A couple of Mondays ago, myself and Julia (cello) recorded session strings for a talented independent singer/songwriter called Dave Roberts who had written all of the strings for four of his tracks and initially hired me to notate his completed midi files. From the beginning, Dave was a pleasure to work with as his instructions were very clear and he had a real attention to detail which resulted in well written string parts that complemented his songs really well.
The recording sessions took place in a rural area of Herefordshire in a first class recording room. This must rank as the most idyllic location we have recorded in thus far, and the spacious, wood paneled rooms had thick curtains on adjacent walls which created an cleverly controlled sound. Both Dave and studio engineer Adam presided over the session, which involved a solo string quartet (with myself playing the viola, second violin and first violin parts).
As it’s always good practice to start with the lowest instrument (so that each subsequent layer can build on the accurate tuning of the bottom part upwards), Julia recorded the cello part first for all four tracks. In situations like this, it’s also good to record each instrument separately (and not simultaneously) so that the producer can then have the ability to mix and process each of the four instruments separately. Her rich sound filled the room and as always proved a hard act to follow. I then added a viola layer over her cello tracks, making sure the tuning was kept spot on. This is potentially a tricky way of doing it, as in a ‘live’ string quartet, players will be continually adjusting their intonation with both players above and below them. With overdubbing, if any notes are not exactly in tune, it could make it hard for the subsequent layers to blend well.
After the two violin parts were added we then returned to one of the tracks which had tremolandos all of the way through (a rapid repeating of a single note which creates an atmosphere of tension in a piece of music). As these seemed better suited to a larger string section, we took the decision to over-layer four violas and eight violin parts all in all.
Recording sessions often involve lots of playback and sonic adjustments, and therefore studio time can slip away easily. The whole session on this occasion was completed half an hour early and everyone was happy with a job well done. It just remained for myself and Julia to travel the 100 miles or so back home again!