Over the last couple of weeks we have been recording strings for an album of healing music which has also featured oboe, cor anglais, flute, alto flute and harp – it has been quite a new experience.
On looking at the score, many of the notes are held for several bars and the pieces are very slow in tempo so it would sound like an easy task to record, compared with something faster or more lively. In practice, playing ultra-slowly is a task that requires patience and concentration as it is very easy to lose one’s place. As we were layering in order to give the impression of a larger body of players, it was also important to know where we had changed bow stroke so that on the following take, the bowing changes could be staggered (this means that when the bow changes direction, on each take it is done in a different place to give the impression of a seamless sound).
Another aspect is being aware of the overall sound needed when all of the strings have been recorded. A good example of this is where crescendos or diminuendos are written in all of the parts. If there are 8 overdubs for example, then the changes in dynamic can sound much bigger than would have been anticipated after each of the individual takes. The same is true for individual dynamics, whether soft or loud.
In any situation where overdubbing strings occurs, the overall tuning is another vital issue to get right from the very first take as even slight variations can become magnified as further layers are added, particularly if there is a spread of sound over four or five octaves.
In music of a very slow nature, the challenge is to keep a beautiful string sound that doesn’t break up, have any lumpiness to it or sound as if the bow is changing. This can only be achieved by a singing cantabile approach where one is thinking in phrases with a strong rhythmical pulse, despite the sustained nature of the music.