If there was a particular 3D soundscape that I want to record more of, it would be live music. In the summer of 2016 my girlfriend and I took a trip to Italy and in the city of Venice I got my opportunity. On a late humid afternoon I hauled my 3D audio gear and my girlfriend to St. Mark’s Square.
St. Mark’s Square
Also known as Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Square is the mainstay of Venice. The square is surrounded by restaurants, cafes and bars that are packed with tourists. The big attraction in the evening are the orchestras that play live music in front of the restaurants. Tonight there were four, each taking their turn in playing classical music or a popular cover song.
It’s a very magical atmosphere with people of all nationalities wandering about enjoying acoustic instruments being professionally played to music most people know. This was the defining soundscape I was looking for.
The 3D Audio Rig
Here’s the gear that I use that makes up my rig:
- The Freespace Pro II Binaural 3D microphone with pistol grip attachment.
- Sound Devices 788T recorder.
- NP1 lithium ion battery.
- Sony MDR7506 Headphones.
- 2 Hosa XLR cables.
For this setup I held the 3D mic in one hand with the cables going into my backpack where the 788 sat with its battery. Out of the backpack came my headphones which are always on my head. I pretty much wear this rig and once its on it doesn’t come off. It is pretty heavy but even more so it’s hot! No matter what I’m doing I’m usually sweating while wearing it. No pain, no gain!
I set my headphones to only listen to channels 1 and 2 (my left and right “ears” of the mic). My channel gains were matched at 45.2 (professional estimation) with 48V phantom power turned on (the mic won’t work without it). All other recording channels were disabled and mono wav was set for recording format.
There were four orchestras playing that night, each a decent distance from one another. Some people have called them “dueling orchestras” but there is definitely no interaction between the bands other then not playing while the one next to it playing. It’s a good idea since when one orchestra stops playing the crowd shifts the next one.
Recording Live Music in 3D Audio
I held the microphone “head” about the same height as mine and meandered around the square picking up on the different orchestras playing. I’m a pretty tall guy at 5’11” and its important to keep the microphone at a above average height to capture a good field of the surrounding sounds. If I had kept the mic at a lower height I would have captured more sounds in that lower field, like kids and tourists yapping. Holding the mic high captures a more full and wide ambiance of the live music and the scene.
I kept a good distance between myself and the orchestras. I did this because the bands were all acoustic. If I was too close I would pick up one instrument more then the other, probably the loudest one, like a clarinet. Being farther away allows the sounds the instruments are producing to flow into each other creating a pleasant musical wave.
Walking from one orchestra to the next gave me the ability to organically capture transitions in songs as well. When one song ended and people would clap I could make my way over to the next bandstand where they were playing a different song. These transitions also allowed me to capture little snippets of talking from fellow tourists that really makes you feel the setting of the square.
The Post Process
A very careful post process took place over a couple days where I condensed the story of that night from 2 hours down to just over 5 minutes. A lot of it has to do with me editing out the parts where you hear me fiddling with the mic. I also don’t mix sounds together, what you hear is what happened. I should also note that when going through the post process of 3D live music, or any 3D recordings, the mix should be left alone. It’s a big discussion I’ll get into another time.
The finished track is a very immersive 3D soundscape that I think accurately represents a warm summer night in Venice’s most famous musical square. My favorite part is at the end of the track when Mozart is played and the hourly bells of Saint Mark’s Basilica ring, it feels like a scene out of a movie.
The orchestras played a good variety of music from Mozart to Tchaikovsky and everything in between. I’m not much of a classical music connoisseur so I took to the internet to help me figure out what songs are which. If you listen to the track on the app and can name some of these songs please let me know!
- Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake, Dance of little Swans
- Johann Strauss – (some kind of waltz?)
- Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
- Carlos Gardel – Por una cabeza
As I listen to this track now I’m overwhelmed with the nostalgic memory of when I was there. I hope this soundscape gives you a new experience you’ve never had and I hope that one day you get to travel to Venice and experience it for yourself.
The “St. Mark’s Square Orchestras” track is available for free on the Travelear app, download from the App Store for free here. Remember to wear your headphones!
If you want to see more pictures from this recording check out our Instagram here. I’m pretty active on there so feel free to shoot me a message!
Thinking about going to Venice? Check out my Quick Guide here.