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Overgrowth Volunteer Orchestra Post-Mortem

Add Comment! By Anton Riehl on May 3rd, 2018

Overgrowth Arrangement Post-Mortem
Written by Mikko Tarmia and Anton Riehl

Introduction

It’s always interesting to try new things, so during the Overgrowth’s development process we had this idea of having Wolfire’s community to contribute their musical talent for the game’s upcoming soundtrack album. So we started working on an arrangement based on the game’s main tune. We wanted it to consist of several parts with different genres of music so we could utilize loads of instruments and players in it. The whole point with the project was that players could record themselves at their home and send files back to us. The requirements to join the band were very low - you only had to have an instrument, some skills to play it and any device you could record your performance with.

It took us few months to finish a mock-up (a software rendition made with samples) of the arrangement. As we had our own parts to work with, we had to plan how we would glue the parts together to make it sound like one big piece of music. Somehow we got it work with no problem at all.

Structure of the arrangement:

Part 1: “Trailer-esque” (written by Anton)
Part 2: “In the Woods” (written by Mikko)
Part 3: “Rabbit Rock” (written by Mikko)
Part 4: “The Godrabbit” (written by Anton)
Part 5: “Pastorale” (written by Mikko)
Part 6: “Grande Finale” (written by Mikko)

Player hunt

As the requirements for joining the project were low, we expected to run into some problems. First of all, we had over 200 applications from players all over the world. We are grateful for such an enormous interest. It’s quite understandable many players left the project after realizing they didn’t either have time, recording equipment or skills to play the parts, so there was no “black list” or anything of people who didn’t send us files.

The first run of the hunt was resulted with a nice amount of files received, covering many instruments for different parts. However, it wasn’t enough, and we were forced to recruit more players to the project in several takes. As we were busy doing other projects as well, the hunt was progressing very slowly, taking couple of years all together. Fortunately for us, the development of the game needed much more time than we did, so we were in no hurry with this project.

Preparing

Once we had a list of potential players, we had to prepare the score so players could play their parts. We made downloadable zip packages for every part and instrument, consisting of

sheet music for each particular instrument
mp3 file of particular part with click
instructions for playing, recording and sending files

Anton made these packages available on his server, as well as a website to upload files back to us (because dropbox wasn’t a thing yet… lol).

Post-processing

Even while some of the takes were played with great talent and sufficient quality, we had loads of work to do with most of the material before we could add it into the mix. The problems we encountered were either

tuning problems (notes out of tune, wrong notes...)
timing problems (notes out of tempo, take recorded with wrong tempo...)
bad sound quality
additional noises (instrument noises → bow noises, broken sounds...)
or everything above at the same time

We wanted the arrangement to sound as good as possible so there was no question about it - we were going to “cheat” by using tuning/timing tools. One of the tools to do this is Celemony Melodyne.

As mentioned, we also had some great takes which didn’t need to be fixed at all, but most of the takes had tuning and timing problems at some degree.

Mikko: in the last part, I had to “increase” the number of string players by processing every take two times - one with more accurate tempo and timing, and one a bit less. This makes the string section sound a bit bigger than it otherwise would be.

Bad sound quality is usually caused by either insufficient recording conditions or equipment. By positioning a microphone to a wrong location from an instrument will cause problems, no matter how good your equipment is. Add the fact that many of the recordings were done with a cell phone mic and you got even more things to worry about. We had to use noise reduction and equalization tools A LOT to save many takes. There were also takes that couldn’t be rescued.

Parts in detail

Part 1: “Trailer-esque”

Anton: I had actually written a variation of this before we came up with the idea for this volunteer orchestra, but it seemed like a good way to start the arrangement off, so I decided to adapt it for live players. This meant adding new elements, and trying to simplify difficult elements. Since I didn’t really have an ensemble in mind when I first wrote it, I wrote a lot of techniques that were more advanced than what I would have written in a normal situation. The two hardest things to get right were replacing the opening string harmonics, and the “Storm Drum” loops in the middle.

One interesting thing that happened was I was able to hear other people playing their ethnic flutes, to replace mine. I first came on board Overgrowth by adding live flutes, so it was fun to hand that job off to other people, and hear how it evolved the sonic scape of the music.

Part 2: “In the Woods”

Mikko: As the part’s name refers, this part was written for mainly woodwind instruments. The solo is played with a flute, accompanied by all the other woodwind instruments as well as guitar, piano and glockenspiel.

The part continues with the “determined” tone from the previous part, leading then to introduce a small fraction of the main melody before preparing itself to the next part with a strong presence of piano.

Part 3: “Rabbit Rock”

Mikko: This part consists actually of two segments. It starts with a fast segment with some small hints of the main tune presented by alto saxophone and continued by the slow segment with two lead guitars playing more of the game’s main melody.

The part was written for an extended rock band. It first sounds like a sort of fusion jazz, but becomes more rock when electric guitars join in. I included some instruments from the previous part to bind these parts together, namely piano and the woodwinds. Then there’s the brass section which gives a nice edge for the first segment.

Part 4: “The Godrabbit”

Anton: So… this kinda came as a dare for me, lol. Part of what triggered the desire to create this orchestra piece was the interaction we had been getting from fans at the time, and those conversations made me want to write something in the style of “The Godfather Waltz”. Mikko’s theme had the right elements to arrange the song this way, so it was a matter of finding the right way to arrange it.

I took a big risk in writing for a solo instrument, something very exposed and open. Luckily, one of our trumpet players delivered in droves, and gave us an excellent performance. The rest of the arrangement was able to utilize a lot of the creativity of our players, and really showcases how you can get a group of people to pull off something interesting. Every player in this arrangement needed minimal amounts of work, yet every part is easily heard. I really enjoyed combining all the tracks on this section!

Part 5: “Pastorale”

Mikko: This short part is more like a mood setter than anything else and it also binds its surrounding parts in a nice manner. It has no references to the main melody at all, but it didn’t feel like a bad thing to give the melody some rest and play something else for a while. I wanted to utilize some “exotic” instruments in this part such as banjo, accordion and ukulele which gives the part a folkish countryside atmosphere. I was also trying to get an ocarina player to it, but it was then replaced with alto recorder as there was no ocarinas lying around.

Part 6: “Grande Finale”

Mikko: It was quite obvious that the final part, the finale, had to be something grand, so I wrote it for symphony orchestra. And grand it became, both for the amount of files as well as the amount of work. The previous part ended with diminuendo, so this part was meant to grow - starting from quiet strings till the gathering of the entire orchestra. Instead of a big bang like most of the classic symphonies had, I wanted to end it more quietly, with repeating few important notes from the theme melody. It felt like a comfortable way to finish the soundtrack with.

This part was sort a of nightmare to work and I want to share few words about it. There were so much files I had to mix it in separate sessions. Here’s a diagram to aid with the demonstration:

The output of string and brass sessions were added to the main session where I also had all the woodwinds as well as piano and few other instruments being mixed. For this part I utilized a thing called analogue summing, by sending the four separate instrument groups outside my DAW to a summing mixer and recording its output signal back to computer. It mixes the signals in a bit different way than the regular inside-the-daw mix and gives a little of that analogue warmth into it. I tried it both ways, but I was more satisfied with results of summing in this case.

Final Mix and Mastering

Anton: Once Mikko and I had worked on all of our sections individually, we created stems for each section. Stems are basically pre-mixed elements of a track where you have the overall sound dialed in, but they are flexible enough to make changes if something doesn’t work. I took all of the stems from every section, and then had to arrange those to make the flow work in a long session. I wanted everything to sound like it had been recorded together, so I grouped all similar instruments into busses, and added reverbs for room tone, and for musicality. I then mixed all of the tracks again, and balanced out the flow from one section to the next. A track like this is not so easy to mix! Here is a combined screen shot of the entire Stem Mix session. Remember that each line of color represents between 1-20 players that have already been mixed together.

After mixing, I then mastered the track, along with the rest of the Overgrowth Soundtrack, so that it would be a good listening volume, and also tweaked the EQ a little more, just to make the whole track sound good, and transition from section to section well.

The results

We were surprised how great the results sound. It surely took both us and our players a lot of time to do it, but here, take a listen of both mock-up version and the “real thing”:

Sample version: (right click and save-as to save)
Get the mp3 here

Real orchestra: (right click and save-as to save)
Get the mp3 here
Get the wav here

We want to thank every player for their contribution and patience for waiting to hear the results.

If you are a member of the Volunteer Orchestra, we recently sent you a follow up email, and we would like to hear back from you all. We know that some people have changed their email addresses since the time this project started, so if you did not receive an email from us as part of the follow up, please reach out to us at overgrowthorchestra@gmail.com

Thank you to the following group who comprised the Overgrowth Volunteer Orchestra!

Flutes: Adam Gardiner, Joshua Jacobs, Kevin Montgomery, Alex Cho Snyder
Oboes: Emi, David T.H. Loring, Jesse Perkins
Clarinets: Jeff Conary, Stephanie Davis, Anthony Struthers Young
Bass Clarinets: Sean Baker, Jeff Conary, Rusty McKee
Bassoons: Peter de Castro, Valentin Churavy, Gabor Udvari
Altosaxophones: Dustin Bell, Dennis Grauel
Tenorsaxophones: Dustin Bell
French horns: Edward Altherr, Donald Binderim, Keith Downer, Tom Ganter
Trumpets: Edward Altherr, Thomas Dickerson, Stefan Hayder, Jacob Jarecki, Oscar Lane, Kevin F McCarthy, Sean Mottram, Gradster One, Landen Raszick, Alex Cho Snyder, Dan Wray
Trombones: Karoun Kasraie, Peter Osnes, Marton Regoczi, Patrick Rose
Euphonium: Caleb Myszka, Gradster One
Tubas: Aaron Jacobs, Vasilii Uchanev
Violins: Jaron Bautista, Brian Chalif, Eric Chalif, Peter Dixon, Evan Dorsky, Erik Emmons, Santiagoth Escobar, Chelle Fulk, Tom Ganter, Thomas Grimme, Brian Harper, Jay Kim, Dylan Kimsey-Hutchinson, Gage Lawson, Malcolm Moore, Etienne Pemberton-Renaud, Mai Li Pittard, Jackson Spargur, Glen Thompson, Hayden Zahn
Violas: Lee Anderson, Erik Babuschkin, Chelle Fulk, Jay Kim, Dylan Kimsey-Hutchinson, Jason Kosloski, Mai Li Pittard
Cellos: Rachel Brinkman, Benjamin Jones, Murray Natkie, Gregory Potter, Scott, Jose Pedro Sousa
Doublebasses: William Sheppard
Percussion: AiglosCelt, Donald Binderim, Frank Brilhuis, Michael Cousins, Matt Haley, Adam Lerner, Gabe Marino, Miri Miettinen, Murray Natkie, Glen Thompson, Clemens Bernhard Winter Drums: Eetu Orbinski
Acoustic Guitars: Ferdia Bridgeman, Louis Fortier, Rolf Lifvergren
Ukulele: Ale Ellis, Rebecca Bunny Flower, N M, Christoph Schuber Banjo: Lachlan Kingsford
Mandolins: Jonas Hedenquist, Gregory Potter, Kalle Turppo, Henry Werrell Electric guitars: Drew Burden, Olli Laine Bass guitars: Fuxter, Phil Gorley
Piano/harpsichord: Galen, Johan Hassel, Reuben Lemer, Betsalel Williamson
Accordion: Brendan Mauro, Sean Mottram, Daniel Tadeuszow, Betsalel Williamson, Clemens Bernhard Winter, Zorba

Composers: Mikko Tarmia & H. Anton Riehl