Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sand Theft Audio

I was involved in the CSE Revue 2007 - Sand Theft Auto in September this year. It was an awesome learning experience for me, I got to play with some fantastic musicians in the stage band, and the show had me guffawing every night. I also had the chance to score a soundtrack for the first time. I've never done anything quite like that before, and so I did the only thing I knew how. I wrote the parts I could, I stole the parts I couldn't, and I just hoped that it didn't turn out shit. Anyway, here's the soundtrack, with some production notes.

PS: My recording/production skills suck so please ignore the occasional clipping. Also, big thanks to James Douglas who helped with the whole process! He did most of the drum parts and kept me in check to make sure I didn't go overboard with the cheese factor :D And a big thanks to Matt Heike, who played bass guitar on I'm Busier and Surfing rugs. All the synthesized parts were done with Reason 3.0. I used the solid body Soloway 7-string and a Pod XT Live for all guitar parts.

Welcome to Agrabah
Ah the title piece... we started work on this before we had even seen the script. I think we kind of knew that there was going to be this mad, intense rush at the end and we figured it was better to get a head start on this sort of thing. The staccato string parts are inspired by Therion's "The Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah". The melody seemed to flow after that. We really wanted to have a melodic theme to drive the song forward, rather than go with the whole jam/pop/rock oriented concept we had at first. There's a reference to Jaws and Flight of the Bumble Bee (Killer whales! Killer bees!) that are cued to the video. And the cheesy horn fanfare right at the end...

Running Bass
When James told me there was going to be a parkour chase scene, I instantly thought of Banlieu 13 and Tom Yum Goong, but after checking out the music from those movies I just felt that the whole electronic/techno thing didn't quite fit the vibe we were going for. Eventually I decided to rip off "Movimento" off the Gunslinger Girl soundtrack by Toshihiko Sahashi. I took the general vibe of the song and reworked it to fit the melody I'd written for the theme, and it seemed to work well with the footage we had.

The First Breakfast
This scene was particularly dialogue heavy, and for some reason I had Jame Horner's soundtrack for The House of Sand and Fog stuck in my head. I realized that droning, ethereal sound was precisely what I was looking for, and it all sort of came together in one evening.

I'm Busier
Ah, the market place fight scene... This was particularly difficult for me as I remember we kept getting different edits where the timing changed, and once we saw it with the sound effects, we knew that we had to rework the whole thing. This song is really a re-arrangement of "Mystery Planet" by The Bomboras. I found a way to weasel my secret surf fetish into the soundtrack after all! The little wah bit at the end had James and me crapping our pants when we did it, it's inspired by Bill Bailey's brilliant skit about the music of Starsky and Hutch. Oddly, the crowd didn't seem to pick up on that one...

Surfin' Rugs
The surf man returns! We got the final cut of this video at 2AM the night before opening night, so I had no choice but to pull an all-nighter to figure out how we were going to arrange it, and ended up having to do all the arranging and recording til about 1 in the afternoon. And then I got to go on stage sleep deprived! Hurray!

Since we were doing the whole GTA spoof, I figured a little Eminem might be in order. But once he's on the flying carpet, it was time for a little more of The Bomboras, this time with "Playa de los muertos". The timings for this scene changed a lot from our initial draft but fortunately a little rearrangement was all it took to make it gel again.

It segues into the Malguenas portion of Dick Dale's "Miserlou Twist", since we didn't want to reference Miserlou directly as it was used in Med revue. I prefer the Malaguenas portion anyway! Of course, there's that scene where George is riding the L-plate carpet, and I just knew we had to have a drastic change... We tried it with the intro from Girl From Ipanema and it was hilarious. It was also the musical cue that got the most laughs every night.

The ending was a bit of a problem for me as I didn't know quite how to finish it. The scene went into a sort of slow motion bit, and in the end I just did a bit of a free form improvised solo over it and tried to get it to fit the scene.

Incidentally, I have a hard tail guitar. All the tremelo bar effects on this track were done by mapping the Pod XT Live foot controller to the "bender" effect, set to go a half step down. Virtual whammy bar!

You've Got To Be Kidding Me...
This is probably the piece I was least happy with. I couldn't quite figure out how to pace the scene. It's also my pathetic attempt at trying to sound remotely like Hans Zimmer... and failing miserably. The percussion and guitar parts were heavily inspired by Chant off the Black Hawk Down soundtrack, but I knew there was just no way for me to get that massive sound. Incidentally, the guitar track is actually 20 tracks of guitar panned all over the place. Just for the heck of it.

You Can Have My Stuff
This is one of the few pieces that really wasn't inspired by anything in particular. I knew we were going to need something ambient and ethereal for the dream sequence, and while looking through my old recordings I found something I had written while fiddling around with the GK picking on my old Lukather. Because this scene was also rather dialogue heavy, I wanted to let this track ride in the background a bit more. There's very subtle development up until the part where Aliyah shows up, and then the cello melody comes in. I really liked that melody, I remember it just sort of kept flowing as I was writing it.

The Showdown
Another failed "I wish I was Hans Zimmer" moment. I had this vision of Molossus from Batman Begins being perfect for this scene. And it would have been, if I hadn't butchered it so badly in the process. We just didn't have the right samples to make the string parts work. They lack that fat punch and urgency that's prevalent in Zimmer's sound. Also, the choral voice that I used, in retrospect, just didn't quite do it for me. Despite all this, I'm still quite happy with this piece, there was much "conducting" back stage while we waited for the video to end.

Man I had so much fun doing CSE revue. I really regret not getting into the whole thing earlier, and I also regret that after I leave this year I won't be able to be involved next year. If you're in Sydney around September, drop by and check it out, I'm pretty sure the stage band is going to be awesome. Again. Maybe this time we'll have an 8-neck guitar. I guess we could call it the "He-X" guitar next year....

Dirka Shredastan!

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