Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Making of The Great Human Odyssey Soundtrack - A Chorister's Perspective

Ready to perform for a live studio audience

It blows my mind what can happen in 28 hours.

That is the amount of time Pro Coro had to record all the vocal parts for the documentary, The Great Human Odyssey. We received a copy of the coiled music, still warm from the printers, on Monday at 6 PM and we finished recording at 10 PM on Tuesday. Furthermore, in that time, we also performed the work to a sold-out audience at the Winspear for the Sound, Light, Motion Event hosted by Make Something Edmonton.

I had an inkling that this would be a pretty cool project but it didn't fully hit me until I saw the amount of media exposure there was in anticipation of this unique event. It is not everyday that a project of this size is realized while recruiting so much participation from the local arts community. The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra recorded all the orchestral lines and the film crew decided to use an live choral voices for all the recording instead of synthesizers.

The documentary gathers film footage and interviews from individuals all over the world over the span of 18 months. The documentary content investigates the journey of humans outside of Africa. There is an insightful interview and stunning teaser trailer released online for you to learn more. The three-part series airs on CBC in 2015 on David Suzuki's The Nature of Things. The unique part of this project is its connections to Edmonton. The filmmaker, Niobe Thompson, is from Edmonton as well as the composer, Darren Fung, who had less than seven weeks to compose the score.

Monday night was stressful because we had just received the music and two hours later we were performing it in front of a live audience. However, the warmth of the audience paired with the choir's first glimpses of the footage accompanying the music melted away most of our hesitation. Our vocal parts were just one component of this mammoth machine of Art. We were just coming in for a few hours to contribute our voices for aural storytelling. I can't even begin to imagine how the crew and filmmaker, Niobe Thompson, have been dreaming and living this project for the past few years. You just sense this grateful and excited energy from all of the crew which inspired us, as singers, to help them fully realize their vision.

It was my first time using a click track played through a one-sided headphone. It was a constant metronome click synced with the tempo markings in the music. The other ear was left open to listen. What I found right away is that having one ear blocked wiped out my ability to listen to singers around me and tune chords so I wore as much of the headphone off of my ear as possible during the actual recording on Tuesday. We also popped in some recording tricks to decrease noise, such as wearing slippers or flattening our music stand and turning them 180 degrees to help remedy the scrape of our page turns on the metallic stand ledge. The ESO had also been recording Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning so by the time Pro Coro arrived on Tuesday afternoon we were able to hear the metronome clicks as well as the orchestral parts played back into our ears as we were singing. I can't even begin to imagine the amount of quick turnaround the crew had to do in the recording booth since Darren was able to just say "two bars before measure 40" and they would be able to pull up those exact bars of orchestral accompaniment in our headphone and we could begin singing. The process also demonstrated the fluidity in music recording. We would add or remove lines, try different voicing on parts, sing different melodies in the piano reduction, change vowels, add more notes into the chord - it evolved into this organic process where the music was being created and tweaked right in that very recording session. Darren was having so much fun that there was no increased stress with the last-minute edits. There was an open willingness to experiment and see what we could come up with.

It is exhausting but satisfying to emerge from a 28 hour process that included six hours of recording and a two hour live concert. The entire spirit of the Make Something Edmonton movement is to take the visions of Edmontonians, and with community self-reflection, ask how we can help so individuals can realize their dreams. As a result, we create this common goal of a vibrant city that runs on community powered momentum. I'm left wondering when's the next time I can do something as cool as this.

Recording is a wrap!
I also had the chance to sing with Elizabeth, a blog reader and chorister in Pro Coro #CONNECT
Update: A The Making of a Filmscore Documentary has been released! January 14, 2014

2 comments: said...

Working with you and the rest of the singers was an incredible lift - we could all sense your excitement to be part of the project. Sitting in the recording booth on Tuesday night, hearing your voices roughed in to the main score, was magical. Let's try to do that again some day!
- Niobe (the Director)

misssable said...

It was so amazing to have the chance to be a part of this project. All the best to you and your projects in the future!