Day 149: Wikipedia – Up to No Good + Black, White and a Little Blue

Wikipedia – Up to No Good

They now control information and comment on it and allow it though there’s no need for proof of anything they print.

Black, White and a Little Blue

Most days, I’m a little blue. You give everything and when its embraced, you feel green and red, but when it’s not, you feel blue or even darker, black. Tomorrow, however, I have to produce a studio recording of George Palmer’s Black, White and a Little, written for clarinet and piano.

George Palmer was lawyer, barrister, Queen’s Counsel. Judge of the Supreme Court of NSW and – always – composer.

Since around 2011 he has been a full-time composer, whose music has been largely unrecognised by Australia’s major orchestras and record labels, despite his consistent output of performances and recordings. He has an individual ear for harmony and modulation which is all his own. He consistently comes up with melodies for his works which go beyond being tunes. They don’t begin and end over a duration of 8 or 16 bars. They have a life that is hinted at, often, before they begin and then merge with the next idea when they end.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with George as his producer for three of four years. I’ve recorded his Cello Concerto, Ithaca, In Paradisum, Flute quartet, The Faces of Mercy and now Black and White and a Little Blue.

Tomorrow is the big day which proves I’ve got it or don’t have it. It’s the PTS-SSO Test. Tomorrow I have to leave at 1010 to get to the recording session, which goes 11-2, 3-6. That means not staying up until dawn writing about the 100 Greatest Films Ever.

This is where I have to get back on the bike and (in my own mind) succeed or fail as a music producer who isn’t the Recording Manager of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, or their Technical Media Producer.

For ten years I was an important part of the recording life of the SSO. Now, I’m not.

It’s the first time I’ve had to produce recording sessions when I haven’t had either of those two titles to back me up and give me self-confidence and courage. When you get fired (“cost-cutting” exercise) it sure takes its toll on you, especially when you loved your job and gave it everything you’ve got. I was terminated 36 weeks ago by the SSO after just about 9 years.

Therefore, if I’m going to do my next session after the unceremonious firing (for “cost-saving reasons”) – after almost nine years and fifty albums – it’s appropriate it falls 2/3rds of the way through my first year of my new life without the orchestra.

I’m not so nervous. My ears hear what they hear and the rest is left up to the ability of the players. It’s a concerto when recording- back and forth – for producer and players – me and them. Nine years tell me that I have good ears. Many musos, despite my truthful manner, do specific bars which I require again and again, despite the fact that I’m not a particularly over-the-top music producer, always praising every take.

After one (of about six or seven recordings) with Andrew Haveron, I took him aside, weeks later, and apologised to him because I said to him, “We have it”, when I knew we didn’t. I apologised because I had to lie to him. He would have known it – and I knew it – at the time. We had to move on and wrap it up. I can be a liar or a realist and I knew that we must move on and complete the recording and find a way to pin it together, later.

There’s a trust that I don’t think I’ve ever developed with the musicians where I can feel okay with blatantly lying to them by saying that “we’ve got it”, while hoping I can edit a passable recording in post-production. That one and only time I did it because we had the investors in the studio.

I can’t do it. I can’t stroke the ego of anyone whilst knowing I don’t have what we need.

Sharp or flat, out-of-time, it’s a fact – not my opinion.

My world, the one I live in, is full of errors. I can call them as errors or I can be two-faced. It serves no purpose to tell everyone that “It was great but could we do it again because it wasn’t great?”

There’s a whole world of producers and musicians where the producer says it was great when it wasn’t and no one makes anyone responsible for the things that weren’t great.

I got delivered -a hospital pass – in 2015. A hospital pass is the opposite of a slam-dunk. It’s a pass given to a player where they’re going to be smash-tackled by the opposition, without any chance of advancing, probably ending up in hospital. it’s a no-win situation. More specifically it’s a lose-lose situation.

My boss told me, “You’re recording The Four Seasons with James Ehnes next year.” What a thankless task, to be told you have to produce a recording of one of the world’s ten most famous classic works, which is also one of the world most over-recorded works.

Good thing this man has a tone of complete beauty, the tone of a genius, a creator of perfect notes.

Bad thing that I can’t possibly hope to succeed in making a performance that will have any legitimate merit.

Of course, it was given to me, because it’s almost certainly not going to be something worthwhile, so why pay money to a really experienced session producer when it’s just The Four Seasons?

“Give it to Philip.”

I didn’t even know it, when I was so (unintentionally) rude to the M-D, James Ehnes, but this was a dead-end. I only saw we had three options: do it well in the traditional manner, or be different and get torn apart by the critics, or do it James Ehnes’ way.

We kind of did it James Ehnes’ way – kind of. I supported his vision. It was a vision which I didn’t even know about until we started rehearsals, when I discovered that it was a completely normal, conservative approach.

It could have been completely individual and crazy, like Nigel Kennedy but it wasn’t. It was just very straightforward.

We only had one rehearsal and concert but I was able to get a forty-five minute patch session after the concert.

The next day I was lambasted about my approach by a couple of the SSO musicians.”How dare I talk like that to an internationally-renowned soloist and tell him that he played some notes which weren’t perfect? You have to tell him that it’s always great – but ask him to do certain bars again for other reasons than because he hadn’t played it perfectly.”

I defended myself, saying, “I spoke with James about the best way to approach the patching session and asking him to re-do certain bars, and he told me to just be honest with him about what I needed and he’d be happy to give me what I needed so that the recording was as good as it could be.”

I was admonished again. “You never tell a soloist he played something wrong, or less than perfectly. You find another way to say it. The same pretty much applies to us as well. Especially, straight after a concert when we’ve just played our hearts out for the performance.”

I don’t know either of these performers of clarinet (David Rowden) and piano (Marie). I guess I’ve got three challenges:

  1. Find out if I can remain confident or whether fear and anxiety overwhelm me.
  2. Find out if I can be kinder to musicians while exposing their flaws.
  3. Find out if I can still be a good music producer in life-after-SSO.