As VP techniques and technology continue to progress at an incredible pace there’s plenty to explore in Focus On: Virtual Production II from British Cinematographer.



How Sally Potter achieved the intimate vocal sound she desired for her debut album Pink Bikini

Nov 27, 2023

Sally Potter OBE is a multi talented English film director and screenwriter known for directing the film ‘Orlando’, amongst others, which won over forty international awards and two Academy Award nominations. Now she has written and recorded a debut music album ‘Pink Bikini’, a semi-autobiographical collection of songs that relate back to her experiences and angst as a teenager and young woman living in London in the 60s and 70s, reliving the teenage experiences of girlhood. Sally knows about sound recording for film, and surprisingly, she has used it to achieve the vocal sound she wanted on her album. 

“Yves-Marie Omnes was the sound recordist for my feature ‘The Roads Not Taken’ starring Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning and Salma Hayek. We often recorded in noisy or difficult conditions, and the actors sometimes spoke softly, but Yves-Marie always managed to achieve clean dialogue, true to the feeling of the scene. 

When we met again I told him I was coming to the end of recording my new album, ‘Pink Bikini’, but was not yet happy with the technical quality of the vocal recordings, despite my newly purchased marvellous microphone, the classic Neumann U87Ai, so beloved by many singers. He offered for us to try an experiment with one of the tracks using his Aaton sound recorder. 

When I heard the result, it was incomparable. The sound I was looking for was direct and intimate; emotionally raw, as if communicating to someone quite close. This is a familiar sound in film recording for dialogue, but less so in music. And it seemed that the combination of my microphone, the AatonX3, and of course Yves-Marie’s skill, was able to capture every nuance of my voice. 

So I decided to re-record the entire album. 

We went into a soundproof room, not the usual alienating booth as so often in a studio, and during two long days, just the two of us, did as many takes as necessary to re-record all the vocals.  

When it came to the final mixes, each of the highly experienced mixers felt almost nothing needed to be added to the vocal sound – just a little reverb to compensate for the dry acoustic of the room in which we had recorded. 

It was a fascinating process to explore – the techniques, technology and atmosphere of film sound recording that I know so well, applied to an album of songs.  Several radio presenters have since commented to me about the unusual and welcome clarity of the vocals. So even though vocal quality is often absorbed subliminally, to those in the know, it was heard and appreciated.” 

Response from Yves-Marie Omnes: 

“When I met Sally in January 2023 we talked about the quality of the sound I’d recorded for her movie and we had a long discussion about microphones and the techniques required to record a clear, natural and yet intimate vocal sound. We talked a lot about microphone placement to optimise the presence and the intimacy that she wanted. 

I offered to make some test recordings with her using my Aaton CantarX3 sound recorder. It’s highly regarded in the world of movie sound recording, and has been used by production sound mixers on many top movies, some of those sound mixers winning Oscars for Best Sound.  

We recorded just one track and after she listened to it Sally said she’d made the decision to re-record all the vocal tracks of her new album in this way! 

I was surprised and also concerned that I may have created problems by her wanting to re-record the vocals for the entire album. It was a huge responsibility.

We spent some intense days together re-recording Sally’s voice using the playback and record function of the CantarX3 for simultaneous synced recording and playback of the tracks which was perfect for this project to record Sally singing over the music mix. 

It was interesting, pleasant and so unusual for me and I think Sally would agree that we also had fun in doing it. 

When Sally told me about the positive feedback she’d had from people working in the music industry I was in the same moment surprised and also not surprised, because I know that the preamp of the CantarX3 was specially developed for faithfully recording the human voice with its huge dynamic range, but I wasn’t expecting such an outcome from applying the way we record voice in film to music industry studio recording. 

This experience has pushed me to wonder about the use of the CantarX3 for the music industry. It has parallels in that it is a 24 track digital recorder with a wide range of features, yet is portable and of course has those famous preamps. Bring it on!” 

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