Sound Q&A: All Together Now

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For the Sony Walkman spot "Music Pieces," Fallon, London enlisted Soundtree music director Peter Raeburn to gather 128 musicians in an underused Victorian theatre in Alexandra Palace, North London to create a one-of-a-kind performance. We spoke with Raeburn about the instrument selection, music composition and more.How did you decide on what instruments to use?

As always it was a process. We all discussed the issues of how various instruments sound and look and ended up with a particular combination of old, new, acoustic, electric and electronic instruments. We selected instruments suitable for the concept of only one note at a time, a unique band of instruments and musicians. There were 13 different kinds of instruments.

Were there any instruments you wanted to use but didn't because they couldn't fit into the dynamic?

We thought about strings and singers but in the end they didn't feel right. Also grand pianos, musical saws, theremins, and pretty much everything was looked into at one time or another.

Where did all the different musicians come from and what was that selection process like?

Most of the players are top musicians working in the U.K. and beyond. We scoured every school and college and the casting director Anna Stark held many casting sessions around the country. Rhythm, great score-reading and lots of performance experience were the key.

The team at Soundtree all worked with (director) Nick Gordon and (Fallon creative director) Juan Cabral to get the right combinations for camera and microphones, and the whole team project managed by Nick Nash tirelessly went through endless casting sessions and photos and audio clips and recommendations to get the right combination for the final selection.

Where did the composition come from and how did you decide on it?

This piece is an original composition in collaboration between me, Jason Pierce, and Nick Foster. We researched and discussed many possibilities and then set on the road to writing for this very particular idea.We were both writing the music and story boarding the spot at the same time, so (that meant) working well in the studio with the director and the creative team was essential. That way, the pictures and soundtrack grew together and informed each other.

What did the piece aim to accomplish?

The piece needed to survive a lot of repeat hearing, to be something that musicians would want to pass on to each other, and to be something that is interesting and original enough to warrant this event.

What were some of the biggest challenges to overcome?

So many things, from the logistics of filming and recording simultaneously, to the timings and synchronicity of everything, the sonics, the composition, orchestration and mixing techniques all of which we designed specially for this project. Working with the musicians, and tuning them to a different way of thinking where they were asked to use their expertise to hit one note perfectly with the right feel and precision rhythmically, was an important part of the process. It had to be a spontaneous performance and a lack of any real rehearsals ironically helped this. The most important thing is we had fun doing this job and hopefully this shows.

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