It’s been about a year since Erica Sipes (@ericasipes) and I (@yukiest) decided to team up as a virtual piano duo, aka Musical Partners in Crime (@MusicalPinC).  So far, we’ve done Schubert’s Fugue D. 952 (http://snd.sc/wq42bN), Daniel Barkley’s (@DanielBarkley) Nexus (http://snd.sc/zHdWFP), and then we became too busy to work on a new project for a while.  But finally we’ve found some time for each other and completed another project!  This time, we picked Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C, K.545 with an accompaniment arranged by Grieg.  Mozart is one of the composers we both adore.  The fact that Mozart never wrote unnecessary notes in his music; all the notes are meant to be there, not a single note too many or less, makes you wonder how on earth Grieg managed to dare adding something to it.  We just have to stand back in awe.  Greig played an accompaniment part to some of Mozart’s piano sonatas for his students. I can see the reason for it is not only for pleasure but also for educational purposes.

We started this project with a bit of skepticism. And we simply didn’t know the full scale of joy we get out of this until we heard the result.  Since what we have for each other is a pre-recorded audio fed through a headphone set, it’s not often easy to ‘feel’ how we emote to the music that we play, let alone actually hear how we’re resonating together in raw sound.  But with a careful ‘virtual’ rehearsing with each other, you’ll be surprised how far you can go that way.  Although, there’s one great feature about this virtual duet that makes rehearsing go easy; your partner never changes how s/he plays every time!

Once individual recording is done, the actual part of combining audio files together is not that difficult these days, if you have a decent DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software.  You can cut and paste the audio seamlessly and balance the volume between 2 pianos.  Even changing the tone colour by tweaking EQ (equalizer), which I usually tend not to do to keep our original piano tone as natural as possible.  But what I did was to change the audio sampling rate (format) between 44khz/16bit and 96khz/24bit at the time of recording on my part to better balance with Erica’s Steinway piano tone.  My Yahama piano can be sometimes too bright and sharp.  96khz/24bit seems to catch the tone depth of my Yahama and gives a bit of warmth to it although 44khz/16bit works better when playing dense harmony aiming for clearer and crisp tone.

Here are the details of what I’ve done for Mozart recording:

1st mvt: Yukie recorded first the primo part (Mozart) at 44khz/16bit
Erica recorded later the secondo part (Grieg)

2nd mvt: Erica recorded first the primo part (Mozart)
Yukie recorded later the secondo part (Grieg) at
44khz/16bit

3rd mvt: Erica recorded first the primo part (Mozart)
Yukie recorded later the secondo part (Grieg) at 44khz/16bit
Yukie recorded a cadenza in the secondo part (Grieg)
separately at 96khz/24bit and pasted it in later

The only problem I had in putting our audios together was that my recording of the 2nd movement seems to have prolonged in duration at a fraction of a second from the halfway through to the end when I imported the file into a DAW software (Cubase LE4 that came with my Zoom H4n) – I still can’t figure out why, anyone who knows the answer please write to me!  This problem may be undetected if it’s a piano solo but a tiny fraction of second delay becomes a tricky problem for piano duet.  So what I had to do was to choose the places in my recording where the volume is lowest, then cut and move it forward less than a millimeter in length.  This manipulation had to be done from the half way through towards the end. This 2nd movement is quite long and if it had been shorter, then I probably wouldn’t have had to go through with this.

A final touch I added was a small amount of room reverb to each individual recording at different rates.  Slightly more reverb was added to Erica’s recording than to mine.  This seems to have done a wonder to have Steinway and Yahama tones merged to an agreeable level, in another words, disguised the tone differences well.

There you have it.  What came out of having engineered our recordings is an orchestral sound of Mozart with a touch of Grieg. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but Grieg’s liking for exotic (somewhat jazzy) harmony sometimes gives us a little surprise here and there, which I think is a treat for modern listeners.  To mark our success with this Mozart=Grieg recording, we’ve decided to release it on www.bandcamp.com.  It’s free to stream and free to download, so please share with others!

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