Finishing Up The Full Orchestral Arrangement Project

Before summer break started, my last post was an update on an orchestration project that I’d been working on at the time. I still actually ended up finishing it over the summer despite not writing about it. It’d be weird if I didn’t actually write about how it ended up so that’s what I’m going to be writing about this week.

In the last post, the basic layout for the climax was decided. We had the percussion playing a bit faster and the cellos and double bass were still doing the same thing as they were before the climax. We also had the violins, horns, and some winds all layering the melody with the rest of the winds doing runs. The things we added were a trumpet section that was playing chords, timpani, and a glockenspiel. I had the trumpets change chords before the downbeat in order to make them sound less square. The timpanis added more impact and the glockenspiel was just a little something extra that I felt like putting in.

After the climax continues for a little bit we started to work on how we wanted to move towards the ending. The way we went about it was building tension and then finishing with the orchestra playing one big chord. So the climax transitions into a back and forth between the violins and horns playing swells and the rest of the orchestra doing a staccato type call and response in between. For the percussion, we took out the timpani and a few other elements of the percussion to lessen the impact from the climax section. The chords we used went higher in a stepping type fashion as well as the swells. After a few measures the orchestra comes together and ends on one big chord.

Once we finished with the orchestration we worked on setting the levels of the instruments right because for some reason after we exported the track some of the instruments were a bit quieter than we were hearing them in Logic. One of the things I would probably change if I were to do this type of style again would probably be to extend the length of some of the sections. In my opinion, some parts go by a bit too quickly and you can’t really remember what each section sounds like. However, that was kind of to be expected in an exercise like this project. Another thing I would do would be spending more time with the programming of a few instruments so they would sound a tiny bit more natural.

Overall, the project ended up better than I initially thought it would sound. There were a few times were I was having a hard time thinking about what I wanted some of the instruments to be doing, but I think everything turned out alright. I ended up learning a lot more about different ways you can use the instruments in an orchestra as well as how to develop sections of a track. It definitely took a bit of while to write out, but I think if I were to do things again it would go by a bit faster now.

Starting School In 2020

A few days ago, the school board for the area I’m in started with school again. Unlike other years, the COVID-19 pandemic has made things more complicated in order to try and keep people safe. This week, I’ll be writing about the different measures that the board has put in place.

The biggest change that the schools have made this year is the introduction of the remote learning system. Unlike the previous year’s temporary emergency online learning, this system is supposed to be more organized. Before actually starting school, students were given the option if they’d like to participate in either full online learning or a mix of in-person and online. I ended up choosing the full online learning experience, so I’ll be able to comment more on that, but I also have a decent understanding of how the in-person side goes.

From the information that’s been sent out says, students that participate in in-person learning will be placed in groups of 15. Those 15 students will physically go to school every other day for around two hours. When they are not physically at school, they will also be participating in online courses. In my opinion, this just seems like online learning with a few extra steps that don’t really seem necessary. Students will only be at school for a little bit of time each week and will be doing online learning anyways, so I don’t really see the point. Supposedly, students won’t even get tested unless someone in their group of 15 starts showing symptoms.

As for the full online learning system, students will spend most of their time in Google Meet sessions with their teachers and the class that follow a normal school schedule. However, students that opted for a full online learning experience will be placed in classes where students are mixed from different schools and teachers. This means that you might not know as many people in your classes. So far, the board is still trying to get everybody’s courses figured out since some teachers had issues configuring their teaching platforms of choice.

Personally, the courses that I’m taking are Math, Technological Design, Careers & Civics, and Food & Nutrition. I’d say that I’m okay with all of the courses and the teachers seem alright. I actually had a bit of a problem getting in contact with my Food & Nutrition teacher, but eventually, we got things sorted out. None of my classes have actually started with any actual course material yet though, so it seems like it’ll take a little longer until we get started.

Overall, the school board’s approach to reopening schools has been going alright so far. I’m not too sure how well the in-person learning will go, and I think some of the choices they made are a bit questionable. We’ll see what happens though.

Full Orchestral Arrangement Project Update

Last week I wrote about the action orchestration piece that I’ve been working on with the help of my music teacher. We’d laid out most of the ideas that we wanted to have and wanted to start incorporating more and more instruments. As of this week, pretty much all of our instruments have something to do, and in this post I’ll be writing about how we did it.

Starting from where we had left off last week, we were still missing the entirety of the winds section, horns, trumpets, and needed to write in the melody for the violins. Those were the elements that we thought were essential, so we wanted to get them sorted out before starting on anything else. We started by copying in the piano midi into the first violins track and adjusted the expression, modulation, and midi notes in order to make sure that the violins didn’t sound too fake.

Our next step was to figure out how we were going to harmonize the melody because the first violins sounded pretty bland on their own. We figured that the most obvious choice was to use the second violins by having them play the same melody in a different interval. It took some time getting the notes to fit with the key and chords, but eventually things worked out.

After writing out the main melody for the violins, we wanted to use the horns for a sweeping countermelody that would fill the gaps in between the violins. I found it pretty difficult to find the right timings and notes, but my teacher was able to guide me along with the process. The end result fits really well with the violins and adds a second layer of interest.

At this point, the piece hasn’t had too much going on, so we wanted to introduce the big climax next. It started by having all of our percussion working together at once but with a more urgent feeling to them. The strings were doing the same thing they’ve doing before except our first violins jumped the melody up an octave and the second violins using a different interval for harmony. We then, brought in the winds by having some of them layering the melody in different octaves and the rest of them playing fast runs in between. The horns also stopped playing their counter melody, and instead were used to be another layer to our melody. Lastly, I thought that this would be the best time to bring in the timpani for those powerful hits.

Overall, I think that we’ve done a lot in the past week, but I still need to write out a part for the trumpets when the big climax hits. I also want to see whether or not adding in some tuned percussion like a glockenspiel and a choir could be viable to intensify the moment. Other than that, the piece has been coming along pretty well, but there’s still some more work to do.

Full Orchestral Arrangement Project

Around two weeks ago, my music teacher suggested that we start and try to write full orchestral arrangements since I had just gotten the BBC Symphony Orchestra samples. We started laying down the foundation of the project and got a few ideas down. As of now, I think it’s coming along pretty well, but I wouldn’t say that we’ll finish anytime soon. Regardless, this week I’ll be sharing my experience so far with full orchestration.

I’ve actually tried doing something similar for a school project, but I was using some pretty bad samples and I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. However, this time I was able to get some help on the things I should focus on and where to start. Before we actually created the project file we worked out a template with all the instruments that we might use for the project as well as any other projects we’d make in the future. This helped to organize different groups of instruments and figure out what the purpose of each instrument is within the orchestra.

After creating our project from the template we made my music teacher gave me a short piano bit to start with. It was only a few bars long and had an up beat sort of action feel, so that was the theme we were going for. My music teacher sent me an example that he’d written a few months ago so I could get an idea of how each instrument can be used before we got started.

For our composition, we decided to start with mostly strings and some light percussion and slowly build up the rest of the piece by adding more instruments. We started with the cellos and double basses playing short eighth note octaves of the chord progression for a pulsing sort of rhythm with violas playing an ostinato that mostly followed the chords as well. Instead of incorporating the violins from the beginning, we decided to save them in order to play our melody in harmony.

The next thing that we started working on was the percussion. Instead of building up our percussion as we went, it was easier to just write out all the percussion that we would want for the climax of the piece. Then, we just took out most of the elements and slowly added them in. This made things easier for me since I was able to listen to all of the different percussive instruments working together.

After working out the percussion we decided that we should have some of the brass section come in before the melody started. Since we mostly had some rhythmic action going on, we used the trombones and tubas to accentuate some of the notes that the strings were already playing. The trumpets and horns were a bit too blaring to write into the start, so we haven’t used them just yet.

Overall, that’s what we have written down for now, but we’re definitely working on incorporating more of the orchestra because we still haven’t even touched the woodwinds yet. The addition of horns later on should also change up the feel of the piece significantly. Right now, we’re just working on incorporating the melody into what we already have using the violins, and there’s still more to come after that.

Valorant’s New Map & Agent

Earlier this week, Riot Games did a full release for Valorant which just came out of closed beta. With its release came a new map called Ascent and an eleventh agent called Reyna. A new gamemode was also introduced with the ranked gamemode being taken out. There have been a few changes since the closed beta, and this week I’ll be writing about my thoughts on them.

First, the most anticipated addition of the new agent Reyna. She’s classified as a duelist agent which means that she’s meant to be played with a more aggressive playstyle, and I think it really shows with her abilities. Some people would say she’s overpowered, but I would say that she’s in a pretty good spot right now.

The first ability Reyna has is called Leer. It costs 200 credits and can hold a maximum of two charges. With Leer, Reyna can cast an orb anywhere within a certain radius that will cause players that have the orb in their vision to be nearsighted. Unless it is shot at and destroyed, it will remain in its position for a few seconds. Unlike other vision-impairing abilities, enemies that are nearsighted can still see but just not as far.

Reyna’s second ability and her signature ability are linked together, so things might get a bit complicated. Her second ability is called Devour and her passive is called Dismiss. They share a maximum of four charges that can each be bought for 100 credits although she automatically gets one charge at the start of each round due to the abilities being her signature.

The way these two abilities work is that anytime Reyna kills an enemy player they’ll have a Soul Orb floating over their dead body that lasts for a few seconds. During that time, Reyna can cast either ability on that orb. Devour is an ability that will heal Reyna as long as she remains in a line of sight with the Soul Orb of the player she killed. If Reyna’s HP is already 100 then Devour will overheal her for 50HP.

Dismiss is an ability that allows Reyna to become invulnerable and gains movement speed for a short period of time, however, you can’t use any other abilities or shoot while it is active. Additionally, she takes on an almost invisible appearance although you can still see her. This ability doesn’t require you to stay in the line of sight of the player you killed.

Reyna’s last ability is her ultimate called Empress which increases your firerate, highlights enemies in your vision, and gives you unlimited charges on Devour and Dismiss. There is a timer on the ultimate before it goes away, but any kills you get while in the Empress state will reset the timer.

I wouldn’t say that Reyna’s abilities are too strong. Some people complain that Her Dismiss ability is too strong, but I think it’s fine since you can still see her, and when she becomes visible again you’ll hear an audio cue of her laughing in the direction she is. As long as you’re paying attention I don’t think you should have a harder time countering her than you would with any other agent.

Moving on to the new map Ascent. In my opinion, I don’t think it’s really all that special. There are some spawn timings that I think should be changed, but other than that there’s not much else I’d say in terms of balancing. Supposedly the map is supposed to take place in a Venice like location where a piece of land flew up into the sky. I don’t really care too much about the game’s lore, but some people might find it interesting.

The new gamemode called Spike Rush is meant to played a lot faster than a normal game. In Spike Rush, every player spawns with the same weapons and have all their abilities on one of the normal maps. Orbs can be found around the map that provide the player that picks them up or their team buffs such as a better weapon, extra speed, or reduced HP for the enemy team. Every attacker has a spike although only one can be planted. It’s a pretty simple gamemode that’s not really meant to be taken seriously and is something you’d play if you were waiting for a friend or don’t have time for a normal match.

Overall, Valorant’s full release has been pretty successful. The gameplay at its core hasn’t changed, but there are some new things to explore with the new map Ascent. Some players have taken a liking to the new agent Reyna and others are still awaiting the return of the ranked gamemode. For now, I’ll simply continue on enjoying the game with friends.

BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover

A few weeks ago I visited Spitfire Audio’s website and completed a survey that would allow me to download the Discover version of the BBC Symphony Orchestra sample library for free after two weeks. I finished downloading the library and got a chance to listen and play around with the samples. So far, I haven’t written anything with it, so this week, I’ll just be writing about my first impressions with the library.

The first thing that I noticed about the library is how small library size was. Compared to different sound libraries that can be up to hundreds of gigabytes this library was only a few hundred megabytes. However, this is just for the Discover version of the library. If you had purchased the Professional version of the orchestra it would be almost 600 gigabytes. The small file size is because they don’t give you as many different options for things like microphone positioning and articulations in the Discover version. Despite that, the samples that they do give you in the Discover version still really good in comparison to most of the samples in Logic.

Starting with the strings, I would say that the BBC Orchestra strings sound a lot more real compared to the studio strings in Logic. However, you still have to make an effort with how you write out notes in the MIDI for long notes, otherwise the notes won’t sound quite right in transition. Despite sound better, the BBC Orchestra doesn’t have as many different articulations as the ones in Logic.

Next are the woodwinds. In my opinion, the woodwinds are probably the weakest part of the library. Sometimes the tone between the notes for instruments like the flute can be inconsistent. Additionally, most of the instruments are in unisons of three, so if you wanted to play four different notes with the flutes you’d actually be hearing twelve flutes playing at once. I’d say you’d have to be careful not over orchestrating certain instruments in order to make them sound natural.

After the woodwinds are brass, and I think that for the most part they sound pretty good. I would say that they have a lot of resonance even without putting any reverb on them, but I don’t think that should be a really big problem. I like how bass trombone was included in the library because it allows for more flexibility which wasn’t available in Logic.

Last is the percussion section which I really appreciate because the percussion in Logic is not the best. With the BBC Orchestra there are so many different types of sounds that sound great. Additionally there’s tuned percussion like bells and xylophone which also sound really good. A harp is also included which is interesting as well as a celeste which was the instrument used for Hedwig’s theme in the Harry Potter movies.

Overall, the BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover is an amazing sample library for being free. The downsides can easily be overlooked and you can’t really complain because what they give you already sounds great. If you wanted something better, you can consider upgrading to more expensive libraries on the Spitfire website like the full versions of the BBC Orchestra or their collaborations with composers like Hans Zimmer.

Valorant’s Full Release For June 2

Valorant has been one of the most popular online games for the past month despite it currently being in its closed beta phase. Initially the developers Riot Games had planned for the beta to continue for a few more months for a mid summer release, but just this week they announced that the game’s full release will be coming on June 2nd. The closed beta will end five days before the release on May 28th. A new map and agent were teased on release with a new gamemode soon after. This week, I’ll be writing about what I think of Riot’s decision on an early release for Valorant.

I’ve been playing Valorant for a few weeks during the closed beta so there’s a lot of different things I’ve seen in terms of bugs and broken game mechanics. Personally, I don’t really think that the game is ready for a full release yet. There are several things that make the game sometimes frustrating to play. The game is poorly optimized, the hitboxes are inaccurate in the latest patch, weapons have desync issues, and certain agents have exploitable boost abilities which allow for insane speed across the maps.

When lots of abilities are being thrown down and several players are shooting there’s a very good chance that your frame rates will start dropping. One character using all of their abilities can drop the amount of FPS you get by over 100. I’ve had times when my game has practically frozen in large gunfights only for my frames to come back after I’ve already died. Other people have also pointed out the issue to the developers, and while they’ve already optimized the maps, there are still some issues whenever the action starts.

Another one of the issues are the current hitboxes in the game. Sometimes you get visual recognition that you’ve headshot a player but you deal zero damage. Many people have videos where you can see sparks flying off of their opponents heads but the game registers them as body shots. It can be frustrating because there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it.

A third problem that came with one of the more recent weapon patch is when you spray your weapon and the bullets don’t go in the direction the weapon is pointing. Initially, looking at the barrel of your gun was one of the only ways to control recoil, but now it can be completely random no matter how hard you try. It can be so bad to the point where the bullets are going in the complete opposite direction of the barrel.

The last thing that I find terrible is how players have found ways to boost other characters across the map with different agents’ abilities. Depending on how they’re used, you can send players flying across the map right from the start of the game extremely quickly. When you see it happen it’s almost comical and clearly wasn’t an intended game mechanic.

Despite all of these annoying mechanics the game still feels somewhat solid. However, there are still some balancing issues with the agents that have been in closed beta since the start, and when Riot says that they plan on adding another agent on release it worries me about whether or not they will cause more unbalance within the game. Currently there are still some agents that many people consider underpowered and some overpowered.

Overall, I’m sure they’ll be able to fix some of the bugs that are currently in the closed beta, but at the same time Riot plans on adding even more content on the date of release. I just don’t think that the game is in a good state for full release especially in terms of agent balancing. If they try and tweak them within the five days between the end of beta and release, there won’t be any chance for player feedback. In the end though, we can only see how the game will turn out at the start of June.

Spitfire Audio LABS

Last week, my music teacher showed me a free sample library by Spitfire Audio called LABS. It includes lots of different types of sounds like strings, pianos, synthesizers, and percussion. After downloading them, I had a chance to play around with a few of them, so here are my thoughts on Spitfire Audio’s LABS.

The first sample I tried out was the Soft Piano. Like the name suggests, the sound of the piano is a lot softer compared to the ones in Logic. Apparently, they managed to get the sound by placing pieces of felt between the strings and the hammers. I think that it sounds really good even without using any EQ changes and the built-in reverb is amazing. The one thing I don’t really like about it is how the lower end starts getting a bit muddy. However, laying the Soft Piano with another type of piano can help make it sound fuller.

After the Soft Piano, I tried out the drums which weren’t as great as I had hoped. In my opinion, they just don’t sound that different than most of the kits already in Logic. I think that I’d have to EQ the instrument in order to find something that I’d like, especially for the toms.

I also took a look at the Frozen Strings and Scary Strings. These string samples have very unique sounds, and I feel like they’d only work in very specific themes. They don’t really sound anything like the normal or Studio Strings in Logic. The LABS also have normal strings which come with some new articulations that I didn’t already have. In a few weeks though, I should be getting the BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover library which I’ll probably also write about.

Other than those, I didn’t really look into too many other instruments, but the Choir, Opia, and London Atmos sounded pretty good from the demos. The LABS has so many different types of sounds that are available for free, and they definitely sound better than most of the sounds you’d find in something like GarageBand.

Overall, Spitfire Audio’s LABS has a lot of different and really cool sounding sample libraries that you can download for free on their website. Some of them have interesting stories behind them, and you can probably find a unique situation for each library to fit into in order to use them to their best potential.

Comparison Between CS: GO & Valorant

For the past few weeks, I’ve been playing a lot of Valorant with my friends and many people online have been comparing it to CS: GO ever since its development was announced. While playing I’ve noticed both similarities and differences between the two games, and this week I’ll be sharing them.

One difference between the two games is the weapon and combat mechanics. In CS: GO every gun has a set recoil pattern meaning that the bullets will always follow the same path as long as you are standing still. This means that if you practice the pattern for a specific gun, you should be able to get an accurate grouping of bullets. However, in Valorant, weapons will start with a simple pattern for the first few bullets until they begin randomly swaying left or right. This means that in Valorant, you can’t rely only on muscle memory when in an aim duel. Instead, you can look at the barrel of your gun when shooting to see how you should adjust depending on the direction it is in. In Valorant, it is also easy for moving players to hit accurate shots due to less moving inaccuracy.

The biggest difference between CS: GO and Valorant is that the latter allows players to choose unique characters with different abilities each game. This expands possible gameplay situations and in my opinion already makes the game drastically different from CS: GO. Different character’s abilities allow for creative opportunities much like the grenades in CS: GO.

Aside from the different characters and abilities, I find that much of the rest of the gameplay in Valorant is very similar to CS: GO. The objectives of both games are similar, having a 5v5 environment with one team defending sites while the other attempts to plant a timed object on those sites. Each player has money that they receive every round. The amount depends on what happened in the previous round and it can be spent to buy weapons.

Throughout Valorant’s similarities and differences with CS: GO, the only thing that I don’t particularly enjoy about the gameplay is the tag slowing when you get shot. Both games have tag slowing where your movement gets slowed whenever you get hit. The slowing in Valorant is way higher than in CS: GO and you’re pretty much stuck in place when you’re getting shot. This means that if you ever get hit by another player you pretty much have to commit to the engagement. From my understanding, the amount of slow is supposed to be part of the game, but it gets pretty frustrating having to sit down and spray my weapon for every fight.

Overall though, I can say that both games are similar but different at the same time. Both can be enjoyable in their own ways. I know that Valorant is the type of game that caters more towards casual players because its gameplay is more forgiving. For me, I’d probably bounce back and forth between the two games because it gets difficult to adjust to the different weapon mechanics for each game.

School Closure Continuation

Around a week ago the YRDSB announced that school closures would be extended to May 29th when they will reevaluate the COVID-19 situation. In the meantime, they’ve provided some updated information and online learning is continuing. Here are somethings about the current school situation that I’d like to share this week.

The first thing is one of the statements that the board has on their “Novel Coronavirus FAQ” page regarding school marks. They say that “end of year marks can only remain the same or increase based on work completed from April 6 and onward. This means that no matter how badly you do on your future assignments your mark cannot go down. In my opinion, this seems like a very strange move to make by the school board because it doesn’t give students much motivation to continue on with their school work. I know some of my friends don’t really feel the need to do school work if they already have high marks. For me, I’ll still continue the work, but it feels like sometimes I’m just wasting my time doing the work.

A complaint I have about the lessons and work that I’ve been getting. I feel like the amount of work that’s being assigned from teachers is completely different from before. For some subjects, the amount of work being assigned each day is sometimes too much. It gets annoying sometimes when the teachers don’t make things easily accessible to see because sometimes I find out that there was something assigned that I didn’t even know about.

Another thing that I personally don’t really like is how communication is done. Whenever I email my teachers about a question I have, I always get really vague feedback or they just repeat whatever’s written on the lesson post. Sometimes I even see classmates ask questions on assignment posts where the teacher hasn’t even responded in days. I’ve also had to deal with tasks done in pairs where my assigned partner doesn’t respond to messages or emails. I messaged my teacher and only then did I get a response from my partner even though the task was overdue.

Overall, I’ve found this online learning to be a total circus. Every day it’s like the teachers are just trying to throw material at the students so that they get through the curriculum. I feel as if I’m not learning anything, and there’s zero motivation for me to continue working.