Friday, 29 March 2013
Rachel: The whole concept of recording is artificial; every little slip is a problem, which you don’t notice in a concert, where it’s lived in the moment and it’s all about the atmosphere. With a CD you feel you have to listen to a perfect product. If you hear a mistake, you know it’s always going to be there. We try to get it perfect, but it’s exhausting with recordings because you’re trying to play a concert for 6 or 7 hours in a day.
Simon: I suggest the whole art to recording is to use the situation to take risks that you wouldn’t be able to take in a concert. You have the opportunity to make things more expressive or extreme because in a concert you sometimes have to select a safe route through the music.
Rachel: I think it’s knowing the balance, and in the recording you can actually afford to make mistakes. In a concert you are looking for that risk and being on the edge.
Simon: I'd have thought you wouldn't wish to start experimenting while you are on stage?
Farran: Well, sometimes we do.
Rachel: We know each other so well, so we can actually do that, but only because we’ve known each other for years.
Farran: I suppose we are trying to make the recording as close to a live performance as we can get.
Rachel: But it will never have an audience sitting there. In a concert they electrify the air, we pick that up. The best concerts are when audiences (although they don’t realise it) are actually conversing with us and giving us loads of electricity that we give back to them.
Simon: So in a recording you have to use the microphone as a portal to a future audience, probably a much bigger audience.
Rachel: It’s not the same as having real live bodies there.
Simon: That’s the challenge. You have to connect to your future audience.
Farran: You do have the advantage of care and intensity that can be difficult to achieve in live performance because everything is gone so quickly. I think once we’ve recorded something, we’ve learnt it in a different way than we might have previously. When we go back on stage we perform it differently.
Rachel: The same is true the other way round. If we are to record a piece we haven’t performed before, I find you notice it, unless you are really, really careful with bringing it alive. Talking about the atmosphere of recording is one thing. Then you get down to the nitty gritty – “oh that note was not in tune”- and you’re playing take after take after take. To keep this tension and energy going is really hard. In the end you are like – “oh let’s just get a safe one” That’s almost the end, and then after that you are free!
Farran: That’s where Simon comes in. You (Simon) know how to judge that, how to lead us to that point. Rather than just stopping at that ‘safe’ moment, you take us beyond it. You also know how many full takes we have in us, as we want to record as much as possible in full takes. We want it to be a complete as possible.
Rachel: There are so many other factors that come in that I find really fascinating, for example, how we stand in relative to the microphones means a particular sound comes out in a specific direction. Human ears on the sides of heads are so different. A microphone is not even the right shape, and is not picked up by neurones.
Simon: In some ways ears are similar to microphones, but microphones don’t have brains.
Farran: There’s no decoding system.
Simon: Exactly. That’s where we have to help the listener. Give them multiple ears, because in real life the brain is able to select what it hears. So for example much of the indirect sound from the back of the hall gets filtered out. Your brain can't do that listening back to a recording.
Rachel: I once did a recording where they had just one set of microphones on a plastic head, an outdated fashion. The result was good on headphones, but you rarely hear a recording on that way; you might listen to it in the car, or in your front room (which is very dry) so what happens to all the acoustics behind it? Each sound system has a different range. I’m fascinated by the harmonic range. A note is not just one note, it is a set of vibrations, and makes a particular sound-colour because of the amount of harmonics that exist above it. A trombone sounds really pure as it has fewer upper harmonics than say a violin. The fact is that each note has a tower of stuff above it. Simon’s job is to make sure the right ones come out across all the ranges and that they gel convincingly.
Simon: It’s true that recordings sound different on different sound systems. But it‘s not just that, it’s also a response to the acoustic they are in. Some systems sound drier that others, so we have to make sure that people have the acoustic atmosphere around the music, so it has somewhere to go, but also the detail in order to connect to the performance.
Rachel: Which is also why you have microphones in the rest of the room; it’s not simply that we have a close microphone for each instrument. We have individual mics, say a foot away, depending on the room, then also some much further back in the room, - in this church standing at about 4 metres high. They pick up a lot of other things.
Farran: We also have to record the silence, as it is with us standing in it at that particular time, as the music exists only as part of that acoustic. Silence is not a blank.
Simon: Yes, that’s right. You need space for the music to project into. Not just acoustically, music needs space as the performance needs space to project into.
Rachel: Which is why we are in a church, not a studio. A lot of pop musicians do work in studios, but they work very differently, they work for months on end tweaking, adding, layering, one thing at a time.
Farran: They have cans [headphones] on, so they listen to themselves through the ears of the microphones. We are listening to ourselves in this building, we can’t possibly listen to what the microphone is hearing, as we’ve got to react to an acoustic. If we don’t have an acoustic we don’t have the feedback we are used to.
Rachel: Which is why the space is so important. Each room has its own atmosphere. People notice when they walk into a building like this, a feeling of “ahhh”. This is to do with the wood, the stone, the high ceiling and space above you, the light, the pews, the sounds. That is what we are using in our sound, we play with this acoustic. Sometimes there is too much, or too little and you have to compensate. What do you call acoustics? It’s like feedback from the room. For us, we crudely mean echo.
Simon: For the listener it’s the space in which the music has to travel. When I’m balancing that up, what I’m looking for is allowing the listener to home in on the one hand, without it seeming completely dry, and step away into the corner of the room on the other hand, such that it is not a complete wash. I try to get a recorded balance that mimics what our own selective hearing system might do in the live space.
Rachel: Like the best seat in a concert hall, it’s a very complicated subject this! There are so many things to consider.
Farran: We’re using this church for the 6th time, as it’s quiet and background noise can be a big problem when recording. It’s also isolated and away from our everyday lives. So for all of us it provides head space, it’s good to be cut off from the outside world.
Simon: Rather than step straight off the underground and have to play...
Farran: We’re not worrying about taking the lunch break at exactly 1 o’clock, we run to a schedule but we basically carry on until it is done every evening. We’re not trying to catch a train. It’s a real luxury, but very necessary for this kind of work.
Rachel: We have a deadline; Sunday, it has to be ready, and the pressure builds if we get behind, so we try to get a little ahead each day, so as to avoid the gun to the head feeling. We work on a number of pieces per day, rather than a set amount of time per day.
Farran: This means that concentration is not interrupted. I think this is crucial in a recording situation - you get so close to something, you have to stick with it. You can’t just pick it up an hour later and expect it to be the same – it doesn’t work. Just as one performance will not be like another. If you want the product to be as close to live performance as possible, where one phrase in the music is a consequence of the previous one, you have to record it in one sitting.
Rachel: With that to finish, how about we get back to work!
Posted by The Brook Street Band at 12:21
Thursday, 8 November 2012
Apologies for radio silence, but the past few months have been spent gearing up for the Band's forthcoming Wigmore Hall performance with amazing author Louis de Bernieres. This takes place on 7 Decemeber, featuring a newly commissioned stage-play about Handel, that Louis has written for the Band. Louis himself plays Mr Handel.
Posted by The Brook Street Band at 10:09
Thursday, 6 September 2012
After a busy summer (more about that to come) it's always nice to come back to a good review. America's Listen Magazine has published an article on AVIE Records' 10 years in the CD industry, and the article picks one of the Band's CDs (Handel Cello Sonatas) out as a highlight. http://www.listenmusicmag.com/looking-back/savvy-and-serendipity.php?page=all
Posted by The Brook Street Band at 18:39
Friday, 13 July 2012
I am finally recovering from the most wonderful weekend with The Band, giving concerts and talks for Cossington Concerts in Somerset. This series was set up in 2002 by the late great Stanley Sadie and his wife Julie Anne, and has continued since Stanley's passing in 2005. The Band performed the trio sonata from Bach's Musical Offering, preceded by a talk about the piece. The following day The Band gave a programme called Eccentric Englishmen, inspired by some of Stanley's doctoral research into English chamber music in the 18th century. In between, Julie's amazing cooking kept us all going, not to mention talks about Handel. A huge thank you to David and Julie Anne from The Brook Street Band! A most inspiring weekend, which culminated with the Nancy Carr competition, awarded to a promising young Somerset musician. It was a real privilege to judge this and hear some amazing upcoming talent.
Posted by The Brook Street Band at 18:19
Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Thursday, 17 May 2012
Just a few of my favourite Handel stomping grounds, and I get to visit them all imminently. I wonder if Handel would approve of Crossrail? Or trains, come to think of it! I like to think that he's just around the corner, slightly out of vision, always one step ahead of me, but there nonetheless.
Posted by The Brook Street Band at 21:15