Brass Trio Recording Update

When I last posted about our brass trio album, we had just wrapped up a three-day recording session in January (you can read that post here). The project is moving forward, and I’m anticipating a release sometime in the fall of 2018. The tentative title is Scenes from the Bayou, which is the same title as one of the works we commissioned for this recording, composed by Gina Gillie. Here is a complete list of what will be on the disc.

Although the actual recording was a major part of the process, there are still many steps to complete before the album is ready to go.

Step 1: Sift through all of the material from our recording session and select those takes to be used in the first edit. After three days of recording, we had roughly 4.5 gigs of wav files, over 650 tracks! For those who might be interested, these were rough 16-bit mixes, not what things will sound like after final editing and mastering. Sometimes the recording producer and/or engineer will assemble a first edit for the client, depending on their contract, but in this case I was the one going through and providing the take list. Luckily, our producer Gina Gillie took great session notes. These notes helped me group our takes into three broad categories: usable, possibly usable for a spot or two in a given set of measures, and not usable. Lots of these decisions were arbitrary, but I feel good about the choices made for the first edit. From there, the take list was sent off to our engineer, Dave St. Onge.

Step 2: Dave worked incredibly fast (but very accurately) and put together a complete first edit within a matter of days. The first edit sounds very good, and I think the album is going to be an enjoyable listen – high quality, lots of variety, and musically interesting. But, there is still some work to be done. One of my summer projects (already in progress) will be going through the first edit with an even more critical ear to find any issues that need to be addressed for the second (or possibly third) edit. Things like small intonation concerns, precision of attacks (a few cases), and any other rough spots missed during the first edit will be the priorities. Unlike the first edit, I won’t be listening for long stretches of usable material, but instead trying to find small bits and pieces which can be dropped in to address a specific issue. For example, a 16-bar take might be great except for a single chipped note or other small imperfection. I tried to account for these when choosing takes for the first edit, of course, but I’ve already found a few things that slipped through the cracks the first time.

Step 3: Mastering will include tweaking the balance of all three voices to arrive at the final sound of our recording. Again, a very subjective process!

From here there are lots of production-related items to discuss with Mark Custom Recording Service, who will be manufacturing and distributing the album. These include:

  • Mechanical licenses (mostly handled at this point)
  • Package design, cover and interior art (in progress)
  • Liner notes (another summer task)

It’s exciting to see another recording project take shape. Stay tuned for more updates!

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Brass Trio Recording Session Notes

©2018 David St. Onge

Black Bayou Brass recently wrapped up a 3-day recording session of new music for brass trio. Recording took place on January 5, 6, and 7 in the Emy-Lou Biedenharn Recital Hall at the University of Louisiana Monroe. The session went very well, and we are excited to move forward with the project. Here are some details on the upcoming album.

Repertoire: The album (title TBD) will feature all world-premiere recordings. In addition, we either commissioned or arranged all but one of the works. Here’s the list, with publisher information where applicable.

When finished, the recording should be about 60 minutes, with a good mix of contemporary and historical styles.

Engineer and Producer: Our engineer for this project was Dave St. Onge, a veteran of numerous recordings with Mark Custom Recording Service. Dave did a fantastic job, and I would recommend him without reservation to anyone looking for an engineer. More details on the recording process below. Gina Gillie, who composed Scenes from the Bayou for us, lent her critical ear to the recording as producer. A great engineer and producer are essential to the recording process, and we were fortunate to work with both Gina and Dave.

Recording Process: Prior to this project, I’d recorded twice before in our hall; first for a solo album with piano and harp, and next for soprano, piano, and horn. And although I’ve been performing in a brass trio for over ten years, this was really our first opportunity to experiment with high-quality microphones and various mic placements. As you’ll notice from the photo above, there was quite a bit of equipment on stage with us! *One note about professional microphones – they really do make a huge difference. While the handheld audio and video recorders out there (Zoom, Sony, Tascam, etc.) do a fine job for rehearsal and practice purposes, they really can’t compare to what you’ll hear with great mics. We were fortunate to be able to have a separate sound check in the hall the night before recording began. This saved us time and chops on the first day of recording. Timing for a soundcheck can vary depending on a number of factors, but in our case we spent about an hour or so just trying to find the right sound/balance/blend. Based upon our impressions, as well as input from the engineer and producer, we decided to use microphones in the hall and close mics on individual players. This combination seemed to provide a good balance between clarity and resonance/reverb for all three players. While I’ve only heard the rough mixes at this point, I think the final product is going to sound great!

Equipment: For my part I performed on a Yamaha 671 double horn, with a stainless steel mouthpiece by Balu Musik. The stainless mouthpiece was a fairly recent change for me, but for this recording I felt like it gave me the right kind of clarity and projection to compete with trumpet and trombone. I’m not 100% sold on it as my regular mouthpiece, but for this project it was the right decision.

Rest/Recovery/Next Steps: We recorded in two three-hour sessions each day for three days, with a two and half-hour break between the morning and afternoon. If this sounds like a lot of playing, it was! There was a lot of stopping and starting (common on most classical recordings), and we took a short break at least every hour, so the playing wasn’t constant. I managed to make it through the entire three-day session in good shape, but took the next day off completely.  On the day after that I practiced for about an hour. My embouchure was a bit stiff (no surprise there), but after 20 minutes or so of light playing things started to loosen up and feel more or less normal again. As always, recording was a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. The next step in the process is to go back through our choice takes and decide exactly which ones we want to use for the album. From there we’ll send it off to be edited together into a complete recording.There are of course many more steps between now and the final commercial release, but it does feel good to have a major portion of the recording finished.

Stay tuned for more details on this project!

 

Recording Review: Table for Three

Table for Three is a brand new recording from Summit Records featuring three very prominent figures in the world of brass playing – John Ericson (horn), Douglas Yeo (bass trombone), and Deanna Swoboda (tuba). All three are members of the brass faculty at Arizona State University, with distinguished careers as performers and educators. The album contains an eclectic mix of solo and ensemble music, with an emphasis on recently commissioned and arranged works for the trio of horn, bass trombone, and tuba. Brass trio recordings tend to be pretty rare, with one challenge being assembling enough repertoire to make for an interesting and marketable album. The artists on Table for Three have certainly met that challenge, and the result is a really great recording! I have some specific comments about the album, but first here is a list of what’s on it. The asterisks indicate works which were commissioned by or written for the artists.

  • Elizabeth Raum, Relationships*
  • Louis Moreau Gottschalk/arr. Ron Geese, The Dying Poet
  • Anton Reicha/arr. John Ericson, Suite of Trios from Op. 82 and Op. 93 (2 Suites)
  • John Harmon, Silhouette for Tuba and Piano
  • Vaclav Nelhybel/adapted by Douglas Yeo, Trio for English Horn, Viola, and Tuba
  • William Schmidt, Sonatina
  • J.S. Bach/arr. Ralph Lockwood, Wenn Sorgen, auf mich Dringen
  • Benjamin McMillan, Fleeting Visions*
  • Heinrich Isaac/trans. Kenneth Singleton, Three Pieces
  • Paul Ferguson, Table for Three at Chez Janou*

Drawing upon a wide variety of styles, the works recorded here represent approximately 500 years of Western music history, from Renaissance through present day. The performers are more than equipped to meet the challenges of reproducing these various styles, doing it all with ease, sensitivity, and great sounds – both individually and as an ensemble. Though there are many positive things I could say about Table for Three, here is what struck me most about the album upon my first hearing – and which was later confirmed on repeated listening.

  • Ensemble Blend, Balance, and Precision: If you haven’t heard this particular combination of brass instruments before, you will probably be surprised by the agility and flexibility it’s capable of in the hands of great players. The overall timbre tends toward the lower, “darker” end of the spectrum simply because of the instrumentation, but there are plenty of exciting moments with just the right amount of “sizzle” in the sound. The ensemble playing is a model of precision and sensitivity, with spot-on intonation. Each player is adept at matching the style, phrasing, and articulations of the other members.
  • Reicha Trios Work Well for Lots of Different Instruments: Among the highlights of this album for me are the two suites from the horn trios, Op. 82 and 93 of Anton Reicha. Long a favorite of horn players, these works by one of Beethoven’s friends – and direct contemporaries – are delightful, and John Ericson’s arrangements for horn, bass trombone, and tuba work very well. The trio plays these pieces with a warm, rich sound, but with plenty of energy. Another suite of these trios exists in an arrangement by Bill Holcombe for trumpet, horn, and trombone. Though the overall timbre is different, the “high brass” version is also very effective.
  • Chamber Music is What You Make of It: An underlying theme of this album – as mentioned in the liner notes – is that chamber music is a wonderfully rewarding way to get to know your musical colleagues, and to explore (and create) repertoire that might otherwise be ignored. The musical material you choose is of course important, but with the right people, virtually any combination of instruments can be developed into an engaging and inspiring ensemble. Table for Three is a perfect example of the artistic potential of a non-conventional ensemble, and is highly recommended!
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