From Out a Darker Sea
The Latest Update
Recording Day #2
We’re getting lots of amazing stuff here at Guilford Sound! Here’s a little snippet of the beginning of Part 4: Song for Billy. We were incredibly lucky to collaborate with the artists of AMBER Film and Photography on Song for Billy, which features former miner Freddie Welsh telling the story of miner Billy Hogg.
We’re also incredibly lucky to work on this project with Grammy-winning producer Jon Low (The National, Sharon Van Ettan, The War On Drugs, Kurt Vile, etc), who you can see here…
From Out a Darker Sea: Using the Recording Studio
by Adam Sliwinski
These two days, we are recording our project From Out a Darker Sea at Guilford Sound in Vermont. This multimedia work is a combination of storytelling and percussion music which explores the former mining communities of northeast England.
Our approach to recording varies with each project. As classical musicians, we are accustomed to focusing on scores. When a composer writes for us, the score itself is the ultimate document governing the final form of the work. Most of our collaboration with composers comes in the time before the score is finalized: exploring sounds, working out passages, seeing how things will work out in performance.
This means that the elements of the score must be executable by us onstage. Many factors come into play here: how many instruments can we tour with/how many can the four of us play at the same time? What does the theatrical presentation onstage look like with this instrument layout? So the “final” form of the piece is not an unlimited artistic vision – it is a compromise with the realities of live performance.
Starting with amid the noise in 2006, we realized that recording our own music offered a degree of freedom and flexibility in the studio that was exhilarating. Many musicians from other genres would already be accustomed to working this way, but it was still a bit foreign in our world.
Over the years we have developed an ethic and approach to live performance and recording. Recording is its own medium, and we don’t attempt – again, unless we are realizing a score as closely as possible — to reproduce the live experience authentically.
Could a melody be re-orchestrated or augmented to heighten its effect? What if we made this climactic section sound like 15 people instead of four by layering ourselves in multiple takes? Might one pattern be more interesting sequenced on a computer rather than performed live? What would sound amazing on this recording that isn’t possible live?
In the history of approaching the recording studio as a discrete art form, none of this is new. The great experiments of the 1960’s such as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds broke new ground in studio production and altered the way bands have recorded ever since.
But in classical circles this would usually mean violating or altering the score. Since the score has been the primary vehicle for preservation of works for centuries, mixing it up in another medium still feels often feels like a stretch. Or at least it feels unnecessary, since most questions are thought to be resolved in the process of composition and publishing.
As our own recording culture has evolved, the way we compose for each other reflects many possible outcomes in different situations. Often, melodies or patterns are prescribed while orchestration is left open. Or we will settle upon something we like in live performance and replicate it every time, but the resources of the recording studio will allow us to realize the musical idea in an entirely new way.
So, while walking into the studio on the first day of recording From Out a Darker Sea, our minds are busy thinking not only “how much time will we need to lay this down,” but also “what are the new possibilities?”
The only mechanism we require to alter parameters in our own works is finding consensus with each other. We also will track different instruments and experiment with mixing them together. Perhaps we will do five extra passes of a section trying different instrument colors. Then our amazing sound engineer Jon Low will combine the tracks to let us hear them. Some of those sounds might come from instruments which we could never tour with, like the Hammond B3 organ which they have here at Guilford.
As with much of our work, this also means that the question of what it means to be a percussionist goes slightly out the window. If that organ or piano provides just the right tonal support, we use it!
In this sense the recording studio (especially here at Guilford, which has every imaginable option) is a kind of fantasy-land for our imaginations. We now consider ourselves flexible enough to enjoy every advantage the studio has to offer.
Receiving support from an organization like New Music USA provides us with the means to not only document our work, but also for further creation.
So Percussion premiered the project in August, 2016 at St. John’s church in Seaham, in the heart of East Durham, and completed a three-week US and UK tour in November-December, 2017 with the support of Forma Arts, the original project commissioner. After the enthusiastic response to this tour, we were already planning to document the project with the idea of an album/video release in mind. But contacts from the Turner Contemporary expressed an interest in presenting the work as a gallery exhibition, so now our focus has shifted towards a ‘tour-able’ gallery installation version of the project.
To create the project, So Percussion spent time with local people, worked with students from East Durham College and collaborated with Amber Films on a new work, Song for Billy, which has grown out of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s The Coal Coast photographs. This unique event, inspired by the area, combined live music, visual art and film featuring personal memories of the past and hopes for the future.
Freddie Welsh, from Easington, took part in the sold-out performance and said: “I met Sō Percussion about four months back when they came to East Durham. I wasn’t nervous tonight, my wife, daughter and grandson were all here tonight and they loved it.” Freddie narrated part of the performance called Song for Billy, created in collaboration with Amber Films and which has grown out of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s The Coal Coast photographs.
Nikki Locke, Head of East Durham Creates, which commissioned the piece of music, said: “I don’t think there was a single person here tonight who wasn’t moved by what they saw and heard.”
Growing out of our ongoing discussions with the Turner Contemporary and supported by Forma’s artistic producer, Debbi Lander, we are now aiming at creating a gallery installation version of the work that can tour throughout the United States and England without the production costs associated with bringing So Percussion and the tech crew to every venue. A gallery installation can live at a venue for long stretches of time and reach a much larger audience than would be possible just through the performance version of the piece.
Our plan is to work with Four/Ten Media, the Philadelphia-based company that films most of our videos, on up-close perspectives that could be used as the basis for an immersive gallery experience. The four ‘chapters’ of the work would be projected on the four walls of a gallery in a 50-minute experience that viewers could absorb at their own pace.
This promotional video, which includes clips of the original show along with audience and performer feedback, was filmed at the premiere performance at St. John’s church in Seaham in August, 2016.
Start and End Dates
06/12/2018 — 06/16/2018
Brooklyn, New York