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Incise ~ Starburst

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UPDATE: made a new mix of this favorite piece of mine. adjusted the reverb levels, played around with the balancing of background elements like saws and ambient plucks, and made some changes to the chord progression in 3:28 so that the modulation could be as smooth as i can do it

wahoo, got into the final round of NGUAC 2020

this time, i tried to mix it as best as I could

  • in my opinion, the hardest part of this project is coming up with a clear route for the track to go in the first place. added with my current artblock, it took me like, 8-9 days just for thinking what kind of sound should I convey.

  • the melody for the verse leading up to the first drop, it came to me spontaneously (lmao). i was about to shut down my laptop to sleep and continue working on it the next day, but the instant before i clicked the button, my mind's gotta be like "hey how about i just throw this nice ass melody that you've been looking for the past 3 days randomly".

  • this one was a bit experimental on the structure, going for an electro house for the first drop, and a dubstep-like house for the second drop. does this count as progressive house then-

patch notes:

>it took me quite a while for my ears to realize that the saws really clouded everything, so the adjustments are mainly aimed at making things to be as crystal-clear as I can make it to be.

>originally, the progression around 3:28 was Bm - (C# passing) - D - E - (modulation) Eb, but I eventually realized that the modulation would not make sense with the current progression due to the fact that E is not a diatonic chord on the G minor scale. so, i changed it a little bit, to Bm - (D passing) - C# - D - (modulation) Eb, with D being the pivot chord instead of E. i hope that this not-so-major (hehe) change can make the modulation smoother

Key : F# minor/G minor

Tempo : 128bpm

Chord Progressions (chords will be in F# minor):

1) VI (D) - iv (Bm) - V (C#) - VII (E) - V (C#) - VI (D) [hmm no tonic???]

2) VI (D) - i (F#m) - V (C#) - iv (Bm) - V (C# passing) - VI (D) - VII (E)

sidenote: every chord listed here is extended in its own way, but i'm too lazy to list them lmao

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Hello! This is a review for the NGUAC competition.

I've gone over one or two general categories of issues specific to your song, and one section of things I think also deserve complimenting. I prefer being very direct with my critique, none of it is meant to offend. Thank you for your understanding!

Constructive Criticism:

- Hey, since you mentioned the mix in the description itself, I think I can immediately identify one of the things causing some difficulty - your saw wave plucks have a LOT of bass to them, and the bass in general is really boomy. Bass tends to be best applied with less stereo separation and/or reverb, and it seems you can tell this to some extent due to the intensity of the sidechaining. However, it would actually be quite a good idea to turn this bass down for a few reasons - first of all, this much bass will fill up your dB levels, but not your loudness or detail as much. In a musical waveform, only so much information can be apparent, and human sound perception focuses on the mids rather than the low bass frequencies - so enough low bass, and the relatively higher mid frequencies won't actually have the volume space to show their stuff. Honestly, the rest of your mix is relatively clean so this should help it out a LOT.

- So, something interesting I've found that might help out your drops is that syncopated drumlines like you have in the second drop actually tend to be LESS intense and climactic than the more steady four-on-the-floor beat you have in your first drop. The reason for this tends to be that a constant influx of energy DRIVES the music forward, found in the form of constant kick drum (and snare) impacts. By contrast, syncopated rhythms have pauses in the energy they impart to the music, and it becomes unsteady - which is a phenomenal sound, but doesn't really DRIVE a drop. It's very intense, but a really good point of comparison is this absolutely insane artist called Camellia. Give this track a listen and compare the earlier and later drops: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HXCM3mmgto The shift at 2:35 moves to a steadier and less syncopated drumbeat, and it ends up being more intense... relative to the later one at 4:09 which is DEFINITELY more intense due to the arpeggios but also the constant 4-on-the-floor kicks. It might be at a fast pace in this song, but this principle absolutely applies all across different bpms!

Compliments to the Composer:

- I was a bit iffy on the chord progression at first but, you actually handled it really well. You have some really tasteful development of rhythms and great breakdowns with the thick plucks. This track is really satisfying, and I'd really love to hear more in this style, exploring syncopation and variation of ideas a bit more as well. That camellia track has some INCREDIBLE idea development and shows just how many things you can cram into one piece of music. (he has other incredible stuff too, definitely worth checking out for inspiration if you like it - they're not all quite that fast if you look at his earlier stuff!)

Final score: 8.3

Incise responds:

ah, a camellia lover as well

- i used a reese bass throughout the whole track, it could be the main cause of all the issues you pointed out. thanks for pointing it out!

- for the second bridge and drop, i tried to use the image of conflict as the baseline for the drumbeat, though i think my poor mixing didn't really convey the image nicely. your example and explanation were nice too, definitely expanded my understanding on syncopation and rhythm.

i'd really love to hear your thoughts on the harmonic structure of the track, if you're not too busy. i'm still learning and exploring new ideas on harmony, thank you for the thorough review! :)

I like the quirky synths at the beginning and the bright tone. The compression is a bit heavy, though, and I thought the pads could’ve been a bit stronger in the mix. Still, I enjoyed the climax into 1:00 and the melodies thereafter. I like the 2-climax model you use in advance of the breakdown/re-intro at 2:34. It’s really effective at channeling the emotion. The synth on the off-beats at 3:04 gets a little lost in the mix, but I’m liking the blissful vibes of that bridge section. The modulation at 3:34 was a bit sudden, but it does help up the intensity going into the final refrain at the end. You also begin to overuse the risers by the end, but I love the dreamy outro and the rhythmic syncopations during the last 30 seconds or so. More big-picture, I would’ve liked to see you return to something like the emotional height of the section from 1:00 - 2:00 or so. It felt like it never quite got back to that same feeling of arrival and resolve that was at 1:30. I also think there were some places in this piece where you tried doing a bit too much with the rhythmic framework, notably at 2:34. Still, my favorite elements of the piece are the cheery melodies, flow, and danceability of this one. You get due credit for atmosphere and sound design, too. Thanks so much for participating in the NGUAC this year! I really enjoyed hearing your work. ^_^

Mixing, mastering, and balance
Structure, transitions, phrasing, and variety
Melody, tonality, harmony, and texture
Instrumentation and sound design
Emotion, atmosphere, and catchiness
Originality and uniqueness
Overall (how do the elements above interact?)
Composite score

score: 8/10

what I liked:

• the ambiguous chords in the beginning do a good job of keeping me on edge, waiting for something to happen
• interesting drum pattern at the beginning!
• sound design in the first minute or so is great, I feel immersed in the music
• you led into the drop very well, and the overall structure and pacing is great in general
• I love the new drum pattern at 2:30ish
• the key change at 3:30 was a little abrupt but I like the idea and new key
• great way to close the piece, the ending manages to diminish energy over time quite subtly

what I think could be improved:

• I think the pads at 1:00 could have less attack to make it more "pumpy"
• starting 1:15, I think it's a little muddy (maybe you could use more sidechaining)
• especially the drop can be cleaned up a little, there's a little too much going on for comfort
• same comment for the 2nd drop, everything is a little too slurred together

great job! all in all a very enjoyable listen.

Mix wise, I think this pretty muffled sounding, with a LOT of reverb, which I feel takes away a lot from your sound. If you're using Nexus, I know that every patch has a ton of reverb on it for whatever reason. I would, if you insist on having so much reverb, sidechain it by a lot, take the wet down a lot more, and further apply low cut while looking at the spectrum analysis, usually to 250 hz for me. Too much of it gives a very full skull feeling when listening, or not being able to get enough loudness.

Lead writing I very much enjoyed, and your progression as well. Nice long progression with interesting chords, and unusual choices.

Percussion I think goes between muddled and laying on top of things. For instance, your clock ticking, and the snap up to 0:50 are laying on top, not really meshing. Your snare on the other hand despite sidechain is sitting inside of the mix with a layer of what sounds like low pass on top of it. If you're going to do that, I'd take your snare and kick up by a couple dB at least and tune both to the tonic, possibly the snare to a harmonic that sounds good to your ear. Each snare has overtones and can sound more pleasing when in tune.

Beyond that, I do like your writing. It's nice and fresh. I feel with the mentioned changes, especially the reverb, you will be able to make better use of the space in your mix and be more satisfied with them overall :)

The rest of any commentary I could have would fall somewhere between @mutty99 and @trunotfals, especially regarding the saws and transition. Sometimes a simple transposition does work very well, as it does here. I might have ring modulated the transition FX sample to hit the new tonic, myself, or portamentoed it, something, but that was quite literally my only gripe. Nice work!

Thanks for coming out to NGUAC!

First off i feel like i recognize that Nexus Lead before the drop (Single layer Lead - LD Square Lead 1?) ;P

I feel like your chord progression presents a little simpler (but not simple by any means) than what you wrote.

I'm interpreting this; I - i - vii diminished - IV - ii - I in B

I'm also going off my ears. But it sounds like a modal borrowing progression. Still a pretty good one, the "vii" to IV is a bit uncomfortable, but it works with the lead.

That lead writing is SO good, well done there!

Now just like mutty says, the loudness of the saws REALLY overtakes the whole mix, those can be way more in the background and still create that dramatic feel you're going for. Love the plucky lead so much man.

Great transposition, I agree with mutty, it COULDVE been executed a little better, but its much more of just a straight transposition for dramatic effect. Take a look at my song Transcend, I use a chord progression in the second drop that transposes almost seamlessly, Using;

Key of F#maj
Imaj7 - vi - I13 6/4 - iii 6/4 - I/G# (Acting as the vii min7 of A major, the iii 6/4 also acts as a ii chord in A major, while still sharing the same notes in F#major, making it actually a ii - vii of A) Into A major; Isus2 - V7 - ii. Then it goes into some weird complicated stuff with a flat 6 and weird sus notes and 13ths in the NEWLY transposed A major which brings notes back from F# major and does weird things to the brain if you try and analyze it and weird stuff ahah.

Anyway, your transposition is good! but it reminds me of pop, where they just transpose into the new key suddenly, take for example living on a prayer by bon jovi. that last chorus they just instantly transpose to another key on the WHOA and its great, its dramatic and impactful.

Long story short I just wanted to expand on mutty's comment that it COULD'VE been executed better, by using chords like the ii in your original key to ACT as the vii in another key or the IV in one key to act as the V in another key, then transposing to the I or i in the new key. BUT, i don't think you NEEDED to make it smoother.

I digress, WHEW. Still with me?

Now, Over all really good, the rhythm on your leads in the drops are great, but again, the saws overpower everything for me. the transition into the transposition into g is great, take everything out then a nice swell into the drop again. The bass, the snare, the hats, all overpowered by your saw synths. everything is mixed pretty good except your drops, just so much going on.

overall great piece, and excuse me, I love nerding out about theory.

Overall Composition; 7.5
Overall Production; 6.25
Overall Impression; 7

Score; 6.9

Well done!

Incise responds:

yea i think the same lmao

it's so improbable to have a chord progression without at least one tonic, though i could be wrong

here are the chord progression (without extension or nonchord tones)

in the key of F#minor/A major,
Dmaj - Bm - C#m - Emaj- C#m - Dmaj

the key could be D Lydian, but Dmaj doesn't sound like it's a tonic in this chord progression-

thanks, i tried to make the melody sounds like it's melodically singing, but not so much that it sounds unsuitable for an electronic lead.

i agree tho, my transitions sounds a bit rushed. i'm modulating from F#minor to G minor, which only has like, one semitone interval between them. as a result, modulation becomes tough to execute, because both of those keys are on the opposite sides of the circle of fifths. so, it's hard for me to toy with chords to lead up to the key change, mostly because of the fact that F#minor shares only 2 tones with G minor. i don't want to make it sound worse than it already is, so i tried to make the transition less harsh. i made the melody ascend into the new key, and made the last note of the melody section (F#) to be a leading tone of G minor, which is also the tonic for F# minor. maybe next time, i'll try to extend the transition period a bit longer, instead of transitioning at the final bar before the key change.

now when i listened to it again, yea i could pick up a LOT of problems with my mix (probably because i didn't take time in perfecting my mix first oof). i'll try to practice more with mixing and try to improve my mastering skills (this has been barely mastered lmao)

most of the time, i noticed that with my tracks, i tend to mix the saws/chords as though it's almost equal to the melody. probably because i tend to think that the harmony is just as important as the melody, so i tend to make the harmony as though it stands by the melody, and not behind it. i don't know how to get rid of this behavior though, so i try to work with it by trying to make my mix cleaner so that the melody can stand out more. but i can only do so much, and my percussion section suffers as a result. can you give some tips and tricks on how to remedy this problem?

and also no, it's not a nexus patch lmao (though it does have some resemblance hmmm). i made it separately using Serum while i was exploring on sound design with square waves. i then layered it with a supersaw lead, which could probably be the reason why it has some similarities.

oh yea, can you give me details on your score based on your rubric? i want to learn more about my technique, impression and all. thank you

Credits & Info


4.22 / 5.00

Sep 12, 2020
1:47 PM EDT
File Info
10.6 MB
4 min 38 sec

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