Learning Materials For The Aspiring Music Producer & Engineer

Glenn Gould – The Last Recording

Siegfried Idyll

My earliest assignments with Glenn Gould were editing and mixing for his various piano recordings and film scores until the beginning of 1982. It was then that Glenn first mentioned conducting and recording an orchestra with the intention of determining his physical stamina and demonstrating a personal objective of revealing a composer’s-conductor’s interpretation of a musical work utilizing one’s own creative techniques…

It was a welcoming and enticing challenge for both of us, for we equally concurred that we did not posses much familiarity in this sphere of recording, Glenn with limited conducting experience and myself with modest orchestral recording training. He also felt that recording additional piano repertoire was no longer of much appeal and challenging for him.

Recording Beethoven-Winter 1982

Glenn contacted his long time colleague Victor DiBello fro m his Stratford days, to contract local musicians from a local orchestra to perform for the recording. With Glenn’s approval, Victor contacted a Julliard music student, Jon Klibonoff to perform the piano element for Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto. Glenn had previously performed the same piece in 1957 and with this new undertaking, expressed a desire to record it much slower with more attenti on on phrasing with an enhanced colouring of themes. The recording took place with musicians from the Hamilton Philharmonic in a very dry sounding hall at Mohawk College , which did not prove to be a pleasant and rewarding event! The musicians were not atte ntive and respectful to Glenn’s enigmatic conducting, which in itself was somewhat of a display of imprecise acrobatics. The musicians often spoke amongst themselves when the score read “tacit”, which later could not be eradicated in post – production. Upon careful listening, Glenn soon recognized this challenge was far more daunting and intimidating than he originally realized. It was with the advice and analysis of DiBello that the primary challenge of fulfilling his goal was in obtaining a professional cal iber grouping of musicians.

Never one to be discouraged, Glenn chose to give conducting another attempt. With Glenn, the desire to never quit was indelible and indestructible. It wasn’t that long before he resurrected another of his recordings; Wagner’s intensely poetic ” Siegfried Idyll”, to be chosen as his next conducting experiment. His desire was to interpret his piano transcription as an orchestral framework with the similar sinuous tempo. DiBello took his time choosing appropriate musicians and we nt as far as hand picking each individual. Glenn aligned himself with Wagner’s original line up of thirteen musicians and par for the course, chose to stay within the Romantic genre.

Recording Wagner – July 1982

Glenn’s choice of recording venue was Toronto’s St. Lawrence Hall, a location familiar to him from previous recording days. Unlike Mohawk College, the acoustics of this venue were predisposed and suitable for the romantic genre. It had a reverb time of almost three seconds, which enhanced melodic idea s through the amplitude elongation of the overall audio waveform.

At this stage of our relationship Glenn was quite comfortable with my various unorthodox record ing techniques, which allowed for the enhancing of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic ideas in the recording and potential mixing phases.

I made the choice of using a close microphone pick – up for I did not want the overall sound to become harmonically confusi ng and objectionable which I would never be able to correct in post – production. I did however have the option to create a more distant pick – up in the post – mixing stage if the situation warranted it.

So on July 27, 1982 I set up for a stereo remote record ing with microphones in one of the corners of St. Lawrence Hall. As I set up the tape recorders in a separate room, I could see Glenn ascending the stairs with his famous mode of cartage, a “Glad” garbage bag containing the music scores. When all the music ians were present, Glenn famously went into his best directorial role of explaining the unorthodox recording process that would soon be undertaken.

Glenn clearly explained that we were not at all going to embark on the traditional mode of recording classi cal music which is usually a couple of takes of completed performances from beginning to end, with maybe 1 or 2 edit insertions. He informed the musicians that we would be recording multiple takes of musical sections from one bar to another bar in the scor e, eventually working chronologically from the beginning of the score to the end. Glenn would also revisit sections in the score randomly for rerecording purposes. The musicians tried to convey that they understood his directions, but it was fairly obvious that they still were to some extent confused at what he was referring to. All present thought it would be much better if everyone simply jump ed in to a “swimming pool” style with reckless abandon and begin the recording process.

I must say from my observation of the musicians was that Victor DiBello had done his homework incredibly well. The musicians he assembled deeply respected Glenn and they appreciated that he informed them that their opinions would always be heard and measurably valued. When he stopp ed to provide direction, you could hear a pin drop, for they were so attentive and dedicated to listening to every instruction he elucidated. Even tually Glenn felt right at home; we were all becoming family. Glenn at the earliest stage somehow knew all the ir names and called them on a first name basis all through the recording sessions, which they sincerely and memorably treasured. After a couple starts and stops and approved takes, they soon adapted to his syllabus of recording.

What was consistently pe rplexing for them was Glenn’s eccentric conducting technique. He never used a conductor’s baton and instead opted to provide leisurely sweeping movements with his left hand to maintain the concept of ensemble and continuity. It would only be a matter of s econds when he would veer off into his own contemplative state and assume the role of a privileged listener appreciating what was being bestowed upon his heavenly ears. I believe that it was not a mere coincidence that while he was totally absorbed as a fi nely tuned listener in the experie nce, he was also “the conductor”.

Glenn conducting in his own captive world was forever challenging for the musicians, where they eventually abandoned his conducting directions and chose to use a chamber approach, cueing each other while Glenn enjoyed being swept away in the what for him was a celestial performance.

The musicians surprisingly realized that Glenn had the tenacity and discipline to do repeated takes and never lose a subjective and objective analysis of wh at was recorded. When he felt that he had an excellent take, he would tell me to make a note and instruct the orchestra to move on to the “next to be recorded ” section.” He then informed them from memory what he wanted with regards to performance – interpret ation and we would again start recording. This recording process carried on for two more days until the last note was performed. Once the last note finally decayed, Glenn received generous and expressive applause from musicians, thanked them and informed t hem that their cheques were in the m ail, which was accompanied by a spontaneous outburst of gregarious laughter. However, the relieved musicians still had little idea of what the quality of the Siegfried Idyll would be like when edited into a soon to be fi nished masterpiece.

Editing Wagner – August 1982

A week passed by before I heard from Glenn, wondering if he was satisfied or disappointed with the recent recording endeavor. When he called me to set up an editing session, I knew by the sound of his voice that he was definitely in an exceptionally upbeat mood.

When I arrived at the studio Glenn was his usual low key, content and smiling while meandering aimlessly around the studio.

He informed me that he was incredibly delighted with the results, and from a few listening sessions, was quite certain that the editing sessions would prove to be very pleasurable and productive.

Glenn and I concluded that editing orchestral – symphonic music is much more challenging and unforgiving than piano editing, an are a of music production where we both confessed that we possessed minimal expertise. The characteristics of uncomplicated and straightforward editing techniques are directly linked to the structure of the audio waveform of the instrument(s). With piano, the beginning of the audio waveform is very transient due to the fact that the first audible so und coming form the piano is a transient “noised” based sound, for the capture of the sound starts with the hammer percussively striking the string. It is a loud me chanical sound void of little musical content. In fact, the attack noise element of the piano s ound is the loudest part of its waveform. Because of this , piano editing is simple and straightforward . With symphonic music, editing is a much different story, for strings, woodwinds and French horns have a slower attack time (transient) than a piano and do not contain a great deal of mechanical noise characteristics. With strings and woodwinds the sustain of the waveform can be louder than the attack which make s it more challenging and at times impossible to edit at the beginning of a musical phrase . Editing becomes a more unnerving and challenging task because of th is. The room for error is very limited and when recording Glenn , you only have one back up safety master to rely on. You get two chances to get it right or else!

I thereby informed Glenn that most of the edit points would have to be slightly altered and cheated to make the edits sound transparent and convincing.

After a couple of trial edits, Glenn and I easily got the hang of which style of an editing method to employ. As always, he instinctively knew from previous listening sessions , which edits would work and it was up to me to locate the suitable edit points to bring his ideas to fruition. It wa s in this stage that Glenn surrendered many of his choice listening preferences of symphonic music and learned to adore this new – fangled recording pick – up, which he described as “Wearing your heart on your sleeve”. He cherished the vulnerability and intima cy of the overall sound and I have to ad mit, it was not my intention to force him to alter his sonic tastes due to my innovative but unproven recording techniques.

After numerous hours of editing and making edit – volume correction notes, we arrived at t he mid point of the Idyll when both of us decided to sit back and have tea and a biscuit to listen to what we had accomplished at this stage . At the 11 – minute mark, Glenn was becoming almost childish with his exuberance and enthusiasm. He immediately stood up and pressed, “stop” on the tape machine and looked me straight in the eye and said, “I am booking another session”. And for me to not be totally bewildered and left out in the dark, I shouted “for what”. Glenn replied “I think I might release this as a recording and I need to fix a couple of places” (for tuning and rhythm inaccuracies and the occasional streetcar passing).

Well my first reaction was joy for Glenn but then an insurmountable wave of anxiety overwhelmed me. Glenn and I were under the initial impression that this recording experiment was to be a one – time event and never to be released. He had no intention of making the recording accessible to the general public and also having to return at a later date to do additional recording . The mu sicians were also told this was only going to be a one – time event.

In my anxiety I informed Glenn that I had not documented any technical notes on the sound desk settings, fader levels or microphone positions. If another recording session were to occur, I would have to reset to the original recording situation settings strictly from intuition and memory. Glenn on the other hand would have to remember the tempo and dynamics from the original recording. This new recording would have to be seamlessly and pe rfectly edited into the previous ¼ inch stereo master. The odds against us were enormous, if not totally impossible. What we were about to attempt had never ever been done in the history of classical music recording. It was wishful thinking and pure lunacy , but in the typical Gould fashion he looked at me with a chuckle and said, ” Kevin, I think we can do it”. This was not the first time that I said to myself, “The Maestro is insane!”

Over the next few weeks, we continued the editing process until the Idyl l was completed fr om the first note until the decay of the last note , except with one exception. Glenn in his delightful sense of humour decided to rearrange the applause and comments at the end to d emonstrate to the musicians the tricks and the advantages of tape editing.

In its original sequence, after the last note sounded, Glenn thanked the musicians and was greeted with generous accolades. Upon his final com ment , “Breathtaking”, the musicians decided to embrace Glenn with an admirable round of app lause.

After the applause concluded, he informed them that their cheques would soon be in the mail. This was all about to change! I was at a loss, wondering, “What is he up to?” Glenn barely able to contain his amusement, told me to edit the applause se ction and move it to another position after he says, “the cheques are in the mail”.

The edit only took a minute and then I played the last ten seconds of the Idyll and after the final note finished, you would hear Glenn’s appreciative comments and then he says “The cheques are in the mail” and then the thunderous applause from the musicians. He was beside himself and was roaring with laughter, wh ich was highly contagious for I succumbed to his brilliant childish prank . What a great joke he is going to pl ay on the musicians when they hear the completed edited work at the beginning of the next recording session. I wonder how they are going to react when they hear this unbelievable manipulation of events. Glenn and I absolutely agreed that bewilderment and e mbarrassment would surely be on the menu that day.

A couple of days later Glenn had Victor over for tea and a listening session where I was to remain very serious and indifferent when the manipulated edit was heard. I must say that when Victor heard the edit, he laughed like a ticklish youngster and congratulated Glenn with his impeccable sense of humour.

He also cheerfully conveyed to Glenn that this recording and interpreta tio n of the Idyll was outstanding, and definitely worthy of another recording session.

Victor soon left with instructions to rebook the musicians for another recording date and also to create a name for this newfound jewel for this grouping of musicians. Ideas such as ” The Siegfried Idyller’s ” and ” The Academy of St Lawrence In The Market” made the rounds of every nook and cranny in St Lawrence Hall.

In a short time Victor managed to secure the hall for September 8 th with most of the same musicians. There would have to be one replacement, a different trumpet player would have to replace one half of a sixteen bar section that was performed by another trumpet player with the goal that the trumpet fanfare section sounded like it was performed by only one player . The final recording would mysteriously credit two trumpet players for what was one single trumpet part? Ah, The joys of editing!

At the end of August, Glenn booked one session with me to create a recording strategy in order for the new recording (September 8 th ) to work perfectly with the previous recording from July. He outlined a couple of sections as trial edits to be performed once the new recording took place. I would set up a playback system so Glenn and the musicians could hear t he tempo and dynamics of the previous take that was to be rerecorded. I would have to match VU levels (audio levels) from the previous recording to the newly recorded one. I would be in a separate room with a stopwatch communicating over the talk back syst em if he needed to shave off or add what would be, just fractions of a second. If the previous section to be replaced was 10.2 seconds and the yet to be recorded piece was 10.5 seconds, then Glenn would know how much time to trim. If the timing of the new section came in at 9.9 seconds, Glenn would then rerecord and slightly slow the tempo down to match and make the soon to be edit work . From previous experience, easily rectifying timing alterations was effortless for Glenn, but with the orchestra, Glenn kn ew he would have to be regimented and more precise with his conducting. I would have to be dead accurate with my recording levels and remember exactly from the session in July where the microphones were placed, the preamp controls and fader level settings. Any gratification if at all, would have to come later for this would be both our most difficult and complicated challenge ever. T his would have to be strict discipline!

The last editing session for the July recording was basically a review of the sectio ns to be replaced. Glenn and I both concluded that a pre – roll of 3 – 4 bars of the recorded piece would suffice for the soon to be edit. We both selected a point in the score for our first edit. If the edit worked we would proceed, if the edit did not work, well, we never discussed that option.

Re-Recording September 8th

So on September 8 th we went back to St Lawrence Hall, feeling anxious but optimistic. With Glenn’s affirmation that if the session did not work was , ” well at least we tried ” . When all the recording equipment was set up, I did my best to remember where the microphone placements were and the technical settings on the recording console. After completing the set up, Glenn decided to play back the finished version from the J uly sessions inc luding the humou rous edit at the end. As the final bars were being played, one could see the excitement in the musician’s faces, for they were astounded with their performance and mystified that the recording sounded especially continuous and whole.

Then they heard the last edit where Glenn had me rearranged the ending from his complimentary remarks, appl ause and the statement “The che ques are in the mail”, to Glenn’s remarks, the cheque statement and then the applause. A bright shade of red manifested on the musician’s faces from their confused embarrassment. As they were talking amongst themselves, Glenn was seething with laughter and patiently waiting to inform them what one could do with the manipulation of events with editing audio. Glenn with the glo w of a proud school teacher with maternal concern happily explained to them what one could achieve with a razor blade in the editing process, to their complete and welcomed, utter relief.

After the playback we got down to work with Glenn soon directing th em to our first challenging musical insert edit . I played back the original recorded section that needed to be replaced, for a tempo and dynamic reference for Glenn . Once heard and notated by Glenn, he then explained what needed to be changed for the new r ecording. After four attempts, I excitedly informed Glenn that I believed I had approximately the correct technical and performance requirements that would be needed if the new section would seamlessly edit into the previous July recording. After recordin g a couple of more sections , Glenn affirmed that he had what he needed and joined me in the equipment room to see if the edit s would work. After a couple of playbacks we arrived at a decision where we both believed a choice edit point should work. After a minute of cho pping tape and replacing the old section with the new take , we were finally in the ” moment of truth ” position to see if Glenn’s brave and crazy decision to attempt the impossible would work.

After completing the edit, I pre – rolled the tape to approximately 20 seconds before the “truth or die” edit point so we both could get a good feel of the overall section for the edit to be acceptable and believable. Glenn instinctively informed me to look away from the tape machine so I would not formulate a biased conclusion due to me witnessing the actual edit going across the playback head. I then hit “play” on the tape machine and t he first incoming edit went by seamlessly and then the second outgoing edit went by without a hint of ambiguity. As my jaw was dropping to the floor with a sense of stunning shock, Glenn stood there glowing and with his traditional “Gouldian” laughter and chuckle and shouted, ” I knew it would work”. Glenn again, had beaten the most unbelievable odds.

Glenn and I reviewed the test edit a few more times to confirm that it was flawless and then decided to get back to recording all the remaining necessary inserts. After an additional couple of hours of recording Glenn confirmed to all of us that he had obtained all th at was needed. We finished early and the end of the session was filled with a flourish of heartfelt exchanges and a dedication and promise from Glenn that we would all soon return to record another choice piece of his now expanding repertoire with his newl y discovered chamber group “The Academy of St Lawrence In The Market”. The lingering residual mood was e c static and euphoric and was sure to circulate within the musical milieu of Toronto!

The Final Editing Session

Glenn called a few days later after the second recording to book an editing session and I must say his mood was very cheerful and his eagerness to finish his new prized jewel was exceedingly evident . When I entered the studio, I noticed that he had been pleasantly occupied with detaile d listening and was impatient to get going, almost like an over exuberant child in an ice cream store. Most of the editing went amazingly smooth, concerning the challenges of editing from one stereo master to another one recorded two months earlier. The te mpo and sonic matches were incredibly accurate and the only noticeable discrepancies were with some of the dynamics and subtle depth of sound. With a couple of minor corrective pushes and pulls (dynamic corrections) as Glenn would often say, “I believe we have overall, a convincing and exquisite recording” that simulates the idea that his interpretation of the Siegfried Idyll was recorded with intense passion as one singular event.

With the additional notation of the dynamic changes, Glenn and I concurred that one post – production session at my studio, Sounds Interchange was all that would be required before sending the tape off for mastering purposes and receiving a test – acetate pressing for listening purposes.

However, that proposed event was to dramati cally change!

On Friday September 24 th Glenn called me to inform me that he was initiating the editing process on his soon to be released Brahms’s Ballads and Rhapsodies, and would like me to come to the studio next Tuesday at 7pm to start the editing pro cess to complete the Siegfried Idyll . I arrived at his studio just before 7pm and knocked on the door as usual, but there was no answer? After repeated tapping I started doubting myself to see if I had incorrectly scheduled the appointed time, for Glenn ne ver cancelled a session as long as we were both healthy and I was not sniffing. After five minutes I went to the lobby to call him on his phone, but after repeated failed attempts, there was no answer and I departed to head home and recheck my daily calend ar. Little did I know that he was in one of the above hotel rooms suffering in the early stages of a stroke?

The next day Ray Roberts, Glenn’s admirable personal assistant phoned me to tell me that Glenn was ill and presently in the hospital with no cur rent diagnosis. In a typical ” Gouldian ” fashion, Ray informed me that Glenn would appreciate if I could assemble a remote studio to bring to the hospital so Glenn and I could continue editing. At this point in our relationship, I knew that he wasn’t pullin g my leg and with Glenn, one must always embrace a challenge with indefensible determination and enthusiasm.

The next day Ray again contacted me with some dreadful disturbing news. Glenn had taken a serious turn for the worse and the situation was now looking critical and ominous. Glenn had suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma and the future diagnosis looked desperate . It would now be a waiting game with the medical conclusion that Gl enn would never be the same even if he did survive . The doctor’s stated that he would never play piano or even conduct again. I knew that Glenn would continue to live in a heart breaking state, physically, emotionally and men tally.

In just less than a week I went from feeling ecstatic about what I had achieved with Glenn’s Siegfried Idyll to misery and white knuckling anxiety – I could not sleep.

I decided if Glenn’s unpredictable state was going to keep me awake, I might as well go to work until I hear further news regarding the dire situation. My excommunicated Catholic knees were wearing down very rapidly from all the heart wrenching wishful thinking and any sleep was only attainable by admirable consumption of Irish whisky.

On the fateful day of October 4 th , exhausted I finished work at 3pm and took the streetcar home. On an empty seat, I noticed a newspaper which I picked up and started reading. There on the entire front page in big bold black letters “Glenn Gould dead at 50”! Shocked and bewildered I continued to read the headline and was astonished that almost everyone on the streetcar was talking about Glenn’s death. People from all ages seem to be captivated by the stunning news of the headline.

In just 20 minutes I arrived home to my wife and young child and informed her of the news. As she read the headlines, I decided to lie down and rest, I was thoroughly worn out, emotionally and physically. In approximately another 20 minutes my wife told me that there was an ur gent phone call from Ray Roberts. After a couple of minutes of talking, I broke down and Paulette had to finish the conversation. She was now crying for she herself for she had always enjoyed the laborious two – hour phone conversations about northern Ontari o with Glenn and he was also the first one to send her flowers when our son Matthew was born a few months earlier. Glenn was like that! He always enjoyed conversing and socializing with people outside of the music world. He could easily connect and desired to communicate with the common man; it was one of his most marvelous and endearing qualities.

The funeral came and went. The burial ceremony was quick and private with maybe a dozen people attending. The weather as Glenn would say was splendid. There wa s a slight downpour and the skies were magnificently speckled with his favourite colour, ” battleship grey ” . He had just turned 50 and was prematurely set to rest besides his deceased endearing mother.

After a couple of weeks Ray once again contacted me on behalf of Glenn’s estate that I could finish the necessary work on the Siegfried Idyll. I faithfully stated that I had all of Glenn and my notes and knew from experience what Glenn would like in the final post – production session.

I must say it was a haunting and lonely experience finishing the Siegfried Idyll without Glenn flaying away with his hands in the background with his high – spirited free flowing conducting sweeps. After finalizing a few edits I noticed that the piece of tape that had the humou rous editing scene of Glenn with his cheque statement with the corresponding musician applause was now separated and at the end of the reel of tape, where I re located the section on the other side of blank leader tape .

I decided that the piece of audiotape that had Glenn saying to the musicians at the end of the recording “Heartbreaking, Breathtaking…” should be place d back where it originally belonged and that be the only edited section of tape. So when the final decay of the last note ends , you c an only hear Glenn expressing a very believable and heart felt emotion al response to the musicians and then , a commanding silence. This was an awe – inspiri ng emotion that conveyed to me that I had been so incredibly fortunate to witness and collaborate with a most brilliant mind and a compassionate man courageously embarking on a new found direction in his life. A potential life full of personal interpretation and imagina tion from the conductor’s /composer’s perspective, from Glenn’s perspective . In those choi ce few words of his , you could hear a newborn passion and eternal enthusiasm emerging relating to what Glenn Gould said of the Siegfried Idyll recording “this is perhaps the most thrilling and invigorating experience of my life”.

About The Author:

Kevin Doyle soon went on to be nominated for a Grammy Award for his work on Gould’s “Goldberg Variations”. Doyle later went on to become Canada’s most decorated recording producer/ engineer garnishing 10 Juno nominations and 3 Juno Awards with numerous Platinum and Gold records to his credit.