Programmed classical and film music demands convincing use of sample-based instruments. But how do you achieve this? Our engineer explains, as he takes on this month's remix...
The files listed on this page accompany the Mix Rescue in SOS March 2012.
Here's a section of the final remix, with both the reverbs in place: a shorter early reflections patch from Lexicon's Pantheon II plug-in and a longer hall-style tail from Univeral Audio's Realverb Pro reverb plug-in, running on the UAD2 DSP platform.
For this audio example I've soloed the effect-return channel for the early reflections reverb, as provided by the Ambience algorithm in Lexicon's Pantheon II plug-in. I added a few milliseconds of pre-delay to avoid distancing the parts too much, and also pulled the high damping frequency down an octave to 4kHz to make the reverb a little more understated, even when applied at comparatively high levels. As you can hear, this effect provides a clear sense of space, but without leaving an obvious decay trail behind it. You'll also notice that it's applied to almost everything in the mix, blending everything together into a more cohesive whole.
This is the same musical section as you heard in the Verb00_FullMix file, but with the early-reflections effect showcased in the Verb01_AmbienceSolo file bypassed. The difference is quite subtle, but it should be audible that the instruments don't now blend together nearly as well, despite the common longer reverb.
Now I've soloed the effect return of the Universal Audio Realverb Pro plug-in's longer hall reverb patch. This was based on a 'Wooden Hall' preset, which I lengthened to give a larger sense of size to the simulated dimensions. Again, this reverb was applied to almost everything in the mix, as you can hear.
Here's a version of Verb00_FullMix without the longer 'Wooden Hall' reverb (from Universal Audio's Realverb Pro). You'll notice that the drier and more dimensionless presentation robs it of a lot realism, as well as reducing the warmth and expansiveness of the production as a whole.
So you can get a sense of the impact the two reverb effects in this remix made on the overall production sound, I've bypassed them both for this audio example. Compare this side-by-side with Verb00_FullMix within your DAW system to throw the differences into sharpest relief.
The horn part you can hear in this file is the one originally provided by Kayle using the VSL instruments in Native Instruments Kontakt 4 (albeit with a dose of both my remix reverbs). It demonstrates a number of the concerns I had with Kayle's MIDI programming. Firstly, the velocity shaping is quite lumpy, as you can hear from the sudden and unmusical intensity increases at 0:04-0:07, 0:12, and 0:23; and secondly, the abrupt gaps in the phrase at 0:13 and 0:22 combine with the non-legato note-transitions elsewhere to further undermine the musicality of the phrasing.
This is the new part I programmed to replace the one of Kayle's you can hear in the Horns01_OldSustain example file. I also used a VSL patch in Native Instruments Kontakt, but rather than using the standard 'sustain' instruments, I chose the special 'legato' articulations instead, and then overlapped the MIDI notes to provide much smoother and more musical phrasing. A little MIDI velocity shaping here and there helped keep the tone and level comparatively smooth, and I also ended up layering in a little of Kayle's original part for the final remix to retain some of the sharper edge of the sound he'd chosen.
This is the climactic section of the final remix, including all the added layers I used to fill out the texture and reinforce the rhythmic impetus: cello, trombone, and harp pads; a solo flute doubling; some rhythmic trombone and horn stabs; and a variety of percussion. The following example files spotlight each of these individual layers so that you can hear properly what they're contributing, given that they're quite hard to isolate within the full tutti orchestral texture.
For this demonstration I've soloed three pad-like elements I added using sounds from Native Instruments Kontakt 3. The simplest of these is a trombone line I programmed to follow the main bass part, with some programmed swells to help provide a little added momentum into the end of each four-bar phrase. On top of this I created some divisi cello chords to thicken the lower midrange and generally warm things up. The Harp part fulfils a similar role to that of the cellos, except that its ostinato also helps improve the rhythmic drive of the arrangement a little.
This example omits the pad layers in the Stuffing01_CelloTrombHarpSolo file from the full remix sound. If you compare it with the Stuffing00_FullMix file, you'll hear how these ingredients are surprisingly important to the fullness of the final texture, even though each of them is scarcely audible in its own right as a distinct part in the arrangement.
I used a legato VSL flute patch from Native Instruments Kontakt 3 to bolster a number of sections of Kayle's composition, including the climactic themes you can hear in Stuffing00_FullMix. I've soloed this track for you in this audio example, so you can hear exactly what it's doing, because it's movements are almost indetectible once it's mixed in with all the other orchestral instruments.
If you compare this file with Stuffing00_FullMix, you can hear the difference made by the solo flute showcased in Stuffing03_FluteSolo. Notice in particular how the second statement of the main tune at 0:14 sounds fuller and smoother in Stuffing00_FullMix, even though it still comes across as a trumpet solo. It's only when you take the flute away that you realise how much it's supporting the apparent trumpet tone.
I added a variety of additional percussion to Kayle's arrangement, to bring it more into line with the kind of orchestral sound he said he liked -- scores by Danny Elfman and Thomas Newman, for instance. In this file I've soloed the percussion parts from Stuffing00_FullMix so that you can hear them more clearly. There are hits/rolls on timpani, bass drum, suspended cymbals, and snare drums, as well as the rhythmic twinkling of a glockenspiel for the second interation of the theme. All these sounds came from VIR2's Elite Orchestral Percussion library, running in Native Instruments Kontakt 3, and were supported with a low-level march-style rhythmic loop from Big Fish Audio's Symphonic Manoeuvres 2. While the parts could still be refined further, they already make an enormous difference to the sense of drama and excitement during the score.
All my added percussion parts have been muted for this audio example, so if you compare it with Stuffing00_FullMix you can get a good idea of how important these elements were to the final remix presentation.
To further enhance the march-like flavour of his composition's final section, I programmed a new part comprising rhythmic stabs from the trombones and horns, which you can hear soloed in this audio example. Although the stabs are designed to sound loudly played, I nonetheless spent a good while shaping the MIDI velocity data triggering them to get a bit of musicality out of them, and was also careful to adjust note durations carefully. I also applied more reverb to these parts than to most of the others, to push them a bit further into the background, so that they wouldn't be too distracting from the more important melodic parts.
Here's what the Stuffing00_FullMix file would have sounded like had I muted the rhythmic trombones/horns of the Stuffing07_BrassStabsSolo example. Although again these parts don't seem that audible, they nonetheless transform the sense of urgency of the arrangement as a whole for these climactic moments.
As a final demonstration, here's what Stuffing00_FullMix would have sounded like without any of the added arrangement layers showcased in the intervening example files.
This is the original mix Kayle Clements sent in of his track 'Marty's Song', which he'd put together using Audiobro's LA Scoring Strings, Garritan's Steinway, and the VSL instruments bundled with Native Instruments Kontakt 4.
Here's my final remix of Kayle's composition, carried out in Cockos Reaper using a variety of additional parts programmed using VIR2's Elite Orchestral Percussion, Big Fish Audio's Symphonic Manoeuvres 2, and the Vienna Symphonic Library instruments bundled with Native Instruments Kontakt 3.