orchestral

Simple Movements, Complicated Times

The past month has been quite the whirlwind, working on all sorts of different projects and seeking out opportunities is all part and parcel of my day's work with its ups and downs. This month, I finally started a slow roll-out of tracks that I have been working on since the start of the year. While I might have talked about some of them so far, the idea behind some of those sometimes get lost and forgotten about, as I steadily hop from one project to the next. Hopefully, I'll be able to talk some more about it as time passes by.

A demo of a video game I made music for just rolled out a couple of days ago. You can get the download from here. It won't really work for a Mac right now, but if you're a Windows person, go get it! You might also need to get RPG Maker 2003 to run this, but I would love to hear any feedback you might have for the music in the game or otherwise. 

Moving on, I've also been dabbling with chip-tune heavily and I found some seriously nice software to make 8-bit and 16-bit music. This blog right here made it much more easier for me to navigate the interesting underground community of people that are heavily into Chiptune and woah, my mind was blown looking at the sheer amount of depth in that genre. For the uninitiated, the Chiptune genre is a genre of music where people try and emulate the music of  thegames of yesteryears or the glorious sounds of the 80s and 90s that are completely personified in the chips that were used with game consoles like the NES, SNES, Commodore 64 and many others. Getting the news earlier this week that the NES was making a come back, I'm fairly confident that Chiptune is going to see quite a big revival in the coming year. Having been to Indiecade last year, I still remember hearing heavy influences of the genre in a few acts that I heard there and I was nothing short of blown away.

 
 

From the perspective of music, this month has been liberating in the sense that there are things I've worked on that really pushed me towards different directions - directions that about two years ago seemed like frightening prospects to me. Mostly making a living off scoring short films and videos, it was only natural that I would be asked to do music that is more in the vain of western classical music. This kind of music always comes across to me as something that needs a very specific vision. Sometimes, people look for the typical 'epic' sounding music that has become very widespread in things like movie trailers or contemporary film. While at the surface, it does seem like all fluff and no substance when people ask for that sort of style, I've come to realise that every single time, the output is slightly different. Despite its name, even epic trailer-like music doesn't have one-size-fits-all generalisation. Perhaps that's what I like about the music projects I take up.  They give me earlier-unknown music identities to develop, create and evolve. It's like not waking up every day and having to eat the same old banana pie, but the flavours completely change.

One such example where I did something completely new for me music composition-wise back in March was a track called 'My Moon'. Written as a main theme for a video game 'Dark Sanctuary' under development, what was perhaps interesting was not the output but rather, the input I was given - A flute track that the game designer had themselves composed. While the quality of the flute track was patchy at best, what really took me on a ride about the track in particular was the fact that the presence of echo in the track. At first, the flute melody did not seem to be 4/4 at all, which led me to creating a number of abstract time changes throughout the track, which presented its own set of complications and challenges. Eventually the realisation dawned on me that what was happening was that the melody was trying really hard to not be 4/4 but when in fact it was exactly that. Having caused a strange back-and-forth in the entire arrangement due to my initial assumption, the combination of things slightly swaying back and forth while the time signature stayed constant provided for an interesting dynamic in the composition.

 
 

Clearly, it seems that every single project that I work on asks for a completely distinct and different music style that varies immensely from the last. While the music for Asgeirr has been intensely minimal to say the least with the usage of FM sounds and a slightly off-beat percussive style, the music for Dark Sanctuary on the other hand asked for something very different in terms of how its development was approached. Music for fantasy is a whole different monster as compared to music that is chiptune or FM synth-based.

hen of course, there are Twitterbots.

An Afterthought
As the AI Revolution marches through, the major thought on my mind about it these days seems to be - how much more time before working composers and music producers get replaced by machines too? If companies like Jukedeck and Filmstro are to be believed - not that much. While most music folks in today's age and times seem to be up in arms about it, mentioning things like 'real emotional quotient' and 'the human touch', I don't really see much of two ways about it. To me, honestly - In the future, people that could perhaps harness AI and machine learning and use it as an element working for their music (as opposed to working against it) would be a lot better off. Which is why I have been seriously mulling over what kind of programming project I should take up next. And it's probably important to my future. While I have tried expanding in the past towards more interesting fields like sound design and audio programming. I have no doubt, that even those things could be taken over by an 'intelligent machine' in the future. Just food for thought.

Where do we go from here? I should probably get back to producing my newest track. And leaving the bots to themselves. In the meanwhile...keep your eyes focused on my 'other' Soundcloud

P.S. - Following the interesting nucl.ai Conference happening in Prague right now. Some very interesting developments in AI happening there. 

After the Take

3pm, 20th June 2015
Gatwick Airport

As I sit in the middle of a crowded airport waiting for the next flight out of London, a combination of relief and a state of panic slightly sweep me over at the same time. I wish that the time spent at London could have been longer, a bit more rather than less. However, much like the food at Pret A Manger, it seems everything does come with an expiration date after all.

I can’t really shut myself down from all the feelings of wonder, joy and absolute euphoria that I experienced when I first walked into Abbey Road Studios. It is indeed strange that I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as I was motioned to go in and have a first look at Studio 1, the recording room and the huge stage in front of us. It was to say the least terrifying and mind-boggling to think here I was. Not even a year passed since I first came to Valencia ready to conduct an ensemble of the world’s best musicians ready to play my music.

 
 

7pm, 20th June 2015
In the Sky

To me, music has and will always be bigger than everything else. I revel in its spirituality and the power it gives a person engaged with doing something creative. If life truly was a painting, what would you draw?

That’s a question I found myself asking my own self in the middle of an art gallery, The National Gallery to be more exact. Having a sufficient amount of time to destroy in London after the Abbey Road sessions were finished, I decided to go art-hunting for inspiration. Isn’t that what drives every artist after all? Stone cold inspiration? And the answer to that question took me through a zig- zag line of thinking much like the network of Tube stations peppered all over the city. It took me to the Thames and then further away from the center to the quiet area of Tooting Bec and then back. 

To explain further, I saw an exhibit that was commissioned in the 19th century by a nobleman to be drawn by a tailor to give him an idea of how a certain dress was to look on his wife. What struck me as interesting about this exhibit was the fact that art stemmed not from thinking about the world in an abstract, twisted way or from some kind of fantasy but rather, something much more grounded. A lot of it grew from necessity, especially a few hundred years ago. Perhaps it still does, in different fields, places and applications.

9932840.jpg

This brings me to the idea that perhaps everything happens in cycles. Humanity just repeats itself. In every cycle there are periods of progress, a general trend of unexpected disruption, and a complete breakdown in the order of things, before a revolutionary idea is seeded into the particular framework in reference. I have the viewpoint that these ideas arise most of the times out of necessity or the fact that sometimes existing methods or approaches become redundant to the point where someone somewhere has to really step out of conventions and break a few rules to make new things possible. Change is not always invited or facilitated, sometimes it’s a trip and a fall rather than a walk on a carpet.

12.28pm, 20th June 2015
Oxford Circus Station

As the tube train chugged on through the heart of the city, my pulse got faster. The coach to Gatwick airport was supposed to leave in twenty-two minutes and I was still four stations away. With just a few pounds in my pocket, I thought about the worst. What if I missed? I would subsequently miss my bus which would then be followed by missing the flight back home to Valencia. What would happen if I did end up getting stranded in the middle of London with barely any money and no internet? Of course it wouldn’t happen. But having nearly not travelled enough abroad alone, it still seems a bit terrifying to realize that sometimes it is up to you to decide your fate and everything you do has real consequences. Perhaps, time is greater than money.


8.17pm, 18th June 2015
Campden Hill Square

I quickly ringed the second floor bell haphazardly shifting my weight between my two feet while nervously cracking my fingers. I had managed to get myself confused between two very similar sounding places on Google Maps which in turn, led me to the wrong place for the party. But it did not matter anymore as I had reached where I wanted to be. The day had been quite a blur with many different Berklee-organised talks about the business of film scoring. Having been free for less than a day since I recorded my music, I was looking to unwind and have a good time. The rest was a blur with many film-scoring students (me included) going off across to the other side of town cracking jokes, making merry and finding places to hang out. Time was inconsequential.

2.29pm, 19th June 2015
The National Gallery

Pacing through the hall after hall of artworks from the eons far and between, it was strange to realize that so many visionary creative minds came and made a splash only to be disappeared and forgotten. And then there were the greats – The Van Gogh paintings and another artwork which interestingly had been broken up into two different works and then rejoined. In my mind, I somehow connected that to how music composition works inside a video game.

I could see mentions of words in exhibit descriptions and phrases that have somehow managed to seep into popular internet culture – words like ‘doge’ and ‘memes’. The widespread mention of these terms all over the internet are an interesting after-effect of artworks created over hundreds of years. Things are a lot more connected than it may seem on close observation. But it may seem that in this age of fast living and quick satisfaction no one quite sits and thinks about the small things. These small things that somehow shape the bigger ones.

10.43am, 19th June 2015
Goldcrest Postproduction Ltd.

‘Perhaps you might have heard that no one really is able to differentiate between more than 2.5 things at a time sonically, you can’t really make the music so busy, there’s sound effects, voice-overs, dialogues, ADR….’ The voice of the talking seemed to trail away as I stood and wondered about the aesthetics of common pop music these days. Was it really simple and great to have a great production with a ‘minimal approach’?  The answer I gave myself was perhaps a conflicting one.

12.39pm, 17th June 2015
Studio 1, Abbey Road Studios

Isn’t conflict the center of everything? I told myself as I took a deep sigh and prepared myself to get on to Studio 1 in fifteen minutes and conduct a 51-piece orchestra, something I had never done before in life. Through the past months, I had constantly asked myself if it was something I was capable of doing. To command and direct a group of fifty-one musicians, some of the best in the world and truly capture a riveting performance of music that was not inherently supposed to be conventional but more ‘dissonant’. But perhaps that’s the beauty of mankind. Sometimes to find a unique sound, one has to break a few rules. Sadly, rule-breakers aren’t always given the encouragement they feel they need. But then, I suppose no one wants to mess with a rebel. I had never wanted to be one. There is always the need for acceptance among peers, though. Something I’m thankful I received.

Sometimes experiences shape a person rather than a person shaping his own. I have managed to make peace with the fact that perhaps I am inclined to always move in a dissonant direction with my music than a melodic one. I feel a lot less burdened when no one expects me to create music with swirling melodies and perfect-sounding crescendos. I always had wanted music to depict the state of chaos and the environment of indecisiveness the world around us is in these days. I suppose it just comes across in different ways to different people.

 

Time to rock and roll.

A post shared by Antriksh Bali (@antrikshbali) on

 

The Bigger Picture

During the course of my musical exploration over the past few years, I have realized that learning new things and concepts can be testing and quite unique in the terms of challenges it poses in front of you. But sometimes taking the risk and the prospect of going a mile in an unknown direction can be both rewarding, and confusing.

I spent some time off and went to Pune a couple of weeks ago, looking for interesting opportunities and experiences. While being there helped me think a bit more clearly about which direction my music has been going, I still haven't yet completely figured it out. So I have decided to take some time to contemplate and focus a bit more on projects other than Ebonix for now. While there is no dearth of ideas or concepts in my head, there is still the need to separate the stones from the diamonds.

I find music I'm making these days seems to be more gothic-influenced and there seem to be darker tones. I've been listening to a lot of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. Perhaps I shall arrive at the smack middle of an industrial, electroclash witch-house sound and ambient music with a few orchestral elements. A hint of psychedelia always works for me too. There's often so many different directions one piece of music can take, I find myself going in tangents and circles. Then before I know it, I'm back to square one.

 
 

This tends to get worse when I'm trying to work on several tracks and they're all from completely genres. It's complete and utter chaos. I hope that I could work on one track for extended periods of time but it seems to me like the longer I work on something at one go, the more ideas get dispersed. Hmm, maybe I just need a timetable for the month. But that's the problematic thing about ideas. They come at always the wrong time. Sigh.

I suppose workflow is very important when you're trying to work on something creatively. The process you use does have an impact on the kind of music you're making somewhere along the line.

 Hence, I try all kinds of combination these days. having coffee before working. Writing this blog after an intense music-making session. Everything helps when you're a little free to do things at your own pace and speed. Something, I suppose isn't present there as much when you're working with a band.

While I have been on a creative standstill for a while, I find ideas coming to me again, something that probably wasn't there a couple of weeks ago. But it's even harder to finish a half-done idea than to make one in the first place. I'm trying to look at it from an opportunist perspective. A half-full glass always looks better than empty one inside your head.

Trying to look at the bigger picture for once.

Two steps forward, one step back.

Super/Comical

The 48-Hour Film Project is an annual film-making competition that happens every year all over the world. Participants have to make a short film in the span of 48 hours, based around a specific theme and dialogue that changes every year. Once while exploring the vast depths of the Internet, I came across their website. It also happens in Delhi every year, which got me a little interested. But I didn't really do much about it.

Fast forward two years later, A friend of a friend was looking for someone to make music for their film entry for the very same competition. The first person my friend thought of, was me and I was more than delighted to come aboard to work with a team of film-makers that call themselves Celluloid Drapers.

I was contacted briefly on the phone by a guy who asked me if it was possible for me to work on their movie. Since the competition hadn't started, he didn't really have an idea about what kind of movie it was going to be and where it would take us, but he asked me if I was in for the ride and I said yes. Simply because the best things in life are usually the unexpected ones.

 
 

On the day the competition started, Most of the details I got were hazy and rough to say the least. I was told it was a superhero movie, and probably the last thing I expected to happen. Superhero movies are cheesy. And usually mostly fluff (Superman, Batman case in point), so I was kind of, not so sure but I had to continue as it seemed to be a challenge.

The good and the extremely bad thing about staying up an entire night working an obscure idea you've been told and dictated on the phone while you were probably half-asleep is the fact that you never know know what might happen the next day. Good things or bad things? Usually it's the latter, and that's what I realised the hard way later on.

 
 

I had created a mindset where the movie was supposed to actually be serious but it ended up being quite the opposite, A last-minute change they said. On the day of the submission, I ended up at the team's base where everybody was huddled up in a room - bed and rug, intact. Apparently the idea changed right in the morning during the day of submission. It was now a comedy. Slow clap.

Had to scratch off the entire four tracks I made and create everything from scratch on the spot. It was quite a hard thing to do, as I had no keyboard and MIDI controller, the entire score was created with the pencil tool on a piano roll, as ridiculous as it sounds, doing something like that does give you a new perspective of making music. You don't always need fancy keyboards or equipments. All you need is a vision and a sense of what sounds good what doesn't.

We slaved throughout the day and finished up the entire movie, it was a relief to finish it about a couple of hours before the deadline of submission.

Hopefully, we'll win.

P.S. : Important Update. 'JEP2MAN', The film entry for The 48-Hour Film Project by Celluloid Drapers won three awards.

  • 2nd Runners Up, Best Film
  • Best Sound Design (tie)
  • Audience Award
 
 

Keeping It Classy

Now you see, jazz and action music is all good, but for a score to be really good, you need to have class. You always need something traditional and orchestral (in a subtle way if not all-out every time). There needs to be something heavy just to fill up the giant space of a movie filling up an entire screen. There needs to be character and a sense of epic larger-than-life sound.

That's what I set to achieve when I started to work on what I called 'Moonlight Nocturne I'. It was an entire track on the piano with an orchestral undertone. It was supposed to provide the background for the scene where the protagonist and his love interest are under the moon gazing up at the stars.
 

Things were a little romantic. Nothing expresses romantic better than the classical 'Nocturne'. A song about the night. There was a sense of longing and everlasting love in that song. Something that personally moved me a lot. You need depth in music. There needs to be weight. A sense of something dragging you, when you're watching an intense movie and I believe that was the driving force in this part of the score.

Another track with classical influences in the score was of an intense, ambient nature with the piano being played extremely low, in fact so low there was a certain ring that accompanied it after it went through some customised processing, which even though being purely accidental at first seemed to fit the mood quite perfectly. Otherwise the track didn't have much of anything else except an ambience that reminded me of the claustrophobic feeling one experiences inside an elevator and uncannily reminded me of 'The Shining'.

Time to go on a Stanley Kubrick marathon again. Woooo.

 
 

Dreamscaping

It's been about 13 hours and I've been working straight-up on the next track for the film score. It's a song that deals with the somehow-uneasy experience the protagonist has trying to get some sleep. Something I can quite relate to at the moment.

I needed something central and very traditional in-between all the spooky stuff and beats going on. Something orchestral, and a little dark at the same time. I concocted some string arrangements over a piano piece that I recorded at my home. The layers were, to be frank absolutely ridiculous. There were atleast a thousand different string and orchestral sounds I must have gone through before coming across a few right ones.

I proceeded to arrange them after recording the basses, the violas and cellos followed by other orchestral sounds to create an entire bed of ambience going on underneath the entire orchestral arrangement. Even though the order doesn't seem to matter as much since I just use a keyboard through MIDI to record most of the sounds. But still, I wanted to keep it as traditional as possible.

 
 
 

Since I am composing for a movie, there are times when you realise silence has its own space and it is required, at times to provide space to the film sounds and dialogue. There was once again the itching need to have something dissonant across the domain of the entire song. I decided to use an orchestral bass sound constantly bending upwards and back from the root note, a decision I realised later, would do miles in terms of the kind of sound the entire score would have.

There was of course still the giant question mark on the ending, which even though seemed to be fitting I didn't quite like. But sometimes that's what you have to do when you're working on music. Even though there are times you're not satisfied with things, you learn to live with it owing to time constraints among several other things. That's music. That's life.

 

The music score for the movie 'Inception' by Hans Zimmer is something I always look upto as a benchmark of how grandiose a score should ideally be.

 

Beats and Scares

And we're off to the latter half of the giant 50-minute movie I'm supposed to be scoring. And, well what can I say, It's weird how as soon as you approach the 60-70% completed mark of a score, you find yourself wondering how much more longer it's going to take, especially when you're working on a tight deadline.

Then there's another elementary question, How much of the score should actually have a beat, if any at all? There's like a million questions in my head about the music, but the sad part of it is, I have nobody but myself to answer them for me. And then there's the scary quotient. How much is too scary, how much isn't enough?!

It's in the middle of this entire vortex of chaotic questions and doubts, that I ploughed through another couple of tracks last night for the movie score. They were mostly ambient tracks with not really a lot going for them but nonetheless, I managed to create something decent out of those ideas.

There was more artificial modulation of sounds to make them sound like something else than they were originally. Like door creaks and animal growls being pitch and time-shifted to shit just to make them feel like they were in tempo and scale. Crazy engineering stuff.

 
 
 

And of course sudden orchestral stabs. Stabs. Stabs. Stabs. People dig those sudden stab sounds. when there's a closet opening or a door closing. I live for that scare. Ah, so delightful when you're the one causing it instead of receiving it for a change.

Above: A really scary scene from one of my favourite horror movies 'Drag Me to Hell'. I felt the detail and texture provided to sound-design throughout the movie quite mind-blowing.