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Love letter to Hollywood Strings

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by Matthias Calis, May 15, 2019.

  1. Hello friends,

    This is something of a love letter to my favorite library: Hollywood Strings. It's been my main string library since I started on this journey as a hobbyist composer. Heck, at the time I got the gold version my computer could barely run it... I've since upgraded to diamond and used the library for years on end, and it honestly wasn't until after several years that I felt I completely knew and understood every part of the library. It is still a force to be reckoned with, in my view, and it never fails to cure me of GAS whenever new fancy string library X comes out.

    There's something about HWS that I just love, the fact that it's such a classic perhaps, or that (I think) people underestimate the library or give up on it after a while because it is not easy to get the hang of...

    So I thought I'd write a piece using only HWS, taking everything I've learned so far about harmony, orchestration, mixing, everything and see how good I could get it. This is the result:

    Please feel free to butcher everything about this because while I feel I've taken a few steps forward, I'm keenly aware the road yet ahead of me is long, if not endless, and there's only one way to get better!
  2. Nice.
    Good job.
  3. Hi @Matthias Calis I enjoyed listening. The sound seems good to me. Real strings are so very versatile that it is always difficult to match them. But modern libraries like HWS and others are so good that the available libraries are not what holds us back any longer. With all that being said, the main thing that troubles me about HWS is the release samples. Sometimes I hear an artifact like a sucking effect associated with the releases. Perhaps it is just me. While almost all of the primary string libraries are great, none of them are without flaws. Currently I am using VSL Synchron Strings mixed 50/50 with Spitfire Symphonic Strings. Also not perfect, but I can live with the flaws.

    Your composition is very attractive but too short. It was not long enough to give you a chance to develop your ideas. The track is very expressive with several attractive gestures. The low string writing is particularly strong in my view. Harmonies are all good, nothing sticks out as being out of place. It would have been nice to hear a little more adventuresome use of harmony, but it is fine as is.

    My favorite piece of yours is the one linked below, although it also is a bit short. But the orchestration, sound, and expression are brilliant.

  4. #4 Matthias Calis, May 17, 2019
    Last edited: May 17, 2019
    Thank you for your detailed comments Paul, I wholeheartedly agree that the piece is too short and was thinking of pulling this thread, extending the composition and then putting it back up. I think I still will extend it because you're quite right in saying it's too short for any chance of development which is an area I need much practice in.

    The piece you linked is a composition by Mikola Leontovych, though the orchestration is all mine. The original was written for choir and I believe it is a song about a bird harkening the beginning of spring. I mention this because the common connotation of the piece is with Christmas, in no short amount thanks to Williams who adapted the piece for children's choir as part of the score to home alone (Carol of the bells). I seem to recall it was adapted into a Christmas tune before Williams but I'm not entirely sure. For completeness' sake I must add I don't feel in the least but offended that you chose this piece because I entirely recognise that the compositional skill and craft of someone like Leontovych is lightyears ahead of my own, plus I should probably label the track to be from Leontovych, although I'm already using the original title by which it's fairly well known in Eastern Europe.

    You're not the first to comment on my orchestration in a positive manner and I'm starting to believe it is one area at least that I have some grasp on. Now I've just got to exercise development, modulation, and continue to expand my harmonic vocabulary which is still somewhat limited at this point.

    I think I will return to this piece and extend it. If anyone desires to comment in the meantime they are welcome to do so, though I imagine most would be in the same vein as Paul's and so perhaps they would be more valuable if given on the extended version.
  5. Absolutely.
    Nice job.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  6. That's interesting. I never could put my finger on what that was. I'm trying to layer HWS with a patch of Spitfire's SCS now to add a bit more texture on top, hoping this will help. It's annoying that a library as expensive as SCS doesn't go Niente.
    How do you like VSL? I was always intimidated at the price, and the amount of engineering needed to get it sounding like a real orchestra (although I understand the dry samples to be highly desirable).

    @Matthias Calis Enjoyed the piece, although I would agree it should be extended -- it ended just as my interest was piquing. I too have a hard time getting away from HWS. It's an annoying library to get to know, but once you do, it's fairly easy to use. I just can't really think of many alternatives, especially at the price.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  7. Could you recommend videos/tutorials to know/master HWS library?
  8. Maybe I am wrong, but I prefer yours.
    Good job.
    Could you talk about tools,.. you used?
  9. Goodness, I wish. Mike's "Template Balancing" video is really useful (because it's what he uses). Unfortunately just reading the manual and experimenting, for the most part. Some aspects of the manual are outdated and they didn't bother updating it, i.e. the patches not in the "Long Powerful System" folder control vibrato with CC1 unless otherwise stated (i.e. unless it's NV VB MV or similar).
    Manuel Cervera likes this.
  10. VSL Synchron Strings are wet. They were recorded in Synchron Stage, which is a large recording stage, usually intended for movie soundtracks, and is very similar in room tone to Teldex. The SyS are very crisp, you can get a lot of bow noise with them (which can be good with the right passage) but the legato is not that great. That is why I team them with Spitfire, which has a lovely legato and can be very expressive. I find the SSS a bit clumsy for short notes, but together I like SSS and SyS combo.
  11. I'll have to look them up, never heard them before.

    Spitfire's legato is always lush, but SSS seems to lack aggression and shorts, so that seems like a good combo.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  12. Not sure if I´ll be able to wait until next sale time.
    This and The Business one was in my list.
    I wanted to stay because I bought 12 last sale and 8 of them are still waiting for watching.
    But maybe Template Balancing......
  13. Template Balancing is incredibly useful. I've been spending an awful lot more time at my guitar and piano, as well as notating, than I have been doing MIDI stuff, but it's absolutely indispensable for properly balancing virtual instrument performances.
  14. Could you recommend Classical Pieces with similar orchestration?
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  15. The piece "Shchedryk" by @Manuel Cervera has a really fabulous orchestration, doesn't it? In fact, I am not aware of any classical compositions with orchestration that can match @Matthias Calis for sparkle, intricacy, and surprises. So what comes closest would be the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker ballet suite or the Respighi tone poems. Fountains of Rome comes to mind.

    Many people, myself included, think of classic Hollywood film music as a large and important branch of classical music. If we consider film music, then it becomes much easier to find examples of fabulous orchestration. The Williams music for Harry Potter comes to mind.
    Manuel Cervera likes this.
  16. What a wonderful comment to wake up to. I've been thinking a lot about what you've said in this thread Paul and it truly has helped me solidify some suspicions I had about where I should put my focus, namely on longer form writing and more daring harmony. Longer form being the highest priority. As a matter of fact you seem the perfect person to ask for advice on longer form writing and development since you recently conpleted your symphony. Is there any advice you can give here? I don't think there is a formulaic answer to that question but perhaps there are some mental notions or ideas that personally helped you write longer pieces? What are your processes for translating a 4-bar melody into something two, three, or even four times that length? I realize this is both a vague and broad question to ask, yet I would be remiss if I didn't ask it. I'm not looking for tricks like the inversion trick so much, but rather the mindset and process behind a longer piece. For example, I have a suspicion that speed is important in getting the idea down so that I have an outline before I get bored of my own writing and therefore end up with 10 bars that are fleshed out followed by 20 bars that are slapped on and don't have much to do with the first idea. I hope the question makes a modicum of sense as I experience great difficulty phrasing it just now.

    To continue on your point about classical vs film music, I'm very much in the same camp. They're still diatinct genres of their own but there's undeniably overlap and I couldn't do without either!
    Paul T McGraw and Manuel Cervera like this.
  17. Absolutely.
    I love it.


    I meant classical pieces cause they are easier to get.
    Sorry my English. Do you mean we could consider Film Music as an independent field?
  18. Hi @Matthias Calis and I am happy to help as much as I can. I feel I am still struggling to learn all the time. We are learning together. :)

    OK, so regarding how to write longer pieces, the first step is to learn to think about music in terms of repetition vs. new material. All of western music functions on artfully balancing repetition with the introduction of new ideas. This is true of every piece of music from Bach to Beethoven to Stravinsky to Horner.

    I can recommend two of @Mike Verta videos that can help. "Composition 1" is all about the importance of repetition through the use of patterns. If you have not seen that video, it is a great place to start. There are many ways to manipulate a pattern, which in classical music is called motivic development. The easiest is to simply vary the orchestration of the pattern. Mike calls this vertical development. It works, but only once or at most twice before the listener needs something more to stay interested. Another method is to vary the harmony, which Mike covers in his video very well.

    There are many more techniques for manipulating your basic idea, or pattern. One of the most powerful is to use your pattern to construct an 8 bar phrase and 16 bar melody, then break it back up into the snippets of pattern. The pattern is termed a motive or motif, in classical music. Other manipulations are to use sequence, or modulation (to a new key) or expanding or contracting the intervals or time values. There is also inversion of the idea (this is prominent in my "To Boldly Go"). I am not sure this list is exhaustive, there may be more ways.

    Next, you have to make a choice as to when to introduce a new idea, via a new pattern that could be used to build a new phrase or melody. You want to do this before your listener gets bored, but not before you have used your best motivic development ideas. This is where artistic judgement comes into play. @Mike Verta has a video "Structure" that might be of help. Since judgment calls are, well, a very difficult part of any art, it often can be best to fall back on a standard form, which is known to work The verse and chorus, or A B. The verse chorus and bridge, A B C A B, and so forth to include everything up to sonata form.

    Once you have internalized these ideas, composing longer pieces will be much easier. Blessings to you, my friend.
  19. @Manuel Cervera I agree that studying classical pieces has the advantage of readily available scores and recordings. I think I would still recommend the Tchaikovsky "Nutcracker" for lots of reasons. The orchestration is truly brilliant, and you can get both full score and piano reduction on IMSLP for free.


    Another really great one to study is the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" also available on IMSLP in both full score or piano version for free.
    Manuel Cervera likes this.
  20. Thank you very much, Paul.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.

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