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The Abyss

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Here is my submission for the Group Stage of NGADM 2014.

All I ask is that you consider the following quote while you listen:

"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." - Friedrich Nietzche

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Definitely cinematic, and fits well to the horror genre. It's a good arrangement. The strings and woodwinds I liked the best.

This is an NGADM round 1 review.

Your Score Breakdown:
Production: 27/30
Composition: 28.5/30
Orchestration: 14/15
Originality: 9/10
Emotion: 12.5/15

Total: 91/100 or 9.1/10 or 4.5 stars

This track really was one of my favorites out of the contest. I really enjoyed the combination of various influences. I could hear a bit of Russian Romantic (mussorgsky-esque) and some Impressionist and post romantic. Then along came the cinematic part... which was another story, but I will get to that in a bit.

My first point of awesome was the inclusion and detail of woodwinds in the first part of the work. There's a lot of nice runs in there and some good use of orchestration to paint the intended picture. I really felt it had a great set of textures for the most part.

The big problem here is that the piece is not memorable. I can listen to it and I can't even remember what I just listened to. My memory sucks, but this isn't just a matter of that. I can remember that cheesy pop song I heard earlier on the radio. Just because you're writing scary music doesn't mean there is no need for any memorable phrases or something that stands out or really has a sense of "you" to it.

A slightly smaller but also important issue is continuity. You start off with this great impressionistic-style piece, an then transfer into this brassy, almost modern climax. I don't ask that you write a piece that sounds like a period, heck no, but when you do mash up stuff, make sure both parts are equal. The contemporary action-horror cinematic portion was very basic- brass tropes, drums, some runs. Lots of big bold noises played very loud and without any resemblance of effective phrasing as present earlier. It just kinda pops in our face and goes BWAAA BWAAA BWA BWA BWA BWAAAA. It doesn't really make me feel anything, it's just a bunch of obviously sampled instruments and the effect, the texture the first half strained to produce, is shattered on impact.

This piece made me think a lot about some old Bernard Herrmann music (guy who scored all those old Alfred Hitchcock movies like Psycho and Vertigo), the "grandfather" of the "horror" music in movies. Herrmann managed to create very powerful pieces without losing the effectiveness of emotions to just blasting brass, and without sacrificing the quality of his composition. I think taking a listen to his work may help you come up with different ways to approach the climax of this sort of style without having to lean back on tropes. He also is a certified black-belt at leitmotifs and their effective use, so maybe there's something in there that will help you come up with ways to make your music more memorable. (examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMTrVgpDwPk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kC5AzFc3coo, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCMMDvDUXzA, etc)

The thing that makes horror (or all music for that matter) music effective, and is something that really defines why your first half is super effective, is tension and release. Being able to grab the listener's heart and release it is a very challenging thing to do, but with effective use of dynamics, tensions, and textures, it is considerably easier. Also important an hand-in-hand is the dynamic of the textures and orchestration you are using, notably for the climax. Blending instruments via doubling or harmonizing in thirds or sixths is a hugely effective and powerful art that is mostly ignored by many today. Consider an example from Vertigo, composed by Bernard Herrmann: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytC5jUBpMls

In this scene, the main character is waiting for his love to emerge from a bathroom (silly, right?). Yet, we hear this great tension and release, and a buildup as she approaches, finally releasing in a full-out climax, featuring a resolution to major, with a central motif throughout it all. If you don't have this little earworm in your head for at least a day, I would be quite amazed. In the world of music, tension and release is the most powerful force in existence. Consider ways it might apply to creating any emotion or texture, not just love or fear or anger (although tension that doesn't release or fails to resolve can create feelings of desire and longing). Even in scary music, feeling the tension and release is important to stir the emotions of the listener. ;)

I hope at least one thing in here will prove helpful. As the doctor recommends, take with a grain of salt, after lunch, and KEEP COMPOSING! :)

DamienFleisch responds:

This is a really great review, thank you. I am actually very familiar with Herrman's work as he is one of the first composers who inspired me to pursue a career in scoring. I wasn't referencing him very much in this piece, although now that you have mentioned it that may have been a good idea. With this piece, I had intended to have some of our friends the Russians, and a good deal of Britten. Even Herrman's less rhythmically intense scores (like Vertigo) still have much more energy than I wanted for this piece. But I do hear the similarities listening to that main title again now with the big chords in the brass.

I understand and agree with what you mention about the earlier parts vs the later parts. The fact is I started writing this piece right into my DAW, which I don't always do. If I had gone into the sequencing of it with a better idea of where it was going, I think that would have helped it a lot. What happened instead was that I got through the first half or so of the piece and realized it was rambling and lacked cohesion so I had to do something to pull it together. What I came up with is more of a band-aid than a cure, I suppose. This is definitely another piece that I plan to revisit in the near future. It deserves to be longer and it deserves the attention and detail the beginning has all the way through to the end.

Thank you for your words!

Darn you!

This made me think of a very specific scene in Sleeping Beauty. It sincerely creeped me out as a kid. Like at 01:21-01:38. As a matter of fact, my mind starting playing the music from that scene once the track was over.

If this makes sense, I almost hate how good it is. However, that goes to show that I think you did a pretty decent job. You just about creeped me out with the music. Well done.

DamienFleisch responds:

Creepy is good, that was the goal :D

This is an NGADM Round 1 Review:


First off...just holy wow! This is incredible! Fantastic production, excellent composition, a very disturbing but amazing theme, that almost sinks its fangs into you! You are incredibly skilled and very detail-oriented, no doubt about that my friend. I took note of the quote by Nietzsche; it's quite haunting isn't it? Much like this song, in fact. You carefully craft these chilling motifs with the tension of the strings rising and falling, while the woodwinds remind us, in whispers, that something is amiss! Wonderful! The swells of the orchestra (such as at 1:25) are really something. The gongs are placed perfectly, no question about it. They really add to the creepy atmosphere. I think atmosphere is the key word here. You build the atmosphere in this track remarkably. I should also mention that this track forces introspection, in a way. Music that makes you look inside yourself is always good in my books! :)

There were really only two things that bothered me about this track to be honest. The overall progression and development of the song, and the conclusion. There were a lot of moments during the course of the song where I felt that there was a great deal of emptiness. I absolutely love the idea of this representing the darkness of the void, the abyss. However, points such as 0:40 – 0:55 were quite stark and almost barren (though at the same time there was some exquisite detail going on just beyond the background) and the silence begged to awaken with more life. Such was my conflict though. I both love the idea of silence and adding more terror and wonder through the expressive moments of the woodwinds, strings and brass. The conclusion was very, very, very abrupt. The short climax with the orchestra was great at 2:32, but short. The brass trailing off into silence didn't quite sit well with me as I felt there was more that was to come afterwards. It sort of snapped me out of the enchantment the song had over me. Essentially, the conclusion was a bit of a disappointment. That doesn't make it bad though, no way at all! I liked it, but I think it could have been developed more, you know?

This is a very impressive track Damien, you have a new fan! I am really looking forward to your next piece of music. Keep it up man! :D

Score: 7.5/10

DamienFleisch responds:

Well my next piece may very well be revisions to this one ;D

It seems you and Samulis took some similar issues with it and I offered some details about them in my response (above) to him. Not that they will change anything, but they offer some insight into why it came out the way it did. Anywho, I'm glad to know that overall you did enjoy the track, and appreciate you taking the time to review it. No doubt, I'll be back next year :D

Ermehgawd so fab I love it.

DamienFleisch responds:

Thanks dewd!

Credits & Info

4.94 / 5.00

Aug 15, 2014
5:14 PM EDT
File Info
3.1 MB
2 min 45 sec

Licensing Terms

Please contact me if you would like to use this in a project. We can discuss the details.