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Finding New Paths – Part 2

Following on from my previous blog post about using music technology to develop compositional skills and provide performance, I wanted to take a look at the situation from a slightly different angle.
Composers with instrumentalist friends, or who can find or form ensembles to work with, can get works played, even if just to hear the results privately rather than in concert. But what if bringing people together is hindered by lack of players, geographic constraints or just the busy nature of our lives?
Music technology could again provide the key to composers wishing to think outside the box. What if you could record the individual parts of a piece separately and then combine them to form the effect of the ensemble written for? That way, if you have access to one player on a Monday night, and the other on a Friday, material can still be recorded without the need for the ensemble to meet.
Of course, many composers are also instrumentalists and capable of playing the instruments they are writing for. I thought a test might be in order to check the practicalities of the idea. Keri Degg, a friend and fellow composer, mentioned that she had recently written a piece for SATB saxophone quartet and, being temporarily without players to test the piece, I asked whether she might want to try recording all of the parts herself. This situation provided a safer environment to test the idea in, with fewer variables; same recording software, same room, same performer, different tracks and instruments.
It is worth mentioning that although Keri is a saxophonist, she normally plays soprano or alto saxophone, so had also to contend with adjusting to the subtleties of the tenor and baritone saxophones. This raised an interesting point during recording regarding consideration for performers.
Although experienced and comfortable writing for saxophone quartet, she found a refreshed insight into her writing by having to play all the parts herself. When faced with having to play and record the parts individually, the composer gets to see their music in a different light, from the perspective of the performer, enabling greater insight and empathy in future compositions.
An awkward part of the experiment concerned the lack of performer interaction. In a normal ensemble situation the performers can see each other, adjusting their playing according to what they can see and hear. In this experiment, whilst you can record whilst hearing some of the already completed parts, you really have only the score to go by, and that raises interesting questions how much of a ‘work’ is in the hands of the performer.
Debating points aside, there seems some worth in the composer trying this type of project, both as a tool to gain useful recordings and for general compositional development. It would be interesting to see how easy the project would be with different performers in separate sessions or even locations.
In this project, I used a very basic setup of a standard dynamic microphone and the Cubase 5 sequencer, but the project would be easy to replicate using such software as Logic, Garageband or the freeware Audacity. Below is a video featuring the music and the screenshot of the sequencer mixing window from the project.

Posted by author: ChrisLawry
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4 thoughts on “Finding New Paths – Part 2

  • Hi Chris,
    Your suggestion is a ‘no brainer’ but I hadn’t thought of it! I don’t know many individual musicians in my area but I know enough for them to be able to source me others for the purposes of playing a part. I am the lucky owner of an Edirol RO9 hand recorder and honestly it is the most used bit of kit in my armoury,
    mainly for recording my own attempts at jazz singing and sound effects for some musical stories I am trying to progress. But I wouldn’t be without it.
    I am definitely going to pursue your idea and will at some point, let you know how it worked. I guess that recording the parts in different places on different days could lead to a wide
    variation in ‘feel’. I guess if one takes a metronome to get the correct tempo that will help. However, the difference in
    interpretation of your ‘notes’ could add another dimension to one’s own ideas and could be an impetus to add a new twist to the piece one is writing. Nice one Chris!

  • PS I have just been able to listen and Keri’s composition is really lovely.
    I think it might be worth mentioning for those who haven’t heard of it, an open-source, community led DAW which comes highly recommended is REAPER. It costs $60 which is a gift in comparison with the big players such as Cubase, Pro Tools, etc. I had a quick look and it seems to offer ever function the big guys offer and I plan to give it a try.

  • Hi Both
    Should I be taking lessons from my daughters? They are using Logic, but it’s gobbledy-gook to me! We all have Macs, so I have got Garage Band, but never used it, did have Audacity on my old computer,never used it, but haven’t downloaded it into this one. Do I need a decent mic to use these programs, being basically a keyboard player, or should I stick to recording on my Clavinova, rather than my acoustic piano, no recorder either! Any suggestions on recorders?
    But your ideas are very good, Chris.

  • Hello Fionagh,
    This is a rather late reply as I have been away.
    Well it is quite a big learning curve as I have discovered and it isn’t something you can get to grips with in a few hours. But it is an extremely useful and I would say quite an exciting addition to be able to test instrument sounds in combination within a computer programme. It is just so much more ‘instant’ than Sibelius and you get the feel of your ideas so quickly.
    I would say that if your daughters are patient and would like to teach you Logic, then grab the opportunity with both hands. I did my A Level Music Tech in 2005 and have only just started
    again. It is challenging without anyone to ask when things go wrong. So learn as much from them as you possibly can. It is huge fun.

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