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I watch loads and loads of these type videos on youtube and one of the best I have seen is how Junkie XL composes his scores.


Ok, like most film score composers, they all use the libs to make the mock ups which in themselves do sound pretty damn good lol but they will have the mochups and cues eventually recorded by live orchestras.


The thing is though one of his videos was how he uses synths underneath the orchestral libraries to beef up the piece. I had never really thought of doing that and I haven’t really tried that.
When I write orchestral music I tend to just use orchestral libs and my sound just doesn’t seem to really ‘punch’ but his orchestral mock ups  sound huge and very powerful.


Does anyone else here use synths with orchestral libs. The synths are not really ‘heard’ but they are used just as undertones to bring out the orchestral instruments used.


Is it because his studio is mega huge and expensive although I use quite a few of the same orch libs as he uses or is it because he doubles and trebles up different libs together or is it the synths that bump up the power of the pieces?


Any views on this would be appreciated.

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I’ve written pieces inspired by filmic ideas (that were never realised but were there all the same) but not tried apart from small scale for locals. I’d describe myself as impressionist or symbolist – the poor persons’ Debussy [/chuckle] so perhaps I should. After all, isn’t this music supposed to enhance atmosphere?

My views are: it’s all sound and can be used in composition. Orchestral instruments are a sound source and they form a (fairly) compatible collection, nice but challenging to write for. I can’t imagine the need for a synthesiser at this point. I doubt it could give extra punch except by larger-than-life amplification. The Rite of Spring shows orchestras can give more than enough punch if they try!  

However, electronic instruments have been written into orchestral scores, plus a whole lot of other unusual ones so I suppose it’s down to need.

My daw has a couple of synthesisers with fairly limited scope. I can’t patch them as I’d like nor mix the waveshapes without using several instances.

I have a partly working analogue synthesiser. I built it from ETI’s Project 80 circuits (but a bit later than 1980, when the UK module distributor had a big sale). It uses Curtis Electromusic Speciality chips, taking all the problems of logarithmic (voltage) control out of the constructor’s hands.  Entirely modular it could be patched any way you like for the modules you had, something that’s long been lost on synthesisers though I think remakes of Moogs are revisiting that. I can record its sounds but notating the settings is an absolute pain!  

As for mixing, I’m no engineer; have only my ears as a guide. It’s a matter of balance. But I am honest or try to be. It’s easy to cheat with orchestral samples. Put a flute in its low register low in the harmony and have to turn it up louder than it could ever play, to be heard. Loud high notes from an oboe. The largest ensemble I’d write for now is a chamber orchestra. Anything can be made to balance if one gets the score laid out properly and remember that if given a chance of live performance you may have to prepare it or at least comment on what the conductor’s doing.

You're probably a little more advanced than me in this subject. 

Cheers!

 

Yeah some good points you make.

Regarding synths mixed with orchestra, modern filmscore usually do that now but the synths are a big part of the score so they are quite loud in the mix.

Composing for just an orchestra (using libraries) I find ok but I am not an engineer either and I find it hard to mix and get the 'massive' sound I want but get all the instruments heard and clear. That in itself is an artform and a lot of the filmscore composers I have watched are pretty good at mixing the mock ups using the libraries but then they are lucky enough to then go into one of the big scoring stages and have arrangers and producers work for them with a live orchestra.

How great must that be.

Still it's all down to learning and trial and error for the likes of us lol

It's partly down to the genre of film one wants to composer for I reckon. The huge epics need a huge sound... but then there are films like Lone Survivor that barely use music at all. When it emerges it really is "incidental music". There have been times when I wish I could switch off the music. I can't even remember the film's name - it was that memorable LOL, during a big action scene full of explosions, hollywood "smacks", gunfire, shouting, vehicle noises and this attempt at a big musical sound fighting its corner, brass going hell for leather but turned down enough so the strings would have been heard but for the general racket - I thought blimey, what a mess. I turned it off altogether more for cinematic reasons that needn't detain us here! 

It seems a big ambition to score for film and yet much is a bureaucratic procedure, a "standard sound" that seems to be emerging. (I have an acquaintance who (he thought luckily) was given an opportunity under Zimmer in Hollywood. He's back, now, disappointed rather than disillusioned. The pay was barely enough to live on on site and he says he never realised how useful it would be, being a pianist. He also didn't like the system of dividing the composition and orchestration as was the case in his stint. The only reason I won't mention his name is I haven't his permission).

No matter, it's possible to write for smaller films and enjoy the credit if one joins or at least contacts local movie groups. It exposes our music to the public, it helps building up our portfolios. I'm happy enough. I have more call on what I compose subject to meeting the "client" need. It may lead to something bigger but I wouldn't force myself to compose to order. In this we differ - you're more than comfortable with film scoring - great, it leads to grand ideas. Your compositions, trial and error they may be, are BIG and each evolution reduces the error from the trial! 

As for mixing, yes, introducing synthesisers or musique concrete into the mix has problems unless using a standard synthesiser with standard presets. A bit like using an organ when almost every one is different. However, it goes deeper than that. That forgotten film I mentioned up there showed that mixing the music and the effects was as much a problem as the music alone.

What does it matter as long as we're composing, experimenting? I have a different fight on at the moment. I'll never be a Bruckner, but I still get a lift from the act of composing and occasionally hearing the result! 

Keith Theodosiou said:

Yeah some good points you make.

Regarding synths mixed with orchestra, modern filmscore usually do that now but the synths are a big part of the score so they are quite loud in the mix.

Composing for just an orchestra (using libraries) I find ok but I am not an engineer either and I find it hard to mix and get the 'massive' sound I want but get all the instruments heard and clear. That in itself is an artform and a lot of the filmscore composers I have watched are pretty good at mixing the mock ups using the libraries but then they are lucky enough to then go into one of the big scoring stages and have arrangers and producers work for them with a live orchestra.

How great must that be.

Still it's all down to learning and trial and error for the likes of us lol

^^^

As for mixing, yes, introducing synthesisers or musique concrete into the mix has problems unless using a standard synthesiser with standard presets.

I should have added "or it comes on a pre-recorded track" which is perfectly possible as both that track and the orchestra/composition would have to be spotted anyway and in any case it would just go through another fader. 

I do that too. I've never tried using a synth, but lately I've been thinking about fooling around with stuff like that. But as an end in itself. Sometimes I just get so frustrated with trying to make sampled libraries sound good, worrying about if something is playable; producing a professional score; etc. What a relief it would be to just work with synths, and create interesting soundscapes and be done with it!

J Paul Smith said:

Oh, yes, I do it quite often, but definitely not always. And yes, the synth stuff is buried deep and hardly even discernible. Or in addition to that, I’ve sometimes used orchestral instruments from two different libraries, just to add a slight bit of difference in timbre, being careful to keep the worse sounding of the two at a lower volume, sometimes a way lower volume, again being almost indiscernible. It can add to the labor fairly considerably, but it’s all a labor of love anyway, right? 

I use some sub bass underneath to fill the bottom end and sometimes use synth pads as they can be very soft and rounded so they don't really stand out as a distinct thing when you are underscoring. In my personal work I mix orchestra and synths all the time but you do need to work at it as a lot of synth sounds take up a very wide frequency range and your mix can get muddy really quickly, so a lot of careful EQ is required to tame them.

I also really like gated synth pads to add movement under a piece where you might have put a tremolo or an ostinato of shorts. You can hear the effect towards the end of this piece:

https://soundcloud.com/nigelcampbell/towards-a-colder-shore

Disclaimer. I don't mix music expressly for picture. Having said this I still use many of the same techniques they use occasionally.

In the end I say whatever works. For me personally I have used synth drones instead of pipe drones in celtic music because they sounded better.

I have been known to occasionally use an alternate attack on an instrument. For example I will line one instrument or synth up with the attack from another instrument.The instruments can be disimilar. This isn't an original idea since synth programmers did it often to gain maybe something like a better pluck on a harp or guitar or to add more punch to a drum.

I believe our ears are more easily fooled in the lower frequency ranges. Similar to those who think they see man made objects on mars looking at Mars rover pictures, the brain is constantly trying to make sense of what it sees or hears. When it comes to sound and music we are trained to look in certain places acoustically. In other words, we go where we think the music should go. Makes the composer's job easier because adding something like a synthetic string pad underneath a real sampled library done correctly only serves to augment the illusion we are creating.

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