Friday, December 31, 2010

A Day In The Life

The Beatles - A Day in the Life
(I am posting this essay by Bernard Beney, The French Philosopher who actually teaches the philosophy of rock. Bernard is a real family friend and sent this today as a gift and I have tried to translate it into my clumsy English  from his extremely elegant French)
The recording of A Day in the Life comes in the wake of the very
successful experimental recording sessions of Penny Lane and Strawberry
Fields Forever, which were initially planned for Sgt Pepper but finally released as a
single. John Paul then outdid themselves with the help of audio engineers
working with producer George Martin. This was an extremely confident period which created a special collective atmosphere of work and creation.
One morning  the four arrived in the studio and offer a song by John
they have worked to arrange, it is called In The Life Of,
John sings and plays acoustic guitar and Paul, piano. But with 3
verse and  two choruses (I'd love to turn you on) the song is considered
incomplete. They decide to record it anyway but leaving the
an emptiness where Paul then places a composition derived from his sketch of a piece...
(Woke up / Fell out of bed). But even with the inspiration of Paul, there remained
 24 measures to complete. John proposes to create a sound that would swell up in volume.
 Paul suggests using  a full symphony orchestra. Too expensive for George Martin.
Ringo is the solution: "get half of an orchestra and record it
twice. "They will ask the musicians to rise slowly from the lowest note of their instruments to the highest while slowly starting to play more and harder. In addition it was decided
use the same sound effect to end the song... Yes, but how
get that from classical musicians? You can not ask them to simply just play or improvise.That gave John the brilliant idea to distribute their paper hats and fake noses and create
an atmosphere of celebration or carnival that will break the ice.

The idea was eventually chosen to create a kind of happening and to invite
all their Swinging London friends and them asked to dress in their best Carnaby Street Outfits.  The  orchestral musicians, of course were told to wear their tuxedos. 
Assistants were sent to joke shops to buy ridiculous hats, false noses,
clown wigs, fake bald heads, legs and gorilla masks and 
tons of fake boobs. Balloons would be released to fill the space
higher in the studio.
The session is scheduled for mid-afternoon.
While the musicians confer, they party favors are distributed. They
are surprised at first and grumble, but most end up dressing up
somehow. Those who have worked with the Beatles before encourage
others. "It's alright, it's all in fun." Guests
arrive: the Stones, Marianne Faithful, Donovan, Graham Nash, etc.. and many more, including
Brian Epstein. It throws out some free riders. The four
finally arrive and rush to their guests. Conductor
Erich Gruenberg consults with George Martin and Paul, he is not sure
understand what is expected of musicians but he will try to
implement the instruction: each will play for himself, without listening to others
by performing a climb from the lowest to the highest notes. The
musicians are first appalled. George Martin and Paul spread among
musicians to clarify the situation. Start popping the balloons
on all sides. George Martin, who has the trust and  confidence of most
musicians can only tell them: "Trust me, everything will be fine."
It was decided to first "rehearse".
By half past two there will be 8 in all, Paul and George Martin
trying his hand in turn in the direction of the orchestra, but the musicians
know that each time they are recorded on separate tracks will not be erased and then carefully mixed produce the great
chromatic ascent. In the end, says Geoff Emerick, George Martin when
thanked the musicians, "Gentlemen, it's in the can," everyone
musicians, The Beatles and guests began to applaud. People in the orchestra
returned home. The studio was upside down, it stank of wine and
pot, but everyone was still there well after midnight for a
last listening experience. All still reeling from the surprise of having
experienced such a historic moment.

To finish the story I must say a word about the piano tuning which closes
the song and album. Two weeks after that meeting the Beatles, except
George, are back in the studio putting the finishing touches on A Day In The
Life, with, according to Paul's idea: a monstrous piano chord that would last
"Eternally". For this he had to commandeer all the pianos and
keyboards available at Abbey Road and have as many people to hit
the same chord simultaneously, then repeat this twice more
while tinkering with the  volume settings decreasing to
obtain the desired  sustain effect.

This episode has fascinated me because I always believed that 
Sgt Pepper was concocted by Paul and George Martin in secret
Abbey Road studios and from audio engineers magic. Now you
see, this was not the case at all. Truly an heroic era.

(Thank you very much Bernard, and I also believe that this was a truly heroic era, a time of invention, a time of vision, when a bass player had to work his ass off to propel a song and creating new sounds was so much more epic than just sampling some one elses beats!)


Anonymous said...

I do so enjoy stories about the creative impulse made real.

Flying Junior said...

Thank you Microdot. That is nothing short of fascinating!

microdot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.