Cultural Archives - Wandering River

A Videographer’s day

A view from Behind the Scenes.

If you have ever watched a concert on the telly or online and was curious about how it is all done, read on 🙂 Like all professions, what is visible to the public is the tip of the iceberg – so it is for the Videographer. This wee missive sheds a little light on the preparation that is done before the ‘Record’ button is pressed. Parts of the account border on ‘technical’ but it is all kept, hopefully, within the bounds of ‘normal’ human speech 🙂

When I was offered the chance to produce a video recording of a classical concert by The Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra, I jumped at it. The venue was to be The Apex – an excellent venue in the Suffolk town of Bury St. Edmunds. It was an exciting prospect – many times have I seen a production from the audience perspective but not since my school and college days, have I worked on a stage. To add to the fun, I would have to understand how to use the venue’s audio infrastructure. -There were microphones to set up and their signals returned to the other end of the auditorium where the camera would be.

The Venue.

This is The Apex without a soul about – apart from me.

The Apex, Bury St. Edmunds

All is quiet at The Apex, Bury St. Edmunds.

It is a great venue. Being on my own in the auditorium was an experience in itself. All that space and the hushed quiet.

The reverie quickly dissolved. The thought of having to complete as much of the setup on the stage as possible before the orchestra arrived was enough to bring me back to the present! The main tasks were twofold. First, the initial placement of microphones.’Initial’ because their final location could not be set until the orchestra’s seating arrangement has been fixed. Second, the routing of cables to the microphones. On each side the stage, cables can be passed through wee doors allowing access between the stage. Cables are then forwarded to’patch panels’. These allow you to reroute signals should the need arise. From there, to the rear of the auditorium. As for the cables on the stage, trip hazards were identified and dealt with.

Once the players had arrived and had organised themselves on the stage, I could then position the mics and their stands appropriately. In this shot, the rehearsals had finished and the microphone on the left placed close to where the soloist, Benjamin Baker would stand. To its right, another can be seen – this one was to pick up the sound from the Cellos.

Setting the Stage

Setting microphones for a soloist prior to a concert at the Apex, Bury St. Edmunds.

Ideally, I would like to have positioned them closer to the instruments but this was to be a public performance. Positioning microphones to gain best sound quality had to be measured therefore, against the reasonable expectations of a paying audience.

Of the 8 recording channels I had available, six originated from microphones on the stage. A channel each for Violins, Horns, Percussion, Cello and Bass. One additional channel allowed me to record any announcements made over the auditorium’s PA system. The remaining channel was used for a synchronisation signal – an aid to quickly link the audio to the video when the time comes to edit the recording.

Last Steps

All the wires that carry the microphone signals pass to the rear of the hall. There, setting up the audio was reasonably straightforward. First, the feeds from the stage were connected to a seriously clever box of tricks. Under the control of a laptop, each microphone input from the stage was labelled, the sensitivity of each input adjusted. A stereo mix from all the inputs was created and passed on to the video camera. Last but not least, all 8 channels routed to the software that was be responsible for recording the concert audio.

Setting up

Setting up audio recording gear….

“..the sensitivity of each input adjusted..” What’s that all about? Well, the incoming signals need boosting to a useable level – a level that will vary depending on what instrument a microphone is close to. A cello usually needs more ‘oomph’ than a kettle-drum 🙂 This process can only be done once the rehearsals begin but has to continue during the concert. Keeping watch on how the levels are looking helps you avoid ‘clipping’ – an awful sound that you can do little to correct. The reverse is also true – sound levels that are too low run the risk of unwanted noise intruding.

On the video front, the videographer has to take some essential steps. First, to set ‘White Balance’. Under stage lighting, video and stills cameras need to ‘know’ what white looks like. Once this is established, the recorded video has a better chance of representing colours faithfully. It is always best to ensure what ‘goes in’ is as close to correct as possible, this makes the edit process that much simpler.

Next, a series of simple house-keeping measures: Make sure the video camera was fixed to a levelled tripod. Sounds a minor thing but panning can look very strange if this simple step was not made 🙂 Next, video recording settings checked and sound levels from that ‘clever box of tricks’ also checked.

So. There you have it. I hope this has given an interesting insight. From arrival to a state of readiness had taken about three hours. I had time to grab the stills camera and take some shots of the orchestra as they rehearsed. For me, this is a great time.. to be so close to the musicians as they rehearsed is a memorable experience. While I was on stage with them, the sound was all around me – something that does not happen when at the back of the auditorium.

There are shots of the event in one of the galleries on my Facebook page… you are welcome to check them out:-)


Gig in the Garden

The Gig in the Garden

As fund raisers go, Gig in the Garden has to be amongst the best. The gig is held in the wilds of Suffolk near the town of Stowmarket. It had its first outing last year – a one-day event that was a stonking success. This year’s event was held over two days (July 12th and 13th, 2014) and despite a decidedly damp second day, the entire show was a blast.

The event is in aid of Action Medical Research – A Charity close to the heart of many of the movers and shakers of the Gig. The work done to make the event a smooth running success was immediately obvious when I arrived. Car parking was organised and marshalled, the redoubtable St. John’s Ambulance were visibly in attendance, high quality caterers (including a lady that served CRACKING coffee), room to camp if you wanted to stay over for both days and of course, the essential ‘rest’ err… ‘cubicles’ 🙂

Most important of all, a remarkable array of musical genres lined up…

I arrived at around 1pm.. It was grey and overcast but with a promising forecast. By the end of the evening, there was to be a light show no one had expected.

Wandering River at Work

I was there to capture the mood of the day. Right from the ‘off’, the grey skies did not cast a shadow on an atmosphere that was light and easy. I watched folk find a space, lay out rugs and organise picnics. As more arrived, the open spaces gradually filled with folk content to sit on either picnic rugs or chairs of all shapes and sizes. Inevitably, the beer tent soon had folk propping it up… and since this year’s event provided room for camping, some had no concerns about drinking and driving – aa fact soon made evident 🙂

'Happy Days' at the Gig-in-the-Garden

Making a Summer weekend of it.

Photographing gigs is a favourite but this adds another element.. The daylight hours opens up opportunities for people-watching. Folk of all ages were there – from months old to ages old and it was great to watch them revel in the company around them and in the day’s entertainment.

As time went by, the clouds did indeed give way to the sun. Some folk had bubble makers and in the lazy breeze, bubbles large and small drifted about with many picnics in full swing. Gig in the Garden was well underway and filling the air with music.

Bands and Stages

Two stages, one of them provided by the John Peel Centre, were hosting a seriously diverse range of bands.. it was so good to see they included (like last year) bands made up from folk in their teens as well as those on their 20’s and up. Some made a repeat (and very welcome) return – the redoubtable Underline the Sky, Polar Collective and Chasing Storms to name but a few.

Solo artists too featured large with Gion Stump (all the way from Switzerland no less) and Zak Macro to name but two. Double Acts also featured all with seriously talented guitarists and vocalists. Jo and Rob were on stage when I arrived and they were performing a fabulous version of Nancy Sinatra’s “these Boots are made for Walkin'”… I could not recall how many years it has been since hearing that one!

Underline the Sky were as energetic as ever – and certainly, the decibels went up a notch or two judging by the extra pulses of air the stacks were throwing at me as I walked by them. I checked out one of their videos and I loved it 🙂 A fabulous ballad with video covering a trip to Wales… with an interesting insight into their culinary skills..

Gigs in the Daylight Hours

I attended last year’s Gig in the Garden and not until I reviewed the shots I had taken, did I realise how different the atmosphere can be between daylight hours and after it gives way to the dark hours. A ‘conventionally’ timed gig gives the atmosphere a kick start. Not so for an event during daylight hours. Something else, beyond a well composed shot, has to replace what the darkness provides. I am, by no means, certain I know what that “something else” is but it is great fun trying different options in the processing.. Please do offer your own thoughts on the matter.

So darkness falls… and the time comes around for the headline act. The Bohemians. I had always been a little wary of tribute bands. Last year’s main billing was Ultimate Madness and they did much to banish any misgivings. So this year, my mind was a little more open to a tribute band that focused on all things Queen. Until I checked out their website, I had no idea how accomplished this band was. This will give you an idea…

A wee while after Bohemians had started their set, I could see flashes in the sky.. In no time, I knew it was lightning and it was to be the beginning of one the best natural light shows I had seen for many a year. I had enough material by then so I thought a graceful exit was wise. All the wile I was packing up, the lightning was taking up more of the sky and becoming more frequent. Better still, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the current cover being performed with “thunderbolt and lighting, very,very frightening” coming over the the PA… I am not sure it could have been scripted better…

Soon after, I could hear the gig coming to a premature end and a wise decision it was too. The heavens opened and the storm passed right overhead.

That is what I call a good ending 🙂