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Sonatas Steel Orchestra - Fantastic Friday - Basement Yard Recordings 2013

Sonatas Steel Orchestra performs “Fantastic Friday” as Basement Recordings captures their performance as part of the NY PanYard Recording series, two days before the annual New York Panorama steel orchestra competition. The arranger is Leon “Foster” Thomas. Their instruments are tuned by Bertram “Birch” Kelman. And Sonatas’ captain is Sadé Constantine. The Basement yard recordings are made with the purpose of allowing the listener to hear and feel the power of the New York steel orchestras, along with the sonic clarity, musical sophistication and the rhythmic complexity and genius of the all percussive engine room. Sonatas Steel Orchestra took the stage at the competition with 100 players.

The recordings were done using Basement’s distinct in-house “box and one” technique.

Sonatas has won more Panorama competitions than any other steel orchestra franchise in the history of New York. Truly a Brooklyn, New York original and the pride of Crown Heights. The mighty Sonatas has called Crown Heights home for over 40 years.

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Comment by S. F. Thomas on September 21, 2013 at 5:27pm

@Pan Times:

Thanks for expatiating. You make a lot of sense, and you break it down well. No doubt Exodus have other  than acoustic reasons for dispensing with the canopies. Maybe somebody like Pelham might want to speak to  that...

Unfortunately I'll be offline after this until the end of the month...

- Big Sid

Comment by Pan Times on September 21, 2013 at 11:32am

@ S.F. Thomas  

Canopies play a critical role in the sound of the steel orchestra. It also has a distinct role in the psyche of a large “panorama band.” Anything that affects the players’ approach to performing – impacts the sound of the band. When those sympathetic frequencies start vibrating off those metal canopies - the sound is indeed incredible coming out from there. We’re all for the canopies. From a cultural stand point I’ve never seen a band that looks like a musical war machine without their canopies. Psychologically that has play on the judges also - but that’s a different conversation.  

If you take listen to this year’s recording of  Despers USA ( http://ning.it/14RzKNV ) you will hear this buzz throughout the recording – it’s from the wooden structure and overhang that covers half of the band, trying to ‘deal’ (meaning the overall structure attempting to co-exist, process and subsequently reflect and amplify - as well as possible under the existing circumstances) with the power complexity of the harmonics emanating from the band’s instruments - giving new meaning to the term “the rafters are singing.” Any covering will impact on the sound of band.

Another example is D’Radoes in their version of “Fantastic Friday” ( http://ning.it/16ppjMJ ) at 10:39.  - Radoes drops a Shango movement that mesmerizes everyone who heard them in the yard – and had the same effect on the judges on Panorama night. The power and volume needed to generate that impact would have been far less impressive without the canopies. Hey, Bradley even had the Pantonic bass players smacking the canopies in “Ben Lion.” LOL


Comment by S. F. Thomas on September 19, 2013 at 7:04am

'But why do you call it "box and one"?'

Now I get it, LOL! You're right, it's really quite simple... And I can guess where the one goes...

-Big Sid

Comment by S. F. Thomas on September 19, 2013 at 12:31am

@Pan Times:

Hmmm... I understand the need to capture all voices in the orchestra, and somehow simulate spatial separation in what is recorded and ultimately played back. I suppose part of the answer to that is placing microphones both close to the floor as well as above head height. But why do you call it "box and one"?

And as long as we're having this technical discussion, what difference do the canopies make, if any? I know there are different opinions on the subject, what's yours?

Oh! and here is the trailer for Buena Vista, for those who might not be aware of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwyGPg8cYvY. The American musician who "rediscovered" the Cuban maestros was one Ry Cooder.

Now, why does that make me think of Andy Narell...

- Big Sid

Comment by Pan Times on September 18, 2013 at 6:27pm

Thanks again Corey and S.F. Thomas:

@S.F. Thomas - an intriguing thought indeed...

As for the technical details for recording an orchestra, it's no big secret.  The key is being able to answer:  why is it that the three-year-old child is always the first to say "the band coming" regardless of his position - sitting on the ground blocked out by the adults or perched high above, seated on the shoulders of an adult?

Comment by Corey Morgan on September 17, 2013 at 4:53pm

So many cool things happening in this arrangement... BRAVO!

Comment by Corey Morgan on September 17, 2013 at 4:52pm

I'm imagining 5.1 surround sound audio being capable from "box and one", like you are standing in the band!


I agree... the quality of recordings you share, and how you share it here... it's hard to explain your contribution.  THIS site is where you find the best of the pan world!


Comment by S. F. Thomas on September 17, 2013 at 4:01pm

Hi Pan Times,

Thanks for that quick response. I guess full-press technical detail would be too much to ask, so I restrain my remaining curiosity.

Anyway, let me take this opportunity to thank you for all the great work you have been doing -- and to all appearances without remuneration -- to document this great gift to the world that is pan. I wonder if you are conscious of this role you are playing, even surpassing Pan Trinbago, as an archive for all things Pan.

Here is a thought that I had... Do you remember the fellow that "discovered" the La Buena Vista Social Club? He did a semi-documentary movie about these ageing Cuban musical maestros, and came up with something that made it big, both for him, and the musical masters that he, not so much discovered, as uncovered...

I think something similar is waiting to happen re pan, and especially the panorama kind of steelband competition. If something is done with the right production values -- great sound, great video, a sense of the drama and excitement of competition -- there is enough of natural charisma on offer from the musical maestros of the Pan world, to make for riveting film, like Buena Vista. There are other requirements, like money and marketing, no doubt. But I want to suggest that Pan Times could by itself cover most of the requirements, while partnering to acquire the rest.

Your many years of dedicated and selfless service to the art form have not gone unappreciated. So I'm sure you'll find all the support you'll need. It's just a thought...

I'm not suggesting myself for anything, it's not what I do. But I'd certainly like to see the outcome of such an effort, and would support it.

- Big Sid

Comment by Pan Times on September 17, 2013 at 3:06pm

Hi Bid Sid

Thanks for the kind words.  The box and one is a technique Basement developed that allows the capturing of the voices of the steelpan family with extreme clarity while maintaining the original 3d environment the instruments are playing in and in relationship to each other.Thereby allowing the listener to hear what the players hear and or feels from inside the band - in addition to what the audience naturally hears in front of the band as you change your listening volume.

To answer your question more specially there is absolutely no difference in capturing the band in yard or on stage for panorama - except the players tend to have more adrenalin going on.

As for this year's panorama recordings Basement did not record the bands at the event. Only  press reference news video clips was made with a video device with a less than stellar on-board mic. While we did post those videos - WST hopes the organizers both made and will provide official videos to the public and bands at some time.

Comment by S. F. Thomas on September 17, 2013 at 12:51pm

This is impressive on every level!

Obviously Basement Recordings is on to something... I've been impressed ever since the recording of Pantonic and Bradley's "Stranger". That effort was legendary in itself, but obviously the recording also, was outstanding.

So what is the "box and one" technique? And what happened at this year's Panorama that it didn't work as well as this recording at the panyard?

-Big Sid

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