2.2 Dark Glass
The Dark Glass is a very interesting psychological micro-drama about an unclear impression of half-remembered childhood memories of a hypnotised woman. As portrayed by the director, Clio Barnard, ‘the film is a shot on a mobile phone camera to accentuate a feeling of intimacy and immediacy. ‘The flickering nature of the footage also emphasises the film’s uncanny, otherworldly quality.’
Comprising the character of both documentary and fiction, the film, in particular, suggests the subjectivity of the recollection of childhood memories of a patient. Clio deliberately had no music to the drama. Nevertheless I proposed to compose music for the Dark Glass and her positive response to the draft score was an exciting start for the project.
The visual and the narrative of the film are arranged independently and establish an ambiance of contrast. Happy mood of visual and ambient sounds; running and laughing kids, sound of animals, mother and backyard of a countryside house, are companied with the controversial dialogue between psychologist and the hypnotised patient.
The score for the Dark Glass presents a freedom for experimental approach to the manipulation of sounds and dissonant harmonic texture that evokes ambiguity. I wrote a piece for Piano and orchestra and practiced underscoring technique to enhance and intensify the narrative. My intension with this score is to elaborate the two prominent notions of the drama; the ‘vague memories of childhood’ mirrored with simple tune on the piano and the ‘psychological complexity of adulthood’ expressed with dissonant harmonic texture. The mood of these contrasting notions are expressed through the advanced programming and sound design that played an important role for the development of harmonic, rhythmic and melodic structures. With the main theme on the piano, as seen in figure 1, I initially experimented on sound manipulation with physically modelled acoustic piano; Pianoteq.
The flexibility of this instrument facilitates producing
Fig.1 real and innovative piano sounds by modification and variation of damper noise, hammer hardness and microphone positioning. Throughout the cue, the timbre of the piano is altered by sound manipulation in parallel with the harmonic and melodic variations forming the overall unity. Similar experiment can be seen in Jerry Goldsmith’s score, IL Miracolo - Miracle (2009) in which damped-string of piano are plucked with fingers producing an interesting sound texture (tr5). This exercise for the Dark Glass provided astonishing multi dimensional timbral array that is associated with mental imaginary and emphasised the relationship between music and film psychology. Furthermore, it brought intimacy and individuality to the score and stimulated my creativity. For instance, elaborating the microphone position in conjunction with the spacious reverb setting provided the depth and dreamlike sound texture. Meanwhile the use of simplistic pulse and lack of accuracy in quantisation for the opening theme is associated with the immaturity / naiveness of a child.
Tempo variations and regenerated tonalities - especially in bars 25, 31 and 52 - carry the characteristics of fluidity and distinctively depend on the increasingly expanding surreal narrative. This darkening of the atmosphere is compounded by using multisampled and clustered sounds that broaden the perspective of music. However, clustered sounds and non-traditional playing techniques are difficult to achieve in electronic scores. In this respect, Symphobia, a new generation of orchestral sample library, allowed me to create custom sounds that form inspirational portion of harmonic and rhythmic development of the composition. I believe elaborating the mood with harmonic and tempo variations in conjunction with the clustered sounds are highly inspirational forming the segments of compositional development.
2.3 The Lost Book
“The technology does not create the music on its own; it must be constructed skilfully” - Paul Sellars
The Lost Book is a BAFTA nominated, innovative animation series. It is about a journalist, Aileen, and his dog, Watson, who attempt to solve the crime of a stolen book. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra announced a soundtrack competition in 2009 and I took the opportunity to compose music for this interactive animation. After analysing the original score performed by SCO, I found the elaboration of tempo and late back pulse striking. Thus I decided to focus on tempo operation along with the quantisation for my composition.
The score comprises four sections all glued together; Main Title, Conversation with Mum, Investigation and the End Title. I aimed to compose energetic and action driven cues for the main and end titles with subtle orchestral arrangements to accomplish dynamism and punctuality. Middle sections however serve as underscore to the scenes and are structured with irregular time signatures. The Main Title is in C minor and formed with various passing chords; E flat minor and B minor. Each passing chord is able to shift the mysterious sense that is associated with the ‘stolen book’ and supplies forward motion for adventurous action quality.
Driven from the narrative, the tempo is slightly varied throughout the cue and plays a significant role in bridging the four sections. Seeking to provide a rhythmic realism in the score, precise control of the tempo also varies depending on the sequencing technique and needs accurate operation as this will effect the synchronisation between the arrangement and the image. Regardless of the genre of the scene, a MIDI performance can be captured with or without metronome. Although both methods can provide strong musical results, it seems that recording with metronome works well by capturing the performance in its best level. Then any performance mistake can be corrected by applying minimum quantisation. Eventually an ‘aesthetic balance between human performance and technical perfection’ (Davis and Jones, 1990; pp.386) can be achieved. The viola solo in bars 2-9 is a good example for this operation.
At the end of the Main Tittle, the tempo slows down, in bars 20-25, to prepare for next section, Conversation with Mum. Then the sound texture becomes humorous with various time signature changes and articulations that underscore the witty dialogue between Aileen and his mum. For this part I preferred recording the pizzicato strings without a metronome and applied quantisation when needed retaining the original feelings of the performance. The problem with this method is that beats, bars and time signature have to manually itemised for the sequencing process. Once these elements are identified, the tempo track of the sequences produces quite varied rhythmic pulse as seen in the figure 2.
Following this is a soft piano riff that slows the tempo down and prepares for the next section; Investigation. The timbre shifting from a mellow character to unhappy and curious state resembles the various moods of the ‘inv’.The music ends with similar character of the opening but simplified version.
Advanced tempo operation and quantisation of the MIDI performance are the foundation of effective sequencing techniques that intensify the authenticity in digital scoring. Furthermore, today’s DAWs could execute both operations in great accuracy and even more expressive way, but, on the other hand, require considerable amount of time and practice. Additionally, the excessive use of quantisation may lead to artificial sounding of tempo as human perception of pulse is sensitive to ‘regular recurring’ and ‘equally accented’ beats (Meyer, 1956; pp.102) which do not exist in nature. However the irony at this point is that, in acoustic music, the intention is to achieve a great accuracy in tempo while, in digital environment, it is intentionally made imperfect to bring it closer to the human perception, even though it could be realised precisely.
“Making music with digital samplers and prerecorded samples of world music instruments and phrases is, fundamentally, an art of appropriation” - Lysloff
The Refugees begins with a fatal sea crash caused by coast guards who intend to intercept the boat of immigrants. The scene fades in to an early hours of the day consisting of two parts; a cinematic opening which visually outlines the Mediterranean sea and a deadly ending of drowning immigrants. The musical structure reflects these with an atmospheric beginning with ethnic instruments and a tragic ending with heavy percussion loops. Although the visual materials of intro do not clearly indicate the upcoming trouble, the enigmatic sound texture sets the mood immediately.
Custom sampling and manipulating audio techniques played a key role in producing The Refugees as well as being the source of inspiration for creating new sounds. Key in the selected methods are creating layers of unique sounds and textures by using sequencing techniques. The looped ethnic percussions are used to provide forward motion for the first part. Their distinctive sound texture, especially automated pan and filter cut form the supernatural sense that cannot be created through the traditional method. As seen on figures 3.1 and 3.2 the simple rhythmic pattern on Turkish Kup is altered through various plug-ins. Although the original rhythm was created by simple pulse, the result is much more interesting than the original part especially by using delay plug-in. Similar arrangement can be also seen in many productions such as Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2010) by Hans Zimmer (tr8).
Another custom sampled instrument - fretless guitar contributed to generate realistic result. Despite its minimal use in e.g. in bar 6 and 10, its overall impact is distinctively characteristic. During the sampling session, some improvised phrases were also captured for later use. Throughout the editing stage these recordings are fragmented into a small phrases and zoned across the MIDI keyboard to be performed in any section of the score when needed. The audio manipulation on the other hand another is the complimentary process for the integration of sampled sounds into the score. For instance the sound of the Kanun is deviated substantially by use of pitch bend wheel sliding the note from B to G - in bars 6 and 10, so that the significance of the glissando texture serves as an icon for the ‘upcoming trouble’, the attack by the coast guards. For most composers / sound designers, it is an aspiration to create a unique soundscape to be identified with the film. Somehow the glissando effect fulfils this ambition. After all creating a ‘pleasant or at least meaningful sounds’ (Marten, 2010) is the main goal of any modern film music composer.
Certain richness and character of a unique “sampled sound” that were accomplished through using sequencing techniques and changing the psychical structure of the recorded materials such as splitting, frequency and time manipulation. These uniquely manipulated and layered sets of sounds and their tonal/timbral characteristics (rhythm, frequency, dynamics) carry similar means of expression that bring a form of unity to the final sound. Creative use of these effects not only improves the stereo image but also provides a space and motion. Certainly this sort of experimentation exhibits clearly how composer, by means of amalgamation of skills, interacts with technology to accompany to the picture. At this stage the substitution of composing with harmonic and melodic developments with the sound manipulation brings up the central argument about the composer’s identity who manipulates and performs sound obscuring division between composing and producing, and even performing. Could it be interpreted as a gain or a compromise?
Perhaps one of the most substantial problems with electronic scoring is the challenge to simulate the expression and dynamics of acoustic music. Sampling technology contributes to solving this challenge, up to a point, but will eventually be replaced by evolving technologies such as Synful Orchestra which is based on Reconstructive Phrase Modeling technology, RPM
2.4.2 The Island
“On a very basic level, music is about humans interacting with physical objects in such a way as to create pleasant or at least meaningful sounds” - Alex Martin
Perhaps one of the substantial problems with digital music is to challenge with the expression and interpretation of acoustic music. Although sample libraries offer high quality dynamics and articulations it is still time consuming process and requires lot of practise to produce expressive and powerful sound. In this respect scoring The Main Tittle was the most difficult task to achieve. With the slow pace and long notes, the nuance of the interoperation the MIDI performance become to obvious. For many years sampling technology have been attacked for ‘producing non-controllable sound’ (Ang & Shea, 2001:1). Achieving true human expression is in fact still limited with virtual instruments comparing to real performance, but the current advance sequencing techniques enable users manage sounds intensively.
The cue initially conveys overall emotional impact of the film based on a utopia; pleasant but not achievable myth that Yanis hopes to live. Coexistence of ‘hope’ and ‘disillusion’ is reflected by the transition of various tonalities suggesting dynamic alteration. The music is structured as double theme and variation; Intro and ABA’B’. Section A mirrors the ‘hope’ and optimism gently. While the beauty of the nature, endless horizon and timeless land summarise the narrative visually throughout The Main Title, the section B evokes the ‘disillusion’ with crescendo which expressing the intensity of high emotions. The dynamic contrast between the sections provided through harmony and orchestration supported with advance sequencing and mixing techniques e.g volume, pitch and tempo automation.
In the sequencing and mixing, the intension of the music can be enhanced by two ways; focusing on micro details of nuance and overall dynamic balance. My target is first accomplish a good MIDI performance and edit it later for better interpretation by introducing randomness of volume, pitch and tempo. Altering pitch slightly with pitch bend wheel and experimenting with attack and decay of articulations may produce better result. For instance the vibrato on solo saxophone, in bars 11-28, provides realistic nuance which achieved with modulation control (CC1) while crescendo or decrescendo creates dynamic contrast by automating the volume control of main output. As seen on the figure 4 another example for random pitch editing occurs with high strings in bars 19-29 by simply altering the pitch by two percent especially at the beginning and ending of notes.
Many of these methods expands the boundaries of composer whom becomes to think like a performer and conductor. Considering the studio as an instrument composer spends considerable time on to learning and practising the techniques to overcome the performance related problems. The overall impact of these challenging processes may result with compromise on composer’s creativity depending on how composer deals with them pragmatically and stimulates his imagination simultaneously. Additionally the music industry should develop a sonic formula for innovative musical instrument interface like Eigenharp that performer can physically interact with.
He primary concept of the animation is framed as a combination of ambiguous circumstances with mysterious, magical, funny and tragic nature and accompanied by the fragments of emotions e.g. wonder, frustration, stubbornness, anger, victory and defeat. The score on the other hand is centred around the manipulation of ready made phrases, clusters, dynamics and their integration into the score. The use these creates a palette which is unique to this score and plays inspirational role in developing the harmonic language. Besides they help achieving realistic score as well as emphasising the motion in the animation better.
The solo violin part, in bars 68-71, is a good example for the use of advanced sample instruments and method of orchestral simulation. With this particular solo part I used sample instruments produced by LA scoring strings which reserves various string articulations and bowing techniques simultaneously e.g portemento and vibrato. It also comprises the accompanying scripts such as legato, tuning, trill, delay and humanisation that enabled me to produce expressive and realistic string melodies. In this respect the use of this particular sample instrument worked mainly as a medium to express the musical language of the score based on my previous experience in playing violin.
Nevertheless, the way the pre-recorded samples are superimposed and integrated into the composition varies and requires traditional knowledge of harmony and melody as well as production skills. Digital audio recording and sampling technology have made it easier to employ fragments of sounds, phrases or sound textures in music production. However this is not a new concept and it’s origin goes back to the musique concrète time when the use of sampled sound was seen as an artistic development. Pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer, the musique concrète is a ‘montage’ (Brindle, 1977; pp.100) of live sounds subjected to manipulating or modification to create a composition. Inevitably, making music with audio recordings has currently become more sophisticated with digital samplers since early 1980s. However my favourite profound example of blending orchestra and sampled sound is rooted in concert music of Heiner Goebbels, Suite For Sampler and Orchestra, Chaconne, Cantor Loops. In 2000, Goebbels composed this contemporary piece by putting the 1920s and 30s Jewish Cantor recordings together with acoustic orchestra (tr3). Under the influence of Goebbels, I composed my first piece Wareast in 2004, blending various live recordings with electronic orchestra (tr4). The technique I used in this particular work helped me to construct and develop the composition in and around various acoustic improvisations leaving the acoustic performance mostly untouched. Similarly The Door carries the same principle.
While the sophisticated sounds are achieved with the sampling technology, it is however criticised for producing non-controllable sounds which cannot be shaped or modified in real-time through controller devices (Ang and Shean, 2000; pp.1). This statement is no longer valid as the sound libraries allow better and more complex use of sound sources bringing new inspirations to the composer and open innovative ways to manipulate and implement (fabricate) these sources.
“The ear fancies the tonality of symphony orchestra. On a spectrum analyser, the symphony always shows a gradual high frequency rolloff” - Bob Katz
When humanist values are distracted by the politics it seems moral judgement may easily get damaged. In Wound, the director puts an effort to restore this with an altruistic and sympathetic approach by breaking the boundaries of language and religion. The music transits between diversity of feelings such as delicateness, purity of basic human intuition, pain and desperation by developing the score with harmonic, melodic and rhythmic components and the subtle choice of virtual instrumentation. Therefore the overall result suits the emotional impact of the scene with a good tonal balance. The music and audio work together in response to the visual and it’s dramatic contour simultaneously. Besides the alteration of a rhythmic pattern, hormonic colour, various instrumentation creates a fluidity and realism.
However my challenge is to explore the intimate relation between composing and mastering process with a question; how equalising or compression would effect the emotional perception. A good tonal balance depends on appropriate frequency settings that are directly linked to how we acquire the sound, as Katz (2002; pp.100) defines, ‘pleasant, warm, clear and correct for the song and genre.’ In another words, human emotions can be inflamed or calmed by the property of sound as well as the harmonic language of music. I employed a gentle EQ in mid frequency to support the consonant harmony. The alternate use of harmonic sequence of major and minor chords in D suits the emotions and development of the plot. Underscoring the non-translated dialogue, the eight bar ostinato part in bars 5-12 is sustained with held strings which also works as a counter melody over the celesta and harp. A gentle equaliser applied to celesta provided smooth and natural sound.
Beginning in bar 23, the following soprano line evokes the pain of the hidden wounds of Soraya and shifts the emotions revealing the long existed suffering. High frequency that rolled off around 12kHz so far is now reset to its original position as the sinister tremolo strings enter. Then the second part of the cue starts with semiquaver arpeggio on harp and strong theme on strings that highlight the drama and movement. In this section, to control the dynamics of the bass drum I applied gentle 2.5:1 compression ratio, and threshold at around -40 dB as well as mellow parallel compression to the final mix. Depending on the experimentation, these compressor settings would make the ‘loud passage softer’ Katz (2004; pp.118) and produce a transparent mix that convey of the characteristics of acoustic music. Then the cue slowly resolves in D major as Sureyya is treated with care.
One of the problems I had with the underscoring was the overall effect of the soundscape edited at the mastering stage. Although smooth and legato instrumentation worked well with the image, overwritten score distracted the dialogue. Therefore a further volume automation was applied to the master level to supply ‘clear speaking voice range’ (Karling, 2004; pp.168). Although both ethnic instruments and synthesised sounds work well some of the Western instruments may have been replaced with ethnic ones to suit the concept of the scene.
From the use of some equalising and compression techniques to the fully polished mix, the cue provides a simple evidence for amalgamation of skills, whereas the composer’s identity is fused with production tools. Some film composers tend to avoid these additional skills, and, on the other hand, new generation of composers might discard the value of traditional techniques. Consequently, I believe both method deserve attention in film music.