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Arrangement (Reduction) -- Feedback on harmony

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by Rohann van Rensburg, Aug 30, 2019.

  1. #1 Rohann van Rensburg, Aug 30, 2019
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2020
    Hi folks,

    My writing has been abysmal lately -- got stuck with a composition with nowhere to take it. Stuck in the "valley of despair" (DK effect), little output, life, etc. Anyway -- Austin Wintory released a barebones melody and challenged people to harmonize and arrange it, so I decided to jump in and hopefully get back on track. Here's the piano reduction version. Would love to know thoughts (the notation is fairly bare-bones too, more just for "writing it down"'s sake). Please excuse the stiff MIDI performance; I had to input this on a synth with terrible sensitivity and I'm not good at playing it [although I wrote it on actual piano]):

    Few thoughts:
    -The arpeggiated thing is something I'm not set on yet. I still have trouble not writing "piano-y" when doing reductions (also doesn't help that I'm not a very competent player)
    -I don't know if the octaves to lower harmony at bar 16 works
    -The voicings at the end will probably be slow and quieter, I was picturing strings and winds there

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/gdtayc5e4zq5iwh/Piano Reduction.mp3?dl=0


    Attached Files:

  2. When you originally posted that piece I listened to it a couple of times and I felt like I don't quite "get it". There are a couple of places in the piece that I find frustrating to listen to because they lack predictability to me. I was hoping that someone who is better able to disect a piece like this would comment on this because I feel like I lack the vocabulary to really give a helpful comment on what doesn't work for me. I think Mike often says there are no wrong notes, just the wrong context, and in places I feel like you haven't created the context where a disonnance is satisfying. Instead I get confused and think "woa, where did that come from?". I don't think dissonance per se is too far outside of my listening habits because I'm quite fine with some aleatoric horror music or 12 tone stuff, but here I'm getting mixed messages on what vibe the piece wants to be. As a listener, I'm not "with you" on that journey, and not knowing where the piece is going creates an uneasy feeling for me.
    Bar 5 is where the first moment of frustration happens for me because you break free from the rythmic motif too much and I wanted to hear harmonic tension resolved there. You may have done that intentionally, but I think it's too early to throw the listener a curveball before the first pattern has even played once. It confuses me and I'm not oriented in the piece to have any idea of where you're going with this.
    At the transition of bar 9 to 10 is the place where I would want to have a better idea of where the piece is going. The chord throws me off, which is a shame because it distracts me so much that I can't fully enjoy the part in the middle of the piece, during which I feel the most oriented and like "I get what kind of music this is", but because you've walled that in to both sides with what I find to be super challenging harmonic choices I can't fully enjoy it.
    During the last third I felt like I was ready to hear a restatement of the A part, but you don't really go back there, or at least not in a way that registers like it for me, and at that point I feel lost because I can't predict any of it, and it's so different from the part that I liked the most.

    Without knowing what the melody you started from is, it is hard to know what your choices were and what might have been part of the challenge he set up. That may have been a factor why no one commented. I remember some comments in that direction regarding an AI assisted piece.

    Do you mean the Dunning Kruger effect? If so, I think that's something different, almost the opposite.

    But valley of despair describes my non-existing composing output quite well too. So, good on you for getting back to it!

    I feel a bit daft, but I only just realized that in the "old ones" thread about your unleashed submission you linked the same piano reduction. I wouldn't have guessed this even is the same piece, because I feel like in the "old ones" piece you've fixed virtually all the things that bother me about this piano version and even when I was looking for that old thread that you mentioned I was looking at this one and thought "nah, that can't possibly be the same piece, that was the confusing one". With the "old ones" as you've orchestrated it, it feels so much more orienting and satisfying than this one here. Do you know what I mean, or have you listened to this one so often during writing that you can't "feel" that difference in accessibility between the two versions anymore?
    John Eldridge likes this.
  3. Oops. I totally missed that original post.

    I had a fairly similar reaction. That B in the melody at the eighth bar is tough to get to in a satisfying way. I tried playing around with it a bit to see if I could figure out why it felt jarring. It's a chromatic motion without precedence but perhaps you could help with the predictability to which Martin eludes by changing the arpeggiating notes in beat three of the prior measure (Cm) to signal that the Bm is coming?

    I tried starting with your existing arpeggiating pattern and seeing how I felt I might want to get to that B and ended up taking it a different direction after putting the B within a diminished instead. Definitely not suggesting it's a "better" direction, but perhaps seeing the way I got to mine would be useful? Here's the annotated notation. I don't know if it's the best solution, but to me it felt more comfortable to find a note from my target chord that I could put in the final beat of the previous measure.


    Hope this helps,
  4. #5 Rohann van Rensburg, Jan 5, 2020
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2020
    Interesting. I did find this a bit tricky given the restrictions (not my melody, restricted tempo and length, etc). I don't blame you, it was tricky to work with some of the note lengths. I think Austin arranged it much better than I did, but again it's hard when one has oriented oneself around a melody for so long that it feels obvious.

    The melody is precisely as Austin wanted it, that was part of the challenge, which again makes it tricky as to what he had in mind. His version is way better, IMO.

    I do, but I mean it in the sense that I'm at a point where my skills are poor, it takes a lot of work and time, and I'm understanding how large the gap is between the masters and myself in almost every way.

    It's hard to motivate oneself sometimes but a few things Mike said have helped, like not making composition a "big deal", i.e. just sitting down and plinking away whenever one has time. It turns it more into a lifestyle than an event.

    Haha it's actually completely different. The obvious similarity is kind of what bothered me, I feel like I had a hard time doing anything else.
    EDIT: I'm an imbecile. I linked the wrong reduction in that thread. Either that or it was overwritten by a file with the same name. That must have confused the hell out of people.
  5. Thanks for the input.

    It's a pretty tricky melody. I liked your interpretation, your transition into the B certainly felt more natural. I can't remember what I was intending originally, but it was hard to move into that B without sounding like a key change.

    Here's Wintory's final theme. He benefits by more repetition than most of the contestants afforded themselves. It feels even more slippery and uncertain, but there's something I love about unpredictability in music, so long as it's followed and balanced with predictability.
    John Eldridge likes this.
  6. #7 John Eldridge, Jan 5, 2020
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2020
    Interesting. Indeed it does feel uncertain, but delivered as a kind of intentional effect like a detune/shift, which might be a good fit for the context. That cover photo's typesetting choice kind of suggests an element of trauma could be fitting. My recontextualization of the melody as a pivot to some kind of hopeful sentiment may have run counter to original melodic intent. I guess I can't help but be optimistic. :)
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  7. Good point! The shifts in pulse become regular enough to be a pattern. I think it's supposed to be rather psychological in nature with some trauma so good fit indeed.

    Yours certainly did. It wasn't what I was expecting but it was interesting to see it able to be taken in that direction successfully.
    John Eldridge likes this.
  8. Can you guys do me a favor and give this (just) one quick listen, and tell me if you felt disoriented/confused the same way I described about the piece posted by Rohann? I want to double check how much the relentless repetition of listening to it while composing has eroded away my ability to judge that aspect objectively. It's supposed to have that "Dark Souls vibe", but not throw you off while listening.

    Thanks! I think I needed to hear that one as well.

    I wonder if that would still work for me if it was all piano. I have a hunch the strings help to make it palatable for me.

    As far as I know Dunning Kruger only describes the phenomenom where low skilled people think they are doing pretty well, when in fact they are doing poorly, because "they don't know, what they don't know". When you "know what you don't know" you've long left that valley and it's no longer called the DK effect imho.
  9. Ahh....... that's the Doug Gibson effect. (DG Effect) Fear, not.....look at the writing on the walls (Doug was here, Doug was here)

    See.....this is what happens when you listen to dungeon music from 1399.


    Imagine you are building a house. There are going to be certain structural foundations that need to be in place first. In the end....no one is going to want to see or know about them. That's where the focus will be on what curtains you picked out etc. But leave that until later.

    If you have a solid foundation then you can put a lot of shit on top of it that "hides your tracks".

    You need to focus more on the counterpoint. Right now you are mainly interested in harmony. Which is fine, but that's more like your curtains.
    The "color" of it all is making you sound a bit like a stoner.

    Let's look at the first 4 measures. I will take this and give it some that is easy to follow. Once you do that, you can increase the level of abstraction.

    Screen Shot 2020-01-06 at 1.20.36 am.png

    See the notes circled blue? That is your soprano. See the notes circled in red? That's your alto.

    Now, thinking of it like that, let me give it a bass line


    Ok..... pretty pedestrian.

    But we have much more motion already. Now, let's avoid all the rhythmic unisons


    Ok...... like this a little more. Very simple, easy to follow. (oops!!!! That should be an Eb)

    Now add on the "figuration", and I might adjust things further still


    Notice what I did with the "Tenor" It's just 5-4-3-2-1 then 7

    Screen Shot 2020-01-06 at 2.09.10 am.png

    since you are really old school .....check out this piece of music

    Now....when am I getting that lute back and audio book of my posts ?

    Attached Files:

  10. Rohann,
    This is an interesting exercise. I would imagine there were a few times were it would have been easier to change the melody. But, that was verboten I'm guessing.

    I like the mood you're creating. I like the dissonance. The switch accompaniment to static chords works well.

    I am a bit jarred by the change in the left hand pattern at m.15. i.e the bass line (lowest note) gets two notes in the measure and the second is not a repeated note; breaking the pattern. The reason I feel that (who really knows?) is I think it draws to much attention to itself right before an interesting cadence is about to begin.

    Sheesh Doug! You just reminded me that as of Jan 1st, the State of Illinois, where I reside, legalized marijuana for recreational use. I stopped using it my first semester of engineering school. It was generally fine for Music school; everyone was stoned in Miami at the time, but does not mix well with Calculus. I will re-listen to Rohann's music while under the influence and report back.
  11. I'm in my car and on my way!

  12. Indeed it would have been! Your measure 15 critique was precisely a result of that -- hanging on to note durations as written. If I had to re-do this and wasn't strictly adhering to the rules I would have just made changes there, I wasn't really sure what else to do there.

    @Doug Gibson : Thank you for the stellar reply! Will get back to it and work on it when I get a chance -- my second daughter just arrived into the world so I'm a bit preoccupied. Hoping to find some time to get at it soon and then will reply.
  13. Great sounding template.

    It's slightly disorienting but I was able to count 8-beat measures split into 3 and 5 pretty quickly so it's consistent. Definitely has a DS vibe.

    It's definitely orchestrated and fleshed out idiomatically. I think the idea was that he took the barebones idea and worked it into a piece for strings. Strings are hard to translate from piano sometimes but Doug's "composing for strings" videos are marvelous for this.

    You're right but I was referencing it in context to the whole.
    Martin Hoffmann likes this.
  14. It's just standard Metropolis Ark 1 close + tree mics with an Ozone 8 Mastering preset on the master, so I can't take any credit for this :D. Glad you like the sound.

    Thanks a lot for checking it out! Maybe I'll play around with it some more and see if I can develop it further and introduce the 3+5 pattern earlier before layering the melody over it.

    Ahh, I've never seen that diagram. Thanks for clarifying. Valley of despair is where I'm too then :). Still on my way down from Mt. Stupid I suppose.

    Safe travels everyone!
  15. I think what I found most disorienting was: It felt like being dropped in the middle of a piece. Is that your opening?
    The other thing is it's getting pretty much close to the limit I want to hear full tutti sounds.
    I would begin exploring different permeations and parsing out more independent lines.

    Nice to hear your work Martin. (Post more please)
  16. Good point! I didn't think of it as a "real piece", it was more like a test to see if choir-only works better for me than piano-only (because I'm having a hard time warming up to piano in general and orchestrating something I composed with a piano sound).

    But I tried to give it a less jarring opening and tried to develop it past the 1 minute mark. Though I still feel like I'm just treading water instead of doing any substantial development.

    Do you mean in terms of in-sync rythm or how thick it is in octave doubling?

    Thanks for the feedback and encouragement Doug!

    Sorry for highjacking your thread @Rohann van Rensburg, should we move this out into its own thread?
  17. +1!

    Not at all! Go ahead, it's all about community learning here.
  18. I actually listen to music from a wide variety of genres (and try and transcribe it), but everything that seems to come out is dungeon music. It's just in my blood apparently (maybe it's the fact that I've seen the sun maybe 5 times in the last 3 months.

    This is really interesting. I mostly think in harmony (and melody, but harmony too) and thinking in counterpoint or a more "chorale" style of writing is completely new to me. So "counterpoint" is more "foundation" than harmony in this kind of piece?
    When you are thinking of writing counterpoint, are you thinking with harmonic direction in mind, or just something that sounds interesting and appropriate with the melody?

    Certainly quite a bit more interesting. Are you only considering the harmony then at this point, or did the baseline and melody dictate that for you independently?

    Also, I know a shortcoming of this piece is its length. Something more satisfying would likely have more time to develop. Would you wait to present this idea to this extent initially, or jump into it with this figuration?

    Love that piece, haven't heard it in a while. So when writing for strings in this manner, is one typically thinking more "chorale and counterpoint" than "melody and harmony"? It "feels" much different.

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