Just a few days ago cellist, composer and Deutsche Grammophon recording artist, Peter Gregson released his newest album Patina. You are probably familiar with Gregson’s music without knowing it; he is the man behind the scores of some of the most talked about films and TV series in recent years such as Bridgerton, The New Pope, and Blackbird. Marrying intimate cello with subtle electronics and innovative recording techniques, Peter has carved a niche in the contemporary classical scene as a true sound connoisseur. Peter takes his obsession for sound further than ever on Patina, using all sorts of different rooms, harmonisers, vocoders, plate reverbs and old tapes to capture and reproduce the sound of his cello as faithfully as possible to us listeners. On top of it all, Peter mixed this album at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, a revolutionary new audio technology called Dolby Atmos that promises to make waves in the music industry. We caught up with Peter on this and much more:
WWD: Hello Peter, welcome to When We Dip. First of all, how does it feel to have Patina out to the public?
I’m really excited for this record to be out and about – I am just now heading back to London from a quick press trip to Berlin which it turns out to be exactly a year to the day from finishing mastering the record, so it has felt like a long time coming!
WWD: You said in the past that you wanted to bring listeners up close to the cello on this album, can you what you mean with that? Cause although this is a cello album, it feels and sounds nothing like a classic classical album.
Sure – the classical way of recording a cello is to capture the sound of the instrument in a room, typically a concert hall. It’s a very beautiful, rich sound, but is anonymised in a way: so much of the grit, detail, personality of the sound is lost by the time the sound hits the microphones. I like to think of it like the human voice – when you turn the radio on, you can instantly recognise Sting’s voice and part of that is his tone, part of that is his accent, how he forms words with plosives, sibilance, vowel sounds, consonants… I always wondered where those sounds go from string instruments. It’s the fingers on the string, the bow on the string I think, there’s so much personality in those sounds – the cello, under my ear when I’m playing, sounds totally different to how it sounds half way back in the concert hall, and I have always wanted to pull that perspective in closer to really highlight the “accent” and vocal qualities of actually creating a sound on the cello.
WWD: When talking about your music, you often use very visual queues – if you could compare the sound in this album to a space, how would you describe it? ( would it be a vast natural landscape with soft wind blowing or a velvety intimate room with leather chairs and smell of cigars for example)
I love the idea of being able to touch sound – I think it’s a very textural, tactile experience. I think we touched on my visual representation of this record in the video my friend Arran Shearing masterful shot for “Cluster” – to me, it’s the collision of the natural world and manmade structures. There can be great beauty in architecture, of course, and great function in, for example a motorway, but these interactions of “natural beauty” like a soaring cello melody, supported by a rasping, hard edged synthesiser, is like a tree breaking through the concrete on the pavement to me.
WWD: How was the experience of mastering in Abbey Road, such a legendary studio?
I feel so fortunate to be able to work in these astonishing spaces fairly regularly, my own studio is on the top floor of Air Studios and, with my cello playing hat on, am fortunate enough to record in these legendary studios pretty regularly… Abbey Road is, of course, steeped in the history of recorded music and I think you walk in knowing that, but at the end of the day, it’s a room and a set of speakers, and your job is to create the best music you can, and that can happen in your bedroom or in the finest studio in the world. I think what I mean is you still need to “bring it” with you, the room doesn’t do any work for you!
WWD: Can you tell us a little bit about the wonderful feat in recording and mixing behind this album, and what some of the tech use could mean for the wider industry?
I’m a not-so-secret geek with this stuff. I totally place the production process in parallel with my composition process with each feeding and inspiring the other. This record was written for Dolby Atmos which, if you haven’t experienced it, is like the difference between a black and white polaroid becoming a colour 3D film. Instead of stereo, which is 2 speakers, Left and Right, this is speakers at the front, the back, the walls, and the ceiling. You’re entirely enveloped in sound, like a deep bath rather than a quick shower!
Sound blooms, lives and breathes, in a room. Music needs to breathe, and giving it more space to breathe makes everything better. I like to describe Atmos as being a way to allow you more patience – you can develop ideas in a broader space, so dynamics can go from impossibly quiet to impossibly loud without it being squashed – it just sort of grows. Apple Music are presenting music now in Spatial Audio which is their setup for bringing Atmos to the masses – basically you can experience this sound world through headphones thanks to some clever encoding they’ve developed.
In terms of what it could mean for the wider industry, you know, I truly believe this is the future for creating music – it’s a more musical way to work – but a good piece of music can still move you when listening to the bottom of your phone, so I think it’s really whatever it takes to inspire and allow great music to be created.
WWD: What doors have been opened in your journey with Patina that you feel keen on exploring further?
Vocoders! Early digital reverbs! I feel I’ve taken many steps forward as a writer through this record, and many steps forward as a producer, but you know, so much of the gear that was made in the 70-80s is just so great and expressive, I’m loving exploring that.
WWD: What’s next for Peter Gregson?
I’m just back to work now after a few months of paternity leave for our second baby – I’ve just completed a new string quartet commission for the Carducci Quartet in the UK, and have a few ballets starting to raise their head above the Covid-parapet, so that feels quite exciting to see that side of things come back to life!