Orchestration II Final – Indiana Fields

Composition, Education, Software, Synthesizers Comments Off on Orchestration II Final – Indiana Fields

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.

Deep Star Space Trek Voyager No. 9

Audio Recording, Composition, Songwriting, Synthesizers Comments Off on Deep Star Space Trek Voyager No. 9

Another week, another chord progression experiment.

This one really got away from me, heading in a Jay Chattaway direction before I could slow it down.

Now I just have to write and produce a new spin-off series so I can persuade myself to use this as the opening title music.

Hey… it’s late and I’m getting punchy… 😉


Fanfare for the Common Battlestar – MP3 – 192kBps – 1.9MB – 1:21 min.

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.

Loop Action

Composition, Synthesizers Comments Off on Loop Action

One of the workshops we did last week came out fun. This was an assignment that started with some canned drum loops (you’ll hear them), to which we were to add orchestral instruments.

This cue was a shot at something between James Bond (recent vintage) and the Bourne series film scores.

Adding Orchestral Material to Drum Loops – MP3 – 160kBps – 870kB – 0:44 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

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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.

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

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[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.

Star Trek Music

Audio Recording, Composition, People, Performance, Synthesizers Comments Off on Star Trek Music

We went to see Star Trek last week (twice). I was impressed and completely enjoyed it (hence the second viewing) and expect lots of other folks did too – it’s grossed almost $200M in only 8 days – but I’ll save a real review for another time.

Although I’m not awestruck by Giacchino’s new Star Trek theme – maybe it’ll grow on me – I was fascinated to hear how he worked Alexander Courage’s original into his new one for the end credits.

Here’s Courage discussing the concept, composition and production of the original T.V. theme, with a little surprise near the end.

The underlying “train” feel, with an overlaid, lyrical melody that Courage describes here is exactly the sort of thing I was shooting for in the little T.V. theme I did with SONAR and the JV-1080 years ago.

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