Monday, 31 December 2012

"String? It's done." - CD1 content finished

Good news, everyone! I have just finished my last tweaks of all CD1 tracks. Therefore as of today CD1 material is done and I'm pleased to announce the official CD1 tracklist with proper tracknames, durations and target track order. I ended up with 22 tracks and exactly 73 minutes of music. And, I also managed to finish before the end of 2012 ;)

LINN-drum roll...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

About Season 4 Main Theme

My recent mention of the CD1 tracklist changes sprouted several discussions about the "continued" omission of Season 4 main theme.

I'm not a big fan of neither Season 4 nor its incarnation of the Airwolf Main Theme, and neither is Mark. But that has nothing to do with the omission: "Season 4 Main Theme" has been on Mark's "Airwolf Themes Sequel Album" tracklist since the early 2000s (March 29th, 2004 to be exact) and then on mine since 2006, when I officially joined the project. We scrapped it the instant the Season 4 Main Theme was publicly released in March 2010 in its original form and in stereo. The track (pre-production number 09) was already a "work in progress" at that time (my first and only mockup was done in 2007).

This is a lesson learned from Jean Michel Jarre cover scene that I used to be active on a couple of years ago: no matter how perfect your replica cover is - people will ALWAYS go for the original provided it's available. In case of Season 4 Main Theme - it is, and there is simply no added value (neither for me nor for you) in recreating it. It makes, however, perfect sense to avoid redundancy and use those 3-4 minutes to make room for other, unreleased yet, music.

Wouldn't you agree?

The official Season 4 Main Theme can be purchased via Amazon.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Big CD1 tracklist changes

As you might have already read between the lines of one of Mark's latest posts over at his blog, CD1 tracklist has undergone some serious changes, the most important being the track count. If you remember the tracklist you'll know that there were 16 tracks (numbered 01-17 without 09). I'm proud to announce that CD1 has just passed the 20 track mark and will contain (as of today) 22 (that's TWENTY TWO) tracks. That's over twenty variations of the Main Theme. Our strategy concerning taking the wraps off those secret new tracks is not yet defined, but let me just give you a hint what these new tracks DO NOT include:
  • Season 4 Theme
  • Season 2 Opening Theme(s)
  • "Birds of Paradise" aerial
Also, one of the tracks from the pre-production list has been scrapped.

We are also almost done with the final ordering of CD1 tracks (auditions pending) - it will be nothing like the current pre-production list. The new order will also explain the presence of some of the yet unannounced material.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Airwolf Main Theme Orchestral Suite - The Holy Grail - sneak peek

At long last. After a slight delay (I was distracted yesterday by some other Mach 1+ flying object) I give you a preview of the Airwolf Main Theme (Orchestral Suite), aka "The Holy Grail" of Airwolf Themes. For those who just tuned in - that's the Gabrielle's death + Moffett Sand Dune Chase segment from the pilot episode, including one minute of yet undisclosed extra music material. There was a discussion below the last post about what it could possibly be and needless to say some of the guesses were very interesting!

That "couple of tweaks" that I mentioned in my last post turned into way over fifteen (yesterday) and then additional six (this afternoon). Fun fact: in case of this track I frequently audition my latest changes together with the original video from the episode. Anyway, this little delay came out for good after all. Here we go. This. Is. It.

Go easy on me! Enjoy.

The extra minute is not in this preview yet.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Holy Grail and the rest

Welcome back with another post that qualifies as "long overdue". Let's recap.

The Holy Grail

In my previous post I announced that all recording has been completed and the only thing left to do was to transcribe track 14 (the full Orchestral Main Theme, the Holy Grail of Airwolf Themes) so that it can be recorded by Mark. That turned out to be not exactly accurate - I ended up recording it myself. There were a couple of reasons behind this but the most important factors were the logistics and... pride. The challenge of doing the Orchestral Main Theme properly (as I already made two attempts; in 1998 and 2002 - some of you might still have these mono 56kbps mp3s...) has haunted me for ages; much like Mark's "Airwolf II". This was by far my most challenging, complex and time consuming piece to date. The amount of tweaks and fine tuning to make it sound realistic is enormous (at least by my standards). Some of the instrument tracks carry up to 5 parameter envelopes.

The recordings of this Holy Grail finished a month ago, and by September 8th I managed to achieve an "acceptable" mix. At that point I was almost ready to post teasers, but with tracks like this you need to put them on a shelf and let them... rot a little bit. Rot, so that after initial excitement you start to be less biased, engage criticism - you really need a love-hate relationship with them. There are a couple of tweaks that still need to be done, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to give you something at the end of this week.

Per popular demand the track is based on the Pilot version of the Orchestral Main Theme and not only includes the Main Theme alone, but also the "Gabrielle's Death" segment. If you look at the CD1 pre-production tracklist though, you'll notice that the track is 5:18, while the original "Gabrielle's Death + Sand Dune Chase" segment is closer to 4:15. Well, the album IS called "Airwolf Extended Themes", isn't it? I won't reveal what the extra minute is just yet, but it definitely isn't a plain extension of the Main Theme part, no siree! It's a completely different segment of music, which gives track 14 a "suite" feel.

The rest

Besides track 14, I've been busy making tweaks to other tracks. You'll notice on the CD1 pre-production tracklist that tracks 04 and 06 are now green. Track 04 (Season 1 Synth Theme) is now much more refined and dynamic than the EP version and upgrades in Track 06 are mostly related to maintaining consistency with track 04. Track 05 also received some upgrades (more dynamic than what was previewed) and so did Track 10 (UDI's Main Theme), speaking of which - it's one of the very few that have not been previewed yet (completed Aug 2011)! If time permits tracks 01 and 03 will be revamped as well (so it probably still makes sense to grab the EP, as while all the tracks will be on CD1 they will sound differently). This work will wrap up by the end of October.

Stay tuned for track 14 previews.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

3rd Season done!

Who likes good news? Everyone? Then good news, everyone! All tracks that were supposed to be recorded in my studio are accounted for. Track 11 was completed last Sunday (July 15th) morning and track 13 in the evening. The remaining work now is to do the orchestral transcription of track 14 and try to even out sonic differences between all my tracks before doing the final master. So we're definitely getting there.

But, onto track 11 - "3rd Season Aerial Theme (extended)". It was a very interesting track to do, as it presented a couple of challenges - in both sound design, mixing and structure.

Sound design and mixing

Season 3 Main Theme is a curious breed: it was based on Ian Freebairn-Smith's Main Theme from "Sweet Britches" and "Firestorm" - many of the synthesizer part recordings were reused and it is the most apparent in the Ascending Bridge where the rapid synth brass part is clearly the same as (with regards to rhythmic "feel" and sound) in the mentioned Season 2 episodes. Ascending Bridge was my first clue to this discovery and soon I began to hear more similiarities. Ian's main lead sound is definitely present throughout entire Season 3 main theme, although it was "modernised" by overlaying a synth horn (in the first halves of verses) and synth trumpet (in the second halves of verses) on top of it - much like in most Season 2 main theme renditions. The secondary lead sound (which you can hear playing solo in my "Minimalist" main theme versions, e.g. track 4 on Airwolf Main Themes EP) was also upgraded by overlaying a "twinkling" sound on top of it (can be distinctly heard during the final seconds of Season 3 Opening Credits).

Season 3 introduced a new "twangy" sound that plays the famous bass pattern. It's always been a tough nut to crack for me - my syn├Žsthesia kept giving up on it. Until finally, while playing around with FX section on my XS6 I discovered that it is essentially the same sound Levay used since S1, yet processed with a decent Gated Reverb. The sound changes during Ascending Bridge - it has a strong flanger effect applied (which makes each note - even though repeated - sound slightly different). Anyway, having been immensely happy about figuring out the bass sound, I recorded the bass lines... and only 30 months later the track was completed. Yes, you read that right: that's a thirty (30). Why such a long time, you ask? (if you don't ask, skip to the next paragraph). It's quite simple - I wanted to produce my Season 3 version much like the original was, i.e. first have Ian's version and then build on top of the parts that were eventually reused in 1986. It seemed like the natural thing to do. And since the sound design for Ian's track took me a while... there you have it.


That was an interesting piece of the puzzle as well. The problem with Season 3 Main Theme was that there was only ONE version which was used over and over again. The most interesting mix was used in "Day of Jeopardy" - it featured an extended intro starting with the "twangy" sequence playing solo for a couple of seconds. Needless to say I put that in. I also duplicated the first verse right after the Descending Bridge, which was done in "Where Have All The Children Gone". So, there aren't really any surprises, but it's still great to listen to.



Sunday, 8 July 2012

Mornin', Sheriff - Sweet Britches/Firestorm complete

And another one done - the 2nd Season Aerial - 'SWEET BRITCHES' / 'FIRESTORM' aerials, originally done by Ian Freebairn-Smith. This track turned out to be particularly difficult to produce. While the arrangement itself is not very demanding (n.b. it is the only (excl. Pilot) synth version that does not include Levay's famous arpeggiator pattern - it was brought back in Firestorm though), the recreation of the main lead sound alone has proven to be a real challenge. In both episodes quite a different than usual synth gear was used for the soundtrack production. The core of the setup seems to be the iconic Yamaha DX7 (released in 1984) which pioneered the FM sound synthesis - which was unlike most synthesizers (so called "analog synthesizers") at the time. The sound of FM is very distinctive and has a metallic resonant character (which can be clearly heard during Firestorm music cues) and programming FM synthesizers has always been considered to be "rocket science". Which is precisely why I rejected the notion of recreating this sound using FM, and decided to resort to DX7 samples instead. It took me a couple of months (years?) to notice that the main lead sound of Sweet Britches aerial is actually not the FM alone; it's actually played using two synths at a time - an FM synth is responsible for the attack transient (the beginning "phwah") and an analog synth provides that nice spacious warm sustain. Eventually I was forced to recreate the FM sound using "rocket science" (the samples were simply not good enough), and the analog part was done using the trusty Yamaha AN1x.

The Sweet Britches aerial is known for being "big" and "powerful" - it has to "blow the doors off" (pictured above), as Mark and I put it. Making it sound big boils down to three things - finding a proper reverb for the main lead sound, tweaking the hell out of the Linn drum samples, and finally putting the entire audio mix through a properly set up compressor and limiter. Speaking of the drums, it is absolutely AMAZING what audio engineers in the 80's managed to pull off using Linn drum machines over and over again. Even within the confines of Airwolf Main Theme universe - EVERY (with the exception of Season 1 opening theme and Pilot) version of the Main Theme employs this drum machine, but it sounds completely different in Sweet Britches aerial and e.g. Season 2 opening theme. Yes, those are exactly the same drums, albeit processed differently. Did I say it was amazing?

The final ingredient of this track is imperfection. In the original, the main lead sound was recorded pretty much live without any quantization afterwards. This especially shows in the brass staccatos during Ascending Bridge - it seems that the performer couldn't match the pace. Recreating these imperfections was paramount to the feeling of this track.I haven't managed to recreate those imperfections perfectly (sic!) - I guess I'm worse than the Borg in this regard.

"2nd Season Aerial - 'SWEET BRITCHES' / 'FIRESTORM' aerials" was completed within three weeks (this obviously does not include the FM brass sound research, which started back in 2006). Final length is 4:55.

The track includes
  • The entire 'SWEET BRITCHES' aerial
  • 'FIRESTORM' aerial (first verse and Ascending Bridge)
  • Extended ending (as heard in Firestorm closing titles)
  • A surprise


(Special thanks to Lance LeGault, Martin Grant and Eric Shepherd for the new AWT Intro).

MARTY'S AIRWOLF DOCUMENTARY - Don't forget to check out Marty Grant's progress on the other big Airwolf project... the Airwolf DOCUMENTARY on his Blog.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

A teaser

For those wondering as to why there were no updates lately - put simply I've been swamped over at my daytime job, but the work on Airwolf Themes continues (albeit at a slower pace). There are two tracks left for me to complete (Sweet Britches/Firestorm and Season 3 Main Theme) plus transcription of the Orchestral Main Theme which will be then recorded at Einstein. Our plan is to put a final seal on CD1 material within two months.

Anyway, here's a little teaser (literally) to keep you busy:

Have your Airwolf DVDs handy, as it goes better with video (which we couldn't use due to copyright) - you'll get the idea once you hear it.


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Never underestimate any of your tools

UPDATE (8.04.2012): Check out Mark's post about 'MIND OF THE MACHINE' teaser for a detailed information on the track.

A couple of days ago Mark asked me if I could help him recreate a sound effect for his "Mind of the Machine" rendition. The sound effect appears just before Winchester realizes that Airwolf carries its own design specs - aka "Dr. Winchester realization moment".

The sound effect comprises of a short digital "whoosh" followed by a couple of repeated "whoop" sounds.

The whoop sounds were pretty straightforward - they required a synthesizer with a rather precise LFO and I recreated them using my trustworthy Yamaha AN1x. The "whoosh" sound, however, was a different story. At first glimpse it sounds like a pretty simple white noise with opening LPF filter. That was, however, not the case. I knew I heard this sound somewhere. I decided to pull out a piece of hardware from another era...

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Airwolf Synth + Orchestral done: sneak peek!

Today's post is long overdue, because I actually finalized track 05 last month (and the pre-production track list reflects that fact). This track is a very special one. It's a perfect blend of orchestral and synthesizer bits and it's basically what Mark originally envisioned for Levay's reinterpretation of the main theme for the original "Airwolf Themes" CD2... way back in the previous century.

This particular version of the theme has appeared in Airwolf only once - during the "Journey to Red Star" in the "Movie version" of the pilot episode. The synthesizer bits were based on Season 1 theme - not the opening/closing credits though, but rather the in-episode aerials and lair startup sequences. The orchestral arrangement was based on the latter S1 version, which was used exclusively from "Echos from the Past" onwards (with the sole exception of "And They Are Us" closing credits for which the first version was used).

Since the original version in the "Movie Pilot" was rather short (90 seconds or so) I had to do some "creative extrapolation" to produce a full-length main theme, which was actually not that hard given that the building blocks (S1 synth theme and EFTP orchestral theme) were at my disposal. I think I managed to pull it off - the parts missing from the original version, the Ascending Bridge and final verse + final crescendo sound absolutely outstandingly "organic". They actually remind me of "Eagles" finale aerial a lot (which was the show's second attempt at a synth + orchestral version... and which the fans requested for AWT2), but they sound much more powerful. The resemblance to "Eagles" is of special value for me: "Eagles" first aired in Poland on my birthday and hearing this special main theme version was really the best birthday present I could imagine!

Having the orchestral elements inside this track required a great deal of patience from me. It once again proved that you can have the best orchestral samples in the world at your disposal, but unless you put soul into it, or, strictly speaking, a great deal of articulating subtleties like subtle pitch and volume changes they will still sound artificial and "plastic".

Oddly enough, I began my work from Ascending Bridge. Most parts don't sound that complex - you have the cello seemingly steadily playing the ascending notes, a tremolo violin ensemble that slowly plays its chords and the rapid brass ensemble staccatos. I knew brass ensemble will give me headaches - first, figuring out the exact notes that are there, then recreating the "accent" notes which employ bending the notes' pitch (in plain English - it's the distinctive "woof" sound). It took me several days to crunch those (the aerial from "Mind of the Machine" while not of the most pristine quality had the trombone section pretty prominent) - the ability of my Motif XS to stack up to 8 elements each with its own Pitch Envelope made the job a lot easier! However, in order to have some context to work with I began with the cellos and violins. It wasn't as easy as anticipated: I had to spent extra time recreating portamentos between cello notes and tweaking the subtleties of pitch and volume of the tremolo violins. The pitch instabilities occur naturally: a violinist cannot stay perfectly in pitch while playing tremolo, especially when he has to increase volume - which happens near the end of the Ascending Bridge. Below is a screenshot (dated February 3rd - as you can see only "Celli" and "Violins" tracks are present) from my DAW software showing the envelopes of pitch and volume of tremolo violins:

I could go on. Needless to say - you probably won't be aware of that while listetning to the final product, but the track is incredibly detailed. Some of the parts have 4 or 5 envelopes like that - controlling volume, brightness, attack time and other nuances, like for instance the violins during Descending Bridge, which you will hear in just about a minute...

Enjoy! (Might contain coarse language courtesy of senator Dietz)

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Track 12 - sneak peek

As promised earlier this week - two teasers of track 12. For more information about this track see this post: Track 12 finished.

Opening theme segment based on the off-air version with additional slap bass:

And one of the very few Main Theme versions that was originally arranged with a saxophone:

Enjoy! And check back soon for another progress report.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Track 12 finished

Woah, it's been a while since my last post. I updated the CD1 pre-production tracklist a week ago though and I actually wanted to blog about this, but instead - I didn't. The update to the track-list was due because Track 12 has been completed. As you can see it no longer bears the "remix" label, which was a kind of a failsafe - I had doubts if I'd be able to recreate the orchestral brass, live "tea towel" drum kit (pioneered by the Beatles), the funky slap bass and the growling tenor saxamaphone from "Daddy's Gone A Hunt'n" ending credits. In case I wouldn't I'd just put a "remix" stamp on it and pretend it was by design... ;), however the final result exceeded my expectations.

Track 12 is very unique compared to other variations found on CD1. It's the only one that contains neither of the bridges ("descending" and "ascending", that is). So, what's in it, then?

  • Season 1 opening theme (with slap bass riffs found in the off-air version)
  • Bite of the Jackal minimalist ending credits
  • Daddy's Gone A Hunt'n ending credits
  • Generic Season 1 closing theme (e.g. Proof Through The Night)
  • And a real gem: ULTRA-RARE finale aerial from alternate version of Daddy's Gone A Hunt'n episode.
Are you excited yet? I'll try to get a preview up before the end of this week. Keep checking back.

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