Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tales Music: 'Evening Descends'

Yesterday I took a break from editing field recordings long enough to finish the first piece of music for Tales of Elves and Trolls. I had a few pieces started before I decided how to approach the soundtrack as a whole, but I had the theme song to guide me (it can be heard in the promo video at the start of this blog).

One thing I'm keen to do with this soundtrack is combine electronic sounds (chiefly created with analog and pseudo-analog synthesizers) with acoustic sounds. I don't necessarily mean acoustic instruments, but any sound produced acoustically. This could be anything from a dripping tap to a metal object being struck. The kind of sounds chosen will vary depending on what I'm trying to convey.

Some pieces will also use orchestral elements, albeit from a virtual orchestra: a VST called EastWest Orchestra Silver (I was going to include a link, but the software appears to be discontinued). I've used this for several years now, chiefly for its grand piano sound and a few violins. It accounts for about 75% of the instruments on the Tales Theme music.

For now I'm only concerned with music that bridges the gap from one scene to another: the transitions. Incidental music that plays during scenes will come later. When a transition appears in the script, I give it a simple title so I have something to work with.

The first transition of Episode 1 I've named 'Evening Descends + The Alarm Rock.' It signifies the passing of time as Agnor and Runkthussle, the Troll Tree Removers, await the setting of the sun. Once it sets they can emerge from their sun shelter and go about their business. In the novel, there's also a line that reads: '... the alarm rock thudded into place ...' Rather than script it as a sound effect, I chose to incorporate it into the transition. So, as the music unfolds, clock-like sounds come in, culminating in the thud of the alarm-rock itself. My trolls are simple creatures, so I imagined that rather than a traditional time-piece they might have something rudimentary built of clockwork and stone.

For some reason, the melody of Evening Descends turned out to be a rising scale. Don't ask me which scale though, as I couldn't tell you. It's accompanied by a sweeping synthesized bass drone which also gives the illusion of rising/falling. These sounds, as well as some rudimentary bass and bass drum sounds were created on my trusty Novation K-Station.

For the 'Alarm Rock' I spent an afternoon in the studio with a breeze block and a stone. I struck both together, scraped one across the other, and also dropped the stone onto the block to capture the resulting percussive sounds. I recorded with two different microphones at once: my Shure SM58 (traditionally used for vocals), and my Buffered XLR Contact Mic. The SM58 was placed in close proximity to the block, and the Contact was sellotaped directly to the surface. I found that the SM58 resulted in sounds that were bright and trebly (is that even a word?) and the Contact gave me duller, bassier sounds. In the track I used a mixture of the two, but favoured those recorded with the Contact mic.

These recordings, or I should say a tiny percentage of these recordings, were loaded into the Shortcircuit VST sampler, and used an octave below their natural pitch to make the clockwork sounds. Shortcircuit v.1 is my sampler of choice since my Akai S1000 developed a fault. It's also free, I might add :)

Interesting though the breeze block was, I realised it sounded a little weak with just a tiny pebble rattling around on it. So for the Alarm Rock thud, I selected the sound of a more sizeable rock from my recent quarry recordings. This was also loaded into Shortcircuit, pitched down somewhat and given a touch of EQ.

This may sound like an awful lot of work for a piece of music only 30 seconds long. But to me, all this fiddly stuff is one of the reasons I create electronic music in the first place: the process. Creating sounds from what amounts to a pile of circuitry, and making the everyday sound otherworldly.

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