I was reading in Jonathan Cott’s Conversations with Glenn Gould on the subway the other day, and was intrigued by Gould’s description of a studio technique devised for his recording of Scriabin’s 5th sonata. The opening of the piece is a long trill from the bottom to the top of the keyboard, pianissimo to fortissimo, during which the engineers adjusted the source from far to near. Esentially, they created an audio “zoom lens”, using four ranks of mics placed at intervals starting from the furthest edge of the room on up to the inside of the treble register of the piano.
Using the studio as an artistic tool is old news, but not for classical production, and certainly not for a solo piano recording. I had no idea Gould’s recordings were manipulated to this extent— but it makes me want to try a “mic zoom” myself. Too bad I only own two mics.
Anyway, here is the aformentioned passage. The effect is pretty subtle but totally gripping: