Why Dundee?

In Chances of Light / Scores

Since the very beginning of the I'Anson music, an important element has been the inclusion of orchestral string arrangements.  Whilst there are moments of intimacy in the music, it also calls for big and expressive backdrops – and to my knowledge no other instrument or combination of instruments can manage to convey what a bunch of string players can create together.

It's been an interesting learning curve for me.  From the outset I had general ideas of the tunes and arrangements for the strings – but it's been a detailed process writing the arrangements properly.  Like everything in life, there's an option to hire someone, who appears to know what they're doing, to do it all for you – and this is what tends to happen in modern music production if the song-writer hasn't been classically trained.  Living in Jura, however, encourages/necessitates you to take a more resourceful approach, and I'm glad that I've stuck at the writing and arranging task myself – as hopefully the results will be more personal and original....

I've had the perfect motivation.  At the end of last year I learnt that the Scottish Ensemble was keen to be involved in the project.  I had seen them perform a few times and was impressed both by their incredible playing but also by their spirit, and they were at the top of my list for possible collaborators.   Knowing that, in a few months time, I would have them reading and playing my music, has been a good reason to put the work in.

The parts have come together slowly.  Being untrained, I've had no reference other than what sounds right to my ear.  I've sometimes had periods when I've doubted the simplicity of the notes on the page and felt the need to throw in clever phrases.  Followed, usually quite quickly, by a mass cull of notes to make everything as simple as possible!  I've learnt that it's much harder to keep the arrangements restrained but still conveying emotion than it is to embellish them with lots of perhaps clichéd musical baggage.   The strings are written in five parts and have evolved to the extent that they are a really vital voice in the music – much more than just a melodic backdrop to the other instruments.

So tomorrow we leave for recording in Dundee.  Why Dundee you ask?!

I had originally imagined that it could be possible to record all the music actually on location in Jura.  However, whilst all of the recordings of my performances are being recorded here, some of the other elements are being recorded elsewhere – for good reason.

Steve's percussion for example, was recorded in New Hampshire where his brother has his studio.  Steve was out there, his instruments were out there, so it made sense to record him there – without the usual time constraints which exist if a third party studio is booked.  For him it was the equivalent of me recording my parts in Jura - except with a pinch of yankee-cool!

For the strings recording there is an acoustic necessity to record in a room which helps the players whilst allowing us to record rich and transparent sound.  Rooms like this are rare – certainly in Scotland.  I put the word out to find the right place and most advice led to an old concert hall in Dundee, named the Caird Hall. There have been some great classical recordings made there and listening to some of these on CD confirmed that it would be the right location.  We're also fortunate to have Phillip Hobbs overseeing the sound recording.  Phil is world renowned through his work with Linn Records and has made some beautiful recordings already at the Caird Hall.

The last week has been spent collating all the individual music parts - and they now sit in a pile on the kitchen table.  I can hardly believe that in a few days time these harmless bits of paper and print will turn into real life sound.  It'll be quite a moment - I only hope that I've got it right!

Over and out


Hugh Carswell