PARMA Takes Futura: The Carl Vollrath Sessions

As something of a DIY producer myself (though having worked primarily with mixers not exceeding four inputs), I walked in to the studio at Futura Productions expecting to be impressed, and I was not disappointed. This is truly a state-of-the-art facility with more knobs and wires than I would know what to do with. The recording space is something to marvel at in itself, having at times boasted upwards of 60 musicians at once; in this instance, there were only two: clarinetist  Michael Norsworthy and pianist Yoko Hagino, but their performances filled out the room nonetheless. Check out fellow A&R rep Chris Robinson’s previous post which includes a nice photo of the facilities: http://parmarecordings.blogspot.com/2014/05/parma-takes-futura-alan-beeler-and.html

If you haven’t heard of Alabama-based composer Carl Vollrath, I’d highly suggest plugging his name into your favorite streaming audio service and taking a listen; here’s a link to his 2008 release Jack’s Fat Cat on Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/album/6LuSil7I3NffayOc81nDGy. As I heard Michael express during the sessions, it’s nice to hear modern music that sounds really conventionally beautiful; even as an avid appreciator of the atonal and the avant-garde, I can certainly see where he was coming from, especially with music as well-crafted and emotionally-charged as Carl’s.

Thanks to our artist coordinator Derek Thibault, I was able to follow along with scores on my laptop as Michael and Yoko superbly performed through section after section of Carl’s works, usually three takes at a time; Carl was amazed at how much attention they were putting into every note and phrase of his work. It was an enlightening experience to sit and listen as, from take to take, the interpretation of the musicians began to emerge, and the music developed into something new. One piece in which I thought this process was especially pronounced was called “Copeland’s Coda” – many of the pieces recorded for this album have similar titles inspired by composers of the past.

Carl seemed thoroughly impressed by these sessions, commenting on more than one occasion that the recording hall was perfect for this sort of music. He was equally impressed with Futura’s engineer John Weston and PARMA’s lead producer Andy Happel; he expressed he had never worked with someone like Andy before who was so adept at addressing the smallest details, being also an avid musician himself.

(from left to right: John, Andy, Carl, Yoko, Mike)

Carl later mentioned that Michael Norsworthy’s technique and performance reminded him very much of Grammy-winner Richard Stoltzman, who had recorded some of his music previously (and whom PARMA has worked with on multiple releases). Michael replied that Stoltzman was the very reason he took up the clarinet, and that he had been fortunate enough to have studied with Richard personally. Yoko was equally proficient, and was acclaimed as the silent hero of the day as she played through take after take with an incredible depth of expression and accuracy.

All in all, this was a truly wonderful experience; it’s not every day one gets to see performers of this magnitude taking on new music of this caliber and collaborating with the composer to create a version of music all its own. It’s mind-boggling how much practice and preparation goes into such a thing, both in performance and composition, not only for these specific works in particular, but also for all the hours of training and dedication to the craft of music; when it all comes together, it can be a truly humbling and inspiring experience.
Look out for this finished release sometime in early 2015; you’ll be glad you did.

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