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Topic: Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

  1. #1

    Thumbs up Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

    I've been working on a really great horror short, as a proof-of-concept for the larger feature film. The director is Pearry Teo, whose previous films have won awards ("Liberata Me" won best horror film at the New York International Film Festival several years ago) and others have sold into international distribution (Gene Generation - with Bai Ling and Faye Dunnaway - just sold to Lion's Gate). One of the scenes in "Necromentia" calls for a rendition of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" while the main character is in a flashback, having a one-sided conversation with (and presumably preparing to resuscitate) the long-since-dead cadaver of his wife.

    When I got the final cut of the short, it had an MP3 of Moonlight Sonata temp'd into the time line. I played with stretching the file to match the length of the scene, and even though it sounded fine, there was something that just wasn't right about it, timing-wise. It was a really nice, sensitive performance, however, aside from the copyright/performance rights issue of clearing that file for use (festival rights are usually cheap/free, but can be a hassle to secure), the timing was just a little bit "off". The original length finished before the scene was completed and the stretched version left some "moments" in the scene that begged for a touch of rubato in the piece to give the action on scene more focus. It just sounded 'un-natural' for the lack of a better word/phrase.

    So I sequenced my own rendition while using GPO Steinway as the VSTi and a touch of reverb from Garritan's impulses supplied with GOS (using Voxengo's Pristine Space). It sounded really good, but when I got the downloadable version of the Authorized Steinway and could definitely tell that it was a cut above. I decided to try some other pianos in my library, including an upright and a few other "unofficial" Steinway libraries - originally toying with the idea to "disturb" the piano sound in some way with effects to make things sound even more creepy. After trying out a few things with the director, we came back to the original sound, because the perspective is a flashback for the main character - who thinks that everything he's doing is rational. The "straight-ahead" nature of the piano piece (as part of his rationalized imagination) actually heightens the creepiness a bit.

    So I switched back to the Steinway "basic" VSTi until last week I received the full professional version and finally found time to load it up and try it out. All I can say is "WOW".

    I'm really blown away by how great this instrument sounds. Even before I started editing the MIDI track to tweak in some subtlety in the pedaling, it was immediately evident that this instrument is in a class by itself. Where I've put a little extra rubato in the piece, you can hear a definite "floating" sound in the sustain that can only come from a well-regulated instrument. My guess is that some of the under-the-hood DSP is at play here, coupled with the additional layers of sampling that's in the professional instrument. I'm almost "afraid" to mess with the performance too much more, since I've got the rest of the film to deal with (both sound design and score) and a really tight time line. But I couldn't help myself - I've been toying with various tunings and centering *away* from A440 - and really *love* some of what I hear. The "that's not quite right" sound of a non-equal-tempered rendition of the Moonlight Sonata might be too cool to resist.

    So anyway, I've got to get back to work - it's going to be a long day, with a full slate of cutting and placing foley and FX in the remainder of the short, and a walkthrough session with the director tonight. I just had to jump in here this morning while drinking my *first* cup of coffee for the day and register my utter astonishment at the subtlety, musicality, and maleability of the Authorized Steinway.

    Bravo, Gary and team!

    (P.S. When "Necromentia" has been signed off by the director, I'll see about either excerpting the scene with Moonlight Sonata or breaking the film up into bite-sized downloadable pieces for folks to grab and watch/listen. Stay tuned.)
    Last edited by Houston Haynes; 07-19-2008 at 11:08 AM. Reason: fixed typos, edited for clarity
    Houston Haynes - Titan Line Music

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    South of the Ohio River

    Re: Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

    That sounds really cool, Houston. I am looking forward to hearing the finished product.
    Dayton, Kentucky
    Personally, I'm waiting for caller IQ.

  3. #3

    Re: Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

    Some quick additional notes -

    As I allude to above, I have been considering modifying the instrument settings to give a darker sound for the scene in Necromentia, and realizing that Moonlight Sonata was written around 1800 that I had some leeway. I opted to use the Velotti tuning and reset the tuning reference to "Dresden" 422.2 Hz This adds to "bite" to the commas that exist over certain intervals, and shifts the piano sound down noticably and makes the tone sound much darker, particularly in the bottom octaves of the left had part. It completely changes the nature of the instrument while still maintaining a great deal of richness, which I'd imaging has something to do with the DSP processing that emulates the sympathetic resonance when the pedal is depressed.

    For my money, the performance of Moonlight Sonata that is being used in the movie is probably pretty close to the way that Beethoven would have written, played and heard it performed – and the "vibe" that it gives off makes it feel like a truer rendition. I explained this to the director, and while he was impressed – he was even more taken aback when I compared the original MP3 to my performance – which got a “Dayum” out of him.

    I don't have approval to render the full scene with video and the rest of it, but I'll see about cutting a few excepts of the piece itself and post some examples for compare and contrast here.
    Houston Haynes - Titan Line Music

  4. #4

    Re: Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

    FYI - here are a pair of excerpted examples - the original "temp" mp3 and then my sequence/arrangment using the Garritan Authorized Steinway, using the Classic perspective with a touch of Concert Hall reverb - played with the Vellotti/Young tuning and a concert pitch of A422 (Dresden).

    Moonlight Sonata Recorded Perfomance (temp track)

    Moonlight Sonata excerpt - Garritan Authorized Steinway (money track)

    Each clip starts at about bar 11 and goes through the end of the B statement at bar 23. It shows how low the left hand dives with the Dresden concert pitch, and the Young tuning adds a bit of "teeth itch" quality to the tuning - both in the arpeggiated part and the low chord at the B statement close that adds the fifth.

    I thought it might be interesting to show how the GAS can give you a somewhat "period" feel with relative ease - particularly when it does so much to change the character of the work. I always thought of Beethoven as a pretty dark character, and this sonata really takes on that mantle with a few adjustments to place the instrument closer to what one might imagine as a tuning that's more true to the time of the composition's origins and downshifting the tempo just a bit.
    Houston Haynes - Titan Line Music

  5. #5
    Senior Member bigears's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Central Illinois

    Re: Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

    It's very interesting what effect the tuning has. A nice feature included in the GAS that I haven't experimented with. Thanks for posting this and opening up something new to explore. Good luck with your film music! John

  6. #6

    Re: Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

    Thanks - I'm going out today to pick up a StudioLogic weighted action keyboard and will probably order a CME GPP-3 in order to gain a feel at the hands *and* feet for live playing - instead of playing in the notes and then going back to tweak velocities for notes that "jumped out" while recording on a non-weighted action using a switch-only type sustain pedal. It's going to be fun doing a deep-dive on this instrument. Until then - I've got chain rattles, monster growls and scraping metal to build and mix into the film. (the trailer in the link is using temp'd FX and music, assembled by the director)

    Houston Haynes - Titan Line Music

  7. #7

    Re: Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

    Here's a wide shot of my studio with the StudioLogic VMK-188 plus installed. It's amazing how much more direct and visceral the Garritan Steinway becomes with a controller that actually corresponds to a piano action. You actually hear the NOTE ON trigger just before the keys land on the key bed - like an actual piano. And of course there's the key return that feels pretty true to the real thing. One of my main gripes on weighted MIDI controllers (and my Kurzweil MIDIBoard suffered from this) is that the *return* action was sloppy. That can make it difficult to execute truly "pianistic" articulations. The StudioLogic keyboard doesn't seem to suffer from that problem - the key action is quick and smooth. Of course, now *that* has exposed how sloppy my playing has become, so it's time to break out the WTC and School of Velocity and start building my chops back up.

    Also of note is that I just got a SmartAV Tango smart console in the studio - as a front end to run Nuendo. This is a tremendous, tremendous device.
    Houston Haynes - Titan Line Music

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2000
    Chandler, Arizona

    Re: Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

    The StudioLogic controllers been getting good reviews. Wish I had the money lying around for it!


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Orcas Island

    Re: Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

    Well done Houston. Of course! Why not use tunings that were prevalent when Beethoven composed and performed his music. Of course!

    All the best with your project!


  10. #10

    Re: Authorized Steinway and a scary-good version of Moonlight Sonata

    Houston, loved that dark sound. Am guessing that A434 + Carlos Circular tuning will be a happy compromise.

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