A Very QUAD-tacular Anniversary / by Nicolas Cusworth

We may have only just launched Arpeggia Media this week, but if you want to know the real inception of this whole thing, you'll need to go back a year. More specifically, one year from yesterday. On that day, Sam and I released a video that utterly consumed me for the better part of 2013 called QUAD.

QUAD is really the culmination of years of collaboration with the group of musicians you see here. I've known Dan (bass, composer of this piece), Zach (keys), Ryan (drums), and Joe (guitar) since either from the time before I graduated from Bard or shortly after when I was still doing things with the music department, and I've had the privilege and pleasure of seeing them all develop musically, as people, and as friends in that time. This particular piece (and video) started as Dan's senior concert. He approached me and said that he wanted me to document it, but as he described the concept to me - 1 continuous piece, 4 musicians all facing towards the middle, all electronic instruments, 1 sound engineer (Atticus) essentially playing maestro and live-mixing the entire thing, speakers set up around the performance space, and analog panning devices that would literally throw the sound around the room - I imagined something much greater than a mere documentation. I wanted to create something that wasn't quite a music video but also not just a live playthrough - something that gave the viewer an intimate look at not just the performance itself, but the intent and meaning of the music, piece by piece.

What amazes me most about this project looking back on it is just how well it came together in spite of the fact that it nearly didn't happen at least half a dozen times. Between working around everyone's schedules (this required an entire weekend to put together, and I wound up cutting a vacation several days short in order to make it possible), cycling through a group of spaces that would be fitting and allow us to essentially take over for two days, and just the logistics of putting together something like this on virtually no budget, this was truly a "passion" project for all involved. But in the end it all worked out about as well as I could have imagined.

Which isn't to say that the actual production was without its hiccups. The weekend Sam and I were up at Bard to film this was one of the most grueling, but rewarding, experiences of my life. The time-lapse you see above was merely the first few hours of Day 1, in which we set up the whole thing, and while the musicians rehearsed feverishly (the piece had changed dramatically from its original 40-minute incarnation), the rest of us were left to figure out how in the bloody hell we were going to make this look like anything. The lighting in particular nearly threatened to tear the entire thing apart. Ironically, I've received more positive comments about the lighting than pretty much any other aspect of the video in spite of the hell we went through to find a setup that would work. We knew that we wanted a different color scheme for each section of the piece, but accomplishing that in a way that both provided enough light to film and actually looked like something seemed nigh impossible with what we had to work with. I remember actually storming out in frustration at one point later in the day, laying down, and simply dreading the entire thing. It wasn't until we realized that we could use the walls and entire space to our advantage that things finally clicked that night.

Joseph and the Technicolor Light Setup

Joseph and the Technicolor Light Setup

Of course that was also just Day 1. Day 2 we had to actually film this whole thing, but first, we had to record the music itself. While miming is commonplace for your typical music video, it becomes a bit more difficult when it's a 20-minute instrumental progressive jazz/rock piece that's focused solely on the musicians performing the music. We had no other choice though if we were to break up filming like we wanted (4 different camera setups, with each setup broken into its 7 sections with different color schemes). Thankfully the guys are absolute pros and got their parts down cold (right down to Ryan's ludicrous drum solo). Which isn't to say that they took to the whole thing immediately, as you can see below...

There was also the very futile issue of the little ceiling cam that couldn't. I really wanted to get an overhead angle, and due to the equipment we had available, our only option was rigging a conventional camera off of an overhead beam, which we did with the aid of climbing rope and gaffe tape. Though Sam (who is very often right about these kinds of things while I'm bouncing around eagerly insisting that everything will be fine) was pretty much adamant that it wouldn't work, we went ahead with it anyway and got it so it appeared to be functional, at least until it wasn't.

Glad to say that no expensive equipment or humans were harmed in the making of this video. In spite of all of this though, it really did come together remarkably well. It was an excruciatingly long day (we started at 10am and wrapped around 2am), but it was here where I really felt more than ever that this is what I wanted to do and the type of content I wanted to produce, and it was the project that really germinated what Sam and I hope to accomplish with Arpeggia Media.

All of these guys are off doing their own things now (Dan's being a boss in CA helping run a tea business; Joe and Ryan have their own bands, the latter of which you may recognize from another work of yours-truly; Zach is working with some of the best musicians in the world as a session player and producer; Atticus is still at Bard but is my first call whenever I need to film live music and am in need of an engineer to record it), but for that one weekend they were all together to perform the hell out of some amazing music one last time. I'm glad I could be there to capture it.

-NC