EOL 3: Mediterranean musicians in America (Signell)

Audio and video recordings; transcriptions

An audio or video recording is not a performance. It's an artificial construct designed by the producer and/or recordist to create an audio/video illusion of a music/dance event. Clarifying recording choices will help the author and reader to understand what is going on.

Microphone placement plays the largest role in determining what the listener hears, aside from mixing, if any. A microphone "hears" frequencies differently than does the ear; a video camera "sees" colors and brightness differently than does the eye. The parts of the brain that process these senses can "zoom in" on a small drum or a mask or a birdcall. The producer/recordist can simulate such a zoom-in only by microphone or camera placement or by using a telephoto lens or a parabolic audio reflector. Or by using multiple microphones and emphasizing the birdcall in the post-production mix. Unlike the conscious and often-changing attention of live hearing, the recording tends to be fixed throughout its duration.

The ethnomusicologist can find more ways of recording music and dance than there are text variations on a well-known ballad. Only by making the purpose explicit can the scholar make decisions about recording choices before recording and before publishing.


To the end-user, the purpose of the recordist is more important than what model microphone or DAT machine was used. What point does the author want to make? How does that point affect the number and directional pattern of microphones used and their placement?

Is the recording intended to be a social document of a live event, with passing motorcycles, firecrackers, conversation, and laughing? A simulation of an idealized live concert, with distracting noise minimalized? An analysis of musical structure?

The author's purpose continues to mold the recording in post-production, where elements might be combined or separated, slight reverberation added to a "dry" acoustic space, even an electronic recreation of an acoustical envelope. There is nothing wrong per se with such manipulation, so long as the author fully discloses them and explains the reasons.

There is no such thing as an all-purpose recording technique, any more than there is an all-purpose video taping or music transcription technique. Everything flows from the author's purpose.

Mediterranean recordings

Music in a New World series

In general, I intended to provide a pleasing yet educational listening experience for a serious but non-specialist radio audience. Using mostly a coincident pair of Neuman KM-84 directional microphones and Nagra IIS (1982 series) analog recorder or Sony PCM-F1 (1985 series) digital processor for recording music, I often took as much time and as many test recordings as necessary to carefully place microphones (and musicians, sometimes) to create what I considered an ideal sound. An ideal sound would be one in which all the musical elements could be heard in a balance which the performers intended and for which the audience listened. When possible, I asked performers whether the balance and presence of elements in a test recording sounded right.

For interviews, I used a single ElectroVoice DO56 omnidirectional microphone with the same recorders.


1. Gündüz in nightclub.

Purpose: To foreground his voice; balance accompanying instruments and belly-dancer's finger cymbals; minimize amplification speaker, ambient sounds of audience eating and talking.

Recording: Single-point stereo pair (Neumann ??) microphone, probably on hand-held boom for maximum flexibility; Nagra IIS recorder. Recorded at Astor nightclub, Washington, D.C., by National Public Radio (NPR) engineer John Widdoff under my direction as producer.

Post-production processing: Probably added slight reverberation to otherwise "dry" ambience of nightclub acoustical space.

2. Gündüz in studio.

Purpose: Record interview and solo music most conveniently for performer, me, and recording engineer without regard to audience or acoustical environment.

Recording: NPR studio, Washington DC, with same microphone as above. ?? recording deck.

Post-production processing: Probably added slight reverberation to otherwise "dry" ambience of soundproof studio acoustical space.

3. Tamer/Racy duet.

Purpose: Concentrate on tanbur and ney sound and performance; minimal audience or room environment.

Recording: In Tamer's livingroom in Los Angeles, with 1982 equipment.

4. Yasar/Sayin duet.

Purpose: To balance characteristic sound of tanbur and ney with a touch of natural reverberation of cathedral.

Recording: St. John The Divine Cathedral, New York City. 1982 equipment.

Turkish 78s

The 1893 cylinder recordings (for details, see Lee 1984) were made by American psychologist Benjamin Ives Gilman, a pioneer in using recordings to study music . Wax cylinder recording technology is inferior to the later acoustical disc recordings and electric disc recordings, but provide a rare historical document.


1. Daskalakis.

Purpose: Foreground voice but maintain lyra presence.

Recording: His livingroom in Berkeley, California. 1982 Equipment.

2. Halkias.

Purpose: Foreground clarinet soloist while maintaining presence of accompanying instruments in order of importance.

Recording: Livingroom of Halkias in Manhattan, New York. 1982 equipment.

Greek 78s


South Slav

Recorded at the 1981 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. All music recorded by direct feed from Smithsonian mixing board for public system; multiple, close microphones. Interviews recorded on festival grounds with my standard 1982 interview equipment.

South Slav 78s



1a. Dog barking. To capture natural acoustical ambience of monastery garden in a suburb of Detroit, using 1985 equipment.

1b. (continued) Chifteli lute. To capture characteristic sound of the instrument. Recorded at ethnic radio station studio in Detroit with 1985 equipment.

Postproduction: lute music superimposed on monastery ambience to dramatize Baba Rexhep's "Voice of God" philosophy (my idea, not Baba Rexhep's).


Recorded with electric microphones in 1928, the fidelity is clearly superior to acoustic recordings made before 1925.

Italian 78s

Except for the acoustically-recorded 1916 vendor cries, all are post-1925 electrical recordings.

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