Tuesday, July 23, 2019

PMC:09 1st review

Assignment Mark (Formative)

Assignment Score Merit
Tutor Notes

Chris McGuire's Notes:
Hi Andrew,

Thanks for going into so much detail surrounding the film and giving a sense of context here. All very useful to know! Its good to identify instruments that you may want to use to signify a certain character - this can be limiting and may evolve away from this, but it can offer a good starting point. Also good to hear about how your sound pallet evolves when working with your director. Now you have painted this picture, it would be really interesting to hear how you landed at some of the creative decisions you took to meet the twists and turns of the narrative.
You mention some good references, but quickly and in passing. There could be much more detail in how certain section/timbres are similar in musical approach to your score. This could also be in terms of spotting or musical pacing, each of the films you mention as references have very different approaches to spotting and pacing, which would be most comparable to your film and why?

Overall thoughts
This is an interesting score which makes many of the twists and turns you outline in the commentary. Spotting is done well throughout so far, although some moments are a little heavy handed. There could be more space to allow for the ‘important’ elements to speak. The acoustic elements in particular (strings, woodwind, piano) appear very small in contrast to the sound design. Some of the acoustic lines are a little convoluted, too: be mindful of writing too many notes when one or 2 may suffice enough to warm the timbre or change the aspect. I’d be tempted to mix up the score slightly in some of the conversation sections, just so we can hear the detail/depth without it taking over. Some bass is a little overly resonant, but this can be tamed. A good start!

Specifics and Sync points:
00m - Sense of scale in the opening is not quite there. The transitions in the woods/brass(?) are too dry and synthetic. The descending figure is almost funeral like. Blending sound design elements will help give depth and a more consistent energy synomynous with the rest of the score. If you are going for contrast here, then make the woodwind notes clear and ‘de-clutter’ keeping the notes you only really need. They will still need to be dressed with suitable reverb to keep it on a scale comparable with the rest of the score.

Nice level of musical involvement around the chess game, subtle and evolving, works well. 1m05s loses a level of intensity. Keep some involvement of the score before the notes at 1m22s.

Mix the music up a little so we can hear some of the twists in the score a little more clearly. This would be fine for demo purposes/the assignment.

You handle the rise in tension well around 3m50s.

The resolution at 4m16s is unnecessary, the first one works well around 4m but a movement back to this resolution is too complete.

Tasteful elements around 5 minutes. The string s may need a touch more reverb/depth on the tail of the note, they appear a little small in comparison to sound design elements.

The bleeps at 5m45s are well done. These could have more effects/swell up and down with a little more movement, particularly at 6m10s as the camera pans back away from the chess board. Integrate these into a more fluid mix.

This shot (6m-6m25s) feels a little static, apart from the good sense of growth in the distorted pad, not much else changes or evolves in the score. This could be a moment to bring out other rhythmical pulse and show a coherent sense of growth in other areas of the arrangement as well. this will add to the intensity and drive.

The external shot at 6m25s could be a moment of respite, allowing the tail reverb/space of the previous sequence to wash over this shot to give a sense of emptiness that is apparent in the shot. The contrast from the previous and the following scene will add room to the pacing of the score. As long as energy and detail is captured in the reverb tail this would give quite the ambient and atmospheric transition (Stanley Kubrick in 2001 S.O. famously left out all sound for shots in space, Interstellar did something similar with external shots too). Keeping some of the synths/sound design in the upper frequencies on the exterior shot would work well without the bass growls, as there should be enough bass in the reverb tail from the previous scene.

A very intense start to the next sequence. This reflects the danger you mention in your commentary really well. The 2 percussive hits at 6m41s might benefit from being repeated moments later, and/or altered in their repeats as the scene progresses. Currently they stand out as being slightly too much. Something similar to the subtle pulses here will help the previous scene. At 7m02s I felt the intensity drop slightly from the score. Perhaps another layer of rhythm/pulse would help maintain the high intensity of the start of the sequence. There could be a slight push/riser towards the end of the internal shot helping propel the narrative into the external shot with the wind gusts. Try syncing the final hit with the cut to the external shot and see if that makes the end of this sequence a little tighter. Pulling that final hit a little earlier will allow for an ambient reverb tail to dissipate organically before the dialogue starts in the next scene.

From 7m20s some of the bass pulses are a touch loud, (around 7m48s particularly). On entry of the strings around 7m55s: these could do with a little more reverb/space – that will give their entry a sense of depth comparable to the previous sound design; at the minute they feel small in comparison. The transitions between the first 2 notes is overlapping quite noticeable. Consider dropping the 3rd note in the motif. The final note of the string motif is rather static, this could evolve or lead us in a certain direction (more gritty? Dark? Portamento slightly detuning?).
8m40s, the bass is again too much, consider taking some of the lower boomy freqs down a little and adding some top end to give more definition to the pulse.

9m15s, the piano feels thin on entry here, again this is in comparison to the scale you have established in earlier scenes. The high pitched note on strings entering at 9m20s exits a little abruptly, do we need that there? The shift towards piano is already pushing us in to more sentimental territory, the extra note on the close up of the picture is not necessary in this form.

9m32s, the piano feels small. More reverb/subtle delays to get this into a similar space to the rest of the score. Perhaps try dropping some of the notes of each motif to allow for more room in the reverb/decay.

The chord at 10m15s paints a fairly hopeful colour which for me doesn’t match the conversation. Is there a reason this is more positive? The shift at 10m18s is such a stark contrast the sudden change doesn’t work, it feels blatant, and the acting is actually carrying that turn, the score may not need to work so hard here.

At 10m30s on the words ‘I am very lucky’, the score could introduce some intrigue as this is a rather odd comment, and on her second statement about knowing she is an android, is obviously a dig at the others not knowing. Could there be an ominous undertone here?

The cluster chord at 11m works well, although the resolution at 11m07s is too sentimental and unnecessary. You end the sequence well with the clusters and a sense of dread. The piano is again too busy. Using one note instead of so many would warm the timbre somewhat giving a nod back to the character it represents without making it overly convoluted.

Research Fair – you have the timbres/colours but more detail in the analysis of other scores and specific points in these scores is needed; why are they relevant to this project, etc.

Creative Good – appropriate sound pallet set up which matches many of the points of the narrative outlined in your commentary. Allow for some elements to evolve more, especially sustained notes.

Technical – Good – well mixed on the whole although some boomy elements. Acoustic elements need work getting them into the same sense of space with sound design.

Practical – Good – appropriate spotting on the whole, sometimes a little heavy handed or convoluted, when one or 2 notes would have done the trick

Hope this helps,
All the best

Chris McGuire's Summary:
This is an interesting score which makes many of the twists and turns you outline in the commentary. Spotting is done well throughout so far, although some moments are a little heavy handed. There could be more space to allow for the ‘important’ elements to speak. The acoustic elements in particular (strings, woodwind, piano) appear very small in contrast to the sound design. Some of the acoustic lines are a little convoluted, too: be mindful of writing too many notes when one or 2 may suffice enough to warm the timbre or change the aspect. I’d be tempted to mix up the score slightly in some of the conversation sections, just so we can hear the detail/depth without it taking over. Some bass is a little overly resonant, but this can be tamed. A good start!

Monday, July 15, 2019

PMC:08 Summative

Assignment Mark (Summative)

Assignment Score 74 %
Tutor Notes

Spencer Bambrick's Notes:

This piece has come such a long way! It certainly is unique and original as the brief requires. Just about every sound in this seems created and processed from scratch to great effect. And there is *just* enough musicality to make particular moments impactful, while the rest of the piece relies on dynamics, timbral contrast, and spatialization to bring the listener to attention. Great work!


This is definitely one of the most creative pieces I've heard from a student. By far my favorite aspect of this is the "melody" as performed by the drill throughout the piece. I know that was something of a "found sound" on its own, but I also know quite a lot of work had to be done to bring it into the foreground of the mix. So nice work on that.

The other creative aspect of the is the development. This piece does not rely on tonality in any way, yet it has tension and resolution just the same. The combination of dynamic contrast, tempo, and timbre shifts is more than enough to keep the listener's attention from fading.
Personally, I love the spatialization as well. Sometimes this can work to distract a listener, but here it just adds to the cacophony.

Technical: EXCELLENT

Music concrete, and music based on sound design is so hard to mix, but you've done an excellent job here. It took a lot of work to separate background and foreground elements (as I've seen through your iterations), but it was well worth it. At no point did I find myself guessing at what I was supposed to be focused on. There are always interesting elements in the background, but the foreground is compelling enough to garner my attention throughout. This is largely due to the intense focus that the mix puts on every foreground element. This is a very well done mix.

Practical: EXCELLENT

In terms of practicality, I believe it goes above and beyond what the brief asks for. All sounds were recorded and processed from scratch, and the palette is expansive. Plus you've basically created an entirely new language of music concrete for yourself, and orchestrated it with superb clarity.

It's worth mentioning that throughout the process you took feedback in stride and implemented every bit of it in your own way, without losing sight of your original intentions and goals. Of course I am particularly a fan of this kind of sound design based music, but your track is excellently done regardless of style. Amazing work!

Spencer Bambrick's Summary:
Overall fantastic job on this. Truly creative use of sounds and timbres, and I honestly cannot think of another thing to make it better!

Chris McGuire's Notes:
Hi Andrew,
Great to see another assignment of yours this week!
Some really interesting reference tracks mentioned, love that you have discovered Messain’s Quartet for the end of time, such a fascinating piece, and how he was considering the use of orchestral elements depicting other real-world sounds; he was a sound designer ahead of his time!
I loved reading where you got the sounds from here, some wonderfully whacky sources. It sounds as if you have gone all-in on this which is fantastic. Taking ‘musical’ elements into sound design is a benefit a composer can bring to the role; audio editors can be clinical and overlook this. Musical considerations that you highlight are worth applying in any future work in this vein.
This is a highly creative and exciting track, with a sense of energy which also retains structure and build over the 3 minutes. You balance intensity with atmospheric passages well, and reverb/delays are tasteful. The sense of space in the mix remains fairly consistent, and the different ‘scenes’ you paint are well-balance.
I really like the use of stereo image in this; highly dynamic whilst creating variation and life to elements in the composition. At 6s, the tail end of the opening atmos/hits dissipates underneath the saw. It would have worked better to maintain a longer sense of atmosphere underneath the saw to 9-10s so the abstract setting can be sustained.
Kick/bass drum (?) element from the start adds some good rhythm and provides drive, it’s a rhythmical element that the listener can latch on to and recognise pretty well its re-entry.
Excellent doppler effects on the bells at 24s, there is wide textural variation created through the 40s which works well in this track. – shame these aren’t revisited later under a different guise?
1m01s the repetition of squawky/radio effect (first heard at 52s) is too similar to its first iteration. Perhaps a high/low pass filter would change enough of the character of this to feel like a development rather than a direct repetition of the passage moments earlier.
You have created a really clear balance between foreground and background elements, giving a sense of depth to the production.
Through 1m-2m the various ‘kick drum’ hits could be dressed with delays to supply a sprinkling of musical metre; at the moment they appear rather randomly, but the sound itself isn’t really altered from one hit to the next.
The rising white noise/synth from 1m30s adds build/expectation and tension, nice contrast with the braam/downer at 1m45s.
There is a pop/clicks at 2m03, might be the end of a tempo-synced delay reacting to a tempo track change?
The sudden change at 2m08s could have been prepared to establish the gear change on the drill/high synth sounds. This is a moment where we move from plenty of depth and space to an element ‘close up’. A short swoosh/ramp in to this would shape the end of the preceding phrase.
Panning really effective in this section through to 2m30s. Build/expectation works nicely with the ascending high pitch and growling bass. You are using the full frequency spectrum really well. This comes to an anti-climax of sorts around 2m40s, perhaps a similar interaction as seen at 1m45s of introducing a downer/braam would help this moment of transition. – you have something at 2m50s which would answer this rise in anticipation really well, I’d be tempted to pull this forward a touch.
2m55s pops/clicks in the audio track. They appear like errors in a mixdown rather than an experimental feature. Make more of them if they were intentional, or if they are due to a mixdown/CPU issue, then this is different!
Great use of intensity in the final note, seems an apt way to finish this track! Tail end of the final note is appropriate, although there is quite a bit of silence after we have heard the full decay.
Hope this helps, and any questions please feel free to get intouch and we can arrange a 1-to-1.
All the best

Creative - Excellent
Technical – Excellent – check for pops/tail on delivery!
Practical - Excellent

Chris McGuire's Summary:
Overall a really creative submission for this assignment. Plenty of detail in the manipulation of sound sources. You strike a wonderful balance between foreground and background. Use of space and stereo image is really well-handled. There are occasions where a change/new section could have had more impact if it was better prepared; shaping the tail end of a preceding section can act as a springboard. Some audio click/pops in a couple of places. Wonderful work with detail, focus and a musical arch to the structure that adds drive and momentum/tension and release. Well done.

More things

Clearly, we need to shoot here.

PhD at Leeds.

A fellow student, Algernon Van Peel.

Some more loudness standards.

EQlibrium is a fancy-pants EQ.

Cue by cue, the movie Alien.

The EQOrange.

Mac Rogers show is only two nights at The Brick.

Tangent Edge Instruments makes a Kontakt conch horn.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

PMC:07 Summative

[Editor's note: I highlighted things I though I should look at again.]

Assignment Mark (Summative)

Assignment Score 60 %
Tutor Notes

Allison Piccioni's Notes:
Hi Andrew!

Thank you for your “Frozen” summative submission.

Great to get a little more in-depth read this time about your inspiration and creative process. Also lovely to grade both your formative and summative submissions of this assignment and hear the additions and how the score has filled out melodically and texturally! I love the subtle change to the melody at the opening scene, it is much more emotive with the change and it’s nice to hear the addition of the live flute, particularly in a solo instrument it just adds so much more to a sequence.

I get so much more emotionally from the music when she closes her eyes around 2:05:59:09 now as well as 02:06:50:14 as she smiles subtly! You are really telling the story with the music. It’s quite nice to have the break in the music when we get indoors with the church scene. It also puts a great emphasis on the door opening.

I don’t know if it’s necessary to duck the music so low around 02:07:15:17, it would be nice to still hear it tailing here, as it could help the segue back in around 02:07:21:21.

Good additions to the suspense in the music as she’s searching around with a flashlight. I can also hear the piano clearer in the mix now.

I personally would like a longer fade out around 02:08:16:21. It seems too abrupt here, almost like a music editor chopped your score. A nice long smooth fade here would help tie the scenes together without being so distracting. You have a great one under the narration reading the card at 02:09:19:02.

Great consideration for the music to sit under dialogue, the arrangement and mix balance nicely around (and out of the way!) of speaking range.

I’m not sure if it’s a sound effect style sample or the mix is just completely blown out, but at 02:09:28:23 the music mix is very harsh, totally washed out by that white noise sound. I think you could have gotten the same effect using a low synth and choosing a different instrumentation changeup here. You can still get that “wall of sound” effect without just piling on frequencies. This was a new addition, I actually prefer it how you submitted for this section in your formative submission.

Could have used a smoother transition at 02:09:46:22, it almost sound like one of the samples is either cutting to early or another is going too long? But a really nice changeup in the music here afterwards.

Again the mix sounds a little blown out (possibly too much compression?) around 02:10:11:10.

Really nice additions to the melody around 02:08:39:21, the music is so much more impactful.

Guitar with the reversed reverb and back sounds great.

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

Allison Piccioni's Summary:
Great to have reviewed both your formative and summative submissions for this assignment - it’s wonderful to see how the score has filled out with some carefully placed additions including live flute! Do watch that some of your sound effects / additions are not too overpowering and harsh in the mix.

Chris McGuire's Notes:
Hi Andrew,
Apologies for the delay here, and thank you for your patience. Let’s dive in!
Some good observations here and nice to see your considering a range of different productions and scores. I think your summary of the tone presented in the film and narrative definitely resonates with Nordic Noir, Fortitude an interesting soundtrack and the bridge also. Its good to look further afield and consider influence from soundtracks that aren’t necessarily linked in other areas.
I’d like to know more about how the energy in House MD score creates such fitting propulsion of the narrative; was pacing considered? Fades and entry points of cues? Instrument entries? Acoustic vs synth hybrid split? – I see you are using Albion ONE, a great starting point. Albion V has a whole host of Nordic influence in there, Tundra is a great library.
You detail some good creative angles in your commentary, although the discussion only goes as far as what you are doing, rather than WHY you are doing it. That being said there are moments of research which shows the justification of an action, for instance your handling of supernatural elements on entry of the church.

Composition and Mix
Overall, you have chosen a well-suited sound pallete which compliments the setting of the film. There are moments of intensity which really heighten the suspense, for instance on the view of the ice as she is dreaming in the final quarter of the film. There are moments where synchronicity is handled well, on the introduction of most of the string ostinati for instance, which matches her intent and emotive drive. Some other sync points are rather abrupt which detract and cheapen the sound. This goes for delays and reverbs used – being more subtle and lingering with these will aid the idea of expansive space that is so prevalent in Scan-noir and other genres of thriller/suspense.
Occasionally there are quite distinctive entries of intriguing timbres that are not synced with moments on screen. Or, if they are, the movement in the picture is too small to warrant such a large timbral shift/entry (see below for specific points on this). On the subject of spotting: removing the score completely then reintroducing it is a bold thing to do! Of course silence is important in film, although moving quickly from score to silence a few times in fairly quick succession actually detracts from the atmospheric nature that the score (or use of silence) adds to the narrative. I try to give myself perspective in the pacing of a film/cue whilst working on a specific point by watching the whole cue through and often the cues either side of the one I am working on. I am listening/watching to hear the effect of an entry or exit point from a ‘greater distance’. That way I can maintain an idea of pacing that the audience will experience; as of course we are working at microscopic levels, replaying notes/bars/sequences over and over again, we lose that perspective of hearing it all once through, with no repeats.
The mix is good overall, and you blend synths and acoustic elements well in the same space. Good use of the stereo image with moving rhythmical textures. You create some nice moments of evolution in the synths/rhythmical layers! Occasionally some acoustic elements appear a touch thin and lacking in life. Take the sustained string notes for instance, these could benefit from more expressive shaping of CC1, CC11 and CC2 (vibrato). If using legato patches CC5 and portamento could have been explored as they are rather static and synth like. The piano could have benefitted from saturation to warm up the lower end, as on some entries it was a touch thin (perhaps it was a little low in the mix).
Here are some more specific points:
Sudden ending of rhythmical textures at 05m43s – extend the delays here
String transitions are a little smudged through 06m07s, not enough life in the samples
Entry of panning tone at 06m35s is a little strange, not synced with anything and quite a deliberate entry of new timbre – this could do with being justified with synchronising/changing with something in the picture.
07m01s the silence is reached abruptly here, softer more gradual fade
Nice handling of the leaves and tension at 07m07s, although the entry point is a touch early and rather large. Something stripped back and more subtle entry with perhaps more sustain on the tail would blend better here.
Nice ostinato from 07m30s, this matches her intent and growing suspense.
Good tonal balance as she is in the office.
The delays at the end of this scene and transition in the shot of the street are again abrupt. These could be softer and more gradually executed.
Nice sense of tension instilled through the 9 minute mark. There could have been a sync point on the close up of the cards and the text ‘Steve’, this could help tie the narrative together, as it was a fairly obvious shift in the film which wasn’t acknowledged in the score.
09m13s the rhythmical elements again end abruptly. Some music can be maintained underneath the dialogue, it doesn’t need to be as strong a cut as it is currently.
Wonderful texture and depth to the score on the ice shot 09m28s, really nice balance there. Again the fade/return to the ostinato could have been softer, perhaps the ostinato less pounced, and more ‘smudged’ to match her dreamy nature, less rhythmical and more aleatoric.
The cut at 10m04s is far too abrupt, this feels unprepared as if it has been temp track that has been edited by a director wanting to get the rough sense of pacing across in the score. Consider ensuring there is an appropriate sense of attack and starting point to this cue.
The loud piano note at 10m10s is a little off putting as it does not sync with any obvious element on the screen.
Be mindful of introducing strident timbres like this with no change of movement/entry of noticeable element in the picture.
The change at 10m25s is again too abrupt to move to silence. Allow for a subtle reverb tail to linger on so the score exit isn’t so blatant.

I hope this helps, happy to talk through any of the above in a 1-to-1 session.
All the best

Research – Fair/Good – more of the ‘why’ needed in the commentary; explain the effects of music/creative direction behind the compositional choices made, rather than focussing on what you are doing which is apparent when listening to the score. Show informed creative decisions.
Creative - Good
Technical - Fair
Practical - Fair

Chris McGuire's Summary:
Good use of texture and sense of evolution in the synths/rhythmical elements. Appropriate timbre and a good mix that reflects your overall intentions. Handling of entry and exit points was rather abrupt; consider the pacing and switching between silence and score in quick succession as this detracts from the atmosphere evoked. Use of CC editing and delay/reverbs would aid in creating an expansive sense of depth and life to the composition. Consider outlining the ‘why’ and ‘how’ in a commentary, rather than the ‘what’.