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.



Blogger Patty said...

Just found this blog of yours. Fun read.

I'm curious: do you hear a large difference between the British oboists and those from the states? I know we oboists do, but I'm curious what a composer hears. (They use different reeds and, from what I've heard -- I've never seen them -- a different oboe.)

I've done extremely little studio work. I find it quite stressful, and admire those that can do it all the time. It's much more difficult than live performances in my little opinion. (I did get an opportunity to play at Skywalker Ranch once, several years ago ... quite a place!)


December 29, 2007 at 8:59 AM

Blogger Christopher Tin said...

Hi Patty,

Thanks for reading my blog! Feel free to comment any time. Now that I'm out of the woods on the album, I'll actually have more time to respond.

To answer your question, yes I can hear the difference if asked about it; but generally speaking, if I'm listening to a full orchestra, that's the last thing on my mind. I haven't thought too much about the topic, but my impressions are the difference between a British oboist and a US oboist is much less pronounced than say, a German oboist and a US oboist. (Correct me if I'm wrong about this, but the German oboe seems to be the 'thickest' of the oboes sounds out there.)

And yes, having the ability to record to a click track is pretty impressive!


December 29, 2007 at 8:37 PM

Blogger Patty said...

Interesting to read your response, Chris! And thanks for your graciousness. :-)

The German oboe sound can definitely sound different, to be sure. I actually love the different timbre of different oboists from other countries (some American oboists can be quite picky and, well, somewhat snobby about all of this).

Keep blogging ... I now have you bookmarked and I'm sure I'll enjoy your site!

December 30, 2007 at 6:18 PM

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