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Recording Tapas at Skywalker Sound


We had reached the end of the third of four days of recording at Skywalker Sound. The final unison D faded into the darkness surrounding the quartet. Judy likes to have a "take a" of the entire work after the grueling repetitive takes of small sections required to achieve a studio perfect quilt. We laid down our "take a" with great expression and solid technique. Dan was the only one in the booth standing as he made repeated gestures with his arms and spoke quickly, though we couldn't hear what he was saying. Judy reported that we may have more work to do and that we should discuss in the booth.

Marc and Judy were happy with the work we had done and the interpretation of the fifth movement of Tapas we had arrived at. But Dan, being the excellent executive producer that he is, could not let the session end without speaking his mind. Dan and Marc have been close friends for decades, dancing late into the night listening to Steve Reich in college and creating albums together as members of Common Sense Composers' Collective. Marc confessed he ripped ideas off of Dan's music for years as they developed their compositional voices. No one is more intimately familiar with Marc's music than Dan.

Dan considers Marc's 5 minute long slow movement to be the heart of the album. Dan said our rendition was on the passionate, romantic side, and had forcibly taken hold of his heart strings rather than gently tugging at them. Marc retorted that he loved our interpretation simply because he loves us and that he would probably love any way that we played it. He went on to say that the interpretation of this movement was not at the extreme end of the romantic spectrum, but other people have played it more straightforwardly, with less overt expression. Dan insisted that he was content with how we played the movement if Marc was, but needed to make his voice heard.

This album consists of short string quartet works by each of the eight members of the Collective. It's their fourth full-length album and possibly their last. Dan booked five days at the legendary Skywalker Sound, a studio on the stunning Skywalker Ranch in a secluded valley in Marin County. We rehearsed the works over four months and scheduled 2-3 times more recording time than we typically would allot for that amount of music. At the end of the third day, we found ourselves with two hours to spare - more than enough time to debate whether we should re-record Marc's movement with a gentler approach.

We munched on our daily dose of freshly baked cookies and locally grown veggies and headed back into the massive studio. We chose to turn off the house lights and play only by the glow of lamps craftily diffused by old sheet music for more of a performance vibe. We gave gentle caresses to the oscillating D minor-D major progression and lugubrious 16 bar melody that passes around the quartet. Outbursts of fast vibrato and big dynamic shifts were steadily suppressed as we tried to "sing to a child rather than a lover" as Dan had aptly suggested. The two peaks within the shorter movement had rounder blossoms of sound full of breathlessness, giving the performance a soft-spoken tenderness.

As we walked back to the booth, Otis told me that was the way he originally envisioned the movement, and I nodded in agreement. As I turned the corner and walked up the stairs, I could see tears streaming down Dan's face. I gave him a big hug. We listened to the take and Dan continued to cry. I'm not sure if it was Dan's intense emotional response or the way we played, but I could feel waves of sweet sadness emerge from my chest with each swell of vibrato and tone. I wanted to cry with him but couldn't find the tears.

Context is everything in art. Framed by restraint and pure tone, crescendos can mean so much more. Does our intent to sing to a child rather than a lover change the sound in a quantifiable way? Do we hear what we want to hear or what is truly happening? Do the people around us influence the way we respond to music?

Marc loved the alternate version, but not more than he loved the previous, more extroverted takes. Judy found the new way less communicative. Some of us in the quartet did prefer "version Dan," but we all agreed to stick with the work we had done up to that point and call it a day. Perhaps after the album comes out, we can convince all involved to release "version Dan."

Dan has been one of our closest friends and supporters since we started the quartet. After Kevin and I finished school, Dan invited us to be a part of his collaboration with the incredible Garrett-Moulton Dance Company-- providing us with our first gig capable of sustaining us financially for any sustained period. This project gave us the time to get to know Dan and his music extremely well. He's sincerely one of the most beautiful people I know, and there's no one I'd rather move to tears with our playing.

#recording #CommonSenseComposersCollective #SkywalkerSound

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