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Topic: Orchestrator, Composer, Concertmaster... huh?

  1. #1

    Orchestrator, Composer, Concertmaster... huh?

    OK, a little OT, but I see that a lot of you want something to chat about and I really like this group a lot. Now, I LOVE Danny Elfman for his films score stuff, not his Oingo Boingo days. In no way is this message talking him down or anything because I love his work, but I have a few questions about composers, orchestrators, concertmasters, etc in general. I'm using Danny as an example.

    Everytime I purchase a CD of one of his film scores I notice that along with Danny there are like eight other people who do stuff with/ for him. One name I always see is Steve Bartek as orchestrator. Now, I have a vague idea of what orchestration is (Ravel and Rimsky_Korsokov, were the greats IMO). I'm not really sure though, but isn't it basically the placement of the orchestral instruments in the best parts and ranges and also the best combinations too... basically. I know there's much more to it.

    Here's my question: What exactly does a composer like Danny Elfman do? He has always said that he was never formely trained in music. Does he just hum something or hand them a rough grand staff draft and all his trained pals do all the "serious" work for him, like notate and orchestrate? Here's *most* of the credits on the Sleepy Hollow soundtrack:

    Album produced by- Elfman
    Orchestrations by- Pope, Slonaker, Olson
    Additional Orchestrations by- Bartek, McKenzie, Mann
    Conductor- Wilson
    Concertmaster- (What?) Wilson
    Music Production Supervisor- Walker
    Album producers- Burton,Rudin, Schroeder

    OK, that's a lot of ppl and Danny's name came up once. I don't get it. When I listen to the film score I thought I was listening to Danny's creation. Any info is appreciated.

    The Captain

    Captain Hook (if you see Pan let me know!)

  2. #2

    Re: Orchestrator, Composer, Concertmaster... huh?


    You've touched a VERY complex topic! There are many misconceptions in this area, mainly based on the completely different meanings that these words have in regard to e.g. classical music and film music. There also are big differences if you are in Europe or the USA.

    1) The classic procedure for producing music is: composing, orchestrating, preparing parts, performing.

    2) With film music additional steps are added: spotting, preparing cue-lists, composing, orchestrating, hiring an orchestra, location, etc., preparing parts, recording, mixing, dubbing, ...

    You also have differences: A Classical composer may work on e.g. a symphony for more than year (even though we shouldn't do such general assumptions, let's do it just for the heck of it -> that's 90 minutes of music in 365 days; composed and orchestrated). A film composer is under severe time pressure (plus he has to deal with the fact that he is the lowest in the hierarchy and mostly the only one that has even the slightest idea about music, while everyone else tries to be as big an a** as possible). So the film composer has to write about 2 hours of music typically in 6-8 weeks (that means: After this time he MUST deliver mixed tapes or whatever to the dubbing stage).

    If you take this into account, you will see that it is utterly impossible for human beings to manage all that work in this short time. Even though composers tend to work around the clock (wasn't Maurice Jarre in hospital during the premiere of "Lawrence of Arabia" because of this?) they need assistants to cope with the work.

    Enter the orchestrators, copyists, etc. and more vague misconceptions about how it works. Those people are here to help the composer, you know? How they help him depends. Lets examine a man like Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams: They write (or wrote ) out the parts on paper or in a Notation program on multiple staves (I use about 4-6 they might use about 12). Every instrument line is there, all the harmony, all the percussion and tons of additional notes. They give the sketches to their orchestrators, who write them out on orchestral scores and sometimes are allowed to correct and/or add to it (this is a loooooooooong and painstaking process and the composer can't be bothered to do this work, since he he has to compose). Usually the orchestrators hand the scores to copyists, who then will write out the individual parts for each instrument (an even more annoying and long work).

    If you happen to live in Europe, you're most likely out of luck: Not only there is nearly no good orchestral music, but very often you will have to to all this work alone. One of the many reasons why european scores tend to be very small (lack of funding and idiots in the responsible positions add to that drama).

    Now if everything is put on paper, you can go on to record and mix the stuff. Hoping to deliver it in time.

    I hope I made the basic procedures clear. A topic of constant discussion is HOW MUCH the orchestrators actually help the composer. This is a realm of uncertainity and I don't like to go in it.

    Danny Elfman is self-taught and learned a hell of a lot about technique and orchestration. You can't sketch out things like "Sleepy Hollow" (his masterpiece, in my humble opinion) without knowing anything about orchestration. He writes the parts into a sequencer, hands over the MIDI's to his orchestrators, who write out the parts and might or might not add some of their own stuff. Some composers like othe people's influences in their music and love it if their orchestrators add their own voice to it. Others don't like it.

    Same goes for James Newton Howard who made an incredible progress from his first scores. That man is VERY promising and a good example how only a huge amount of musical training (which he obviously took: harmony, counterpoint, etc...) improves ones music. A negative example is Hans Zimmer, his whole team of colleagues and all the modern "pianoroll-composers" as I like to call them: They clearly have not the slightest hint of orchestration, and very few ideas of what can be done musically besides of 4-bar segments (and remember: you always must resolve a 7th! ). They need real orchestrators who write much of the music for them: Try comparing Klaus Badelt's own scores with Hans Zimmer's scores he orchestrated and you will see what I mean. It's embarrassing. Also if you listen to the cliched orchestral effects they use, it's obviously always the same material from their expensive sample libraries. They are not able to come up with new ideas.

    I hope this makes certain things clear. If you have more questions, don't hesitate to ask. At first I planned to abstain form posting here for a longer time, but this kind of discussion quickly degenerates into derogative bashing of good composers and I just can't stand it...

    Nice to be back. Greetings to everyone!


    p.s.: A funny story that happened to John Barry (or was it another composer from that time?): He was hired as orchestrator for a movie and handed the cuesheets with the words "Orchestrate these".

  3. #3

    Re: Orchestrator, Composer, Concertmaster... huh?

    Dear Musicpete,

    Thank you very much for all the awesome information you gave. I'll have to say that Danny Elfman is No. 1 on my film score composer list. He has come a long way from Pee Wee's Big Adventure and even that is so awesome. If you don't mind me asking, where did you get your info about Elfman? I'm always looking for new info on him and I always get the same stuff.

    Very complex indeed! I guess I'll figure this all out as I go on. I do understand the pressure of time on a film composer. I've only done a few short films and commercial and doing all by myself in the amount of time they give is unreal! It would be nice to have crew helping out... shhhesh, one day I hope! Thanks again!

    Captain Hook (if you see Pan let me know!)

  4. #4

    Re: Orchestrator, Composer, Concertmaster... huh?

    Where I get my information from? From forums like this (the info about Elfman using which software was posted on these forums some days ago), and from books. There are some very informative books out there. "The Score" by Micahel Schelle and "Film Music - a neglected Art" being only 2.

    And you're right: It's amazing how far Mr. Elfman evloved! Although I don't enjoy listening to his music as much as I once did, I still admire him. Rumors like the one that says he is humming some melodies into a tape recorder and Steve Bartek doing the rest make me mad. When searching for info on him, you sure came across that one.

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