• Bernard A. Kyer

Prime Survival Pt V - Digital Composition...

Updated: May 23, 2020

'Prime Survival' was my first true music project and as such, the learning curve was quite extreme.

As discussed earlier, the program that I started composing with was called "m-audio Sessions." (which would later be purchased by AVID/ Pro Tools) Although I enjoyed many of the sounds/instruments in this program, it had some severe and crippling limitations. -The program could import midi (think digital sheet music) but could not EXPORT midi. So anything written in the program was non-transferable. -The program could record the input of you playing with the digital keyboard but you could not edit this data! You could only re-record it. (see the cuts/layers in the image above) -The final, and perhaps most egregious issue was the high pitched hum introduced to all the recordings. (Think of the sound when you turned on an old tv or a CRT Monitor) I had been able, to some degree, remove it by isolating the sound and doing a phase inversion, but it was never perfect and still not ideal to add another step to the already long process. Further, this sound meant that layering multiple tracks together only INCREASED the ambient hiss, detracting from the value of the music.

For these reasons, I worked to switch to another program by Cakewalk called 'Sonar 8' which cost about $500. This program was exciting because it allowed me to utilize two new libraries I had also purchased called "Quantum Leap Ra" and "Quantum Leap Storm Drum2," both libraries costing an additional $500 each. Produced by EastWest Quantum Leap, I felt these libraries would help set my sound apart from others by its classical approach but with dynamic, human, and percussive sounds. 'RA' was the library I was most in love with! It contained rare instruments from around the world, recorded in various styles and tones to give you the ability to almost fully play the instruments! Having fallen in love with the usage of these instruments in BATTLESTAR GALACTICA by Bear McCreary, and for a time attempting to learn to play the actual Duduk, I felt this unique library would add such an amazing humanity and colour to my compositions. 'StormDrum' on the other side of the spectrum was all about metallic, percussive, modern ambiances. This library could add to the volume of the music space with percussive and metallic sounds, create some fascinating rhythms, all with unique percussion! (Did I mention they recorded using a BRIDGE like a drum?!)

Along with these purchases, and in order to use the programs, you somewhat annoyingly had to purchase something called an iLok for about $30.

The iLok is a USB device which plugs into your computer and contains the license keys for these programs. Without the iLok plugged in, account set up, and licenses installed, the libraries will NOT work. So it was a required purchase.

I realize that all this sounds pretty extravagant but in reality, it is on the cheaper side of things as far as setups go. I tried to get only the required pieces in order to do this. The main program 'Sonar 8' would include its own libraries such as those instruments in a classical orchestra, Ra added all the ethnic world flair a deserted tropical island inhabited by Dinosaurs might need while lending a particularly human sound to its performance, while StormDrum would lend that epic percussive sound needed to scare and excite! I purchased these pretty early in production but had no success in getting them to work on my PC and thus, for a time, was stuck using "m-audio Sessions." With some help, I was able to get them to install and set up on my computer only to learn I still needed to purchase one last thing: a new, low latency sound card. As most computers will have sound built in on the motherboard and some graphics cards as well, needing to purchase a new sound card caught me a bit off guard. To understand why, you have to think about how the programs work. Due to the amount of data being processed live as you perform it, along with the amount of data being processed to play back any other instruments recorded, there was the possibility of creating something called "latency" or "delay." This delay means that as your piece becomes more and more complicated, the chances for you and the piece to become out of sync grow.

Put another way: the computer needs to process all the data from all the instruments you've already recorded/performed when it just plays them back. But if you're recording something, it now must, in real-time, play back what you're already recorded, what you're currently recording, and the two must sync or you as the performer may slow down/speed up depending on what your perception of that delay is. A low latency sound card ensures that all this data is kept in sync. It seems like it could be a small issue but as the amount of instruments, the size of the libraries, the quality of the voices, and the complexity of the compositions grow, it quickly showed why it was required. With this set up I composed some of the next early music for the project such as for 'Scene 9' ('The Empty Beach' scene when the boys return to the ship the first time and cannot find the Uncle who brought them there) and for the Official Trailer.

Comparing the Trailer music and 'The Empty Beach' (Scene 9), you can hear that both utilize very much the same musical ideas. This helped as the scene had not been whittled down to its final cut or even all the takes been decided on. I was able to explore the idea in both scoring this extended version of the scene and in the Trailer. (This is why the track ' The Empty Beach' is so much longer than the final scene. It also sometimes repeats material as an alternate take of a shot got repeated)

In spite of all this and after all of this, the final decision was made to move music production from my PC (which was still being somewhat problematic) to a macbook pro. This change would, unfortunately, mean no longer using 'Sonar 8,' instead switching to the very same composition program I use today: Logic Pro.

Switching to 'Logic Pro' solved so many of the issues I faced with other programs. For one it had the functionality of importing and exporting midi so music could be transferred from old composition programs such as 'Finale' / 'Cakewalk' but also transferred from 'Sonar 8.' My two libraries were also easily integrated along with tons more--not to mention the factory libraries included. The iLok, as before, had to remain plugged in but this was no real major issue. Lastly, due to apple's commitment to the arts and creative projects, Logic was designed along with the apple products like macbooks and imacs to run low latency sound through its own sound card.

Composing the score then truly began in earnest.

continued on Pt VI...

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