Did you know that every note of every performance in the Glyndebourne Festival is recorded? This commitment to preserving our audio history is a testament to the legacy of the late John Barnes, who died in 2008, and central to the New Generation Programme’s new media ambitions. John’s dedication to sound recording at Glyndebourne has left us an extraordinary musical archive which goes all the way back to the 1960s. Today, his invaluable work is continued by Recording Producer Sébastien Chonion.
Sebastien Chonion and John Barnes“John Barnes’s legacy to Glyndebourne is inestimable” says Sébastien “I feel honoured to be part of the team that will continue to ensure that his dedication to music is recognised.”
It is clear that Sébastien shares that dedication. Making an effective recording of a performance is not like producing a regular CD, for example, which might involve two or three principal studio sessions. As much editing material as possible is required (hence the nightly recording during the Festival) and the position of the microphones is critical. Interestingly, less really can mean “more” in this last respect.
“A battery of microphones may give a complete sound picture but the effect will be distorted.” says Sébastien “You actually want to reduce the number of microphones. You need to get to the essence of the sound, to reproduce, as far as possible, the effect of listening to the performance in the audience.”
Recording, of course, is only the beginning. Once Sébastien sets to work on post-production he is faced with the task of editing several recordings together and enhancing or ‘cleaning’ the sound quality, where required. Real performances mean surplus noise that becomes intrusive in playback. Even something as innocuous as a video monitor in the wings makes its presence felt as a mild but constant hum. Thanks to the technology at his disposal, Sébastien can deal with this, just as he can deal with the odd cough, sneeze or dropped Programme book in the audience. The process, though, takes much skill and is a delicate balance.
“Editing on a computer is far easier than it used to be but you have to be careful’ he says “You still want this recording to play like a live performance. You want to have it perfect but avoid becoming sterile.”
Sébastien compares it to playing an instrument but he is also a sort of virtual conductor, after the fact – teasing the best out of the orchestra and singers by seeking out their best work amongst the recordings. Delicate and precise edits are required and a seamless transition is achieved through what is known as a ‘cross-fade’. In the past, this would have to be done manually by splicing two sections of tape together along a diagonal line, but the computer aids matters considerably these days.
The improvement of historical recordings presents new challenges. Tape hiss needs to be removed and this is a delicate operation because too much correction can remove elements of the music itself. ‘As always, it’s a balance,’ says Sébastien, ‘You want to freshen it up but it is imperative to keep the piece authentic.’
Anybody who has heard the wonderful recordings released so far on Glyndebourne’s own CD label will certainly appreciate John and Sébastien’s efforts. They are admirable proponents of John Christie’s legacy – Not the best we can do, but the best that can be done anywhere.