Recording over the last few days…

So the idea for this project started after a live-stream I did in July. To celebrate the Aussie composer Martin Wesley-Smith’s birthday, I did a live-stream of lots of his works. I used to play his music a fair bit when he was alive, and have kept doing so after he died in 2019. One piece I avoided though (called ‘Welcome to the Hotel Turismo’) as it’s HARD – both to play, and to perform – as it involves projections. It also makes me quite upset – it’s about the Timorese struggle for independence. The backing track is full of gun-shots, and sounds that make me imagine bodies falling to the floor. I remember stories that my Timorese friends told me about the occupation and violence over there (everyone has a story, and if they trust you, little-by-little it comes out…). The piece is also incredibly clever and well-crafted, and makes me miss Martin.

So why on earth am I recording it? After the live-stream, I was inundated with emails from people talking to me about this piece. How moving it was. How powerful. How come they had never heard it, or seen it before? So, sitting over a bowl of noodle soup a few days later, Ben and I wondered about recording it. My way of playing it. Ben said he’d edit and sound engineer and I trust him and his work totally.

It’s always a thing I think when I record – does the world need another version of this particular piece? There are two recordings already of this piece – but I think this will stand up to both of them. I play it very differently. I hear Martin in my head a few times ‘Yep, Rach. You can do that. Actually that’s quite good. Keep that in.”

December 31….It’s the day before we start recording, and my practise today wasn’t good. It never is the day before a concert either, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m allowing myself to be quite raw emotionally through this process. I am hoping this will lead to my playing being able to conjure up the feelings that Martin hoped to convey in the piece. C.P.E. Bach wrote once A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must feel all the emotions that he hopes to arouse in his audience…” So I’ll see how I go.

I know the backing track incredibly well now – where the chickens crow, where the helicopters fly over, where the gun shots happen.

The room is set, and clean (I hate playing in clutter), and Ben and I have talked over the order that we’ll record. I am a bit frazzled emotionally. And I am edgy. So I’ll spend the rest of the day in the garden.

January 1 – first day of recording. We’ve spent most of the day recording. I had already decided that we’d record the piece in sections, and this morning decided to start at the end first, which wasn’t what I’d planned yesterday. The last chunk is probably the most playable, and I thought it might settle my nerves. Turns out I was right.

There are three really hard parts in the piece – we recorded two of them today. Actually, it was neither of those parts that I needed to do over, and over, and over (and then walk away and come back and do them again…). Who knew an F sharp minor arpeggio was THAT hard???

I also have to sing in various bits – and Ben needed to place a microphone REALLY close to my mouth. I discovered that’s one of the best ways to make me feel really nervous and uncomfortable – so if you are near me and want to make me shut up, that’s what you need to do.

We’ve done 2/3rds of the piece now. I never really know how I play in the moment of performing (either in a concert, or recording), but I trust Ben’s ears, and he seems pretty happy.

January 2 – second (and final!) day of recording. “Why don’t you like recording much?” I am often asked. To me, unless it’s a live recording, it’s trickery. Things are mostly recorded in little chunks. The same bits happen over and over. Sometimes one note is grabbed by the clever engineer from take 3, and slotted into most of take 4, which is tacked onto the end of a particular magical end of take 2. And that’s what is presented as ‘the piece’.

There was trickery happening today. Because we did the hardest section. I’ll be interested to hear it all once Ben works his magic with the editing software…. And there were SO many mikes used eventually. One even with a ‘pop’ screen (it softens plosive vowels) for me to use as I sang.

But I’m pleased. Pleased it’s done. Pleased that I could play with integrity. Because I want to do justice to this magnificent piece by Martin. It’s incredible, when it’s put together with the images and his music. It’s clever, and heart-breaking, and achingly beautiful. And I can’t wait for you all to hear it.