Behind the music

Welcome back to the Jaakan weekly update!

Last time, we took a look at some editor refinements. Today, it’s time to take a look at another aspect of the game: music! I’ll give you a tour of some of the tools and sound banks we use in creating Jaakan’s soundtrack.

The main DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that @bigsylvain and I use is Cubase: it’s the flagship product of Steinberg, the father of the VST instrument & plug-in format.

Cubase is quite expensive, but nowadays it’s the only DAW I feel comfortable in. It handles both audio and VST instrument tracks, has powerful editing features, and lots of built-in synthesizers and effects.

But the star of this article is EastWest, a purveyor of fine acoustic VST instruments: from orchestras to choirs to pianos to all things rock and metal, EastWest is the gift that keeps on giving - if you can afford it.

I purchased the Composer’s Collection some time ago: the collection is so big that it’s shipped by snail mail on a hard disk drive! For smaller packs or upgrades, one can also choose the download option, although not all products are available this way.

Note: because of the state of web audio, this article is only fully-functional in Firefox or Chrome.

Brass

Let’s start with a simple short trombone sound:

This instrument is among the ones that sound enticing all by itself! Often, acoustic instruments come in several flavors: short, long, effects, keyswitch, etc. - each with some variants:

Now let’s add a ‘long’ trombone sound to it.

And finally, a trumpet! This is starting to sound like the King is about to enter any moment.

If it seems like the instruments are a bit dissonant, it’s probably because they are! You can tune them in the EastWest Play interface. And also, since I’m making these sample tracks quickly for this blog post, I’m probably not paying close enough attention to the tessitura of these instruments.

Woods

Now let’s take a look at some woods. Starting with a majestic contrabassoon:

Then, an English horn:

And finally a flute:

All together now!

Strings

I find that strings have a flair for the dramatic. Even just a harp can summon a powerful ambience.

Add to this a contrabass…

And a violin - which is famously hard to write for in a DAW, as it often sounds artificial, but is here played pizzicato:

And all together, are enough to send one’s imagination into mysterious lands:

Piano

EastWest’s Pianos Gold pack comes with four piano sounds: Yamaha, Steinway, Bosendorfer, and Bechstein, demonstrated here.

Although piano is the instrument of choice of many composers to come up with ideas, it is easy to write badly for it and end up with the classic ‘MIDI sound’, with little expression:

But adding just a little variation to both the sustain and velocity of the notes can make for a much better result:

Synths

This article is already getting quite long and heavy on assets, but I couldn’t resist writing one more sample track, to show off some of the synthesizers built into Cubase 7.5 Artist.

In this silly little track, you can hear some sounds from Prologue, Retrologue, Mystic, and Spector:

That’s it for today!