Telemann, one of the greatest composers to have ever lived and the inspiration for my composition, “Telechamber”.
There is an old saying that goes “Give someone a fish and they will eat for a day, teach them HOW to fish and they will eat for the rest of their life”. In terms of composition this is also true, we learn from our predecessors and peers to hone our skills and with the knowledge passed on, we have a nice “meal” and don’t go “hungry”. With this in mind I would like to share how I have composed the piece Telechamber, to give insight to my methods and so we can all sit at the table of composition and feast together!
Here is the piece, have a quick listen and then I will go into the details of how I created it.
The first thing to do is figure out our ensemble. Georg Philipp Telemann was born in 1681 and was an active composer in the Baroque period, so to make the sound of this time, we must use the instruments that were readily available.
For Telechamber I have used the following instrumentation,
- Tenor Recorder
- Soprano Recorder
- Piccolo Recorder
- Organ (Floeten)
Setting up Pro Tools
You want to follow industry guidelines and make sure your session always has the correct layout and all parts are named and labeled. This isn’t just for looking professional, it is a workflow that allows us to develop complex pieces without the session becoming confusing later on. I have described a routing method of Chrissy Tignor Fisher in a previous blog and if you would like to learn more about it then please CLICK THIS LINK. The method that Chrissy was so humble to share with us is a reflection of the “teach someone to fish” sentiment that I have mentioned earlier in this blog. In the last month of using this method I have seen incredible results and without this routing method I would have not been able to arrange Holst’s “Mars the Bringer of War” for MIDI orchestra.
You will notice in the picture above that I have routed the MIDI to pass through Kontakt and into their corresponding audio tracks. For now, don’t worry about the MIXDOWN and PRINT tracks, they are for the mastered version to send out of Pro Tools and I will talk about them in more detail later in this blog.
Another thing to be aware of when setting up your session is to arrange the instruments as they would be found in a musical score. The conventions for instrument layout in scores are standardised and you will find that the instruments are arranged in a logical manner, broken down into mini-ensembles or families of instruments and within those families, the instruments ascend from lowest in pitch to highest in pitch. To add to this, the standard for an ensemble of this nature would be to arrange the string family at the bottom of the score, the keyboard instruments above the strings and the recorder family at the top of the score. If we were to have brass in this ensemble then they would fit in between the recorders and keyboards, and if percussion were present, then it would be located underneath the brass. Laying out the instruments in this way means that people who are new to the session can quickly locate the various instruments, without confusion.
To simplify, this is the standard layout of an orchestra when reading from a score;
- Strings (Keyboards included with strings and always above them)
We now have our session laid out and are ready to make some music! Because I have used a baroque ensemble and my inspiration was from Telemann, it makes sense to use musical techniques and harmonies that were common in that time. One of the main techniques of the baroque period was the use Polyphony and if we break the word down then all is revealed.
- Poly (Many)
- Phone (Sound)
- Polyphonia (Many Sounds)
The greek word “Polyphonia” became adopted into the English language and by the early 19th Century it became the word we know today as “Polyphony”. Today, we use the word to describe the interplay of musical voices conversing simultaneously. A good technique to write polyphonic music is the canon, where one voice plays a melody and another voice plays the same melody, starting at a different time. The result is very effective and I’m sure many of you remember singing Frere Jacques as a child, one person would start to sing; Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques, Dormez-Vous….when one would hit “Dormez-Vous” then the next person would join in singing the song from the start. This is an example of canon in a very simple form.
Telchamber starts with a canon and then moves into imitation, here is a breakdown of the music.
The soprano recorder enters four bars after the tenor and is an exact copy until the piccolo enters.
The piccolo enters and uses the same rhythmic motif as the tenor and soprano, then starts a new melody.
We put the parts together and we have some sweet polyphony!
With polyphony, you want each individual line to be its own melody that is interesting when played in isolation and also work when played with the group. I like to think of it as musical bird-song, the different animals chirping together to make the soundscape.
The three lines you have heard with the recorders is the musical content in the piece and the strings and keyboards just double up to add to the effect.
Style of Playing
The notes are taken care of, now we need to make it sound like an authentic ensemble. In the baroque days, techniques like vibrato were used sparingly and as an ornament only. This has been a subject of debate amongst music scholars and when playing in the modern-day, we tend to saturate everything with vibrato (try not to use vibrato when playing violin, it is actually very hard and takes a lot of concentration!). Because I love playing music in an authentic manner I have tried to find a setting in Session Strings Pro that sounds like the player is not playing with vibrato, the closest I could find is the setting “Portamento” which is an indicator for the performer to play closer to the bridge of their instrument (strings).
Funnily enough the portamento setting sounds more like gut-strings, which were used in the baroque era. Gut-strings are the first thing a player of period-instruments will tell you to use to get an authentic sound and this is because the tone of gut is very different to the tone of modern metal strings.
So we have the sound for our strings, now we need to make the MIDI sequenced tracks perform like a baroque player. When playing early music, it is common to use shorter notes than actually written. For example, if we were to read a half-note (2 beats, 4/4 time) then you would actually play something closer to a dotted quarter-note (1.5 beats). This separation gives the music lilt and adds definition to the music. As well as playing the notes shorter than written, the use of a “bouncing-bow” on short notes or repeated phrases adds to the style of playing. To match this to the music I have written and to make the MIDI sequence and sampler perform as it were a cyber-baroque performer, I have used keyswitches and shortened every note.
Notice in the MIDI sequence the are notes on E1 and F1, (we know that those notes are outside of the violins range) they are sequenced to trigger the keyswitches. You can assign the keyswitches to trigger any effect you need (and that you have available) wherever you choose.
Listen to how the keyswitches and separation give life to performance, although it doesn’t sound exactly like a real performer, it is a great deal better than just letting the MIDI belt it out like a computer (poor little guy just does what it is programmed to! lol). Thanks for staying with me if you have made it this far, we have one more topic to cover then we can part ways until next time!
Printing and Mastering
Once the track is complete (musically) and is mixed, it is time to print off a mastered version. Many people like to master the track afterwards in a separate session but I thought for this one I would master as I go! Remember the MIXDOWN and PRINT tracks I mentioned earlier? Now is their time to shine. For this example I have output all of the audio tracks to an aux track called MIXDOWN and inserted a Maxim limiter on it. The ceiling of the Maxim is set to -0.3dB and the Threshold is set at -6.7dB, this pushes the audio to make it louder and prouder and makes it sit at a level that really grabs your attention. Next I have output the MIXDOWN track to the PRINT track and hit the record button. As the song plays through, Pro Tools records the mastered version onto the PRINT track and you are left with a .wav at the same sample rate as the session. Instead of Bouncing the PRINT track, Export it! That is the purpose of the PRINT track, to save us from the dreaded bounce! Bouncing vs. Printing is a topic that is outside the scope of todays blog but I highly recommend doing some research into it.
Here is a quick recap on what we have covered today;
- Setting up Pro Tools to Industry Standard
- Musical Techniques
- Style of Playing
- Printing and Mastering
I will leave you with another listen to the complete song now and while listening try to listen out for all of the elements were covered in today’s blog.
I am learning all the time and the process is all about sharing. If you give someone a composition, they will listen for a day, teach them how to compose and they will have music for the rest of their life!
Thanks for reading and see you soon! 🙂