Audio-visual engineer Rick Bolton in his home studio. Courtesy photo
Coro alto Maura Taylor receives help with her microphone from audio-visual engineer Rick Bolton. Courtesy photo
BY ANNE MARSH
WITH RICK BOLTON
Many of us have seen remarkable virtual choir videos on YouTube and other platforms, where singers make music together through the marvels of technology. Los Alamos audiovisual engineer Rick Bolton now knows firsthand what goes into creating those videos.
Always interested in the latest recording techniques, Bolton says, “I was excited when Coro de Cámara Artistic Director, Nylea Butler-Moore, asked me to help the chamber chorus produce their fall concert program–a virtual musical feast entitled Amuse-Oreilles (Amusement for the Ears). Nylea, the singers, and I have all learned just how involved a process it is to produce a virtual concert.”
Butler-Moore chose the repertoire and uploaded it into an online music learning platform. Then each chorus member rehearsed their parts at home, utilizing the platform’s backing tracks in preparation for their recording sessions. Rehearsing on their own was a challenge for the singers, who are used to the energy and camaraderie of singing together.
While the singers were practicing their parts, Bolton started assembling a mountain of recording equipment–wireless mics and receivers, an 8-track digital recorder, several video recorders and camera stands, a computer tablet to broadcast the backing tracks to each singer via wireless in-ear receivers, and a second computer tablet to control and monitor the audio recordings. He then recorded the singers in socially-distanced pairs outdoors in the parking lot of the Unitarian Universalist church, with Butler-Moore conducting.
“Recording outside posed some big challenges,“ says Bolton. “For example, we learned that the crows were quite interested in our activities and enjoyed ‘singing’ along, and that the many dogs in the neighborhood are in frequent communication with each other. We also encountered lawn mowers, aircraft, and delivery trucks, and discovered that construction on the roundabout can be heard quite well from a distance.”
He also found that video cameras and computer tablets overheat in the sun and turn themselves off at inopportune times, so he got inventive, using old yard signs and jackets to provide shade for the delicate electronics.
After loading the video and audio recordings of each singer onto his computer, Bolton cleaned up extraneous sounds in the audio and put the individual tracks together into the four parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. He and Butler-Moore then worked with this master audio file to carefully balance the vocal parts. The final step was editing the video of the individual singers into an interesting visual assemblage in order to enhance and illuminate the music.
Rick Bolton says, “While my role was interesting and fun, our most important aim throughout the several months-long process of recording, processing, assembling, and refining was to provide the highest quality audio reproduction of the singers’ performances and a stellar concert experience for our online audience.”
Coro de Cámara’s virtual musical feast Amuse-Oreilles (Amusement for the Ears) will premiere online on November 20 at 7:00 p.m. The online concert is free (donations gratefully accepted), and may be accessed on or after the Premiere through the Coro website at corodecamara-nm.org.