Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble Tour Relies on DPA Microphones
The Silk Road Ensemble, featuring the Grammy-winning classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma, explores the intersection of a variety of musical traditions, drawing inspiration from the historic Silk Road network of trade routes, where wildly diverse cultures and ideas mingled and evolved. The tour combines Western instruments like the violin, viola, cello, and bass with such Eastern instruments as the shakuhachi, kamanchech, oud, pipa, and sheng.
Elff has been the audio engineer for the Silk Road Ensemble tour for the past five years. In addition to his work with the Silk Road Ensemble, he has worked as an audio engineer for such artists as Hall & Oates, Diana Krall, Smokey Robinson, and Laurie Anderson. The Silk Road Ensemble, touring regularly since 2000, employed DPA mics even before Elff joined. As performers on the tour participate in different combinations from piece to piece, there is a constantly rotating ensemble on stage. As such, providing each musician with a specific cabled-microphone would be impractical and visually chaotic. DPA mics offer a low profile, studio-quality sound—helping to make the performances shine.
“By using DPA miniature microphones on wireless systems, we are able to maintain very high quality micing that is also visually elegant,” Elff explains. “The mics simply attach to the instruments themselves and leave the stage when the piece is over. Additionally, the performance of the various DPA mics is exceptional. The frequency response and dynamic range are fantastic, and the mics reliably deliver an excellent picture of whatever instrument you have them attached to.”
The typical setup for the tour utilizes a combination of up to 14 DPA 4061s and 4088s, all on wireless beltpacks, so that the musicians can appear on and off the stage easily for different pieces throughout the performance. The DPA 4061s are ideal as live and studio microphones for acoustic string instruments. Their neutral sonic character offers great detail and resolution, providing a very natural sound. In addition, they have a very low-noise floor and impressive sensitivity, allowing them to handle high SPLs without distortion. The DPA 4088, used on shakuhachi and sheng, is a miniature head-worn cardioid microphone that provides excellent isolation for live performance environments, even in noisy situations.
“The DPA mics are so small that they’re virtually invisible to the audience and the musicians,” says Elff. “The musicians never have to worry about maintaining a consistent physical relationship to a stand-mounted mic while on stage, freeing them to just pay attention to making good music. Add to that the fact that the mic sounds fantastic and you’ve got a winning combination.”
For Elff, the tour has been both exhilarating and challenging. “The first consideration, always, is to make the musicians feel absolutely comfortable on stage, so they feel free to perform as effortlessly as possible. If the musicians are comfortable, the audience gets a better show,” says Elff. “The listening environment on stage in a typical performance could be chaotic due to the convergence of such a wide range of instrumental timbres. Carefully using the mics on each instrument to provide both on-stage reinforcement for the musicians via their stage monitors and selective reinforcement for the audience is literally essential to making this kind of contemporary ensemble possible.”