Sixty nine musicians, twenty four microphones, 168m of cable and six students from Dubai's SAE Institute. With SAE's Peter Houtmeyers offering a little supervision, the pupils were left to rig, sound check and record the Jazz Meets Mozart concert on their own.
"Our students worked on the production of the X Games last year and have worked on live sound projects previously but nothing on this scale," says Houtmeyers. "Audio-wise this is a significant event for the Gulf region let alone these students - a 65-piece orchestra and a jazz quartet! It's a great opportunity for them to be able to say they have recorded a philharmonic orchestra.
"A production on this scale would usually be managed by an events company. It was a big challenge arranging this pro bono, and we've received great support from our sponsors in this regard. It probably would have cost several thousand US dollars just to record the audio otherwise."
At the conclusion of the event, the recordings were returned to SAE's Dubai Knowledge Village campus, where 35 students were set to master the raw material. The best mixes, along with a documentary, also filmed and produced by SAE, will feature on a DVD.
"We were hoping to record to Logic Pro 8, the latest version, and use Apogee Ensemble. However, we encountered some unexpected compatibility issues. We contacted Apogee for a fix but they couldn't resolve the issue either. So, we reverted back to our ProTools rig," explains Houtmeyers.
"We used ProTools HD 3 with two interfaces, 192 and 96 I/O and we ran 24 tracks. We also had a stereo pair in the centre of the stage running back to a Digi 002 rack system recording onto a laptop as an additional back up."
Recording the Dubai Philharmonic Orchestra and the Australian Jazz Quartet required more than twenty microphones and stands spread among the performers and instruments on the stage.
"We studied the ensemble's Abu Dhabi performance from a few days earlier to gauge the seating arrangement they would use. It was completely different for the Dubai performance unfortunately," says Houtmeyers.
During rehearsal the crew detected some noise emanating from one of the microphones, which could not be resolved by replacing cables, mics or inputs.
"We encourage our students to think on their feet when they encounter a technical issue," says Houtmeyers. "They replaced everything three times before it was determined the interference was coming from a nearby monitor. At least 50% of the time, audio engineering is about problem solving."
Whilst Houtmeyers values the rare opportunity provided to the students to work on such a large project, he says that SAE's long-term goal is to provide them with regular on-location experience working on a variety of projects.
"We've been in Dubai for almost two years now and we are expanding our list of industry contacts all the time," he explains. "We are looking to strike a deal with the Thomson Pure Music School at the moment that will see our students work with their counterparts at Thomson to record and produce a variety of music.
"It is these smaller, but more regular projects we are looking to secure for the benefit of our students. Constant industry interaction is what we're looking for."
According to Houtmeyers, the ongoing lack of well-trained technical production staff in the Middle East media, film and audio industries is leading many prospective employers to SAE's door in search of hot young talent.
"Our students are passionate, hands-on and they have to work hard to get their diploma. I get emails almost every day from people in the industry looking to hire young professionals. It's kind of like the Wild West out here - a lot of people claim to be professional but aren't."
• 2 x Rode NT1As.
• 2 x SE 3s.
• 5 x Cobalt 11s.
• 6 x Cobolt 9s.
• 1 x Rode NT3.
• 1 x Shure wireless.
• 2 x Rode K2s.
• 2 x AKG 452s.
• 1 x AKG D112.
• 2 x AKG 414s.
• First violins: 2 x Rode NT1As.
• Second violins: 2 x SE 3s.
• Violas: 2 x Cobalt 11s.
• Woodwind: 2 x Cobalt 9s.
• Brass: 2 x Cobalt 9s.
• Cellos: 2 x Cobalt 11s.
• Double bass: 2 x Cobalt 9s.
• Oboe solo: Rode NT3.
• Vocal solo: Shure Wireless Mic.
• Drum kit OH's: 2 x Rode K2s.
• Grand piano: 2 x AKG 452s.
• Upright bass: AKG D112.
• Sax: Cobalt 11.
• Blumlein pair back-up recording: 2 x AKG 414s.
• 1 x Yamaha LS9 desk.
• 1 x Apple G5 desktop computer running Pro Tools HD.
• 1 x Apple Mac Pro desktop running Logic 8.
• 1 x Apple Cinema display.
• 1 x Apogee Ensembles.
• 28 x 6m microphone cables.