Back in October of 2011, I told you about recording some pieces with the Meridian Arts Ensemble. During the last few days, I have been going over the first edits of our CD of Renaissance and Baroque music. “First edits,” to make a parallel with book writing, lies somewhere between the completion of your editor’s changes and your viewing of the galleys. All of the “takes” you have recorded have been sifted through and edited together. The CD is ready to be heard by the players, but not yet by the general public.
When I listen to first edits, my main concern, not to put too fine a point on it, is myself. What I mean is that the people who edited the CD have incredible ears (kudos to our trumpeter Jon and our engineer/producer Chris – they have put countless hours into this project) and have made something that sounds really good. But every player is extremely sensitive to his or her own sound. There are places where I hear something in my sound (it is out of tune, I don’t like the tone, I’m not quite together with everyone else) that someone may have missed. Sometimes that is just too bad for me; there aren’t always editing options. Not every take will splice with every take (the tempo may have varied, the pitch may have moved, the energy levels may not match). We’re only human, after all (more on that in a minute).
Also, in the case of Meridian, we are all hypersensitive to the sound of the group. Six sets of ears is better than one. Of course, I feel bad for the people putting the CD together, the afore-mentioned Jon and Chris, because there is work to do even after so much work has been done. On the other hand, every bit of polish makes the CD better, a truer statement of how we hear the music.
I am enjoying going through this CD, because it somehow feels like a typical representation of Meridian, even though we mostly play new music and not early music. The repertoire here is decidedly old: Gabrieli, Byrd, Corelli, Carissimi, Bach, Gesualdo. But it is also either weird or there is something odd in the performance, or something special to the group. Some of the pieces include our Mexican colleagues who came to the US to do this recording. Gesualdo is always weird – do you know his music? It is Renaissance music that stretches the boundaries of tonality (there are ways in which it doesn’t sound “right,” much to our delight), much like some 20th century music (Stravinsky was a big fan). The Corelli is arranged by a friend of ours who is playing with us on the CD, and his arrangement refers to Corelli but is completely transformed into something new. The Bach and the Byrd include vibraphone with the brass – they sound somewhat odd (my highest compliment). The Carissimi is an arrangement I made of a piece I first performed in high school; it’s like an old friend.
Next step: second edits. Everyone’s suggestions will have been taken (if they can) from the first edits, and we will have something extremely close to a final product. After that, there may be tiny little things to fix (an audible edit, for example, where you can hear a tiny fold in the texture), and the CD will be ready to be mastered.
Mastered? The music editing program creates a map: use take 3 for the first measure, take 7 for the second, and so on. Mastering the CD provides the actual recorded version to duplicate, not just the map.
In the next few days, I’ll be writing the booklet. We’ll be choosing a name for the CD (which we may be set on already). The cover needs to be designed. Then, off to be pressed (CD) and printed (booklet). Start to finish, the whole thing is a massive undertaking.
Back to my comment about “we’re all humans.” We expect our recordings to be perfect. I have a live recording of Bruckner’s 8th Symphony. One of the movements starts with a missed note in the horn, playing all alone. This drives me a little crazy. We have reached a moment in recorded music (and even, I’m sorry to say, in live music) where that kind of thing will not be tolerated. At times, however, the gloss of a recording results in a lowering of the humanity of the performance. I am proud to say that we have never once played it safe in our recordings. Yes, we edit the daylights out of them (every recording you hear that is not live is heavily, and I mean heavily, edited, like a splice every few seconds at the least), but we are willing to have imperfection if the energy or spirit is better in the imperfect take. Our CDs are documents of where we are at the moment we record the CD (we have no illusions any more about big sales), and I hope they show the group at its best.