Thursday, November 14, 2019

My Review of Thinkspace

I have completed my MA in Professional Media Composition at Thinkspace and should be receiving my diploma from the University of Chichester, UK, in February or March of 2020.

Thinkspace is Guy Michelmore's school. It's an online school for film/TV/videogame composers, orchestrators, and sound designers. I can't directly speak for the orchestration and sound design parts but the composing part is excellent. One thing that drew me to Guy's teaching was that he demystifies the creative process. Many of the video lectures are just Guy taking you through composing music for "media" based on either a brief or on picture. He starts at the "tinkling at the piano" stage and goes right through the arranging and orchestrating and mixing stages. Usually in about 20 minutes.

Guy is a working composer, he does a lot of work -- mostly animated television but some documentary and dramatic material too. He's very good at both doing the work and at teaching it. And he's surrounded himself with people who are good and can teach.

You can attend the school at a variety of intensities from fairly slow part-time to full-time. The full-time MA takes a year. And the price, at just under $13,000, makes a one-year degree one of the best values in post-graduate degrees. It's also possible to enroll without an undergraduate degree (like I did) although as I understand it, only 10% of the class can be "Recognized Prior Learning" or RPL students. This is why, I believe, I learned on a Monday for a Thursday induction that I would actually be attending. (That was more than a tad harrowing as I had no idea if I were going to be accepted until the last minute.)


In this course there are no "semesters" or "classes" but rather "modules." I believe this is just a sort of standard way for UK universities to work. Some modules are taken simultaneously with others. Some are taken alone.
The course itself is, from a pedagogical point of view, extraordinary. It's a professional degree, which means the purpose of it is to make hireable composers. So there is a goodly focus on things which (in a big music house) is done by assistants and associates, as well as composing for media in and of itself.
You can take some free courses at to get a feel for Guy's teaching style. His videos are a primary, but by no means exclusive, way the course is taught. His technique is a sort of "compose-while-you-watch" and for me (and everyone else I talked to in the course) it works quite well.
Let me digress here for a moment. Grossly speaking, there are two different ways to teach composition. The esoteric version is to stare into the abyss of infinite possibilities where you end up saying things like "What if, like, we took the oboe and put it underwater and then just played the keys for two bars and then the rest of the piece is just the sound of the air conditioner?" The other version is sort of a "toolkit" approach where you put together a whole stack of "tricks" and say things like "If you want to do this kind of effect, make the strings do a run-up chromatically but skipping up a third at the top of each bar." Both of these approaches have at least some merit (and now I really want to drown an oboe to find out what that sounds like). But we oftentimes need something in the middle there. We need a place where we can draw on aleotoric craziness, but also just make a pretty melody sometimes.
Guy spends most of the time composing, which may be altogether different from the esoteric approach and the toolkit one but it certainly involves doing a bit of each.

Your first assignment is to choose from a pool of different styles of music where the first 8 or so bars have been composed and then to continue the piece for another minute or so. This assignment is eye-openingly brilliant. Firstly, it's a "real" assignment. In the realm of commercial work, a basic skill-set to be able to work for a composer as an assistant is to be able to take a little piece your boss wrote and to finish the cue. In some of these music houses they have a lot of work coming through and they need assistants who can handle musical duties (and not sound terribly different from the composer you're working for.) Further assignments involve music editing, writing in a variety of styles, writing to picture, and a course called "critical reflections."

As it turns out, one of the most important modules is the Critical Reflections module. This is because research is a vital part of, well, virtually everything. Heck, even Junkie XL says that his first step when writing a new score is to research first. When I started this module (which is several months long and ends in a 5000-word paper) I thought "Meh, whatever" but I got into it and I started following Tim Summer's lectures and then it was all leading up to "bad music" and I was thinking "Yes, this makes sense, it's all coming together now. Because now we understand what "bad" is and that reveals what "good" is and..." But the course came to a complete end before we answered that question. And the entirety of the thesis I plan to do for my PhD if/when I do that is based on what I felt was the cliff right at the end of the Critical Reflections module.

Online learning
An online degree in commercial music does have certain merit. The biggest reason is that in order to do this kind of composing you essentially need a home recording studio. Having enough working labs at a school for composers, orchestrators, and sound designers, would become very ungainly very quickly. You'd need to standardize all the labs and it would be really irritating really quickly.

So I agree with the online learning aspect of it. Also, you end up getting a mix of teachers from all over the world who have done everything. I mean really heavy-duty people and people are constantly working. You will get to sit in on webinars with really high-end people who have actually done big movies, huge videogames, well-known television series, some primo talent. You will get to sit in with some amazing teachers from all around the world.

This is very cool.

A full-time student gets a half-hour one-on-one sessions (which they call "1-2-1 sessions") with a tutor each week. They're on Skype or some such. My composition tutor, Spencer Bambrick, was fantastic. To really take advantage of your tutor  you have to go into it not being all precious about your work. You want to listen to their advice and then apply it. Having someone to listen to your work and give you feedback and suggestions each week really keeps you grounded. You know where you are and have a clue about how you're doing. If you're lucky and you've done everything they've told you, you might get them as a grading tutor (you can't select them, they're luck of the draw.) If you did all the work and everything they said, you better get a distinction out of it. ;-) But seriously, I was shocked that some students weren't taking advantage of what we in the States would call "office hours" because goodness gracious it is wonderful. You want to learn? Do your work and then talk to your tutor.

[This is where I reveal that technically I cheated in my course and for several months I had two tutors each week -- one for my music work and the other for my research paper. That was great. And I genuinely thought I was allowed two tutors a week. It's not like I was taking anyone's time. I mean, a lot of students who were there when I was there were just not taking advantage of having a working professional composer holding their hands through these assignments. Note that it is possible to pay for more tutorial sessions, so I could have just done that.]

In any case, I cannot over-stress how great the 1-2-1 sessions are. They're easily worth the price of admission.

The administration of the school is plagued by a fantastically obtuse bureaucracy as one could possibly imagine for such a relatively small organization. Schools seem very good at making their administrations comically Kafka-esque and Thinkspace is about as bad at it as every other school I know of. (I'm pretty sure they're all run by the same castle on top of the same hill.)
It took six weeks for me to get an email address (many of the administration issues center around the interface between Thinkspace and the University of Chichester as they seem to only talk to one another quarterly.) I finished my course in September 2019 and I presumed I would graduate in October 2019 (I even contacted Chichester and they assured me that I was graduating in absentia ) but the Board of Examiners at Chichester doesn't meet until February of 2020 so it won't be until the following October, 2020 or November, 2020 that I could actually graduate. So, upwards of 14 months after turning in my last assignment.

Which is after my third execution has been re-scheduled by The Castle.

On the good side of administrative things is the Help Desk. Rather than just sending emails to the school to ask questions, one nominally opens a ticket. That part is an excellent system even if, er, sometimes the answers that come back are just straight-up incorrect. But even regular non-distance-learning schools should institute Help Desks. You send an inquiry via Help Desk to your professor or whomever and it's logged and doesn't involve filling up your professor's in-box with incoherent emails which begin with the words "Yo, Doc, 'sup?" (Which is something that drives teachers nuts.)

What you'll need
You need a DAW. Lots of people know and love Cubase, but there are plenty of Digital Performer and Logic adherents out there and then there's the radicals who know Reaper is where it's at. I am, of course, a cranky and self-righteous Samplitude user. ("Here's a nickle, kid, get yourself a real DAW.")
You may as well get a subscription to East West Play. The monthly cost with student discount is very reasonable. Heck, it's reasonable without. It takes some work but you can do fantastic, working mockups just using Play. The library is enormous. Yeah, there are nice things about Cinesamples Studio Strings, there are some brass libraries that are nice, but go ahead and get Play.

(If you're in the Orchestration program you will need ProTools. With the student discount it's like $10/month or something. You'll also need Sibelius. I don't remember what those are with student discounts.)

If you work on a PC, hunt around the Internet for CamelPhat distortion/filter plugin. They stopped making it for a while but I think Apple bought it and it's available in Logic now. For the PC you'll have to... er... find it.

What you'll want
Eventually you'll want some Spitfire libraries. Unlike pretty much everyone else, every Spitfire library is instantly musical right out of the box.
You're gonna need the full version of Native Instruments Kontakt. You wanna be a professional composer? You need Kontakt.

Guy will encourage you strongly to get the Valhalla DSP Vintage Verb. Just get it. It's $50. You have amazing reverbs in the Play library you got. I have an excellent convolution reverb and algorithmic reverb built into Samplitude but the Valhalla is "wider" and sounds a bit prettier so that's what I go with most of the time. Also, it's $50.

Lots of people are into the Slate plugins. I can see the attraction. I am a man, however, with peculiar taste in plugins.

What you don't want
Vienna Ensemble Pro to make a network. Yeah, Guy has a 6-computer system. Junkie XL too (multiples of them). All with VSL networking. But you know what? Get a computer with 128GB of RAM and a couple SSD drives instead. I mean probably. I'm not you. You do whatever you want.
I think this is a thing which is currently in flux (it being the year 2019). I think back in 2015 you absolutely needed a VSL network but now not so much. I could be wrong. Just watch, next year I'll have a bunch of computers networked with VSL. But for now not so much.

What I learnt
The big lesson for me personally, the thing I tend to do which I need to do differently, is that I will tend to get into a mood or groove and just stay there. Most modern underscore changes every couple bars. I learned this about me on literally the second day of induction, by Tim Johnson. Yes, it took me a year to even remotely make me "internalize" that lesson. The lesson that I learned. On my second day. Seriously, there are lots of little things I learned over the 13-months, but boy-o-nelly. That was the big un. Still, took repetition and time to sink into my little brain.

How to do it
With every assignment you also deliver a commentary form. Unfortunately the questions on the form are created for the tutor who marks your grade. This means you're answering questions that aren't on the form and are frequently just straight-up ignoring the question and writing something else in the box below it.

Every assignment is marked and given extensive feedback. I mean the tutors who mark and grade the assignments work a lot on it. Each module normally has three assignments: two formatives and one summative. The "formatives" do not count toward your final grade.

The thing about the feedback you get is that sometimes it contradicts the feedback you got from your 1-2-1 tutor, and sometimes the grading tutors don't agree with one another. But it's important to note that not all of the critiques affect your grade. Two things happen: one is that you'll get feedback which is clearly "just opinion." It's stuff a tutor might say that's good advice (like, I don't know, telling you to do a key-change differently in the horns) but they know it's just their opinion. The other thing is that as you get a higher and higher grade you're likely to get more and more detail. So it could sound like they're really nitpicking your viola divisi (or whatever) but that's because what you're doing is so good they can start to listen to that level of detail and give advice at that persnickety a level.

But man, the tutors put 45 minutes into marking each assignment. They are not fooling around. You will have a lot of detail. Don't get precious, use that detail to fix up the work. You will get specific feedback with suggestions. On more than one occasion I got a note about a cue being too, say, "dense" and to lighten it up until the climax maybe by adding a flute melody, but instead of rewriting it, I just yanked out the plodding horns that were tying up the first few bars and voila! The melody already hiding underneath came out and the music built properly.

Everybody's on the same side here. They want the music to be as great as it can be.

My advice to the student is that the student should put as much detail as they can into their commentary. In the student's commentary, they should remind the tutor or tell them what the feedback they'd gotten from 1-2-1's was, and what feedback they got from formatives (do not assume the tutor has seen or heard from you before.) Make sure you write up all the stuff you did that's different and what feedback you got and why you did things the way you did. Even say "I did not get my feedback from the 2nd formative before submitting this summative" in the commentary. I even made sure the actual assignment was in the commentary because sometimes those assignments change and the tutors are grading you based on the old way the assignment was written.
And lastly, for the assignments which I got smacked on (I passed but, yeah, I just passed) I still got really well thought-out feedback. They had specific problems with what I did but they put the details of what those problems were. So I was bummed about the grade but it was fair.

All the things
Of all the kinds of composing there is out there in the world, I would actually suggest that composing for media (film, TV, video games) is the most freeing. I know. But hear me out. If you're what BMI calls a "serious concert composer" you're going to be shoehorned into whatever your "shtick" is. If your thing is minimalism, you need to produce a lot of minimalist music. If you're a serialist, boy-oh-boy you gotta get your 12-tone ducks in a tone row. And if you're a "pop" composer, you pretty much need to do whatever the thing is you're known for. You write/produce hip-hop? Then no heavy metal or country ballads for you (certainly no symphonic music.)
But a media composer only has to make music that will serve the media. Yes, you do get pigeonholed in your career, but if you want to do hip-hop mixed with Romantic strings, a djembe, and Javanese opera, you can -- as long as it serves the picture (and, you know, if the production team likes it.)

Next up: the value of research.

Monday, October 28, 2019

PMC Final Major Project

Assignment Mark (Summative)

Assignment Score 60 %
Tutor Notes

Chris McGuire's Notes:
Hi Andrew
Thank you for a commentary that details so much about the intent of the film and narrative arch. And for supplying direct references to David’s notes on the last review.
You raise some interesting points in your research particularly surrounding the role of music and its enaction with visuals. There is an interesting comparison made between Goldsmith’s approach to scoring against Guonadottir, perhaps they are both products of their time period in film music history in this regard: Goldsmith perhaps had greater freedoms to make those statements.
You draw on your references well which can be heard in your score.
Act 4
This has a bold opening which works well especially the timps. At 20s the audio mix moves towards some dead space. Some sound design/ambience could be present there to tie us over to the introduction of the next musical moment (this might not be in your remit, but might be worth passing on your thoughts here).
A nice entry around 51s. Delicate and intriguing. The tail around 1m15s could be a touch more lingering so it doesn’t suddenly drop out. It’s a nice colouring and doesn’t take over.
2m36s the lower more aggressive string note here is a good reflection of his ominous line. 3m36s, the pitch bend works excellently, and the general setting is completely right here.
The cue through 4m15s is effective, simple and adds appropriate tension. The lingering evolution from 4m30s is great as is the slight growth through to 5 minutes. You really allow this tone to evolve and develop: culminating in a nice figure that takes us towards 5m30s with low woods exposing a new colour here.
At 5m40s the opening woodwind pitches are distracting, you could remove these and start with the 3rd pitch only, with a more subtle fade in. As those acoustic elements are removed from the pulsing tone they appear at odds with one another in close proximity. Through 6minutes to 6m24s the low end percussion feels totally out of place. It plays on cliché and isn’t subtle in heightening the tension. What could be more effective is using drones and pads along with low orchestral colours to push us through this sustained sequence. Drawing on features such as pitch bends that you have established in the palette earlier would work well and tease out an ominous feeling. You could also double the pulsing tone with orchestral forces too as the camera pulls back.
From 6m44s the percussive hits are a little heavy handed. Pulsating synths and ominous drones get the sense of threat across on their own.
8m24s, this short musical injection isn’t needed in my opinion, the shot and dialogue are enough to frame the moment. 9m the hit and start of this cue is too forceful too early. Either it needs to enter more subtly and land on the exterior shot or be held back a few seconds till we see the exterior.
The introduction of melodic and more sentimental movements reflect your goal in the commentary. The piano and woods/sax in particular could benefit from more reverb to get a lingering wash across at the end of cues, they appear quite dry. The change at 9m55s to a more ominous synth based setting is quite stark and suddenly removes this sentimental language you have established. It doesn’t need to be as heavy handed here. You build tension well after the ‘I am very lucky’ line. Around 10m45s the second pairing of string notes are a little bare and could be covered with pad/low woods. The cluster moving through 11m05s is brilliant, it just encroaches on the dialogue slightly, mix this moment down a touch.
As the android turns and smiles, there could be the continuing sense of threat to draw on her sudden change of character, it is unnerving to the audience and could be highlighted. That would segue nicely into juxtaposing with the delicate piano line following this. 11m40s, this drone starts far too loud, it could be subtle and then sweep over the whole scene. Again the percs at the close are ineffective.

Act 5
Leaving room between longer musical phrases ensures that spotting is well balanced in this act. You have chosen good sound sources to punctuate moments in the narrative such as the moment at 4m25s.
What I’d like to see is some of the tail ends of these cues lingering a touch longer to supply cover and extend the sense of aura after moments like at 4m25s. There is something excruciating about overly loud footsteps that follow! This totally destroys a great ambience and atmosphere you have established. (granted the sound mix isn’t cleaned up yet).
There are some evocative pulsing synths that are effective in raising the tension; this is particularly well done over the sustained shots such as the passage through 1m50s to 2m. From here you maintain the tension well through to 2m50s using gritty synths and drones interspersed with percs to good effect.
Occasionally, as in Act 4 the percs are not needed and disrupt the sense of tension for me. Looking at the passage between 4m50s and 5m05s, the percs + delays completely crowd this space that could have been left with that simple but effective ticking synth before the edgy entry at 5m11s. from here the percussion does add some extra momentum which is warranted.
The strings through the extended exterior shot from 5m56s to 7m are too dry, they would benefit from cover or perhaps something more repetitive and expansive than short fragmented melodies in order to reflect the scale of the shot. More texture could have been added to reflect the ‘forcefield’ that is consuming most of the shot particularly at first in this sequence.
The sense of foreboding from 7m09 works well, the shift at 8m04s is over-scored. Currently, to the audience, nothing has changed yet; yes there could be a rise in the tension at the mention of setting up a perimeter but a shift so drastic as this diminishes the western character’s entrance.
The interaction between Varl and the Cameron from 9m20s could be reinforced within the score, the music loses focus and it is unclear which direction this interaction is going. Ramping up the tension as the Cameron starts to realise what is at stake would add direction here.

Act 6
There is a sense of urgency building towards 2m13s, driven especially by the repeated motifs in strings. The hit is far too large at 2m14s and could be scaled back; it draws on a cliché and would underpin Cameron’s facial expression more appropriately if the punctation was more subtle: try a sub and the sliding synths only and take out percs.
The mix feels a little rough in this act, moments where the score completely swamps the dialogue. Some musical elements are overly loud such as the sliding pitch at 1m21s.

Act 7
The spotting from the opening of this act feels frantic: the score is caught between maintaining the urgency around action sequences whilst pausing on cuts to interior moments. As a result of this fragmentation there is no sense of cohesion; action is lost and moments to allow for dialogue feel underplayed. Relying solely on strings for the shoot out at the opening is simply not carrying enough force and energy in the context of the sound palette used elsewhere in other acts. It feels thin and slightly cheap.
Percussive elements are over-stated (from 1m21s) and create a safety net rather than a sense of chaos. Lower piano lines work, there could be more movement in the textural synth pads (sliding pitches, increasing detunes). Percussion could have been consisting of shorter ticky-tackies instead of these bigger hits, any other sound design is going to be in favour over these perc hits and reduce the score’s impact.
The moment at 2m48s is overplayed. From 2m57s the elements of the score lack any sense of cohesion with one another. Strings, pulsing zebra synth and percs are all acting independently; this is a sequence that could be tying all these characters together before the robots/spacecraft engage each other. There is no reflection of the impacts or hit points in this action sequence. There could have been shifts made when the spacecraft seemingly crashes and the red robot keels over.
There is a nice change in energy at 4m10s for the foot chase. Again, the number of layers you have through this sequence (to 4m49s) is simply not enough; adding more textural glue will enable you to create further evolution in your sound palette as opposed to relying on melodic shapes and rhythmic patterns.
The melancholic approach from 4m56s offers a refreshing turn in the score.
Pacing is effective in the next sequence allowing for diaglogue to 7m08s. There is an awkward pause in the score after ‘I have returned to a pre-existing state’ at 7m12s. Extend the previous cue. The short interspersing taps on lower strings punctuate the realisation of the role the captain and Cameron played, the sustained note from 8m20s feels forced; moving away from strings for this moment would offer variety here. The closing notes on the piano work well, the sustained higher pitched string note could be taken out.

Act 8
The chaotic nature of the opening of this cue could offer a transition to the suspense material just after 30s to ensure cohesion between the two moods you are aiming for. Layers are again overly exposed on the whole and could benefit from thickening the orchestration (use of pads/drones alongside acoustic orchestral elements particularly the tremolo strings, lower woods and piano at the close). The score could reflect the explosion at 1m33s, either by building up to this point or landing more urgently after this moment.

In summary, there are moments of highly effective juxtapositions between synth/acoustic elements that are well-realised. Particularly in Act 4 and Act 5. The quality of this deteriorates somewhat in the final few acts. Action sequences could have been better realised by use of more intricate textures as opposed to relying on 2 or 3 sound sources to carry the impact through melody or aleatoric rhythm for sustained periods; the effect wears off. Percussion is often heavy-handed when more consideration to intricate rhythmic devices would have built more tension.
You clearly have good instincts for spotting and placing of music; you are sensitive to leaving space for dialogue. If a sequence starts to feel too fragmented as a result, we need to create glue in the score that can underpin the dialogue without crowding it to retain a sense of atmosphere. There are some cues that end too abruptly for me, more expansive use of reverb would reflect the setting and the musical language you are using.
All the best, and congratulations for completing your final submission!

Research Good
Creative Good
Technical Good
Practical Fair

Chris McGuire's Summary:
In summary, there are moments of highly effective juxtapositions between synth/acoustic elements that are well-realised. Particularly in Act 4 and Act 5. The quality of this deteriorates somewhat in the final few acts. Action sequences could have been better realised by use of more intricate textures as opposed to relying on 2 or 3 sound sources to carry the impact through melody or aleatoric rhythm for sustained periods; the effect wears off. Percussion is often heavy-handed when more consideration to intricate rhythmic devices would have built more tension.
You clearly have good instincts for spotting and placing of music; you are sensitive to leaving space for dialogue. If a sequence starts to feel too fragmented as a result, we need to create glue in the score that can underpin the dialogue without crowding it to retain a sense of atmosphere. There are some cues that end too abruptly for me, more expansive use of reverb would reflect the setting and the musical language you are using.

David Denyer's Notes:
Hi Andrew,

Thanks for this final submission, and nicely in-depth commentary, and congratulations on the completion of this work!

It’s great to see the previous feedback taken to heart - these changes have made a big difference in a number of areas and it’s pulled up this work quite a bit. The commentary generally was a really good breakdown of your process but could certainly have gone more in depth in regards to the research - which particular cues of which particular composers interested you most? Score inserts, cue timecodes, specific referencing to your own cues, maybe notations of your themes, etc could all really add to the evidencing of research here. Your bibliography cites a few composers and lists their wikipedia pages - what’s really needed here is reference to specific films, or even specific tracks, more specificity, more focus.

Act 4

Pulling back a lot of the overscored moments in this act have really helped this scene along. The volume seems much better now and the scenes really work in a much more subtle way, which helps give the actors more room to perform and really lets the scenes breathe much more. It’s nice! I even think you could go further , believe it or not - I get the sense that some of these heavy percussion hits are still a bit much and some sequences (especially around 6 minutes, at the end of the conversation scene) could find a less heavy handed way to handle suspense. I would argue that some of your sequences could do with more directionality. For instance, 6:30 - 7:09 feels quite flat and it’s a shame because this sequence does have quite a nice visual narrative, and a fairly directional journey. I would try and find a way to make this sequence more of a journey for the audience such that you’re helping the visuals to reveal certain things and emphasise certain shots - for instance, the shot at 6:41, the moment at 7:03. This kind of “flat” scoring really suits the visual and aural nihilism of Zimmer’s oeuvre of work, but this film is shot with a little more humanity, I think, than Blade Runner 2049 and these little visual journeys are worth reflecting. The entry at 9:00 feels a bit early - this could be more of a pre-tail and less of a big hit.

Act 5

Again nice work taking onboard the feedback from before. The newer focus on subtlety works much better. This scene from 2:58 works really nicely - adds just the right amount of tension in just the right places. The percussion towards the end of this scene still feels like a bit much. Maybe mix it lower - the distant percussion idea is quite nice but here it’s a bit distracting. I still don’t like the synth sound at 1:29 - just feels a bit dated. Many synth plugins have presents that sound really quite silly in cinematic contexts and this may be one of them. Certainly an aggressive low pass on this to kill the laser-quest sci-fi buzziness would be a good idea. Really love this stuff at 5:23. But again the point about directionality comes up - this section feels a little bit flat and could follow the visual narratives a bit more closely. I think your synth pads do quite well but the percussion is just a bit predictable and a little samey. The vista at 5:52 is nice but I do feel it’s missing something. In the orchestration - more middle voices, something a bit more weighty perhaps, more doubling, more octave doubling, more harmonies maybe. The staccati strings at 6:45 make a lovely textural shift but feel a bit exposed up there. Maybe down a couple of octaves would work. Ambient, sporadic percussion works well around 7:10. Nice stinger at 8:04, sets up the impending threat nicely, but might be a bit overdone. The wide shot exposes their vulnerability, true, but your music does pre-empt the reveal. It would be lovely, though, at this point to maybe have a chord progression of some kind. It all feels very very droney, and while that’s quite genre appropriate, for this bigger moments, like 8:04, maybe a move from the tonic up to the subdominant minor and back again would be a great basis for some kind of thematic statement. I think you rely on drones a little too much and you miss a few opportunities for nice thematic moments. Overall nice work though.

Act 6

This opening stinger, again I feel the need maybe for a chord progression or some kind of bassline movement, as the drones are just feeling a bit too static. Atmospheres from 0:30 are really nice and subtle. Nice hitpoint at 1:06 but it’s just rather too loud for me - could certainly be mixed back a bit. Bassline at 1:12 is lovely - this is more of what I’ve been getting at. More of this kind of thing would be great. 1:33, lovely. Love these bends. Lovely build at 1:55 - but I think it’s mixed too loud, the dialogue is obscured. Same for the hitpoint at 2:14 - lovely hitpoint, but somewhat overdone - probably just 10db or so too loud.

Act 7

Nice opening stinger, but this synth pulse that lasts just a few seconds feels a bit random. The exposed string angular lines at 0:17 are quite nice lines but they feel a bit exposed and need a bit of help. It also feels like the spotting is quite random here - it should probably be matched with the movement of the gun about 3 seconds earlier. A staccato pedal underneath this would do wonders, I think. Sequence at 0:37 is tricky. It’s a shame because certainly part of the problem is the filmmaking which lingers on these relatively slow shots (robot moving away, protagonist running, etc) which aren’t terribly exciting but the film clearly requires some kind of tension. With that in mind you’ve done a good job but I think probably a faster percussion undercurrent might help. Your work all feels a bit slow and epic here and maybe something more in line with action scoring convention would sit better. It also might not, but the laboriousness of your music actually accentuates the slowness of the filming here and this doesn’t help things. 1:30 is working quite nicely, love the piano stuff. Probably some kind of percussive or other kind of constant undercurrent could subtly help to keep consistency - as it stands the erraticness of the music is a teensy bit distracting. At 2:53, strings feel very exposed. Maybe lower octave and on cello would work better. Sequencing here is also a bit of an issue - these string parts are one of the very few parts of the sequencing that isn’t convincing - you’ve done a fine job elsewhere. Needs more dynamics, more expression control, more spice. This ship battle from 3:26 is lovely. Really love this sequence. Love the slightly ethereal quality here too. Gliss at 4:45 is great, love this way to end a cue. Great tonal shift too. Love the intense basses at 8:21. Great way to bring in synths. Really grungy sound. Perhaps too overstated though.

Act 8

Fight sequence feels a bit exposed as some of the others have done. Shame to have no sync point at 1:17, but the explosion is a good one to hit.

Overall there’s some great work here, much of which I could certainly see appearing in a professional context. There’s still a general tendency to lean towards overscoring and some moments go a bit heavy on the percussion. Drones feel a bit over-weighted from time to time. Otherwise, some great changes from last time and it’s really nice to see previous feedback responded too. Research could do with much more intensity and focus in order to bring this probably more in line with convention (comparisons with scenes from BSG, for instance, might really help you to get a sense of where you’re overscoring). Production overall is good with very few exceptions. Strong work!

Research: FAIR
Creative: GOOD
Technical: GOOD
Practical: GOOD

Kind regards,


David Denyer's Summary:
Overall there’s some great work here, much of which I could certainly see appearing in a professional context. There’s still a general tendency to lean towards overscoring and some moments go a bit heavy on the percussion. Drones feel a bit over-weighted from time to time. Otherwise, some great changes from last time and it’s really nice to see previous feedback responded too. Research could do with much more intensity and focus in order to bring this probably more in line with convention (comparisons with scenes from BSG, for instance, might really help you to get a sense of where you’re overscoring). Production overall is good with very few exceptions. Strong work!

Douglas Black Heaton's Notes:
Hi Andrew,

Thanks for sending in your final project - I'm really interested to see what you've done. It's a great achievement to reach this stage and well done on finding such an interesting project to work on!


Obviously, some classic references there with the late, great Jerry Goldsmith on Alien and Planet of the Apes, but also some good contemporary sci-fi references with Blade Runner 2049 (not sure how contemporary this is as a throwback to Vangelis but the updated retro-analogue sound is very popular these days) and especially Gudnadottir who is very much the flavour of the moment (although I guess you'll have started this before Chernobyl hit the screens).

It's good that you've identified questions to ask of your own music and been able to analyse the references you mentioned to try and answer those questions. Listening to your score you can hear how you've been influenced by the references and how you've tried to solve those problems. Your in-depth commentary is really useful as a window into your approach. You've also provided your answers to review feedback which is very useful.

The Bibliography links to Wikipedia don't really add anything on their own - we're all familiar with the composers. Links to films, scenes etc. that influenced you would be more useful.

I'm going to go through the different acts now..


Strong opening, although it sounded a little dated to me - timpani used like that are more classic Goldsmith/Williams. The spotting where you score the "outside" moments and go quiet for the "inside" moments feels a little jarring in places (e.g. 00:37) - some kind of overlap would be useful to tie the scenes together.

00:52 nice subtle scoring here as they introduce the android idea. Strange to cut it so suddenly at 01:13. This happens again when the theme is re-introduced and disappears at 01:45. Should I assume these spotting decisions are the directors?

02:13 "went rogue" .. maybe slightly ahead of the dialogue here.

03:27 "Righteous" nice moment but again disappears very quickly.

04:12 "since you're on our side now". Nice subtle synth dive for the uncertainty.

04:48 nice build into more melodic material. 05:19 could keep more of the background atmosphere going as it goes a little flat despite the cello still playing.

05:41 "what's your goal here?". Nice build but the percussion feels too heavy.

06:30 this synth dive feels too forceful. A real element of imminent danger that we're not getting visually. Your commentary says the danger is there but I would consider starting more subtly, building to the entry of the robot. Again, the percussion is too heavy.

08:13 "looking for the capsule" - not sure on the point of this sound design. Sounds like a sound effect that doesn't really link to anything. Instead of thinking "android" I was wondering where the hydraulic lift was.

09:02 Transition through to the Sagan scene is ok although a little heavy, possibly a bit early too. The hit at 09:20 feels very over the top for the moment.

09:33 The piano feels out of place with the rest of the score - you mentioned wanting emotional investment in your commentary but this stands out too much. I would consider processing it more. Either glitching, adding delays or a big reverb to give it more character within the score.

11:00 this build up of dissonance works but, in my opinion, feels too unfocused and covers the "I feel like that all the time" dialogue.

11:32 "When they die". Nice build following this and good transition although again the percussion is too heavy.

Tech note: There's an underlying buzz to the score of Act 4- evident on the mp3 where I assumed it was from the sync sound on the mp4. This should be dealt with.


I note that you've removed percussion from the start as per your review notes. Good that you took them onboard as this scene feels natural enough without.

01:19 transition across the outside to Delta works ok. The sound here feels a bit random (with added gulls), perhaps that's the plan. Again the percussion is too much. There's also a percussive synth that sounds a bit cheesy "who wants to be a millionaire". I'm not sure you need that added percussion but if yes I'd find a different sound.

01:58 This hit works well as does the tail. Perhaps a little more reverb.

02:11 Opening works well but then I would back off a bit. Lose the percussion and the rest can be mixed lower to provide more ambience. At 02:49 I can hear a faint dive in the background but otherwise this feels flat as though the music finished nicely and then starts suddenly again moments later only to disappear again. The tail could do with more reverb to leave the sound hanging in the air rather than abruptly cutting off.

03:39 The ominous low tones work well here. Understated.

04:29 the music dies away but would work better if it connected to the cue at 04:33

05:00 The percussion is too much. The rest works well enough.

05:52 It works to keep this music going over the transition. The dark strings introduced here work well. I like the echoing of the lines between speakers although this is a long walk and would have been a great opportunity for more developed thematic material as it's a long time with little visual interest to keep the tension going. The spiccato strings at 06:45 that echo between speakers are incredibly dry. These could benefit from reverb.

08:00 Setting up the perimeter. Most of this works but again the overuse of heavy percussion detracts. I would also start more subtly with tension and introduce the imminent danger element only when we see Varl - now you're pre-empting.

08:27 Good to keep the tension through here although it dissipates at 08:48 when there's a real threat. This is very threatening and that tension isn't really reflected in the music. The edit is a bit flabby so the music needs to work overtime to keep the tension going.

09:45 This is too early. He's just made a threat but still speaking. Should be tension until he disappears and then have the ominous motif across the transition and shot of the spaceship.

11:47 A good end to the scene but does run over the dialogue a bit. I know this soundmix will be cleaned but you might already need to tamp down the music until the dialogue is clear. The directors want to hear their dialogue otherwise your tension ending to the scene will be compromised when they turn the volume down and then up again.


Opening hit is a bit cliched. A like the subtle opening of the scene - it's quite atmospheric/drone-like but I think it works well in this context.

01:07 Too big a hit for this moment. The dive/wind down would be fine. Perhaps wait a beat or two more before starting the section with strings.

Nice sense of tension build but we're losing the dialogue - don't assume they'll mix it nicely, you need to work around the the speech. The "you got there first" silence is good but the following hit at 02:14 feels too big for the moment and then coupled with the percussion is reminiscent of a soap opera. The key ingredients are here but more subtlety is required. The continuation of the cue over the transition to 02:29 works well.

02:55 On the mp4 there are some percussion like sounds and possibly a drone but these aren't on the mp3. Is this from the sound designer?

04:12 interesting that you've not scored any of this. Seem to be some moments that would benefit from it.

04:55 strings feel a little static.

Abrupt cut off at the end of the cue on the mp4 but the mp3 is ok.


Heavy percussion again. I know this is part of your sound but it wears a little thin over the whole score. More subtle percussion might work.

00:13 we have the tension pulse going but then even when we see Cameron duck down and fire the music carries on in the same mode until 00:17 (after the forcefield) when it ends abruptly before we start on a completely different style cue. I think you could mark these moments musically and you could smooth out the transition between cues by using a similar palette throughout. Perhaps some spiccato occasionally on the pulse, or the pulse continuing under the spiccato later on. The action string approach works for action/tension and we need to imagine other sfx taking up audio bandwidth. The ending at 00:29 is again a bit abrupt - more reverb would tide it over. Better still, as we continue with the tension mode keep the cue running and build into the next moment.

The action moments kind of work but feel a bit disconnected. This isn't helped when you keep breaking for the Sagan conversation.

01:29 I like this but it's quite dated. The percussion heavy, piano bass is very 1970s cop movie (think Lalo Schifrin) but the synth pulls it forward a bit. Perhaps the piano could be processed or glitched in a way that makes it sound less like a piano.

01:56 Nice tender moment however it stays tender even when she says "who are you?" and he points a gun at her (02:25). I would expect some musical variation on the news that she was a robot and then the danger.

03:00 from around this moment it gets a little chaotic - lots of stuff happening in the score but it doesn't feel like it hangs together. In particular the synth and strings seem to be doing their own thing. There's a high melody which has potential but feels almost heroic whilst following Yarl (our villain) this tone continues even when stuff blows up. Whilst we have an all round action feel the music doesn't seem to be be marking the visuals particularly. There are moments where you would expect a musical moment or tonal shift (e.g. ship hitting the robot and the robot collapsing) that aren't really reacted to.

04:22 the percussion for the chase on foot works better as it's more subtle. It feels like it's part of the score rather than the overly bombastic hits in other parts.

04:50 I'm not sure you can just cut here unless you know when the explosion sound will occur. Given that we only see the smoke later I would assume there is a gap between Yarl disappearing and the explosion. This timing is important.

05:00 Nice change of tone. Some of the more aggressive synths could be toned down but the the melancholy feel is good.

06:07 this works well. It has tension and interest. Nice melodic moments too. The bigger percussion is not required.

07:12 Why does the music end here when the revelation suggests more to come? A pre-existing state? What does that mean? There should be tension.. keep the cue going and blend into the next one.

The higher melodic strings work well.

08:20 This pedal note is too aggressive here. I can understand a quick burst of this but to keep it going for so long feels unnatural.

08:43 Piano works ok but as before, perhaps make it something more than a piano.


The opening works well although again, the piano bass action feels a little dated for me (as before).

00:19 the score goes flat here but the fighting and tension are ongoing. There's a gap before some sparse percussion. I would keep the action/tension moving until Delta gets the upper hand at 00:28. Consider continuing further and merging into the tension at 00:33 as we're not sure what Delta will do.

The drone and string scoring works ok but was surprised that although Varl is screaming and we're obviously on a countdown to an explosion at 01;18 the music calmly dies away instead of playing to this moment.

Overall, There are some nice creative ideas here but I found the implementation very uneven. The spotting is sensitive in some areas - perhaps too sensitive in breaking up the natural flow of the music for dialogue - but lacking in other areas. Visual moments that would need marking or changes in tone go by un-served. Some cues start and stop very abruptly in a way that jars - reverb could help with blending the tails. The instrumentation and orchestration doesn't quite gel as a sound for the film and is something that could be be worked on. The massive timpani/percussion hit sound is something to be used sparingly for effect - too often here it's a way of trying to inject drama/tension. Lots of the percussion could be stripped out to leave the more interesting layers underneath. Some of the scoring sounds dated - perhaps a result of the Goldsmith references. I think the hybrid balance between string/synth could be more balanced in some areas (e.g. action). I can see that you've acted on the feedback of several reviews and stripped back the score but I think you could go further and aim for more consistent subtlety than the bombastic moments.

Research: FAIR
Creative: GOOD
Technical: GOOD
Practical: FAIR

Congratulations on completing the final project and good luck with the movie!


Douglas Black Heaton's Summary:
Final Project "Edge of Oblivion" - There are some nice creative ideas here but I found the implementation very uneven. The spotting is sensitive in some areas - perhaps too sensitive in breaking up the natural flow of the music for dialogue - but lacking in other areas. Visual moments that would need marking or changes in tone go by un-served. Some cues start and stop very abruptly in a way that jars - reverb could help with blending the tails. The hybrid instrumentation and orchestration doesn't quite gel as a sound for the film and is something that could be worked on. The massive timpani/percussion hit sound is something to be used sparingly for effect - too often here it's a way of trying to inject drama/tension. Lots of the percussion could be stripped out to leave the more interesting layers underneath. Some of the scoring sounds dated - perhaps a result of the Goldsmith references. I think the hybrid balance between string/synth could be more balanced in some areas (e.g. action). I can see that you've acted on the feedback of several reviews and stripped back the score but I think you could go further and aim for more consistent subtlety than the bombastic moments. Good luck with the rest of the movie!

Tim Johnson's Notes:
Congratulations on the completion of your degree Andrew!

What happens next?

Your marks will be moderated and then presented at the next exam board in February. If the board is satisfied that you have met the criteria for the award to be given you will be notified by post with transcripts of your grades. You will also be invited to attend the 2020 graduation ceremony in October/November.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Your Panda Relegates Influence Triumphantly

Akzidenz Grotesk font.

An analysis of squirrel gaits.

Ear training.

Kilohearts makes sound-design tools.

Republique video game.

Hummie Mann's doctoral thesis from University of Salford. "The temporal and rhythmic effect on musical composition and form when scoring dramatic moving picture."

Super Patron.

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area which I mean, why aren't we shooting there?

Game accessibility guidelines.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Dumb Generator Batch

Because I am dumb, all I knew how to do was to put the Plastic SCM "UE4PlasticPlugin" folder inside of Unreal's plugins folder. That's basically all I know. It seems to work. I've already said more than I know or understand.

Here is a computer voice generator.

F2 can be used to batch rename files in Windows X.

The Phygrian Dominant scale.

Naiant makes really cool audio stuff.

GRM Tools. Software for sound design.

Sound Skulptor SSL-style compressor in a 500-series rack.

Working long hours is nuts. And they do that in Hollywood at nutso levels.

I swear I am getting less intelligent each and every day. Sheesh.

Trackspacer is a thing.

Game accessibility guidelines.

These are the ten best fonts. Do not argue! THESE ARE THE 10 BEST.

Akzidenz-Grotesk (best typeface ever designed)
New Baskerville (best serif ever designed?)
DIN 1451 (German. Standard.)
Franklin Gothic
HTF Didot (Bodoni is also a revival font. I don't know what that means)
Gotham (Obama's favorite)
Knockout (sans serif)
Gill Shadow (which, I mean, 10 best? Oy.)
Sabon (basted on Garamond)

Monday, October 07, 2019


Game design. Stuff like "hooks."

Rabbit model.

Rabbits do, allegedly, and according to the Internet, have different gaits. But by and large, they do their high-speed gallop thing, and then walk the same way: front two, back two, front two, etc.

Lucy amuses me. Here he uses his tail as a torch. 
Basic microphone design.

PhD Salford:
Most standard composition portfolios are about an hour in length, with a commentary of anything between 15-30,000 words.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Copland FIlms


4 OCTOBER, 2019



MUSIC FOR RADIO: SAGA OF THE PRARIE (1937, CBS Radio commission)

Early orchestral work from Copland's populist period, renamed in 1968 (by Copland) "Prairie Journal."



Suite of Selections from 1939-40 Copland-scored films

New England Countryside and Sunday Traffic (The City, 1939 NY World's Fair documentary)

Threshing Machines and Barley Wagons (Of Mice and Men, 1939)

OUR TOWN (1940)

Suite from Film

Piano Suite

Grover's Corners

:00 - 2:22 (especially 1:39 - 1:57)

Soda Fountain Scene (George and Emily)

2:26 - 4:29

Cemetery Hill

4:32 - end (especially 4:58 - 6:26; 6:38 - 7:12)

FIELD OF DREAMS (1989, James Horner)

The Place Where Dreams Come True

"Our Town" influence (Grover's Corners, Cemetery Hill)

:56-1:10, 1:54 - 2:34, 3:22-3:44, 4:21 -4:39, 5:45 - 6:33, 8:25-9:04

THE RED PONY (1949, scored Spring 1948)

Suite from Film

2. The Gift

4. Walk to the Bunkhouse

6. Happy Ending

THE HEIRESS  (1949, scored December 1948)

(Orch. Suite) assembled by Arnold Freed

Plaisir d'amour (source material, interpolated into film score by Copland at request of director Wyler)

Scene from film (YT excerpt)


SOMETHING WILD (1961 independent film, scored in NY)

MUSIC FOR A GREAT CITY (adapted from score to above)

1. Skyline (note: Rosenman-like brass around 1:14)

2. Night Thoughts

3. Subway Jam (note: muted trombones)

4. Toward the Bridge

Thursday, September 12, 2019

School's Out

 The end of my course at Thinkspace/University of Chichester is technically a week from this past Monday. Or, rather, it ends on this coming Monday. My main tutor is going on to get his PhD from Hart. And I'm trying to push my nose into an online PhD program at Salford, Manchester.
In any case, what it certainly means is that I'm not in school anymore. And I miss it. I even started taking some other courses (I can do that -- as a degree student I have access to all courses now and for the future. I'm even allowed to go to webinars (but to take a "back seat").

It was only a year ago I heard I got in. Sigh. My eldest brother would have been the most excited about me finishing this program. Well, next to my dad I suppose. And it's totally a selfish thing to think that way but for so many years I would think "Oh, I need to show this to my mom" before remembering.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Pictures on the Moon

Turns out, this picture is "fake." It's fake only in that it was significantly altered, with more black "sky" added.

That said, I still insist the Apollo astronauts were really terrific photographers. Sure, Armstrong messed up the framing on one of the most iconic photographs in the world. But it's in focus and correctly exposed. He had to shoot without seeing through a viewfinder for crying out loud.
I can't figure out the actual film speed of the color film(s) they were using. It was all special-order 70mm Ektachrome.
Among things that are true is the fact that any 70mm photographs you took in that environment (space, the moon) would look amazing because they are, you know, space, and the moon.
All of the Apollo pictures are on Flickr.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

A Rule-Book for the Actor

The first thing each actor must do before embarking on the dream of creating a sceneae is to become aghast at the triumvirate demons of 1. occlusion 2. seduction 3. trans-configuration.
It is right and just for the quality Ldy in these times to maintain her antigravity belt in tip-top condition. Would you want to be left out? Grounded while your sisters are fighting the alien globes infesting the upper atmosphere?
We shall fin by the end of this interview whether you are human at all. And no, we do not mean the other thing. Please prepare yourself for the Questioning by the Imperial Accessor.
One: Do you taste metal in your mouth right now? Or plastic? Answer carefully.
Two: Have you or any of your pod been exposed in any way to that which is behind the door with no key?
(Have you ever seen that door open?)
Three: If ordered, will you actuate the backup knowing your own hive is in the Observatory platform?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

PMC:09 2nd Review

Assignment Score Merit
Tutor Notes

David Denyer's Notes:
Hi Andrew,

Thanks for this submission, and for your very detailed commentary, which is a useful insight into your process. It’s a shame you ended up raising the volume of the music so much (on the advice of previous feedback, granted), because the volume of music is a very important factor in its effectiveness. At present, the score generally feels on the “overscored” side, and often feels over-busy - and I’d say lots of this is because it’s been mixed too loudly (although I would also say that a tendency to overscore is generally present in this music, it would probably be less of an issue if the volume were lower). It also means some of the dialogue is lost.

You’ve picked up on some interesting filmic references here, but I’d suggest that the Blade Runner 2049 sound is the least effective of them - probably because the high-production synth sound work in Blade Runner because of the highly commercial, corporate world - this world seems more militaristic and apocalyptic. These synth tones could work really well but I think only in relation to the landscapes and vistas, rather than the interior conversations. I also sense you have a tendency to overuse the action tropes, especially the big percussive bangs - this works well in trailers, and in big, dramatic action scenes - but almost all of this film is dialogue. Ultimately, this is a drama more than an action or even a sci-fi film and I think a more considered use of subtlety in lots of these scenes would prove beneficial, as I will outline below.

Act 4

Really nice start to this, I quite like the distorted, glitchy effects in the very opening. Sets the scene in an extremely brutal way. Synchronisation could be more effective here - the cut at 0:10 is a very sudden shift of scene and I feel like this brass chord continuing underneath is bridging the gap in a way that I think is too “nice”. This cut can be more brutal, I think. Given that dialogue begins almost immediately it makes sense to drop suddenly too. Nice synchronisation at 0:28 again, but this peters out before the end of the cut - (0:36). I also think this moment feels a bit anaemic - maybe some very long, static octaves in strings, maybe with a very slow glissando or something - I feel like the landscape needs more of a comment here. The occasional percussion burst here (1:47) feels a little out of place, and kind of unnecessary - the environment is generating enough sound of its own that this whole scene is already quite suspenseful. At 2:12, when the Captain begins talking about the history - you have quite a nice string+synth (I think?) line to accentuate the moment but I think it’s flagged too hard. Again, possibly a volume issue but you don’t want to be too theatrical about “this is an important piece of knowledge!!”. I also think the horror-style aleatoric string scribblies are a bit over the top - subtlety here really would be an advantage. Especially in a scenario like this where the drama is not in what’s actually happening in the scene, but rather the exposition - if you overemphasise this is makes it seem the telling itself is the drama - which it isn’t. So distance is useful here - the drama is in memory, far away, an echo of something heavy. Nice build in drama at 3:28 but I feel like you pre-empt this a little too much in the music - his manner is still quite casual before he reveals the information, so I’d follow him rather than preempt him too much. This pulsey synth part at 4:23 feels a bit much - I’m not sure exactly what you’re accentuating here. Music really comes up at 4:38 and it feels a little unjustified - “this planet’s all she’s ever known” - I think perhaps again subtlety is the key here. 5:30 feels a bit clunky. The woodwind melody comes in a bit quick after the cut, I think. It’s nice to accentuate this moment “how many moves ahead have you calculated?” but I wouldn't overemphasise this, or it becomes too obvious and cheap. You can emphasise something by using delicacy too. 6:23 is a nice cut (although I’d avoid cymbal crashes as they’re a little old-fashioned). This brass cluster that comes in doesn’t do it for me - I think because at this point I’m yearning for a change of key and this is too similar to what we’ve had before - the visual language is different in this transition (more daylight) and I’d like for this to feel maybe a bit more open somehow. I also don’t want to hear this drone in this key anymore because we’re moving to a different sequence. I’m not totally sold on the Blade Runner buzz here, as I’ve mentioned - perhaps something a bit more corroded, corrosive, rusted, something with more grunge and less sparkle would do it for me. I also think the Blade Runner 2049 reference is quite an obvious one that many would pick up on - which would be a shame! Not too sure about the percussion and drones at 6:42 - I realise you’re trying to add an element of threat and suspense to this sequence (which is dark, uses sharp angles - good intuition here), but the percussion will always have something of an action emphasis that I don’t think is quite right. Perhaps some kind of synth tone that is by itself threatening - something high, detuned, something that is texturally threatening rather than overly active. This could work nicely. As it stands, it feels a little like you’re trying to “save” the film, that the sequence isn’t “epic” enough and a director has asked you to make it feel more “cool” (which, indeed, might be true). But this can be achieved without resorting to tropes and it’s in your best interest to try, I feel. At 7:09, it’d be nice if you emphasised the cut again a little more - a change of tonality would be wonderful here, a change of texture even - we’ve had a huge amount of very deep, low drones and the quite spectacular vista here warrants some comment. A change in texture would be very welcome at this point, even if it’s just brief. Nice decision to use silence at 7:26 - this is quite a touching moment between two old friends. It’s a shame the sound designer felt the need to overscore this sequence with ambient sound, which for me kills the tenderness. Oh well! 7:55 feels hugely overemphasised. Subtlety here is everything! I’m desperate for something more delicate in this moment. Again, perhaps even the lower volume would be enough but the insistence on deep drones feels a bit obvious by this point. The piano + Cor Anglais(?) at 9:09 is such a welcome shift. I’d kill the deep drones and percussive sounds if I were you (or at the very least cut out a lot of the lower frequencies). The ambient sound is already so flooded with lower frequencies, it’s better, I think to leave them out of the score. Very soft tam-tam hits could be a nice, higher-frequency replacement for these percussive hits. The sinister line at 10:31 is a bit much - a little too over-emphasised. Again, subtlety is key. Let the lines be the sinister element! Give the actor room to perform. A change of key at 11:31 would be a nice touch. Maybe a different woodwind instrument. Cluster at 12:02 seems pointless - not sure what it’s commenting on at this point.

Act 5

Again, lovely strong opening, brutal, but I’m not sure it actually suits the imagery here. Perhaps this doesn’t matter for the very beginning of an act but it continues for some time trying to add some kind of sinister emphasis to a scene that isn’t really very sinister. All the way up until 1:24 this feels misplaced - the percussion is heavy and action-y and the scene is quite small, and fairly intimate - I’d certainly consider cutting all percussion from this, but maybe even this scene doesn’t even need music. The passing of time can certainly be indicated in more subtle ways and I suspect watching this scene without music would reveal that perhaps it doesn’t really need anything - or if it does, what it needs is quite subtle. 1:24, again, great vista - I wonder if you could accompany this cut again with more of a textural shift rather than just a dynamic emphasis. Expansiveness could certainly be better expressed here. The pulsing synth at 1:29 feels quite cheap and a bit kitsch - doesn’t really work for a contemporary show. I’d try and find a way to express what you want to express in a way that’s a little less obvious. I also feel like there is just too much percussion here - by now we’ve heard so much percussion, it doesn’t really have the power it’s trying to wield and it’s becoming ineffective. Nice work with this sequence from 2:11 - This follows well the visual storytelling. I like the sounds too - the ticking might be a bit much - consider maybe halving the tempo and softening the higher frequencies. Electronic percussion at 2:50 feels a bit cheap - and the ticking clock that comes back in - I’m not sure it’s necessary. It’s a bit obvious a motif. I also think you’re over-darkening this conversation at 3:00 - their text, really, is giving us the subtext we need. I wouldn’t try and make it such a conspiratorial-tone conversation - just touch at the darkness. So again, subtlety is key here. No electronic percussion here is necessary - I think you rely quite heavily on percussion generally to “keep things going” but the challenge is how to keep underscore, drones going without going down the route of driving it forward rhythmically. If you find your drones aren’t quite doing it, you need to work on how to modulate drones with pitch, texture density and volume in order to remain interesting - relying on percussion is a bit easy and creates a strange emphasis. This line “we haven’t been here for years… we just got here” feels like it’s quite significant. Maybe try cutting out music for this or giving this line space. At the moment you risk scoring over it and ultimately playing down its significance. Lovely distorted sound at 5:10. Again the ticking clock feels like a distraction - perhaps part of the problem is that it isn’t in time with the actual music. 5:52, nice string line. I yearn for the percussion to stop here - otherwise the effect of the cut is weakened. It’s a cut to a new shot, let it feel like a movement away. Just the string and brass lines here (maybe with one very deep drone) by themselves would be really cool. I find the percussion quite distracting here. It is odd that this shot is so long. Again at 7:09, percussion is distracting. Great sound at 8:10. The arrival of the man is nice, and here the percussion doesn’t feel out of place - because of his threatening, somewhat military appearance. Sequence from 8:24 onwards is really nice, the underscore really conveys very well the slightly panicked tension. Great low tension at 8:50. 9:51 feels a bit too epic given the imagery - perhaps it’s a bit heavy. Silence at 10:10 feels like a relief. I think we can probably use silence a bit more freely throughout this whole piece such that this sequence doesn’t feel so exposed. Entry at 11:51 feels very exposed and quite heavy - definitely fade this in. It also feels a little un-orchestrated (woodwind unisons rather than individual woodwind lines) and I think more synth textures here would make it feel more appropriate to this score. Nice harmonies at 12:00 - the slightly more organic flavour here is lovely.

Act 6

Percussion at the start of this act feels again a little random. These brass clusters are starting to become tiresome by this point - and I’d like to hear fewer of them. There’s a certain randomness to them that I’m not hugely into - they always seem to have the same types of harmonies and perhaps more diatonic clusters in places or wholetone clusters or something like that would give this aspect of the score more colour. Nice transition at 1:08. Nice reveal on “we got there first”, 2:08. This whole build was very well done. Nice transition to act 7.

Act 7

Strange that the score is in mono for this act. Be sure to sort that out for the final submission. Lot of what I’ve talked about before applies here, but the higher tension of this act warrants the percussion and the epic drama a bit more than it has done before. This sequence from 1:22 I think needs to be a lot more dramatic than it is. I get that you’re leaving space for sound effects but I think this could carry a lot more weight. You could certainly make this ostinato more complex, with counterpoints, more exciting, more accents and syncopations could really drive this forward. This atonal line at 2:22 really needs some help - it’s very exposed. I also think a line such as this would have shorter notes - the angularity of the part combined with the tempo would mean that a string player would naturally give these a bit more energy and space between (to give time to move position). So - shorter, perhaps spiccato - samples would probably go better. But also, some kind of accompanying passage in inner strings would really help this. As it stands its very exposed and doesn’t quite have the power it needs. 3:30, nice introduction of a synth sound to accompany the flying spaceship. Percussion here feels like it makes sense. Need a shift at 4:07, a reduction of the energy to match the visual cut (close to far). Percussion 4:34 feels too slammy and big - it suits the big robots but not this foot chase. 4:49 - it’s a shame you didn’t time this with the teleport, as I think that was probably the more significant hitpoint than the cut. 5:04 is a nice new, minimal texture - I’m very relieved by the absence of percussion here. More of this throughout this film would be good. Percussion around 6:10, again, too slammy and overly epic. This a small scene with lot of emotional weight - doesn’t need to be so epic. 7:45 - again, the heavy percussion is distracting - I’d just keep the strings here (and please add some more phrasing on to the strings!!). Cool sound at 8:30. Nice conclusion.

Mockups are generally pretty good but I’d say more phrasing is generally needed for all of the organic orchestral stuff and generally more believable orchestral dynamics. Synth sounds are sometimes a little obvious but sometimes great. Music is all very much too loud (I know you were advised to do this by previous feedback but you will ultimately be marked on this final submission as though it’s a finished piece of work and if your music is too loud you will be marked down for it).

Overall, I’d say there’s some very very promising work here, and a lot of conceptual thought behind this (your commentary was a great read, although more focus on the research prior to implementation would also be more interesting). But the work itself relies too heavily on cliche (big slammy percussion, which is more often inappropriate here than it is effective). The emotional weight seems to be in the right place but it’s laid on with a trowel, and all needs to be toned down quite substantially to allow the other aspects of production, acting camerawork, pacing, etc - to do their thing. Promising, but not quite there yet.

Research: GOOD
Creative: GOOD
Technical: GOOD
Practical: GOOD

Kind regards,


David Denyer's Summary:
Overall, I’d say there’s some very very promising work here, and a lot of conceptual thought behind this (your commentary was a great read, although more focus on the research prior to implementation would also be more interesting). But the work itself relies too heavily on cliche (big slammy percussion, which is more often inappropriate here than it is effective). The emotional weight seems to be in the right place but it’s laid on with a trowel, and all needs to be toned down quite substantially to allow the other aspects of production, acting camerawork, pacing, etc - to do their thing. Promising, but not quite there yet.