The short answer is ‘me’,


The short answer is ‘me’, although it might not be the samekind of music. In fact, I have been waiting to hear from someone else who composes their own video-music, for along time, in view of the fact that I thought I wasa ‘loner’, situated, as I am, down near the bottom of the world (46deg.S) in New Zealand’s South Island. Professionally, I qualify as ‘retired’, although I was at one time part of the design team for a line of electrical appliance ‘whiteware.

Where I live, the city of Dunedin, is an area very kind to film/video-makers. Within 15 minutes drive of our home on Otago Peninsula there is a wealth of natural-history and historical material. I have been working on a Documentary series dealing with our Province’s 250kMs of coastline since October 2005, currently revisiting key areas and shooting material in AVCHD ‘High definition’, which I archive; but also, due to the advanced nature of my project, transcode to very high-quality mpg2 so that the output is still able to go-out on DVD. Apart from the somewhat backward step from ‘progressive’ to ‘interlaced’ scan, this is capable of giving very good results. I have 107DVD’s of DV-AVI material which is carefully archived as ‘standard’ definition. The best of that, is quite suitable for use in my videos. The ‘High Definition’ is archived separately.

Being of ‘European’ ancestry, with equal proportions of both French and Italian in my background, it seems almost inevitable, that I would eventually gravitate to composition of my own music. The enjoyable part of video-making, for me, is the hands-on component, in-the-field, and editing that into the best productions possible; not endless ‘arrangements’ such as having to secure rights to copyright music, etc. From age six, I had been lined up with my ‘half-size’ violin by my parents, for the dreaded ‘music-lessons’ as part of each day’s routine, an activity which I absolutely loathed. Gradually, as I grew and learned more about music, it became a central focus of my existence, although active participation was cut short at age 23, when I suffered a stroke, from which, at first, it was thought I wouldn’t recover. So with the dexterity of my left-hand very much slowed-down, I took a back-seat, performance-wise and my interest became more ‘academic’ in nature.

It was the process of sorting through classical music to try and findsuitable mood and ‘ambience’to help showcase my footage, which led me to the notion that I might be able to compose and ‘perform’ my own. And so, I invested, firstly in the Garritan ‘Personal Orchestra’ set of instrument samplings, then in sequencing software, a Digital Audio Workstation, and’Kontakt’ (currently ‘Kontakt 4’) to help bring-it-all to life. There were teething-problems and things I found were ‘necessary’, for example, I ‘clean’ each instrument-group’s wave-filesto obtain much better signal-to-noise ratios thanI suspect most people experience and almost always, put at least 100 cubic metres of ‘space’ around my brass; but, those things come with experience. And, now three years after beginning with this rather ‘niche’ add-on to my film/video-making, I am pretty pleased with the results I am getting.

One piece of advice I would give to anyone aspiring to compose their own film/video music, is, to take every opportunity to listen, critically, to good examples of the genre. I sometimes record, and mull-over, audio-tracksfrom such documentaries as ‘the BBC ‘Life’ series.A lot of Documentary ‘background’ music is far more than audible wallpaper, and some of it stands up quite well in its own right. I stick, mainly, with a 96-piece symphony orchestra I have set-up, since that allows for all sixteeen MIDI channels I have available to me to be occupied at any one time, (My music is not ‘played’, however, it becomes ‘wave’ files based upon a music ‘score’ which may be printed-off, not performance on a keyboard). I am, fortunately, able to ‘read’ music, and, if you can read it, there is very little reason why you cannot ‘write’ it as well.

I do not deliberately plagiarise themes from other music, but with the catalogue of music growing, daily, I am not too fixated upon originality. A recent case-in-point, was a short composition to suggest rough surf around our coast, which I knew, from the outset, had a superficial resemblance to ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’, but which I wrote in a minor key, ‘roughed-up’ a bit and because of its ‘angry’ piano arpeggios, hasnow been ‘saved’, safely, in my computer, as ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Snarl!’The quality of the music, in fact, has provided an incentive to raise other aspects of the video-making process to the much same ‘plateau’, good commentary, quality shots and so-on, and that has benefitted every aspect of its production. That effort, plus the time taken to write and ‘perform’ the music isn’t amenable to ‘quick-fixes’ but it certainly makes for satisfying outcomes.

Good ‘film’ music is different from the day-to-day ‘classics’. It is essentially formless for long periods of time, which it has to be, to closely follow the screen-action. Both my sequencer, and ‘Reaper’ which I use for my downmixes allow for playback of the visual content (minus its sound), and that is sufficient to enable me to, usually; be able to shoe-horn a short passage of music into a space which has been set aside for it on the timeline. Apart from that, a hand-held calculator and a stop-watch can be very handy as well.

All in all, this can be an absorbing pastime, probably better suited to someone whose time may be allocated at his/her own discretion. Since, it is necessary to have the footage to start with, I find a good hand-held GPS, tide-tables and an advance view of approaching weather patterns all to be invaluable; so a typical week consists of a day, or two, in-the-field and the worse of the weather used, to maximum effect, in either editing in-the-timeline, or composing and ‘performing’ suitable music. One thing I never have the time to be, is ‘bored’.

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