I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Takes two to tango

I worked hard on Lilacs over the weekend, trying to pin down those slippery minor-key lines: recording them then strangling them as failures.  Just when my wheezy voice started to give up (the cold, as I feared, aroused bronchiectasis which will hang around two months) I detected some progress and went downstairs to company, wine, booze, telly and oblivion.

I reported back to V on Monday, insisting any linking of our voices in a Lilacs duet - my ultimate aim - was ages away.

But V, while sympathetic and boundlessly encouraging, is a teacher and knows best. We sang Lilacs as a duet for the first time ever. Timing (hard to rehearse solo) was the stumbling block and I lost my way twice, thrice. Thought I'd bollixed it.

V differed. "Well done you," she said, which is as good as good gets. Said I’d held my line, hadn’t allowed her more powerful melodious voice (the wick turned way down in this case) to drag me on to her line.

But why should I want to sing a duet, being but a shuffling octogenarian? Because, done well, a duet doesn’t just sound terrific, it is terrific. Perhaps, also, for the same reason my novels have women as central characters. All-male talk wearies me, man without woman is less than half what he should be.

So I’m guilty of positive discrimination. George Eliot, Beryl Burton and Mrs Pankhurst would say I could spare a bit.

And here’s a point: with the best duets only the audience wins.


marly said...

Duets are joyful. I like their element of give and take and exchange. Can't wait to hear The Recording.

Roderick Robinson said...

Marly: Thanks for the comment. Not everyone (and I sympathise completely) is equally interested in my febrile observations about an impulse I possibly should have ignored.

I agree about joyful, give-and-take and exchanges. Interesting, the most memorable duet I know of is non-vocal and occurs in the second movement of LvB's fourth piano concerto. Even so your comments apply in spades.

Of course the view from inside a duet is rather different; as with other forms of practice I concentrated so hard I ended up bathed in sweat. V doesn't approve but not for reasons of hygiene; singing must seem effortless, she says. And the harder it gets, the more effortless.

Last Monday we did the duet proper only once. Otherwise I might have spontaneously combusted. Aural concatenations, lasting a few milliseconds, made themselves known two or three times, just enough for me to recognise unison - of a sort.

Alas, I don't envisage a duet recording. Duets will only occur chez V. Getting her piano into my atelier would be impossible and that's where the desktop (on which I record) is located. Nevertheless I am working (sweatily) towards a postable recording of my second line in Lilacs and yesterday I did a dozen complete and partial attempts, all now deleted. I realise I'm approaching the moment of put-up or shut-up; but a heightened ability to spot vocal flaws plus an admixture of cowardice are delaying publication. Tone is a recurrent problem; I seem to growl the opening notes. Most unmusical.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Good you! Bravo for soldiering on, regardless of bronchial whatnot. I too look forward to the next recording, whatever it may be.

If you had one of those little portable voice-recording things (dictaphones they used to be called. I know they're available in currently updated form) you could take it to your lesson, switch it on while you and/or V duet or solo, and tell her you want to use it for reference when you practice at home. That's not a lie, but you could then...if you wish...make a recdording for usto hear. Pourquoi pas?

Roderick Robinson said...

Nathalie. The portable recorder idea had occurred to me but it raises more problems than it resolves. Not all of them obvious.

Using the computer as a recorder is a comparatively new development for me and requires a horrible degree of self-abnegation. Imagining (in my head) I'd progressed, I'd switch the machine on, sing into it, and grit my teeth in response to what I heard.

Well-meaning readers of Tone Deaf and other friends tried to comfort me by pointing out the computer is hardly hi-fi, that what I heard was a distortion of what I'd sung. It was a kind gesture on their part but I was ahead of them as was the technology. The software I use displays a real-time trace of my vocal input; whenever the trace changes from green to red I know I'm in trouble; I'm overloading the recording level and what had started out nominally as music becomes electro-mechanical noise, generated by physical vibration.

Simple: increase the recording level. And then it's the loudspeakers that are overloaded. A portable recorder, because of its smallness, suffers from these defects multiplied by n, where n is a large number.

Never mind. This is a technological problem and it can be minimised. Or at least allowed for. By shutting down some of my critical faculties I was able to use the computer as an imperfect guide.

And here we move on to the heartless truths the computer can reveal. What had seemed to me to a reasonable speed of singing turns out to be woefully slow. It's a beginner's tendency. Simple again: speed up. Except that speeding up greatly increases the exigencies of breathing. And other things. Tone, for instance, is a bedevilment.

Doubtless you ceased reading this re-comment several paragraphs back. Who wants all this techno-talk? Singing's straightforward; open up the mouth, record, check out the bits that are out of tune, next time sing them in tune. As you said when you heard my recording of Abschied on July 22: "it's not currently at the standard you're aiming for" (although to give you credit you attempted to soften this perfectly legitimate observation).

The fact is I was hopelessly optimistic in posting that recording. It was meant as a progress report and it does show some progress provided the listener knows what this progress compares with.. Without this qualifier the untutored listener hears mainly the imperfections (gross faults I should say) and responds accordingly. This isn't malice on the listener's part, it's inevitable.

When I listened to that July 22 recording a week later I was appalled. Immediately I did ten more recordings and junked them all. It's not that I'm a blushing violet when I come to singing; it's that I'm a mere nine months into a project that started from Ground Zero, in January I had no voice, no competence, no technical understanding - nothing. Secretly I believe I've come some way; certainly I've surprised V by the obsessional work I've done on my own. But the evidence a recording provides shouldn't be offered for general consumption.

It's my fault. I recognised I'd moved forward and wanted to blab about it. What I hadn't recognised was the smallness of that forward step.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, I'm aware that nothing I can say will dissuade you from perfectionism (though you don't believe in perfection) or persuade you that posting a less-than-perfect recording will not disappoint us, your online audience, even if it disapponts you, so I'm going to stick with technology since I'm the official geek here in comments-land.

Get thee to a techy shop and buy thyself an external microphone, perhaps even one like the one I have: Logitech brand, a small,unassuming object taking up minimal desk space. It vastly improves recording quality. You can then go to Audacity (I think I was instrumental in suggesting that to you too a while back) with the mic plugged in, and make your recording. I think that after however many takes you discard, there will be one which you'll deem fit to post for our enjoyment of your progress.

Roderick Robinson said...

Nathalie: I'm not sure you understand the situation. Nothing to do with perfectionism (which doesn't mean aiming to be perfect, by the way), more the point at which a collection of defects starts to become a musical performance. And that's at the lowest level.
At the moment only a trained teacher, hearing a posted file, would be able to assess how far I've come since this would be an objective not a subjective judgment. Enjoyment wouldn't be on offer and amateur listeners would be at a loss.

I already have a good microphone and software which improves on Audacity. But both work with a desktop computer attached to a cat's cradle of interconnecting cable and weighing 5 kg. V and her accompanying piano live six miles away. A lesson lasts one hour and setting up and disconnecting the computer would probably take 20 minutes. Besides which V assesses what I sing as it happens; no need to waste time on a replay.

And no, I'm not going to buy a laptop since I need the desktop with its monster screen for DTP.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

I did and do understand anout perfection - can't I just pull your leg a bit?

I did thing my techy suggestion was worthwhile. When you wrote that your computer's recording option was poor (it generally is in most computers) I understood it to mean that you didn't have an external microphone which plugs into the computer. It seems you have, so that's good.

I also didn't mean that you should take the computer and mic to your lesson! What I meant was that you could record any part of the lesson on a small portable recorder (as mentioned in previous comment) then take that home to your desktop computer and, with the help of the external mic and Audacity, you could come up with an acceptable recording. That's what I would do, in your shoes. But of course I'm not in your shoes.

Roderick Robinson said...

Nathalie: Pull my leg? It's dead easy but where's the fun? There has to be a clue somewhere that that's what you're up to. Otherwise it's indistinguishable from fibbing.

The techie suggestion brings its own problem. Apart from offering truly execrable sound quality a portable recorder would be incompatible with being taught: there's no guarantee that an hour's lesson would contain any material that's remotely postable; that isn't why I'm there. The only complete version of the song might well be the first and that would be the one with the most errors. Thereafter I often sing fragments, stand corrected, and sing them again.

To stop off and try and make a satisfactory postable recording would waste valuable teaching time. That's why I make my best (complete) shots at home where I can record, check, delete and re-record as many times as I like.

Autocratically you say this (ie, the portable) is what you would do but you haven't thought this through. My aim is to learn to sing. Posting progress is secondary, I'd like to do it for the sake of those who've shown interest but I'm damned if I'm going to post some half-assed recording that might embarrass non-singers into silence.

But we're getting argumentative. This is what happened before and I was (probably justifiably) criticised by all and sundry when I withdrew. Call me weak-kneed or a wimp but I too can tell a hawk from a handsaw. Why don't we put this one to bed. I appreciate your interest but regard me as an aged coward whose primary aim with Tone Deaf is to entertain and be entertained. From my point of view this exchange isn't going that way. The laurels are yours.