Phil Legard writes:
Since 2009 I’ve been involved behind the scenes on Sounding the Deep, supporting the project in a wide range of capacities. Therefore, it was unfortunate that I was unable to make it to the première performance! A small consolation has, however, been to work with the recordings of the rehearsals and live performances and to listen to them in detail.
The recordings were made by Dr. Robert Mackay of Scarborough University using a Soundfield microphone and 4-channel recorder positioned at the back of the hall. The Soundfield microphone isn’t a single microphone, but an array of four capsules that are designed to capture sound as special B-Format audio. One of the most exciting things about the B-Format is that it is incredibly flexible: from a B-Format recording one can mix to standard stereo, quadraphonic or even 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1 sound.
The most intriguing thing about the format is that the four channels can be combined in different ways to simulate a number of microphone setups after the event. In fact the sounds can be mixed as though there were a virtual microphone pointing in any direction you can think of! The B-Format recordings were mixed into stereo and edited in the recording studios at Leeds Metropolitan University. There was, however, a significant amount of listening to be done before I could begin.
I had received recordings of Shoals both in dress rehearsal and live performance. Alongside this were recordings of the two live performances of Sounding the Deep. In total this was at least three hours worth of material, which was also recorded in less than ideal circumstances.
The pieces comprising Shoals were fairly straightforward to edit, mainly relying on the dress rehearsal recordings with some elements from the live performances incorporated when absolutely necessary.
For Sounding the Deep the intention was to present the piece in as concise a manner as possible. Practically, this meant that sections adversely affected by transient ambient sounds - those coughs and sneezes and rustling programmes that are to be expected in a live performance – could be edited out. A full live recording is of course a valuable archival document for the composer and orchestra, but in terms of conveying the essence of the project another approach was necessary.
The result was a sort of montage, condensing the 35 minutes of performance down to nine-and-a-half minutes. I listened carefully (relaxed, eyes closed for the most part!) to the first performance several times, choosing – by ear – a number of appealing sections from each movement. Comparing these sections in each performance meant that a number of them could be discounted due to insurmountable problems with the archival recording. The ‘best’ versions of the remaining sections were pooled and then edited together with an alert ear open for opportunities to create smooth transitions between each section.
The result, presented below, works well. The most memorable sections such as the Sousa-influenced march, the mysterious vocalise passages conveying Beebe’s wordless wonder at his descent, and the dramatic rolling of the Bathysphere, are well represented alongside a number of other moments that give a balanced overview of the unique sound-world of Sounding the Deep.