Last December, the recording sessions of the soundtrack of the animated film Hullabaloo were held in Bratislava (Slovakia). There, throughout a full day, the musicians of the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Hernando Rico and under the supervision of the composer Manel Gil-Inglada and the sound engineer/recording technician Mikel F Krutzaga, gave life to the music for the first time.
Gorka Oteiza was invited to these recording sessions, as well as to the subsequent mixing sessions that took place in January in the studio of Mikel F Krutzaga, and he has written this article for SoundTrackFest where you can read a summary of the process, as well as interviews with its main protagonists.
A recording session is like an exam, everybody is nervous, you are always short of time, and you have to try to get it right on the first take (or if that’s not possible, then on the second or the third take, there is no time for many more tries).
We are in Bratislava (Slovakia), a place where many Spanish and international soundtracks have been recorded, thanks to the work developed by Spanish orchestra conductor David Hernando Rico creating and managing the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra; an orchestra that has become a reference to record film music, mainly in Europe but also abroad in the rest of the world.
On Sunday, December 17, 2017, and over 5 hours divided into two sessions of 4 hours and 1 hour (with several breaks in the longest session), the approximately 15 minutes of music that Manel Gil-Inglada had composed for the Hullabaloo project were recorded; a Steampunk-style animated film produced by veteran Disney animator James Lopez, which started with a crowdfunding campaign that far exceeded its initial goal ($ 80,000 were asked and got more than $ 470,000) – Official Website: http://www.hullabaloo-movie.com/
The place for the recordings, the building of the Slovak Radio, a curious and particular building with an inverted pyramidal shape, which was built in the communist era and which has several recording studios, being the most important and biggest the Studio 1. This studio consists of a large auditorium with capacity for 522 people, having a big stage with a huge organ, and where you have more than enough space for a full orchestra as well as for a choir, either for a recording or for a concert.
A recording session needs a lot of preparation, since not only you need to have ready all the music sheets (the general one for the conductor and the particular ones of each one of the musicians/instruments), but you have to decide many things… which is going to be the location of the musicians of the orchestra (depending on the sound you want to get you can change the usual places), how many microphones are going to be used to record the different instruments (which then influences the mixing), the recording order of the tracks (there are more complex themes that are best if recorded in the middle of the session, when the orchestra has “warmed up” and has become familiar with the music), etc…
Early in the morning Mikel F Krutzaga, sound engineer and session recording engineer, goes to the Slovak Radio studio to supervise that the seating/distribution plan he had previously designed and sent by mail has been followed (distribution of musicians, places to set the microphones etc.). This aspect, which may seem trivial, can substantially vary the final sound obtained during recording.
In addition to supervising the stage and the distribution, Mikel uses that extra time to place and adjust some additional microphones he believes will be necessary. In fact, in his light hand luggage, more than half of the space has been occupied by a couple of special microphones he’s brought from his studio (“these Finnish microphones are very good and get a special sound, which I think will come in handy for what we’re going to record” he told me during the trip).
Validating that everything is correctly prepared before the orchestra musicians arrive is essential, since once you start the stopwatch and start recording, there is no time to lose and you cannot start making corrections (or just the minimal ones)..
The composer, Manel Gil-Inglada, is visibly nervous as he will see how his “creature” comes to life in the hands of the musicians, and this is something that always imposes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in many recording sessions before. For this reason, he has accompanied Mikel from early in the morning to follow the process, although he really can’t do much more until the musicians arrive and start playing.
Around one o’clock in the afternoon, and an hour before the first block of the recording sessions begins, musicians start arriving. David has been with Manel and with Mikel for a while now, talking about the scores and the order in which the themes are going to be recorded; scores that have been arranged, orchestrated and prepared by Ferran Cruixent, Manel‘s usual collaborator.
There are some sections that are more complex than others, especially considering that when musicians sit in their places, it is the first time they will see the scores, so it is important to start with some simpler or repetitive parts, which can also be the basis for what will come next, and then increase the pace and intensity, as the session progresses and the previous warm-up has been done.
The musicians are located in their seats and some of them are looking at their sheets and rehearsing or reviewing what they have to play. The truth is that it has to be complicated to work as a professional musician in a recording session, where the first time you get a score in front of you, you have to perform it perfectly, but without knowing what other musicians around you are going to play, or with whom you will be synchronized or related at a musical level, since you do not know the overall structure of the piece.
It’s already two o’clock and Mikel launches the sessions. In the control room, Mikel is at the mixing table where he controls the levels of all the microphones and guarantees that the sound that is obtained is as pure as possible. Besides him, Martin Roller, the technician of the Slovak Radio studio, who is in charge of the computer that has Protools, the computer program used to record digitally all the music of the sessions.
Manel, sitting behind them at a table with the director’s score, reviews that what is actually being played is what is written on the paper and what was in his head when he composed the music (rhythm, tempo, intensity, instruments going in or out of the melody, etc…). He cannot avoid to start conducting “virtually” the orchestra moving his hand in the air, although the orchestra it is perfectly governed and commanded by David Hernando Rico, as we can see from the control room’s window, which has visibility of the entire auditorium.
The recording, contrary to what may seem, is not a continuous process, but rather is a process divided into many parts. The team starts recording a piece and if the music is being played as it should, they continue as long as possible to get the best take. If there are any de-synchronization between the musicians or something does not sound good, the recording is interrupted, and the expert ears of Manel, Mikel and David decide from which compass must be the take repeated, either to continue or just to repeat one certain fragment that has not been well performed.
That’s why in almost 5 hours of recording sessions you only get 15 minutes of effective music. You have to repeat a theme many times, since you have about 80 musicians on stage who have to play each part in a perfect and synchronized way, without rehearsals, live, with scores that are the first time they see and read.
Because of this, the result of a recording session will be multiple takes and fragments for a single theme, which have to be joined, polished and adjusted in the mixing sessions afterwards. A complex and arduous task, which will later get the final music we are used to listen in the soundtrack (either in the film or on the CD).
After watching a recording session in first person, I can only praise the work done by all the people involved there, so that the music we enjoy so much with our favorite movie, series or video game, sounds perfect, even if sometimes we are not aware of the number of work hours that are behind, to achieve a result that goes almost unnoticed.
Thinking about this, it also comes to my mind the complexity of a live film music concert, where although the level of perfection that has to be achieved is not the same as the level of a recording session, there, with a few previous rehearsals, the orchestra and the conductor must be able to perform almost perfectly a score live in concert for two hours (which is the usual duration of this type of concerts).
It is already 7 p.m. and we have finished the recording sessions. Time flies! Manel goes down to say hello to the orchestra and thanks them for their work. You can see satisfaction faces throughout the team, although you can also see some tiredness derived from the accumulated tension of so many hours. The day has been very productive and there has been enough time to record everything that was planned (sometimes doesn’t happen that way).
But the work doesn’t end here; besides dismantling and picking up the equipment and freeing the studio for the next recording session (which curiously will be the next day with Pascal Gaigne, with whom we happen to meet that night at the hotel), now the next step to build the soundtrack starts; the mixing sessions, which you can read in the next section.
Many times we think that once the soundtrack has been recorded with the musicians in the studio, the work is almost finished, but nothing is further from the truth. In the recording sessions, several takes of the same theme or of a single passage are recorded until the desired interpretation is obtained (always within the time limits that are available to record all the music), but then comes the time to put all those fragments together. We have different takes of the different instruments of the orchestra, recorded with different microphones, which have to be put together to create the final track; as if you had cloth remnants that had to be stitched to create a tailor-made suit.
When performing those mixes, the engineer has to take into account multiple factors, such as volume levels, sound cleanness, possible sound effects to apply, number of channels of the final mix, etc… In fact, it is at this moment when you have the opportunity to add tracks that may have been pre-recorded separately (additional percussion, particular instruments that are not part of the orchestra, etc…), as well as to make adjustments and corrections that could not be applied in-situ at the time of the recording.
During January 2018 and over several days, Mikel has been working on his studio polishing and building the final tracks with everything that has been obtained in the recording sessions. Once the desired result was achieved and it was mixed in Dolby Atmos 7.1, he invited Manel to approach the studio to supervise in person the final result and make the necessary corrections together.
That invitation was also extended to SoundTrackFest, so there I went to see the final result, in which both Mikel and Manel had been working, and well, what can I say … simply spectacular! I would not change a note!
The time to enjoy Hullabaloo with the great music of Manel Gil-Inglada is coming closer, so… hold on a little bit more, and soon we will bring you some interviews with the protagonists of this article: David, Mikel and Manel, with a lot of interesting facts about the process of building the soundtrack.
Article by Gorka Oteiza