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Good vs Bad Orchestration

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Doug Gibson, Apr 21, 2018.

  1. There can be no orchestration without a composition; orchestration serves the composition. A good orchestration is that which most effectively serves. If the composition requires quiet, restrained panic, and that is what evoked, then it's good orchestration. A good orchestrator does it intentionally and reliably because they're in control of the craft. A bad orchestrator can't do it at all, or only occasionally by accident.

    That there can be tomes written exploring a million variables in technical execution belies the need for such. We could do the same thing with the physical and chemical reactions between food ingredients when cooking. In fact, there HAVE been tomes written, analogous to a billion pages on orchestration, about the infinite universe of inter and intra-ingredient dynamics at work when cooking which one could study. Temperatures and time changes of fractions of a degree produce entirely different chemical reactions and thus must be understood, accounted for, and utilized if one is to be a great chef, right?

    Not even remotely - as no shortage of the world's best chefs would agree, and here I'm including my illiterate great-grandmother who could somehow cook food so good men felt they were cheating on their wives when eating it.

    On the whole, orchestration is treated by some like an infinitely complex alchemy because it can be. Doesn't have to be. One can become a good orchestrator in relatively short order, assuming, again, the composition and compositional ideas being served are worth a fuck. "Epic" is a subset of orchestration the way, "Whatever, dude," is a subset of debate. How complex or deep is the compositional idea being served by "epic"? Not a particularly impressive one, except to a teenager perhaps, who experiences over-wrought emotions of all types because everything's just such a big deal and nobody understands. But yes, you can learn to blare 12 horns - scratch that, you don't have to learn - and feel like a real live composer and get a little tuggle in your pants and get paid for it, so who gives a shit, I guess.

    My TL;DR is - worry about the composition. Live an interesting life, develop interesting ideas and philosophies. Have something to say. Do some technical study on working with instruments, and transcribe orchestrations pathologically. Have an intent, and learn to control it; to summon it. With this bedrock foundation you'll already be solid; how high you build on top of it is up to you. But it'll be "good," right from the start.
  2. Amen to that. Also, the italicized text is precisely what H.G. Wells' The Time Machine illustrates. Bold text describes basically an entire generation of people, sadly. Great points.

    Bookmarked! I love this forum.

    Also this:

    I hope this doesn't come across as blowing smoke, but your informed, authoritative (you've been in this industry long enough) insights into the state of music are genuinely inspiring from an artistic standpoint. You don't simply spout vague, tired cliches (follow your heart, you can do anything if you put your mind to it), and you also avoid the commonly touted angle of pure (and useless) skepticism/pessimism. This forum genuinely inspires me to work hard and keep creating even when I question myself.
    Mike Verta likes this.
  3. Thank you Doug for starting this thread. I find the biggest challenge is to not have a real orchestra to play with. If you know for certain that it will happen (your music will be performed by a real orchestra) you'd be motivated to learn "real" orchestration. But without it your focus will always be what works in the DAW with sample libraries. In that situation I think it makes sense to just accept that what you do may only sound right in the DAW, in other words you are composing for you "virtual" orchestra. You might even pitch-shift beyond natural instrument ranges if you find it sounds good, because why not (as well as augment with ambient pads and effects).
    I am just wondering, isn't it normal for the composer who suddenly writes for a real orchestra to also hire some kind of orchestrator/mentor to point out what would work or not ? In all honesty, now I prefer to just write what I feel and hear works virtually, since imposing limitations would only serve to create doubt in my mind and that is not useful for a fluent composition practice. I would also point out that when our idol is John Williams writing for a major orchestra then we tend to copy this complex writing.
    Being aware that most orchestras could not perform it to that level is obviously important, but imposing it as a limitation for a developing composer is imho a bit damaging.
    Better aim high and fall short. And in case a real orchestra couldn't perform the music at least the computer can :D
  4. Just picked up Mike's Template Balancing - that's a pleasant way to learn more realistic orchestration. Totally recommended and I'm only 42 minutes in.

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