New Cantus CD Features Luminous Sound

In June 2007, I again recorded Minnesotan male choir Cantus live on location, this time in the glorious acoustic of Sauder Concert Hall at Goshen College, in Goshen, Indiana. The resultant CD, While You Are Alive (Cantus CTS-1208), is the eighth I have engineered of the group; it is a collection of 20th- and 21st-century works that explores, illuminates, and celebrates all stages of life, from birth to death.

While You Are Alive (Cantus CTS1208) features works by such luminaries as Eric Whitacre, Peteris Vasks, and Veljo Tormis, as well as four world-premiere recordings of works commissioned by Cantus. Highlights include A Sound Like This, an extended work for nine-part male choir composed by Edie Hill on texts by the Indian mystic poet Kabir, in translations by Robert Bly, and commissioned in conjunction with Chamber Music America. Maura Bosch's The Turning is a hauntingly beautiful three-movement setting of words written by the perpetrators of domestic abuse, commissioned in conjunction with the American Composers Forum. The delightful Tormis piece, Kolm mul oli kaunist sõna, features Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra flutist Julia Bogorad-Kogan weaving in and out of the vocal line, supporting and punctuating the words. My favorite is Daniel E. Gawthrop's setting of the Tennyson poem "There Is Sweet Music," a tonal gem that lasts just under three minutes and closes the album.

"Our goal for this album," says Cantus's Artistic Director, Erick Lichte, seen below pictured in the control room with composer Edie Hill, "was to create an album that celebrates life in all its aspects and stages while, at the same time, pushing all of the boundaries of what a choral album could be. In terms of repertoire, we have tried to bring together new works for male choir that not only represent a barometric reading of the current state of composition in America, but also works of great beauty and emotional truth. We've also tried to bring to these works a new sound in vocal chamber music that fuses razor-tight ensemble singing with soloistic color and chamber-music intimacy. It is our hope that this album shows that both can be possible."

Stereophile reviewer Wes Phillips was also impressed by the sound, writing in his forthcoming review of the Ayre KX-R preamplifier in the November 2008 issue of Stereophile, "From the opening notes of Eric Whitacre's Lux Arumque, I was hearing extremely deep into the hall. The 'beating' within the harmonies sounded phenomenally lifelike, and the distinctive Sauder Hall ambience surrounding Paul Nelson's 'A Lullaby' was as concrete as the singers themselves."

Because of the delicate nature of much of the scoring on While You Are Alive, I placed my microphones a little closer to the singers than I had for my seven earlier Cantus recordings (available at sale price), then opened up the drapes around the periphery of the auditorium to allow the hall's full three seconds of rich, warm reverberation to develop. My main pickup was an ORTF pair of Neumann tubed cardioid mikes and a spaced pair of high-voltage DPA omnidirectionals. A second pair of DPA omnis was mounted on a Jecklin Disc five rows farther back, to allow me to move the singers a little farther back in the soundstage in postproduction, if that was felt necessary. For the solo flute in the Tormis, I used a close-positioned Earthworks omni to focus a little more tightly on the instrument's sound.

The microphone preamplifiers were low-noise models from Millennia Media, and A/D conversion was performed with a dCS 904 and Metric Halo's ULN-2 and MIO2882. The dCS converter acted as the system's master clock, and the Metric Halos were connected to a Mac mini computer via FireWire. The audio files, featuring 24-bit resolution at a sampling rate of 88.2kHz, were captured to the computer's hard drive using the Record Panel of the Metric Halo Console v.4 software.

The album was mixed in the digital domain using Adobe Audition, and equalized using Adobe Audition and a Metric Halo MIO2882+DSP/d2; editing, mastering, and the final reduction of the high-resolution masters to the CD standard of 16-bit word length and 44.1kHz sampling were performed using BIAS Peak v5.2. (Set to its time-consuming maximum-quality setting, this program has the most transparent sample-rate conversion I've tried—and I've tried a lot!)

"We have recorded these works in a truly great natural acoustical space, and captured them via state-of-the-art audio engineering. We hope our audience loves listening to this album as much as we feel honored to have made it," sums up Erick Lichte. Cantus will be singing much of this album's repertoire on tour during the 2008–09 season. For a full list of the group's performances across the US, click here.

In commitment to the album's theme of life, all of the packaging of While You Are Alive is 100% post-consumer recycled paper and plastic printed with 100% soy ink. While You Are Alive is available for the introductory price of $16.95 (plus S&H) from this magazine's e-commerce page.