By Eric Felten
More than a few have commented on just how strange it was that the live pit orchestra at the Oscars last night was performing not in the actual theater, but from down the road at Capitol Studios. As one might expect from Capitol (where such great — and great-sounding — recordings as Frank Sinatra’s legendary 1950s discs were cut) the orchestra was beautifully captured, and came through with luscious, polished perfection.
Alas, the same could not be said for the microphone work in the theater itself. Singer after singer came across as weak, each overwhelmed by the accompaniment in the sound mix. Powerhouse belters such as Jennifer Hudson and Adele (who had her own orchestra on stage) were all but drowned out. Even Shirley Bassey, she of one of the biggest voices in the world, seemed strangely puny in the bizarre world of the Oscars telecast audio. Poor Norah Jones didn’t have a chance — though given the lame song she had to sing, it may have been a small blessing that her vocal could barely be heard.
The fault, of course, was not with the singers. It was an audio engineering problem, and a pretty basic one at that. Who knows what went wrong. It seems as though the voices came across stronger in the hall than on TV (indeed, at times it seemed like we were hearing the singers captured, not directly from their own microphones, but from the amplification being pumped into the theater). Whatever the problem, chances are when the Emmys TV awards show next comes around the Oscars telecast won’t be racking up any nominations in the Best Sound Mixing category.