Classical Music Hyper Production Conference, University of West London

`I was delighted to be invited to participate in this live and online conference at the London College of Music, University of West London. The conference is part of a year-long research project exploring ways in which performers can create new and exciting sonic worlds in the production of live and recorded performances of the classical repertoire (further information about the project here http://cmhp-conference.com/index.php/about-cmhp).

The first session I attended, entitled ‘3D Audio Piano’, involved pianist Emilie Capulet working with Andrew Bourbon and Simon Zagorski-Thomas to record a layered performance of Debussy’s La Cathedral Egloutie (Preludes Book One). The score was divided into separate elements, such as “bells” or “monks’, which then informed the treatment of each element in the recording process to create a more intense and colourful sound when played back through a 3D Audio speaker array (like surround sound). I found this process most interesting, specifically from an interpretative and performance point of view and I could see the possibility of encouraging piano students (and myself) to think in terms of separate layers and multiple elements within a piece of music when attempting to highlight certain aspects or create a more intensely expressive performance. It strikes me that Debussy’s music lends itself particularly well to this approach, but it has an application in other music and composers too.

The second segment involved a live 3D Audio mix by Greg Smith of Emilie Capulet’s performance of Ravel’s Jeux d’Eau. Here, hyper production effects such as reverb were used to intensify the sense of the different fountains which Ravel illustrates in his score. The session finished with  a playback of a 3D Audio Remix by Simon Zagorski-Thomas of Emilie Capulet’s MIDI performance of Haydn’s Piano Sonata in C (XVI: 50). Here, Simon sought to capitalise on the wit inherent in Haydn’s writing as well as the composer’s interest in the rapid developments in the piano at the time of the Sonata’s composition. Listen to the piece here:

Later, I participated in a panel discussion where we considered a number of points including

  • Do recordings using hyper production techniques have any commercial potential?
  • Why are classical musicians so concerned with perfection in the recording studio when they know there is the “safety net” of editing?
  • Are performers unduly influenced by high-quality recordings and do they seek to replicate them in live performance?
  • Do high-quality recordings raise audience expectations about perfection in live performance?
  • Would experimental recordings using surround sound and 3D audio techniques attract a younger/new audience to classical music?
  • Do wrong notes really matter in a recording which is rich in expression?

I would be interested in readers’ views on these issues – please feel free to respond using the comments box below or by contacting me via the Contact page of this blog.

(A video of the panel discussion should be available shortly).