Friday, December 24, 2010

The Soundtrack Life : Recording “Voight Kampff” part1

So, I'm working on the soundtrack to a thriller/scifi short film by Thomas Lesourd.

Here's a little tutorial on the making of the main action cue, "Voight Kampff".

This particular track was actually recorded before I was able to see any footage of the short film. Hell, none had even been shot at the time! I was told by the filmmaker that the film would need some fast-paced, street chasing music.

I decided to go for a tight, urban sound, built around a fat and biting Moog groove.The tempo is relatively slow, because I was expecting to create a sort of musical momentum, beginning with an almost hiphop-styled groove, Mellotron strings, a quiet break, then full-on electric and industrial madness, with nasty guitars and crazy electronic bleeps.

Whether it’s a song or an instrumental, and unless I’m 100% sure that there won’t be any beat and that the track won’t need any fixed tempo, my first step is always to program one, at the very least to provide a tempo guide for recording.

Method-wise, there’s a big difference between recording a song and an instrumental. I will almost always start the former with a completed song. On the other hand, building up the latter is pure improvisation, in that I simply have no idea what the track will be until I push Record and improvise something that I’ll then expand upon.

So, I’ve started by programming a first beat, with the Drums Overkill plugin as main source. This is an excellent database, using the Kontakt engine. Not only does it feature almost every vintage drum machine ever built, but also a clever sample collection arranged in sections such as “hiphop”, “drum and bass”, “experimental”. All in all, a very useful source that provides a large variety of drum sounds that you can tweak within Kontakt.

This particular beat also features a couple of “natural” sounds, that is, a gunshot and a falling bullet shell, both from a huge database of movie sounds I have assembled over the years. Mixing-wise, I’ve juxtaposed two layers of the same beat. The first one has a 6dB boost at 64Hz.

The second one is squashed to death by a compressor, then radically EQd to cut most bass and high frequencies, and boost the mids (EQ deep cut below 150Hz and at 16Khz, boost between 1Khz and 10Khz). This is pretty much a variation on what it’s called parallel compression of New York compression :
I then programmed a second beat, which comes midway to reinforce the rhythmic section. This one was treated in pretty much the same way.

Voight Beat (MP3) 

Now that a basic rhythmic foundation is in place, my second task is to lay down some instrumental part that will define what the chord progression (if any) will be, and what the overall tune will be. I would usually play piano or possibly some synth pad, but for this particular track, since it’s meant to be very rhythmic, I’ve chosen to sketch out a bass groove.

Gear-wise, bass to me means MOOG!

A little bit of experimentation here as well : the Moog Little Phatty is plugged to the UA 710 preamp, with a blend of 50-50 solid-state and tube signal, and a fair amount of gain to make it distort. That little trick provides a bit of additional grit to the bass sound. There are 3 Moog layers involved here.

I then proceeded to add some more harmonic parts around that beat/bass core.The Prophet 08 was to put to use there.

Voight Prophet (MP3) 

Now the track was coming together but it still needed a fuller sound. A couple of electric guitars, playing the fundamental note over and over, would fit it nicely.
It’s often a good idea to record the exact same guitar part twice, and pan one on the extreme left and the other on the extreme right. That’s what I did, and I should add that the slightly off-key, grungey guitar sound was obtained in two way : tuning the first string one step down and passing it through a Small Clone chorus.

Some EQ there too : light boost at 1Khz, cut at 10Khz and big cut 16Khz.

Voight Guitar (MP3) 

Finally, I knew at this point that there’d be a quieter, breathing space in the middle before the electric onslaught, so I thought about adding little pseudo-orchestral transition, to get a little harmonic build-up before the break.

There’s a lot of orchestral software out there, but I do prefer to create little weird, retro chamber orchestras using Gforce’s M-Tron, and now M-Tron Pro, plugins.

The Mellotron of course is very limited, which fits my idea totally. A little arrangement of Mellotron cellos, violas and violins gives a vintage, off-beat strings flavor which has far more character than any realistic emulation of orchestra would give.


Epsilon said...

Exciting piece of music. Thanks for sharing the process. Keep us informed about the movie.

khoral said...

Thanks, I'll follow up with the making of the second half of the track, then post the whole mix.