Thursday, 12 April 2012

Studio madness

Well, here I am at Sonica recording studios in deepest, darkest, scariest Clapham. It’s 10.30pm. I should have finished 5 hours ago, and yet we’re still at it; trying to piece together a demo of the two pieces of music I’ve written for Ebor Vox, which can also be used as a learning tool for the hundreds of performers who are hopefully going to sing it. The demo needs to be of a very high standard and because the first track splits into 9 separate choirs, and then six different “break out” groups, the process of recording and putting all of the individual lines together is like doing the world’s most terrible three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. I am twitching like an addict. I’ve had 8 cups of tea today on a completely empty stomach. We’ve missed lunch and our evening meal. All Nathan and I have had to eat today is a bowl of cornflakes and 10 chocolate half-covered biscuits. Paul, the studio engineer is a genuine God. I’ve never seen anyone working so hard. He is juggling something like 200 individual vocal tracks.

Four of us have recorded every sodding vocal line in the piece. Line after line... going slightly mad... Michelle, Abbie, Nathan and me. All were remarkable. It was Michelle’s first experience of recording in a studio and she did a sterling job. It’s such an unbelievably frightening experience to stand in a carpet-lined booth with only a pair of headphones linking you to the outside world. I was literally chucking bits of music at them. Here a snippet of Latin from the York Charter. Look at it. Sing it. Move on. This rhyming couplet was written by a 10 year-old girl from Bootham. Got it? Good. Sing it please... The big anthem, with lyrics by the lovely Gary was relatively easy to record, and it sounds fabulous. The music seems to leap off the page and I can’t wait to hear it performed by a mass choir. The complicated stuff is the music I’ve written for people to march through the streets of York singing. It’s highly repetitious, but at one stage it splits into 9 counter melodies... That’s a counter melody for every chocolate-covered digestive biscuit I’ve eaten today, and one for every grey hair that today has made me sprout. I’m now buzzing on tea, but fear an almighty crash is just around the corner. I have a slight head ache. I’m going slightly insane. Need food. Need pizza. Should I stop drinking tea? Thank God for Nathan who’s been with me all day.

Still, after a day like this, you leave the studio with a fabulous sense of achievement, knowing you’ve done a great day’s work. I remember the first time I had my music recorded in a studio. We were somewhere in Wimbledon, working on the musical I’d written with Arnold Wesker. In those days everything was recorded on tape. It was so exciting, but utterly draining. I’d sat up the entire night before the session writing the parts by hand. It was summer time, and I worked all night with the sitting room window open. Dawn broke, and I remember hearing the sounds of a hundred alarm clocks going off in various windows across the city. At the end of the long studio day, when we started to mix the piece, the studio engineer was forced to send me away because I was panicking and probably chewing my face off, high on caffeine and adrenaline. “Come back in an hour” he said. “If you don’t like what I’ve done, you can sit with me for the rest of the mix.” I came back an hour later, and burst into excited tears. That’s when we all went for a Spanish meal; Arnold, Julie Clare and various musicians who’d recorded with us including Fiona. On the way back to Tufnell Park, Fiona and I were so knackered that we ended up in an underground-workers-only cafe at Waterloo station. Neither of us have any idea how we got there and we’ve never been able to find it again.

350 years ago, Pepys and Sir William Batten had a terrible falling out in the office. Pepys described his colleague as “unreasonable” and the sparks began to fly. A sense of unease was growing between Pepys and Batten and by the time Pepys stopped writing his diary, he’d have called his adversary many things more than simply unreasonable.  

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