String Quartet Session #1

This was the first time the quartet played together as a quartet. Most of the players have played together before in other capacities but never as a quartet. This was our first rehearsal and it was therefore not held in a studio, not recorded and not filmed at all. The only piece that was rehearsed was Pierre Jodlowski’s 60 Loops
Session length: 2 hours
We tried at first to play the piece at once with the tape, but themusicians found this too difficult especially around bar 43 when they begin to play on off beats. Therefore we rehearsed the piece without any tape at first, and by using a metronome.
By rehearsing the piece part by part, it was much easier for the musicians. We often had to stop to discuss which sections are tutti and which sections are against each. After having rehearsed most of the section that use the second tape file, we rehearsed it several times with the tape. It was easier for the musicians with the tape after they knew exactly what they were going to play. Many of their reactions to playing the piece were in line with how they need to know the tape better. It was also commented several times how the musicians are screwed if they miss a single beat. However, in several playthroughs, the musicians might have fallen off in a few bars, but often managed to come back on the beat. Sometimes this was with my own help (as I would often mark the first beat of new sections) or by themselves.
The second section where the third tape part starts had to be at first played at a slower tempo since the 88 bpm is quite quick. It was interesting to remark here that they really struggled with the metronome, but one of them mentioned that we should try it with the tape quicker as “this section has a groove”. When we first played it with the tape, it went actually better than with the clicktrack.
One of the interesting aspects of today’s rehearsal was the way we used the click track. At first, I would count for them at show them where the one is, etc. This could quickly be stopped, although they still appreciated to be shown where the 1 is at the start of new sections to be clear. For the second part of the tape, they often found it easier to play with the tape AND the metronome. However, in certain sections, especially later in the piece they often found it difficult to hear the metronome. This is an issue that will be resolved especially with monitoring since we weren’t in a proper studio for this rehearsal. For the third section of the tape, it was more difficult for them to play with tape and clicktrack, while only the tape seemed easier for all of the members.
There was also a signalled difference in the type of click track wanted. Some members thought it was easier to have a higher pitch as the 1, while others thought it was better with a lower pitch. This was quite an interesting aspect which I had not expected at all. To me as a drummer and studio engineer, having a lower pitch as the one feels natural, as it is also often what is by default in DAWs like Reaper, Pro Tools, etc.
Another aspect which was mentioned earlier is if they wanted me to count or not. It was not clear if it was my counting, or my counting in French which was disturbing to them. I have also no training as a conductor, and therefore accented exactly where the 1 is, not anything else.
So far, the most problematic sections were bars 52, 81, 164, 168, 215, 219. There’s a clear correlation with two aspects that the musicians have found difficult: off beats and when they are not playing tutti.
During the session, we also discussed a few of the other synchronisation methods I have planned. I do not think they understood specifically what score following involves. It also seems that although they see severe limitations to the tape such as having to start from specific questions and that you feel as if you are on a train, unable to fall, that they still like the synchronisation method. It seems to give them a certain amount of insurance that whatever happens, it’s on them, not the electronics. They have control of what they are doing and the tape just continues no matter what.
The thought of one of them having to control a sustain pedal did seem a bit scary at first, but this might have been a false impression. We will test this out at the next rehearsal to see if it affects them.
We have also discussed making an app so that they can rehearse the composition with tape at home which does make things much easier. The first version of the app currently looks like this:

It allows them to practice at home by using the app and they can trigger the tape either by keyboard or with a MIDI sustain pedal.
The GUI will have to eventually be improved.