MUSIC

This section is dedicated to the project tracks that have been created and processed in both stereo and 3D post-production.

Within the audio players, connected to individual playlists embedded from my Soundcloud account, I have described and analysed the process for each track, providing further considerations about choices during the works and conclusions about the achieved outcome.

I recommend to have a pause of 1 minute between the playback of both the versions per track, as the effect may be weird within a close switch.

Also, all the masters can be downloaded here.

"Collapse"

"Collapse" is an attempt to create a cinematic/animation soundtrack with virtual instruments and sample-based libraries. The original plan was to record live strings and musicians, but unfortunately, the non-response of the contacted players forced me to change plans in the second half of the assignment. However, considering the development of the COVID-19 situation, it would have been quite difficult to make it happen anyway (in terms of studio booking, scheduling and proper recording experience), hence the migration to a digital progression of the works was beneficial, in retrospective. 

 

The composition was made in Cubase, my preferred DAW for the process due to its great qualities and features concerning MIDI, especially for this kind of material. Kontakt ​(Native Instruments, 2020), with several of its libraries, and Omnisphere (Spectrasonics, 2020) were used to write all the strings and percussive parts, while Zebra (uHe, 2020) was used to create the additional electronic-influenced layers. 

The style is mainly influenced by Hans Zimmer and Ramin Djawadi film/tv series scores, with a strong and impactful percussion presence and a supporting orchestral arrangement to the main the melody, that in this case is driven by the piano. Also, I desired to experiment and add a personal touch to it; as I consider my production "palette" belonging to a quite electronic oriented realm, I have chosen to introduce some sample-based synthesized layers, helping to widen and fill up more the sonic spectrum, creating a sort of epic yet modern-sounding score. It has a short length as I wanted to create an ideal intro theme for a tv series/animation, condensing in one minute an emotional essence progressed by a dynamic development to ending climax.

In regards to the post-production, for the stereo version, I have tried to match as much as possible my reference, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL's (2016) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [Deluxe]. It features a fairly compressed sound considering the genre, but that follows the style the reference's sonic characteristics. The desire to reach a perceivable impact led the mixing approach, keeping the percussive elements straight in front of the listener, but still leaving room for the piano, the "emotional" leading element of the piece. The goal was to create the perfect balance between these two and then add all the others accordingly, in order to create space and width.

Aware that virtual-instruments may easily remind the listener that the recordings are not live, I used Altiverb and its convolution reverbs, in order to recreate an acoustically surreal environment. Ultimately, the intent of the mixing stage was to make everything in my power to make it seem as realistic as possible, of course given the limits of the scenario.

The mastering process allowed me to refine some details of the frequency spectrum, adjusting the balance and the dynamics control (with a gentle touch given the compression already given in the mix). The final product has been mastered to a streaming loudness standard of circa -14LUFS. During the process, I kept Spotify always ready to play the most intense tracks of the above-cited score, in order to have a fair comparison with a professional industry release. Because I completed the mastering with Ozone (Izotope, 2020), I was able to emulate the conversion to the bitrate that Spotify offers, using its option to test AAC and MP3 codecs, performing a more precise comparison in terms of quality and stream of data.

During the full process of mixing and mastering, I did not consult any external guide or a specific technique, as I wanted to achieve the completion of the project just with my own skills and ear, added to the reference features that I constantly kept in consideration; this required me to provide a rigorous listening and observation of the product. Unfortunately, due to Coronavirus lockdown, I was not able to access the facilities on the campus, which would have allowed me to get better monitoring and full frequency response. As a consequence, I have done the full process using headphones and 

With the stereo post-production completed, I then proceeded to convert the session in 3D. It was essential to complete the stereo first in order to define and clean the recordings so that the 3D process could just primarily focus (where possible) on the positioning in the tridimensional space.

After a "Save As" in my Pro Tools session, DAW I have used to carry the post-production of the projects in this assignment, I have committed the track with all their insert, in order to quickly have only the printed and processed tracks ready to work with. It has been simply to give more resources to my CPU, as running all the "standard" processing plus the 3D on every single channel could have been quite demanding. 

Considering the very new state of this field, finding a proper reference for this project was not easy. I actually did not find any modern soundtrack mixed in this form. The project served more as an experiment and testing for a new field, with the goal to understand possibilities but limits as well. 

As the Binaural 3D emulates a scenario in which the sound completely surrounds the listener, space acoustics and reflections variables are used in the plugins.

In this case, I have used acoustics of a recording hall; it provided me with the ideal environment to insert the sources in a context in which they could resonate realistically. I have spent the initial time of the session in getting accustomed to the sound perception and the plugin's features, considering it was fairly new as workflow. While working on the project, I have started to realise that the format might not be suited for every genre. It is hard to make some compositions as good and direct as in the stereo post-production, as the sound is in fact perceived not "inside"/between your ears but around you. I tried to create a comfortable and stable mix around the perception point, keeping in mind the approach I had for my stereo one and experimenting especially on X/Z axis. With the completed mix, I have applied the same mastering chain of the stereo version, tweaking some aspects of the EQ and Dynamic sections. However, I have completely changed the Imager instance, as it did not make any more sense in this 3D realm. I wanted the sound to flow naturally in the virtual space. Ultimately, I have limited at -1db and maximized as needed to reach a matching loudness (assured by the analysation of integrated LUFS) to my stereo mastering, so that while comparing the two finished product the A/B listening can be balanced.

"Cardiopalmo"

"Cardiopalmo" is the first of the productions I have made after deciding to opt for a self-produced batch of pieces to work with. It is an electronic/experimental instrumental track which revolves around a concept I have personally dealt with due to stress. Cardiopalmo is the Italian meaning of heart palpitations, heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable. After deciding to transpose the concept into music, I tried to assign parts of the feeling to musical elements. With the beat and the percussive elements, I have tried to represent the heartbeat and its progression to this condition, which raises as the track arrives towards the end. As mentioned in the previous track's description, I feel my musical mind is better represented with electronic atmospheres.

Considering this is a quite personal project, it felt natural approaching the session with a variety of synthesizers, representing the emotional part of the concept.

In the post-production, I tried to convey a progression that would reach an always raising intensity to eventually find a calmer outro, representing the overall experience. Wide pan and a generous amount of compression describe the full mix. Reverb and delay helped me to define space and width as well, supporting transitions and creating tails to connect the various sections of the instrumental. With the mastering, I have tried to emphasise the transients and the overall dynamic crescendo, aiming to get a strong but yet not an over-compressed product. With this track as well, circa -14 LUFS was the target of the desired loudness.

As in "Collapse", part of the dynamic strength gets softer with the 3D processing, but the chance to play with panning and creative revolutions of the sound was higher. Managing the bass frequencies in this realm is one the main challenges, as the goal is still to make them perform present and direct, but it gets harder within the introduction of reflections; the key has been playing with the wet/dry controls of the virtual room acoustics.

The mastering chain was the same as the stereo one here as well, because it makes sense starting from an overall progressed point of work. However, tweak in the EQ, multiband compression and imaging have been done. The 3D processing tend to introduce more high frequencies and lose low end strength, which is a feature I have noticed immediately since listening to reference track on TIDAL Hifi, which offers Binarual 3D catalogs (Tidal, n.d.).

"Sky"

"Sky" is the last piece of the three, an instrumental featuring a more urban/pop style, with a mellow atmosphere and a more static structure. Ideally, it would have been completed with some vocals, and that is why the arrangement leaves enough space to possible additional elements. I decided to use it even without a vocalist as I wanted to experiment with the process on this music genre too. 

No particular inspiration has led me to compose this, neither I had references to handle the mixing stage. I left space to my ear to guide me towards its full completion. As in "Collapse", some live instrumentation would have allowed me to have a more realistic feeling, especially with the strings. 

In the mixing process, I aimed to have a balanced and solid groove with the arrangements of keys and pads spread over the full width, in order to convey space and dimension; this would have helped to create room for some vocals (in my mind sang by a female).

While working on its 3D version, I had easier times into creating order and balance, compared to the previous two tracks.

Placing the production elements around the 360° space was pretty straightforward. I have used different virtual acoustics on several elements, as I wanted to specify their interaction with the rooms. The strings and the piano feature a larger reverberation compared to drums. To glue the mix together, I have applied some acoustic reflections to the bass as well, which in the 360° environment results slightly behind the head; the idea was to convey a sense of power and full presence from the back, leaving space for high frequencies and percussive elements in the front.

One of the main synth pad in the chorus sections is automated to move around the full sphere, adding a sense of motion and wide space to the most intense section of the song.

I still do wonder how I would have mixed the vocals in if I had some; there are some elements which I identify better if they stay static, leaving secondary sources the task to move and being automated over the axis. Probably some subtle automations from verse to chorus in terms of distance and height may be the only movements I would consider, establishing the vocals as lead elements of such productions.

A collection of snapshot taken during the production, mixing & mastering stages of the three projects, showing the sessions and some of the used tools.

Cardiopalmo 3D Mastering
Sky Production
Collapse Producution
Sky 3D Mixing
Sky 3D Mixing
Cardiopalmo Stereo Mastering

Bibliography

Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL (2016) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice [Deluxe]. iTunes. [Download]. Available at: https://music.apple.com/us/album/batman-v-superman-dawn-justice-original-motion-picture/1454323119 (Accessed: 05 April 2020).

Izotope (2020). Ozone 9 [online] Available at: https://www.izotope.com/en/products/ozone.html (Accessed 5 April 2020).

​Native Instruments (2020). KONTAKT 6. [online] Available at: https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/samplers/kontakt-6/ (Accessed 5 April 2020).

Spectrasonics (2020). Omnisphere. [online] Available at: https://www.spectrasonics.net/products/omnisphere/ (Accessed 5 April 2020).

Tidal (n.d). 360 Reality Audio. [online] Available at: https://support.tidal.com/hc/en-us/articles/360002767377-360-Reality-Audio (Accessed 7 April 2020).

uHe (2020). Zebra. [online] Available at: https://u-he.com/products/zebra2/ (Accessed 5 April 2020).