Author Archives: Matt Miller

Dynamic Music

I like not only the music from Mass Effect 2 but also the way in which it is played.  There’s a really good video from the composers showcasing this but I can’t find it, so here’s this instead: (don’t watch all of it though).

Basically, the instrumentation changes and more parts are add/removed as the action changes.  I wanted to do something like this for my final project, but I made the mistake of listening to this to get an idea of the style: .

See what I did wrong?  The second video doesn’t really show off the transitions.  I basically said, “I like how this sounds, I’ll make 2 tracks kind of like these and then I’ll figure out some transitiony / performancy things to do with them later.”  That’s no good, you don’t transition between two totally different tracks.  You can’t fade between the first two tracks from the second link and have it sound like the transitions from the first link, which I found out the hard way when I started writing my second piece for the performance.  Ultimately, this was an instance of me not planning ahead.

So what do I do from here?  As I said, transitions generally involve changing instrumentation and adding / removing parts.  But my first piece, in my opinion, depends on its specific MIDI instruments, and I don’t think it would sound full enough with some of its parts removed.  The only remaining option, then, is to add some new parts.  But I already sort of did that halfway through the piece, and for a performance thing I want more variety between the two songs I play to keep it interesting.

But writing song #2 as “new parts to add to #1” did help me get started, even if I didn’t stick to that mentality for long.  I had to write a new standalone piece that sounded sort of like the first in terms of notes and song structure (so that they would sound at least reasonable if played together at any given point in time), but it also had to be different and interesting.  And I still wanted the second piece to be similar in tone to the first but more actiony.

These are more constraints than I had originally anticipated.  Still, I think I did a good job of fixing my incorrect initial approach, and I like how things turned out.  I think the B track is a little less good than the A track (partially due to these constraints but mostly due to me running out of time to compose things) but I like how both came out, and I feel comfortable transitioning between them at any point in the song.  I considered the idea of leaving the transitioning up to the audience / a volunteer, but in the end I decided to do it myself because I want to make sure everyone gets to hear the full 2 tracks and in a way that showcases them well.  I’ll post the 2 tracks separately after the performance.

Inspirations: The Good and the Bad

For the projects in this course, I took to heart the advice given in lecture: that we listen to music we like.  I am a fan of video game music so that’s what I’ve listened to, but there’s a lot of diversity in video game music; my choices of inspiration had observable effects on my approaches to composing, and on my results.

Back during Project 1, I was nervous about composing and wanted to listen to basically everything I think is good music.  I eventually settled on the soundtrack for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze because 1) I like the series’ composers and their music, and 2) I hadn’t heard it yet.  This was a mistake; I should have focused on an earlier entry if anything because I’m more familiar with them and they do a good job sounding good with limited sound quality (which is important to be able to do, especially when you’re playing around with MIDI for the first time).  More importantly, a lot of these songs are fairly melody-based, which I have found to be not my forte.

For Project 2 I was a little more careful.  The style I focused on was the one used here: Sanctuary Fortress (Metroid Prime 2) .  I found that focusing on making good sounds and then adding more good sounds at a constant but leisurely pace is an effective and really easy way to make a song, even without a melody in mind.  This was definitely a big help.

Another thing I keyed in on is that Virtue’s Last Reward has a really good soundtrack.  It all sounds like things any of us can make with the provided software alone if we really know what we’re doing.  It’s also pretty unconventional while still being easy listening.  The takeaway is that we can do really cool stuff if we can imagine it, and that it’s okay to make a song that sounds not like what one would expect.  This isn’t even one of my favorite songs from it but it’s still great; I’m also most likely sampling it for my performance for reasons that will be covered in a future blog post: 

As for what I’ve been listening to lately and how it’s affected me, the short answer is “Mass Effect 2 OST; good dynamic music, poorly interpreted by me.”  The long answer will be in an upcoming blog post, along with my observations on dynamic music in general, a cautionary tale, and what I started doing earlier today to get back on track for the performance.

Project 2

Here is my submission for Project 2:

I made it in Live with only MIDI, just like my first project.  Originally I had planned on using Reason to make my instruments and playing them in Live, but I had more success finding the instruments I was looking for in Live than I did making them myself in Reason.  I didn’t really like how my Project 1 came out, so this time around I focused on getting more layers of sound to add to what I already had rather than looking for ways to extend the melody.  I used the vertical mode extensively; it was a big help.  My biggest regret was that I should have lowered the volume on one of the tracks.

Introduction (Matt Miller)

My name is Matt Miller.  I’m a senior studying computer science.

I am very fussy about my music.  For starters, I probably don’t like it if it has lyrics.  I played percussion in band for elementary school and high school, which was good because it was all instrumental.  I ended up usually playing timpani during high school, mostly because everyone else was too afraid to touch them, and also because they are great.  I also performed with the orchestra and the choir whenever they needed the timps.

I look forward to taking this course and meeting everyone!

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