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A Surrey ice rink provided the unlikely venue for a captivating string quartet performance, in a YouTube stunt organised by ACM students. The idea was dreamed up by Ben Pitt, a first year Music Production student, after he was challenged during a lecture to find unusual environments in which to record music.

Determined to think big, Ben enlisted the help of ACM pal Terry Seares and the pair set their sights on the Spectrum ice rink, home of the Guildford Flames hockey team.

“The brief was to capture a performance in an acoustically interesting environment, which got everyone thinking about places like churches or underpasses. I wanted to come up with something original, that hadn’t been tried before. The big space and hard surfaces at the ice rink made me wonder what kind of sound it would produce.

A string quartet seemed like a good fit for the setting, playing a slow, graceful piece to give the ambience of the room plenty of space to breathe on the recording. We weren’t required to video the project, but it seemed a waste just to record the sound during a performance that was so great to watch.”
Ben Pitt ACM Production Student

The team had just one hour to set up the equipment, record four complete takes of the composition, then pack everything up again.

“There were still ice hockey players skating around at the start, which was a bit surreal, but once they had gone everybody chipped in with setting up, which helped keep everything on time. The sound was amazing and the quartet nailed it on the third take. There are a few creaking and banging noises from people in the background, but that kind of adds to the atmosphere.”
Ben Pitt ACM Production Student

The Technical Bit
Ben and Terry used just two microphones to capture the performance – a matched pair of RØDE NT5s, worth about £300.

The microphones were arranged in an NOS configuration and plugged into an Apple Macbook Pro, via an M-AUDIO Fast Track Pro audio interface, onto Logic Pro 9, while the whole performance was filmed by Do It Films UK.

Explaining the setup, Terry Seares said:

“The challenge was to get the best possible sound in the short time available, using the limited equipment we had to hand. There was a fair bit of guesswork involved. We opted for a spaced pair at first, but found it picked up too much room sound and not enough direct sound from the musicians.

We noticed a low background humming noise from a machine at the rink, which coincidentally was in key with the piece, but we decided to cut that frequency range when mixing it afterwards. Production wise we didn’t add anything; just a little corrective EQ and very slight compression. We’re very pleased with how it turned out and we’ve had some great comments and feedback.”
Terry Seares ACM Production Student

The piece, Carlos Gardel’s 1935 tango Por Una Caveza, was performed by students at the University of Surrey.