This week I was recording at Abbey Road with Joe Hisaishi and also went back in the studio with Tolga Kashif for a choir session on his ‘Genesis Suite’. Both were with the choir London Voices which was fixed by Terry Edwards (former Chorus Master at Royal Opera House in Covent Garden). The two sessions couldn’t have been more different.
Jo Hisaishi is a Japanese composer best known for his work with animator Hayao Miyazaki. Their film Spirited Away won an Oscar in 2001. I did a bit of research and apparently Joe’s real name is Mamoru Fujisawa but as his music became more popular he started to use an alias inspired by Quincy Jones, the ledgendary american arranger and producer. Retranscribed in Japanese, “Quincy Jones” became “Joe Hisaishi.” Quincy pronounced “Kuishi” in Japanese, can be written using the same kanji as “Hisaishi” and “Joe” comes from Jones. Hisaishi has won the Japanese Academy Award for Best Music six times and composed the soundtrack to the 1998 Winter Paralympics.
Abbey Road is an iconic place to work and I love to look at the photos of the artists which have recorded there over the years. A few times I’veÂ walked past somebody famous in the corridor and nodded “hello” as if I knew them – only to realise afterwards – you don’t know them at all – that was Paul McCartney you fool!
I once sat in canteen next to the Spice Girls and on one notable occasion
Bono and The Edge from U2 were chatting to Chris Martin from Coldplay. Of course, you have to act as if it’s perfectly normal and carry on with your curry and chat. Photos are not allowed in Abbey Road for obvious reasons of privacy but I thought this one of the empty corridor with the red light outside Studio 3 seemed fair game.
A big choir session is always a chance to catch up with friends and with 60 singers, the chatting in the canteen hits you like a wave as you walk in. We were in the enormous studio 1 and the LSO had recorded their music the previous day. This meant that we were singing with headphones (cans) feeding us the sound of the orchetra with a click-track layered over the top to help us keep in time with them. Terry was conducting, and because the timing was a little tricky (which was compounded as so many people were singing) it took a few takes toÂ get the job done. The other difficult thing with a big group is there are more people to make a mistake or a noise which might spoil the recording. With so many microphones open, the rustle of a page turning or a pencil dropping to the floor costs money! We were booked for a three hour session and we finished a bit early with the producers seeming very happy – Joe Hisaishi came out from the control room with his very pretty interpreter and bowed to the choir in thanks.
Coincidentally, Tolga Kashif was also at Abbey Road the previous week conducting the LSOÂ for his new CD The Genesis Suite.Â (Tolga has posted the great new artwork for this album on his website-click on the image to read more).
On Friday and Saturday we went into Angel Studios to record the choir parts on two tracks for Tolga. It was a much smaller choir – six of each voice part and we were booked for nine hours of sessions.Â When the choir saw the music on the stand they were all wondering why we had been booked for three sessions. We’re used to recording music in double quick time as it’s such an expensive thing to hire a studio and a choir of professional singers. Having already worked with Tolga on the album, I guessed that we would be singing the music many times so that Tolga could choose from the subtle variations. He explained that process during the sessions but for the poor tenors and sopranos especially, it meant working very hard – repeated singing of very high phrases can be very tiring for the voice – even though these singers are completely on top of their technique, it was a bit like singing an opera over and over again for nine hours.
I had stayed up in London the night before as I’d been doing a concert of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at St Paul’s Cathedral and I had an early start. The first track was about ten minutes and was quite epic in scale. The themes were taken from Blood on the rooftops (from the 1976 album Wind and Wuthering) and Undertow from the 1978 album Then There Were Three – the first album recordedÂ after guitarist Steve Hackett left Genesis.
Terry was in the production box for this session as Tolga was conducting and he often lightened the atmosphere with witty comments through our headphones. On one occasion the soprano line was very high and the consonants on the lyrics “let me live again, let life come find me” were making their line stick out. He suggested they do what Maestro Solti once said – “Schmear the consonants”. This worked quite well but Tolga quipped that they now sounded like they were reading their laundry bill.
A bit later when Tolga had listened to a take and came out with a list of things that he wanted to change, he told us that Michael Jackson used to say really horrible things about the musician’s playing but adding at the end of each insult “I meant it with love”.Â When Tolga later asked for a ‘bit more squeeze’ on the melody line after yet another take, Terry asked if any of the girls would like to explain what they thought a ‘bit more squeeze’ was – and quickly dropped in “of course I meant it with love” which stopped proceedings for a moment while we all laughed. It’s a very important skill for a conductor or producer to be able to lighten the mood when things are getting tense and we are all feeling under pressure to deliver the goods. John Eliot Gardiner is a master of this – demanding intense concentration but knowing when to give us all a small breather whilst he tells us an amusing anecdote, then to start us rehearsing again with renewed vigour.
The next morning we worked on the Land of Confusion/Tonight, Tonight, Tonight track, which I had done the solo recording on the week before (click to read my blog entry). The choir didn’t have any of those pre-recorded solo voices in their cans, so it was very interesting for me how Tolga managed to get yet another sound and colour from the choir. When the men were using a bit too much vibrato he asked for “more Zadok the Priest than Nabucco” which immediately did the trick. At the end of the third session, the general feeling from the choir was that they had certainly earned their money!
This really is a feature of the music business – the money we are payed for singing often bears no relationship to the effort, skill or time expended. The other thing that amuses me about the last week’s work was that the London Symphony Orchestra is just as much a gun for hire as the session singer. My voice will eventually be combined with their playing on a composition based on the music of Genesis, a Japanese animation composer’s soundtrack and a concert of Beethoven 9 in St. Paul’s Cathedral – brilliant!