Orchestration II Final – Indiana Fields

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Okay, so while there’s a good deal of relief and satisfaction after having completed a (second) 12-week course in Orchestration, I’m genuinely bummed as well. I wouldn’t mind if this course had gone on for another 12… or even 24 weeks. It’s been that interesting / challenging / rewarding. Hats off to Berklee and Ben Newhouse for having developed a really great program and an excellent online course. I highly recommend it.

This is by far the longest piece I’ve composed, let alone actually scored in its entirety. It’s for medium-sized orchestra and is sequenced entirely using Cakewalk SONAR 8.5 and the Kontakt sampling synthesizer, using Native Instruments’ version of the Vienna Symphonic Library. I upgraded to Kontakt 4 during development, so there’s a mix of sounds from both versions 3.5 and 4. I like how the orchestration for this turned out, but getting the individual instrument and overall orchestra sound I ‘hear’ (e.g., in other similar compositions, like film score CDs and, especially, the works of some of my classmates) continues to elude me. Comments, suggestions welcome.

As I listen to the final version as it was submitted, and its predecessor, I’m finding I like parts of the latter better…

Indiana Fields ‘Beta’ – MP3 – 192kBps – 6.2MB – 4:30 min.

Final submission:

Indiana Fields – MP3 – 192kBps – 6.5MB – 4:30 min.
Indiana Fields – Full Concert Score

For the truly masochistic, here’s a scratch recording of this tune in its original form:

Indiana Fields, 1943 – MP3 – 192kBps – 5.5MB – 4:00 min.

Long Weekend – Time to catch up!

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Got a chance to catch my breath this weekend. The extra day off is much appreciated. Lots been going on here. I finally got my music ‘studio’ about 99% finished, work has gotten pretty busy for the first time in a couple years and the two courses I’m taking this term have been surprisingly time-consuming (but in a good way).

On the music room front, over the past several months, I managed to take our largely unused faux dining room (which used to be the TV room / den) and turn it into a serviceable office / music room. We went from this (that’s a close-up of the unfinished bookshelves I removed, stained, sealed and reinstalled):

to this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

Here’s a detail of the denim and striped fabric we used to cover the walls:

There are a few small spots left to fabric-cover and I need about 12′ of chair rail to go over the fabric seam. Other than that (and a good cleaning), it’s complete.

It’s a very lovely, breezy work environment with the big picture window (instead of staring into a corner with the old corner ‘cockpit‘ upstairs) and now there’s more than enough room for the sorely-needed two-monitor setup, with space to one side for my work laptop. Kudos to Patty for coming up with the idea!

Not much actual music composition going on, per se these days. This term I have Orchestration 2 and Keyboard Method (basic piano), so I’m essentially orchestrating and learning to play lots of OPM (other people’s music). That said, the term has yielded some interesting work, posted below. I also realized there were a few things from the Harmony class I never posted, … so here we go…

Cadence at a Gallop

After the ‘Battlestar‘ theme we worked on various types of progression cadences, and in a couple of assignments we (or, at least I) worked those cadences into a musical idea that ultimately became another theme. That theme worked its way into this term in Orchestration 2.

The first the assignment actually included five different cadences:

|| E | A E | A | Esus4 | E | – I IV I IV Isus4 I – Plagal

| C#m | F#m C#m | A | A | B | – VIm IIm VIm IV V – Half

| A | D A | B | C#m | – IV bVII IV V VIm – Deceptive (w/a touch of Mixed)

| A | A | B | E | E | – IV V I – Full

| C | C | D | E | E || – bVI bVII I – Mixed

Cadence Series – MP3 – 192kBps – 1MB – 0:45 min.

This grew into what turned out sounding like a nice little homage to the late Michael Kamen:

Horns and Strings – MP3 – 192kBps – 1.25MB – 0:55 min.

Fast forwarding to last week or so, I did a proper orchestration of this which came out quite fun:

Full Orchestra – MP3 – 192kBps – 1.25MB – 0:55 min.

Why Must You Love This Way

One of the last things done for the Harmony course was a nice rumba tune titled as above. Here’s the first two minutes:

Why Must You Love This Way – MP3 – 160kBps – 2.3MB – 1:59 min.

On to Orchestration 2

We’ve done a LOT of really cool and interesting stuff this term. Some of it has been a bit tedious, but even the activities involved in that have been a learning experience. Once again, Ben’s course provides more than I can absorb in one pass.

One of the first fun workshops we did was compose and orchestrate a short piece derived from a passage containing only accented rhythm (i.e., no melody, etc.). I took the Copland approach here (sorry about the low signal level):

Accent Workshop – MP3 – 160kBps – 900kB – 0:44 min.

During Week 3 we orchestrated the theme from Harry Potter. Since I’ve never seen the film(s) or listened to the music, this was an interesting exercise. We were given the basic melody / countermelody:

and we had to come up with two different orchestrations:

Potter #1 – MP3 – 160kBps – 650kB – 0:33 min.
Potter #2 – MP3 – 160kBps – 570kB – 0:29 min.

During Week 4 one of the things we covered was the different sample types in our sampling synthesizers (I use Native Instruments’ Kontakt 3.5). The following piece, which was written by Ben, I believe, required the combination of a number of different sample types for each instrument.

Combining Samples – MP3 – 160kBps – 341kB – 0:17 min.

That week we also were given a chord progression – no melody – and we came up with a composition / orchestration to match.

In the first, I experimented a little with the different sample types we’d just covered. Might’ve gotten a little heavy-handed with that. And in the second I tried to employ some of the stuff we’d done up to that point on crescendos.

Progression Orchestration #1 – MP3 – 160kBps – 1MB – 0:54 min.
Progression Orchestration #2 – MP3 – 160kBps – 828kB – 0:42 min.

Moving on to Week 5, we were introduced to The Flight of the Hornet Toad and asked to orchestrate it for a workshop. I think this is one of Ben’s, I’m not sure. It sounds like his sense of humor. Here’s what it looks like:

Here’s what it sounds like (on piano):

The Flight of the Hornet Toad (Piano) – MP3 – 192kBps – 539kB – 0:22 min.

Here’s what it sounds like (in my head):

The Flight of the Hornet Toad (Orch) – MP3 – 160kBps – 481kB – 0:24 min.

I’ve since found a better snare roll… 😉

The assignment for Week 5 was to orchestrate an excerpt from Frederic Chopin’s Prelude No. 20 in C minor – probably one of the most depressingly beautiful pieces of music out there. I hope I did it some level of justice:

Chopin – MP3 – 192kBps – 2.3MB – 1:35 min.

Jumping forward to Week 7, we started working on layers. In the following workshop, we were given a melody and harmony, and asked to add a middleground layer with the remaining instruments, as appropriate. Here’s the original, the added layer and the combined mock-ups:

Original – MP3 – 192kBps – 747kB – 0:31 min.
Added Middleground – MP3 – 192kBps – 747kB – 0:31 min.
Combined – MP3 – 192kBps – 747kB – 0:31 min.

Week 8 was all about chaos – not really appealing to me. But we did do one cool workshop, which opened up an important door in terms of making better-quality recordings. This is a piece composed by Ben. He provided left and right channels for each of the instrument tracks (which includes a really nice-sounding cello sample) and we needed to produce them by setting the panning roughly the same as an orchestra would sound like to a listener in the audience:

Panning – MP3 – 192kBps – 2.3MB – 1:40 min.

While doing this workshop I discovered that my level settings for most of the stuff I’ve been doing is set quite a bit too high. Ultimately, this creates some distortion and muddies the overall sound before the signal gets to the (software) compressor, which I use as a last stage to kick up the signal level without going over 0dB. Lesson learned!

That brings us up pretty much to date except for this week’s stuff, which I’ve already done (gotta take advantage of those extra days when they come along). Last but not least, here’s an orchestration built form a basic piano sketch – an excerpt from a Beethoven piano sonata:

Here’s the piano version, followed by my orchestration:

Beethoven Sonata – Piano – MP3 – 192kBps – 711kB – 0:30 min.
Beethoven Sonata – Orchestra – MP3 – 192kBps -600kB – 0:25 min.

Yes – it’s been a BUSY few months!!

Crysis 2 – here’s hoping

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Great preview for Crysis 2 at Amazon. Reminiscent of some of the nice work done in advance of Halo 3 (uhm… Microsoft? remember the PC? the platform that made you global software overlord? any chance we’ll see H3 on that? ever?).

Click the full screen button – it’s hi-rez.

Let’s hope EA doesn’t screw the pooch on this great franchise like they did with Medal of Honor. Pre-order here if you’re an optimist.

Tunevolution: Those Crazy Eyes

Composition, Education, Software, Songwriting, Synthesizers 1 Comment

Last week in Songwriting Workshop:Harmony, our assignment was to put together a progression with certain characteristics. For that I created a groove that goes from a Im IVm Aeolian “power progression” to a Im IV7 Dorian equivalent. This inspired some additional changes that ultimately turned into a nice rumba thing:

Week 5 Assignment – MP3 – 160kBps – 1.7MB – 1:28 min.

This week was our midterm assignment and I chose to stick with that basic rumba groove and see what I could do with it. I didn’t like the G7sus4 G7 “resolution” because, well, it was just a little too “one-four-fivey” to go to CMaj after the very cool change to FmMaj7 and the other stuff that precedes it. I started fooling with it and hit upon a nice E7#5 which – immediately – struck a raw Steely Dan nerve that didn’t seem to want to settle back down. So I went with it.

The result – at least to me – is nothing short of astounding. That is, it doesn’t feel like I should have been capable of writing this – in three days, no less – but I did. I credit Shane Adams here, as his weekly class lectures on WebEx have been a true goldmine of information – and inspiration – for a harmony beginner like myself.

Anyway, I keep thinking this tune has to be a direct ripoff of some Steely Dan tune I can’t find, but so far it looks genuinely original. At this point there’s just a couple verses and a ‘chorus’ which, right now, sounds more like a bridge to me, but hey it’s a work in progress. This is transposed down a step from the earlier composition, mostly so I can ‘sort of’ sing it (getting some vocal chops back after not singing for so long is proving to be problematic). It’s also sped up a bit from a sleepy 94bpm to a more upbeat 110, which feels just about right. The drums here are Session Drummer 3 with tweaks to the stock rhythms by me. Everything else (but the vocal, of course) is the Kontakt 3.5 sampling synth, and I’m very happy to report that it works just fine with my x64 version of SONAR on Win 7. Nice NOT to have to spend money upgrading that just to get it to work.

When I redo this with a complete vocal and finish this I’ll post an update. It might be a while before I can hire the right horn section and female backup vocalists, but I’m already checking Craigslist…

Those Crazy Eyes (beta) – MP3 – 192kBps – 7MB – 5:07 min.

Those Crazy Eyes
© 2010 Ron Romano


BbMaj7 Am7 Gm7 D7#5
Gm7 G#m7 Gm7 G#m7


Gm7                          Cm7
Those foggy nights above the bay... so quiet

Gm7                         C7
Until we found each others' hand.

EbmMaj7               Eb°7     Dm7              Gm7     Gm7 Fm7
Three Rings and Garrapata: our private stomping grounds.

EbMaj7                          D7sus4            D7#5
We played the finest mind games  with the time we found.

Our steamy nights above the bay... on fire.
Long laughter. Short, white, sexy lies.
When all that high adventure was threatened by good-byes.
I couldn't look away from Those Crazy Eyes.

[chorus I]

Temp-ta-tion lies in Those Crazy Eyes.

F6      Gm7
Walk a- way.

Gm7 Dm7 EbMaj7  Cm7      F7sus4 
Not for nuthin' does the Mother

F7       F6   Gm7
Warn the Son:

              Cm7             D7sus4
Don't talk to Strangers after school.

D7              Gm9       BbMaj7 Gm6/E (or C7)
Don't take that pill just to be  cool.

              Cm7                    Cm6
Look both ways when you step out

    Cm6add9    D7      
But don't look twice - 

         D7sus4 D7#5    Gm
at Those Cra-        zy Eyes.

[chorus II]

Temp-ta-tion lies
In Those Crazy Eyes. Walk away.
Not for nuthin' does the Mother
Warn the son:

Don't let this fall out of your wallet.
Don't be too quick to compro- mise.
Don't argue with Sicilians.
And don't look twice - at Those Crazy Eyes.

[bridge I]

EbMaj7 F7            Dm7  Gm7 Gm7 Fm7
Some   love, it's de-liri-um.

EbMaj7    F7                  Dm7  Gm7 Gm7 Fm7
Magic. Mystique. Slippery oblivi-  on.

EbMaj7                  F7
Cool champagne, diamond ring

F7       Dm7       Bb°Maj7
Might be just your thing.

        Cm7      C7                  EbMaj7
But for some the prize is What's be- hind

      D7sus4 D7#5  Gm7
Those Cra-    zy   Eyes.

[bridge II]

Some love, it's delirium.
Tragic. Intrigue. Aaron and Miriam.
Way too late you find Fate
But it's not the one
That you see there when you close
Those Crazy Eyes.

p.s. yeah, you know who you R__ 😉

Volo Flamenco – new and improved

Audio Recording, Composition, Education, Guitar, Software, Synthesizers 1 Comment

Hey, I just uploaded the final project MP3 for Orchestration 1. Here it is below – the new and improved version, first 2:30 of the full Allegro for Guitar and Orchestra.

Also linked below is the full six+ minute, guitar-only version, for reference. Might be fun to listen to that first if you haven’t heard it before.

It’s getting there.

Volo Flamenco – guitar only – MP3 – 128kBps – 6.4MB – 6:42 min.

Volo Flamenco – using SONAR 8 & Kontakt 3 – MP3 – 160kBps – 2.9MB – 2:27 min.

Bruckner No. 5

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Prior to this past week we also had an assignment to sequence a passage from Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5. I held back to the letter of the assignment and only sequenced the melody.

Ben has since provided the score and I located the section containing one of the two examples he used. Here’s my stab at the full (string) orchestra arrangement. A little heavy-handed and not nearly as elegant as the original, but we’re making progress…

Bruckner Symphony No. 5 Excerpt – MP3 – 192kBps – 1.28MB – 0:56 min.

On to Orchestration

Cello, Composition, Education, Software, Synthesizers Comments Off on On to Orchestration

The Orchestration I course at Berklee, with Ben Newhouse, is turning out to be quite informative, extensive and enjoyable. I’m learning loads of new things each week (and not having to grope around ‘experimenting’ in order to do it).

This past week had a number of interesting workshop activities.

First was a short section extracted from Bach’s Chorale #185. The activity was to arrange the first four (full) bars of the following for full strings (Violins I and II, Viola, Cello and Double Bass).


I ended up with this. Here’s the MP3:

Bach Chorale 185 Excerpt – MP3 – 192kBps – 595kB – 0:25 min.

Turned out that this export wasn’t what I’d originally produced. As it happens, when you close a SONAR project and then reload, Kontakt 3 (the plug-in we’re using as a sampling synth) doesn’t reload the actual instrument configuration that was saved. Thankfully, I’d saved a preset, and was able to reproduce what I’d really wanted:

Bach Chorale 185 Excerpt – fixed – MP3 – 192kBps – 599kB – 0:25 min.

The difference is subtle, but the second one should sound less like mush.

The next workshop activity was also interesting. We were given a 4-chord progression – Am – F – C – E – which we then needed to orchestrate as a harmonic arrangement. One of the examples for this activity was Ben’s “Desperaux’s Love Theme” (more of Ben’s work here). I had some fun with this. I hope this is what he was expecting. Here’s the music, with a melody added after the progression is established:

Harmonic Arrangement – Am-F-C-E – MP3 – 128kBps – 770kB – 0:48 min.

Finally, the week’s assignment was kind of the reverse. We started off with a melody and chords:


From this we needed to come up with an orchestration around the melody for full strings. I chose to write for solo cello (duh) but unfortunately, the Kontakt 3 sample library doesn’t include a solo cello sample, so the ensemble legato ‘voice’ had to suffice. It’s a little electronic sounding, but gets the point across:

String Orchestration – MP3 – 128kBps – 525kB – 0:33 min.

Overall it’s been an ‘extra’ education (above learning orchestration) getting up to speed on Sibelius 6, Kontakt 3 and SONAR 8 PE all at the same time. The SONAR course from last term left me with just enough information to get going – far from what was promised in the course description. That’s life, I suppose. One of the only valuable things from that course was a SONAR template with a preset mastering plug-in all set up. I load my finished audio exports into that, tweak EQ as needed and export as a master to 44.1kHz/16bit for MP3. It rounds things out nicely without a lot of work.

Getting Sibelius 6, Kontakt 3 and SONAR 8 to all play nice together has been challenging. I’ve worked out a system where I can compose in Sibelius, export MIDI to SONAR and then load a String Orchestra preset into the Kontakt plug-in. At that point the Piano Roll view provides a quick way to delete Sibelius’ MIDI CC data (I keep the Velocity) and start adjusting Modulation and Expression to get dynamics.

Coming up with that workflow required about a week of experimenting and understanding the various quirks involved – like Kontakt’s annoying habit of resetting the instrument volume faders to -6db (or less) if the volume is adjusted in ANY way in SONAR. That was pretty frustrating, let me tell you. Once the volume has been modified, it’s no longer possible to set the corresponding Kontakt instrument to anything more than -6db. If you do, it just gets reset when playback starts. Not sure what’s going on there, but deleting Sibelius’ exported MIDI CC#7 (Volume) data before playing back takes care of it as long as you don’t touch the track’s volume. I tend to bounce each MIDI track to its own audio track – as hot as it will go without exceeding 0db – so I don’t usually adjust the MIDI channels’ volume faders anyway.

Lots of good things to say about these three software packages, once you start to get below the surface and get comfortable with a workflow. The bulk of time is now spent actually composing, rather than fighting with technology – as it should be!

Sibelius 6, in particular, is pretty impressive. It’s about as close to a music word processor as one might imagine. Once you get handy with the key combinations, you can literally type your music into the staff as you go, pausing now and then to reposition the cursor with the mouse. The thing even understands expression and technique entries, and will play back pizzicato mezzo piano, follow crescendos and diminuendos and play fermata and staccato notes if that’s what you’ve indicated. Pretty cool.

Ear Training: Only The Beginning

Audio Recording, Cello, Composition, Education, Guitar, Software, Songwriting 2 Comments

This week is the last one for Basic Ear Training at Berkleemusic – the Spring term is winding down. As I mentioned to my instructor Roberta Radley, it’s been one of the more enjoyable educational experiences I can recall. Matt Marvuglio and Roberta have put together a great introduction to exactly what’s been missing from my own musical endeavors over the decades: a formal understanding of what I’ve been hearing, musically, all my life. Literally: ear training.

We’ve been doing pretty interesting assignments each week in this course – conducting, singing lots of solfege (“do – re – mi – …“) to learn interval relationships between notes in the scale(s) (yes Bob, you told me!), transcribing popular music to understand both rhythm & melody, recording ourselves singing various scales and harmonies, learning the chord and rhythmic structure of “The Blues” and analyzing some basic song forms.

Unlike the other weekly lessons, our final project assignment is one of our own design. Normally the ‘anything goes’ type of assignments kind of bug me, but here at the end of the term it feels appropriate – especially because the last week or so has made it crystal clear what I’ll be offering: a discussion of how ear training helped in the composition of Volo Flamenco and a short analysis of that piece as well as some transcription excerpts.

Basic Ear Training (BME-115) – Final Project

My favorite pastime has always been – and is still – composing music of various forms, which probably sounds silly coming from someone who’s never studied music theory. Until recently, when I began taking cello seriously a few years ago, I’d also never studied a musical instrument, couldn’t read music very well (at all) and generally did everything “by ear”.

One of the many problems associated with being musically illiterate has been the limitation it imposes with respect to (a) making sense of the original music that I hear in my head, and (b) getting it into some form where I and others can actually hear it. The SONAR software program has been great for that, since you can write entire orchestral MIDI compositions using something called a “piano roll” that gives you a graphical representation of the notes (as opposed to the indecipherable notes on a staff for which I have always seemed to have a mental block). But even with that, there’s this timing issue…

The trick for me in writing anything remotely complex is in remembering the melodic themes, accompanying lines and harmonic combinations from the point of inspiration until I can physically get the thing written down or recorded as musical information. The two times I’m most often inspired with a new melody or rhythm are (1) while driving to and from work and (2) when I’m asleep – and dreaming. I guess the common denominator there is “delta state”.

Needless to say, neither of those two activities is conducive to getting a musical idea “written down” in some form – especially when my standard “m.o.” is to fire up SONAR and draw the notes in the piano roll. Also needless to say, a lot of nice melodic themes have vanished into the ether between the time the inspiration hits and the time I can get to the computer.

But now I have solfege.

Do – – Sol Do Sol Le Sol-Fa …

Parallel with Basic Ear Training I also enrolled in Berklee’s Producing Music with SONAR course this term so I could finally, hopefully get beyond just scratching the surface of the software. For the final project in that course I’d decided to create a production based on an acoustic guitar piece I’ve been playing for about a year or so – Volo Flamenco – which you can hear here. Go ahead and fire it up in the background, and I’ll continue. It’s kind of important to hear it in its ‘raw’ form in order to appreciate what’s coming.

The problem was that although I had some ideas, and there’s a literal swirl of orchestral stuff lighting up my brain every time I play the thing, I’d been having a devil of a time coming up with anything that I could actually build into a recognizable theme, let alone all the rest of the stuff I thought should go with it. The problem is the guitar part is very rhythmically dynamic, but it’s just arpeggiated chords. And ‘cool-sounding’ as those chords were, there was no real melody line to speak of. Until there was.

Anyone who’s had ear training can ‘hear’ that heading caption up there: do–sol do sol le sol-fa. It’s solfege for the initial phrase of a melody that was still echoing in my head at 6am last Monday, as I was awakened from a really deep sleep. I’d only gone to bed 3 hours earlier, because I’d pulled another late-nighter trying to find the rest of the music for Volo. Waking up with music still echoing in my head is normally the point where I think, “oh, that’s nice… but I’ll forget it by the time I can drag myself out of bed, get dressed, fire up the computer, make coffee…” And besides, I was on vacation, and not really interested in jumping out of bed at 6am after only three hours’ sleep.

So while trying to fall back asleep, I drowsily resigned myself to losing what sounded like another great theme, as I had in the past. But unlike in the past, because BET has drilled it into our heads for weeks now, without consciously choosing to, I also started doing what I’ve been doing now for a couple months every time I focus on a melody of any kind: I started “solfeging” it. Right away I recognized “do – sol – do” from one of the many warm-up exercises we’ve been doing in BET. That led to a few more notes… and a few more… and finally I had mapped out an entire musical thought, all while still laying comfortably, half asleep.

But the best part was this… I didn’t forget it. Because the inspiration had been translated into information – because I had an actual “sentence” to remember later – I was able to get the melody written down. But it gets better.

When I say “written down”, what I mean is that – for a change – I didn’t open up the piano roll and start drawing notes one-at-a-time, listening to the playback to get it right “by ear”. Instead, because the intervals were already built into the solfege information I’d kind of memorized, and because working through the various BET transcription assignments has helped erase the irrational (neuro-associative? Patty?) response I’ve always had to seeing musical notes on a staff, I was able to go about this in a completely different way, and it’s transcribed here.

I knew the tonic, I chord for this tune was E Maj (to paraphrase my cousin Alessandro’s disdain for the key of C Maj, on guitar, E Maj would be considered the Key of the Destitute) . That made do E, and do-sol-do became E-B-E. I thought hey, cool, I can just transcribe this using SONAR’s handy Staff View, and skip the whole piano roll thing – and that’s exactly what I did. In fact I was able to solfege my way through a lot of the string lines as well, transcribed here and here (please pardon SONAR’s choice of formatting in that first one).

To be sure, there was still a good deal of aural hunting-and-pecking involved – SONAR’s Staff View will enunciate the notes as you drag them around, just like Finale Notepad does, and that’s handy for recognizing accidentals. Also, SONAR doesn’t understand notated slurs, so it’s necessary to actually enter MIDI notes to simulate those; you’ll see these as strings of 32nd notes in the transcriptions (yes, MIDI gurus, there’s a better way to do this… one thing at a time). But even with all that, it’s hard to describe sitting down for the very first time and composing a complex piece of music by transcribing the notes on a staff rather than the functional equivalent of scribbling them in crayon, “by ear”.

Who am I kidding… it’s easy to describe: it was awesome!

I know – musicians out there are thinking, “yeah, big deal – you scribbled out a few lines of music.” To those folks who’ve forgotten what it’s like NOT to be able to do that without thinking, I’ll reiterate the discussion comment I left the other day for Lesson 11, which I’d forgotten about and Lyn reminded me of (thanks, Lyn!). The question was, “How has your music making changed as a result of all this ear training study?” My response: “It’s a bit like hearing Italian all one’s life. It’s a beautiful language even if you don’t have any idea what’s being said. Reaching a point where one just begins to understand what the words mean is … exciting.” I think this timely experience – a complete departure from the way I’ve pursued composition in the past – answers that question.

With all this done, I finally had the pieces I needed to put together at least a rough sketch of what Volo Flamenco will eventually sound like: click here to hear the first two-and-a-half minutes of what will be a seven-minute Allegro for Guitar and Cello. I’m still getting a handle on shaping synthesizer instruments, mixing, and all the rest, so the synthesized solo cello sounds a bit like an oboe, and the whole thing still sounds a little ‘thin’, but this should provide some sense of the amorphous symphony I hear in my mind’s ear, when all my physical ears can hear is me playing this piece on guitar. It’s not James Horner (uhm… I hope), but I think it’s pretty exciting.

When I first registered for Music Theory 101 at Berklee last year, just to see what the school was like, I watched the excellent series of videos recorded during John Mayer’s clinic there. At the end of the third one, after discussing and performing Stop This Train, he says, “There’s information and there’s inspiration, and I could not have written that song if I didn’t go to Berklee School of Music. That is a fact.” When I first watched that I thought it was just hype. It wasn’t, of course, and now I can see that both objectively and subjectively.

Song Form

In terms of the song form – one of the other topics we discussed this term in BETVolo Flamenco is fairly conventional. At least rhythmically. It begins with a 36-measure Intro, followed by an AA section, that is, two similar 8-measure statements. Each of these contains antecedent/consequent pairs of 4 measures each. This first AA section is the initial statement of the theme. That’s followed (after a small explosion effect) by two 32-bar AABB sections which follow the 32-measure form described in our Lesson 10 lecture: “four eight-measure phrases or statements”.

It’s nice that the song structure is pretty conventional rhythmically because harmonically… well, things get a little weird.

The 4-bar phrases mentioned above each have two measures in the I chord (tonic), which is E Maj, followed by two measures in a chord which – as it turns out – doesn’t really follow a conventional western musical harmony pattern. This threw me for a loop, and trying to figure it out in the context of I – IV – V type changes has been an education in its own right.

Here’s the second chord, followed by the rhythm of the arpeggio as played on guitar:

VI Chord Arpeggio

Ultimately, it turns out this second chord is rooted in the type of harmonic style that inspired this piece in the first place: flamenco. After a bit of Googling about flamenco style, I ran across some comments regarding the nature and history of flamenco. The Mojácar Flamenco site was particularly instructive. I discovered that flamenco has a harmonic ambiguity – at least as compared to the standard cadences of western music. I think this is probably due to Spain’s history as a “bridge” between eastern and western culture, having had strong cultural influences at different times from both Europe (España) and Persia (Al-Andalus). That’s a complex and fascinating subject in its own right, but it’s beyond the scope of this project.

The important thing is that this harmonic ambiguity inherent in flamenco style pretty much explains the confusion I had in identifying what I’ll just call  the “tension” chord in the second half of each 4-bar measure of the A section(s). As it turns out, the flamenco F chord is often played in exactly the way I’ve voiced it here. Notably, I originally composed this “by ear” through trial-and-error, not through any sort of instruction or study of flamenco guitar style – very much like the originators of flamenco itself, who typically were not classically trained. Er… like me.

The A sections shift back-and-forth between the tonic and this “tension” chord, which my mathematical left brain wants to call f(F Maj) – the flamenco of F Maj.

The B sections move to the IV7 and the rhythm changes considerably as the chords go from the IV7 to another ambiguous flamenco chord that can be heard as Am or FMaj7, depending on the melody and accompaniment which, as of right now, don’t yet exist. Eventually these will be antecedent/consequent pairs ‘spoken’ by the guitar and cello as a kind of musical conversation. I’m still working on that, as well as the remaining 200-odd measures in the piece. Fertile ground for continuing on with this in Orchestration 1.

Well, that’s about it. Assuming I don’t discover that the theme is actually unconsciously lifted from one of Horner’s Zorro scores, or from some old Morricone score I forgot about (always a danger when running with something one remembers from a dream), I’m extremely happy with it. And I could not have composed this in anywhere near the time I did – if at all – if I hadn’t taken Matt and Roberta’s Basic Ear Training course at Berkleemusic. That is a fact.

Volo Flamenco gets wings

Audio Recording, Composition, Guitar, Software, Synthesizers 1 Comment

[UPDATE: messed up – those were the ‘raw’ files I originally posted. The mastered versions have been added for that subtle… ‘mastered’ feeling.]

We’re winding down on the Spring term at Berklee and closing in on the final projects. The piece I’ve been working on for the SONAR course (mentioned back in April) is called Volo Flamenco which, by the way, means ‘Flamenco Flight‘, not ‘Flamenco Skittle‘ (it’s a Babel Fish joke).

This is the first 2:30 or so (the whole thing is over 6 min. long!).

Everything except the guitar is coming from two TTS-1 synthesizers (including the flamenco dancer), which is a software synth that comes with SONAR. It’s interesting trying to get TTS-1 strings to sound anything close to realistic, and these are still a little one-dimensional and “video-gamey” to me, but hopefully they’ll suffice for the purposes of this exercise. At least until I can pick up a copy of Kontakt 3 next term (for Orchestration 1… yay!!).

Hard to get a good gauge on the overall EQ. My speakers are junk (I’m shopping for some KRKs) so this is mixed using a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M40fx headphones, which are supposed to be pretty flat. Since 99% of the world listens to music as MP3s through IPods and cell phones these days, it seems a little obsessive to worry about it, but I did burn a CD with the 24-bit WMA version of this and it sounded pretty good on the home studio DVD player downstairs as well as Patty’s CD player.

The WAV file for this comes out to almost 26MB, which is kinda hefty, and since this week we’re supposed to be mastering these for commercial production I figured I’d just post the non-dithered, 24-bit WMA version, which is how a lot of music is published these days, and weighs in at a more download-friendly size of 4.6MB. To be honest, my system doesn’t produce any difference between that and the 16-bit, Pow-r 3 dithered version, rendered to MP3 at 320kbps.

We record, you decide.

Volo Flamenco (no dither) – WMA – 261kbps – 4.6MB – 2:30 min.

Volo Flamenco (Pow-r 3) – MP3 – 320kBps – 6MB – 2:30 min.

Mastered versions:

Volo Flamenco (Mastered with VC-64 “Master Mix” no dither) – WMA – 265kbps – 4.8MB – 2:30 min.

Volo Flamenco (Mastered with VC-64 “Master Mix” and dithered to 16-bit with Pow-r 3) – MP3 – 320kBps – 6MB – 2:30 min.

Alternate version with different mix, EQ, compression choices:

Volo Flamenco (Mastered with VC-64 “Master Mix” and dithered to 16-bit with Pow-r 3) – MP3 – 320kBps – 6MB – 2:30 min.

Lose Your Lover Boogie

Audio Recording, Composition, Education, Software, Songwriting, Synthesizers Comments Off on Lose Your Lover Boogie

[UPDATE: rant and ‘Loopie’ Groove Clip project added below]

Ok, I got inspired after I started working on one of the Basic Ear Training assignments for week 9 last night and just had to roll with it. I’ve been itching to put my new BMPR-177 chops to some use, and I’ve had these blues lyrics laying around for, like, ever, so I figured what the heck.

These maybe aren’t the best production choices in the world, and blues in C is just at the tippy-top of my very rusty range (next time I’ll knock it down to A), but it came out pretty fun for about 10 hours’ work, total, including sound-deadening my little office/studio.

The assignment was to use a pre-recorded blues bass line to write a melody with form AAA or AAB. Overachiever that I am, I had to do both. And the second one two different ways. With a tempo change. And background vocals. And synth horns, swing drums, a little reverb. You know… 😉

Form is: AAA – {break} – AAB – CCD (?) – AAB – CCD (?).

Not sure if the CCD verses would actually be categorized as “CCD” – they’re different from the AAB ones but they still follow an AAB form of their own.

BTW, this track uses the provided accompaniment bass / drum track throughout, I promise. I just, uhm… “tweaked” it a little. I kind of rolled the drum part off with EQ and sped it up just a ‘smidge’ after the break. Thankfully, whoever originally recorded it did so at precisely 120bpm, which made it very easy to work with.

Lose Your Lover Boogie – MP3 – 192kBps – 2.1MB – 1:28 min.

On the Producing Music with SONAR side, I’ve unfortunately grown a little disappointed. The class hasn’t had near the depth I’d hoped and no one at Berklee seems interested in helping students with the numerous technical issues that always arise when using software of this type. I’ve posted more forum entries as ‘tech support’ than I have in doing actual coursework (I’m guessing readers like Jim, Bill and John can relate).

The course has been invaluable in terms of providing a structured exploration of SONAR 8, and of all the things I’ve learned about myself over the years, structure is an absolute necessity for learning. But in terms of discussing the rationale and/or technical details involved in using SONAR’s myriad features, or covering any of the logic behind, say, when to use a compressor vs. a gate, etc., the lecture content has been far too light for a $1200, 12-week course. Scott Garrigus’ SONAR 8 Power! (at about 1/35th the cost) has far more vital detail. As an example, the assignment for week 8 was to lay out the insert and send effects we’d apply to each track in a 16-track mix (standard pop music instrument array). It would have been great if we’d ever actually covered the rationale behind using specific types of effects on specific instruments, or groups of instruments, but we didn’t (and there’s no prereq that implies this foreknowledge, unfortunately). The exercises in the lecture consisted of “open the effect plug-in and experiment with the knobs and sliders to see how the sound changes,” which wasn’t exactly the sort of instruction I was hoping for. I can “experiment” on my own – what I take classes for is to learn how to do things correctly, and why.

Last week we covered ACID and REX audio Loops – “Groove Clips” in SONAR-speak. Again, we were pretty much left to “experiment” with the functions that control these, rather than being offered detailed information one doesn’t get in a book, but even so some folks managed some pretty creative sounds. The ditty below was constructed from a combination of both types. Scott G. may recognize some of the loops from his Groove Clip Exercise in SONAR 8 Power!‘s Chpt. 9.

‘Loopie’ – MP3 – 64kBps – 200kB – 0:24 min.

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