Kensuguro: I think I end up doing large mixes. Not hundreds of tracks, but more like they just don't fit in my screen. So that's probably like 20-30 tracks. I'm also fully native now.

One of the things that tax the system is the amp modeling. I put in pre-amped for every track or bus, since I'm a huge fan of the sound and its anti aliasing. It probably can be done by other means, I know I was doing it differently back in Scope. I also occasionally use console emulators like sknote's strip/bus just to get a different kind of sound. Those types of things (that affect every single track) are very un-scalable, and stress the system.

I think with bigger mixes, I tend to just group them into buses or groups and deal with them in groups. Bus comps, and reverb routing at the bus level. Sometimes I consciously use different reverbs for different buses to enhance intelligibility or to make things stand. That's especially true for strings, since their entire chain needs to be tuned just right to get a particular sound, and that's usually not compatible with everything else in the mix. I think this stuff is fairly common practice though, regardless of size of the mix.

With full orchestral mixes, (which I'm in the middle of) I tend to just set one up and use it throughout a project. I'd do like a pilot / theme sort of piece to kick start the process, and whatever base setup come from that, I just use for the subsequent pieces, adding as needed. It helps keep sonic continuity throughout and less things to worry about. Once I've established a particular strings sound, and brass section sound, I just stick with it to the end. (I don't use woodwinds because that's one more thing to think about) Percussion is where you can be a bit more creative since for me, it's a cross between maintaining sonic/spatial consistency and sound design. The "template" then gets reused as a starting point over and over. I do that for games, theater pieces, and any other suite that needs sonic continuity. Not all tracks get used all the time, but the tracks pile up quickly and before long, you end up with a 40 track project that's half empty. I think that's very common.

Orchestral libraries. I tend to not like worrying about libraries too much. I use Synful orchestra for strings, a whole bunch of instances of Sample modeling's trumpet, trombones, and horns for brass, and percussion from Yellowtool's Independence. I recently added Cinematic Strings to the arsenal and I'm using it as the strings section for the current project. I also use a bit of EWQLS to work. For me, rather than a patchwork of bits and pieces of articulations, I'm more concerned with the overall phrasing and flow of the passage. So those are the types of parts I write. I also need the instrument to be inherently playable, so I can get a good performance out of it, rather than spend time cutting and pasting MIDI dots all over the place. I can't really get a good 'feel' that way, and get very aggravated. Of course you do need a minimal set of articulations and layering to create a convincing performance but beyond that I think it's all just bells and whistles. If you don't have a Bartok pizzicato articulation but wrote a piece that revolved around it then you've made a very poor choice as a professional. If your entire career hinges on flutter tongue flutes you may want to rethink your career plan. Good writing is good writing. Develop that and you shouldn't need all the bells and whistles. I'd say whether it's mixing or composing a piece with many moving parts, the most important thing is to have a system for managing all those parts. An orchestra has many people, but they form distinctive groups that each accomplish very specific goals. This strategic use of grouping / regrouping becomes more and more important the more things you have going on. The end result shouldn't be the showcase of just how many tracks you've got going on. (unless that is the point) In the end everything should organically meld together to form 1 result, your composition. Long time ago, I asked a friend of mine to add more parts to a seed of a composition I started, and he goes 'I can't add to this. All the parts are interlocked and I can't take it apart'. I took that as a huge compliment and still to this day strive to write music that is so tightly locked that it comes as one huge clump.


SilverScoper: Your arrangements are tight Ken, so your friend would need to rip out a lot to allow addition, then it can morph too much. You can do what I've done - swap composing - send him one track - he adds another and sends it back and so forth. What tends to happen though is after 3 or 4 swaps one dude takes control and finishes it of so the other dude does likewise and you end up with 2 totally different tracks. EWQL is an awesome tool but I'm with Dante - too much happening at lower end now. You can subscribe to 7 EWQL libraries for like $30 a month - but you gotta commit to a year which is like $360 !! Prefer to jump on ProjectSAM RE once they fix the artifacts. As for big mixes, 60 not unusual doing soundtrack stuff with EWQL but now doing mainly EDM I would be lucky to tip 30.


Kensuguro: I do think the quality of symphonic libraries is increasing at an astounding pace, and the price is dropping faster than ever. I think that if the quality ones become more accessible, it will provide more people with tools to dig deeper and explore compositional skills. The libraries that come with more or less canned orchestrations I think are detrimental, but still may serve as a good way to learn. Any orchestral lib, beyond a certain quality bar will press the composer to write more critically and efficiently (in a musical sense), which I think is a great challenge, and an opportunity to grow.

I mean, try getting a basic set of string ensembles with just good legato. Never mind solo strings or first chairs, exotic articulations or anything like that. Just with legato and volume (mod cross-fade layers or whatever) and see how much color you can create out of the harmony and phrasing. Not just high or low tension but the full gradient in between. Being able to practice just that, can be an eye opener that reaps benefits that can be applied to other sections, or even non orchestral music. Compared to when EWQLSO or VSL were the only believable strings choices, the selection nowadays are plenty and much cheaper. Results are par if not better than where things were back then. So I think that sort of change will have sweeping positive effect on how people write music. I think when one is able to write properly, then what he seeks from the libraries will become more defined, making the range of tonalities offered by the different (more expensive) libraries more meaningful. A go to strings lib is a must for a starting point I think. If you can't write for strings section, I think it'd be hard to write for any other section.

The only regret is that movie scores, which are held as the holy grail for these libraries, seem to be declining in quality and integrity at an increasing rate. Not so much the production, but the musical content. I don't think it will be long before for 90% of the scores, you would not be able to tell one from the other. I don't think the stylistic change is quite as bad as the homogenization of musical content... It's hard to say whether the vocabulary is shrinking, or if I'm just becoming tired of the limited vocabulary. Of course, I don't work in that field so I can't criticize from first hand experience but I do think a very concrete change is happening in that field.
  There are others at PlanetZ that do big arrangements. I know Nestor does and Braincell has done arrangements with choirs or something. Don't know if Paul's still around but Paul Martin does some insanely humongous arrangements. I also think Jimmy (aka Dawman) plays a few hundred tracks live for his gigs (hence his DARPA worthy rig).

Another sobering reminder from work. I get applications from younger composers that have the right tools and the production knowledge that produce things that sound 'like' huge epic orchestral scores. To be honest, I don't think I do. I don't think I make my stuff sound like a movie. There's a particular epic sound I like and I just make that. Ideally it's not the bread and butter Hollywood sound because that's just plain ass boring. But anyway for most of the applicants the notes are not right. I won't be the one to red pen in all the music theory mistakes people make but I'm a strong supporter of proper voice leading and clever inner voice motion. That stuff is the ingredients of an orchestral arrangement that sings and soars. Without it the piece won't hold together much less stir up any emotion in the listener. It's not the library man, the NOTES have to be right for the section to sound right and the whole orchestra to sound right.

It's one area where I feel formal education does have its benefits. I hated voice leading classes. I actually just wrote some bullshit tune that took all the easiest harmonic structures that required very simple resolutions and flew past the class. It wasn't until I started arranging for voice (harmony) that I had to really sit down and try to figure out how to apply the knowledge. Then through arranging for voice, horn section, strings section, then the orchestra the skill slowly matured. I can't say it's at a satisfactory level yet, and still am learning... but I'm really glad I took the 2 voice leading classes and 1 counterpoint class and had the professor constantly laugh at me saying 'Your stuff sounds like it's all fine, but your technique is all about deception. You should really learn this stuff so you don't have to learn extra technique to deceive'. Well, I'll hand it to professor Toru Iwatake, he was goddamn right.

I do think there is a difference between the process of skill acquisition (studying) and the process of application, and then later on the process of expert application. The way I understand it, it is the degree in which a particular skill requires conscious manipulation and monitoring. Much like how we relate 'riding a bicycle' to muscle memory and other subconscious motor control, skills and their building blocks get grouped, and move from the conscious realm (while acquisition), to the subconscious realm. (at expert level). And so as you delve deeper and deeper into the art of composition the building blocks (harmony, structure, modulations, counterpoint, etc) become less and less the focal point of the task and make way for the focus on other topics such as emotions, marketability, production priorities, etc. Basically once higher concepts have been decided on the lower level actions are more or less automatic or can be done with minimal conscious effort. This is also similar in the conceptual realm where once we have learned the building blocks of arithmetic, we are able to manipulate the concept of arithmetic as a chunk, rather than working at the atomic level of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and their order of operation every time the topic is brought up. This 'chunking up' was what I was taught as an aspect of cognitive science. Although that was some 15 years ago, and judging from how fast the field was developing at the time, new findings may have already changed this paradigm.

That process may be expressed as 'forgetting', but to me, not in so much a literal sense, as in loss of the skill, but more so in shift from conscious into the subconscious. Of course understanding that this is going far beyond the original topic. Still very interesting.

Kensuguro 2015