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Runi Brattaberg and crew recording in Faeroes cave. Photo: Alan Brockie.
A new music commission inspired by Viking legend
Composer's notes on the technical realisation of 'From Egil's Saga'.

Picture shows the summer 2004 recording of bass singer Runi Brattaberg in a Faeroes cave for 'From Egil's Saga'. 

Technical realisation

The piece is scored for solo Bass voice, chamber orchestra, and a small (amateur) choir plus sound reinforcement and playback of recorded material.

Solo Bass voice
Bass Clarinet
French Horn
Percussion (one player - Bass drum, Tam Tam and bowed Crotales)
Small Chorus SATB (up to 16 singers)
Strings ( 5 violas, 5 celli, 2 basses - at least one with low C, the other amplified)
Amplification of live and pre-recorded material.

The Brief
To replay pre-recorded material on CD
To sample or record instruments and voices during performance and 'replay' them in original or edited/processed form
To subtly reinforce the ensemble through a sound system
To diffuse all sound sources through a surround sound system

The pre-recorded material will derive from location recordings made in caves on the Faeroe Islands of the Bass voice and found ambient sounds.

From these initial recordings, CD's will be created for use during performance on one or a number of CD players so that 'clips' can be played at the same time without being locked together rhythmically in time.

Each instrumentalist will be 'miked up' to enable effective, but subtle sound reinforcement (though not necessarily throughout the entire piece). This will also serve to overcome inadequacies of the natural acoustic of the given space.

In addition, this will allow the possibility to single out an instrument or group of instruments at pre-determined points in the piece, for sampling purposes. Once captured these sounds can then be edited and 'played back' into the sound system, conceivably to coincide with what is already on CD, to augment the performance as it happens or both, but again at pre-determined points in the piece.

The implementation of a surround sound system is crucial to the realization of this piece, but not without the use of a main loudspeaker system placed adjacent to the performers.

This will provide a reference source to the live performers so that the surround sound system does not become a distraction from them. Indeed as there will be playback of material related to the ensemble, for example it will be evident that the recorded Bass voice and the performer are the same person, without amplifying the live voice, the source of these will be fragmented, one will be electronic and derived from loudspeakers, the other, acoustic and sourced from the stage.

Hence a sound system will create the illusion that the two sources, both acoustic and recorded, sit in the same sonic domain for the listener. The same applies to the rest of the ensemble particularly if elements of the ensemble are captured for playback.

Therefore if one instrument is to be reinforced, then all of them should be. In the case of the double bass being a requisite for amplification, whilst one of them is acoustic, by having them both miked up gives the possibility to process one of them separately, without 'losing' the other.

The sound system will therefore consist of a number of loudspeaker sources.

The primary system located at the stage, will be placed left and right of the performers with front fills to cover the first few rows of the audience. The surround system will have up to six loudspeaker sources placed around the auditorium, two each side and two at the rear.

It should be noted that the success of the surround system depends principally on loudspeaker placement being as far from and as equidistant from the listeners as possible and hanging the loudspeakers may be required.

Equally, placement of the primary loudspeaker system is critical and hanging loudspeakers may also be necessary, so that the listener is not distracted from the performer.

By using matrix-mixing techniques, time delay and electronic reverb, options for the placement of sound sources, be they live or recorded can be decided in real-time. The ambient sounds recorded in the Faeroes could envelope the audience creating an atmosphere unrelated to the given environment.

At the same time a bass drum, for example, is heard from where its sound derives, but its sampled sound is taken outside the performance area. Likewise the recorded voice diffused from the surround system, could 'answer' the soloist on stage and visa versa.

By mixing the recorded voice only into the primary system the soloist could be positioned into the loudspeakers at the back of the auditorium.

A system known as Timax, is ideally suited to a project such as this where cues can be written in rehearsal and played back during performance to create movement of specific audio elements without destroying the placement of the ensemble.

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