Hi everybody! An exciting new project is happening next week, featuring my composition, Precipice from the Dyadic OST. I will be hosting a series of workshops at local high schools in the Gold Coast region on what it takes to become a composer for games, demonstrating the tools used to create the music, how to collaborate with other disciplines and the most fun part of all…conducting a String Orchestra arrangement of Precipice, giving the students an opportunity to perform some music from the Handsome Dragon game, Dyadic.
Precipice was originally composed for the “Dyadic Ensemble”, an eclectic gathering of world instruments including Shakuhachi, Kora, Kalimba, Cello, Piano, Alto Choir, Synthesiser, Strings and Wooden Pipe-Organ. To arrange the piece for a High School String Orchestra, several alterations were made, from the obvious like instrumentation, to the not-so-obvious factors like Key and Rhythm.
ARRANGING PRECIPICE FOR STRING ORCHESTRA
One quick note before the technical analysis on converting MIDI to score begins is keeping good structure of folders and old projects. I had to fossick through a number of projects, all labeled with the naming convention “date_zone”, meaning it was a little tricky to find Precipice because it was labeled “01_02_16_zoneThreeRedo.ptx”. I usually give the piece a real name after it is complete, the reason for this is that the general public want a name to call a track they like, so instead of saying “hey, I love your song, 01_02_16_zoneThreeRedo” it is far better for them to say “hey, Precipice rocks!”.
One of the cons of naming a track after you have composed it, is that when you revisit the Pro Tools (or your DAW) session, you may have difficulty remembering what the exact Zone and Level of the music was, this is because you have been calling it by its new name, like Precipice, for months, maybe even years and have forgotten that it was originally called 01_02_16_zoneThreeRedo.ptx. To save time, my suggestion is to go back and make a new folder, name it with its new title and put everything to do with that track inside it.
While on the topic of naming conventions, I have found that naming your folders with “day_month_year_title” is not very efficient. If your computer puts the folders in name-order, you will find that the days are fine, but the months are out-of-place. I finally understand why the American system of writing the month before the day works, it makes finding files named by date easy!
CONVERTING MIDI TO SCORE
Revisiting the MIDI sequences for Dyadic’s Precipice was like catching up with an old friend, although we hadn’t seen each other for a while, we were instantly reacquainted when the Pro Tools session was opened. The first step was export the MIDI sequences and make a new Pro Tools session. In the new session, I then created five new MIDI tracks, one for each instrument of the String Orchestra.
- 1st Violin
- 2nd Violin
- Double Bass
I also needed to create a stereo instrument track, with an instance of Kontakt, triggering the software instruments of the String Orchestra.
You will notice in the picture above, the MIDI sequences of the original tracks, ready to be arranged. The String Orchestra are the tracks coloured green and the originals are coloured purple.
To the naked eye, this now just looks like a process of “drag and drop”, which is true to some extent, however, certain issues arise along the journey that must be addressed.
The original version of Precipice was in F Minor, a key that has four flats (Bb, Eb, Ab, Db), this can be a little tricky to read, especially for a High School ensemble, so I transposed it to A Minor, a key which has no flats and is relatively close to the original key of F Minor. Thinking of the reason for the arrangement always helps the end result, in this case making the music accessible to students who may not be familiar with keys that have more than three flats or sharps. It is true that many students could perform F Minor with relative ease, this arrangement, however, had to be user-friendly, to allow an inclusion of a larger number of students with varying skill-levels.
For this arrangement, I decided to condense some of the harmonies and even omit some harmonies, to avoid Divisi lines. Divisi is when a section of the Orchestra (ie. 1st Violins) will split into smaller sections to handle multiple lines written on the one part. I decided against using Divisi because I wanted this arrangement to be as approachable as possible for smaller ensembles.
Some rhythms may have been difficult to perform, particularly the “3 against 2” rhythms so I went for straighter rhythms, which may seem a little rigid compared to the original but keep the interest and integrity, all the while increasing the scope of who can perform the piece.
A couple of sections have been omitted in this version due to the condensing of instrumentation. The original had the privilege of many different tone-colours from the large variety of instruments, making it possible to repeat sections with an interplay of different timbres. The constraint of arranging for a string orchestra means that there are less tone-colours and the interest may wain if sections were repeated without different instruments maintaining a sense of progression. It is important to note that all of the sections of the original were represented, even if abridged.
HUMANISED MIDI SEQUENCES
To make the original sound like an ensemble and not like a bunch of robots, I had to humanize the parts, which is the process of making instruments less quantized and basically make the virtual-instrument “perform” as if it were human. When arranging for Strings, the end result is to have a musical score that easy to read for the musician. If you were to just simply convert the humanised MIDI to score, you would find that it is horrible to read and is actually harder to read than it needs to be, this is due to the nuances programmed-in when composing for a machine.
Above is an example of the “hard to read” MIDI conversion versus the “easy to read” revision. The example is from a passage where the Bass and Cello have pizzicato’s (plucking the string), so even if the notes seem longer in the “easy” section, it will still sound as if it were the “hard” version and be far easier for the ensemble to read.
Dehumanizing the MIDI sequences was one of the main processes in making this arrangement.
When using virtual instruments, the instrument’s range needs to be understood. The Double Bass, for example, is written one octave higher than what it sounds. Be mindful of this when arranging. If you were to just convert the MIDI to score, you would notice that the Double Bass’s written part is out of range of the instrument.
BEGIN TO ARRANGE!
Once the factors mentioned above have been taken into consideration, it is time to arrange the piece! I begin by dragging sections of MIDI to their corresponding virtual instruments. Once the MIDI sequences are where they should be and within range of the assigned instrument, dehumanize. Rewrite any parts that need to be simplified in MIDI, making sure to not stray too far from the original. Check the score, make sure it easy to read, if it isn’t, dehumanize some more, until it is pleasing on the eye.
Once this step is complete, export the score as a Sibelius session. In Sibelius, humanize the score again by adding the dynamics and performance notes, as well as accents and any other directions the performers may need. Once you are happy, print the parts and play!
I am still finishing all the dynamic markings and so on, as well as playing through the violin parts to make suggested fingerings.
This process has been inspiring and rewarding, not to mention the joy of seeing MIDI sequences come to life as notated music. I am eagerly anticipating the workshop in the coming week and can’t wait to conduct the students and hear how Precipice performs by an ensemble. Perhaps I will arrange the full Dyadic OST for String Orchestra and have them played as a suite. In the coming week I will also make a link to the score for Precipice, anyone with access to an ensemble is welcome to download, print and perform the work, so stay tuned for updates!
Until next time, stay creative! 🙂