Strings Attached: The Arco Sessions

local team launches video series of orchestrated covers

Eric Christenson, photos by Zach Oliphant |

UW-Eau Claire student musicians take part in a recording for one of the Arco Sessions – a new project that brings together touring musicians and classical orchestration.
UW-Eau Claire student musicians take part in a recording for one of the Arco Sessions – a new project that brings together touring musicians and classical orchestration.

Music students, musicians, photographers, videographers, and sound guys all meet for an hour or two in a studio to record. And then they part ways.

That’s the main idea behind the Arco Sessions, a super-collaboration headed up by Davy Sumner, a UW-Eau Claire composition student and drummer: Make art in a fleeting moment.

The way it works is Sumner puts together an ensemble of (usually) music students to rehearse the instrumentation of a song by a touring band or artist coming through town.

Then the ensemble and singer meet up in Jaime Hansen’s studio and record the orchestrated version of the song. Thus the name “arco” – musical notation that literally means “to be played with a bow.”

“It’s a huge amount of organizing,” Sumner said. “I knew what I wanted to do with the music part of it, but outside of that, I knew that I’d need a lot of help.”

An all-star team put together by local filmmaker Peter Eaton shoots gorgeous video and photos of the in-studio performance, which all go online shortly after.

Eaton said making the sessions visually appealing is essential to complementing the music.

“Classical arrangements give me goosebumps,” Eaton said. “These recordings are about the music, so we capture the performance entirely – nothing more nothing less.”

V1’s own Thom Fountain then takes care of Web business and booking, contacting artists who are swinging through town and getting everything organized.

The pioneer Arco Session featured Shane Leonard of Kalispell singing “Marion, MT” – the penultimate track from last year’s album Westbound –   with a modest horn section and Sumner himself pounding a bass drum.

Now, it’s on to Sean Carey, Nick Ball, and a string quintet performing “Leave,” an iTunes exclusive paired with the Bon Iver drummer’s 2010 solo debut, All We Grow.

Carey’s music, especially on that first album, is plenty orchestral as it is, and he said that lends itself well to the Arco Session format. But Carey was still surprised by it, in a good way.

“The way I write music is pretty simple, so it gave Davy a lot of room to do an arrangement that was pretty different,” Carey said. “It was not what I was expecting at all. It was something I never would have even thought of, which turned out to be really cool.”

But despite the simplicity of the content, it’s still a fairly massive creative endeavor on all sides.

“It’s not a typical takeaway video, shot in a studio with DSLRs,” Eaton said. “There’s a lot more craftsmanship going into it, from start to finish.”

Keep a sharp eye out for a forthcoming Arco Sessions Kickstarter, where the boys will try to crowd-source around $5,000 for session expenses, including compensating the featured artists and the backing musicians, as well as to pay for studio costs, Web costs, and improved equipment to keep the quality of the videos the best it can possibly be.

They’ll be working with area artists and contributors to put together a Kickstarter package full of great local rewards for generous donors.

“We covered the startup costs for the first two sessions,” Eaton said. “Going forward, we’d like to have a fund to work with that includes payment for our players and our technicians.”

The first two sessions certainly have local ties, but don’t expect that to be the trend from here on out.

“We knew that we wanted to start with a couple of Eau Claire bands to get it on the road,” Sumner said. “The main idea is that it’s one moment where we all meet up at the studio and we’ve been rehearsing their song and this person knows their song and then we just can go at it.”

Sumner said he wants the sessions to be more ambitious, even including genres such as hip hop, opera, and spoken word.

“That would be a dream for me,” he said.

The Arco Sessions are off to a strong start, pulling a large community of creative and talented local hard-hitters, but what will really make it special is how nice each session will turn out from such brevity.

“(The artists are) stopping through Eau Claire on tour and none of us will have met then, until we get to the studio,” Sumner said. “We’re together for two hours and then that’s it.”

To learn   more about the Arco Sessions and to watch the videos, visit

The Arco Sessions, featuring S. Carey