Orchestral MAC Review
I was pleased when I heard your submission written in a more "traditional" style. There is definitely some modern flair thrown in the mix, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. What's most important is that you took this bouncy waltz style and used it to enhance your scoring.
My biggest critique lies within the repetition - I feel as though you could have done more both within the composition and orchestration of the piece. You follow the standard A B A form, which is fine and appropriate. The B section, however, is typically very contrasting. You do change key (which is great) and introduce a new melody, but the mode is still major and there are no distinctive changes in texture. For instance, consider altering the bass line to be more (or less) rhythmic and percussive. Or perhaps double the length of your phrasing. Changing large, distinctive traits from one section to another is the best way to provide contrast. After all, it is called "B" in the form for a reason.
It is not uncommon to alter the second A section (often spelled A' when there are alterations to the original A). You do some of that within the orchestration (trumpet with melody), but I feel that you were a bit too conservative with your additions. You could slightly alter the melody line rhythmically, add in distinctive runs and embellishments, or even adjust non-anchor notes within each line. Chopin was a master of this. Don't be afraid to pull out all of the stops to bring a refreshing, new feel to old material!
I honestly have very little to say about your orchestration. It's extremely thorough and very appropriate. I agree with your choice of instrumentation across the board - but have a couple of suggestions to make it even more effective.
As I mentioned in the composition component of my review, your B section lacked a strong level of contrast. One way you could help that out is by greatly altering orchestration. You make some slight variations by giving the woodwinds a little more spotlight, but the orchestral texture remained largely the same. Considering dropping out all but a few instruments, or removing one register of the orchestra (I.e low-end, mids, highs). This would give an instant and unmissable contrast that would require zero straining to hear. As it is now, it was only my third time listening through the piece could I pick out all of the distinctive changes. Keeping something of the subtleties is great - but don't be afraid to throw out an obvious clue for the first-time listener! It will ultimately keep them more engaged.
Your mixing was clean, and all instruments could be heard comfortably. While your samples aren't top notch you worked well with what you had. Consider doing some EQ work on your brass and low-end woodwinds to give them more body (uping the low-mid frequencies should do the trick). Also, you could afford to use a bit more reverb - perhaps layering on an addition "room" styled reverb will give your more thickness.
Well written! It was refreshing to hear an entry in a more "traditional" style. I know there is a lot of repetition in waltzes by nature, but there were times where I felt you could have created more contrast in your writing. Consider writing in a more pronounced key change, or perhaps even a change in mode would provide the music with a big enough change to keep the listener engaged. I was impressed with your orchestration - it was clean and well-suited for the style!
I enjoyed that you weren't afraid to take your time at the beginning. Soft, lyrical passages are brought to life when there is flexibility with the tempo, and you did a good job controlling time to your advantage.
My biggest issue with the piece was with the stagnant chord progression. You can do a lot of things with 2:30 of music. You can modulate, develop themes, alter time signature, change moods, and a host of other things to keep the music fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, the piece felt too layered and lost my interest by the 1:30 mark. Stacking new parts on top of old ones in an endless cycle creates a high level of predictability that is best left for a television or movie underscore.
Here are some ideas for you. Perhaps at 1:22 instead of continuing with the same i - VI - III6/4 - VII progression, initiate a modulation (go to whichever key you'd like). The longer you stick with the same chords, the more difficult it becomes to break away from them because the ear comes to expect them. As soon as you can break away from the mold, you'll no longer be a slave to predictability and you'll have a whole new palette of harmonic possibilities to work with!
For the most part, I felt your orchestration was fitting and well-suited for the piece. The strings were well scored, and voiced appropriately as to not overwhelm the melody. I also enjoyed the percussion, which provided a strong rhythmic pulse to the piece as it built.
Consider using brass and woodwinds to add variation to your writing. From a practical point of view, it's unlikely that you'll find an ensemble in real life that matches what you have. While it's not necessary you write your music with the intention of it being performed live (we can dream though!), you should still be aware of what other instruments bring to the table. A flute, for instance, would be a perfect instrument to take over the melody in a softer, lyrical section, whereas horns and trumpets could do wonders to create a sense of climax as you bring the piece to a close. Know all your options and you'll begin to see new, more effective ways to present your musical ideas!
Your mixing was the strongest aspect of the piece. The strings were very emotional at the beginning, and you did a great job introducing the violin at 1:00. The violin did sound a bit thin for my taste - perhaps a rise in the mids with an EQ would give it more warmth and help it sit better in the mix. Your percussion sounded great on my speakers! Every instrument was tastefully balanced and you set your cymbals at a volume that didn't cause noticeable distortion to the track. Well done!
You have good control over your samples, which is a skill I believe every budding composer of the 21st century needs. Solo string instruments are especially difficult to replicate, but you did a good job working with the solo violin samples you have. The weakest part of this piece was in the chord progression - there was absolutely zero variation for the entire two minutes and 30 seconds. Look into expanding your palette of chords, and you'll keep your listeners engaged much longer!
You clearly had a vivid image in your head while writing this piece - I could almost see a version of this piece serving as the introduction theme to the next realization of the Star Trek sci-fi tv series. Nice swell at 0:20. Your trumpet hits would have been more effective if they had a stronger, sharper attack to them. This moment at 0:24-0:29 is your first big moment... don't disappoint! Contrast is key - as it is now, it feels as if you're saying "I think I want this to be big and triumphant sounding, but I'm not sure yet so I'll go 50/50." You could also consider some snare drums to help the trumpets.
I enjoyed your buildup into 1:32. I was somewhat disappointed once the melody came in, however. It didn't feel nearly as strong as it should have, given it is the climax of the piece. The melody is well-written, and a fitting choice for the driving atmosphere you're creating.
In general I found the piece quite harmonically interesting. You threw in enough chords outside of the standard mold that my interest was kept throughout the entire piece. Experiment more with modulations. You did modulation from C to F, but a more outlandish modulation (perhaps C to D#) would give more energy, unpredictability, and drive to the music.
Your weakness was in orchestration. There were moments that were nice (I think the introduction was tastefully scored), but your inefficient use of percussion cause a lot of potentially great moments to pass. From 1:32-end, most of the cymbal hits should be with the crash, not suspended. Using suspended hits are good for when you don't want an edgy, starting sound because sus hits are much more rounded with a longer attack time. At this section of the piece though, you're looking for power and punctuation. Crash cymbal would give you everything you need. Also, your tom part should probably be a snare part for how you have it scored. As your percussion is scored now, you have a lot of wooshes and rumbles, but not a whole lot of punctuation. Consider doubling your trumpet part down the octave with trombones - it'll give you a fuller, richer sound. You might have to do slight alterations to the part, but the trombone is quite an agile instrument and a good player shouldn't have much difficulty with that line.
Your mixing suffered most because of a few orchestration issues. I think in general levels were alright. I'd recommend running an EQ over your trumpets to lower the mids and bring up the upper mids to give them a bit more sparkle. Right now they lack definition, and a little EQ work would fix that. Your suspended cymbal level seemed great in the introduction, but got out of hand at the 1:32 section. I think this is more an issue of overuse. Mixing an orchestra is very, very difficult and something that takes many years to master. You've done a lot of great things here - just keep an eye out for overbearing parts!
You have a great imagination! I really liked the fact that your introduction wasn't overly predictable harmonically - it kept my interest. Unfortunately, you missed out on a lot of percussive opportunities in the piece. I'd recommend studying orchestration in further detail to learn how each family of the ensemble fits together.
I like your ideas Nick. There is a lot of maturity in your writing, both in your ideas and control of the ensemble. The beginning was very strong - you set the tone of the piece well and I could imagine this in a movie trailer. You did a great job building intensity by moving the bass line upward at 0:16. Don't be afraid to use cymbals to help swells within the music. To heighten the intensity even further, you could have added a suspended cymbal along with a choked crash cymbal to close the intro at 0:27.
My favorite part of the entire piece began at 0:30. You show maturity here - your swells within the orchestra were very well done, and the introduction of the choir and percussion at 1:07 was particularly moving. While following all the rules of traditional voice leading techniques isn't necessary, you have a couple of spots where rough voice leading considerably weakens the music. One particular part is at 1:09 in the trombones. A diminished 5th should be resolved inward (in this case Eb and G). I can almost guarantee you'll find this a smoother, more pleasing resolution than what you have. In a piece that relies so heavy on smooth, powerful movements within the ensemble, having a weak resolution can completely undermine the otherwise beautiful atmosphere you've created.
The section at 1:51 feels cluttered to me. There are multiple moving string lines that line up well at times, and not as well as others. I'd have to look at the score to give you specifics as I'm having a hard time hearing the cello(?) line. Try isolating those two parts and see if they sit well with you. You may find having the trombones double the bass line up the octave more fitting, as it'd provide more stability. I loved the piano part at the end - it's very fitting and provides a satisfying yet unexpected closure to the piece. The tempo was a little uneven. I understand you wanted to keep it freer here, just make sure the fluctuations in the tempo are smooth. Lining up the hands when they have notes together should help remedy the issue.
Overall your orchestration was pretty good. Your flexibility with the ensemble (as I mentioned earlier) is very commendable. It can be difficult to have the ensemble swell for over a minute as you do 0:30-137. Well done!
You could be more liberal with the cymbals at the beginning (again as previously mentioned). Cymbals are extremely versatile instruments - they can be used for swells, transitions, abrupt hits, and more. Be careful not to overdo it though! At 2:10-2:30, you use them so much that their value becomes diminished. Try to reserve crash hits for particularly important moments. This will maximize their effectiveness and prevent them from fatiguing the listener.
I have a few suggestions about the mixing, but overall I felt it was good and didn't detract from the listening experience. Solo melodic lines that you want to stand out can be artificially raised (volume) in the mix. Also, reducing the reverb slightly on these instruments will give the impression that the player is in the front of the ensemble and the ear will naturally be drawn to the sound. With full sections (I.e all violins) it can be trickier because you don't want to create an unnatural sound, but the same rule can apply. The section at 1:52 could be assisted by applying this idea to the cellos and violins . As it is now, it sounds cluttered and undefined - but if you back off on reverb slightly and raise the volume you should get a cleaner sound.
You have a maturing sound that enables you to create truly moving music. I think you'd benefit most from paying a closer attention to your voice leading, and ensuring that the choices you're making strengthen the mood you're trying to set. It can be easy to get lost in the sea of instruments that is the orchestra, but that is what makes writing for full ensemble so difficult (and satisfying). The strongest point of this piece lies in the contrasts you create - however you decide to further develo
Very well done!
Great work - this is the first piece I've heard from you but I'll be sure to check out your other work after I write this. I thought the chord progressions were great - you kept it from sounding like the typical cookie-cutter metal song which is a huge plus in my book!
I have just one suggestion for this. I think you could be a little more liberal with your reverb. The whole track sounds too dry to my ears. I've tried adding reverb while playing this back through my speakers and it gave the whole track more life. The lead guitar lines are where it could use it the most - I think you'll like the results if you experiment more with different reverb levels.
Great work - can't wait to hear more from you!
Ive already given you my ideas I think, but I'll leave you a written review in case I forgot anything. I agree with benyue - while there is a theme, it it hard to pick it out from all of the other material unless you know what you're looking for. You have loads of wonderful stuff here, but sometimes you need to give the listener a nudge in the direction you want them to be listening :)
Some points of thought:
1. A motif doesn't have to be melodic - you can have an instrument or rhythm-based reoccurring theme. For instance - if you begin a piece with a gripping oboe solo, and then take out the oboe for 50 bars, when it comes back the listener will draw the connection, even if the melody is different.
2. Sometimes when I'm writing music I try to see how many times I can slip in the same motif. Beethoven was an absolute master at this - his 5th symphony is a great example. If nothing else it's a good exercise to try, and will get you thinking about intertwining lines and themes vs stacking them left to right.
Your music has such clarity, and has some clear Elfman influences in places :). Can't wait to hear more collaboration projects!
Hey Dave! First of all- thank you for the lengthy review!
That's a very interesting point you brought up about how a motif can be established not only by notation, but by tambre and rhythm as well. Another example of a great rhythmic motif is in Stravinski's Rite of Spring. The guy was an absolute genius- a master of rhythm.
Haha yes- I was on quite an Elfman kick when I wrote this piece. I'm not surprised you noticed :)
You've got a nice piece here, Phil. Very atmospheric sounding - would do great on a newage soundtrack!
Your sound samples are passable, but I think you'd do well to purchase something of higher quality such as Garritan Personal Orchestra (a moderate step up), or something like VSL Special edition/EWQLSO Gold (both a large step up). Your budget will speak for itself, but it will reflect well in your music.
Also consider doing a little EQ work. Most of the instruments sounded very thin and airy - which is suitable for the atmosphere you set. However - you're severely lacking your low end, which is an important element and tool you can use to shape your piece. I firmly believe that even ambient and ethreal music (like this) should still have a progression. You have just shy of 3 minutes of material, but at the end of the piece I wasn't quite where I was. There is some development of the theme you introduce at the beginning throughout - but I think you're only sratching the surface of what you can do. It's a very pretty theme - don't be afraid to play with it!
All in all a nice piece of work, hopefully I gave you a couple of thinking points (if nothing else). You have a good feel for the orchestra - make it do what you want it to.
Excellent stuff! ^__^ I really appreciate this advice and your right this piece leads to my next piece. "Judging philosophy by Abuse" (just posted it) and it comes from "Tear us from Thanatos" its pretty much a string of songs pretty much ^^
Yeah your right I did kinda neglect my low end. I'm gonna keep working on this and more hopefully I'll develop some better technique ^^ I hope to get a nice set up like the one you have QL is awesome haha
Sounds good Shawn! It's obvious this is heavily influenced by Paradise on E, which is fine since you clearly acknowledged that. It is however a stretch to say this is 100% your own work, since not only does it have the same distinguishable rhythms and instrumentation as Paradise on E, but you use the same mannerisms that Bounc3 uses (same style fills, breaks, and general musical decisions). That is impressive in it's own right, considering how closely you're able follow his style. Again, not knocking you for it, but just be aware of just how similar this really is.
You have a great ear and a knack for remixes and these sound-alike pieces. If you ever wanted to pursue music on a semi-professional or professional level, I think you'd do really well in the arranging and sound-alike industry!
Hmm.. interesting concept - tbh I never really considered my skills of any use in the real world.. also I wasn't even aware you were still ON this site - I thought you left with API??
in any case - I am deeply honoured to get a review from you - I didn't think that would EVER happen <3
and perhaps you are right that I can't consider this "100%" my own - and I am deeply inspired by B0UNC3 - we do however have all the same samples - we passed stuff around quite a lot back in the day - as was evidenced when we did "celestial dream" 5 years ago - I just decided to use them :)
neways if nothing else this was fun to do - I've become a chameleon of sorts - adopting the style of anyone I come across, adding a bit of my own, and then spitting it out :)
thanks for the review David! :)
I definitely heard Chopin Ballade in G minor at the opening there! Wonderful piece through and through, I especially loved the first few minutes. You've got such a great command of the strings. The textures were full but I was able to hear each part clearly.
I would've loved to hear a breif recap of the opening material at the end before your final chord- I think that would've tied the entire piece together more thoroughly. Just nit-picking things, what you have now works as well :)
Great work, I can't wait to hear more!
Nice Melody Throughout!
Hey Ben! I think this has a lot of spirit which is great for dance music. Your writing style would create a really unique sound for the genre!
I'm not sure this is quite dance music yet though. Most every dance song I can think of has a driving beat in the background. You have one in the background, but it's really, really difficult to hear. It gets clearer as the track goes on, but people looking for dance music would probably not find this to their taste until they got a few minute into the track. My recommendation would be to listen to some of the original electronic dance music written (check out Robert Miles) and compare your tracks to them. I found Robert Miles a huge inspiration when I was starting out!
This is a great start Ben, I love that you're experimenting with other genres!
Thanks David. Robert Miles... OK. Yes, I really need to boost that bass somehow. I'll work on it.
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