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 Post subject: How I Record My Performances
PostPosted: Wed Sep 06, 2006 4:12 am 
Hello To Moderators and Fellow Piano Society Members,

At this time of writing, there exist a few threads by fellow members about how they record, and their philosophical discussions of perfection in a recorded performance. I would like to expound on the rather lengthy process I go through, in order to bring you a performance that sounds relatively effortless -- the process is not as easy as you think, but I believe that the means justify the end product. By the way, I subject myself to this process over the LOVE of the music, and the desire to push myself to levels of competency I previously felt were unattainable.



When I set out to make a personal recording, I go into the project understanding the first one to ten takes are NOT going to make the final cut. For me, the first session is EXPLORATORY. I listen to all of them, over and over ... and then over and over again, usually whilst lying down on a comfortable sofa, always with high-quality headphones, and keep playing them repeatedly over several nights until I literally fall asleep with them. On more than one occasion, my wife has found me asleep on the sofa at 4AM with the headphones playing looped takes of my performances!


Aside: I do not let myself become bothered with missed notes during the first session -- but I DO critically listen for those areas of the piece in which I make the same mistakes on more than one take!!! This is where I take note, and go back to the piano and practice -- hands separately and hands together, at all manner of tempi. I go back and practice the phrases that lead up to the critical spot in the music, and make sure that the subsequent music has a smooth transition.

Back to the discussion at hand -- Here is what I am REALLY listening for: I am listening for those phrases and nuances that I "fall in love with", and take mental notes where these sweet spots might well take place in other parts of the same piece.

In addition, I keep listening even more -- more repeated listening of takes from the first session. I am listening for those aspects of the performance, dynamics, sound, acoustics, etc. -- for those details that DRIVE ME CRAZY upon repeated listening. Restated, even though a performance sounds decent after perhaps 10 listens, how do they sound after FIFTY to ONE HUNDRED listens??? "What aspects of the sound CAN I NOT STAND?" I don't even have to ask myself the latter question, because the pain will be horribly obvious to me!

Sometimes it is a note that is struck too hard -- it sounds harsh as compared with what comes before or after it. Sometimes a chord needs to be rolled; sometimes a rolled chord needs to be played with notes all together.

Sometimes it is the way a trill is performed -- too slow or too fast, too mechanical sounding, or too -- whatever! Sometimes, the microphones are too close; or perhaps they are too far away; sometimes they are spaced too closely together; sometimes, I hate how the piano sounds as though it is artificially six meters long!

Likewise, I go back and practice those parts, and discover what can be done to remedy the situation.


More listening. Finally, after figuring out what should be added to the performance -- and more importantly, what should be OMITTED from the performance, I record another set of takes.

The listening process begins all over again -- this can take a period of months to accomplish.

The recording sessions commence again, if needed (and often they are needed), and the extended listening process goes through yet another iteration. I am happy with my recordings only when I feel there is nothing more I can add to them, but also when there is nothing more I can take away from them.


Of course, I imagine hearing you say to yourself, "Why is he going to all of that trouble?"


The answer, my friends, is because the end product is something I can be proud of, as witnessed by your kind remarks of my performances.


Sincerely,

Joe <jcfeli>


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 06, 2006 10:37 am 
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Joined: Mon Jun 19, 2006 5:29 am
Posts: 692
Location: Germany
Thank you for sharing your recording experiences.

Regarding listening again and again to a done recording in order to find this or that nuance to improve:
In my case it is often the first impression what gives the most important things I recognize (in order to change). And it is often so that after numerous listenings, I tend to accept rhythm issues or slips as given, because I got used to them through too much listening.
What I will say, there is a danger in too much listening again and again to an take with errors I like to overcome. It is almost like practising something with same old mistakes on the same old places - it will not get better this way, one only get used to those mistakes.

The next thing is, you said that your recording procedure can extend over a period of several months (not to mention the time you needed for practising the piece before). Pretty long time, however your results are amazingly - no doubt. Like Chopin said "Patience is the best teacher, and time the best critiques".

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 06, 2006 2:26 pm 
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Location: Sweden
You are incredible patience and take your mission very serious. I am far from that serious and used to throw away recordings on inspiration. However, I have decided to change that procedure to always have a well thought plan with every new recording I make. I do not have the amount of time, nor patience, to follow your procedure and do it pretty much the opposite. I practise a piece for a long time and try many versions until I feel ready with my interpretation. Then I do not play it at all the day for the recording to have a fresh mind and use the first acceptable take I produce (with proper warm up first of course). If I play the same piece too many times, I tend to get it worse as I loose focus. But this is for certain very individual and depend on what level you think is acceptable for your recording.

As Olaf said, you definitely seem to succeed using your process!

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 07, 2006 7:34 pm 
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Posts: 647
Location: Sydney, Australia
Mate, your patience are far beyond mine. 50 to 100 times high takes....

I have changed my attitude for recording as I beleived that TOO many TAKES eg say 5 plus above ----10--20 will give you a bad performance this applies too either on your pratice or recording.

Its wiser to practice the piece many times by means of little "emotional energy is applied" untill the piece are well learned. Have a break for a day. And save up ALL that "emotional energy " till the last moment of recording or on stage performance.

I am sure this method is applied by many concert pianist and even myself. So LAst night I have completely changed my method of recodring by simply restrict my self to as low "takes" as possiable.
Eg less than 3. And it went well. I did 4 songs in an hour.


Ps emotional energy in my term is "musical expression"........

I hope this helps.....


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 Post subject: Patience
PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 2:34 am 
Hello to all members,

Thank you for your replies and insights about the way you prepare a recording.

It is safe to agree that I have a great deal of patience. My own reason for taking such time and trouble to do so is that I am preparing to launch a personal CD company of my own, and hope that my performances will eventually attract worldwide attention.

Although, as of this writing, I have not submitted a bio to the Piano Society, I must share with you that much of my adult career (e.g., day job) involved the engineering field rather than the House of Music. In the past few years, I ceased being a Manager of Quality Assurance of a Steel company, and decided to devote my life to teaching piano, and gaining some noteriety as a pianist and interpreter of classic repertoire.

Of course, I understand that my approach to the recording process has the possibility (probability???) of losing sponteneity. But consider this: these months of preparation are BACKGROUND that allow me to produce what I believe to be rather spontaneous performances when they are finally recorded "for the real take".

Obviously, there are multiple ways of achieving the same goal. I was only sharing mine technique with the Society as an alternate way of getting things done.

As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged.



Sincerely,

Joe

P.S. The original .wav files sound FAR more clear and dynamic than the downsampled mp3 files that are required for this and other websites.


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 Post subject: Re: Patience
PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 3:58 am 
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jcfeli wrote:
P.S. The original .wav files sound FAR more clear and dynamic than the downsampled mp3 files that are required for this and other websites.

Have you tried the lossless flac-format? Even though it takes a lot more space than the original size for the wav drops to at about 30% and without any changes in sound quality (at least according to my ears). More about the flac-format here:
http://flac.sourceforge.net/

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 Post subject: lossless format
PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 4:14 am 
Hello Robert,

Does the Piano Society website accept files in the flac-format? Just curious.

Thanks for the information.

Joe


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 8:03 am 
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Joined: Wed Jun 07, 2006 6:27 pm
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Location: Sweden
The problem that exists is that it consumes more bandwidth and even though we now have 10 Mbit/s without restrictions, flac-files become about 10 times the size of a 128 kpbs. I believe we move towards a change in the matter as time go by but at the moment, such large files are not recommended. I'll continue this discussing in a PM to you.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 9:54 am 
Hi jcfeli,

If only I have half of your patience and tenacity, I'd be a far better piano player than I am now.

Anyway, I do think that for some people such as myself, there is a danger to over listening to one's own performances. In my case, the first time I listened to one of my taped recitals, I was disgusted by how badly I played. I kept on listening to it though and mentally took notes of what needed to be done. However, I noticed that the bad performance started to grow on me, so much so that it started to sound acceptable to me after a while.

The remedy that I found effective for me was to "flush" out the bad performance from my mind by not listening to it and not even thinking about the piece for a while. After some time, I go back to the sheet music, restudy it, and play it in different ways. If I feel exceptionally invincible (at least for a day), then I attempt to record the piece.

I'm not striving for a definitive collection of my peformances. I think that documenting one's pianistic development (and sometimes regression) is in itself, worth the trouble.


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 Post subject: Hearing One's Own Playing
PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 4:15 pm 
Hello Jeff,

You brought up many valid points about listening to your own taped recital performances. One can be humbled by listening to his or her own recordings. I find it fascinating that we "hear" entirely differently when we play an instrument versus when we listen to a recording of our own or someone else's performances. Perhaps we are using a different part of the brain when we partake various tasks -- right brain for one and left brain for the other?

A right brain- left brain analogy comes to mind regarding how we can all stand behind someone who is engaged in a game of cards, or perhaps working a crossword, -- and we seem to have (a deluded sense of) infinite skill! We feel as though our brains have been plugged into the energy of the cosmos, and can think ahead twenty steps of our gaming opponents. Yet, when it is OUR turn to actually sit in on a game, or work a puzzle for ourselves without help from others, harsh reality rushes in and brings us forcefully back down to earth.

When I listen to my own exploratory takes, in preparing a track for an eventual CD release, I believe I am somehow able to distance my opinions from the "guy playing the piano". That is to say, I feel almost like a psychiatrist working with a patient, as we both discuss the matter at hand (in this case, various technical aspects of a musical performance), and trying to be as objective as possible -- without beating up the pianist.

Your other point -- that of re-visiting the sheet music -- is one where I believe we could all improve. No, I am not saying to simply re-visit the paper to "follow the score, Dummy;" what good would that do? Instead, I am suggesting that we listen to our recorded performances, with score in hand, and ask ourselves, "WHY -- WHY did I play a particular passage a certain way?" rather than simply, "HOW (well or poorly) did I play a particular passage?"

Also with score in hand, it is interesting to see how sloppy we can all be by not releasing notes at the right time, when rests clearly appear in the music. I would encourage everyone to follow the dynamics and markings by the composer, at least as a starting point, and then make decisions whether our own performances are "outwitting" the composer (usually not), or simply deluding ourselves that we know more about performances than Chopin did!

Cheers,

Joe

P.S. The Society has only heard the finished performances I have wanted you to hear. Believe me, there are some others that are still in the works that are filled with blunders, strange tempi, failed experiments in (too much) rubato, etc. etc. But again, those particular recordings -- for me -- form the pathways that eventually lead to more polished performances.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 5:28 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2006 12:38 pm
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Hi Everybody,
This is interesting, the comments about listening to ourselves play. Have you watched yourself play on video? My husband recorded me playing in a concert and later when I watched it, I felt like I was watching someone else. I kept thinking, "Is that really me? Look at my hands, (they look flatter than how I think I'm holding them at the keyboard. And look how my fingers can move so fast and find most of the right notes :) And look at my hair....never mind, I know; stick to the topic. Anyway, listening is obviously the better way to analyze our playing, but watching is more fun (unless you make a huge mistake and you have to watch yourself try to contain the cringes and grimaces.)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 5:35 pm 
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Quote:
I'm not striving for a definitive collection of my peformances. I think that documenting one's pianistic development (and sometimes regression) is in itself, worth the trouble.

Very true Jeff. Half the fun about the Audition Room is to hear people improve, and to be able to give feedback which contributes to that. Not that it is not fun to hear totally perfect recordings like Joe's, but you know what I mean.

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Nothing is always absolutely so -- Sturgeon's law
Chris Breemer


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 Post subject: Re: How I Record My Performances
PostPosted: Mon Sep 11, 2006 12:39 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2006 4:29 pm
Posts: 170
Location: Ede, Netherlands
jcfeli wrote:

When I set out to make a personal recording, I go into the project understanding the first one to ten takes are NOT going to make the final cut. For me, the first session is EXPLORATORY. I listen to all of them, over and over ... and then over and over again, usually whilst lying down on a comfortable sofa, always with high-quality headphones, and keep playing them repeatedly over several nights until I literally fall asleep with them. On more than one occasion, my wife has found me asleep on the sofa at 4AM with the headphones playing looped takes of my performances!



I agree with everything you said, except the 10 takes thing. I like to take every take serious, and not to overdo takes, so I nearly never do more than 5 takes (at once). When I'm not satisfied yet after about 6-7 takes, I'll stop and do it another day. Usually my recordings get worse and worse after about 5 takes.

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Yiteng

"Without music, life would be a mistake."
Friedrich Nietzsche


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Sep 11, 2006 12:48 pm 
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Quote:
My husband recorded me playing in a concert and later when I watched it, I felt like I was watching someone else. I kept thinking, "Is that really me? Look at my hands, (they look flatter than how I think I'm holding them at the keyboard. And look how my fingers can move so fast and find most of the right notes :) And look at my hair....never mind, I know; stick to the topic.

Pianolady, you do realize we want to see that video now ? Especially the hair :wink:
When is it going to be available on YouTube ?

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Nothing is always absolutely so -- Sturgeon's law
Chris Breemer


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2006 10:52 am 
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Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2006 12:38 pm
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Quote:
Pianolady, you do realize we want to see that video now ? Especially the hair
When is it going to be available on YouTube ?


Ha, ha, ha, Techneut. You're so funny. That will be the day when I can figure out how to do that. Remember, I only just learned how to quote people a couple months ago. But it would be nice if we could see a picture of members. :idea:

p.s. Are you on You-tube?


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