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DPA mics record Sting’s winter opus at Durham Cathedral

Sting’s recording engineer Donal Hodgson recently embarked on a project to record the artist for A Winter’s Night…Live from Durham Cathedral; a concert version of his If On A Winter’s Night album for DVD release and international broadcast.

Video from Sting's concert in Durham  Watch short video snippet from the concert in Durham

Hodgson selected a wide range of DPA microphones to assist him in this complex task, which presented many challenges. The largest of these was presented by the building itself. A beautiful cathedral dating back to 1093, Durham provided an amazing backdrop to the concert, but its solid stone construction threw up some serious reverb problems. As the concert was also being filmed, clean sight lines were essential.

“The cathedral has a lovely sounding reverb, but it’s at least five seconds long,” recalls Hodgson. “The only way to make it sound good was to close mic all 38 musicians, as there was no possibility for ambient miking. The biggest problem I foresaw was the string section, so I looked at DPA’s 4099 series of instrument mics to capture a good recording.”

This approach proved so successful that Hodgson extended his use of the 4099s to the brass section. “The sound wasn’t compromised, the look for the director was better and I didn’t have any problems with the acoustics of the cathedral,” he says. “They’re great sounding little mics, surprisingly easy to mount and the convenience of them is brilliant. I wondered if the owners of the more valuable violins might grimace, but the construction of the assembly is very soft, with nothing damaging. Most of the musicians had never used clip-on mics before but these are really easy to operate and they were very happy to use them. And once they’re on you can’t see the instruments are miked.”
DPA mics record Sting’s winter opus at Durham Cathedral
DPA 4011 cardioids were used for all vocalists. “They sounded really, really good; Sting’s voice in particular sounded excellent,” says Hodgson.

The large amount of percussion, from darbuka and bass drum to bells, chains and keys, was a concern in the reverberant environment, but Hodgson found the 4011C compact cardioid to be a good tool. “It’s so versatile; we didn’t know what percussion was going to be played so we started with a pair for each percussionist and added an extra one or two as needed. As the music changed during rehearsals, some versatility was needed to reposition the mics. We could move them around and further in or out, and as they’re very small, we could tuck them away. For a mic of this size the frequency response is amazing – a really good low end and crisp top end.”

For the Welsh harp and Sting’s lute, IMK4061 kits featuring miniature omni microphones with mounting accessories. These captured a good sound without any spill.

Hodgson also got chance to try out the DPA 5100 mobile surround mic, as the show was recorded and mixed for stereo and 5.1. Unable to put it in the logical audience position due to filming restrictions, he set it up out of shot in a central position behind Sting, where it picked up the whole band, forming the basis of the whole 5.1 mix. “It really gives the listener the chance to be where Sting is, and his sense of acoustic space,” says Hodgson.

A pair of DPA 4017 shotguns positioned at the left and right side of the stage, shooting out into the audience, captured the ambience. “I used the audience tracks throughout the mix to give a sense of the room, so it wasn’t too dry, and that worked really well.”

Hodgson’s almost exclusive use of DPA mics surprised FOH engineer Howard Page and Ian Newton on monitors, who were unfamiliar with DPA in the live environment. On hearing the sound in the cathedral, they were quickly won over. “As soon as they could hear them they were very impressed with the quality,” says Hodgson. “It took everything to a whole new level. I recorded everything flat with no EQ, and it sounded great. Howard kept commenting on how little EQ he needed for the live mix. We were getting what we wanted at source and we didn’t need to add or take away from that. In retrospect, when it came to miking the show and the sound I got using DPAs, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was perfect.”

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