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Thread: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

  1. #26

    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    Thanks for the input! I wish it were that easy. I usually leave my mandolin in the recording room overnight to acclimate it before I show up. Then, between the warmup and the many takes, I usually spend about 90 minutes trying to record. The A strings still go significantly (2-4 Hz) sharp within 30 seconds of starting to play again, even at the end of the recording session. A humidity change would likely be asymptotic, eventually slowly leveling out, and would take a bit to take effect between tunings. I'm pretty sure it has more to do with the fact that the nut is 18 years since its last refresh, and my "flat-to-sharp" tuning method (the standard method, especially for violinists) leaves some tension "stuck" behind the nut that ends up releasing once I start playing. I was super careful last string change a month or so ago to clean and re-graphite the grooves, but the problem remains. These last couple months have been the only time in the last ~20 years of playing this mandolin that I've had the issue.

  2. #27
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    Remaining tension is indeed an issue that I deal with. I usually just pick hard/loud, from both directions, to settle the A strings. I also do not use only increasing-tension tuning direction. I will wiggle the peg a little to relieve excess tension behind the nut.

    An old nut probably has the strings sinking into a tight slot. Good reason to make a new one. Alternately, file the slots after shimming the nut higher.

    The newer the strings the less they bind, likely because of less accumulated corrosion. I also resort to actual light machine oil, which the Micarta I use for the nut doesn't mind.
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  3. #28

    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    I love this movement. There are a couple special things about it. First, the intervals Bach writes in are truly inspired, beyond what you'd expect from any Baroque music... some really juicy dissonances. Second, this is the only Sarabande in all the Bach Cello Suites that is written one note at a time: there are no double stops or chords of any kind. This makes it one of the loneliest-sounding songs ever written.

    On the cello, this loneliness is emphasized in the mournful low sonorous register of the instrument with all its beautiful sustained bowed notes. Unfortunately, the mandolin is diametrically opposite in its mechanical abilities: it's soprano and plucked. But the notations of the music call for sweet, sustained notes... which led me to try something daring. Instead of playing in the normal soprano register of the mandolin, I decided to play... an octave higher...

    ...entirely in artificial harmonics.

    This makes the song more than three times as hard, because I have to still nail the left-hand fingering, but now I must pile on top moving the right hand "touch-point" to make the harmonic every single note, plus holding the pick between my thumb and middle finger and using a strange coordinated twisting motion. Now, instead of mournful, this song is haunting and ethereal. The harmonics sustain more evenly than regular notes. I had a little more fun with the reverbs too.

    I'm pretty happy with this effort, and I hope you enjoy it too!

    I'll be taking an extra week off now. My mandolin has been needing some work on it, and I'm finally sending it out to Mr. Bruce Weber in Montana tomorrow. I definitely won't be finishing the Cello Suites in 2020, but I will finish them, and hopefully with an instrument that's not fighting back so much!

    Last edited by Phil.Woodhull; Nov-08-2020 at 2:05pm.

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  5. #29

    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    Back in the saddle again, and with some upgrades! Got a new phone, so I'm using that as my video source now (hello 1080p!), using the microphones on the phone to seed the reverb channel, and most importantly, Mandolin has made his great journey out and back from Montana to see Mr. Bruce Weber for a well-deserved spa day at Montana Lutherie. Got new frets, a new nut, a smoothed out neck, and intonation and playability tuned up. It's working pretty awesome now! (The flat intonation is due to my deliberate decision for this Suite, not anything wrong with the mandolin or setup.)

    And boy was it good the instrument was easier to play: this is one of the hardest movements in the Suites. Thankfully, even getting spun back up to form after a couple weeks without a mandolin, and getting this song ready for camera, my hand and arm are still feeling really good! Huzzah!

    Still not a perfect take, but that's still OK! Got it done, and now I move on to the Gigue and hopefully will get that laid down before the end of the year. That leaves Suite 6 (the final suite!) for the beginning of 2021.


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  7. #30
    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    I’m not going to live long enough to memorize that. Beautiful!

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  9. #31

    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    The final recording of 2020, and so ends Suite 5! The trills weren't what I could hope for, but the rest was acceptable.

    Got a Blue Chip pick for Christmas (CT 55), and I used it for this song. The tone is clearer than the Wegen TF140 I've been using since Episode 4.5 (Suite 4, Movement 5) and the friction from the pick is nearly non-existant (so less pick "grind" noise), but it's a little harder to dig tone out of my medium-quality mandolin. Hopefully I'll be able to tweak my pick stroke over the next few weeks a little to compensate.

    See you in 2021 with Suite 6, and the completion of the Johnny Bach Resolution! Standby for the most ludicrously exhilarating movement of the whole collection!


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  11. #32
    Registered User Ken_P's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    I'm just catching up on the last few entries in this series and I have to comment on the Sarabande, it's extraordinary. Your solution to finding more sustain in an already haunting movement really adds a new layer to the piece and it's really beautiful. Very good work on the other movements of suite 5 too, none of them are easy.

    I'm curious what key you plan on playing suite 6 in. I notice you've been very sensibly playing everything up a fifth to preserve the fingerings but with the sixth suite being written for a 5 string instrument, I find it makes much more sense to play it as written in D. That prelude is probably my favorite piece to play on mandolin but it's a workout for sure. Good luck!

  12. #33

    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    Nice Phil - That might be my favorite piece of music ever. Thanks
    I'm still working on my rendition.

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  14. #34

    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken_P View Post
    I'm just catching up on the last few entries in this series and I have to comment on the Sarabande, it's extraordinary. Your solution to finding more sustain in an already haunting movement really adds a new layer to the piece and it's really beautiful. Very good work on the other movements of suite 5 too, none of them are easy.
    Thanks! Very gracious of you!

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken_P View Post
    I'm curious what key you plan on playing suite 6 in. I notice you've been very sensibly playing everything up a fifth to preserve the fingerings but with the sixth suite being written for a 5 string instrument, I find it makes much more sense to play it as written in D. That prelude is probably my favorite piece to play on mandolin but it's a workout for sure. Good luck!
    I plan on playing it in D, as you said. I'm using Polo's violin transcription of the Suites for the notes thus far, but there really haven't been any differences from the cello recordings I have indelibly engraved in my neurons (other than one incorrect note I found a few movements ago). I'm ignoring his fingerings, dynamics, and phrasing and making this my own. However, for Suite 6, I don't agree with some of the octaves he chooses for some of the passages (or even some of the individual notes, where he tries to straddle an octave break), so I'm modifying from Polo slightly to keep the emotion I want. Some of the octave jumps will need to be delineated just by pick articulations rather than actual movements up the neck/register. Should be fun!

  15. #35

    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    LUDICROUS EXHILARATION! This song just screams "I'M SO HAPPY!"

    The ironic part is that, today, I wasn't. I woke up feeling overwhelmed, and had a crushing day under that feeling. No reason in particular, but mentally and emotionally I was not happy, or bold, or energetic, or daring. This performance, in all its imperfection, is a great big "take THAT" to the previous 12 hours.

    My mandolin isn't set up well for this song. In all the efforts I take not to re-aggravate old muscle and tendon injuries, I have my action set very low and use light gauge strings. The buzzing is just my version of "analog overdrive," because there is no way in my mind to play this song without absolutely maxing out the volume on the instrument a lot. (Again: LUDICROUS EXHILARATION!)

    It's possibly my favorite movement in all of the suites. I hope you enjoy!


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  17. #36

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    Today, we have a nice slow Baroque dance where I was really just enjoying the sound of the instrument. I used a different pick than I've used the last few weeks (D'Addario's "Chris Thile" Casein, rather than the Blue Chip CT-55), just to pull out more yummy deep woodiness from the sound. I kinda like that pick, except it's a little harder to be precise and it's not as slick and fast as the Blue Chip. For this song, that's fine.

    I had a reasonable full take on attempt #3 recording today, but I'm glad I spent the extra hour or so going for a better take. I think this was about a 98% good take... super happy with that on a straight-through single take that's four and half minutes long! Enjoy!


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  19. #37

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    This was a fun song for me to practice: lots of fun little runs to run around with, some fun cross-string jumps, a few harmonics sprinkled in, all good things. This was less fun to record: there were apparently about two things more to remember all at one time than my brain could handle. Maybe after I put this song away for a while and come back to it I'll have the brain bytes to spare and nail the recording. As it is, I consider it a good 12 days' work, learning and recording this for the first time. Episode 33 of 36 complete! It's the final countdown! Enjoy!


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  21. #38

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    Sorry... fell a little behind posting my recent recordings! This one wasn't as fun for me. It's really hard to get the different melodic lines to come through, and the fingerings and playability of my instrument (having just switched back to medium gauge strings) made everything hurt trying to do as well as I could. I hope to come back to this one someday, with lighter strings again... or maybe stronger fingers. Sorry about the low camera angle: I was rushing down to get the take before dinner, and I didn't take the time to double check my shots!

    Only two movements after this before it's MISSION COMPLETE!


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  23. #39

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    THE PENULTIMATE RECORDING! It's hard to believe there's only a single movement left in this project, 14 months after I laid down the first Prelude! This is the other song that I've kind of known forever, since it (along with the Suite 3 Bourrée) is one of the songs from the Suzuki violin books. Therefore, this was an easy one to learn and record, right? Wrong! There are a lot more chords in the "real" version of this song, and it took me a while to break a lot of 20-year-old habits. A lot of natural fingerings had to change so I could have enough fingertips available to hit all the extra notes.

    I waffled on which pick I wanted to use for this song, practicing for weeks with my Blue Chip CT55, but then switching the night before recording to the Wegen TF140 again. The tone isn't as pure and clear, but it just sounded more bright and full, the the tip shape just brings out smoother playing. Enjoy!


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  25. #40

    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    It. Is. Finished! The world's first recording of the complete Bach Cello Suites on mandolin is done! It's not perfect, but it's complete! If I had tried for the perfection of Chris Thile, or Carlo Aonzo, or Avi Avital, or Mike Marshall, I would have never come this far. 36 movements, 15 months... it has been an amazing journey.

    I still love almost all these movements (*side-eye at Suite 4's Prelude*), even if my family is getting a bit tired of them. I'm going to continue practicing these and maybe in the future a more polished version will emerge. I've been able to build technique farther than I ever have before, and found a way to practice and play that is so much less harmful to my hand and arm.

    Thanks to all who have followed me on this journey. I hope you have also gained just a bit of the enjoyment I get out of this music, and I hope that some of you will be inspired to go and play this music even better!

    I share the wish of Bach himself when I say, here at the end of this:
    Soli Deo Gloria!


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  27. #41
    Registered User Ken_P's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    Congrats on completing the whole thing!!! I absolutely love the gigue of the sixth suite, it's so much fun to play. This is probably the movement that you miss the lower string the most, that final arpeggio down the entire range of the instrument to the low D is so satisfying. I highly recommend getting a 10 string just for this movement! All in all, it was a delight to follow along as you recorded through these. I wish I had the time and the nerve to do some of these myself, if I manage to get myself in gear enough to record them you'll get credit.

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  29. #42
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    Default Re: Recording through the Bach Cello Suites

    Amazing accomplishment. A thousand thanks for sharing these.
    And yes, SDG!
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