Dec 4, 2020

Ethyl Smyth Quartet in E minor


o I can finally share a video project that I did several months ago now that it has been released by Experiential Orchestra! As part of the celebration for our successful album release (and eventual Grammy nomination!) the principals of the orchestra (including me) were slated to go on tour for an album release. However COVID hit and that was scrapped. So our conductor and music director, James Blachly, approached me several months ago asking if there was perhaps a way for the four of us to record at distance, something related to the album. After discussion, we decided why not one of her quartets?

So I took on this project to produce, edit and play this project. Nt to flex or boast I am very proud of not only the playing but the editing skills I had to display/learn.

The Usual "Limitations" of Distance Video Performances

So during this lockdown, most musicians have been stuck working on video projects. Usually for a solo project this is not hard at all. Just good 'ol video and sound editing. Duos present a challenge. But then more than that... how can you approach ensemble playing of 3 or more?

There basically are 2 traditional ways to go about it

  • Use a Click Track
  • Have the members listen to a common recording

Now talking to James, we felt that we didn't want to do that. Perhaps it was out of hubris and naivety, but most of the videos that went these traditional methods seemed generic and stale. We wanted the actual music still to be portrayed since this was the first time most people would hear this work.

What I ended up doing

  • Go with a "Layering" Technique, starting with cello recording
  • Stack/divide and conquer the layering. Slowly edit
  • repeat with other voicing

Now this sounds actually pretty simple, almost like how you would edit a Photoshop project, however again no metronome so I had to compensate intimate timing issues with engineering with video and audio.
One may say, "wait! this makes it less musical because you are artificially engineering timings". I guess I would answer that I did not touch any of the general timing and interpretations. I respected my colleagues on this project too much to do that. Also we all had an innate sense of understanding each others playing so I did not have to really worry about that. Instead, the engineering work was on the little timing issues like line ups, micro phrase stretches and compressions - things that any good musician does automatically when playing together live. Does one not have an engineer make small changes for intonation etc. during a regular recording session? (luckily I didn't have to do too much of that ;))

Anyways the end result I was super happy with! It was a massive edit and stretched the limits of my abilities for sound and video editing but made me more confident that high quality performances could be achieved at this time if you have the ears and skillsets combined.