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Topic: How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

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  1. #1

    How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

    I think this seems to be my biggest problem. Does anyone have any orchestration tips or rules on how to avoid heaviness? My softer sparse passages sound fine, so I'm mostly talking about loud tuttis. It seems like by the time I've thrown in all the parts, I have a muddy, nondescript mess.

    Next time I'm just gonna try some of the obvious things (wider spacing, more doubling, more rests?), but I thought I'd ask to see if anyone had any clever tips or a similar problem.

    Thanks
    John

  2. #2

    Re: How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

    If you want to post a few measures as an example, I can probably help assess what's going on. Just remember that orchestration is a fairly deep subject. If you haven't already gone through the Rimsky-Korsakov course, I suggest you do that when you can.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  3. #3

    Re: How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

    Hello,

    in the first go I wouldnt consider the changing of the orchestration. Transparency etc. will be handled by you (the conductor).

    It could be perhaps a problem of the "audio recording". So dont forget to adjust the overall volume of every single instrument and the position in the stereo image. You only have a fixed and not very big dynamic bandwidth (compared to reality) and that could cause some problems.

    Hajo
    ---
    ... indessen wandelt harmlos droben das Gestirn

  4. #4

    Re: How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

    Quote Originally Posted by Hajo
    You only have a fixed and not very big dynamic bandwidth (compared to reality) and that could cause some problems.
    Please, explain a bit further what you exactly mean by this.

    Raymond

  5. #5

    Re: How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

    Quote Originally Posted by Hajo
    in the first go I wouldnt consider the changing of the orchestration. Transparency etc. will be handled by you (the conductor).
    I'm confused. Did John say he was approaching this as a conductor? It was a question about orchestration, so why would you suggest to him that he not change the orchestration if you haven't seen it? Heaviness can certainly lie in the orchestration itself, which is why I asked for an example.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hajo
    You only have a fixed and not very big dynamic bandwidth (compared to reality)...
    I'm curious about your use of this term as well. As far as I can tell, it has no meaning in this context.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  6. #6

    Re: How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

    I couldn't say without seeing your scores, but it could have to do with your chord voicings. Do a reduction of your score (or just the tutti passages) to two staves, writing all the notes in each chord with their doublings. Muddiness often comes from too many close intervals in the low registers. If you have that, you might consider spreading out those intervals more according to the overtone series. That is, octaves in the bass, fifths and fourths above that, then thirds, then progressively smaller intervals above that if needed. This technique is a good place to start, at least, considering all the masters used it to a certain extent.

    Hope this helps!

  7. #7

    Re: How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Smiley
    It seems like by the time I've thrown in all the parts, I have a muddy, nondescript mess.
    Well, Guy, first try not throwing in ALL the parts. A "tutti" is best not defined as one with all the players, but one in which all or most players take part, such that no solo lines are apparent. However, I will assume that you want them all in.

    But (if your problem actually is an orchestration one) I guess that you have a) too much unison doubling, b) complete harmony in all three main departments. If you write a passage which sounds complete on strings, then add a woodwind group at the same pitch which would equally sound complete, then a complete-sounding brass section, assuming most doublings are at the unison, then you will get an "organ-like" sound which certainly sounds a bit nondescript in the concert hall, let alone on the computer.

    Try a) making sure the woodwind are spaced so that most of them are well above the brass (except the bassoons which should be as low as convenient); b) getting the 1st violins up above the brass also; c) Important: prefer octave doubling to unison.

    If that does not "lighten" the sound, then try giving some departments an independent part. For example, if you can invent a new countersubject, gice it to all the woodwind in octaves. If not, then maybe give the top part to most woodwind plus violins, the alto part to all four horns in octaves, and so on. Another idea is to give some of the instruments a decorated version of one of the lines, or conversely, a simplified version. The main thing is to ensure that each department has something different from the other departments. Work it how you may, but avoid the unison organ-like sound, except perhaps for very short passages.

    Terry

  8. #8

    Re: How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

    Quote Originally Posted by Poolman
    Well, Guy, first try not throwing in ALL the parts. A "tutti" is best not defined as one with all the players, but one in which all or most players take part, such that no solo lines are apparent. However, I will assume that you want them all in.

    But (if your problem actually is an orchestration one) I guess that you have a) too much unison doubling, b) complete harmony in all three main departments. If you write a passage which sounds complete on strings, then add a woodwind group at the same pitch which would equally sound complete, then a complete-sounding brass section, assuming most doublings are at the unison, then you will get an "organ-like" sound which certainly sounds a bit nondescript in the concert hall, let alone on the computer.

    Try a) making sure the woodwind are spaced so that most of them are well above the brass (except the bassoons which should be as low as convenient); b) getting the 1st violins up above the brass also; c) Important: prefer octave doubling to unison.

    If that does not "lighten" the sound, then try giving some departments an independent part. For example, if you can invent a new countersubject, gice it to all the woodwind in octaves. If not, then maybe give the top part to most woodwind plus violins, the alto part to all four horns in octaves, and so on. Another idea is to give some of the instruments a decorated version of one of the lines, or conversely, a simplified version. The main thing is to ensure that each department has something different from the other departments. Work it how you may, but avoid the unison organ-like sound, except perhaps for very short passages.

    Terry
    that is how it's done!
    Poolman knows his stuff.
    Dan

  9. #9

    Re: How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

    Hello,

    sorry to have caused some troubles: I didnt realize that the focus of the question was on orchestration.

    I was refering to a problem which I had lately: The balance of voices when working with Finale and sound intensity (loudness) when working with a lot of instruments. I had to minimize the input of all instruments and I switched to a daw to controll the mixing. The Finale studio-view was for my eyes and ears somewhat limited.

    So thats the point where the conductor came in who controls also on the audio level the transparency of the sound. And I still dont understand how to "translate" the dynamic range from a real orchestra to that what is possible on a cd.

    Hajo
    ---
    ... indessen wandelt harmlos droben das Gestirn

  10. #10

    Re: How to avoid heaviness, opaqueness

    Wow Poolman, I think you probably hit the nail on the head. Here are two of the problem pages. It's untransposed (except basses which sound 8vb like usual). It's also a draft, so it's missing details like slurs, and chords over the timpani are just for my own reference:

    http://www.mediamax.com/guysmiley/Ho...inor%20New.pdf

    Poolman, I have exactly what you describe! I guess all sections sound complete by themselves. Then I throw them all together, and out comes the organ sound. It's particularly thick in the middle register. I think the top and bottom come through ok.

    Skysaw, I've definitely been paying attention to the RK course! Haven't touched much on tuttis yet though. I'll appreciate any input you have!

    I double a lot at unison, which I will do differently from now on. Actually the brass melody is doubled at unison exclusively! :\

    What's funny is that the orchestration books I have go into great detail into how to build chords out of the different sections. So then I just kinda assumed to do a tutti, you build each section, and then add them all up! I guess not...

    So is it a good idea to just stick with SATB voicing then? B doubled 8vb, S and A doubled 8va? I think Kennan in his book talks about that strategy...

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