Tag Archives: world music

Movie Mumble Theme: Hybrid

From August of 2017 through all of 2018 I had composed/arranged custom themes for the Movie Mumble podcast (hosted by Nerds That Geek). Since January of 2019 I’ve been using an orchestral version of the theme (Movie Mumble Theme: Orchestra) for almost all of the episodes. Now that it’s been four years, I figured that it was time to write a new version of the theme. I wanted to incorporate my influences and personal style preferences, as well as utilize what I had learned at Berklee in my Film Scoring Masters program.

I used elements rock music, percussion ensemble, orchestral music, world music, and electronic music. For “rock music” I used distorted electric guitar, bass guitar, and drum set. For “orchestral music” I used low woodwinds, horns, low brass, timpani, tam-tam, choir, and strings. For “world music” I used wind instruments (zurna, xiao, ney, duduk, and didgeridoo), tanpura, and various percussion instruments (from India, the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia). For “electronic music” I used a bass synth with an arpeggiator and wavetable synthesis.

Movie Mumble Theme: Hybrid can be heard for the first time in this month’s episode (January 2023).

Berklee Online, Summer Semester, Final Projects

These next two tracks were the final projects from my Berklee Online Summer Semester.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Fight Scene was the final project in Synthesis, Sampling, and Sound Design in Film Scoring to score a three-minute film clip. Previously I’ve only done action scenes with orchestral instruments (and on those I’m probably guilty of Mickey Mousing), so I wanted to score an action scene with intense electronic sounds that is relentless (as opposed to having an orchestra hit on every punch). All of the percussion sounds and most of the synthesized sounds I used in my score are samples from the clip. For the Winter Soldier, the synth rhythm and percussion groove are based on a paradiddle (RLRR LRLL) which is reflected in the sound choices as well as the panning (his robotic left arm is stronger and metallic, so the right-hand part is a sample of him punching Captain America with his human hand, panned to the right and the left-hand part is samples of two different “metallic punch” sounds panned to the left). I also used filter cutoff automation to lighten and darken the sounds as he moves around (also at one point both sounds go to a higher octave). Black Widow’s percussion sounds are made up of the two footsteps she takes as she is running up to him, the sound of her kicking, and the fast repeated notes are the sound of the little disc that she throws on his arm. I used a reversed sample of the sound of the shield being punched to lead up to the actual sound in the clip. Captain America’s rhythm was made from different sounds made by the shield. When their fight starts, I panned of all Winter Soldier’s rhythms to the left, and put Captain America’s on the right so there was a clear separation of those two parts. I added chords on the right with my “distorted guitar sound” that I used in a previous lesson, and I added a bass line on the left. I kept the music mostly going relentlessly except for a few key moments where I stopped, and every time I did, I used automation to bring all of the filter cutoffs down and slowly bring them back in leading into the next downbeat. Since there was some music in the clip that I had to work around (sections with three slow bass drum hits, a whailing sound when Winter Soldier jumps up onto a car, a big BRAAAAAM as Captain America is running up, some soft staccato strings during the fight, and something like a zurna during the fight), I brought down the original volume of the clip, so that all you can hear is my music, except for a few key sound design moments that I was consciously working around as I was scoring (The explosion at the very beginning, Winter Soldier cocking his gun, Black Widow’s decoy phone conversation-the explosion-Black Widow running up to Winter Soldier, Winter Soldier firing his gun as his arm is temporarily deactivated-pulling the disk off-reactivating his arm, Black Widow getting shot, Winter Soldier punching Captain America’s shield, Winter Soldier punching the ground, Winter Soldier’s knife cutting through the side of the van, the shield hitting Winter Soldier’s arm, Winter Soldier hitting the ground after Captain America throws him).

Iranian Scenario was the final project in Stylistic Adaptations in Film Scoring to score a scene that takes place in a country of our choice. Once we chose a country, we had to research the native music of that country in order to incorporate it into our cue. I wanted to use a mix of Persian and Western instruments because it takes place in Iran but the main character is a Western woman who works in the American Embassy.

This movie takes place in Tehran just before the 1979 revolution.
0:00: MX in on a LS of a Western woman walking down a busy city street.  She doesn’t look totally out of place, but she doesn’t look like she belongs.
0:21: She goes through the gate of the American Embassy, which is guarded by two Marines in dress uniform.
0:27: She sits at her desk and looks deep in thought. She is obviously either a diplomat or an intelligence operative.
0:36: We hear the sound of a large angry crowd chanting what are apparently anti-American slogans.
0:41: CUT to the crowd.
0:49: The woman rushes out of her office and goes out a side entrance to a back street. She runs down the street avoiding the crowd and…
1:05: enters a local coffee shop (think hookahs) and meets a man wearing traditional Arab robes. He is agitated, but glad to see her, and they have an intense conversation.  During the course of this conversation…
1:19: his robe opens slightly to reveal a 9mm Beretta in a holster.
1:26: They leave the coffeeshop and go hurrying down the street away from the mob.
1:33: Dissolve to sunrise over the mountains in Northern Iran, and the woman and the man are looking out over a deserted valley.
1:44: MX OUT.

Berklee Online, Summer Semester, Week 5

These next three tracks were from my Berklee Online Summer Semester, Week 5.

Dancing Bells was the culmination of two exercises in Synthesis, Sampling, and Sound Design in Film Scoring using FM synthesis. The first exercise was to “Use your FM synth to create four different sounds from scratch … make sure each of the four sounds are unique … be as creative as you can … make them sound like something you’ve never heard before!” The next exercise was to “… create one of each of … a bass and a bell sound … spend time crafting each sound … create an eight-bar composition using the two sounds.” I focused mostly on the algorithm and a little bit on the frequency ratios.

Blade Runner Inspired was the assignment in Synthesis, Sampling, and Sound Design in Film Scoring to “Find a still image from the film Blade Runner online to use as an inspiration … create your own synth soundscape in the style of Vangelis that is one minute long … use at least three FM synth sounds as well as effects processing, such as reverb, delay, and chorus … try to depict the mood of the Blade Runner image with your music … avoid presets, and instead, create your own sounds from scratch.” I used a lush evolving pad for the cityscape in general, a bass patch that would pulse from left to right to represent passing police cars, high tinkling bells to represent the bright neon lights, and a lead for Deckard. For the bass I wanted something fat but also with some edge to it so that when it fades in it’ll add the bottom that’s been missing, but also cut through the mix. For the bells I wanted something that was bright with some shimmer, but not too piercing. I also turned the arpeggio into four separate tracks and panned them so that as the arpeggio ascends, it moves from left to right. When I was working on my pad sound, I stumbled upon a configuration that sounded like a synthesized saxophone, which I though would work perfectly for the noire vibe, so I changed gears and tried to get it as close to a real saxophone as I could (trying to simulate an instrument that needs a flow of air to start make a sound). I spent the most amount of time on my pad with three different LFOs and reverb, phaser, flanger, chorus, and delay, all at slightly different speeds so that it would slowly evolve very randomly. I used a very slow 12 bar blues for my form since I thought it would also work well for the noire vibe.

Indian Scenario was the assignment (begun in Week 3) in Stylistic Adaptations in Film Scoring to “Research the construction of Bhairav raga … write an original melody of about 30 seconds in length based on this raga … write a cue using the raga melody you composed for the previous lesson …  create a draft, and then I will give feedback; and the following week you will submit your final version, incorporating my feedback … I am providing a written-out description of a scene, with timings … construct a cue that is a hybrid of Indian and Western instruments.” Here is the list of scene descriptions with timings:

0:00: MX IN on a series of shots of Calcutta (this movie takes place in contemporary times). These will include shots of slums, wealthy areas, and religious shrines.
0:22: CUT to a small room in a home where several people are sitting and praying in front of an altar of Lord Ganesh.
0:31: the camera settles on a young man – this is Ram.
0:43: CUT to the narrow street outside as Ram is saying goodbye to his family.
0:50: Ram gets in to the car and drives away, turning around from the back seat to wave.
1:02: DISSOLVE to Ram in the back of a taxi driving across the Triboro Bridge into New York City. He is pensive, but here is a lot of motion in the camera work; kids playing in the street, people walking, people talking outside shops, etc.
1:18: the car pulls up to a fancy brownstone on the Upper East Side.
1:26: Ram sits in the car and looks up at a security camera mounted by the door. He gets out of the car and at…
1:37: the door is opened by a large, threatening looking Indian man wearing pleated slacks and a tight golf shirt.
1:43: the man frisks Ram.
1:51: Ram walks into a very modern techno looking office where a young, educated-looking and upper-class thirty-something Indian man sits behind a desk. This man is very slick and really clearly sleazy in a well-dressed way. They shake hands and then embrace, and…
2:14: MX OUT as Ram settles into a chair and they begin to talk.

Expanding My Tone Color Voice

These next three tracks were from my Berklee Online Winter Semester, Week 7 in Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring.

Orchestra/Rock Hybrid was an exercise to “…compose a short phrase that combines orchestral and popular music instrumentation. You may combine orchestral and pop elements in any way that is musically interesting to you.” I combined bass guitar and drum set with strings and brass, and had the strings and brass play power chords in place of an electric guitar.

Orchestra/Ethnic Hybrid was an exercise to “… compose a short phrase that combines a world or historical instrument with the orchestra. You may combine orchestral and world/historical elements in any way that is musically interesting to you.” I used a Middle Eastern Zurna as the melodic instrument and accompanied it with sustained strings, concert toms, and concert bass drum. I used the scale C Db E F G Ab B and came up with a bass line for the strings to play, then improvised with that scale for the Zurna part. I also experimented with using extra reverb to try to counteract its very nasal sound.

Orchestra/Rock/Ethnic Hybrid was the end-of-the-week assignment to “…write a one-minute piece using an instrument or tone color idea you’ve never used before. You may use common or rare instruments, acoustic or software sounds.” I continued with the concepts that I experimented with in the two exercises this week: combining rock/pop instruments with orchestral instruments, and combining world instruments with orchestral instruments. I used a combination of all three, and while I was combining things, I thought it might be interesting to use 12 Bar Blues as my form. For rock/pop instruments, I used electric bass and drums again. For orchestral instruments I used strings, and had the low strings play a pad, while the violins played a melody in octaves. For world instruments, I used the Indian Tanpura, the Middle Eastern Zurna, and a Middle Eastern Darbouka. I also used a vocal synth sound in the C section. The drum set has such a wide range of colors between bass, snare, toms, and cymbals, and there is such a punch to it that you don’t get from orchestral percussion. Similarly with electric bass, you get a nice percussive attack that cuts through (especially in the higher register) in a way that string bass doesn’t. I didn’t want this to sound like pop music or a chamber ensemble, so the strings give warmth and a roundness, and also make the track sound bigger. The Tanpura has a buzzing, sustained sound, with a fuzzy attack, so there is only a vague sense of rhythm, all of which creates a meditative bed underneath everything else. The Darbouka has a nice high pop sound which makes it work well with, and stand out against the drum set. It functions the way bongos might, but with a more unfamiliar sound because it isn’t used as often as bongos are. The Zurna comes in for the C section and final A section, and it cuts through everything with its intense nasal timbre. Once again, I used a huge wash of reverb on it to try to give it a less abrasive sound. In the last A section it is playing in unison/octaves with the violins, which also warms the timbre.