thoughts on music, design and literature

Friday, December 28, 2007

Abbey Road Pt. 3

My day at Abbey Road started at 8:00 AM, when I showed up at the studio. Already the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's massive truck was outside, and roadies were loading various large instruments into the studio, including the timpani, celeste, the battery of ethnic percussion I hired, as well as the mother of all taiko drums. (Here's a picture of me having a little fun with it!) Jeff had already shown up early to put all the musicians parts out on the stands, and John was already there making last minute adjustments to the microphones. My ace conductor Lucas Richman arrived shortly thereafter, and with that, we were ready to roll.

The morning session started at 10:00 AM and lasted three hours. The afternoon session was four hours, starting at 2:00 PM. The final lineup I settled on was an orchestra of 85:

3 Flutes
--w/ piccolo, alto flute
3 Oboes
--w/ English Horn
3 Clarinets
--w/ Bass Clarinet
2 Bassoons

6 French Horns
3 Trumpets
2 Trombones
Bass Trombone

5 Percussion

14 1st Violins
14 2nd Violins
10 Violas
8 Cellos
6 Basses

Our goal was to record, over the course of 7 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds of music....which is incredibly ambitious! (Why the rush? Frankly, I couldn't afford any more time.) We were able to accomplish this with few hiccups, mostly due to the amount of time I had spent in advance preparing every last detail. It wasn't a 100%-smooth process, though; because of a last-minute fiasco in the parts preparation, there were a number of missing notes in the horn parts that had to be corrected from the podium. All in all we wasted about 5 minutes with these problems, which doesn't seem like a lot on the outside; but considering every minute elapsed costs me about $150 in musicians salaries and studio rental, I was cursing my head off in the control room the whole time.

Most people don't realize this, but orchestras that are contracted to do recording sessions don't actually rehearse the music in advance. They simply show up and read it on sight. It's actually quite incredible; these are some of the finest players in the world, and are capable of playing something nearly perfectly on first-read. However, that means that some adjustments that you need to make to the music will often catch you off guard on the day of the session. After every take, Lucas and I conferred on the podium and made minor changes to the sound. Most were things that can't easily be conveyed with written musical notation; for example, how short to make a staccato note, or how legato to play a melody.

At 7:30 PM The Purcell Singers showed up to record the chorale to my Polish song, Hymn Do Trojcy Swietej (Hymn To The Holy Trinity). Directed by Mark Ford, this 45 member choir spent an hour recording first working on the pronunciation of the text (courtesy of a Polish coach), and then doing take after take trying to find the right sound.

We capped off the evening in exhilarating fashion. I've mentioned before in this blog the Maori tradition of the haka--well, at 9:00 PM four Maori guys came in and laid down take after take of chants, stomps, and body slaps for my closing Maori song Kia Hora Te Marino (May Peace Be Widespread).

10:00 PM, and 14 hours after I had arrived at the studio, we finished with a celebratory pint of Guinness. One of the longest and most exhausting days of my life...and hopefully the beginning of a great journey for me.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Abbey Road Pt. 2

The night before the session we were able to get in to Studio 1 to set up for the next day's events. John Kurlander's main task was to get the room set up to his exacting specifications....and when I say exacting, I really mean exacting. One of the reasons I feel very comfortable working with John is his level of attention to detail. Weeks before the session, I was getting detailed floor plans from him with proposed orchestra layouts, microphone setups, etc. The night before the session, he and his team of assistants, headed by the capable Richard Lancaster, got everything ready for the big show.

My task was two-fold; first, to get the ProTools sessions set up with Richard for click tracks and pre-records, and second, to make sure that all the orchestral parts were there. Richard is frighteningly fast on ProTools--the poor man works long hours, but it seems like it will all pay off for him in short time.

As far as parts preparation goes, I had the assistance of a long-time friend of mine from when I was a conducting student, Jeff Eckstein. Jeff has worked in many capacities around orchestras before, from conducting to managing, and so together the two of us sorted through every single part of all 12 songs and made sure everything was there for the session.

That night I climbed into bed at about midnight; it was about 4:00 AM when I finally fell asleep. Three hours later I woke up to start my marathon day.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Abbey Road Pt. 1

Dear blog readers,

Today I had the privilege of recording my debut album in one of the holiest of places in the music industry: Abbey Road Studios.

It's 1:30 AM (my typical blogging time), and despite having been working for about 16 hours today, and having only gotten four hours of sleep the night before, I'm still wide awake. People have been asking me if I was "excited"--and the truth is, I was a little too busy to be excited, and so I never really reached any point where I was blown away by what was happening....even up through the moment when I first heard the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra start to play my music. The best way to describe my mood all day, and indeed, the reason why I'm still up right now, is that for the entire day I was extremely, incredibly FOCUSED.

I literally can't wait to dig into the recording files that I left the studio with, and start editing and mixing them. I may even post a sneak preview or two of some of the tracks in time. But for now, I thought I'd start by sharing a few pictures.

My first day back in London I paid a visit to my old alma mater, the Royal College of Music, to do a little guest lecture to the composition students about what life is like in Hollywood, the game industry, the commercial industry, and as an independent recording artist making his first album. It was a very enjoyable day--I always love to teach and lecture, and was thrilled at the opportunity to do it at the RCM.

Then the next few days were spent alone in my little academic suite that I rented at my old dorm, preparing for the session. There was a bit of a last minute panic with the parts preparation, and so I really didn't get a chance to go out and have any fun in London. But ultimately all the preparatory work paid off, and Monday night, before the session, we were able to load into the studio.

That's when the fun really began....and for that, I'll wait until my next post.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Imminent Departure!

I leave for London tomorrow, everyone! Wish me luck!

I've got a busy week ahead of me. First, I visit the Royal College of Music on Friday to do a little guest lecture at my old alma mater. Then meetings with some old friends and old professors. Then the day before the session, meeting with the conductor, the contractor (who will be bringing the orchestral parts) and finally going to the session set-up at Abbey Road the night before.

Then it's showtime! 7 hours with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 1 hour with the Purcell Singers, and 1 hour with some Maori guys performing a 'haka' (see previous blog entry). A busy day!

I'll post pictures when I return.