Cinerama Mercury Microphone Placement
first published on August 30, 2012.
Origins and development of the three
channel stereophonic sound recording:
and Trinaural Sound Recording.
genesis of cinematography shows many instances of innovations,
several of which concern the recording of sound and can be identified
with a specific movie.
The Jazz Singer from 1927 introducing "the talkies".
Another important achievement is Disney's Fantasia from 1940.
Significant is also The Robe from 1953 that introduced Cinemascope
to the world. And there is This
is Cinerama which had been shown already one
year earlier, in 1952.
these are American achievements. Here the denominator is sound.
The Jazz Singer is a milestone
not because of the good sounding Vitaphone process by
which records were played
simultaneously and, hopefully synchronously with the celluloid
strip. Despite the limited frequency band of 4300 Hz., it sounded
represented not the most logical sound technology available;
that would have been the sound on film process,
the sound track on the celluloid filmstrip next to the frames
which guaranteed perfect synchronisation of sound and image
and boasted a wider frequency band of up to some 8000 or 8500
film was a process where a track is read with a photo electric
cell. It had already been invented simultaneously by technicians
in the US and in Germany. In the US it was
J.T. Tykociner who developed sound-on-film, the
optical sound track and on June 9, 1922, Tykociner publicly
demonstrated for the first time a motion picture with a soundtrack
optically recorded directly onto the film. See
is the entry for The Jazz Singer in Halliwell's Film Guide,
published by Paladin Grafton Books, London, 1986.
The paragraph from the original review written by critic
Welford Beaton for The Film Spectator, carries a warning:
"If I were an actor with a squeaky voice I would
almost two decades to fully develop and use that process commercially
in two systems, one devised for Fox and the other for RCA.
what made The Jazz Singer special
was that it is the first commercial movie to present synchronized
singing sequences and some synchronized speech. The Jazz Singer
had spoken dialogues and the singing of a star, Al Jolson. It
had the live registration of his performances, surrounding noises
included. That was new. Many actors considered it to be a threat
to their careers because people might not like their voices.
(See also the
Disney demanded from the sound engineers for his film Fantasia
(1940) was to "make the sound of
a buzz follow a bee moving across the screen!" That could
well be done by adding multiple sound tracks, three for the
screen (for left, for center and for right) and another three
for the reproduction of tracks in
the hall (left wall, right wall and back wall). Six tracks in
Stokowski (conductor and arranger), Deems Taylor (narrator)
and Walt Disney (producer) in 1939.
(Image taken from the inlay of the Decca 4 Phase Stereo
2-Lp box "Sixtieth Anniversary Concert".)
the soundtrack for Disney's Fantasia was originally recorded
on 9 tracks. These were mixed down to three tracks with sound
information linked to the screen. And there were three more
tracks (channels) for the reproduction in the hall. The sound
recording was not done in real stereo yet, but it was possible
to mix and accentuate music and speech by panning the signal
on the mixing console from one track/channel to another. And
the buzz followed the bee.
system devised for Disney was named Fantasound.
It gave the illusion of stereophonic sound by recording single
tracks, simultaniously and if required independently, containing
dialogue, music, and sound effects, and these were eventually
mixed down to the desired configuration. Also a few early Cinemascope
movies did not have true stereophonic sound. Mentioned examples
are Julius Ceasar and Melba, both from 1953.
Only a true stereo recording provides a 3-dimensional sound
image with a wide sound stage and depth. For that, one had to
experience what Hazard Reeves
had designed for Fred Waller's
orchestra plays into five-channel microphone system for "This
Image taken from High Fidelity Magazine
of September-October, 1953. Edited by R.A.B.
photograph above was taken during an actual recording session
for the 1952 feature film This Is Cinerama.
The orchestra is positioned in front of the 146 degree screen.
It shows the setup arranged by Hazard Reeves. Five microphones
(left, left center, center, center right, right) are hanging
above the orchestra covering the complete orchestra and they
capture a complete, stereophonic sound image. A sixth microphone
is positioned above these mics.
extra microphone captures a larger area.
Its signal can be added to whatever track the director wishes
and it can be adjusted to the desired level. This signal comes
in handy when editing the film so not all tracks have to be
reproduced during the splicing.
These 6 microphones all had an omnidirectional pattern.
image is a visualization of the seven tracks on the 35
mm recordable magnetic sound film with perforations .
In reality nothing is shown on the magnetic film except
for slight general wear by heads and sprockets.
an article that appeared in 1953 in High Fidelity - the
magazine for music listeners - journalist Hollis
Alpert writes that the result of the recording sessions
for Cinerama at the Oysterbay laboratory (as shown in the picture)
where Cinerama was largely developped, was not satisfactory.
He wrote that better results were achieved by recording the
orchestra outdoors, positioned on the tennis courts outside.
We can guess that the hall was probably too narrow and there
obviously was much reflection causing some phase problems, and
displaying a less spacious sound image.
At right is an image that visualizes the seven tracks with music
and effects on the magnetic film. In reality no track is visible.
Note that the tracks for the rear channel and the track with
the signal for switching channels on the side walls may show
lower dynamic levels.
sound was recorded on 35 mm sound film containing five
tracks for the front loudspeakers, one track for the loudspeaker
on the back wall, and one switching track for the loudspeakers
on the side walls.
What is important, however, is that 2 microphones were placed
to capture the left and 2 microphones captured the right section
of the orchestra. And there was that one microphone placed center
stage. These positions corresponded with the five loudspeakers
in the front.
essence the recording captured left, right and the middle part
of the orchestra. That's why Hollis Alpert's headline in High
Fidelity reads: It's Trinaural !!! The three loudspeakers in
the rear were principally responsible for sound effects. It
was obvious that the Cinerama system beats Disney's Fantasound
and also the sound recording system used for Cinemascope.
Fine had been chief engineer with Majestic Records and since
1948 he served as chief engineer of the Disc and Tape Recording
Divisions of Reeves Sound Studios until March 1952 when - according
to Audio Record magazine - he set up Fine Sound Inc. at Tomkins
C. R. Fine must have witnessed Hazard Reeves and his engineers
designing the complicated recording and reproduction processes
for Cinerama, and maybe Fine himself was involed and did work
together with those technicians.
recording unit, by Reeves for Cinerama, with monitoring
facility. Only real multiple
recording, so far, has yielded convincing stereophonic
invented Margin Control, making depth of cut possible when engraving
loud passages in a lacquer disc. Through this technique the
separation of the heavily meandering groove was allotted extra
land. He also was a pioneer in music and sound effects. He devised
a multiple setup whereby sound was electronically steered and
was projected by a multiple loudspeaker set up. The system was
called Perspecta Optical Sound Recording System.
The sound could be directed electronically to whatever track(s)
the engineer or producer wished and if necessary could whirl
around from one speaker to another. C. Robert Fine also built
a mobile location truck (akin to the special Reeves mobile recording
unit for making recordings for Cinerama on location). C. Robert
Fine used his recording truck all over America and when he was
on assignment in Europe and Russia as well.
C. Fine, President of Fine Sound Inc. and Al Mian, Chief Mixer,
at master control console. Picture from an advertisment for
Audio Devices in High Fidelity Magazine.
and address of Reeves Soundcraft Corporation in the early 1950s.
of J.S. Bach's Sonatas & Partitas performed by
and issued on Mercury MGL-1 (4x 12" LP discs) were made
in 1949 when Fine was working at Reeves Sound Studios, New York
City. In mono of course. Mercury was a client of Reeves.
recordings of the same works played on the curved bow (Rundbogen)
by violinist Rolph Schröder (Schroeder) in the Church of
Günsbach in Germany for Columbia Records (SL-189, ML 4743/5)
were recorded in the fall of 1951 when C. R. Fine probably had
already registered his own business, but officially was still
employed by Hazard Reeves.
early nineteen fifties not only the cinematographic world was
buzzing. The record business was also exploring and developing
new ways of recording music. Technicians inspired technicians
and presentations inspired producers.
is a combination of the words cinema and panorama.
That inspired Donald H. Gabor of Remington Records. He named
Remington's new multiple microphone recording technique - often
using four (or maybe even more) microphones - MUSIRAMA, a combination
of music and panorama. The technique
was devised by Robert Blake, who then was Don Gabor's recording
label for the new Musirama recordings was announced in the same
issue of High Fidelity of September-October, 1953. One month
later, stereophonic recordings were made in Cincinnati's Music
Hall of performances by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted
by Thor Johnson and by the Helsinki University Chorus. A picture
of the recording session of the chorus shows that even five
microphones were used.
Blake made the earliest stereophonic recordings of the Cincinnati
Symphony Orchestra and conductor Thor Johnson, and of the Helsinki
University Chorus conducted by Martti Turunen in November 1953
in Cincinnati's Music Hall.
As far as I know, Robert Blake mixed the signals down and recorded
on two track tape on the spot. A few of these recordings were
issued on two track tape (binaural). It was probably Don Gabor's
idea to make more stereo recordings to be marketed because the
stereo tape recorder was becoming more and more popular. A few
of these Remington recordings were issued by A-V Tape Libraries,
New York. See Thor Johnson's profile and hear the Second Movement
of Dvorak's 4th (8th) Symphony (recorded in 1953 in stereo).
The Remington Site. Also
check the elaborate page published by
about the history of stereo recordings on tape and disk in the
COOK BINAURAL RECORD
Yet in those early 1950s a few companies were already thinking
about the production of stereo records! Emory Cook was
the engineer who devised a record with two engraved sections
(bands) which were to be read by two cartridges mounted in a
two-headed tonearm. Cook devised this binaural / duplex record
and Livingston Electronic Corporation of New Jersey manufactured
the necessary equipment: the Livingston Binaural Arm for two
Fairchild cartridges, and a twin-channel amplifier. The advertisement
below is from 1954. Although there were two channels, the system
promised 3-D sound reproduction. Real stereo! That was in the
days when amateurs made stereo recordings on reel to reel tape.
Like every amateur also Emory Cook used only 2 microphones.
They were placed 10 feet apart and thus he could not influence
(manipulate) the stereo image afterwards.
so often is the case with new ideas, also Emory Cook's excellent
recordings pressed in the Duplex Record format came in fact
too early. Because of the complicated playback with two cartridges
which were to be adjusted carefully, the Cook Binaural experience
was in fact only for the technically oriented record buyer and
audiophile. There must have been a few around as the number
of releases with spectacular recordings was growing.
binaural is also used for the recording using an artificial
head (dummy head) with two microphones located close to the
ears or even in the cavity of the ears.
In order to sell enough material, Cook Laboratories issued
the 12 inch duplex sound recordings also in mono, on 10 inch
discs, and sometimes on 12" records depending on the length
of the recording. But then they are not binaural of course
and the label says "Sounds of Our Times". See
the page about
Cook's Binaural Recordings.
the early days there may have been other pioneers who experimented
with stereophonic sound, but it needed a musician with an imaginative
mind to put ideas into practice. That musician was Leopold Stokowski,
conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
who conducted the music score of the Disney film Fantasia, was
always interested in the technical aspects of sound recording
and reproduction, and the making of records. Already in 1933,
when he was conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, an experiment
was conducted by Stokowski and several technicians. Stokowski's
assistant conductor was Alexander Smallens (who later became
known as the conductor of the many performances of Gershwin's
opera "Porgy and Bess"). Smallens conducted the orchestra
while Stokowski supervised how the sound was picked up by three
microphones "spaced across the front of the orchestra".
there was no machine or system that could make a synchronous recording
on three tracks and play it back later. Not in 1933 there was.
Therefor the solution was that the sound was transmitted directly
via telephone lines to another hall where loudspeakers recreated
the orchestral sound. The loudspeakers were high efficiency loudspeakers
- like Altec's The Voice Of The Theatre - driven by simple 10
Watt valve amplifiers. In 1940 another, similar experiment was
arranged but now the three tracks with music were recorded on
optical film. See
Stokowski, Dr. Harvey Fletcher and the Bell Laboratories Experimental
the first stereo recording in 1955. In the foreground
at right is David Hall (producer) conferring with Howard
Herrington (orchestra manager). Also in the foreground
are instrumentalists (violinists, and a cellist) tuning
their instruments and warming up.
(Image submitted by Peter Dobkin Hall.)
Long Playing disc introduced by Columbia in 1948 could only
bear one signal and various people were looking for the implementation
of more than one signal on that LP. The only media capable of
stereophonic recording and playback had been the the movie soundtrack,
the tape recorder and the Philips Miller Sound Recording System.
It was used in mono for the recording of St. Matthew Passion
on Palm Sunday in 1939. See
Bach and the Philips-Miller Sound Recording System,
early 1950s C. Robert Fine was also making experimental stereophonic
recordings. In the beginning he used two microphones. The
picture shows his first stereo setup. Three Neumann U-47 microphones
are mounted and it looks as if they are arranged somewhat in
the configuration of the early Stokowski experiment or even
the later "Decca microphone tree". That is not the
case. The microphone in the middle was independent and its signal
led to a second tape recorder with 1/4" tape. Another recorder
with 1/2 inch tape reels was used for the two stereo tracks.
sound engraved in one track / groove (instead of two) on the
long playing gramophone record became officially available for
the first time in September of 1958. The stereo 45/45 format
was invented by Alan Blumlein of EMI in the 1930s. Now Cook
reissued his binaural recordings in this new stereo format and
called it New Microfusion Process.
of the three tracks recorded by the Westrex 35 mm sound
In reality tracks are not visible.
Bob Fine had already added a third microphone, the microphone
for center stage to fill up the hole in the middle, no doubt
inspired by the Philadelphia experiments of 1933 and 1940 and
the five microphone setup for Cinerama in 1952, but now without
the phase problems and creating a wide and deep, coherent stereo
finally led to the typical placement of the three microphones
used by the Mercury team during the early era of making stereo
recordings of classical music, initially on 1/2 inch tape. Later
mm Westrex sound recording equipment was used.
three microphone setup for making stereo recordings and the
reproduction of these channels date from before World War II.
The talk about Spread Spectrum Technologies today and their
trinaural processor remind us of these stereo recordings, although
the processor is fed by the two stereo tracks of any source
be it tape recorder, vinyl LP, CD, etc.
of a "virtual center loudspeaker" for the recreation
of a trinaural sound image. At left the original 3 track recording
is reproduced using three amplifiers and three loudspeakers.
At right the reduction of three channels to two tracks. It is
evident that the distance between the loudspeakers in the real
trinaural set up (at left) is much greater if compared to the
reproduction with two loudspeakers. See my page about
capability of the LP record is the registration of two signals,
one for the Left Channel and one for the Right Channel. Note
that also the Quadrophonic disc uses a two-channel stereo groove.
Now the question was: how would it be possible to put the three
signals in one stereo groove? If you play a mono record via
two loudspeakers, the sound image will appear to come from the
center, that is in the middle, half way the distance of the
speakers, that is if these speakers are well positioned.
order to make the three channel sound reproduction possible,
a center image should be created. That is simply possible by
adding the signal of the center channel to both left and right
track. By adding the same signal you are creating a mono signal
which will appear between the speakers. Adding this signal has
to be done in a rather subtle way. Too much signal will deprive
the reproduction of its depth and spaciousness. Only a very
fine adjustment of the signal in the mix will give optimum depth
and space. That is why Wilma Cozart Fine made such a significant
effort when preparing the transfers of legendary Living Presence
recordings to CD.
Mercury production team - Wilma Cozart Fine, Bob Eberenz
and Harold Lawrence - during the playback via Altec loudspeaker
systems of the three-channel recordings made in Teatro
Grande in Brescia (Italy), 1959. Because of the lamp which
shines over the score of the music, the producers and
technician can hardly be distinguished.
(Photo by Leonida Barezzi.)
basis are of course the recordings made by Bob Fine and the
Bob Fine's "trinaural" setup can be considered unique,
not only because his team used it al least for playback of the
tape (as the picture at right shows), but mainly because it
was based for a great deal on his own listening experience which
instructed him how the microphones should be positioned to fully
capture the original balance of the orchestra as it sounded
in the hall where the performance took place and where the recording
was made. By doing so he gave an answer to British electronics
engineer and inventor Alan Blumlein's criticism on the binaural
recording technique, its anomalies and restrictions.
Emory Cook recorded his binaural sound with only two microphones,
spaced 10 feet apart. He advised to playback the records by
spacing the speakers also 10 feet apart. That would give an
authentic result. Cook said in an article in High Fidelity Magazine
I have a theory that most recording engineers are frustrated
musicians. They want to put themselves into the records they
make, from behind a forest of microphones and a 17-channel mixer,
to 'create' something they can identify later, with pride, and
say 'This is me!'
Robert Fine does not belong to this category.
The meticulous positioning of the three omnidirectional microphones
was C. Robert Fine's trademark and as he was an independent
entrepeneur he also put this technique into practice when making
recordings for a variety of other customers, including labels
like Pye in Great Britain and Ricordi in Italy. And
he worked for the Command record label which was originated
by Enoch Light in 1958. He did this together with cutting engineer
George Piros, producers Julie Klages and Robert Byrne, while
continuing to make recordings for the Mercury catalog in the
years before the
label was sold to Philips in 1962.
John Johnson - who had been cutting mono lacquers for Mercury
- now became responsible for cutting several lacquers for mono
and also stereo discs of Command. In the early years of stereo
monaural discs continued to be manufactured.
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and drawings (c) Rudolf A. Bruil. Page first published on August 30,