Recording in Yunnan came with its fair share of obstacles when it came to capturing high quality samples. On the first day, recording the Hani Tribe – it was pouring with rain, and seemed it would be nearly impossible to get a clean recording of their performance. Eventually, we used umbrellas and each member of GSM had to stand next to a piece of equipment to shield it from getting wet. Another main issue presented was the language barrier between GSM and the village members. Although we requested for them to remain quiet during recording, they continued to make noise and take photos. This caused for us to have to take multiple more takes, using hand gestures to try and explain the importance of silence. The instruments were to be recorded outside initially, however due to the amount of background noise and rain showers, it was easier for us to move the drum inside a room – which actually ended up providing a very good natural reverb for the recordings.
The next day, we recorded the Yao tribe. They performed on an old basketball court, alongside a handful of resident chickens. Although we could get the village members to remain relatively silent, the chickens were obviously a lot more difficult to control. It was quite difficult to explain to the musicians what exactly it was that we wanted them to do. Sampling was a foreign concept to them, so when we requested that they only hit their instrument once, and to allow it to ring out, they didn’t always understand. It got a little bit complicated – they were either playing without the dynamics we required to sample, or not letting the instrument ring out enough so we could capture the audio tail. We overcame this by the use of hand gestures, indicating when we wanted them to play, stop, and to what velocity we required.
The final recording was with the Yi Tribe. We arrived and began to set up our equipment, only to be burdened with grey clouds and more rain. We decided to move the drums under a shelter, which arguably added a great atmosphere for the performance – but wasn’t desirable for sampling. A compromise had to be made, given the weather wasn’t going to clear up and returning on a dry day wasn’t an option – we captured the samples with rain hitting on the top of the tin roof above it.
Blog post – Lauren Simm
Photography – Lauren Simm, Paresh Parmar
More information: BBC3 Focus on China