last weekend I decided to get back to one of the many tracks I had on hold, and I finally managed to complete it:
It's an attempt to write some typical traditional Chinese music with the usual soundtrack "paint" over it. I started working on it last year, when the main theme came to mind: I liked how it used the traditional Chinese pentatonic scale, and how melancholic and yet graceful it sounded in my mind, so I decided to try and use traditional instruments to play it. The middle section came in a different moment: the way it appeared in my mind, it always sounded a bit like the Last Samurai soundtrack (yep I know, wrong country ), so I tried to arrange it like that, with the slow and sad string section building up to the theme reprise. All in all, there aren't many audio tracks, and I like that it sounds more sober than my usual compositions: even in the finale, where more instruments join together, I tried not to overdo it, so I hope I managed to keep it interesting anyway.
Coming to the technical part, as usual I wrote most parts in MuseScore, and then exported a MIDI I could import in Ardour 5. There I used a few different sources for the instruments I wanted to render, and for the first time I used LinVST natively in Ardour which was quite a surprise: it was quite nice to see I could automate properties of those VSTs myself! About the instruments themselves:
- The pad that you can hear in the background is the "Multi Rushes" preset in Yoshimi: I like how subdued and yet effective it is!
- All flutes are rendered using a free Windows VST, called "Mini DiZi": in the track you can hear 4 different flute presets, even though the main ones are a Dizi (the tenor flute playing the main theme for the first time) and the Xiao (the bass flute doubling the strings in the middle part, and the theme in the finale). I think that sound-wise they sound incredible, for being a free VST: I had to automate a bit the attacks to try and make them sound less synth-y, which I don't think I managed to 100% do, but I feel they're believable enough.
- The Erhu is rendered using a free Windows VST by the same author, called "Mini Erhu". I'm less satisfied with how this one came out... it sounds quite nice, but it is also much more obviously fake. Initially I wanted a lot of bends to be used, as they're typical of Erhu playing: unfortunately, writing them in MuseScore is a pain, and when you import them in Ardour they don't work as they use different ranges. Then I tried writing them manually in Ardour, and soon gave up too. Eventually I used one of the presets of the VST itself, which has a "full tone bend up" setting: that's what you hear in the track from time to time. Unfortunately changing patch was problematic too: it seemed fine when previewing the playback, but would be messed up when exporting the track, so I decided to simply render the MIDI+VST audio to an audio track. It kinda worked, even though you can still hear a couple of glitches initially... Hopefully they're not too bad!
- The Pipa and Guzheng are rendered using a free soundfont called "DSK Asian DreamZ": up to a few days ago I only knew the VST version of it, so I was quite happy to see it available as an SF2 too. While it does includes a couple of flutes and an erhu too, they sound considerably worse than the Mini VST ones, so I stuck to the plucked instruments instead.
- The strings section is 5 different parts, panned as in a real orchestra, and all played via the KBH Strings soundfont I've used often in the past. This soundfont is actually more tailored for slow violas/cellos, but I decided to use it for all the strings, since that was the range I wanted to "pop" anyway, and I think it sounds really cool: incredible how that soundfont is just 19MB!
- For the brief percussions part, I actually "cheated" a bit... I couldn't find any decent Chinese percussions soundfont anywhere, so I used an amazing Japanese Taiko drums SFZ I found some time ago, called "SCC Taiko Drums". I've wanted to use them since the first time I heard them, but never had the chance: at the end of the day, I think they fit the part nicely, especially considering I tried to keep them more generic than the gorgeous and bombastic Taiko sound we're familiar with (and considering I'm an Italian guy attempting to write Chinese music )
- As usual, the amazing Dragonfly Reverb was used pretty much everywhere.