Playing dangerously

Well, it all happened.

My partner (who was also going to produce the disc) and I loaded up the car last Monday with the cello, the piano stool and everything that we could possibly need, and drove to Melbourne. Sadly, my car had no air-conditioning, and it got to 40 degrees for about 5 hours. (I thought that was bad until we had to come back. It was 42 degrees for about 8 hours in the car. It was so hot my rosin melted. It was one of the outer circles of hell in my Fiesta on the return trip – I hope I never have to do that again….)

We talked a lot on the way down about what my aims were – to be as creative as I could, and to trust the engineers and everyone else. I was nervous – but also a little excited. I had also talked at great length to two musician friends of mine who do a fair amount of recording, and they warned me about changing things in the studio because of the dry sound. I had also spent the week before going to Melbourne really carefully trying to get even more attuned to my cello and the feel of it, as I knew I’d be playing in a very dry, unforgiving room, and the sound I heard in that room wouldn’t be the sound that would be heard by others.

Tuesday arrived – day one of recording. It took about 3 hours to set up the microphones. Again, I’d been warned about this. ‘Be patient’ I was told. This is like telling the bull to not go into the china shop. The 3 hours felt like 3 years. And at the end, even 3 decades. Obviously test number 1 for the nervous cellist.

Then finally we started. I was surrounded by sound baffles – imagine three large screens set up around me, with only one opening. I’m not sure if this was to create blinkers for me, so I couldn’t be distracted, or it actually really did affect the sound. The only thing I could see was my recording partner sitting in front of me, with his accordion strapped to him and a large smile on his face. He’d done this lots of times before, so was pretty calm about the whole thing. And so I let him musically take my hand, and start walking with me down the road, as it were. My only thought to myself was to be with him in the moment – I needed to respond to everything he gave me. And he is an outstanding musician. I needed to take every little subtlety he played, and use it, and give him back as much as he gave me.

And would you believe it? It worked. I didn’t have a bad time at all. In fact, in some moments I really enjoyed playing and recording it. I enjoyed pushing some barriers (musically, not the sound baffles around me). I enjoyed weaving in and out of the sound that was offered up to me. I enjoyed playing very dangerously at times – pushing my cello to the limit, or playing so intimately neither of us could look at each other. There were some horrible moments. I swore a lot over a little phrase in a piece that should have been easier. I cursed my inability to play an octave at one point. I worried as my walking partner disappeared in frustration over a part in another piece. But all in all, it wasn’t all bad.

It was a huge lesson in trust for me. It was a lesson in self-belief. It was a lesson in patience.

I might even do it again, sometime.

Now I have a mountain of sleeve notes to write, and meetings with my fabulous graphic designer friend. There are tracks to be edited and mastered. But the scaffolding has been well and truly put up, with very little shouting.