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Topic: George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia

  1. #1

    Lightbulb George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia

    I thought I would take my first step into the Listening Room with one of the newer shows I'm working on for the 2008 season. For the most part, I write marching band music exclusively with the occasional foray into concert and jazz band. For the most part I only was arranging music up until a few years ago. I found I was taking more and more liberties with some of my arrangements to help them do what they needed to do visually on the field that it seemed logical to take the next step into original music. Besides, original music would be my property instead of arrangements that I wouldn't own after completion.

    I wasn't planning on writing this show, but as of late, the show was really resonating with me. So instead of sitting on it, I figured it was time to go with the inspiration and get it into the computer while I was still really excited about it. Writing for marching band is a little different in that you have to be a bit more efficient with your pacing and development of ideas. While something might feel like it should be stretched out and developed more, you always should be mindful of how you would be helping to serve the visual program as well.

    The opening mello solo is a theme that weaves its way through the entire show. Aside from slight variations you will hear in the rest of the opener, it doesn't really show up again. Trust me, as the show goes on, there is a payoff.

    The show will have 3 parts. This is the first, and it's about 95% complete. I still have some more sideline percussion parts to add. I do not write battery parts. The opening solo is the creative and individualistic theme. The rest of the opener is the rigid Big Brother theme, demanding obediance, crushing anything that is out of line.

    The second song is Winston hoping to express himself, be curious, and be creative. It brings back much of the opening theme in a more major and optimistic tone. It will also bring out lots of color on the field. The closer is Big Brother coming down, killing off the color, and quelling any creativity, returning to the darker, rigid themes of the opener.

    This is just the opener, the other 2 songs are in various states of completion. All sounds are from the Concert and Marching Band pack aside from the flute, alto sax, tenor sax, and the bass which come from the Finale GPO pack. Once my JaBB and GPO orders from the go-round ship, there will be more tweaking I'm sure. I use Finale 2008 (and have been using Finale products since the 1.0 release) and really have only been using Garritan products since the late spring.


    Hope you enjoy.

  2. #2
    Senior Member fastlane's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Shelton, Washington State

    Re: George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia

    This was pretty interesting music. It's not what I usually think of when it comes to marching band music. I hear more jazz than anything and maybe with some latin influences.

    I'd like to hear the rest.

    One thing I noticed is a completely dry sound. I think you could add some verb for a more dimensional sound.


  3. #3

    Re: George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia


    One thing that has been bothering me lately about the trend in contemporary marching band music, especially original works for marching band, is that while they tend to nicely tie into the visual package, I often find myself struggling to remember any melodies from the show once it is over. I used tocomplain about it a lot. Then I decided that I should either stop complaining or stick my neck out there and try and do something about it. My goal is to create something that will make the visual program work very well while still being thematically solid and stand up on its own as a musical statement. I feel that I'm getting better at it as I keep working towards it.

    As for the reverb, you are absolutely correct. I had not turned it on when I made the recording. I've since started messing with it a bit but find myself torn. If I did, it would be subtle, heavy on the dry slider, not so much with the wet. Unless you are playing in a dome, marching band music is outside on the grass where there really isn't much reverb, at least not in a way I've been able to recreate with any of the settings. I'm more than open to any suggestions on how to achieve something like that however. I will be the first to admit to only have a very basic understanding of getting the most out of my sound libraries. Aside from setting the instruments, setting the levels and pan, and having Finale use the human playback the way I want it to, that's about it for me.

  4. #4

    Re: George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia

    Very interesting tonal colors you're drawing out with these chords, trimpe! They're fun and new. I can also tell how easily drill will integrate in with this.

    The dissonance in the Big Brother theme is double plus good . The apprehension in it is also really effective.

    I think it could use a teensy bit of reverb to give the mix a more cohesive feel, but I'm diggin' it.


  5. #5

    Re: George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia

    I like it. Looking forward to hearing the rest. And thanks for showing a little mellophone love.

    I'm with you about modern field music - not memorable at all. Too much trend towards a-melodic or atonal sounds, too much emphasis on the pit percussion - especially the mallets - and not enough on the winds on the field, who often seem relegated to a backup role and play only sparingly as accents and emphasis to the "melody" being hammered out by the mallets on the sideline.

  6. #6

    Re: George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia

    Hello there, trimpe - Thank you for posting your first piece of music here!

    It's a great project, and I appreciate that you told us about your background, what your goal is with this, and what you envision for the rest of the piece.

    I really enjoy what you're doing here. "1984" is of course a great book, and in today's socio-political climate, obviously still extremely relevant. (But who knew that Big Brother would turn out to not pronounce "nuclear" correctly?) Do you like the John Hurt - Richard Burton film version made in 1984? It's very atmospheric and effective, I think. Much more successful than the unfortunately not-so-classic version made in the '50's.

    Your use of CMB is of course not only appropriate for your piece, but you're handling it well, I feel. When you get JABB and GPO, I predict you'll be inspired to do even more - as you mentioned.

    --You write marching band music - Why do you say "...I do not write battery parts..."--? Isn't that part of marching band composition?

    I've read the discussion about reverb on this thread. --My strong preference is also for recordings that don't use a tremendous amount of reverb. BUT - with this recording completely dry, you are robbing the instruments of much of their potential for sounding authentic.

    Nothing in real life is heard without some reverberation ambience - so when no reverb is used in a computer music recording, the result is very unreal. The samples are recorded dry, in an impossibly non-reverberant manner. That's so we can place them in whatever venue we want - but they aren't intended to be heard straight out of the sampler - safe to safe, Never.

    I understand what you're saying about marching band pieces, that in their real life venues which are outdoors, reverb isn't heard the way it is in a concert hall. We might hear echoes from the stadiums, but not what we usually think of as reverb.

    However - You're doing a recording, something which is not only a demo of your music, but which exists on its own. You're under no obligation to simulate the way the music would actually sound in a field--In fact, my feeling is that the obligation you Are under is to make an enjoyable recording. - And as far as that goes - there actually Is an outdoors ambience effect in real life, you're just not aware of it.

    I guarantee you - add some "air" around these instruments in your project, and it will come to life. Right now, the sound is dead and zaps the energy out of your exciting composition.

    If you play this file as a demonstration to people, they won't have the chance to be nearly as impressed with your composition than if you'd use some reverb, because even though they wouldn't be able to put their fingers on the reason - they would know that it's sounding unreal and synthetic. ---It doesn't have to, is my point.

    My other comment is just philosophical - You told us that it's a complaint of yours that contemporary marching band music tends to not have melodies you retain after the performance. Of course that's your personal preference, and one shared by a lot of people.

    But people with a different preference are of course not "wrong"--they merely have different tastes.

    A theatre composer I admire very much, Sondheim, was admonished after one of his early shows, "Well nobody's going to be leaving the theatre whistling Those songs!" To which he replied, "I certainly hope not!" - Meaning he's not at all interested in writing songs that people can hum after one hearing, but rather he's interested in writing compelling music which suits the dramatic needs of the show and which isn't bound by the old rules of tin pan alley.

    "...My goal is to create something that will make the visual program work very well while still being thematically solid and stand up on its own as a musical statement..."

    Admirable, absolutely. And it would be helpful to realize that people writing the pieces that don't have melodes which stick in your head also strive to write things which are "thematically solid" - they just have different aspirations. But it doesn't make their music any weaker about making statements. They're just doing it in a way you don't care for as much.

    I Really look forward to the rest of "1984"--!

    Randy B.

  7. #7

    Re: George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser-
    Admirable, absolutely. And it would be helpful to realize that people writing the pieces that don't have melodes which stick in your head also strive to write things which are "thematically solid" - they just have different aspirations. But it doesn't make their music any weaker about making statements. They're just doing it in a way you don't care for as much.
    Oh, believe me, I'm not taking anything away from their work. Remove the personal opinion on whether or not one likes the music, you are still left with the fact that lots of people are buying and performing those shows. They are doing that for a reason. If nobody liked it or it wasn't "working" on the field, people wouldn't be buying it, and more importantly, people wouldn't be as inspired to write it.

    Some of my bias comes from my personal tastes. But beyond that, I'm coming at it from a different angle as well. I do a lot of judging, and I've been to some shows where there is no doubt while watching the performance and making my tape that the ensemble is making it happen and doing fantastic things. When the event is over, I can't remember a thing at all about the show. It didn't stay with me like I would have liked. I may have enjoyed and respected the performance, but I don't think that I was as moved as I would have liked to have been.

    I have nothing against minimalism or atonal works. Some of my other compositions definitely are close if not completely in that category. It just seems that we have as of late been flooded with it in our particular performance genera. As a designer, I want the program to stand out and be memorable. I'm trying to find as many ways to set the group apart in a positive and educational way.

    I guess my opinion is that our activity seems to have settled into a comfortable rut, and I am actively trying to offer an alternative. Another composer in my field readily acknowledges that he's somewhat formulaic in his writing, but it's selling astonishingly well. There clearly is a desire and a market for it. As an educator, judge, and designer, I persoanlly would like to move on to other things. Personally, I can only listen to the same thing for only so long before wanting something a little different. I'm hoping to be that "different" thing.

    Our field is of course incredibly subjective, and everybody's tastes are different. I didn't mean to come across as saying that their music wasn't valid, I just feel like the activity in general is somewhat stuck there right now.

    As for battery, there are 2 factors there. First, I really suck at writing battery percussion. Secondly, since the size of the line, number of instruments, and ability of individuals can vary, especially with the almost soloistic nature of every player in the line, it's much harder to write a solid book when you don't know the players. With the hornline, if you have sweaker or stronger players in the section, it's not nearly as obvious as it would be in the battery. That being said, I do work with the battery writers very closely to make sure that our ideas are working together. Most of my battery books are written by my brother-in-law, and given that he lives about a mile away from me, we seem to be able to communicate and coordinate rather well for some reason...

    Thanks again to all who have offered their thoughts, I do appreciate it. I've been spending a little more time playing with the reverb settings and think that I have found something closer to my liking. Now all I need to do is find a brake drum sound to replace that cowbell with!

  8. #8
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Penfield (Rochester), NY

    Re: George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia


    Great writing and production. For field performance the ambeince is about the right level. You need to watch your high levels, getting close to distortion I am thinking. But you have a good handle on the CMB and its many facets.

    I agree with what you said about a lot of the music being produced that is really non-memorable. I hear too many "formula" writers, the same thing over and over, just repackaged. Or even worse, big beginning and ending without much substance in between.

    I love to write for band and ensembles as well. Take a look at my site for some original and arrangements for band.



  9. #9

    Re: George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia

    Hello again, trimpe

    In light of Gary's very constructive response, I just wanted to come back to say that I do hope you consider what I said earlier.

    A band playing in the field is one thing, and your demo recording of a marching band piece is another. To best demonstrate your composition, you should help the instruments out by placing them in a venue. It doesn't matter in the least if your recording doesn't sound like what a band would sound like in the field. Truly. You're making a recording--Make that sound as good as you can--Just for aesthetic justice, if for nothing else!

    And by the way, I recently watched for quite a stretch of time, our local community access TV station when they played nothing but local High School bands performing their half time routines. It was the first time in many years since I'd really paid any attention to what bands are doing these days - and it was enlightening. So much complex music! Not exactly John Phillip Sousa time any more out there on the field, is it? So I have at least an inkling of the kind of market you're talking about.

    I think your "1984" could find quite a few eager takers. Best of luck with it--And I'm looking forward to hearing more.

    Randy B.

  10. #10

    Re: George Orwell's 1984: The Negative Uptopia

    Exciting, energetic, and interesting writing for the field, Trimpe!

    But this really does need at least some sound treatment on it.
    While it's true the acousitical considerations of fields and stadia
    differ from those of the studio, they are not anechoic.



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