Recording Masterclass with Zoe Knighton

Our Spring concert season is called “Keeping a Record”, and what better way to start than a masterclass on recording by Zoe Knighton, cellist and founding member of Flinders Quartet?  Flinders Quartet’s 20th Anniversary Season has been severely disrupted due to COVID-19 lockdowns, but it has not stopped their playing together, with a pivot to virtual ensemble work using recordings as a rehearsal tool.  Zoe was generous to share her experiences, tips and tricks with us in our latest rehearsal to encourage us to use recording to create an ensemble sound and  “Rip the Bandaid Off Recording”.

With latency making it impossible to play “live” together over the internet, layering recordings of each instrument in a tool such as BandLab allows us to recapture the complete sound of the whole group.  But to make it a success, care must be taken with the following:

Tuning – use an electronic tuner to tune (Squawkestra tunes to an A at 440).  Switch the tuner to sounding a drone (or for string instruments play another open string) whilst playing scales to help train the ear.  Listen for the “beating” of the notes when not in tune, and be aware how the same note will need the slightest shift when playing against different intervals to make it sound right to the ear.  (Zoe suggested Howard Goodall Big Bangs Equal Temperament for more info) 

Rhythm – recording often necessitates playing to a click track, so practise by playing with (and listening to!) a metronome, the immovable and annoying extra member of the ensemble.   To get a physical sense of the beat, tap alternating feet as if marching to steady the beat. Use words or a phrase that match with a tricky rhythm to get a sense of it, and for an entry that is off the beat, focus on the note that is on the beat.  As in childhood skipping, moving with the beat before entry, rather than a static start, will assist.

Recording can be compared to a photograph – capturing a moment in time, and if done regularly, will track improvement over time.  Just like a quick look in the mirror before going out, recording & playing back allows a check to make sure all is where it should be.  The hardest step is the first time – and first take.  Once you get beyond that, the rest is easy!

Recording tools can be as simple as a smart phone, using the voice memo app.  Watch the wave forms for maximum sound, and if you’re “peaking” (too loud for the recording) move the phone or microphone further away.  For louder instruments consider putting it behind you. Listen back with earphones for the best sound.  Set a number of takes, (say 3) and after recording 3 times, pick the best one – that’s the baseline for the next practise.

Squawkestra will be using BandLab to build an ensemble sound, with each member recording their part / laying their track down, and making it available for other members to enjoy playing with each other. 

Zoe encouraged us not to be discouraged by the inevitable initial technical frustrations, get in early by not leaving it to the deadline, overcome our “First-take-itis”, and just get into it!

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