Good to see you work, you explore some interesting soundscapes in this assignment.
This has a real intensity to it and links back to the main theme. The pulsating textures are really effective from 39s and synths work well. metals and percussion are strong as well as low brass.
The shouts(?) you have at 2s and 9s may become distracting on a loop. An audience is drawn to ‘humanistic’ elements of a loop such as vocals and melody. Other than that this works nicely.
There is a leaning towards sound design and synths, there could be more textural exploration of the orchestra: eerie tremolo/sul pont/col legno textures would really get the hairs on the neck prickling.
I am glad to hear story points making a way into this submission. And alien is such an evocative score well ahead of its time so good to reference that.
You may want to consider some critical analysis of the score and how suspense and intrigue is built away from the melody. Think about textures, rhythm and pulse, and how to handle subtle vs stark contrasts – suspense needs both. Goldsmith manipulates these features to give balance to his work, highlighting key areas/main themes, whilst leaving room for an evocative underscore that isn’t too busy but still maintains interest.
I’d be interested to hear if you have listened to any computer game music, and in particular how the loops are handled. Some critical reflection in your research on this point may be needed.
Good use of aleatoric rhythms throughout. You explore some interesting timbres which reflect the brief excellently (see practical).
Nice dark textures on the opening. There could be more detail in the orchestral arrangement to really give a sense of depth to the arrangement.
Love the cluster chords in the choral section from 2m04s. you have a memorable theme, which is suitably dark and some great sound design (particularly like the samples use around 47s,).
Some of the transitions between sections appear fairly forced and unprepared. This may suit the genre, although some preparation and sense of space would actually give more impact when the new section starts. Some of the rhythmic values just before a new section are over-complicated and are off-putting to the overall effect (2m02s for instance).
The melodic instrument from 1m11s is a little thin and could benefit from doubing and layering with another element.
Be mindful that the entry points of ideas and hits are lined up appropriately. Whilst this brief may align itself with free rhythmic ideas that move away from meter, the composition can feel sloppy if beats/hits and entry points aren’t aligned correctly. For instance, in the main theme, the percussive hits feel slightly ahead of the brass; particularly second phrase at 36s, and at 30s there are 2 hits that seem to stumble over one another.
The mix is heavily focused on synth elements and sound design. As a result some aspect of the main thematic material and orchestral elements do not come across with the power and intensity they require. For instance, the initial iteration of your main theme works brilliantly, then at c.48s, the strings feel fairly feeble in comparison when they take over this line. Consider re-balancing and taking some reverb off the strings in order for them to gain a more appropriate place in the mix.
There is a nice quality to the dohls and driving rhythms that start from 1m09s – some good definition in the transients and upper range of their EQ. Atmospheric percussive hits are mixed well in this section.
More of the ‘screaming/whining’ synths vs mid distortion layers from c.1m30s would give more focus to an engaging timbre. The brass entry at 1m45s feels is again very weak in comparison and has no sense of intensity in comparison to the sound design.
Between 2m00s and 2m04s there seems to be a real ‘tug-of-war’ going on in the compression: each large hit forces the compressor to duck. Perhaps this is a little over-cooked and becomes distracting, especially before the entrance of the choir which is a new timbre, may need a little more space.
At 2m32s, the entry of the main theme is time awkwardly with the percussion hits that come before it. A whoosh or some preparation of this revisit would help smooth over the transition.
Finally, consider the ending: all the tails/samples are cut rather abruptly and at different rates. From 2m48s you can hear each element drop out very obviously. If you want a more subtle fade, continue the midi note for longer, working down through the mod/expression data. You can also automate decrease in volume on the tracks to get a fade that blends well across the mix.
I love your minds-eye description of the scene you envisage for this, sounds epic! It would be good to add some timings with these events. That being said we are provided with a rough timing in the brief so I have been tying this in with what you outline in your commentary.
You have answered the structural parameters of the brief very well. your theme is memorable and this gives way to more aleatoric textures.
In terms of the split between 80% orchestral and 20% synth, I can hear that you are using large orchestral samples, although the essence and balance coming across in the mix is most certainly favoured towards the synths and sound design. This doesn’t really answer the brief in this respect.
Hope this helps. Any questions, or if you’d like to arrange a 1-2-1 please feel free to drop me an email,
All the best
Chris McGuire's Summary:
You have a good command of synth and sound design, although upper strings and some orchestral elements lacked intensity and became swamped. Be sure that your submission reflects the brief: in this case not enough orchestral exploration was evident in the mp3. You created good thematic material and followed the structure given appropriately. Try not to overcook compression (the loop came across much more powerfully).
David Denyer's Notes:
Thanks for this submission. Lots of very strong work with some very effective textures.
Your theme is very strong, it has an almost mythic quality to it - I’m reminded a little of the “Moloch” sequence in Metropolis. Nice work following the plotted narrative given in the brief. A real narrative journey comes through here. In the very opening, I’m not entirely convinced by the synth drone - it feels a little too static, and probably needs a little modulation of some description - perhaps a moving filter or some other parameter to give it less of a “mains hum” vibe. Otherwise the subtle orchestral textures work well here. I feel that the mad percussion explosion just prior to the statement of the theme - this isn’t so effective. I like the idea - but the percussion feels too distant, and I don’t think it’s quite enough to actually build into that statement - perhaps an ascending string gliss to lead into the moment - at the same time - would be effective. Consider the use of ascending string glissando against determinate notation in the original opening titles to Alien, for instance. Once the theme kicks in, this is good - there’s something a little unsatisfying about the answering phrase. The first phrase goes - E, F, E, C# - and the answering part goes E, F, E, Bb. I feel it relies too much on the same notes as the first part, and in that sense feels a little basic. Perhaps if it ended on a Bb against A dissonance, or if the rhythm of the answering phrase were a little different to the opening phrase. Perhaps harmonising this would also work to make it feel more satisfying. Something about the final note needs to feel like a movement somewhere, I think, and the second time it repeats, it feels like it needs to end somewhere different, like perhaps A, on some mad weird chord. Some ideas. But your theme works, I think it’s not quite as effective as it could be. We don’t really get a B theme, and it’s a shame that the fragments of the A theme appear here in the same key as the statement. If we use the harmonic freedom of Wagner’s Tristan as a basis, for instance, it can be seen that harmonic freedom even between restatements of the same thematic material is a great way to keep a free and open harmonic palette. When the theme comes back at the end, again, it’s in the same key, and it’s a shame because a) it doesn’t really feel like we’ve gone anywhere and b) it doesn’t feel like an escalation of what we’ve had before. For this structure to function, it’s important that the restatement of the theme at the end feels like a conclusion - a climax - and for that to happen it needs to have the sense of “arrival”. Arrival requires a journey and in most cases this needs to be harmonic as well as textural and orchestrational. Here I also think a lot of power is lost in the production - the brass sounds quite distant, and over-reverbed. It’s also quite flat dynamically, and it’s very important to maintain a sense of phrasing, even within these very dramatic, strong statements of themes. In general I’m not reeeeally getting much of the “blade runner” vibe (although this does come through in places), and I think the emphasis on synth is a little strong for this brief.
Lots of energy here - really cool stuff. Nice use of percussion. The closeness of this versus the main theme is interesting - if the Main Theme had more of the production aesthetic of this loop, I’d think it would probably be more successful. Nice use of the little fragments of the main theme. I think you’ve done well to create a loop that won’t get boring or repetitive (although it’s a shame this is in the same key as before). The use of metallic percussion here is very effective too - I’m reminded a little of the music to Terminator - so the suggestion of robots is well-realised.
Overall this is a strong submission - the Loop Section seems somewhat more successful, the closeness of the orchestra and the percussion tends to cut through much better. I think the Main Theme is less successful than it could be - the lack of harmonic movement, and certain production decisions keep this theme from really feeling as strong as it should - and the recap at the end doesn’t have the satisfying climactic emphasis that a recapitulation should. The overall “Blade Runner” aesthetic is a little lost here and doesn’t really come across - perhaps a stronger research into video game soundtracks that engage with a BR-ish aesthetic (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for instance) would have been beneficial.
David Denyer's Summary:
Strong work, with the loop section somewhat more successful than the main theme. Certain musical decisions, ie, the choice of pitch material in the main theme, and the way the theme appears and re-appears, prevent this main theme from really having the impact that it could. More harmonic freedom, and a greater focus on production would probably bring this to a higher level. Generally, the creative aesthetic is very strong with some very effective orchestral textures throughout but the “Blade Runner” aesthetic is a little lost.
I only got a "pass" on this assignment. I'm a bit bummed about it but I have to say the critique is totally fair. This was a formative (doesn't count toward my final grade) I did in order to do something outside of my wheelhouse. I sure learned a lot by doing it. The non-green text is my tutor's grading.
Stylistically the compositions don’t feel enough Mozart or Haydn. Historically, the classical period goes hand in hand with the Age of Enlightenment. The period is defined by scientific and philosophical discourse, which, according to Goethe, is also expressed in classical music: four independent but equal voices having a dialogue. Haydn’s string quartet in G minor (op. 73 no. 3) mentioned in your bibliography is an excellent example. So the best way to approach the composition is to start with very strict four-part harmony, then orchestrate.
One weird thing about that example is that they play tutti at the top. And that doesn't count as parallel movement apparently. I got kinda thrown there. Some melodic voices (e.g. Country House Theme, violin at 0:46) don’t feel thematic, but they also don’t blend very well with the rest and stand out instead. This means the feeling of four “equal” voices is missing. The material could be more thematic. In the Country House Theme, the woodwinds in the first few bar sort of establish a theme, but it’s not really melodic and doesn’t flow or have a specific direction. Thematic development is quite important for this style. Another important element are patterns that are usually sequenced rather strictly. For example, the arpeggio pattern at 0:35 is irregular. The chase arpeggio pattern works a lot better.
The chase does work better. Classical music uses functional harmony. This means you need to take extra care and check where the voices are going, especially the bass. The chase track starts with an inversion (the bass should be A instead of E). The second chord with the D in the bass is not clearly defined. Shortly later the note G is played (G# being the leading tone of A minor). A minor means A harmonic minor in this period, so as soon as G# turns into G, the music turns into C major. Etc.
Yeah, I think I made a mistake with the chord form I took. It was an earlier chord progression but I don't think it was actually used much by Mozart or Haydn, but it was used later by Shubert. I should have nipped that in the bud. Inversions are important in any style and each inversion has a specific effect. A tonal piece always starts with the tonic chord in root position, unless the goal is to destabilise the tonal centre. That is acceptable in some styles, but usually in classical music the key of the piece is established very clearly with a cadence V-I. There are similar problems with the mystery track. For example, at 0:04 D# and E are played at the same time.
The other issue is an aesthetic one. The piano sounds a lot like a modern grand piano with a softer attack, more dynamics and bigger size than the instruments from the 18th century. The woodwinds are a full section playing unisono, which is not the way they were orchestrated back then. If you don’t have fortepiano samples, use a harpsichord. Try to make the close mics of each instrument a bit louder to get a more intimate feeling. Yeah, the harpsichord was making it sound much too early. But the only pianos I had were too late. 'Twas a bummer. The mockups are not realistic enough. The clarinets are generally a little too loud, while the non-vibrato strings sound artificial and seem to lack true vibrato (the sampled transitions between two notes). There is a lot of reverb, which takes away the chamber feeling. The panning is too extreme, especially the col legno notes. This happens because CSSS is technically not a string quartet, but the first chairs of each section, so it still sounds very orchestral.
That's a good point about CSSS. There are a few weird moments in the mockups: - Chase theme 0:13 - an arpeggio note comes too late - Mystery theme 0:25 - the cello note suddenly stops with a click Oh dear. That is. Embarrassing. The audio files are not directly loopable. When the end of the track is reached, it should be possible to directly go into the first bars again, without any further editing or crossfading. Oops. I didn't realize we were doing that for this assignment. I know better now. Matteo