Getting To The Real Deal: The Indian Percussions

Indian percussion is a family with a rich and varied history. From filling up the halls of a court to expressing the pains of poverty, the range of emotions these convey are wide and intricate. Recording these instruments is an art in and of itself. In other words, recording Indian percussion is a totally different ballgame.

In the centuries long history of Indian instruments, we are on the verge of losing many to time like Mayuri, Gubguba, Mizhavu, etc. This could have been because there was no one to carry on the musical tradition or there was no one left to manufacture them in their true form.

There used to be a time when most instruments were made by stretching and binding animal skin to bodies of clay or wood. Though in modern times the makers have had to adapt to metal bodies and fiber, the connection with nature remained. The culture and tradition of the land was deep rooted in this connection. This could be one of the reasons for the richness and diversity of the Indian musical culture.

The Sweetspot

Percussions, by their very nature, are high in transients and respond to the room more readily and evidently. If the room isn’t complementary, the instrument will start resonating and the actual tone produced by the instrument is likely to be altered and far from reality. Choosing the right microphones, placement and gain staging are some factors that decide the quality and musical translation of an instrument to be recorded.

Considering sound propagates in the form a sphere and calculating that radius in a conceptual manner helps us to place the mic at the sweetspot of that particular instrument. (The point where the instruments sounds real).

An Engineer should have an ear that is trained to sense overtones and harmonics. These may add beautifully to the sound or can prove to be a dilemma in the case of percussion recordings. Only with a keen tonal sense will the Engineer be able to do the proper micing and take the required actions to eliminate these problems and get the best out of the instrument.

The Skin

As we’ve already seen, the skin of the instrument and its response to the room’s temperature is important and plays a critical role in delivering the best (Refer Chapter 2). This is where knowing the instrument and having a conversation with the artist can be of help. The room temperature has to be set at optimal levels where the pitch of the instrument is stable and in tune with the song throughout the session (to an extent).

The Driving Force

Heavy percussions act as a driving force that can carry the song. Most of the times, these instruments are used to lift the energy of the song.

In the era of Digital Recording, track limit is rarely an issue. Taking advantage of this luxury and adding layers upon layers of the same instrument is not the way to achieve big sound or fatness. At a point we must admit that it is the loudness that is getting added here. This is when the Engineer must also wear the hat of a Producer (Refer chapter 1).

It should never slip our mind that the instrument should be captured in proper tonal balance as per the track’s demand. Always have a chat with the composer to know the purpose of recording that particular instrument. Ask whether he requires big low ends or controlled low ends from it. The point is to ensure that the instrument isn’t overriding the song.

Be brave and open to invest time while recording percussion instruments by providing ample room and the time for the artist.

Always make sure that the instrument is dynamically emoting into the song because at the end of the day, it is the emotions that converse!!

Walk around, smile, and start creating good records.

Grantha Tips

· Recording Indian percussion is a unique art.

· Percussions are highly responsive in nature.

· Use the concept of spherical propagation to find the sweetspot.

· An Engineer should be trained to sense overtones and harmonics.

· Heavy percussions are a vital part of the energy of a song.

· Ask what the composer is looking for in the instrument.

· Give the artist time and space

· Capture the emotion.

· Always work with a smile.

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