String Arrangement Snafu

I'm currently working on a piece for strings, intending to employ an unusual method of orchestration, namely doubling technique.

Unfortunately, they didn't teach us this approach back when I was in college and university- it was all the usual SATB or V-V-C-B approach to string arranging.

It would probably help if I were an upper-string player, but I play only bass.

Being something of a Luddite, I still write using manuscript and pen, with a little assistance now and then from a programme called Anvil Studio. I have both Finale and Sibelius but never learned how to use them. So converting the score to PDF is going to be something of a nuisance.

In the meantime, here is a brief description of what I'm trying to accomplish: I'm doubling (tripling, actually) all or most of the voices, aiming for a machine-like sound. The bass line, for example, is comprised of basses, cellos and violas.

So far I've come up with a number of possibilities for orchestration. One of them (this is just a cursory example) is to have four sections of voices set up, such as Bass-Cello-Viola, Cello-Viola-Violin, Viola-Viola-Violin, Viola-Violin-Violin.

This works beautifully for two voices, even three or four individual voices. The problem is when chords or chord-like structures are introduced. The balance goes all haywire, and getting the chords to sound right has become a problem. The problem is that I want the doubling/tripling effect, but haven't the first clue how to approach adapting chord structure to this approach.

Any crack string arrangers out there have any idea how to solve this dilemma?

Here's what I have so far, a la synth via Anvil Studio (before you ask, yes, I'm aware of the limitations of working on orchestration using a synth):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7BLuv1Y3Oo&feature=youtu.be

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Replies

  • Thanks for your reply!

    The slides are just a few I selected from the original presentation to fill space while I work on the composition. The actual presentation is a lot more graphic, not suitable for children.

    My problem with Finale and Sibelius is patience. I can write far faster than they can accommodate. Most composers who work with pen and paper develop their own shorthand, myself included.

    Synths provide enough for me to go on, orchestration-wise. I always have in the back of my mind the difference between synth and real sounds, especially when writing for brass (my main instruments).

    The sound I'm going for is a relentless wall of sound (not to be mistaken for "wallow sound"), with all of the instruments playing as much of the time as possible, and in such a way that there are no discrete string sections. What I don't want is transparency. I want the sound and character of individual instruments absolutely suppressed. The aim is a total group effect.

    Right now I'm looking at unusual/different string arrangements by Stravinsky, Hindemith, several others, but no luck so far.

  • Heh- I have Walter Piston's . . . er . . . everything.

    Do you have a link to Skating? I'm still finding and feeling my way around.

    I only use old editions of Walter Piston's Harmony, by the way. I stopped following him with his "tonicisation" and "6/4 as an appoggiatura" nonsense. His theory of secondary dominants was okay while he just used it as a teaching tool, but somewhere along the line he seemed to go off the deep end and bought in too deeply into his own methods, which are still stinking up academia.

  • Just keep the numbers balanced like a regular string ensemble would and the sound should figure itself out.

    It doesn't have to be perfect ratios, but if for example you have a Cb + Vc + Va section, make it 1 Cb 1 Vc 2 Vas. It will allow a flatter sound. Vc + Va + Vn could go 1, 2, 2 or 1, 2, 3. Always more of the small instruments and fewer of the big ones. When you have set everything up, check the total number of each instrument. If the numbers add up to make it look like a somewhat sane string orchestra, then you're probably safe with whatever you ask them to play. If it's supposed to be homogenous mud, all the better. :)

    If there are issues, you can fine tune with dynamics / articulation (ponticello etc.)

  • That's just the thing- I have no way of knowing how things will balance until I have a bunch of players in front of me, and shift them around in order to see what happens.

    I'll have to make a trip to Saskatoon or Regina to kidnap a youth orchestra's string section for part of an afternoon, with maybe a lure of pizza to hold their interest.

    It may turn out to be a duodectet, perhaps consisting of 4 sets of 3. They'd pretty much have to be situated this way, because the idea is to have each group playing false harmonics.

    Greg Brus said:

    Just keep the numbers balanced like a regular string ensemble would and the sound should figure itself out.

    It doesn't have to be perfect ratios, but if for example you have a Cb + Vc + Va section, make it 1 Cb 1 Vc 2 Vas. It will allow a flatter sound. Vc + Va + Vn could go 1, 2, 2 or 1, 2, 3. Always more of the small instruments and fewer of the big ones. When you have set everything up, check the total number of each instrument. If the numbers add up to make it look like a somewhat sane string orchestra, then you're probably safe with whatever you ask them to play. If it's supposed to be homogenous mud, all the better. :)

    If there are issues, you can fine tune with dynamics / articulation (ponticello etc.)

    String Arrangement Snafu
    I'm currently working on a piece for strings, intending to employ an unusual method of orchestration, namely doubling technique. Unfortunately, they…
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