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Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Production Diary 14

Here's an excellent look behind the scenes of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Production Diary 14.

This installment of the production diary takes a look at the music and musicians behind the production of the larger-than-life soundtrack that sets the mood for the whole realm in the story.

I have just watched the film, it is awesome. Can't wait for the next one!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Enrolled myself into Thinkspace

I've very recently enrolled myself with ThinkSpace Online. So now I'm officially a music student! :)

I signed up for Cinematic Orchestration and Music for the Media.

ThinkSpace Online is an online learning organisation that offers quite a few courses for music composing students of different levels and backgrounds. The trainers and mentors are all working composers and that is what makes it so practical.

There are some sample material that lets prospective students experience how the course is structured and what to expect once he/she is enrolled into the curriculum.

After I requested an sample of the course material, ThinkSpace staff Dan Stearn had some correspondeance with me via email. I love the fact that he tries to find out about my background, and what I actually need in my musical journey as a composer, and suggested relevant courses that would value add what I already have.

Dan is very honest and supportive. I originally wanted to enroll only in Music for the Media, but Dan suggested Cinematic Orchestration too, since he finds that it would bring my orchestral arrangement to the next level.

Having signed up with them on the courses, I can say that I really appreciate their course resources on the topics of study.

For Music for the Media, They have audio and video interviews with working composers, who talk about their jobs, what it is they deal with day-in and day-out. Students are also exposed to hearing from clients, what they require from composers and what kinds of composers and attitudes they like.

For Cinematic Orchestration, it caters to orchestral writing for live players and how to create realistic orchestrations even for sample libraries. A huge part of the course material explores the difference between the two, approaches (live players versus writing with samples), so students are aware of how to handle the job at hand depending on whether it is live players performing the composition or whether the idea is going to be orchestrated in a midi-mockup. There are numerous interviews with composers talking about writing for each part of the orchestra, what they can easily achieve, and what is impractical for the musicians.

All in all the courses are loaded with information and I would say well worth the money.

I would definitely recommend any aspiring composers of all levels to consider ThinkSpace Online.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Free Shaker Virtual Instrument from Samplephonics

 SamplePhonics main page

Samplephonics presents the community of electronic musicians and music producers with a FREE sampled shaker virtual instrument.

This free shaker percussion loops and samples is part of a bigger sample pack from Samplephonics called, 'Electroacoustic Shaker Percussion', which is going for only £9.70.

This free sample download comes with 10 free samples, all in 24-bit audio resolution.
Check it out and download it Here!

Do check it out, with all their other available products as well!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Outside Factory

Listen on SoundCloud.com

This track is a continuation of my other track posted earlier on Factory Carnival. Compared to the somewhat subdued mood at the carnival, this track would be the marching band, maybe a procession of teddy bears.

This is one of the few times, if not the first, that I am emulating the style of military band. The instruments are quite minimalistic and skeletal. Not all instruments present in a band have been used.

In addition to this, I took some artistic license and sneaked in some instruments that definitely do not belong in a marching band, such as a timpani as well as an accordion. if you listen carefully you will find them in the mix.

The addition of these instruments are for consistency with the Factory Carnival, and also to have that link of a carnival, on top of the marching band kind of feel.

I hope you like it.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

My Heart Yearns

Listen on SoundCloud.com

A quiet piece that looks inside and contained. it is the feeling that swells up inside when you long for something, but then you keep it in until the aching fades away.

Took me about 4 hours to compose, record and mix.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Sleigh Bells from Sonokinetic

Sonokinetic has come up with an amazingly detailed sampled virtual instrument of sleigh bells, just in time for the holiday season!

This super spec-ed out instrument contains not one but six different configuration of sleigh bells, with 1, 6, 13, 17, 21 and 25-bell configurations. If that were not enough, the guys at Sonokinetic did not just record one-hit samples for the library: they recorded tempo sync-ed performance loops of each of the bells. Now it is a composer's Christmas dream come true!

The best part of the story: it is free!

So head on over to get the complimentary instrument, check out more information about this superb instrument, listen to the demos and find out how excellent sounding their other products are, if you haven't heard of them before.

Sonokinetic was on the most recent issue of ScoreCast, sharing their company's creative vision and philosophy behind their products. Check it out here.

Note, Sleigh Bells is for the full version of Kontakt 4.2.4 and Kontakt 5 only. Please check your version of Kontakt before installing.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

On This Hill

Listen on SoundCloud.com

Here's a new track from me. This is a theme I'm proposing for one of a local filmmaker, on one of his projects about the military.

It is kind of a serious and somber sounding track, with a sound of something like an anthem to it.

Sequencing/programming this track took about 3 to 4 hours. However, I started setting up the template and began constructing a draft for this since the night before. That took about an hour.

On the second night, I deleted all the recordings and started off from scratch, keeping the main theme relatively similar, but improved on the arrangement a little bit.

I think there is room to expand on this idea, arrangement wise. Here's hoping the filmmaker likes it. :)

As with my tracks these days, mixing and sequencing is done in Sonar X3 Producer running on my i7 laptop running Windows 8.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Simple Sam Samples - Signor Paganini Solo Violin

Let me present you with a new company and their amazing product, Simple Sam Samples' Signor Paganini Solo Violin for Kontakt.

I came to know about Simple Sam Samples from a forum.

The Virtuoso Solo Violin is a virtual instrument emulating the spectacular sound of Signor Paganini's signature instrument. It consists of spiccato / staccato playing sampled from the violin.

Being small and efficient in it's memory footprint and installation size, the sound is amazingly realistic, and the presence of the original instrument is faithfully re-created.

Special pricing available right now!
At the time of writing this article, there is a special pricing for the Signor Paganini Solo Violin. With at a regular price of $44.99, this solo virtual instrument is now going for only $14.95! To me this is a no-brainer purchase. Just buy it! :)

Audio Demos. Listen to the amazing realism in these demo tracks!

Video demos for your viewing pleasure

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Letting it Out

Listen on SoundCloud.com

Here's the first ever oriental piece that has major oriental instruments. It was originally replacement for a placeholder track that is used by a mobile game. The instruments in that track was synthetic and the playing definitely was not trying to be real.

This track is my proposal to replace that place-holder track. However I wanted to challenge myself to create something that sounds more likely heard from a Chinese orchestra, in terms of the sound and the playing.

Being somewhat of a fusion track, the only instruments that did not belong to a Chinese orchestra would be the sparing use of pieces of a modern drum kit (hats, cymbals), and the electric bass.

This took me about 5 hours to write, record, and mix.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Factory Carnival

It is the time the year where people celebrate, familhourset together, and children have lots of fun.

Here's a timely track appropriate for the season - carnival music. Reminds me of the few occasions in my younger days when my parents brought me to fairs and carnivals.

This is actually an idea for a current project. Really different from my usual musical inclinations, but it is a fun thing to do and a fresh breath of air.

This track is actually a piece done for a client running an operation similar to an amusement park. In this case the place is set up to be a teddy bear land.

I finished the project set up and musical arrangement in 4 hours. I spent another hour or two polishing up the mixing and audio engineering aspect.

Interestingly I easily broke my own perceived limitation of what i call my 2-minute barrier. I have been struggling to keep my tracks going once the piece exceeds 2 minutes of play time. This time round it did not seem too difficult. Whatever the reason, I believe I need more practice :)

I hope you like it.

Friday, 4 October 2013

How Much Should We Charge for Our Music? by Emmett Cooke

Here's a great article that discusses how much we should charge for our work. It is written by Emmett Cooke.

It goes through the thought process of how much it costs us, and how much it costs the client.

After that it goes to discuss a few ways we can calculate our costs, and different ways we can charge the clients.

I believe it not only applies to just music composing, but can be really useful for any industry where you do a task-based project.

I got to know Emmett Cooke from this website he set up, its called VstBuzz.com. A music composer for media, games, TV and films, he is an active member in the music community. VstBuzz.com is his way of bringing great virtual instruments to the community at promotional/discounted prices. Do check it out!

After every purchase from VstBuzz, Emmett never fails to write in to see if everything is fine with the purchase and if the product is working well.

I applaud his passion for helping out the community, and I really love his music.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

My Birthday Present Creative Aurvana

It is my birthday today, and my wife has been asking me what I would like for a birthday present.

On the same day we happened to walk by the Creative store at Marina Square Singapore and they were having a clearance sale, with my wife, parent-in-law an my sister and brother in law.

It looked like my brother in law was interested in wireless speakers, so I went to look at in-ear-monitors. There was this 'new' series of earphones that I have not seen from Creative before. Aurvana and Aurvana 2's physical design look similar to a generic Etymotic look. Aurvana 3 has a similar design to my Westone One.

Not knowing that Creative has any range of personal solution for higher end audio reproduction products, my first reaction was to regard them with amusement, almost like 'small boys trying to share the market with the big boys'.

However, I took a listen the phones and to my amazement it was really good! I played back a few of my own tracks and some commercial tracks (from some genres including soundtracks, smooth jazz, pop). The Aurvana 2 certainly handles them well and re-creates the frequencies and detail beautifully. I am a little guilty to say that I like the slightly punch bass (which would probably spoil my tracks if I mix with them, since I am inclined to mix with a slightly heavier bass). But this will definitely be good for an everyday enjoyment as well as an alternative quality control monitors for my music.

Aurvana 2 in-ears are certainly capable of matching up to my Klipsch ProMedia (SGD175 3 years ago) and Westone One (SGD215 1 year ago). Klipsch ProMedia is a bit muffled at the top and heavy at the bottom. So I would tend to compare the quality of the Aurvana 2 with my Westone One. The difference between their quality are really close.

I did not consider the Aurvana 3 since I could not get a good fit with the design and the size of the ear buds on the display set. I find that Westone designs fit better to my ears.

Aurvana 2 has a regular price tag of SG$125, but because of the ongoing sale, it is now going for SG$79. Doing a check on Aurvana 2 on Amazon global gives a price of US$49.99. (Aurvana 3 costing $175, is now going for $125 at the Creative store at Marina Square Singapore).

Creative Aurvana 2 is definitely good value for money, and I plan it as a replacement for my Klipsch ProMedia in-ear set (which is a valentine's day gift also from my wife, but its been abused quite badly, needing a replacement).

Also worth mentioning is another in-ear product on display at The Creative HS930i was also on display, and it was only going for SG$40. To me this is a really tremendous deal. The sound quality and sonic reproduction slightly pales in comparison to the Aurvana 2, but for a price tag like that

So here's some more pictures I took when I unboxed the product later on at home.

Pleasant surprise! Aurvana series of earphones won the Singapore RedDot Design Award in 2010.
I guess the series is not so 'new' after all :)

The Aurvana product team has done a good job here.

They've added accessories that are expected of products for their Aurvana of a similar class. 
Included accessories are, a semi-hard case to house the phones, 3 sizes of ear-buds (2 sets per size), a cleaning tool to clean out dirt from hard to reach corners of the unit. The most impressive inclusion is a flight adaptor for the audio jacks found on aeroplanes. 
Good work, Creative!

The in-ears has a simple but stylise design. They remind me of bullets :)

For further reading and reviews, I found another article that reviews the Aurvana 2

Friday, 23 August 2013

Great Article on What Mastering Is, and Is Not

Here's an article posted on MusicThinkTank.com, talking about the nature of Mastering, what it can do, and what its limitations are.

It is written by a professional mastering engineer BARRY GARDNER. That makes him the best person to talk about the topic. http://www.musicthinktank.com/mtt-open/dispelling-the-myths-surrounding-audio-mastering.html

From a common set of misconception about mastering, some which are popular even within the music and recording industry, Barry sets out to explain what mastering actually involves, and why this process is so integral and necessary that every track that intends to be commercially aired, licensed and sold (even audio material mixed by very established studios and mixing engineers) always get sent through mastering process after mixing is done.

If like me, you have been always feeling a little confused by the difference between a mixing engineer's job and a mastering engineer's job, and you are wondering, "What exactly DOES a mastering engineer do?", this article will definitely be a beneficial read.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Now available: EastWest Partners SSL to Bring FX Global Suite for Play 4

EastWest has just released Play 4, the newest sample player engine for all its sample library products.
EW QL Symphonic Orchestra running on Play 4. The original 'skin' layout has been preserved,
along with a new look on the interface
What's new in the upgrade includes an improved streaming engine, improved overall performance, efficiency, a brand new mixer page, background loading, and more advanced instrument properties.
The all new mixer page on Play 4
Best of all, Play 4 would be available to existing Play users free-of-charge! That IS good news.

More information from the original sounds-online forum post, posted by Doug Rogers himself :)

Along with Play 4, comes the very exciting collaboration of EastWest with SSL, the very famous manufacturers of hardware consoles that have been processing audio signals for countless chart topping hits for the past decades. Now the same precision and signature audio processing power is has been integrated in software form, at a fraction of the original cost of SSL's standalone audio software plug-ins.

On top of all this, EastWest has added 726 additional reverb presets that comes with the SSL/EW  FX Global Suite. It really is value for money, at the current price of US99/EU99. Once you have paid for the license to use the EW/SSL processing tools, it will be enabled for all the sample libraries that run on the Play 4 engine.

These sound sculpting / dynamics processing tools of the SSL/EW FX Global Suite for Play 4, are implemented as channel fx/signal strips in the form of 'fx drawers' that are pulled down on top of the mixer view. Effects settings are stored per-channel. For every effects settings that is set up, the user can save these as presets that can be called up across different instances and projects.
The SSL/EW Global-FX drawer, and the comprehensive interface,
all fitting snugly into a single page of interface. Effects setteings are stored per-channel.

I have just installed and fiddled around with the Play 4. At present I am most impressed by 2 main features: The mixer, and the background loading feature.

The Mixer. This adds quite a bit of flexibility to the audio workflow of the project. If you look at a single mixer strip in the any of the new mixer view images, you will not see no functions that are 'new', nothing that you could not do before. However, the mixer view consolidates the midi/audio routing, panning, levels, so you can see them in the context of a levels and panning, as a mixing engineer does.

Also, if you have any of the Platinum/Diamond editions of any of the products that use mic positions (such as the ew symphonic orchestra, ew pianos, and the ew hollywood library series), each if the mixer strips will allow you to expand that single strip that will now function like a group buss, and expand out into individual mic positions as sub-strips, so you can have further controls over mic positions levels and panning. I feel this feature is really unique, ties up very well with the features of each of EastWest's library, and plays into the strength of the Play engine (pun intended). Well done, guys!

Background loading. Play 4 now has the ability to load an instrument in the background. This is true even if you are replacing a current instrument channel. In the past when loading an instrument, the play engine freezes up and the loading process takes prevents the user from doing anything. Now you can continue playing and enjoy the existing instrument while the new instrument is loading. Only upon the completion of the load, will the existing instrument be removed, and the new instrument samples will sound. Again this is true even if you are replacing your only instrument channel in the Play instance.

The images below show the background loading status bar at the bottom of the interface while loading. The GUI is completely interactive and functional while the loading is taking place, and you can still play the previous instrument even while it loads.
Background instrument loading in the mixer view

Background loading in the player view
All in all, the direction that EastWest is heading is very promising. I can see the beginnings of the counterpart of Vienna Ensemble Pro that Vienna Symphonic Library has developed. All that EastWest needs to do is add more features like group busses, aux routings and the ability to load audio and instrument VSTs to their mixer capabilities, and they would be on par with VSL's Vienna Ensemble Pro (except for the ability to operate in a network host/slave situation like VE-Pro does).

Monday, 22 July 2013

My Upcoming Gig for the NKF Sit-a-thon Charity Event

Cool guys with playing cool instruments,
during one of our many rehearsals.
This coming Sunday 28 July 2013, in support of the NKF charity Sit-a-thon event, I'll be appearing with the Accenture Band outside of Ngee Ann City Singapore.

We'll be playing some of the very recently popular tunes, so drop by and groove yourself to great music in support of a great cause.

Monday, 15 July 2013


Yesterday this article was pointed to me by mr Alvin Yap who crawls the internet forums in his free time :)

This article was on a website called Soundtracks and Trailer Music

It is entitled: Why Hans Zimmer Got the Job You Wanted (And You Didn't)

It is written by Michael A. Levine, providing an Interesting Insight into Hans Zimmer (his work attitude and personality). It is a combination of musical skills, sensitivty and understanding of dramatic storytelling, business sense, ability to deliver and meet deadlines, and finally, understanding who the real clients are and treating them right.

Most of all, Hans Zimmer works really hard, and takes his career seriously, investing lots of time and money.

Thanks, Soundtracks and Trailer Music. This site will surely be another good place to hang out and to enrich myself with.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Interview with Film Composer James Bernhard

New from the Cakewalk Blog.

Great interview with Film Composer James Bernhard, a Sonar user incidentally. He has a strong perception of what is right, and what isn't for him. Coupled with these nuggets of wisdom and experience, are also very handy tips for aspiring composers for Film and TV.

 I like the questions asked by the interviewer from Cakewalk :)

 I am wondering why composers are secretive about the sounds, libraries and gears they use?

I like it when James say that in today's world of music, a demo track is often required to be broadcast quality, available to be used at an instant's request.

I also like the fact that he prioritises quality over speed. He rather have it right, than to have it fast. However, I also appreciate a lot of people in a situation when they are cornered into just meeting deadlines or budgets. At this point in time I can only draw on my professional experience as a CG / VFX artist. I hope I get to experience a full swing project cycle of stress, deadline versus budget kind of struggle, as a composer one of these days.

Thanks for the great interview, Cakewalk!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Wrath of the Machine

This is a piece of music I wrote for a short film that has just finished production. Watch it in my previous post, and read about my experience/challenges working on it.

Below is just the audio track. I named this piece Wrath of the Machine, because it is somewhat linked to the story. Curious? Watch it here!

Listen to this on Soundcloud.com

Some Stats:
Start-end dates: 1 Dec 2012 - 28 Mar 2013

DAW - FL Studio 10 / FL Studio 11

Virtual Instruments used:
- Kontakt Factory Library
- VSL special edition (strings/brass)
- Rhodes Premiere Acoustic Bass
- Pianoteq Piano

Monday, 17 June 2013

Short Film: Exit


Here's my soundtrack on an excellent short film that just wrapped up and got posted online. Music was written to the timing of the visuals.

My composition supplied music to the most part of their project, about 2/3 into the project. At the end during the credits roll, the team edited my piece back in again.

Exit from Rebel Banana on Vimeo.

This is my first track written to visuals. Project from start to finish was 1 Dec 2012 to 28 Mar 2013. During this time there were only 2 rounds of iteration.

For a version with just the music, read my next post here.

The team knew what they wanted, and Andrea, who liaised with me, was very concise in expressing what the team wanted, and the mood they were going for at each part of the story.

The music that the team envisioned was largely influenced by their liking for the music from Team Fortress 2, and even from The Incredibles by Disney.

I was quite apprehensive at the beginning, since this was a genre quite different from my usual style. However, the cinematic flavour that the music had to have was something I could rely on.

The visuals (storyboard/animatics) and their edited pacing were locked down very early in the production. This story has strong and definite moments. Using the cinematic feel as an anchor and some research into similar styles of music I managed to come up with the skeletal version of the structure.

This was just the second idea I set out to write.

In my first idea (which the team promptly rejected), I interpreted the mood as a lonely, with a tinge of eerie feel. However I had a flute part going in there that had a line with a thrill at the end. Somehow I liked it so much that I carried it over to my second idea, which ended up in the final version.

Thinking about the circumstances and the barriers that come up against good coordination and effective communication makes it even more surprising as to how smoothly the music production went.

First thing I would like to highlight, is the fact that, I have never met with any of the team members in person.

Second fact: to date, even after the production has ended, I have never had a voice conversation with any member of the team.

Third fact: The team and myself reside in different countries. They were studying and doing their production in Malaysia, while I am living in Singapore.

Now you can perhaps understand why I feel that it is a miracle that the music could be completed to their satisfaction without much hassle.

Our main communication tool was e-mail and messaging through Facebook. As I have mentioned before, Andrea is a very organised and responsible coordinator. She made sure I had references and instructions. As per our agreement, she did an overlay of textual instructions on their existing storyboard just for music. One thing I have to admire her for, is the fact that she used a generous amount of musical terms (Italian terms) in the instruction overlay. I have never told anybody this, but on my side I had to go and do a search on the meaning to many of those terms that she used :)

The smooth workflow that came about could also be partially due to my understanding of drama, storytelling and understanding of the idea and the team's angle in the story. As a visual effects artist that has worked on Hollywood films myself , I believe the understanding of that film language is paying off in that way.

There was a point in time where I was giving them a work-in-progress version that was still a way off from being finished, (it was half the length of the final soundtrack, but the main themes were already in place). Because of the instruments used and the fact that they thought what I showed them was the finished product, they were suggesting something very close to restarting from scratch.

I did something quite unconventional, to try and salvage the situation (and to aggressively sell my existing idea). Therefore, from all the visual effects breakdowns that I am used to doing, I gave them a walkthrough of the various parts of my arrangement played back against their visuals, mostly melodic tracks versus percussive tracks.

To my surprise and relief, they found that it was still on the right track. In the end I figured they liked the percussion track that gave the rhythmic drive to push the action along. In my mix (which was not yet balanced for all the instruments in the piece), my melodic instruments have overpowered the percussive, therefore the rhythmic driving probably wasn't there.

Finally, I have just been informed that this piece of video has been featured in the Staff Pick videos, recommended by Vimeo staff! It is very exciting, and I congratulate the team for the work well done!

If you enjoy it, do share your comments with the team on the Vimeo page! Also, you can visit their Facebook page here: facebook.com/exitRB.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Against the Flow - Mma idea03 20130601 Trial01 010

Listen on SoundCloud.com 

Here's a piece done for a martial arts school video as a speculative test. It has a driving feel with elements of sound design.

I hope you like the piece!

Start-End Dates: 20130601 - 20130606
DAW: FL Studio v11
VI libraries Used:
- heavyocity Damage
- NI Kontakt Factory Library
- SampleLogic cinematic guitars
- Image-Line Slayer

DSP plugins used
- NI solid bus comp
- NI RC24 (reverb)
- NI solid EQ
- NI EQ3 (inside Kontakt)
- VSL hybrid reverb
- izotope Ozone 5

Monday, 13 May 2013

In The Heat of the Day

Listen on SoundCloud.com

Here's my latest work, my very first electronic piece. I did this at the request of a friend who requires a somewhat upbeat music to go with an instructional video on mixed-martial arts.

I realised I had to spend significantly more time on choosing sounds, and working on the sound design since it is a feature in the electronic music genre.

Here's hoping I can improve at creating electronic stuff because I hope to use sound design elements in conjunction with orchestral instruments in my future works.

I hope you like it!

Some stats on this piece:
Start-End Dates: 20130510 - 20130513 (3 days)
DAW: FL Studio 11
Synths in use:
- Image-Line Groove Machine Synth,
- Image-Line Autogun,
- Sonic Culture Konkrete,
- NI AbSynth 5,
- NI Kontakt Factory Library

John Williams Recording NBC Nightly News Beat

Amazing recorded footage of John William conducting his piece that gets played over NBC's nightly news.

It is so beautifully moving, the motif keeps evolving slowly, seamlessly moving from one form to the next. I can only describe this as wondrous. It lifted up my soul and left me with wet eyes as I listened and watched to the end.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Making of Freljord Music

I happened to come across this great video, the making of the music behind Freljord. These guys really did a lot of work for the music score and were very serious about the recording process as well.

It is awesome that the music making folks were getting inspiration visually from the art and design department (and they even got that lady over to sing in their recordings). That should really be the way to go. Many productions tend to treat music either as a separate process from their visual workflow, or as an afterthought.

Also, I really like the fact that they were not rushing merely to meet a deadline, but they were actually allowing their creativity to soar while they explored different instruments that could further draw the player into the environment they create with the visuals, music and sound.

Touch and Go

Listen to this on SoundCloud.com

Some Stats to start off with:
Start date: 2013 May 5 (12.30 am)
End date: 2013 May 6 (4 am)
VI Library used: 100% Hammered Acoustic Guitar by Audio Wiesel (running off NI Kontakt)
DAW: FL Studio 11.0
Position & Reverb: VSL MIR-Pro 24
Dynamics: NI Solid Bus Comp, NI Solid EQ
Amp simulator / distortion processor: NI Guitar Rig 5

Yesterday I purchased Audio Wiesel's Hammered Acoustic Guitar (H.A.G.) virtual instrument. 

Hammered Acoustic Guitar (HAG) is a sampled virtual instrument that runs on Native Instrument's Kontakt.  HAG requires the full version of Kontakt 5.0.3 or later.

The concept behind this sampled library is the use of drum sticks and brushes to produce musical tones and sound effects from an Ibanez AE acoustic guitar. In order to make it punchy and powerful the guys at AudioWiesel used two steel strings and tuned them to same pitch. This resulted in the strings modulating each other producing a very lively, natural and organic sounding tone.

Containing 45 patches, 2280 samples at 2.5GB in size, HAG is no child's play. Being sampled by high end audio recording equipment at 44.1kHz / 24-bit, HAG contains 9 times round-robin and 7 dynamic layers. HAG is broken down into 2 products (core, and fx & percussion). These can also be purchased as a bundle.

I was so caught up in the quality and potential of the library, I decided I could build a whole song out of just one library. So over the next 30 hours (and in between spending time with my wife and household chores), I managed to complete this piece using only sounds from H.A.G. Only 4 patches out of 45 in the HAG library were used,

This was the first time I wasexploring the use of non-conventional sounds and using them to replace roles of a traditional band (using some patches to assume the bass, and some other sounds to fill up the high registers, for example). Same thing went for the percussive section. 

Doing this made me become very aware of the sound I was producing, on top of the pitch and notes they were representing. Now I had to take care of another aspect of the production: controlling the tone and timbre of each part. This was on top of just making it play the correct pitch in the melodic and dynamic expressions department.

All this resulted in me spending quite a bit more time on the sound sculpting to get each track to sound just right. That was mainly due to the fact that I was only using 4 patches for the whole piece, so naturally I have more than 1 part using the same patch. If I did not make the same patches sound different for different parts, the whole mix would sound like a mess, with the same instrument playing all the different parts.

Fortunately HAG was programmed with sound-design in mind, so there were some controls that were conveniently located to enable me to drastically affect the sounds of each patch. However, I still needed to use Native Instrument's audio processing tools on top of those available in the patches themselves.

In the middle of writing I had a wild idea, and put a H.A.G. "soft mallet" patch through a guitar amp/distortion simulator. What I got was a pleasantly unique distortion sound that lends itself well to the piece. It is electric-guitar sounding, but because of the percussive nature of the soft mallet attack, it added interesting frequencies to the timbre as compared to what we are used to hearing on regular electric guitars.
Thanks to the faithful sampling workflow from the guys at AudioWiesel, who meticulously included the trailing end of all the notes, the 'electric guitar' actually had a long sustaining trail that gave a warm sustaining tone  even after distortion is applied. Techniques like this give rise to the possibility of further expanding the sonic potential of this sampled virtual instrument.

For placement and reverb I used VSL's MIR24-Pro. Here's a peek into how the tracks were placed in 'space'.

from the naming of the instruments you can probably figure out
which HAG patches I used in the song
Working on this made me quite happy about my working speed this time round. This piece felt easier as compared to my usual orchestral endeavours. It definitely has to do with the playability of the library patches, but I also feel it could be because this piece was set up more like a pop/rock arrangement, which has less parts to worry about, than an orchestra.

One of the unique points about the piece is that there are only two main chords: F Minor and B Major with accidental notes occasionally added to slightly alter the sound of the chords.

Finally, I entitled the piece Touch and Go, partly because this phrase was mentioned recently at work (by my boss), so it was at the front of my mind. 

Also, I named it Touch and Go because I felt that it appropriately described my guilt for letting the song build up to the high point only briefly and then hastily declining in intensity for the rest of the way. To me the high point was near the middle when the distortion patch came in, and I felt I did not keep it long enough to satisfy the listener. From this point of view, I think I am justified to say that this piece is not really structurally pleasing.

I hope you like the piece!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

How Oblivion Made Earth Sound as Post-Apocalyptic as It Looks

I found this amazing article of the same name on Gizmodo.

It links to a video from Soundworks Collection, the official site that hosts the video. This video talks about how the people working on music and sound design makes the environment depicted in the narration come to life on the big screen.

Check out more exciting and inspiring videos on Soundworks Collection!

Friday, 19 April 2013

FL Studio Mobile is Out!

What happens when inspiration hits you, and you wish you had your DAW with you in your pocket?

Here comes FL Studio Mobile, available on Google Play and Apple's App Store!

FL Studio Mobile is priced at USD19.9 in both the App Store and Google Play store. The iOS version will work on iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. Android version requires phones and tablets to be Android 2.3.3 and above.

Read the news release on Image-Line's official website, Image-Line's product page, and visit the App Store and Google Play store for more information..

This product looks and sounds amazing from the videos. Reading the specs makes me realise how serious Image-Line guys are when they wanted to create a mobile version of the big brother in the family. They ported a huge portion of functionality across, and whatever operation you can think of doing on the desktop FL Studio, there is a high chance that you can do exactly the same thing in the mobile version.

On top of faithfully bringing across all the features of the original desktop, Image-Line also makes full use of the mobile platform to make a native product that does not just seem like a OS port. For example, they make use of the accelerometer to control the pitch of the instruments.

Best of all, FL Studio Mobile is fully interoperable with the desktop version in terms of saving and reading  files from either versions. FL Studio Mobile also has the ability to save directly to email or dropbox (cloud storage).

Friday, 12 April 2013

Where the Lord Leads Me

Where the Lord Leads Me

Hear this on SoundCloud.com

This is the title of my latest piece.

I intended for the music to be in a very soft and reflective/contemplating mood. Maybe for a romantic or uplifting visuals in mind.

Some statistics for this:
start / end date: 20130409 - 20130412 (3 days)
DAW: FL Studio 10
Library: VSL Special Edition 1 & 2
Reverb: VSL MIR-Pro24

Musically my challenge this time round is to create a personal and intimate piece in contrast to the big sounding pieces I've been writing.

In the technical department, I used only the special edition libraries from VSL for this piece.

I recently acquired VSL's MIR-PRO24 as well. This is my first piece using the physically accurate reverb and stereo positioning that's modelled from The Sage Gateshead (room pack 4).I used the space from Hall Two which is a smaller 10 sided hall that is more intimate sounding.

With the MIR-PRO24, I have to do away with panning and reverb in my signal chain for everything track, because the physical modelling of the acoustic space will now affect the actual directionality and reverberations of each instrument in the mix.

In addition to that, I find that the volume of each track also needs to be rebalanced because in MirPro24, bringing an instrument further back in the virtual space will also decrease it's volume in a physically accurate way.

I am using Vienna Ensemble as a multi timbral source to all my VSL instruments. So it took quite a while for me to set up the signal flow from each channel out to a mixer strip in FL Studio, and then add a MirPro24 instance an effects insert.

In total the number of instruments in this piece is only 8. MirPro24 limits the use of instruments to 24. Thus I think I will be able to work with this for quite a while before I actually come anywhere near to using 24 instruments. (of course I'll need to treat each section as a single instrument in my workflow).

In this piece I started relying more on expression controllers to control the expressive volume of the instruments. This allows me to continuously control the dynamic volume of the instruments on top of the existing dynamics resulting from note velocity. Long notes benefit a lot from this added level of control.
Graphical overview of the piece, with the expression controllers overlayed

Problematic areas
I feel that the problem with this piece is an audio engineering problem. The levels of each track isn't mixed such that it's clear when certain instruments step up to take the leading line and when others need to recede into the supporting roles.

I am not too happy with the timbre change of the piano when it's taking the lead and when I lower the volume down in the background. I am doing this currently solely with velocity changes.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Dawn Procession

Hear this on SoundCloud.com

My newest piece is entitled: The Dawn Procession

Some quick information about this piece:
start date: 26 jan 2013
complete date: 25 march 2013
DAW software: FL Studio 10.0.9

This piece consists of 18 tracks (18 parts). Instruments used:
Albion 1 and 2 (mainly for percussion)
Albion 3 (for the low / hi brass and cellos)
VSL Special Edition instruments (for all other melodic elements, including harps, timpani, strings, woodwinds, horns and a celesta)

All 18 parts and their note data in dots and dashes
in the step-sequencer window in FL Studio
In this song I take my newly acquired Vienna Symphonic Library Special Edition and Spitfire Albion 3 Iceni for a spin.

With these 2 libraries as the main instruments. I tried to explore a greater range of expressiveness in terms of tempo, volume and spacing in the piece.

The very dramatic feature in this piece is the abrupt change in tempo and mood at the exact middle portion of the piece. Many times when writing I find myself unable to break out of a certain groove the music is carving out, and I was unable to break out of it. So here I challenged myself to break out with this huge increase in the speed as well as from an orderly harmonically sensible flow, to a fast, chaotic and tense mood. I do hope I did it in a tasteful manner.

I also tried to explore the use of atonal intervals and groups of chords to try and portray chaos and tension in  certain parts. At the beginning, there were some portions where I felt was quite forced and awkward. However, when I progressively work on a piece for close to 3 months, strange things happen to my perception of those dissonant lines and chords after a while. They became acceptable to the point where they now lead 'naturally' to those notes in my head when I play the piece through in my head.

This can be due to the 'tunnel vision' composers tend to get when they become too focused on their music. So I took some time off (like a week or two, while working on other ideas for other pieces) before I came back to this. Somehow I found it to be acceptable still.

Coming from a pop, rock and ballad background, I did not use to accept things like that (I used to be turned off by classical music, especially the dissonant and atonal kinds). Am I gradually loosening my perceived rules of music, or am I actually deviating from widely accepted norms of harmony? Will this be a passing phase for me as I try to discover how far I can go with this, or will this stick to my writing from now on?

A full view of the piece in FL Studio's playlist window.
Looks very much like mountains, terrain and clouds doesnt it?
To bring the piece to a symmetrical ending in terms of speed and key signature, I slowed down the tempo over 4 bars (hope you did not find it to be too abrupt). This is something that I've never done before. Harmony-wise, I went through a couple of strange chord progressions to land me back in the initial key, ending it off with a familiar chord progression from the beginning.

I can hear quite a few parts that sound similar to my previous writings. I need to broaden my vocabulary and listen to more works from other composers.

This journey of music is bringing me somewhere, and it is not over yet.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A New Generation of Instruments - WeAreRoli.com

Roli is an up-and-coming company with an innovative instrument on their table.

This is a familiar yet unique musical instrument which they have named it The Seaboard.
The Seaboard has the familiar layout of a keyboard instrument, but it has added controls that from the demo videos, seem to involve pressure as well as touch. There is a ribbon controller near the base of the player's palm that allows for smooth bending of pitch. The indication of pressure and touch capabilities seems to also hint at the possibility of being able to control expression, vibrato amount and vibrato speed as well. The official site says that the performance can affect the timbre of the instrument as well.

One of the team members helping to shape the product is Jordan Rudess (head of music experience), who is an established and outstanding keyboard player who is also a member of 2 outstanding bands in the music scene.

Here are 2 demos featured on their official page:

From the comments from YouTubers I see mixed reactions. Many commented on the style of music that was played, or the sounds that are used in the demo. I feel all these comments are besides the point.

If you are doing any composing, sequencing or music arrangement with a keyboard/computer set-up, you would know about the expressive limitations of your regular midi-keyboard. With just the playing keys as controllers, we can only control the note, the velocity and aftertouch (channel / note) in some cases. In an attempt to achieve deeper control and expression in our playing, the industry has come up with additional controllers like breath, expression pedals, joysticks, pitch and modulation wheels, touch-pads or even gestural and optical sensors. Virtual instruments implement key-switching to trigger a change in the timbre and performance in the sounds.

As you can see, The Seaboard does not have external wheels/joysticks. It only has a ribbon strip besides the 'keys'. Yet it looks like it can control pitch bending, expression, timbre, all from the keys without the aid of external input widgets. The Seaboard looks like it is able to empower a keyboard player to new dimensions of expression in his/her playing, breaking the current limitations of only velocity and after-touch. I am hoping this keyboard has midi utilities to remap whatever input it's getting into various different continuous controllers messages. This would make it an extremely versatile input device for performing artists on stage and composers working in the studio.

The Seaboard is now available for pre-orders.

Engadget did an article about the Seaboard, with a 7 minute video of the creator giving a hands-on demonstration explaining what the instrument is made up of and a little bit of demystifying of the technology behind it:

Here is another article on The Seaboard from MusicTech:

I do hope it takes off, and I look forward to seeing more of such instruments that can help us create more expressive music, which should be what an instrument is about.

Monday, 11 March 2013

FL-Studio - Resetting "Init Song With This Position"

This is a problem that I was stuck with for a while. Today I finally took the time to search for the solution on the internet, and the solution was readily available on many forums including Image-Line's.

The Feature
Init Song With This Position is a feature of FL Studio to enable the user to set a particular knob/slider/control to a certain value at the beginning of a song.

Any control, knob, toggle, slider from FL Studio's main application interface can be assigned an initial value this way. These include mute/unmute, volume, pan, mixer sends, tempo (coarse/fine), master volume, master pitch, etc. 

Once you set an 'Init song with this position' on a control, that control will revert its value to the set value every time you hit play on your song (even when you are not at the beginning of your song). Even with initial values set for a control, it is still possible to record automation on it, since 'Init song with this position' is not automation data in itself.

To use it, right-click on the control (knob/slider/button), then select 'Init song with this position':
Right-click on the control you want to init
Click on 'Init song with this position'
I can think of many uses for this feature. The most helpful situation for me, would be when I am going to use a physical controller's slider (Korg NanoKontrol2 for me) to affect the values of a FL Studio knob for example. I may actually mess up the value if I accidentally bump on my physical sliders positions (or someone changed the slider positions while I am away from my computer for a while). 

If that control has recorded automation, there would be no problem with this since during playback automation will automatically get the control back to the correct values. However, if that control has no automation set, that value would be lost and I would not be able to know what it was originally set at. 

This is where the 'Init song with this position' comes in very handy. It behaves like an automation snapshot that remembers that value without writing automation data on that control.

The Problem
Having knobs initialised with a certain value, without knowing how to remove that initialisation, can be annoying. Say at the beginning of my mixing stage I have 16 tracks. I do a rough mix of the levels, and I set the 'init song with this position' for each fader on each track.

Later on I tweak the levels of track 6 while the song is playing, from -10db to -5db. I'm happy with it, and I stop the playback. I play back the song again wanting to hear another part of the song with the new level at track 6, and lo-and-behold, my track 6 level jumps back to -10db because the track is initialised to that value.

One of the solution could be to set track 6's levels to -5db, and re-initialise this value as initial position on track 6's volume, before playing again to hear this new level for another part of the song. This could work but imagine having to keep setting initial value like this.

This is just one example. Another crazy example would be if a track's mute state was set with 'Init song with this position'. Every time you play the song, that track jumps to be muted, or un-muted as dictated by your init value. I don't know about you, but in my workflow I need to keep changing the states of mute/un-mute/solo. So having them init-ed and keep jumping to a certain position at the start of the song is unthinkable. (You can also accidentally produce this phenomenon if you are in automation enabled record mode, and you solo/mute/un-mute tracks during your playback. its really painful to undo).

The Solution
From the discussion threads on a few forums, the solution involves 2 steps:
  • In the browser panel (F8), go to 'current project' -> 'initialised controls'. There will be a list of controls that have initialised values. See the diagram below.
  • select from the list of controls those that you want to remove the 'init song with this position' from.
Browser panel's Initialized controls folder shows a list of controls that have initialised values.
Delete these to remove the initialisation.
This should successfully remove the init state of the control, and now the value should not jump to any pre-init-ed values upon playback.

All this while I appreciate the usefulness of this but was afraid to use it because I did not know how to reset the initialising. Now I am confident to use it, knowing I can remove it any time I want to.

If you have a better workflow please feel free to drop a comment :)

Some helpful links on this topic:

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

WavesFactory Drumkits Sale on VSTBuzz.com!

I just found an awesome website called vstbuzz.com. It features lots of discounts from different VST developers from time to time.

Right now the discount is on WaveFactory products: Four WaveFactory drum kits are selling for a mere US$26, (from the original price of US$52)! At this time of writing there are 6 more days left until offer ends, so hurry!

This offer includes the following drumkits: Tea Towel Drums, Ossifar Drums, Brush Drums and the Classic Rock Drums. Total sample size of these kits is almost 16GB, so I'd say it is a steal at this offer price, so do check them out. Below are some demos of the kits in action, for your listening pleasure.

Get the latest information on VST discounts by signing up for the newsletter at VSTBuzz.com.

The founder of VSTBuzz is Emmett Cooke. Emmett is a multimedia composer for film and TV, as well as high-end corporate brands. Visit his official page here.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

SampleLogic Assault for Pre-Order Discount! (Hurry!)

Sample Logic has came out with an exciting new product called Assault.


The image above says it all. Pre-Order Assualt before 25 Feb 2013 for US$199 (savings of US$100!). Thereafter, the price will increase US$299.

Above is the interface of Assault, the virtual instrument aimed at Film, TV, games composers and sound designers.

Here's a YouTube trailer for Assualt:

Assault multis in action:

Here's a more detailed overview of Assault:

Please visit the product page for detailed description and presentation of features!

A very brief tech specs of Assault:
- Library is powered by Native Instrument's Kontakt Sample Player 5.
- Library samples takes up 1GB space on hard drive
- Assualt contains more than 850 instruments and multis recorded and processed at 24-bit/48khz and delivered at 24-bit/44khz.

For more information please visit SampleLogic's Assault product page!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Robotic Musicians known as: Intel's Industrial Control in Concert

Intel is showcasing the precision and practical applications of its processors in real-time control, precision sensitive tasks in an industrial environment like the one in the video.

Besides being amazed by the technological precision and sustained performance in the machines and processors, the music is also pretty cool.

This is the actualisation of an original animation of machine parts that create music by launching balls to hit sound-emitting pieces of instruments/machine parts. Here's the original video:

The amazing thing is that Intel has managed to design such an actual machine, and has programmed and designed processors to turn a whimsical idea into reality. This is an instance where artistic visual actually drives practical design.

It currently seems like the balls are being thrown out to trigger a single note at per ball. It would be even more cool if the balls were re-used, timed to hit multiple pieces taking into account their bouncing trajectory :)