Sennheiser mics help record ‘Symphony for a Broken Orchestra’ in immersive 3D

Over twenty Sennheiser microphones, including the dual-channel MKH 800 TWIN and the AMBEO VR Mic, were used to record two performances of Pulitzer-winning composer David Lang’s Symphony For A Broken Orchestra in immersive 3D audio.

Arun Pandian and Devin Greenwood, co-producers, engineers and mixers, collaborated with Sennheiser for the recordings at 23rd St. Armory in Philadelphia.

Using the unique sounds of hundreds of damaged instruments sourced from throughout the Philadelphia public school district, the piece was commissioned by Temple Contemporary with a grant from Pew Charitable trusts to draw attention to the plight of these instruments and raise funds for their repair.

Both Pandian and Greenwood are long-time producers who have worked extensively with Sennheiser microphones throughout their careers.

Pandian, who has been studying immersive and spatial audio as part of his studies for a masters in Tonmeister Studies at New York University, immediately recognised the potential for 3D audio capture when brought aboard the project, which involved performances from 400 student, amateur, and professional musicians. “The setup was inherently immersive, with the conductor in the centre, the orchestra surrounding him on the perimeter, and the audience sandwiched in between,” he said. “I realised it was a perfect opportunity for 3D.”

Symphony for a Broken Orchestra provided a great opportunity to show just how good immersive audio can sound

– Arun Pandian

Ten MKH 800 microphones and another ten MKH 8040 cardioid microphones were supplied via Sennheiser’s David Missall: “There were ten ensembles surrounding the audience, so we utilised one of each of the microphone types in an MS configuration to capture each ensemble, with the MKH 8040 pointing directly at the ensemble and the MKH 800, set to figure-of-eight, covering the floor and ceiling.”

The team also procured three MKH 800 TWIN microphones, which they arranged in a three dual-capsule coincident array (3DCC). “The three TWINS give us front and back, left and right, up and down, which is great for soundfield capture,” Pandian said. With each mic providing two channels of disparate audio that can be independently treated and mixed later, these mics formed the core of the recording’s three-dimensionality. An AMBEO VR microphone further supplemented this while serving as a spatial reference. “We had the AMBEO VR microphone right in the centre, right where our 360-degree video camera was placed.”

The instruments themselves have since been shipped off for repair following the performance in hopes of being restored to full working order by next school year. A stereo vinyl recording will be released on Found Sound Records, and the team is in talks with several museums to collaborate on an interactive installation using the 3D mix of the performance.

“Three-dimensional audio is growing really rapidly, and tools like the MKH 800 TWIN and AMBEO VR Mic are a big part of that," Pandian added. "Even though the idea of 3D audio has been around for a long time, these mics are finally making it possible to create high-quality recordings that translate really well. In addition to being a great cause, Symphony for a Broken Orchestra provided a great opportunity to show just how good immersive audio can sound.”