The lineup for the inaugural Quarantine Comes Alive on Saturday, May 30th featured more than 60 artists, but none of the bands on the bill prompted more pre-show questions than Everyone OrchestraHow exactly does a band based entirely around real-time collaborative improvisation perform remotely for a virtual music festival?

We asked conductor Matt Butler to break down the process of leading Everyone Orchestra in a remote collaboration for Quarantine Comes Alive and discuss the artistic boundaries he had to push to make it happen. You can watch the performance and read his full explanation below:

Everyone Orchestra – “We Got This” Remote Improv Session – Quarantine Comes Alive

Everyone Orchestra Quarantine Comes Alive Lineup

George Gekas (The Revivalists) – bass
Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass) – dobro
Al Schnier (moe.) – guitar
Jim Loughlin (moe.) – percussion
Durga McBroom (Pink Floyd) – vocals
Asher Fulero (Emancipator Ensemble) – keys
Zach Gill (ALO) – melodica
Dan Lebowitz (ALO) – guitar
Josh Schwartz (Turkuaz) – bari sax
Nick Piccininni (Yonder Mountain String Band) – mandolin
Matt Butler – drums

Here’s the breakdown on the EO virtual recording project, “We Got This”, which will premiere as part of Quarantine Comes Alive.

I’ve been chewing on how to do a virtual EO since quarantine started and it has been an interesting journey to say the least! On a real stage, EO is 100% spontaneous and my conducting job is mostly about being in the moment without any expectations and steering the jam into interesting places based on intuition and my realtime interaction with the musicians.

Obviously, this is impossible to do virtually, in real-time so… in order to utilize the aspects of the EO concept that ARE possible virtually, I created an entirely new process to make this video.

Unlike a regular EO, I had to decide on the conducting moves in advance and map out the song. I knew I had to fully simplify the cues I might typically give in a live performance. I also wanted to create a track that gave the musicians ample time to rip long solos and be similar to the beginning of an EO show classic, “Funk in A.”

One thing about quarantine recording projects is that most of them are musicians playing along to a set song. Live performances are usually the place for those solos, and I really wanted to capture the magic of a live performance here.

In order to do this, I needed a guide track to conduct to, so I grabbed a DI bassline created by George Gekas (The Revivalists) from a previous EO performance. I then laid down a new drum track creating a clean bass and drums that everyone could then add their parts to. I also created two simple choruses for everyone to sing on, very much like an EO show where I get the audience to join in the singing.

I then videoed myself conducting to the bass and drums of this track. As you might imagine, this was a challenge to do with no players in the room! In the end, the more I imagined the energy of the players and the song, the more I could sense the possibilities of the performance—and the more fun I had. Believe me, walking upstairs from my basement studio in my conducting outfit all hot and sweaty got some strange looks from my kids, but hey…it’s a pandemic, right?

Synching the video of my conducting and the audio of the musicians performing was unimaginably difficult. I enrolled some of the best minds in the business and it took many conversations to figure out how to deal with buffering issues in performing a recording to a VIDEO, not only the audio, since nothing like this had really ever been done before. We figure it out, though!

I chose musicians for the project that had all done Everyone Orchestra previously. In a live setting, I love bringing in new faces all the time, but working with players I know really well and who know what I ask of them was really helpful.

After multiple long days and nights and failed attempts, I sent the musicians a video of me conducting to the bass and drum track and asked them to record a performance of them playing with it.

I included a few simple instructions:
1. I asked them to do only one or two takes. Make it as live as possible, warts and all.
2. I gave each person a performer number to help organize the solo spots.
3. I told everyone to sing along with the choruses.

Once we got the videos and audio tracks back, my infinitely patient and talented production partner Todd Kushnir and I have been piecing together these amazing home performances to create a unique video. It’s a long piece, so the editing process has also taken a long time, but it’s been a blast to see it all come together.

One thing that’s really unique about the outcome is that during live performance, for the most part, my back is to the audience. In the video, you get to see what is typically saved for just the musicians. It’s like a little behind-the-scenes magic.

Thanks for letting us share a piece of our process and product with you. Hope you enjoy it!

Quarantine Comes Alive, a virtual festival benefiting the comprehensive PLUS1 COVID-19 Relief Fund and participating musicians on Saturday, May 30th,. The Saturday, May 30th, raised more than $160k for the cause. Keep an eye out for more videos from Quarantine Comes Alive on Live For Live Music over the next few weeks. Until then, check out the videos of Nick CassarinoJennifer Hartswick, and Purple Party: A Celebration of Prince from the streaming marathon.

[Originally published 5/25/20]