Zenph Studios’ Uncanny Keyboard Re-creation

by | Jun 28, 2007 | Special Features | 0 comments

Zenph Studios’ Uncanny Keyboard Recreations

A speech given by Steve Epstein on 3/6/07, at the press presentation of the Zenph re-performance of Glenn Gould’s 1955 Goldberg Variations, which Epstein produced. [He has won five Grammies as Classical Producer of the Year.]

[Photo: The Zenph research team enjoys a standing ovation after the presentation]     

Sometime in 1980, Rosalyn Tureck, with whom I’d had the great fortune to make several albums, had mentioned to me that she was a true admirer of Glenn Gould. She also said that she had been aware of Glenn’s admiration of her and that she was a major influence in Glenn’s musical life.

Over lunch, one afternoon, Rosalyn asked if I’d call Glenn to see if he’d be interested in making a recording together with her.  Of course, for me, what a wonderful opportunity – an excuse – to speak with one of my idols! Also, I had thought that a potential landmark recording might be in the making.

I did call Glenn and introduced myself to him, mentioning (with a slight tremble in my voice) what Madame Tureck had suggested. For whatever reason, he decided that he preferred not to go ahead with the proposal. He went on to extol Tureck’s artistry and did tell me – with reverence – that she was an important influence in his career.

He then asked me to guess what repertoire she had played when he went to see her, in recital – for the first time – as a young man. I said that I imagined it was Bach. He said that it wasn’t. I then asked.. ‘so what was it?’ For the next 45 minutes, or so, Glenn had me participate in a guessing game as to what Tureck played at that recital. From all accounts, that was very much Glenn Gould.

By the way, the answer was Franz Liszt! This was, regrettably, the only time I ever spoke with Glenn. I never met him face to face.

This is why I was so delighted and thrilled to be asked by David Lai (the senior vice president of A&R for Sony/BMG Masterworks) and John Q. Walker to produce the re-recording of Gould’s 1955 Goldberg’s utilizing the highly acclaimed Zenph system. The recording’s original producer, incidentally, was Howard Scott.

How does one produce an album without the artist being physically present – let alone, alive – for that matter? Generally speaking, it is the producer’s job to follow the printed music during an artist’s performance of a ‘take’ and keep track of any missed notes, wrong dynamics, etc. After several takes are made of a given piece or movement, the producer asks the artist to do inserts to correct certain passages. The artist may wish to redo portions of the piece, as well.

In this case, we were working with a performance that was already approved by the artist! What kind of preparation is required to produce a recording of this nature?

My approach was simply to listen  and learn – –  to immerse myself in the original 1955 recording as best as reasonably possible and try to identify certain quirks and nuances in Glenn’s performance (accented notes, dynamics, etc) as sign posts for assuring that these same nuances were being replicated in the Gould Studio at the CBC during the Zenph re-recording.

I then put indications in my printed music where I thought some of these tell-tale anomalies (if you want to call them that) would help identify those places and bring them to my attention during the re-recording process. With the invaluable assistance of Anatoly Larkin and Misha Krishtal who are both thoroughly familiar with every note of the ’55 recording, I was amazed to witness the incredible degree of accuracy and resolution inherent in the Zenph technology.

The consideration of how best to capture the sound for this undertaking was of paramount importance. Working in conjunction with the recording engineer, the producer decides on how the recording should sound over two, and in this case, 5 loudspeakers – making the critical choices in selecting microphones, mic positions, etc.

One has to consider that an artist’s interpretation of a piece of music is to some degree influenced by the acoustic environment where it is being performed. The original recording was made at Columbia’s 30th Street studio which, lamentably, no longer exists. I was lucky enough to produce many albums in this magical venue. The room, which was a refurbished church built in the 1850s, had a wonderful sound with a moderate, but no overly long reverb time.

The Gould auditorium at the CBC is slightly less reverberant than 30th Street. I don’t think that the difference would be quantifiable in terms of Gould’s performance. Engineers Peter Cook, Richard King and I decided on a mic placement which – while presenting a very clear pickup of the wonderful Yamaha instrument – also captured the fine acoustics of the hall. 

DPA 4006 omni-directional mics were used for the main and surround pickup. The 2 surround mics were about 8 to 10 feet behind the 3 main mic array, and about 10 feet apart. For the binaural pickup, we used the Neumann Kunstkopf (or dummy’s head) device – and placed it to approximate Gould’s position at the keyboard. 

All mics were fed through Millennia preamps to the DSD/Sonoma recorder which I believe, without question, is the most accurate method and vehicle for recording and reproducing audio as the current state of the art permits. During the assembly and mixdown, absolutely no processing i.e. reverb, EQ, etc, was used. The surround mix is a 5.0 configuration – no subwoofer was incorporated. The stereo ‘mix’(both SACD and Red Book layers of this hybrid disc) utilizes just 2 of the 3 front mics.

The success of this project could have only been realized by the vision and talent of John Q. Walker and his staff as well as Mark Wienert’s technical expertise in preparing the piano, Sony/BMG Masterworks, and, of course Yamaha’s incredible Disklavier Pro system.

 I’m so pleased to have been part of it.


All Photos taken at the Sony BMG recording of the Zenph re-performance of Glenn Gould’s 1955 Goldberg Variations
Glenn Gould Studio, CBC
Toronto, ON  Canada
(September 24-26, 2006)
        Mark Manring
        (919) 846-1293

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