I work on a dance competition show but the judges on our show will also take the stage and showcase their latest creations. One of our judges is the world’s fastest tap dancer, Anthony Morigerato. And when it comes to miking his performance there has been a number of methods used but none of them performed better then using a piezo transducer contact microphone mounted to the stage.
I should give you some history to this method of recording tap dance. The idea of using a guitar pickup for tap dance was first created by famous tap dancer Gregory Hines. Mr Hines mentored dancer Savion Glover who would take the concept to a whole another level. Glover had a special floating wooden dance floor created for his shows that would allow him to place an array of pickups under each piece of wooden dance floor. Savion Glover uses 13-21 different transducers during a show. Using an array meant that if 1 person was dancing or 20 were dancing, they were all evenly covered no matter were on stage they danced.
Athony Morigerato learned the method and brought it to our show. What’s really nice about this method is it allows for you to only capture the vibrations in the wood and not in the air, so monitor/PA feedback is nearly impossible. It also allows you to capture even the most minor of toe scraps, shuffles, and taps that the performer knows they are creating. A traditional microphone could never pickup these subtle sounds. Here is what this method sounds like.
I mention all this because last night our piezo broke… or so we thought. Being an unbalanced microphone they are very influenced by electricity and RF interference, and ours was giving us a nasty hum and stopped picking up vibrations.
In trying to fix this we noticed someone had replaced the stock plastic 1/4″ TS female connector with an upgraded metal durable connector. You would think a metal connector would be better, because metal is better then plastic except that it was grounding out when it touched the stage or when someone touched the connector to plug in the 1/4″ unbalanced cable. Super easy fix, I covered the connectors of both the piezo and the 1/4″ TS cable with electric tape to isolate it from grounding out. I also shortened the 1/4″ TS cable run to the DI box.
Contact microphones can be a lot of fun to play with also. Here is a short video clip of a sound engineer putting contact microphones on all sorts of metal surfaces and seeing how they sound. Most of them sound like something you’d hear in a horror film.
But contact microphones can also be used for the non-horror genres too.
And don’t feel like you need to spend $60+ on a Barcus Berry 1457 Outsider piezo transducer either just to have fun and play with a contact microphone. You can find all sorts of piezo pickups on Amazon from some that are $1 that require you to solder your own connectors to under $10 ready to use contact microphones. OR if your like me you want to go and make the best piezo transducer microphone on the market, the Cortado MkII Balanced Contact Mic! This thing is cool on so many levels, 1) Its BALANCED! 2) It’s a soldering kit! Soldering is fun! (though you can also buy it ready-to-use… I guess, whatever) 3) It features its on pre-amp that’s designed to match the impedance of the microphone giving you the best quality sound a piezo can give.
I hope this inspired you to go have fun with piezos. Put them on the hood of a car revving its engine, on a squeaky door, on a slamming door, near the rattly caster on a hospital crash cart being wheeled into the ER just in time to save the patient.
How have you used a contact microphone? Leave a comment below sharing your experiences using them.
About the Author
Andrew Jones is a location sound mixer based in Los Angeles. He started in the TV and Film industry in 2004. You can email him at Andrew@HoldForSound.com