Yes. From the first note/ drone in the beginning, I knew I was in for a ride. You have a cool blend of Philip Glass, Max Richter, and Trent Reznor going on here. The piano at 1:00 is what I assume everything can easily dig which is ironic because it's totally Philip Glass. The irony is how polarizing his music was in the beginning of his career and now his music has been so ingrained in modern music that it is considered safe. Moreover, If you kept it at this minimalistic piano, you probably would have scored more highly, but the fun in trying to merely win the hearts of people is fleeting. It's better to write for your own at the time. Even if you would have done things differently later on. I value the personal expression of one's music even if it's only for a short season in life.
The noise at 3:35 is something I'm fond of. It is meant to be an esoteric view on music, and sometimes having that amid harmony gives so plainly the dichotomy of what we composer's do in this world. I applaud this approach, but that was merely the artistic weight of the review.
As I look at the previous discussions to your mixing in this piece, I think the mixed responses on your mixing is due to how fluid the reasons may be. If you took your instruments and played them in isolation, you will find nothing wrong in terms of the sound in itself. It's not a matter of EQ, compression, reverb, distortion, etc, but rather in how many of the instruments have equal weight in terms of volume. Sure, EQ can be used as a tool to prevent frequencies from conflicting, but the issue is before that where one instrument doesn't just take the lead over the others. If you didn't want to give one instrument the reigns over all the others, you could automate the faders on each instrument highlighting only the most interesting parts each instrument may have. My theory is in the arrangement, though, I think the arrangement by itself could work. For example, the guitar that comes in at 1:59 is meant to give the piece some heaviness, but it's acting a bit shy at the moment. I hear the arpeggiated organ and other instruments panned at the same volume if not more than the guitar. But it is the guitar that draws our attention because it's so sonically different. Yes, but go by that with some conviction my man! The faders should have been automated as if you were soloing an instrument and then passing the torch to another instrument as the piece develops. You could do this suddenly, or slowly adjusting the faders where an instrument comes in and out without a listener consciously realizing this. Moreover, as other instruments comes in, it would distract the listener from noticing that you're slowly automating the volume down on a particular instrument to the point where it is no longer in the mix at all.
Another example is at 1:00 where obviously the piano is doing all the talking. Then at 1:30, the flute wants to say something but is being a little talked over by the piano. At 1:44 more instruments come in as support, and the flute has gained its confidence by playing in a higher register. At that point, the flute has the audience's attention so the piano isn't as important anymore. Too many talking heads will create the illusion of "too much reverb" by the way, and with too many instruments you will lose some people to the point where they might think you're trying too hard. They lose the train-of-thought as anyone would trying to eavesdrop a conversation amid a moving crowd of people. As the one famous Yoda has said, "Do or do not. There is no try." This piece just needs less competing instruments at the lead. That's my opinion, and even if it might help with this piece, you shouldn't apply every principle/guideline to every piece. Every rule is meant to be broken, but do it with conviction.
* This is an official 2017 NGUAC review *
Ah yes, the spooky one. On to specifics...
Mixing, mastering and production: Very neat sounds executed well. My main criticism is...how best to describe it...Shades suffers from bringing along everything but the kitchen sink. There's a LOT of different sounds going on (mostly from 2 minutes in), and I think a good number of them don't add much to the track or blend together particularly well.
I'll get into the compositional consequences of that below, but in terms of production it means a bit of a messy mix. It's a bit hard to track everything that's going on, but more importantly there's such a variety of sounds at once that it makes it hard to appreciate the piece.
Generally speaking there could have been a bit more clarity in the mix. Be very careful when you're EQing instruments individually and make sure those pitch ranges work together as a group. Some instruments are stepping on each others' pitch ranges and it make them both sound muddy (the organ and the rhythm guitar for example).
Other than that just some little things. There could have been more punch in the kick and bass drums, the distortion could have been toned down a bit on the synths near the end, little bits like that.
Composition: Super ambitious. There's a lot going on, a lot of different sections, a lot of different instruments. My main reason for docking points here was that it was maybe too ambitious haha. As mentioned above, the kitchen sink syndrome means that there's so much going on, so many unlikely instrument groupings, that it's hard to just sit there and appreciate the piece. I really had to work to listen to everything and try and appreciate it all.
My main recommendation here is to ask yourself before you add an instrument: "Does it make sense for this instrument to be here?" You've got organ, piano, strings, electric guitar, distorted synth percussion, woodwinds, soft pads, pitched wooden mallet percussion, and more. It's a real, real weird blend of instruments. I think instead of changing instruments so frequently, you could have picked half of those instruments and focused on making them work together.
Hope this all helps!
Hey! And also thanks a lot to you for the detailed constructive feedback! I really appreciate all the work you people are doing in listening, judging and reviewing all these tracks.... I definitely know what you mean. I´m sometimes getting a bit too ambitious when I start to arrange a track. And everything started with a little minimalistic piano part, lol... I´ll try to keep the arrangement a bit more limited in the future, because you are totally right that some instruments get redundant otherwise. I like to use weird blends of instruments, though ;) I have definitely respect that you heard the soft pads in the background, because I kept them so quiet, just to backup the harmony a little! Thanks again!
I like the air of mystery at the beginning. The pacing is a little slow, but the spacious nature of the texture during the first 30 seconds or so really helps spur on the apprehension. The transition at :59 could’ve been a bit smoother. I also think you might’ve overused the minimalism here a tad. The piano also sounds a bit indistinct at 1:43 - perhaps toning down the reverb would help give it some clarity. I think this piece is also lacking strong melodic content. The arpeggiated guitar riffs at around 2:15 don’t quite fulfill my melodic desires. I think the structure could also be a bit more cohesive - you don’t really keep the listener grounded in repeated sections very well. 3:31 was another rather jarring transition. I liked the distorted experimental noise 3:37, but I think you could’ve implemented it into the rest of the composition a lot better. Overall, there are a lot of cool ideas here, but I think you should try consolidating them a bit more. Production quality is strong overall, and you nailed the mood and atmosphere here. Keep at it, Azhthar! ;)
Cool! Thanks a lot for the feedback! It is good to get these many different oppinions and I really appreciate all the work you people are doing by listening, judging and reviewing all these tracks.
It is funny how different the feedbacks from the different judges are. Also funny that you write the production quality is strong because I thought that´s the biggest flaw in this track. Johnfn liked the composition but heavily critizised the mixing. You liked the production but critizised the overuse of minimalism while FinnMK pointed out that my overambition ended in too much complexity, lol... I get your points, though ;)
You wrote about the lack of strong melodic content. I have to say I this is a bit complicated in this track. There is a melodic motiv which is varied a little all along the track (introduced in the solo piano part after the intro). The motiv is very simple and actually starts even more simple by repeating the same note (G). The G is quite important for this piece because it´s part of every chord, except in the part from 3:18 to 3:30, where the piece ironically shortly is transposed to G-mayor. You find the G all around and after that short solo piano part from 1:00 to 1:14 it is taken over by the bass which is continually playing the G under every chord until ~2mins, while the melodic motiv is now covering different notes. The part with the arpeggiated guitar you mention is (except the intro) the only part without melody in this track...
Sorry... I think straggled a bit :) For sure you are right that it isn´t very catchy, though, but more nerdy and making the piece a bit more congruent overall I guess ;)
== This is an official NGUAC Review ==
Oooooooooooohhh what a cool track!
I was loving your composition practically from the first chord change. I love so much the subtle dissonance and eeriness that it suggests. To be honest, I'm a big fan of your entire intro (which I'd say is the first 2 minutes). It's really a treat for geeks like me that love intriguing chord progressions and harmonic choices. =D The subtle rubato, the funky instrument choices (love the marimba and subtle backbeat, though admittedly not a fan of the organ tone).
Right at 2:00 the song kind of implodes on itself - unfortunately not in a really good way. The chording guitar tone is just so ugly, it doesn't mesh well with the rest of the song at all. The compositional aspects of the song continue to be good, but at this point it's hard to truly get into them when the sound design is so difficult to get over. The guitar solo is good, but I just can't understand what you're trying to do with it. It's far too quiet in the mix to really stand out, but it's too complex to serve as a backing track.
When the *real* breakbeat starts to come in at around 2:35 ish (it fades in, hard to pick an exact time), I found myself desperately wishing for a better mix so that it could shine through better. As it is, your breakbeat is a fantastic idea that falls completely flat due to the mix.
I have to admit, I don't understand what you were thinking at 3:30. That section is just crazily dissonant to me and does not really do much other than make me confused. If that's what you meant by 'lose some points'... well... okay, I admit, I just have no idea what you were thinking!
All in all, this piece is compositionally fascinating, with lots of intriguing chord choices and harmonies. I'm a huge fan of almost exactly the first two minutes, but after that the mix really starts to fall apart. It's a shame, because your ambition and ideas are really interesting, and if they were properly mixed this piece would be super duper good. As it is, it's a really really intriguing experiment, and certainly a very original and fascinating track.
Mini-scores (not used to calculate final score in any way - just so you know what needs improvement):
Sound Design: 2+/4 (higher in the first half)
Production: 2/4 (ditto)
Whoot? I thought I already responded to your review... Acutally I wrote a really long response, yesterday. Weird that it wasn´t posted. First: Thanks a lot for that awesome detailed review and a lot of constructive feedback! I´m glad you liked the track! For the organ tone and the tone of the chording guitar. I actually tweaked a lot till I got these sounds. The organ I wanted to have bit more "flutey", sounding a bit less like church (only a little bit). The guitar I wanted to have as distorted and "evil" as it could be. You are completely right about my mixing, though... I think this is always my biggest flaw. I really don´t know how to get these breakbeats a bit more out, except by making them louder or using more limiting which will just distort them. I already panned every single hit very strongly to place them around the rest of the music. I´m also always really intrigued to hear all these awesome produced tracks, which sound so bright, airy and clear. The only way I found to get the sound this bright is to use multiband compression and increasing the gain of the high frequencies. I don´t like this sound, though and it disturbs the atmosphere of music, which is intended to have a darker undertone. If you have any suggestions how to improve my production in specific, I would be really happy to hear it! I´m a bit surprised that you think the solo guitar should be louder, because I always think it´s too loud, when I listen to the track again... Yes, the section at 3:30 is a bit special. It was more about the storytelling than about the music I guess and also maybe was meant as a small joke. Maybe I shouldn´t do these things in a competition ;)
I´m really glad that you figured out all these small treats like the rubatos or the backbeat I layered behind this 6/8 meter to shift it to a 4/4 beat with strong triplets ;)
Again: Thanks a lot for your detailed contructive feedback! I hope I didn´t forget anything what I wrote yesterday...
If telling a story was your intention with this piece, then I'm happy to tell you that you've succeeded and then some! Here is how I interpreted this story you have told through music, via notes while listening:
00:30 Journey into somebody's psyche
(Love the use of organ pipes & dissonance)
01:00 How things used to be
01:30 Discovery and experimentation/ setup
(I love the xylophone/marimba)
02:00 Where it all went wrong
(Reminds me of Castlevania! I feel it could have used a harpsicord in addition to the almost melancholic choir!)
02:30 Chaos builds!
(Funny how a simple melody can add so much isn't it?)
03:00 Chaos climaxes, with realization what had gone wrong, and attempts to fix it
03:19 Path to discovering the solution perhaps?
03:36 I've made a horrible mistake...
04:00 Fast forward to now, 'mis en scene' style, and dead silence
(repeat of motif to really wrap things up)
The magic of music, or art for that matter, is that everybody interprets it differently. Your track is certainly 'mysterious' and somewhat 'dark.' But I'd also say that it is 'mournful' in tone, as if I should feel pity or sadness for whoever or whatever the music represents. Aside from a few creative nitpicks, I absolutely love your track! I'm a big organ-pipe/organ flute fanatic and I think you should make another piece centered around them! Amazing job! I look forward to following your future work!
Wow! Thanks a lot for that detailed review! I like your story ;) It was indeed a Xylophone and a Marimba together at 1:30 ;) I wasn´t really sure if the weird breaks at the end destroy the track, so it´s good to hear that it works somehow. I guess you´re right and in some parts it´s a bit mournful. It was actually my first track where I used an organ (although I did a lot stuff with barrel organ)... I had some more ideas for organ stuff, so maybe there will be some in the future ;) Thanks a lot again for the time for listening and writing!
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