String Quartet Session #3 – 28th of may 2018

Session length: 2 hours
Location: Olavskvartalet Studio Pieces: 60 Loops by Pierre Jodlowski
Between the last session and today, the two studio technicians and myself have spent several hours troubleshooting what went wrong last session. This included 4 hours in the studio in which several routing issues were fixed, as well as finding out that a few lines have extraneous noise in them. The only issue that presented itself during this session, is that if the secondary mac (used for processing) goes to sleep, the software from Focusrite can shift where the world clock is from, therefore not sending out any sound. This is an issue which made me lose 15 minutes, but it is now well understood and marked. The only other remarks to make was one member that came in about 30 minutes too late, and that we had to end 20 minutes earlier as to go through a composition for a friend of one of the members. The session was recorded both with audio and video. The video part is with one of the older cameras of NTNU, therefore not of great quality, but it still helpful.
An interesting turn of events has been that two members of the quartet have mentioned wanting longer rehearsal times. This was my original wish, but it seemed impossible because of their schedule. I find this to be a very positive development. As they have said themselves, they are more used to these types of longer rehearsals and they feel we could better master the material and come forward in a quicker fashion. They also mentioned this because they feel that we have not managed to master the 60 Loops piece yet at this point. Another issue that was brought up related to this is the issue of efficiency in rehearsals since there is no natural leader in the quartet (including myself). This is an interesting note, and several of them are very used to playing in bigger ensembles where the conductor will naturally lead. This is something to take into consideration later and that we had agreed we must discuss.
Now, onto the music! The session was again only concentrated on 60 Loops with tape as they needed to be refreshed. Several members mentioned that they felt they cannot rehearse this piece without the full quartet and electronics. This is an interesting observation, and would then also mean that Jodlowski has managed to create a piece in which the sum of its part is greater than the parts alone. It does however, also mean that the quartet is more dependent on these full rehearsals to get through the piece. Another observation that was made during the rehearsal was once again that by playing with the headphones, they feel much more like they are alone and have difficulty to get chemistry together. While discussing this point further, several members of the quartet mentioned that they would really like to have a monitor that is playing the tape in the room. This presents a few logistical problems in the studio (because of its set-up) but also for the recording. However, I am determined to try this out as well to see how well they react to this compared to the headphones.
Another issue that was mentioned is the monitoring situation. In 60 Loops, the monitoring is done in two different stereo pairs. Channels 3-4 have the click track while channels 5-6 have the stereo playback (channels 1-2 are the sum of what is in the control room which is muted on their Avioms). This allows them to set-up the levels as they wish. However, in both mian sections of 60 Loops, the playback starts off at a very low amplitude. By the end, the amplitude is very high. The musicians feel that they do not have the time to change the settings on their Aviom. During the session I rode the fader to give them more amplitude. I would normally have simply added a compressor; however, latency is a big issue. Therefore, I will be creating another version of the playback that is highly compressed for the musicians. They made it clear that they do not need the dynamics of the playback, only its rhythm to keep the correct beat, and especially to know where 1 is.
The section that was most practiced is the second in 5/8. They find this section still easier because of its groove. We practiced it both with and without a click track. They specifically asked me to put the click back on at bar 226 to make the end easier. One musician went to the point of saying that it is not possible without a click track. This is quite interesting since they have managed to play it before without a click track. I do suspect that they are simply a bit rusty because it has been a long time since the last proper rehearsal. Although I will be complying to their wishes at first, I suspect that it will not be necessary.
It was also interesting to note that they had a lot of trouble at first at bar 219. By playing the tape to them accurately from that section with a click about 5 times made them specifically understand where everything fell. Afterwards, it was not problematic to play this section.
Afterwards, we rehearsed the first section for about 30 minutes. It is still this part that is the most difficult for the musicians. It’s also clear that it is this section that has the most rhythmical illusions, that make the listener feel like the 1 has shifted place. In this section, they seemed to have performed better without the click track. While playing with the click track, they would often fall a bit behind the beat. However, it was clear that they weren’t comfortable with this section. They often rushed it a bit, but as a musician mentioned, it is difficult to play the first section after the section since its tempo is much lower and more laidback.
In the last two days since the session, I have also been listening to parts of it with the filmed video synced to the Reaper session. While listening back to the session there are a few things that strike me as being challenges for recordings of this piece, compared to a concert. In a concert situation, the audience gets the immediate feeling of the quartet in front of them. They hear its energy, its acoustic sound and possibly its dry sound through the PA system as well depending on the venue. Because of this energy, I am led to believe that the balance between the acoustic quartet and the tape part becomes slightly less important. However, in the case of a studio recording that balance is much more critical. The tape part to 60 Loops is heavily compressed and becomes incredibly busy which leads an engineer to have to use techniques that are generally used more with popular music than classical recording.
Another aspect is having to match the reverb between the tape and dry quartet. In a concert situation, most engineers would just send both to the same reverb unit even though the tape already has some reverb. In the studio, this balance is subtler and I mainly want to match the reverb that is on the tape. To me it sounds like a small-ish hall with some damped acoustics. I am currently trying to create a similar effect by using the IRCAM SPAT. However, all other aspects of the recording done in our studio also influences the sound. Therefore, it will never be completely possible to match them (and it is perhaps not artistically relevant either!).
Both of these aspects are also very relevant to think about when designing the electronics again with different techniques, especially from the bottom up. While using physical modelling, shall I also compress the sound heavily? Is that possible to do in real-time with the generation and not maxing out my CPU? These are very relevant questions that have more to do with the production side than the technical side in many ways. A relevant question is then also if it would be designed for concert use or studio use.
Finally, this is a piece that I’ve only listened to on CD before
playing it with the quartet. I have never seen a youtube video, or a
live performance. However, by looking at the video while listening,
I felt a strong disassociation between what we hear and what we
see. This is especially true in the sections where many loops are
playing over each other. The quartet might be playing a single note,
but we hear many things in the background. Because the electronic
sounds are exactly from a quartet, and not heavily processed, the
listener can experience a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.