How Orchestral Sample Libraries Produce Constant Tension in Trailer Music

 

What could be the opposite from the very basic music making, that Musicably promotes? I don’t mean an absolute professional music virtuoso, although that would be one of the possibilities. But if we want to stay in the non-professional area. What would be the opposite to someone enjoying to play a simple instrument like a finger piano/kalimba, strumstick or whistle? 

One such extreme opposite I discovered just recently, when browsing vast internet fields. This may sound quite funny for many people who spend their quarantine days watching animated feature films or playing computer games. I understand that. But for me this was a kind of ‘terra incognita’ – an unexplored territory. 

Epic trailer music using orchestral sample libraries.

Epic Trailer Music

This new exploration for me started sometimes right at the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown. Based on my previous searches and history,  the YouTube offered me a video from a guy that I couldn’t recognize. Still, something caught my attention, so I clicked on it – and got hooked almost imediatelly. I entered the Guy Michelmore’s World Of Music’

Guy Michelmore started his career as a reporter for the British BBC television. Then he switched career and has become a composer of music for film and television. You can hear his music in Marvel movies like Ultimate Avengers, The Invincible Iron Man and many others. He also founded an online school ThinkSpace Education offering courses to composers of music for visual media. 

And Guy also hosts the YouTube channel that caught my attention, where he does demonstrations of composing music and scoring movies. As I discovered later, there are many YouTube channels with similar focus. But this one is unique. Mainly because of the Guy’s personality, his passion, and the way how he manages to be funny, positively entertaining and educational at the same time. That also explains the rapid growth of subscribers. I joined his channel in March when he had some 59,000 regular subscribers. In less than two months that number has grown to over 100,000! 

This fast growth I found very interesting. I started reading viewers’ comments below his videos to find out, who they were and what they were getting from rather specific videos about composing orchestral music on computers. Is it possible, that there are hundreds of thousands of film music composers, or wannabe composers globally? Are the animation films and computer games so large entertainment industries, that they could employ such huge numbers of music composers? … I doubt it.

What I’ve found out was quite surprising. Aside from the fact, that there are many non-musical viewers, who come and watch Guy Michelmore regularly a couple times a week because of his passion, positive energy and entertainment, there is another large group of subscribers. I call them ‘hobby orchestrators’. These are people, who invest large amounts of time and money into their computer and music gear, software, sample libraries and learning, without an apparent goal to monetize results of their investments. They do it to entertain – mainly themselves!

Obviously I couldn’t stop here. So I started digging deeper in the world of computer orchestrators. 

Orchestral Sample Libraries

I have to acknowledge, that I ‘kind of’ lost contact with the most recent development in the music technology. There used to be times in my career, when I would read, follow and translate every month a number of specialized music technology magazines like Sound On Sound, Fachblatt, FutureMusic, Electronic Musician, Keyboard (RIP) and others. 

Coming back to this was like redeiscovering a world that I had known before – but that has completely changed. Things that musicians wouldn’t even dream about ten or twenty years ago, are now possible and easy accessible. That is thanks to the substantial growth of the computing power that the current computers offer. Just imagine, that the Apple MacBook Pro you can buy today for some $3,000 is capable to do practically the same as one of the best digital studios I used to work in some thirty years ago – with the price tag of over $30 milion!! (Or some $65 milion in the 2020’s money.)

My research of current trends in the music technology revealed this unique ‘cottage industry’ of hobby orchestrators. They can work with the best orchestras in the world – sitting in their bedrooms. For a few hundreds dollars one can buy top quality sample banks made by such names as Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra and other. 

These orchestral sample banks include tens of thousands samples grouped into hundreds of specific articulations on particular instruments and instrumental sections. They were recorded from various microphone positions to capture specific acoustic of a space. Every nuance of an orchestral sound has been analyzed, dissected, recorded and reassembled into a digital product offered online by a number of specialized companies. 

This idea of a complete symphonic sample library for real composers pioneered over 25 years ago the legendary Czech jazz bassist and sampling visionary Miroslav Vitous with his Miroslav Philharmonik. Throughout the years this concept has developed into a small global industry on itself. 

Currently one of the highest regarded products is the Albion One orchestral library produced by the British company Spitfire Audio. It is a 109-piece orchestra recorded at the world famous Hall at AIR studios London. Just for you to have an idea about the size of this virtual orchestra library, it is 87.4 GB of uncompressed .wav format. And this one is by far not the largest one!

Other highly regarded libraries I want mention here are the Hollywood Series from EastWest, Metropolis Ark and Berlin Orchestra series from Orchestral Tools , Synchron Series from Vienna Symphonic Library , Symphobia series from Project SAM , Garritan Personal Orchestra from MakeMusic, or Adagio String Series from 8Dio. But there are many many more. Some even made by sole music enthusiasts and entrepreneurs and of the very high quality.

These sample libraries could be packaged into different audio plugin formats like VST, AU, or AAX. They are then used on computers running various DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) like Cubase, Logic Pro, ProTools, Ableton Live and few others. The industry standard is currently the Kontakt sampler from the company Native Instruments. ( ) 

Enough about technology! Let’s get back to music.

Is This Still Music? Really?

I must admit here one thing. When I opened this ‘Pandora’s box’ of virtual orchestra music making, I didn’t expect that I would encounter one of the largest aggravation music would bring me in many years … and subsequently a big revelation as well. 

Am I confusing you? 

Let me explain.

We don’t have to go too far. You can click on some of those sample library links above and listen to examples. Or listen to the piece of music that I liked from the first moment – The Frank Hunter. Written by the sound designer and composer Daniel James, it uses yet another orchestral library named Jaeger, by the company Audio Imperia. 

What do you hear? Fast violin runs, big horns roaring, ostinato basses, percussions and drums accentuating almost constantly the loudest (fortissimo) passages, large choirs slapped on top of it all. The goal is to reach and keep constant excitement. This is Epic, Dramatic, Heroic, Cinematik, Trailer Music. There is no relief. No space to steam out, to relax. Just run, run, run!

I get it. This is what many computer games are about. You, as a hero (or your virtual hero) are under constant attack. So you have to run, smash, kick, shoot, cut, slice, bomb, fight, … to kill. The purpose is to win, to get to the next round, to earn points – to be a hero. In this never ending race plays music a very important role. And through computer games this specific type of music has become very popular. Just google ‘trailer music’ or ‘epic music’.

No Relax!

What I don’t get is this ‘NO room’ for relax. 

The Western tonal music is based on the principle of ‘tension and release’. The basic principle of the tonal harmony – the chords progression – is building an anticipation for the drama/tension to resolve. And on a larger scale the same works in a song or in a symphony. Tension and release keep the music moving forward. 

But what happens if there is a constant tension with no release? There is a potential for deformation. I don’t want to get here into examples of issues of a negative impact of tension/stress on a human body and mind. My point is, that I don’t like music that uses all the traditional ingredients and processes, but only for one purpose. It becomes one-dimensional. 

This is what I experienced as I had been digging through the ‘epic trailer music’ world on the Apple Music. There are many successful sound designers and music composers writing for computer games, animated, short, documentary and feature movies. Once they establish themselves, they release their music on SoundCloud and then on Apple Music, Spotify and other websites.  My online search somehow led to a guy named Thomas Bergersen. (I don’t want to single out only one person here, as there are many active in this ‘genre’.) The IMDb database reveals, that he’s been quite successful, composed music for a number of cinematic trailers, including Interstellar or Tomorrowland

As I had been listening through his compositions, an angry feeling started growing in me. Something I hadn’t esperienced for years – in relation to music. This endless climax became an endless platitude, or clichè, or banality. It was like if someone deeply underestimated my music listening ability. As if I was force-fed from a very narrow and predictable musical toolbox. I got really pissed off going from one music composition to another, listening to the same high quality, but badly ‘expropriated’ orchestral sounds, pieced together for still the same purpose – to keep the tension. To keep winning. To feel like a hero…

And as I had been feeling angry and tense – a revelation downed on me. Suddenly I felt that necessary release of the tension. I realized positive aspects of the ‘trailer music’. The first was, that on the professional level, this music brings work to many classically trained musicians and orchestras. They get employed when making those sample libraries. Also, professional film music composers use these sample libraries for sketching and subsequent testing their ideas. If a movie budget allows it, then they hire orchestras for final recordings. Because they recognize qualities that such a live orchestra recording can bring to the final impact of a movie as a whole. 

Hobby Orchestrators

My second realization was more relevant to what Musicably is about – the amateur music making. As I have been pouring through dozens of music compositions and checked their composers’ online presence, I’ve found out, that many of them have large followings on social media. Guy Michelmore, who I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, is just one good example. And there are many more and some extreme ones. Like also mentioned Daniel James, who regularly holds 3 to 5 hours (!) long live stream composing sessions attended by tens of thousands of participants. You can check it here.

Who in their right mind would be willing to sit for five hours and watch online some guy doing his composing work? Even if there is some aspect of entertainment, I believe that what holds attention of those thousands of attendees is their desire to learn. They want to learn about new sounds and samples. Learn about how to put them together meaningfully and masterfully in an effort to compose their own heroic – epic music. Other people go axe-throwing, or paragliding, or play shooting games (off- and online) to feel better and get entertained. This group of people instead compose epic music as a hobby. There is nothing wrong about it. Although they use only a very narrow and very predictable spectrum of hues and colors the musical ‘palette’ offers. 

To finish this long post, I want to quote a guy, whose name cannot be omitted when talking about film music – Hans Zimmer. This legendary composer is crucial for the genre of epic music. His music ideas get copied and emulated by many professional and hobby orchestrators. Sample libraries carrying his name with his specific sounds are highly valued among sample music enthusiasts. But what differentiates him from most of the others, what helped him to become one of the most successful film music composers is his approach. He expressed it in the following quote:

“If somebody tells you there is a rule – break it! That is the only way to move forward.” (Hans Zimmer)

 

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