Archive by Gary Eskow
Walt Disney Pictures released “Enchanted” in 2007. Built on a clever idea-classically modeled Disney cartoon characters, including a beautiful princess, handsome prince, and evil step-mom/mother-in-law/fantasy bitch, slide down a chute and enter the real world-”Enchanted” starred Amy Adams, James Marsden, Patrick Dempsey, and in a role she obviously relished playing, Susan Sarandon as Queen Narissa, the hideous, self-absorbed (right, narcissistic) mother figure.
Songs for the picture were written by Alan Mencken and Stephen Schwartz. The latter, whose career as a composer took off while he was still in his early 20’s with the Broadway hits “Godspell” and “Pippin,” supplied lyrics for this score, firmly in the Mencken mold that fans of his work have loved for the last couple of decades.
The stand out track in this production, for me, is “So Close.” Delivered on camera by Jon McLaughlin, as the front man for a band performing at a ball, “So Close” allows the characters played by Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey to reveal their feelings in dance.
Jon McLaughlin is an interesting artist. In his 30’s, he is, in my judgment, still more potential than achievement. His own material suffers from a stylistic confusion, coupling a powerful yet sensitive vocal phrasing with harmonic progressions that rely on root position chords almost exclusively. This combination leaves the impression of a ballad singer whose been hoisted on top of a power pop band. The productions are primitive, and McLaughlin’s lyrics do not rise to a high level.
But this guy can sing, and his vocal talent is on full display in “So Close.” The song, which shifts between the keys of E and F# major, is a ballad in 2/4 with a soft but ever present triplet feel that carries the pulse forward. Three excellent arrangers (Kevin Kliesch, Danny Troob and Blake Neely) worked on this picture, and one of them provided the gorgeous orchestration for this song, which was recorded by an A list of LA players under the baton of Michael Kosarin. Built around a pair of pianos-a grand and a post-Rhodes sampled piano of some kind-the arrangement breathes nicely before the full orchestra is introduced. This arrangement cleverly parallels the film itself, pairing the large orchestral forces that have characterized Disney scores since the company’s earliest days with a modern pop sound. In a final bow of the hat, the song ends with what is perhaps the classic aural signature in the Disney play book-a solo violin gliding up towards the top of its range with a portamento attack.
“So Close” was recorded on the Todd AO Scoring Stage. I don’t know who tracked or mixed this project, but I’d love to interview the person responsible for this gorgeous sounding record!
It’s been a long time coming-MOTU put out a release announcement over a year ago-but Digital Performer 8 for Windows is now a reality. By the early years of this century Windows had established itself as a reliable and cost effective alternative to the Mac, and many DAW users found themselves torn between Digital Performer, wed to the Mac, and other sequencers that worked on the Windows side.
I was one of them. After careful consideration I had a Windows machine built by ADK Pro Audio, bid a tearful goodbye to DP, and began working with Cubase. Every DAW has its advantages, and Cubase has been good to me. Several Digital Performer features-the way it creates detailed tempo maps, for example-were missed, however, particularly by composers who work to picture on a regular basis.
If you’ve wanted to have your cake and eat it simultaneously, head on over to the MOTU site (www.motu.com) and download the fully functionally Windows version of DP 8. You can take it for a spin for 30 days before deciding whether to buy an activation code.
$39 (direct download)
I’m a huge SOUNDIRON fan. They know how to sample, record ambiences and allow the user to manipulate them in ways that result in interesting and unusual spaces, and generally are whacked out guys who seem to have fun turning out highly musical sounding instruments. All of this has, in my judgment, made them a unique company in the software marketplace.
A Bamblong is, essentially, a Southeast Asian marimba. SOUNDIRON-or, more precisely, Tonehammer, a company that Mike Peaslee, a SOUNDIRON principal, used to be a partner in-sampled this instrument in a dry space and then dragged it into a large glass and stone recording hall and resampled it. The result is a library that weighs in at just over 1.5 gigabytes. Bamblong has gotten a facelift and been re-released as version 2.0.
If you’d like to check out the full feature set, take a look at the manual: http://s3.amazonaws.com/soundiron_docs/soundiron_bamblong_user_manual_v2.pdf. SOUNDIRON incorporated their Uberarpeggiator into Bamblong 2.0. A crafty little thing, this arpeggiator gives you several modes (hold +, for example, which lets you add notes to a pattern while retaining the first note, and Hits, which lets you set the number of repeats each note receives before moving on to the next note in the arp sequence) that spice things up.
SOUNDIRON provides raw wave forms which you can import into the sampler of your choice, but most users will use Kontakt, the de facto king of the hill soft sample playback engine. Note that you’ll need the full version (not the free player) of either Kontakt 4 or 5.
And yes, the price tag listed above is accurate!
It’s hard to believe, but Sound Designer, the forebear of Pro Tools, was released in 1984-almost 30 years ago. Many contenders have stepped into the ring with the heavyweight champ since Charles Dye and Desmond Child produced Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” in Pro Tools in 1999, but none has been able to dethrone the champ.
Many of us have been waiting for a native platform to present Avid with a genuine challenge. I’m wondering if the newly announced Yamaha NUAGE system will be the one. Yamaha, of course, owns Steinberg, so the idea of packaging the former’s hardware with Nuendo and aiming the product at the post production and venue recording markets is logical. Audinate’s DANTE networking system is also integrated into the system.
I’m interested to know how you folks out in the field will respond to this product. Yamaha has placed a series of tutorial videos on their website. Here’s the link: http://www.yamahaproaudio.com/global/en/products/daw_systems/nuage/index.jsp
Remember 1967? Of course not, you’re only 32 years old; I’m talking to the guy standing next to you, the one who waited breathlessly each time the release of a new Beatles album was announced. Folks like him know that in June of that year the highly anticipated and much mythologized “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” album descended from the sky.
Flipping through recent entries in the “Old Suffern High” Facebook group I belong to I just came across a number of entries referencing that era. Ah, Suffern, NY. Now a bedroom community like many others within striking distance of Manhattan, Suffern in the 60’s was a mixture of cultures and income levels. We moved there in 1963, when my father became president of Rockland Community College.
One June night that year the Suffern High School concert band put on its last stage performance of the year. Let me dispense with false modesty and declare that I was, if not the absolute worst baritone horn player ever to play under the baton of Maestro John Conners, certainly a contender for that title. I never practiced and often declined to play during rehearsals. That’s me in the middle of the top row sitting next to first ‘bone player Charles Osborne, looking around with my horn on my lap while everyone else jams away. See what I mean?
Anyway, on this night I walked the three miles or so from our home, just off Route 202, to the high school, stopping off at my friend Tipper Smith’s house on the way. Tip lived with his divorced mother and Cholly, a smart beagle who took out his ire when the lady of the house spent too much time on the telephone by relieving his bladder on the receiver when no one was looking.
Back in 1967 marijuana was wending its way through the corridors of Suffern High School. Having tried it a few times without experiencing any effects I figured this night would be no different. Tipper lit up a joint and we listened to a number of cuts off of the “Sgt. Pepper’s” album. Leaving the Smith abode I made it to the band room in plenty of time to take the stage with my comrades.
Given that I could barely coax sounds out of the instrument I was, understandably, the last player in the section. For some reason, though, I was placed in the first chair of a row. Sitting there on the riser it hit me: I was zonked. All I could do was pretend to force air into my mouthpiece-my failure to perform immediately improving the quality of the ensemble’s sound-and hope that I didn’t fall into the audience, which I was certain was about to happen.
We lost a pair of legends this week. Hugh McCracken was one of the least pretentious people I’ve ever interviewed. His style, a combination of elegance and sting, was a factor throughout the last quarter of the 20th century. Someone isolated the part Hugh played on “Hey Nineteen” and threw it up on the ‘net. Check it out: http://www.nme.com/nme-video/youtube/id/gw411Iqyzrk. Amazing, right?
What can you say about Phil Ramone, other than he was an icon in the industry and no one knew he was nearly 80! Many of you had a personal relationship with Phil, and the pages of Mix will be filled with personal stories very soon.
Maybe one of you will share, if you ever spoke about it with him, whether Phil felt the role of the producer had changed over the decades, and if so, what factors contributed to the evolution. Of course, the shift from analog to digital made it unnecessary for engineers to wield razor blades with the Zorro-like precision Phil and his ilk possessed. As far as the analog/digital debate, that issue was settled for me once the long lamented PARIS hard disk recording system hit the market.
This past week I had the opportunity to produce a session at LBrown Recording in Manhattan. Louis Brown owns a 19th century Steinway, which we used. Quan Gi, the violinist, is a member of the NY Philharmonic and has a sponsor who’s provided her with a Stradivarius violin. Hearing that instrument in that environment…what a thrill! Would you have recorded at 196kHz, knowing you’d end up with nearly two hours of recorded material? For me, 44.1kHz was sufficient.
The more I think about it, other than the lack of hope that hovers over our culture which forces young song writers to mine their own limited experiences endlessly with a near fatal drop in lyrical quality (does anyone still read Rimbaud?), the factor that may limit sonic variety in pop recordings most just might be better tuning. After normalisation, of course.
Take a listen to the first two bars of the classic recording of “If This World Were Mine” (penned by Marvin Gaye), tracked in 1967 featuring the author and Tammi Terrell. Do you think that upright piano was tuned and voiced before the session? Probably not! Electric guitars were notoriously difficult to tune back then, and in those days many amplifiers (and the settings guitarists favored) tended to exaggerate harmonics. Bells, piano, guitar; everything’s clashing in the upper range on this recording, but the result is a spare orchestration that adds to the beauty of the recording. Notice the minimal use of cymbals, for example, which would have contributed to cacophony.
Look, I’m just riffing here, and if I’m out of line I’d love to be set straight by you golden eared engineers, but let me submit two more examples for your approval. Classic solos by Carlos Santana can be heard on “Black Magic Woman” (1970) and “Smooth” (1999). The parts are, to my ear, equally soulful and melodic. In the earlier recording, though, Carlos is working his Gibson SG, adjusting intonation with his fingers as goes along in a way that is not required in the later track. I think this gives him the opportunity to impart an even more personal signature.
Most importantly, peace, love and best wishes to the families of Hugh McCracken and Phil Ramone. They gave pleasure to many.
Jim McGreevey hit the talk show circuit last week to promote the HBO special, “Fall To Grace.” Since resigning as governor of New Jersey in 2004, Mr. McGreevey has spent a great deal of time working with inmates at the Hudson County Correctional Center and, more recently, at the Integrity House drug treatment centers in Newark and Secaucus. The documentary, shot under the direction of Alexandra Pelosi, explores his post political journey.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time working with inmates as well. A program I developed, “A Deeper Groove,” uses music to bridge the gap that separates inmates-often poor and with little formal education-from the world that exists beyond the mean streets where many of them were raised. We search for themes that bind together the work of artists who at first glance seem to have little in common. Beethoven to Beyonce, Stravinsky to Shakur; the emotions these folks explore vary little once you dig beneath the veneer. If an inmate yields to the unbridled enthusiasm that defines the first movement of Mendelssohn’s “Italian Symphony” his life may change. A cultural traveler, he might be ready to move outside his community, to look for a good job, perhaps, wherever it may be.
Gratifying though it is, the work is lonely. I go into a halfway house, spend some time with the inmates, and leave. I’ve tried reaching out to people, including some high profile television commentators who wax on and on about the need for ordinary citizens to get involved with the process of change. However, the package of materials I send out, which includes a course syllabus, has met with little response.
Until today. I called the Hudson County Correctional Center yesterday and asked if I could e-mail a package to the institution to be forwarded to Governor McGreevey and got a positive response. I fired up the computer this morning and the following communication was waiting for me:
Thank you for reaching out. May we meet in Newark on a convenient day?
I’ve mentioned Nimbit in the past. There are several other online stores where you can market your music, including Bandcamp and Topspin Media, and I can’t make any comparative analyses between them. After receiving a press release from Presonus a few months ago indicating they’d purchased Nimbit I signed up for a free account, moved all of my music from my website to the store front I created on Nimbit, and being letting people know that my work was available there. I love it!
All of my work is set to stream at no cost; if anyone wants to throw a few shekels in the pot they’re free to do so, but it’s not required. I do set a nominal price for those who may want to download tracks to their hard drive.
As I mentioned in a blog last Friday, I just finished work on “1234,” a nearly 18 minute long symphonic work that I produced inside the box. I hoisted this piece onto my Nimbit site and began letting people on Facebook know that it had been posted over the weekend.
When I checked my e mail this morning (Monday) a message from Nimbit was sitting in my inbox that shocked me. Someone I did not know, and had had no contact with, went to my store, listened to “1234,” bought it for $1.99-and tipped me fifty dollars!
Wow, what a great compliment!
After spending more than a year applying pencil to paper, transcribing notes into Finale, and then moving over to my intel i7 email@example.com GHz computer (running Windows 7) to realize the score in Cubase 5, I’m done. During the six months or so spent inputting 1234 I added more memory to my computer, bringing the total up to 16 gigs, which allowed me to load about a dozen virtual instruments (mostly fairly tricked out Vienna Symphonic Library presets that I built myself) and one instance of Altiverb.
1234 uses many instruments. In addition to a full orchestra, with some of the VSL parts being augmented with the LASS and Cinematic Strings libraries, I incorporated a full sax section (supplied by the superb Broadway Big Band Library), electric guitars (thanks to Electri6ity, an amazing plug-in, and NI’s Guitar Rig software), a rhythm section built on Battery 3, Trillion bass guitar, and the outstanding Ivory piano library, plus a few sundries, including a Prepared Piano, courtesy of the John Cage disk that Bigfish Audio released a few years ago.
A fair amount of rewriting was done during the MIDI tracking process. After listening to many contemporary music scores I decided to incorporate some unusual rhythmic elements to the second movement-7 sixteenths in place of 4, for example, in the strings, while a 5 quarter note against 4 rhythm underpinned the brass. I wrote out the number of midi ticks that these rhythms translated into, and after performing in the parts edited them-there’s no way that I could play these rhythms in real time with any conviction; I simply don’t have the experience to feel them. I also touched up the orchestration, realizing, for example, that when they had important lines within a dense texture the four French Horns needed to be doubled by the trombones.
My buddy Ed Goldfarb (I’ve mentioned him before, he’s a brilliant musician) mixes and masters many of my projects. The process goes like this: I commit the midi tracks to audio, bring these tracks up in my Cubase mixer, and set relative levels. From that point on I don’t touch the faders. When levels need to be tweaked I go reload the midi parts and ride either the controller affecting level (7) expression (11), or both, then commit the part to audio again. It does take some time, but at the end of the process I have a stereo mix, which I bounce and send to Ed along with the individual tracks, that reflects exactly how I hear the balance between parts. If Ed hears things a bit differently, great.
I’m a huge fan of Gobbler (www.gobbler.com), and while I was working on 1234 they released the Windows version of this file transfer program, which I used to send audio files to Ed. A great improvement over the old method, which involved dropping tracks to CD’s or DVD’s and sending them to California by mail.
Of course, samples can’t replace the real thing, but I think we did a fairly good job on this one. Take a listen if you have a few minutes (17” plus, to be exact) and let me know what we could have done better! To access the mp3’s, please follow the link to my Nimbit store ( http://www.nimbitmusic.com/garyeskow), enter the Midi demo category, and hit the play button to the left of 1. Nimbit is a great place to sell your music, but all of my stuff streams for free.
PS: Facebook is great, isn’t it? I sent out invitations to listen to this piece to a number of my “friends,” including Anthony Newman, with whom I’ve had no direct contact. I just got a great note from Tony in which he said some extremely positive things about the composition and asked about the techniques that were used in its construction.
You want to dig into James Taylor, maybe check out his interpretative sensibility? Dial in his version of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.” Yes, the middle eight is JT’s invention.
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