Monday, 7 August 2017

Tools, Tools And More Tools!

I can't remember ever really explaining the tools behind the music I create but there are no real secrets behind what I do. But knowing how to play music is pretty much standard. You don't need to be a prodigy and the tools certainly help both at work and helping to inspire.

The DAW I use is Reaper. Incredible value with all the modern assets for the modern producer. I can't afford Pro Tools or the like but I have everything I need with Reaper. Pro Tools is a great tool but extortionately overpriced and Reaper has every thing I possibly need.

A great producer only sounds as good as his samples and that's why I have chosen my libraries VERY carefully. High quality samplers and plugins are usually not cheap:

EastWest Quantum Leap Silk (Caters to my love of Indian and Persian sounds)
EastWest Quantum Leap Gypsy (For that ethnic folk sound - think Violin, Accordians, Dulcimer)

These are my go-to samplers. I have a certain "sound" in my head and I always seem to find it in these.
For the big lush Hollywood sound, I employ:

EastWest Hollywood Strings Gold
Eastwest Hollywood Brass Gold
Eastwest Hollywood Orchestral Percussion Gold
Eastwest Hollywood Woodwinds Gold

The realism in these is at all times absolutely breathtaking and can be upgraded over time as a less costly option when purchasing the licences.

For the more interesting "blockbuster" sounds, I use U-he Zebra. A Synth with incredible capabilities and highly adaptable sounds. Hans Zimmer is a big fan and he uses it in virtually all his later scores such as The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk.

Kontakt Instruments I employ are

SoundIron Apocalypse Ensemble (For a huge drum sound)
SoundIron Mercury (A boys Choir)
SoundIron Olympus (Full Adult Choir)
India (Again a lot of fun ethnic sounds)
Soniccouture Glass Works (Weird and wonderful Glass Instruments)
Waves Factory Mercury (Piano)
Kirnu Cream (A fun arpeggiator)

A pretty modest collection but one that is growing slowly but surely!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

For The Love Of Woodwinds.

The venerable Woodwind section. I've never really used it in my pieces, but I do love listening to them. Especially when they are used well. Media-wise Ennio Morricone and Jerry Goldsmith do them the most justice. It takes a certain talent and subtlety to bring them to the fore (and well) but being I do love a good brass section, I've overlooked them.

Let's be honest, a loud enough brass instrument on it's own could probably demolish and entire orchestra, and seeing as I don't do "subtle" well, it's been a learning curve both writing and producing a piece which utilises two woodwind instruments as the lead. Namely the Oboe and the Flute.

I've actually employed an older piece (Magpies & Rockstars Pt. I) to create this piece and I've kept it true to the original but I've replaced the guitars with Violas & Violins and the two above instruments. I didn't want to copy it exactly as regards melody and the two Woodwinds both compete and harmonise with each other throughout the piece, but never impeding each other. I hope. I through in a restrained trumpet duo just to add a little "ooomph" in the final third. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed producing it. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Opus Pica Pica: An Insight

This piece of music is split into three sections and it is an aural study of the relationship I have with my better half. The first piece was originally written for a film I was in talks to score. This fell through, not through animosity - more so lack of communication. I hope the film makers in question treat those who choose to work with them in a more respectful way than ignoring them completely as they wont be going too far in the industry based on what I've experienced.... Rant Over.

I was thrilled with this piece of music. I was also afraid it would never see the light of day in context to the above. It was written to convey fear, dissolution but ultimately, hope. I realised it was merely a reflection of everyone's journey and it was only the beginning......

My wife is a fantastic muse - so much personality, so much passion. She fuels almost everything I do, musically. So I took the first peace and rejigged it a little bit. This is the first instrumental track in which I've not used any synth sounds to stay true to a more classical sound.

Part I: Ups & Downs. The story of how the road in life is never straight for us or indeed anyone.

Part II: Silver Linings. This is signalled by a playful bass line and grows into a choir led crescendo with flutes and some unexpected glass armonium.

Part III: When We Soar. Violas and Violins duel in opposing but complementary melodies while accompanied by big drum ensembles in stereo which grow in intensity towards the end whilst the glass armonium returns in a more rhythmic, less chaotic fashion this time.

For the curious "Pica Pica" is the latin for the Eurasian Magpie. "Magpie" is a playful name I call my wife for how easily distracted she is. Like a magpie to a shiny object....

Monday, 17 July 2017

Piano musings: "Mercury"

It appears I've been neglecting my blog quite a bit recently.....

I've been up to my ears in work commitments. Alas, retail  is a cruel mistress. But as always - there is plenty of time for music and I finally got around to securing myself a piano simulator. Which is frankly incredible, as the piano is my favourite means of composing! I wanted the best of the best and I researched all possible software before discovering "Mercury" for Kontakt by Waves Factory. It's a HUGE sample factory based on Freddie Mercury's Fazioli piano which he employed at the turn of the 90's before his untimely death. A huge chunk of his work from "Innuendo" and "Made In Heaven" were either composed or performed on this particular piano, which now resides in "Metropolis Studios", London.

I'm frankly blown away by the sound. It is truly remarkable, but due to such a huge amount of sampling it is quite taxing on the CPU so I don't employ all 5 mic positions at once. Nevertheless it sounds phenomenal and I am looking to using it on some of my pieces very soon. For the curious, here's a demo video:

Friday, 19 May 2017

HADES THEME Part I: Through The Valley Of The Kings

The sands of Cairo carry a massive host in the distance, which moves forward - as though sailing through the parched earth. The shape grows bigger and bigger as it approaches the pyramids. The behemoth object ceases to be a mirage and reveals itself through the wavering heatwaves as a gigantic schooner ship, but she is no ordinary schooner....

The ship carries the stench of death on her. Made of burnt black wood and rusting steel, she almost resembles a boat built around a gigantic rib cage. But even more curious, is the way she makes her way through the sands....

Thousands of men, or what once were men, carry the ship on their shoulders. They carry the rot of a thousand years and more on their bodies. Each one guilty of crimes against humanity so great, they were personally selected for this particular task. Rapists, murderers, the treasonous, the dictators. Each one retrieved from the darkest, vilest corners of history.

On the deck, stands a tall dark figure. With the horns and face of a goat, leering into the distance. The schooner is flanked by two horses on either side, carrying ghostly riders. These are named Pestilence, War, Famine and Death. The sun seems to grow dimmer, casting a deep orange glow over the procession.

Back on the deck, the goat figure swings a whip towards a captive man on the boat, contained by huge chains. He screams in pain and spreads a blood spattered pair of wings. The captive is Gabriel, who struggles to his feet, lifts a giant golden horn and blows. The noise is both deafening and terrifying. As the boat nears the city boundary, her name comes into view. It reads "Hades".


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

5 Favourites From Off The Beaten (Sound) Track

Soundtracks. We love 'em! But some soundtracks get a lot more love than others. We all have a soundtrack (or two, or three etc!) that ticks all the right boxes for us but never seems to receive the acclaim we feel it deserves.

Obviously there are some pure classics out there. The most identifiable themes probably belong to John Williams, but I'm just looking at some of the less lauded and potentially, not as well known, that have had a huge influence on me personally.

Number I - "Dances With Wolves" by John Barry. My father took me to see this film when it was released and I fell in love with the story, the imagery and the beautiful music. Here is my personal highlight from the soundtrack:

Number II - "Fright Night" by Brad Fiedel. Rented out on a VHS tape (remember them) way back in the early to mid 90's. Fiedel is generally revered, and rightly so, for his Terminator soundtracks - T1 & T2. But this soundtrack, awash with 80's idiosyncrasies (Fat synths, guitar with a brutally obvious chorus) spoke to me on another level altogether - particularly this piece:

Number III - "Candyman" by Philip Glass. Introduced to this in the early / mid 90's by a good friend of mine who lent me the VHS. I think what appealed to me was that it wasn't a typical horror/slasher soundtrack, it had more of Gothic fairytale vibe to it. My wife bought the vinyl as a Christmas present for me, just gone. Yeah, she's awesome.

Number IV - "The Edge" by Jerry Goldsmith. Ok, so Jerry Goldsmith is immediately synonymous with big budget, sweeping, grandiose soundtracks. Deservedly on a pedestal with Williams, Jarre et al. But I don't think this soundtrack gets half as much love as so many of his others. Bought this on, you guessed it, VHS when it was newly released. Just listen to that from 0.51. It positively soars and takes your soul and breath with it. You can almost touch the Alaskan wilderness....

Number V - "The Last Of The Mohicans" by Trevor Jones. Now funnily enough, the following piece was actually written by Dougie Maclean but is interspersed with the main theme from the film which was written by Trevor Jones. It's a perfect musical marriage. The whole soundtrack is absolutely stunning and well worth snapping up, should you feel so compelled. Nightwish clearly plagiarised the theme for their song "Stargazers". But that's none of my business. (Insert VHS viewing story here)

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Standing Stone.

Quite some time ago, a great friend of mine mentioned the possibility of me composing a short composition to accompany some podcasts he was looking towards producing for his website - THESTANDINGSTONE.IE, Naturally I was intrigued and jumped at the chance. Tom is very passionate about history and to watch him find even the most obscure, tiny, off the beaten path site is akin to watching a child on Christmas morning and it's highly infectious.

I naturally wanted to produce something that he would approve of, so when I asked what "sound" he was looking for, I was informed a "from the mists of time" sound would be sufficient. I know this guy pretty well, so I knew this advice was far from blase. Tom's a musician himself. He'd expect more than a drone and a few pipes. But I was also aware that it might be a good place to start and he generally lets me run wild, musically, when I'm producing something!

I produced a demo and he liked it. Phew! The blueprint was laid. So I set to work on a professional version and it sounded....shit. I tried again, no joy. I couldn't define what was wrong. It just didn't sound right. So I buried it and began my "GUNSLINGER" journey, all the while being tormented by my inability to complete "The Standing Stone".

Coming into Easter is a pretty special time to be Irish, as regards to the 1916 rising and the centenary has awakened a wonderful sense of pride in many Irish people, myself included. The old songs are being played again and have heavily inspired me lately. So I revisited the piece that I'd long promised my old friend and it still sounded....shit! The difference this time was I stuck at it. I added brass - French horns, trumpets - "Sounds promising, Phil". Uilleann pipes..... nope, bad idea - reverse! And then I added the marching snares and bass drum. Finally, it sounded .... grand. He seemed genuinely pleased with the result, though my ears hear all that's wrong. Sure, it'll pass. One day I'll pat myself on the back and say I did a good job. And never compose again!!

Some day soon, it will hopefully accompany one of Dr Nelligan's podcasts - but for now, here it is in all it's glory (or lack of). I give you THE STANDING STONE: