Saturday, November 20, 2010

How We Make The Sausage

What ProTools thinks my music looks like.
Making music in a studio is a completely different process than performing it live on stage. I suppose the closest analogy is that of movie making as compared to live theatre. Any live performance is a completely linear endeavor. You begin at the beginning and proceed straightway to the end. If any mistakes are made, you simply move on and hope the audience did not notice. Most times they don't. 

It's a completely different matter once you begin to commit any live performance to the recorded audio and/or video medium. Major errors cannot be left to stand. A recorded performance mistake that was once a passing gaff in an otherwise stellar live performance turns into a very noticeable stain. It doesn't matter how impeccable the rest of the beautiful white gown looks if there is a small spot of tomato sauce on the front. That's why, for both performers and the composers whose music they are committing to posterity, a recording session is a much more daunting and exhausting experience than simply playing music live in front of an audience.

Clarinetist Ken Long in the studio recording "Tonoi III."
I've been involved in many recording projects over the years and find myself this weekend in the familiar position of overseeing some recordings of my music. Although I've gone through it many times, I still find it a bizarre experience. By necessity, we are recording sections of my music out of order and then fashioning the sections together to restore the sense of the piece. It's anything  but the linear experience of a live performance. The music begins to lose meaning as we work diligently, for example, to correct one small phrase in a fast moving section of music. Imagine taking a simple straight-forward sentence like "The boys play baseball every Saturday" and focusing on the words "baseball every" over and over again. If you repeat those words a great deal, they lose their meaning first as words (sounding like random syllables) as well as their context. Now imagine having to re-orient yourself and splice the words "baseball every" to the string of words "The boys play." Now imagine repeating this process for hours. It's no wonder we all leave with our heads spinning, making a beeline for the nearest bar!

Aside from the urgency of "getting it right" for the recording, I, like every composer, feel the pressure of making any recording of my music perfect because in all reality - it will be the ONLY studio recording the work will EVER get. The performers understand this as well and are usually extremely dedicated to giving the best performance possible. I'm very fortunate in that I can personally program live performances of my music prior to heading into the studio. Musicians feel somewhat more comfortable in a recording session having already learned a piece well enough to present in a recent public performance. That's why I programmed my earlier neoPhonia concert just prior to these recording sessions and chose to present the very same music in concert that is currently being recorded. 

It's a long, crazy and exhausting journey from composing a piece, rehearsing it, premiering it then, finally, to entering a studio for hours to record it. (Then there's all the post production - but that's another story entirely!) It's a process, however, that I joyfully enter into repeatedly. Once the final product is created, I always forget about the process of making the sausage and just enjoy it!

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