Electronic Music and Orchestras

by | 12:00 am

Imagine recording the sounds of 120 people, layers and layers of different vocals and pitches stacked on top of one another. This, as you can imagine is doubled when it comes to recording an orchestra, not to mention an electronic orchestra as the challenges become much greater.

Let’s take a look at what challenges one may come up against in doing so and the solutions…

This article was written by Matan Daskal, Matan is the conductor and composer of Castle In Time Orchestra.

The Inseparability of Electronics from Composition

Today I returned from a lecture given by my former composition teacher and someone I would like to call a dear friend, Professor Amnon Wolman. Wolman spoke about the inseparability of electronics from the composition in this day and age. The foundations of his pitch were based on today’s established orchestral composers and their use of inspiration stemming from electronics in their world-renowned pieces.

It’s quite amazing how in order to document sound, you need an electronic device. When in order to document words and images you can simply use rock and paint. One is exploited for nearly a century, and the other for 40 millenniums. Orchestras are deeply integrated with electronics. From a ‘secretly’ delicate amplification in new concert halls while performing classical repertoires, with paper scores replacing iPads, software to notate music and the use of computers as an instrument on stage. Perhaps even the use of a recording studio to record a symphony. Download the Newzik App and explore for yourself the many elements that can be enjoyed via electronics.

When an orchestra records an album, there are two main options: Record a live performance in a concert hall or record in a large studio. In both cases, the technician would probably distribute several mics around the performance space, be it in the concert hall or in the studio. The person who mixes the album would most likely try to create a ‘see-through’ homologous picture, one that would imitate the acoustic experience of a live audience.

Recording an Orchestra

When recording an orchestra with close mics, trying to catch the details of each instrument separately can be extremely challenging, let alone trying to then re-create a homogenous picture. I compare this to that of a graphic designer when he/she receives separate files on his or her computer containing all of the one sized human body parts (fingers, belly button, knees, hair, eyes) and then he/she needs to recreate a realistic-looking human being from these files. Restoring these proportions is hard, and like the visually depicted Picasso painting, Orchestras come in different shapes and sizes. This is how the orchestra or small ensemble might sound like. This can be both frustrating and inspiring at the same time depending on the individual’s needs.

Drums and The Orchestra

We met with Uri Mixmonster Wertheim a well-known music mixer from Tel Aviv, Israel. He told us that a room full of musicians playing a range of instruments creates physically different overtones, compared to that of a separately recorded elements, or when artificially played together. These blending overtones are creating a new sound. The same occurs for example when mixing cucumber and olives in one bite. A new flavor is created.

Our orchestra is a combination between acoustic classical sections, a full rhythm section, and a computer. I’m finding it difficult to decide how to place one next to the other and trying not to fall into the cliché esthetics category. on the contrary, I am searching hard for the raw, naked, in pop/hip-hop sounds. We take great pleasure from having the bass drum “in our face” for example. Whereas in a Brahms symphony, the timpani would be placed behind the orchestra, furthest away, and almost out of range. In a Duke Ellington big band, the drums would be somewhere in between. James Blake or Son Lux would use a bassoon in their track, placing an equal mix to the pumping drums. After performing for more than a year with Castle in time, dealing with and neglecting this tough conflict at every concert has been challenging. Now whilst working on the album we have had to confront these issues head-on. One must either decide to cut the raw material with determination. Or perhaps allow the person who does the mix to do it his way, and learn to let go. The process of editing and mixing is about insisting and letting go at the same time. And maybe sometimes going hand in hand.

CONCLUSION

Just as Uri Mixmonster Wertheim says, attempting to record an orchestra can be fairly challenging. When you pair together instruments that produce different sounds and renascences you have to be flexible in terms of the musical outcome. Classical and electronic are worlds apart in terms of sound. But by using the correct recording techniques, anything is possible.

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