Globetrotting Classical Recording for “Now Hear This”
Sound Recordist Reid Mangan Captures PBS Great Performances Classical Music Series Now Hear This with Lectrosonics
Hosted by virtuoso violinist and conductor Scott Yoo, the globe-trotting PBS Great Performances Series Now Hear This could be an Anthony Bourdain travelogue, only with a focus on classical music instead of cuisine. Created by Harry Lynch of Austin-based Arcos Films, it compellingly explores classical composers’ works and life experiences in the places where they plied their craft. The intense travel schedule necessitates a tight crew, and Reid Mangan is tasked with recording both musical performances and dialogue. For the latter, he relies on Lectrosonics Digital Hybrid Wireless, specifically SRb and SRcreceivers (slot-mounted in an SL-6 dock with a Sound Devices 688 recorder); two each of SMV, SMQV, and LT transmitters; and an HMa plug-on transmitter paired with a UCR411a receiver for occasional boom work.
“For the music performances, I’m running up to ten channels of cabled mics and am focusing on mic placement to get an ideal sound from each instrument. And I capture dialogue at the same time,” says Mangan. “Because this is a documentary show and not scripted, we don’t get to do alternate takes if there’s a technical problem. Point being, for the dialogue, I need wireless that I can set and forget. I can’t hold a boom over someone’s head at the same time I’m doing everything else; we need whatever is happening right in front of us to come through in the moment and sound natural, with no surprises.”
World travel comes part and parcel with frequency planning difficulties. Mangan points out that Lectrosonics’ Digital Hybrid Wireless technology, which maximises usable channels within a given radio frequency range, has made the process smooth sailing no matter where the show finds itself. “We’ve filmed on three continents, including North America, Europe and Africa,” he notes. “Normally, every time you cross a border you have to put together an audio bag specifically for that country or region. That hasn’t been the case here. The receivers always lock onto open frequencies, and between Scott and his guests we’ll usually have up to four channels of wireless going, though sometimes I’ve used six.”
On the transmitter side of the equation, Mangan cites the high output power of the SMV and SMQV as a lifesaver. “We’re often shooting in buildings that are in busy city centers with tons of RF activity,” he explains. “We’ve used the 250-milliwatt mode on the SMV and SMQV more than I expected. We also like the SMV because it’s small and can be easily hidden on the talent. The LTs are relatively new to my rig, but I like the infrared sync on those and being able to quickly change frequencies without dialling it in manually. Anyway, the transmitters always punch through and we get a great sound — detail, dynamic range, the natural quality of the human speaking voice, all that — with no interference.” Thanks to Lectrosonics’ surgical selection of clear frequencies, the crew has likewise received no complaints about causing interference for anyone else.
Mangan finds Lectrosonics’ audio quality so pristine that he occasionally uses it to augment a wired instrument mic in addition to recording dialogue. “Sometimes I’ll gain-stage a lav mic to capture a cello or violin. A little of that added to a wired signal can add body in the mix. I might do this with larger ensembles as well because with the wired mic kit, we only have ten channels to record all the instruments.”
Mangan sees Lectrosonics’ ability to “get out of the way” as important to making the guests comfortable and thus capturing candid conversations. This in turn supports the mission of Now Hear This: “The show is about making classical music accessible and organic, about revealing it in terms of who it came from and where they came from. The director, Harry Lynch, really wanted to overcome the stereotype of the museum-like concert hall where a piece is played perfectly for an audience wearing tuxedos.”