Alternative String Seating

The standard orchestral seating for string instruments from the conductor’s point of view would be from left to right: Violins 1, Violins 2, Violas, Celli and Basses behind the Celli on the far right. This seating has established as the standard over the last century and generally works pretty well to get the best performance.

However from a recording standpoint this might not always be true. As you might imagine, having the basses so far off center might create an imbalance which is why on orchestral mixes, many engineers like to pull the close mics of the Basses into the center rather than placing them to the right and in spite of the Decca signal recording them on the right, the low frequencies usually make it easy to convincingly pull them into the center on the close mics. In stemmed recordings (where you record strings on their own) it is often seen to actually evenly spread out the Basses behind the other strings to get a more balanced sound there.

Another alternative that can often be seen in orchestral recordings is the “stereo violins” seating where the seating order from left to righ would be Violins 1, Violas, Celli, Violins 2 (and Basses behind). As both violin sections commonly double each other (in octaves), particularly on high soaring legato lines, you get a nicer balance on the stereo field with the sections being seated like this. In this case it would also not work in the normal seating to artificially move the close mic signal of the second Violins to the right as on the Decca tree due to the higher frequencies the direction of the sound source will be much clearer than with the Basses.

This gain in stereo width comes at a cost though. Due to the fact of the two Violin sections sitting far apart from each other it is trickier for the players to hear each other and particularly on passages where both Violin sections play together you might get worse intonation and even moreso worse timing. Rhythmically complex and tight figures shared between both section will most likely become less focussed and tight.

So whether you request to change the seating order should be based on what musical material you plan to record. If it’s mostly long legato notes shared between the Violins, stereo seating might have its benefits. With complex rhythmical music, you would want to keep the normal seating. Obviously though, you have to decide for one of the two as changing seating during a session or even between sessions is too much of a technical hassle or make things more problematic in the mix later on to get a homogenous sound.

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