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.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Some Films for Music

Laura (1944) - David Raksin
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) - Hugo Friedhoffer
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) - Alex North
Viva Zapata! (1952) - Alex North
The Heiress (1949) - Aaron Copland
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, scored in late 1954)  - AndrĂ© Previn
East of Eden (1955) - Leonard Rosenman
The Big Country (1958) - Jerome Moross
The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) - George Duning

Films scored by Aaron Copland (available to view on YT, discussed in future webinar)

Of Mice and Men (1939)

Our Town (1940)

The North Star (1943)