David Scarth – Brazilian Fantasy

David Ashworth is in conversation with Dave Scarth

Scarth’s piece ‘Brazilian Fantasy’ was written for his ensemble the York Guitar Quartet and recorded on their CD ‘Elegy’.  Shortly afterwards they made a video performance of this piece, which you can access at the bottom of this article.

David Scarth

Hi Dave – and welcome to the Cafe! First of all, let me say what a lovely piece this is – and how much I’ve enjoyed watching the video. In this conversation, I’d like to focus on the making and rationale behind making the video.

Thanks very much!

So let’s begin by asking you what was the purpose behind making the video. Did you see it as a promotional tool for the CD or was to showcase the Quartet in performance …?

Very much a promotional tool for the CD and our music downloads. We thought we’d try and generate interest in our recordings over YouTube. I think it probably has helped. ‘Elegy’ is our most popular recording in terms of online sales. Another possible use for it was as a professionally produced film that we could offer to TV companies. For example, if we have a concert in a certain area, we could ask the regional news programs if they’d like to show it and promote the concert. Unfortunately, COVID has scuppered the opportunities for live performances at the moment.

Who produced the video for you?

Dave Cave and his company One For All Productions. (This gets confusing – everyone’s called Dave!) I’ve known him a long time and he’s a good friend. He writes, directs and produces independent films, many in the horror and fantasy genre. I’ve composed several soundtracks for his films and so he offered to return the favour by doing this video. I really enjoy producing music with a sinister or macabre feeling. What that says about me, I’m not sure! The most striking thing for me about his films is the stunning visual poetry. So I knew he would produce a great looking video for us.

Yes. It strikes me how visually exciting this video is.  So much more to grab the viewer’s attention as opposed to a static camera pointing towards four blokes huddled together around music stands … and I really like the way the cameras zoom in when a given player is doing something particularly interesting – a dimension you don’t always get when watching a live show.  Did this take a lot of preparation and scripting?

We had an initial concept for the look of the video but most of the composition of the shots was done in the editing stage. That’s mostly thanks to Dave and his team. I think he had a great feel for the momentum of the music that’s reflected in the editing, like he knew exactly when a moving camera shot felt right. I gave him a few pointers with regard to closeups: “Mark is doing some fancy finger work at x minutes and y seconds, so can you show that!” We shot the video from many different angles, long shots, closeups, two-person shots, moving camera shots, etc and Dave did a fantastic job of putting it all together. He’s not a musician, but he has a great appreciation of music and I think you can see that.

Definitely. The other thing that strikes me is that you are all playing the music from memory, which is always more compelling to watch as compared to someone peering at a score on a music stand. Was learning to play the piece from memory a challenge?

Huddling behind a music stand would have definitely detracted from the look of the video! Fortunately, it’s not a long piece to commit to memory and everyone put in the time to be able do that, which I’m grateful for.

Although you are obviously all playing along to a recording [note the absence of audio recording equipment] the synchronisation is very good and as a viewer, I didn’t feel cheated. It’s a bit like the better miming efforts we used to see on Top of the Pops – were you happy to go along with it?  Again, did you consider live performance for making the video – and was it a challenge to  mime this accurately?

Well spotted! To get so many camera angles in a real-time performance would have required a large camera crew and a lot more space than we had. Also the room was very echoey and nothing like a proper soundstage. We pre-recorded the music in our studio and lip-synced to the recording (or whatever the equivalent is for an instrumentalist – finger-synced?). I’m cool about doing that. Live performance is one thing, recording in the studio is another and making a video promo is something else. We mainly  wanted to produce an interesting looking video for this one. It wasn’t hard to sync to, as this piece has a regular pulse. If there were many tempo changes it would have been harder. Incidentally, you mentioned Top of the Pops. A lot of people assumed that bands mimed on the show because they couldn’t play well, but many artists who sound great in live shows, like Jimi Hendrix or the Stones, mimed on the program. The TOTP studio was quite small, the charts came out on Tuesday and the program went out on Thursday so it wasn’t practicable to record a live show with so many artists. Live shows like the Jools Holland program are not dependent on what’s in the charts, are recorded on a vast soundstage with fewer acts and that’s what you need. Anyway, I digress…If you want to see us play live, there are some live videos on my YouTube channel, or you could come to one of our concerts when they start again!

Good point! The other element which I think works really well is the staging. I love the way you are all scattered across the space as opposed to the usual ensemble formation. How did you come up with the seating arrangement?

Again, that was Dave Cave’s idea. It works particularly well in the two-shots where you have one person in the foreground and another in the distance.

Agreed. It strikes me that you could extract an excellent collection of stills from this footage, showing the quartet players in action. The venue is also a refreshingly original touch. One might expect to see a video of a classical ensemble performing in a more formal concert hall or a stately home or something similar. But going for a disused industrial building, paint peeling off the walls etc, gives it a much more edgy and dramatic feel – a bit like a Joy Division or late Bowie video. Can you say something about the choice of venue?

It’s a warehouse near Newcastle and it was available! I think York Guitar Quartet and Joy Division probably appeal to the same audience! No, it was just that – trying to be different.

The video projection of an artwork on the back wall is very effective in adding another dimension to the performance. What gave you the idea of incorporating this into the final product?

Again, Mr. Cave came up with the concept. His idea was to have a piece of art on the wall that starts off drab and monochrome and becomes kind of energised with colour as the music builds. The art, which is a sort of Daliesque surrealist picture, was painted by my friend and talented artist Dan Parr especially for the video.

The video has obviously been a success in attracting a lot of views and some very positive comments. Would you ever consider doing another one – and if so, would it be in a similar style or would you work with a different approach?

I would do it again if the opportunity presented itself. It was a lot of fun and a great experience working with a very creative team of filmmakers. You’d obviously want to choose a different style that relates to the music. However, the Quartet is pretty much in stasis until the pandemic comes to an end so that’s very much a thought for the future.

Recordings, including ‘Elegy’, by York Guitar Quartet are available on most download sites: Amazon, iTunes, YouTube Music, etc. Find out more on http://www.yorkguitarquartet.com/

One for All Productions Website: https://oneforallproductions.org

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