Apr 27, 2010 4:59 pm

Neytiri wrote: The Living Stereo is also dead?
It's STILL THERE,if you chance to acquire a few VG-to-pristine "1S" copies (look in the runoff groove area for those two characters at the end, following the hyphen).
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Wallingford » Tue Apr 27, 2010 5:01 pm

I'm certain, too, that Red Seal (as well as Mercury & British Decca, in those days) pressed their LP discs at a much, much slower speed--as opposed to Columbia, which utilized high speed for maximum profits.
If I could tell my mom and dad
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Lance » Tue Apr 27, 2010 5:06 pm

Walter Legge was known to be a bear to work with, and I believe he was largely uneducated in music (as a trained professional or performer) though he had wonderful insights and instincts on how music should be performed and recorded. He produced many wonderful recordings for EMI, such artists as Lipatti, Haskil, Schwarzkopf (his wife), and countless others.
Chalkperson wrote:
Lance wrote:At one time, I thought I might really like to the next producer for EMI, like Walter Legge, but also be the recording engineer. Why not have dreams? :) But life didn't work out that way. It's probably just as well.
Legge's genius as a Producer was also in his ability to put the right Singers and Conductors together, he rarely failed to produce the goods...
Lance G. Hill
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Chalkperson » Tue Apr 27, 2010 9:35 pm

Lance wrote:Walter Legge was known to be a bear to work with, and I believe he was largely uneducated in music (as a trained professional or performer) though he had wonderful insights and instincts on how music should be performed and recorded. He produced many wonderful recordings for EMI, such artists as Lipatti, Haskil, Schwarzkopf (his wife), and countless others.
Which is good news for those of us who are also not educated musically, if you have the right feel for something and go on your instincts, then success, or in Legge's case incredible success, may follow...
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Lance » Tue Apr 27, 2010 10:31 pm

Walter Legge was gifted with knowing what was good in music by nature, somehow. He knew music, understood it, but could not perform it. He was a perfectionist. He was often a pain in the ... neck ... to many of the artists he produced. He angered many but they respected his quest for music-making that was a cut above. He succeeded. There were few like him. He left an incredible legacy for music lovers for many generations to follow.
Chalkperson wrote:
Lance wrote:Walter Legge was known to be a bear to work with, and I believe he was largely uneducated in music (as a trained professional or performer) though he had wonderful insights and instincts on how music should be performed and recorded. He produced many wonderful recordings for EMI, such artists as Lipatti, Haskil, Schwarzkopf (his wife), and countless others.
Which is good news for those of us who are also not educated musically, if you have the right feel for something and go on your instincts, then success, or in Legge's case incredible success, may follow...
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Tue Apr 27, 2010 10:44 pm

Neytiri wrote: So this three-mikes system is no longer used?
I believe BIS actually still uses a similar technique, although obviously with digital equipment rather than the analog microphones used by RCA.

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Lance » Tue Apr 27, 2010 11:11 pm

Personally, I like the three microphone pattern now that I think about it. I used it to good effect. It's great when you have an ensemble with a harpsichord or piano, or soloist in front of it. Using the "center" microphone can be panned across the left and right channels for good effect. Most of us had/have two channel setups. RCA and other majors uave many channels, but in the three-microphone setup, the center has a track of it's own and thus can be "spread" over the other tracks.

I think it was in RCA's Artur Rubinstein Edition that, when remastering the discs, I had read where they used only the left and right channels and didn't use the center channel at all in the remastering. It gave the final product more natural "separation." If that is, in fact, what happened, those remastered recordings DO sound better and a little more lifelike.
ContrapunctusIX wrote:
Neytiri wrote: So this three-mikes system is no longer used?
I believe BIS actually still uses a similar technique, although obviously with digital equipment rather than the analog microphones used by RCA.
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Chalkperson » Tue Apr 27, 2010 11:55 pm

Lance wrote:I think it was in RCA's Artur Rubinstein Edition that, when remastering the discs, I had read where they used only the left and right channels and didn't use the center channel at all in the remastering.
So that's why I don't like his playing, he's missing his center channel... :lol:
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by arthound » Wed Apr 28, 2010 12:04 am

Thanks to everyone for their responses - I find this a very interesting topic. What suprises me is that given the general popularity of the 'Living Stereo' recordings - with both reviewers and the buying public - why has there not been more attempts to replicate the sound? I have read time and time again about how a reviewer prefers the sound in Reiner's classic recordings to many modern performances and I would have thought that there would have been more attempts to 'get' this sound again. Or am I missing something - was it also to do with the acoustics in the hall that they used with Reiner or some other feature that is harder to reproduce?

I think I remember reading a thread here on Telarc and it's 'house' sound. I enjoy a lot of the recordings from this label - did they have a similar practice of recording in regards to minimal microphone placement?
Last edited by arthound on Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Mark Harwood » Wed Apr 28, 2010 3:15 am

Wallingford wrote:I'm certain, too, that Red Seal (as well as Mercury & British Decca, in those days) pressed their LP discs at a much, much slower speed--as opposed to Columbia, which utilized high speed for maximum profits.
I think you may mean that they cut the master disc more slowly. That would make a difference.
As a complete amateur, I used a three-mic system when recording school concerts, in order to bring up the level of singers when necessary. It's also handy when recording a jazz band, for the same reason. Multi-miking can indeed sound false: one of my favourite jazz bands has released many CDs made that way, the drum kit sounding particularly wrong, whereas my lo-fi close-pair-miked cassette recordings of the same band lack the distractions of such artifice & are much better to listen to, to my ear.
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:24 am

What I remember especially from RCA records was the presence of "bubbles" on some of their pressings (e.g., Reiner's Mahler Fourth). I returned that one at least several times to the record shop, but alas! EVERY one was the same (near the beginning of the third movement).

There were others, too.

But for natural, clear sound I liked LONDON records best.

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Neytiri » Wed Apr 28, 2010 6:28 am

Wallingford wrote:
Neytiri wrote: The Living Stereo is also dead?
It's STILL THERE,if you chance to acquire a few VG-to-pristine "1S" copies (look in the runoff groove area for those two characters at the end, following the hyphen).
But no one records in Living Stereo?

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Heck148 » Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:00 am

arthound wrote:I have read time and time again about how a reviewer prefers the sound in Reiner's classic recordings to many modern performances and I would have thought that their would have been more attempts to 'get' this sound again. Or am I missing something - was it also to do with the acoustics in the hall that they used with Reiner or some other feature that is harder to reproduce?
[my emphasis]

"some other feature harder to reproduce" = yes indeed, the sound of the CSO under Reiner. :)

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Apr 28, 2010 11:43 am

Heck148 wrote:
arthound wrote:I have read time and time again about how a reviewer prefers the sound in Reiner's classic recordings to many modern performances and I would have thought that their would have been more attempts to 'get' this sound again. Or am I missing something - was it also to do with the acoustics in the hall that they used with Reiner or some other feature that is harder to reproduce?
[my emphasis]

"some other feature harder to reproduce" = yes indeed, the sound of the CSO under Reiner. :)
You beat me to it, that's exactly what I was going to say... :wink:
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by rwetmore » Thu Apr 29, 2010 8:01 pm

It's really a shame Reiner didn't live another 5 to 10 years. Many of the early Living Stereo recordings of his don't do the performances sonic justice. I hear clipping, distortion on a lot of the louder passages on many of the recordings dating '57 and earlier. Interestingly, the Pines and Fountains of Rome from '59 is one of his best sounding sessions. Perhaps that was done with one of the newer recorders that wouldn't be bettered until several years a later after his death.
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Heck148 » Thu Apr 29, 2010 9:36 pm

rwetmore wrote:It's really a shame Reiner didn't live another 5 to 10 years. Many of the early Living Stereo recordings of his don't do the performances sonic justice. I hear clipping, distortion on a lot of the louder passages on many of the recordings dating '57 and earlier. Interestingly, the Pines and Fountains of Rome from '59 is one of his best sounding sessions. Perhaps that was done with one of the newer recorders that wouldn't be bettered until several years a later after his death.
It's too bad RCA didn't record his 1958 Ein Heldenleben - that was supposed to be really dynamite....I've been looking for a copy of that one - either from Chicago, or from Boston, when they appeared in Symphony Hall.

some of the early tapes are very excellent - Brahms Cto #1 with Rubinstein....others not so good...

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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Wallingford » Thu Apr 29, 2010 10:02 pm

One big mystery, in my book: Fiedler's first waxing of the Grand Canyon Suite and his lone El salon Mexico were recorded on the same day in '55.....and yet, even though the Grofe received a belated stereo release on Victrola in the late 60s, the Copland has always appeared in fake stereo.

Also, RCA never corrected its goof of having the stereo channels reversed in the Grand Canyon performance.
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Lance » Mon May 03, 2010 11:00 pm

Unless you have a third ear ... you would never notice! While the central microphone is spread over the left and right channels in the final mix - and you don't possess a third ear, the only thing we might enjoy a little bit more is the stereo separation, which sounds very natural since we only have two ears anyway, or at least the preponderance of us! (Ho, ho, ho!) :lol:
Chalkperson wrote:
Lance wrote:I think it was in RCA's Artur Rubinstein Edition that, when remastering the discs, I had read where they used only the left and right channels and didn't use the center channel at all in the remastering.
So that's why I don't like his playing, he's missing his center channel... :lol:
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Chalkperson » Tue May 04, 2010 1:55 am

Lance wrote:Unless you have a third ear ... you would never notice! While the central microphone is spread over the left and right channels in the final mix - and you don't possess a third ear, the only thing we might enjoy a little bit more is the stereo separation, which sounds very natural since we only have two ears anyway, or at least the preponderance of us! (Ho, ho, ho!) :lol:
Actually, we do not hear Stereo in the way you describe, because, each ear does not hear separate channels of sound so they both hear exactly the same sound, our brain decodes that sound, it figures out exactly which direction the sound is coming from, and that is how we discern the difference between Mono and Stereo... :wink:
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Re: The 'Living Stereo' Sound

Post by Harold Tucker » Tue May 04, 2010 10:41 pm

Mr. hound needs to find a library that has a copy of Jonathan Valin's "The RCA Bible" (1994). It will tell him more than he ever thought he wanted to know about the history and technique of the "Living Stereo" recordings. Unfortuanately it is hard to come by.

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