Bella Electric Strings

Nina DiGregorio and Michael Johnson of Bella Entertainment Group at Dog & Pony Show in Las Vegas with the Steinberg UR824.

The image of a classic string quartet carries with it gentility, uniformity and an overall conservative air. Enter Bella Electric Strings, clad in burlesque-ready stage clothes, blasting that image to pieces with their razor sharp bows. Based in Las Vegas, the all-female, formally trained strings collective, lead by violinist Nina Di Gregorio, specialize in electric string arrangements of traditional rock songs. Di Gregorio has been playing piano since the age of 6 and violin from the age of 9. She picked up the bass guitar as an adult. Getting introduced to classic rock from her father strumming Beatles songs on his guitar, she would pick out the melodies on her violin. This progressed into picking out the guitar solos for her favorites from Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Jeff Beck, and the like on violin. It was in high school that she started writing full quartet arrangements of those same tunes.


Bella Electric Strings have lent their talents to the likes of Beyonce and Shakira, but it is when they take center stage that these ladies truly shred. Much like their unusual approach towards their instruments, Bella Electric Strings’ live performances make unconventional use of what is customarily studio-recording equipment. Enhancing the visual impact of Bella Electric Strings is their Yamaha Silent instruments: three EV-205 five-string violins (the low C allowing for viola range playing) and an SVC-210SK cello.


“The majority of the music we perform requires control of the volume and soundscape of the instrument in great detail,” says Di Gregorio. “We find with the Silent instruments we are able to control not only our separate mixes and the sounds going to the house, but also how each instrument responds to effects pedals. They also eliminate the issue of feedback from hollow acoustic instruments.”


The Yamaha Silent instruments are played in conjunction Vox ToneLab SE processors and Sennheiser ew 300 IEM G3 in-ear monitors. “[The Vox ToneLab SE] really rounds out the high frequencies of the electric violin,” says Di Gregorio of the processor, which she discovered after trying many different effects without success. “When used with violins, many overdrives tend to sound like bees buzzing. The tube effects leave the distortion warm and round. I’ve created sequences of my favorite effects and we’ve saved them into multiple boards so that each song and each Bella player will blend as well with an electric quartet as they would with an acoustic.”


Integral to Bella Electric Strings’ writing, recording and performing process is Steinberg Cubase 7.5, which they run on a MacBook Pro. The arrangements are written with Cubase alongside music composition and notation software Sibelius. The two are synced via a ReWire connection, allowing the score and DAW to sync measure for measure.


When performing live, Cubase is run alongside Steinberg Advanced Integration MR816CSX and the iC Pro remote control app on an iPad. Here, Cubase is used to control click tracks and supplemental parts, as well as stems from backing tracks for a more detailed mix.


“The MR816 has become a bit of a Swiss army knife,” says Bella Electric Strings’ producer, Michael Johnson. “It was originally purchased as an audio interface, but because of the flexible routing and easy integration with Cubase we’ve been able to incorporate it as mixer to route audio stems to faders on the front-of-house console. The iC Pro has made it possible for us to remotely adjust levels within Cubase to balance live instruments with supplemental audio stems.”


The MR816’s flexibility lends itself even further to the live performance with audio being routed to separate outputs. Similar sounds are grouped together and then bused out to channels on the console, allowing for full flexibility over the front of house mix. When the Bella women are not backed by their drummer, guitarist and bassist, the MR816 is put into play either for a traditional live mix or the iC Pro is used for a virtual mix. This setup allows for easy adjusting on the fly. “We are able to mix the stems as if it were a live band, giving our tracked show a more legitimate sound,” says Di Gregorio.


With this much ready to go, you don’t have to travel to Vegas to experience Bella Electric Strings. Bella Entertainment Group has expanded to more than 30 musicians in Los Angeles and Chicago. And there are plans to further this reach to San Francisco, Miami and Orlando.

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