Arranging: The Score Meets The Studio

trumpet-part
Probably too much to ask.

As a writer and arranger, I’ve spent considerably more time behind a pencil (both a literal one and the figurative one on my computer) writing scores than I have behind the board in the studio recording their performance.  That’s beginning to change, and the more time I spend mixing my own arrangements, the more I’m struck by the ways in which the two disciplines are similar, as well as one giant new aspect that mixing brings to the arranging process: namely, by using stereo pan, the mixer has the ability to move musicians around on a virtual stage.  This allows  an arranger/mixer control over not only the rhythmic, harmonic, and dynamic range of the music, but also the physical locations of each individual instrument.

I thought I’d write a bit about that and share some recordings in which all four aspects are manipulated in concert to a particularly nice effect.

The Score: Rhythmic and Harmonic Axes

When writing an arrangement for an ensemble, be it a jazz big band, a rock group, a vocal choir, or a string quartet, I tend to start by thinking in two basic dimensions – rhythm and tessetura (where in the harmonic spectrum the notes fall, i.e. low/high notes).  The rhythm is the X axis, with each instrument’s assigned notes occurring over time, while the tessetura is the Y axis, depending on the “height” of the note played.

Music is all about tension (and release), and arranging is all about space.  The manipulation of the space on the X and Y axes brings tension and release to the music – the farther everyone is apart on one or both axes, the more space there is in the music, rhythmically and harmonically.  Write everyone close together, and things sound more dense; bring them farther apart, and the music opens up, each part gets more distinct, and there is less sonic tension.
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National Day of Listening

Funston

Over the din of Black Friday, it could, somewhat ironically, be possible to miss that today is also apparently the National Day of Listening. I always love a new “National – Day,” so I thought I’d forgo transcribing any retail adventures here, and instead would share a cool listening experience that I recently had.

I’ve been working on the first album that I’ll release under my own name – it’s a big honking recitation of stories from the past, going as far back as I can remember and coming all the way up to the present.  It’s going to be called “The Exited Door.”  I’ve (somehow) managed to bring together just about everybody in the bay area (and beyond) that I know – jazz and rock musicians, as well as students, co-faculty, and even non-musician friends, and eek some sort of contribution out of each of them. It’s been really, really cool, and I’m lucky to know so many great musicians.

In addition to all those humans, I thought it would be appropriate to get a contribution from the city of San Francisco itself – the album has 13 tracks, so I figured it would be funny to make the 13th track a recording of Funston Ave out in the Richmond.  Geddit?  ‘Cause there is no 13th avenue, we call it “Funston.”  Ha ha ha oh man I kill myself.
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