Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Instruments of Navigating History: Egypt – Part 1

Posted on February 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm, by Ben

I will be putting up a couple posts on the instruments I used in the Navigating History: Egypt series, with clips from the score that feature the instrument in review. Look out for an upcoming Navigating History: Egypt DVD release.

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The human voice offers something no instrument does. Authenticity, life, passion… something the music for Navigating History needed.

I looked around for a while and found exactly what I was looking for. Sonokinetic offered a series of vocal packages that focused on quality vocal phrases and performed by vocal professionals from Middle-Eastern/African regions. For Navigating History, I used their Desert Voice, Tigris and Euphrates, and Voices of Israel packages. These are offered as a digital download, so if you have a decent internet connection, you don’t have to wait for shipping and handling when you purchase them.

I know you’re wondering: “Does having access to pre-recorded phrases and performances (rarely more than a couple notes long) take the composing out of composition?” Not really…having access to pre-recorded phrases and performances like those found in these libraries are not a replacement for creativity, because, at the end of the day, you still have to figure out how their inclusion in your mix meets your goals as the composer. Instead of sapping creativity, sounds like these can inspire it.

The only problem (if you call it a problem) is that there are so MANY performances in these three libraries it can take you a while to find exactly what you are looking for… but that is a price worth paying. Sometimes when writing an instrumental passage I’ll throw a short vocal phrase in the background because it adds an incredible sense of depth and authenticity to a mix even when the vocal is only there for a second! I think these libraries are at their best when they are used to add color and that extra %5 to your mix.

It’s good to keep in mind that this library, like most, was created to meet a very specific need in a composer’s sonic palette. Sonokinetic is a perfect model of this specialized philosophy– if you go to their site, you will see a number of other libraries that are very unique… crafted to perform one task extremely well. As composers, we tend to want every library to be the end-all-does-everything package, but libraries often float between mediocrity and un-believability when the developer tries to do everything at once.

The ethnic phrases in each of these three packages (when they’re not generic phonetic sounds) are sung in the language of their native culture, which can open up some humorous musical possibilities when you have more than one library going at the same time. At one point in the score, I actually had a woman singing snatches of an Israeli song layered on top of a man chanting the Quran. Ironic, but it sounded great.

To sum up, Sonokinetic’s libraries saved this project’s musical bacon. (Mmmm… musical bacon…)

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Another package I purchased was Native Instrument’s KOMPLETE 7, a very complete (hence the name, I guess) collection of sounds, audio tools, and effects, including the KORE 2 and KONTAKT 4 sample players. Over the last five or so years, KONTAKT has become the industry standard interface for sample libraries. Some of the bigger sample library players, like East West Quantum Leap and VSL, still use proprietary interfaces, but most of the other developers have jumped aboard the KONTAKT bandwagon because (a): everyone owns and knows how to use KONTAKT, and (b): it saves a developer a ton of time/money/energy to use a tried-and-true solution instead of developing his own bug-free, user-friendly and cross-platform-compatible interface.

Most places offer KOMPLETE 7 for around $500, which I think is pretty good bang-for-your-buck. Once you own KONTAKT, the door opens to a number of smaller or more specialized libraries from developers like Sonokinetic, Tonehammer, and others.

I also purchased Heavyocity’s Evolve Mutations Bundle from the Native Instruments online store. These sounds are split into four categories: Rhythmic Suites, Percussive Kits, Stings and Transitions, and Tonality and FX, which can add a very Zimmer/Bourne quality to your mix, as these are mostly electronic and processed sounds. Very cool.

Aside from the Evolve Mutaions Bundle, most of the ethnic drum loops, electronic sounds and drones I used in Navigating History came from KOMPLETE 7’s 90GB+ of sample content, which means it will be a while before I even understand everything I’ve got here and know my way around properly.

WARNING: Many of the 24 instruments and effects included in KOMPLETE 7 run inside the KORE 2 Player, which is 32-bit only at the moment. This means that if you are running a 64-bit OS you will need to make sure you have a solid way to run 32-bit plug-ins in a 64-bit sequencer environment. There are pieces of third-party software like jbridge which apparently bridge (ho ho) this gap pretty well if your sequencer doesn’t have a good way of doing this.

To be continued…

Navigating History: Egypt

Posted on December 3, 2010 at 8:26 pm, by Ben

Adventure. Exploration. Discovery. Pyramids. Pharaohs. History. Danger. Wonder. Are these words that spark your imagination and kindle the fires of intrigue within you? If so, then the Navigating History: Online Video Tour is for you.

My brother Isaac is on the ground in Egypt at this very moment with a team he has assembled for the purpose of cataloging the history and assessing the culture of the oldest civilization in the world… from a decidedly and self-consciously Christian worldview. I thought it was an interesting idea when I first heard the concept brought up a few months ago, but since then I’ve become way more invested and fascinated in the series and the subject matter than I ever thought I would.

In summary, you need to sign up. Now. Go to and do so before the hyperbole of this post wears off. Or, if you are not totally sure you can afford to meet the paltry $49.99 sign-up fee, enter the Navigating History Subscription Challenge. For every 5 friends you get to sign-up for the show, you will be given a free subscription yourself, or a $35 Western Conservatory gift card–whichever you prefer. I would totally do this myself, except that I already have all the video they can crank out because I’m writing the music for the series.


On that note (har har), here is a teaser medley of some of the music I have written thus far. I also wrote the music in the video above… visuals courtesy of the guys at The Effects Forge.

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At about 0.35 in this track you can hear my wife, Audri, playing harmonics on the cello. I only had about an hour to write that cue (0.13-0.45), so I played a series of notes for Audri and told her to improvise on them for a few minutes while I loaded a template in Cubase 4 to start the project. By the time my template had fully loaded and started up, I had some quality ethnic cello phrases to slide of our H1 handheld recorder into Cubase, ready for reverb and processing. I love my wife. 🙂

Look out for an upcoming post on the instruments and tools behind the production of the score, but for now, Here is a question for all of my dedicated readers (Audri and Mom, please rise):

How many of you would you be interested in purchasing some of the music from the show when it is completed as an mp3 album download?