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Making Dvorak 8-4
In the 1990s I played in the Danbury Community Orchestra under conductor Richard Brooks, and one of my favorite pieces we played was Antonin Dvorak's Symphony Number 8. The fourth movement has many great moments, and I always thought it would be fun to do a "progressive rock" interpretation. After thinking about this for more than ten years I finally did it! This project took 11 weeks to complete working 2-4 hours per day. It's not exactly Emerson Lake and Palmer, or Yes, but that was the general inspiration. Here's the link (10 MB):
This piece as written has many repeats, where the same passage plays twice in a row. I kept some of the repeats but deleted many, or changed instrumentation the second time, reducing the length from about 11 minutes to just half that. Next, I decided what synthesizer sounds to give the various parts, and which parts to play on the electric guitar. A few other minor changes: I enhanced the bass part in a few places, and added a short synthesizer melody that seemed appropriate for one of the quiet sections. I also added rhythm guitar chords in a few sections, and removed some timpani parts that seemed overbearing for this rock version. Other than that, and the added drums, all of the notes are exactly as Dvorak wrote them.
I'm not much of a drummer, so I listened many times to the drumming in Yours Is No Disgrace by the band Yes. That helped a lot! Once I was satisfied with the MIDI drums I programmed, my friend Ed Dzubak helped me refine the drumming, changing things that a real drummer couldn't do, or probably wouldn't do. Ed is an excellent drummer, and he has four Emmy awards for music composing.
Finally, Danbury Symphony concertmaster Larry Deming played the solo violin part normally handled by the first violins section in the original symphony.
Then I invited my friend Peter Hodgson to help further, and he had many great ideas. Peter is also an excellent drummer, and musician, and he's one of the best recording engineers I know. Without Peter's many contributions this project would not have been nearly as successful. He was truly a collaborator.
Peter even recorded a complete set of cymbals and hi-hats to replace those in my original sample set.
There's a huge amount of automation in this project, spread across more than 60 tracks and buses. Not just volume changes, but EQ bands turned on and off, effects send level changes, program changes for different organ sounds, and so forth.
Peter lives an hour away from me, so we spent five hours in Skype over three sessions working simultaneously to further enhance the drums, the arrangement, and mix. Besides the real-time audio playback, I shared the Track View and Piano Roll screens in Cakewalk through Skype so Peter could see and hear what I was doing. Once the mix was finalized Peter ran it through his mastering plug-ins chain:
We also exchanged files over the 'net so Peter could re-amp some of the musical parts. The main organ sound is the Native Instruments B4 software synthesizer, which Peter re-played at his studio and recorded through his real Leslie speaker. As the organ played in real time he controlled the amount of distortion, and worked the rotor speed control.
Peter also re-recorded sections of the bass track through his Fender Bassman amplifier, and some of the guitars through his Vox AC10 guitar amp. Thanks Peter for all your help and advice!
Ethan Winer has been an audio engineer and professional musician for more than 45 years, and is co-owner of RealTraps where he designs acoustic treatment products for recording studios and home listening rooms. Ethan's Cello Rondo music video has received more than 1.5 Million views on YouTube and other web sites, and his new book The Audio Expert published by Focal Press is available at amazon.com and his own web site.
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