Sunday, 30 October 2011

From idea to master. Case study: 'PILOT' - Journey to Red Star (TV Version)

Time for a progress report. Let's talk about a track that I have completed most recently - it's a very good example of what I described in my last post.

I created the very first mockup of "Red Star" in December 2006 (actually, most of the mockups originate from 2006) and the last one in August 2007. Back then it was ca. 3 minutes in length - definitely too short. Months later I came up with the idea to incorporate the music that kicks in when you hear the "Dropped below the radar" line (being "Red Star" material and featuring Sly's trademark pulse wave arpeggiator) and also the "Kafir Palace Raid" music (being almost identical to the former). We then figured it would be around 4 minutes (and that's what the last version of the pre-production tracklist said).

And that was basically the plan agreed upon until the recording started. I just couldn't glue all the parts together, and after a while I decided that the extra segments mentioned above need a track of their own. So what happened to the Red Star track? That's the "decent overhaul" that I mentioned earlier - I decided to face my fears and try to incorporate two other musical segments to the track which I never thought I'd be able to recreate. I even explicitly rejected them when people asked for them over at Airwolf Themes forums! Guess what: they turned out great. Also the track came out longer than planned. Concluding, these are the newest amendments to CD1 tracklist:

08'PILOT' - Journey to Red Star (TV Version) Sly (4:26)
16Proper name TBC (Red Star II) Sly (TBC)

To be completely honest, Red Star was one of the tracks that I always thought I'd label a "remix" rather than a "replica". But so far it's one of my finest (if not THE finest) replicas to date. We will probably use it for CD1 opening.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

From idea to master

Before I dive into CD1 current progress I'd like to first talk a little bit about the lifetime of a single track - which should give you a better understanding about the pre-production tracklist "flux".

It all obviously starts with a "what if we had this/that version". Then I will begin looking for all possible sub-variations of that particular main theme version in my head - from time to time I would also refer to the actual episodes. Once I'm done extracting (still mentally) the bits that make those sub-variations different to each other, I try to glue them together and produce the very first rough mock-up version: the humming. Sometimes I'll use a stopwatch to get an early estimate of the track length. If it's too short - I restructure. If it's too long - well... that never really happened.

Once the structure and length make sense, I try to produce a MIDI mockup - usually using my trusty Yamaha CBX-K1XG which serves as a perfect scratch-pad with its ease of use and multitimbrality. This mockup obviously doesn't sound at all like the final studio version in terms of sounds; it focuses on accurate notes and track structure. At this point a lot of adjustments might happen - what works great in my head doesn't necessarily work in reality. When I'm more or less happy with what I'm hearing I will then put that mockup on my MP3 player and also submit it to Mark for evaluation (and yes, from time to time I even apply his suggestions!)

When the actual studio recording session is near (which, frankly, can happen years after) I'll start to listen to that mockup again to get "in the mood". The sessions always start from sound design - it can take hours or days before a particular sound is nailed - I sometimes even abandon work on one track and start working on another if I get stuck for too long. When the sound design is complete it's time to record my performance (i.e. the MIDI note data). I hardly ever recycle MIDI data from the mockup - the new sounds have different characteristics and require different treatment.

At this point it is still possible that I will find out that what worked in the mockup version doesn't really work in the final version with proper sounds and in extreme cases the track will get a decent overhaul with regards to its structure - in fact, no final version yet has been identical to the mockup (for instance, track 2 on the Airwolf Main Themes EP did not have the extra ending from 04:25 to 05:00). When that part of production is over with the audio recording and mastering is done. This can take up to several days per track, due to the nature of "replicas". I will explain this in another blog post.

P.S. The "years after" is no exaggeration. The first sketch of "Season 2/3 extended closing credits" was born on 12.06.2006, while I was on a train on my way to meet with Jean Michel Jarre. Audio recording started in November 2008 and was finalized in March 2009. There you go - over two years...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Welcome to Airwolf Extended Themes Orchestrator's Notes!

Welcome to Airwolf Extended Themes Orchestrator's Notes (pun intended) blog. My name is Jan Michal Szulew and I'll be your host on this blog. Besides that, as you may or may not know, I'm the Orchestrator and Associate Producer for Airwolf Extended Themes CD1 - simply put, my job is to listen to various versions of the Airwolf Main Theme for 17 years (that's why we couldn't deliver it any sooner), crunch the notes, crunch the sounds, replicate the sounds and then finally record and master the audio.

The purpose of this blog is to give you an idea about project's progress - we realize we've been pretty much silent about it and seriously we wanted to have this kind of blog available much earlier, but it didn't make much sense before we were actually able to release more or less stable pre-production tracklist, which happened quite recently (September 2011). CD1 tracklist is somewhat fluent - some items might appear, disappear and (yeah, you guessed it) REappear as I go through production of subsequent tracks. I'll make sure to keep you updated.

Before you'll get your hands on the Airwolf Extended Themes CD you'll be able to learn about project's history, the technology/methodology behind it, and my almost twenty years long journey.

And now, the line you've all been waiting for:

* * * audio samples coming soon * * *

Keep checking back!

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