The recordings contained in this Archive are largely performances before a live audience. Typically, they were made using only two microphones, although sometimes more were used based on unique circumstances. The thinking behind this is that humans have only two ears and what an audience member hears in the church or concert hall should be what is reflected in the recorded music. This puts the Music Director and Conductor in charge of the recorded sound; it also means that the musicians themselves are as much responsible for the recorded sound as the recording engineer. There is no after-the-fact manipulation to mix tracks or correct balance or ensemble problems occurring during the performance. Also, there is little to no opportunity for multiple takes of a single difficult passage. Thus, the recordings have a musical coherence and artistic integrity that multi-track studio recordings with many cross-edits and channel level manipulations often do not have.
In order for this to work well, the recording engineer must be made an integral part of the artistic ensemble and work closely with the conductor and other musicians in the group. The way this was achieved for the recordings in this Archive was the following: First, the recording locales would be selected in a joint endeavor by the recording engineers and music director. Tom Wikman and Dick and Judy Mintel spent days in the late 1970s and early 1980s visiting churches and other venues in the Chicago area testing acoustics and matching the potential venue to music to be performed. In some cases like The Grand Teton Music Festival, the hall was a given. Next, rehearsals were recorded and then, the conductor and recording engineer reviewed the rehearsal tape together before the performance. Improvements in recorded sound were made through adjustments in where musicians were located on stage, which musicians were used and how many musicians were performing at a given time as well as changing the way certain musicians performed pieces or passages. In other cases, changes to the performance area were required to get the desired recording. This could involve the addition of a stage in the chancel of a church or the use of acoustic panels. Finally, after the performance, the entire ensemble gathered and the performance tape was played so that each player knew how he or she contributed to the recorded sound. Each individual could then make adjustments in the next performance based on hearing the recording. The recording engineers were treated similarly to other principal musicians –as essential members of the musical ensemble and part of the artistic team.
One of the major recording philosophies underlying the Mintel tapes is related to the performance venue. The acoustics of the concert hall or church and how those acoustics contributed to the quality of the recording was considered to be one of the most important factors in the entire artistic endeavor (after the performers themselves, of course). Whenever possible an attempt was made to match the acoustics to the music. Many of the recordings in this Archive were made in Chicago area churches that have better acoustics for recording than most concert halls especially for sacred choral music and smaller ensembles. These churches are:
- Notre Dame de Chicago
- The United Church of Hyde Park
- St. Paul’s United Church of Christ
- St. Paul Roman Catholic Church
- Chapel of the Divine Word in Techny
- First United Church of Evanston
- Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest
- St Mary’s of Perpetual Help
Orchestral music was performed in some of the best concert halls. The Grand Teton Music Festival-Walk Hall in Teton Village, Wyoming and Chicago’s Orchestra Hall are excellent recording venues for orchestral music and larger ensembles.
Selection of the type of microphones (directional or omni-directional) and placement of microphones were based on the acoustics of the hall, the type of musical repertoire and the size of the ensemble. The brand of microphone used changed over time, but the majority of the recordings in the Archive were made with either Brüel & Kjær, Schoeps or Neumann products.
The oldest recordings in the Mintel Archive were made in 1974 using an analogue reel-to-reel on magnetic tape format. The number of analogue recordings in the Mintel Archive is small; there are only a handful, all made between 1974 and 1982: The Bach St Matthew Passion (1974), a performance of the Bach Double Violin Concerto (1974), Handel’s Samson (1979), Israel In Egypt (1980), Messiah (1979) and Semele (1976) and the Organ Recital on the Hook & Hastings organ (1981). All remaining recordings in the Archive were born digital. The transition to digital recording occurred in the early 1980s when the Sony PCMF-1 Beta video cassette format was used. Then, in the 1990s, digital audio tapes or DATs were the preferred format. By the year 2000, CDs and computer wav. files were the format of choice for the initial on-location recordings. The most recent recording contained in this Archive was born digital (like most of the Archived recordings) in June of 2014.
In 2005 it became clear that the recordings in the Mintel Library were susceptible to deterioration and loss. Many of the physical formats used to make the original master tapes were not durable in the long-term and although, some were more durable than others, all were at risk. The availability of proper storage space, functioning playback equipment and expertise in working with obsolete formats was diminishing with every year. Also, information about the recordings including concert programs and other material such as pictures, a list of performers, recording dates and locales and music performed was subject to loss and misplacement. The Richard and Judith Archive of Recordings was assembled by Judith Mintel from approximately 2005-2018, a period of almost 13 years. Although some organizational steps and tape transfers (with the help of Lyon Leifer) were completed in the early years of archiving, the real work began in earnest after the death of Richard Mintel in December of 2014. Almost all of the recordings and informational material came from the Mintel Library although a few gaps were filled in by recordings and other material provided by Thomas Wikman. Rudy Chalupa was instrumental in setting up the digital transfer mechanisms.
Beginning with the PCMF-1 Beta tapes containing the three 13-week WFMT broadcasts series (1987-1988-1989), the Mintel recordings were transferred to computer Wave files, an open source format with no compression. All of the master tapes contained in these WFMT broadcasts were born digital, however it was not the master tapes that were archived. The process of making the Archival copies began with the PCMF-1 Beta tapes of the actual broadcast (obtained in digital format directly from WFMT immediately subsequent to the broadcasts). These WFMT broadcasts were some of the most highly rated classical music radio productions of the time. (See survey of radio station managers to the right). Prior to broadcast on WFMT, the original music master tapes were sometimes modified in minor ways, i.e., shortened to fit into a particular broadcast window, but WFMT maintained them exclusively in the digital format. It is the digital broadcast copy of the music that is usually contained in this Archive (Collections One-Three). Sometimes, the Beta tape of the WFMT broadcast had deteriorated to an extent that it was not possible to get a clean transfer; in that event, the master tape of the music from the Mintel Library was used for the Archive. This explains why a few of the WFMT announcements have dropouts and digital clicks, but the music does not. Next, Beta tapes not contained in the original three broadcast series were transferred to Wave files (beginning with Collection Four of the Mintel Archive). Once all the desired Beta tapes had been transferred, work began on the DAT tapes.
The equipment used to transfer the musical information from the Beta and DAT tapes to Wave files varied over the 13 years, but efforts were made to remain in the digital domain at all times and to create Wave files with the highest resolution possible. The Beta and DAT machines used to make the master tape were used to play the recording to be transferred and the computer or other device receiving the digital information typically had the
Pre- Settings for Marantz
Input ………………………..Digital In
For some recordings, primarily those made after 2001 and those from The Grand Teton Music Festival, only CDs were available so Wave files using CD format were archived: Encoding=2-channel stereo; 16-bit values sampled @44100Hz.
Once a transfer was made, the Wave file was listened to in real time to check for any transfer imperfections. If an imperfection was heard, another transfer would be made of the same recording around where the imperfection in the first transfer existed and then the sound wave would be edited to remove the imperfection introduced in the initial transfer. The transferred recording was also edited to remove non-musical, non-essential interludes such as tuning, late seating breaks and long breaks between movements or acts when coughing and shuffling would occur. Applause was also shortened and faded. The focus of these edits was to improve the listener’s access to and enjoyment of the recorded music.
The digital transfers of the few analog tapes that were originally made on open reel-to-reel magnetic tape (with dbx noise reduction) were outsourced to Matthew Sohn of Evanston, Illinois who completed this work.
File folders were created in the digital archive for each Collection and Volume with the wave files representing the entire piece and then separate wave files for each individual movement, aria or track (numbered to assure proper order). Metadata was included in each file folder. The metadata consists of the concert program, contemporaneous reviews in newspapers and promotional material about the artists, organizations or concert series when these were available. This data was organized into a “Project” put together using Audobe Audition for the Wave files, Surething Disc labeler for the CD sleeve (track labeling) and PDF scans of the metadata. In addition to the digital Archive, a physical Archive was created composed of file folders containing CDs and paper copies of the metadata associated with each recording.
Both the digital and physical archive are organized in nine collections separated into 13 different file folders (a total of 117 folders). The entire digital Archive contains about 325 hours of recorded music and is comprised of about 2 terabits of data. The physical Archive contains approximately 275 CDs each with associated paper.
Physical copy of CD file folders and paper metadata; notice the remote hard drive containing the entire digital archive
During the years these recordings were made, good advice was provided by a number of recording engineers and others interested in high quality sound reproduction including Larry Rock, Mitch Heller, Rudy Chalupa, Roar Schaad, Chris Willis, Kerry Frumkin, Norman Pelligrini, Alfred Antliz and Ray Nordstrand.