The Making of Anomaly (Violins and Guitars, OH MY!)
Before I start talking about working with live performers, I thought it’d be a good idea to discuss the process behind creating one of my favorite tracks on the soundtrack. I’ve got demos of the piece through various stages of its creation as well. I’ll be listening the gear used and what’s added through each of the three iterations up to the final version. I also spend a LOT of time discussing the live performance elements of this track.
Anomaly was born as a slower tune that I was going to use for the menu, something a little more laid back and less aggressive, but still dense. I had originally titled it “String it Back.” This version features many of the things the final version does, the same basic musical material, the same string lines (not live recordings), but it also has some big differences.
For starters, “String it Back” is a lot slower, obviously. It’s also worth noting that the volume levels are haywire – the viola is extremely loud and harsh on the ear. Also, because it’s slower, the music just doesn’t move along at a good pace at all. I had started it this slow to really have a lot of control over the solo violin samples I was using to ensure that I could fine-tune them and that they had space to ‘breathe’ between phrases.
“String it Back” features:
- East West / Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestras Gold
- – Lots of Solo Violin and Solo Viola
- – Those ‘slap’ hits are Bass Slaps, and there are timpani accents as well.
- Native Instruments FM8 is making that bass sound that you can hear right from the beginning that is very wide. It’s got a simple saw-type figure under it to give some mmph.
- The obnoxious percussion track is… well… obnoxious.
Obviously, as I was perusing the list of tracks on my todo list about 3/4 of the way through it became blindly apparent to me that the menu song I had was awful, and I had a LOT of “hell” levels to score. I opened up “String it Back,” applied some drumming, and went to town. (Note, I label all of my Work-In-Progress mixes with D1, D2, D3… etc (for draft#)).
Worth noting is the increase in tempo, the snare drum which is way too loud (the drums in general are too loud in this mix – as are the violins again). To create the drum tracks, I usually do the kick and snare by ‘punch-recording’ them in. This means that I play them on keyboard as the song progresses, and I do this in segments. I generally quantize with about 99% strength, and I go back and manually adjust things like flam (1min 25sec). Then I go through my library of drum patterns and find appropriate hi-hat riffs and things like that. I toy with them a lot though, and make them my own – it would be bad practice to keep them as they were (unless I’m REALLY in a hurry).
The fills are a combination of my own drumming and listening to things on other rock albums. Occasionally I’ll use a fill pattern if I’m feeling like a fish out of water. Again, I heavily modify these to fit my liking.
Things added here:
- East West / Quantum Leap Ministry of Rock
- Time and Love
Enter Rich Brilli and Rachel Denlinger, stage left. I was talking with Paul Schneider, the game’s creator about where this song would potentially be placed, and he said that it’d be the opening Hell track most likely. Well – what better way to go then with an epic opening… more on that later.
I brought in Rich Brilli pretty early on in this soundtrack’s creation – I had written the beginning of the Earth track (“No Looking Back!”) and the Lab track (“12-Gauge Rave”) with no real hook, and I had done the majority of the Desert track (“Phantasmagoria”). I had also done a great majority of the first boss track (“Kyrie Immanis”), but I was using my own guitar expertise, which, let’s face it: it’s limited. There is no reason for me to go around prancing about playing guitar on my tracks when there’s someone who can do it better and wants to be involved. Here’s an important lesson, which I’ll call truth #1: there is no reason to achieve it all on your own! You’d be surprised how many musicians want experience recording and will be willing to help you out. I’ll talk about this more later…
SECTION I: RHYTHM GUITAR
Essentially, I asked Rich to provide some heavy rhythm guitar elements following the chords that I had already laid down (you can hear them obviously). These guitars were recorded straight into my audio interface and processed using Guitar Rig 3. I’d also consider using a Line 6 Pod XT if I had one. The challenging part about adding the guitar here is mixing it properly, so I’ll let bullet points do the talkin’:
- Who cares if you LOVE that heavy sound in the guitar, you’re going to EQ IT OUT. I fed my rhythm guitar tracks into a bus where I EQ’d out the lows, pulled up the highs and tossed down the mids just a little. So where does the bass come from? A bass.
- Panning is your friend. Just like in vocal processing, you can really fatten the sound by creating a ‘manual chorus.’ Simply put, I had every rhythm track recorded twice, and we panned one hard left, and one hard right.
Interesting enough, if you solo the guitar tracks, they don’t sound nearly as fat – what you’re really hearing is the combo of the guitar and string section, as well as that chunky FM bass I’ve got in there. Rich also added some of his own flare giving that real “ripping” tone. I love it.
SECTION II: LEAD GUITAR
Skip to 2:10 in the song, and listen to that. I could never do that, but Rich Brilli is a maniac, and he will do anything I ask him (read: definitely not anything).
You can approach the writing process in two ways – write out the lead part by using some sort of notation your musician understands, like tab, sheet music, or just have them play along with a line you write in yourself and hope they figure it out. Alternatively, if you have a musician who is competent and talented enough, you can say “generally I want something like this – *sing* – but it’s all you.”
A majority of the solos in the GunGirl 2 soundtrack are all improvised by Rich Brilli. The process was simple – loop a section where a solo belonged and record many many takes. Eventually, something golden will emerge, and you’ll have a living, breathing, guitar solo. Yum! If you go to 2:37 you will hear a place in the song where I instructed Rich what to play, but even with that in mind he made it his own creation. Gotta love ‘em guitarists.
SECTION III: LIVE VIOLIN
And then we have the lovely and talented Rachel Denlinger and her fierce, fierce violin playing. If you were listening to the original versions of this, you could hear that I already had a nice pretty violin living in the mix. Truth #2: It doesn’t matter how nice your sample library is – live is better 99% of the time. I absolutely LOVE my sample set, but it doesn’t mean that she couldn’t do it better.
I want to save talking about this process mostly in the article I write on Live Musicians, but I will happily show you this.
There are some obvious things to note. You can hear everything out loud – this was one of our practice takes before she put on the headphones and did the actual recording. There is no acoustic optimization in the room either – but sometimes you have to work with what you have. But also, using some of the room’s natural resonance was helpful. Fortunately, the nice microphone and preamp that I have were able to make short work of this.
IN CONCLUSION, my dear watson, Anomaly was an evolving child that grew with a lot of work and time. Final touches that I added were mixing elements, placing the distortion and EQ effect on the opening violin passage for dramatic emphasis (it says, “oh by the way – you’re in hell now!”).
If you’re interested, you can watch where this song is played first in the game below.
Next time I’ll talk about LIVE MUSICIANS!!! I’m also going to eventually discuss writing for specific areas, mixing and mastering, and how to make your music loop for ingame. I’ll conclude the series talking about how to package and promote a final soundtrack product.
Oh, and if you’re enjoying this series, let me know what you’d like to see by commenting below, or be a doll and become a fan of mine on Facebook!