Trials and tribulations of a World Wide orchestra: TwtrSymphony working on the next track
When there are literally thousands of miles between the musicians, the sound engineers and the composer, trying to get all the pieces to fit together can be a monumental task.
TwtrSymphony is in the last stages of releasing the 4th movement of Birds of a Feather, their debut symphony. So far the first three movements have been met with great enthusiasm, the videos averaging over 1000 views within the first 30 days and the music downloads beyond all expectations. Still, you'd think for an organization that has been playing together for eight months we'd have the process down. Far from it!
With remote recording sessions the variety of recording levels from one track to the next. Is the flute really meant to be the focus in this section or is the volume of their track just that much higher than the strings? The engineer has to make choices as to what works and what doesn't. Then, he/she has to send the track to the producer (me) to make suggestions as to changing the volume of each given instrument for each moment of the music. When an ensemble plays together in the same hall, the conductor can make minute adjustments to the performance, asking a flute player to play one phrase slightly louder, or asking the trombones to take it down just a notch just before the trumpets come in (not that trombone players ever listen to conductors - at least, I never did when I played way back when). Because TwtrSymphony is comprised of musicians recording their parts in their own space, there is no chance to make these kinds of minor adjustments. So, these "edits" fall to the sound engineers. The difficulty with this process is the time delays between mixes—particularly since the sound engineer and I live in two different country—the sound engineer has to create a mix, send it off, have me make edit requests, and remix it. These sorts of edits may not take much to adjust the flute a touch louder or the trombones a notch softer, but it can be time consuming get through the process.
When an ensemble plays together in the same hall, the reverb for the recording is based on the hall, uniform across the ensemble. Because TwtrSymphony has musicians recording in everything from professional sound booths, to bedrooms, the difference in reverb on the tracks can be huge, even if it seems slight when the tracks are heard side by side. Getting all the musicians to sound as if they are playing in the same room is a minor miracle. Tremulando had over 190 separate tracks to get the sound final sound mix. If you think about it, that's over six hours of recording time to make two minutes of music. We aren't talking about getting a couple of people to sound good together. TwtrSymphony is a symphony orchestra of musicians where all the pieces have to fit together just right.
As TwtrSymphony thinks about the next step, a Kickstarter (we hope to launch in late Novemeber), one of the things we want to do is stream line the process from engineer to composer. We'll be bringing on more sound engineers to work on the various tracks, so that we can actually work on more than one track at a time. The final product will still be finalized and mastered by our primary engineers. We're also hoping to create a series of videos and documents to help our existing musicians (and new ones that join us) to understand what they can do to create a better, more unified output. We didn't start out to be an educational institution, but we want to share what we're learning with other musicians, ensembles – to help other people avoid the problems we've faced..
TwtrSymphony is a major technical undertaking. It's not just about creating new orchestra music—although we are that too. TwtrSymphony is about creating orchestra music in new way. In order to do this right, we need to think of new ways about how the music is performed, recorded and put together. We are still learning, and exploring. But I hope you agree, what we've done so far is definitely headed in the right direction.
If you'd like to know more about our Kickstarter or want to help, contact TwtrSymphony.