Fallas!

The Torres de Serrano illuminated in Valencian colours.

Looks like I’ve survived the first half of the second semester and made it to Fallas, a city-wide festival in which we welcome spring by fighting off winter with fireworks. The eponymous fallas (or falles), which are massive, elaborate statues of wood, mâché, and foam — alternately beautiful, comical, political, and crude — are erected in each neighbourhood, destined to be put to the torch in La Cremà (“The Burning”), a massive conflagration celebration on the night of March 19. Stay tuned for a future post with more pictures and stories.

Did I mention there were fireworks?

The Fallas season officially commenced on February 23 with La Crida, a ceremony at the Torres de Serrano where the Fallera Mayor (essentially, the Queen of Fallas) issues a call to all, far and wide, to join Valencia in celebrating Las Fallas. This was promptly followed by the first of many fireworks displays, as the overture to a cacophonous 3½-week period of nigh-endless explosions, concerts, and parties, including daily gatherings in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (City Hall Square) for volleys of gunpowder explosions, called Mascletàs, like this one here (VOLUME WARNING!):

…all of which make the perfect backdrop for trying to work on projects and assignments, naturally.

We are currently in the throes of the most intense period of Las Fallas, which translates to a small break in the Berklee world; I reckon that we wouldn’t be able to concentrate, anyway, what with all this going on:

The Earth-shattering kaboom is in Valencia, Marvin.

There is still plenty to do, but we are grateful for a few days without classes. The semester has seen more bursts of intensity concentrated between relative lulls in activity, which accounts for the general lack of activity here. As always, my Twitter feed contains a more immediate glimpse of my world. There is much to catch up on, so let’s begin with the course round-up!

Advanced Scoring interspersed composing a mostly-electronic teaser trailer for the aborted television series, El Perseguidor (“The Chaser”), with surprise visits from George S. Clinton and Alison Plante, both from Berklee’s Boston campus, and Robert Kraft, whose visit turned into a de facto midterm as we presented group mock-pitches in a simulated bid to score Black Swan. We have also been privileged with seeing some workprint footage from a couple of Lucio’s latest films, La Vida Inesperada and Pancho, El Perro Millonario, both of which happen to be on the program at the upcoming Málaga Film Festival.

Recording/Mix Techniques has, thus far, covered microphone techniques for various instruments and the use of effects plug-ins for improving our mixes. We have been recording ourselves for this purpose, (violin, guitar, and trombone), along with some help from a couple students outside of our class (to round out a ska band!) — and I have been getting to pitch in as a Pro Tools operator. Pretty much, it’s exactly what it says on the tin.

Dramatic Electronic Composition has seen me create a slew of virtual instruments in both Kontakt and Omnisphere, use other students’ patches in electronic compositions, and score a scene that was originally without music from The Bourne Identity. Coming up after Fallas, we will undertake the building of our own sample libraries through sessions of recording other students (and hopefully, once Fallas is out of our system, nothing that we build will catch fire).

Advanced Video Game Scoring continues to introduce us to different types of audio programming and logic, first with building a simulation representing different musical behaviours within a hypothetical video game in Max/MSP, and currently with learning about the architecture of audio implementation in Wwise. I am also currently among a team of composers working on a collaboration with students from Escuela Superior Arte y Tecnología (ESAT), here in Valencia, which will be delivered by the end of the semester.

Advanced Dramatic Orchestration has continued in its vein of a more academic study of orchestration. Classes have included discussions on orchestral textures and orchestration techniques, in which we analyzed scenes which were evidently scored in the spirit of certain pieces of classical music (which has led to some interesting games of Name That Tune). We also had our second session with members of the Budapest Art Orchestra, recording their string section for a rescore of a sequence from Home Delivery, the music of which was originally composed by Alfons. In addition to producing my own session, I stepped in to assist a few students with theirs. On top of that, Alfons has had us prepare a composition demo showreel, complete with video (click here for the music-only version), in advance of an upcoming visit from student filmmakers from Escola Superior de Cinema i Audiovisuals de Catalunya (ESCAC) in Barcelona.

Looking ahead, we are going to be quite busy as we hurtle through the second half of the semester, with the ESAT video game collaboration and other assignments on top of working on our thesis projects. Stay tuned for another post about the biggest recording project we will undertake this year.

…but for now, Fallas!

¡Hasta luego!

Settling in

“Settling in” has definitely been the theme of the past couple of weeks. With three weeks of the second semester under our belts now, we are (more or less) settling into our new routines. With the strenuous pace of the first semester still a constant spectre, many of us have resolved to find ways to make things a little easier on ourselves this time around, while still bringing our best effort (others, meanwhile, have seemingly resolved to find ways of making things more difficult. To each their own, I suppose). To that end, I am also in the process of a more literal settling in, as I have moved into a new apartment, located slightly closer to campus. I gave myself a two-week period to move, again in the interest of trying to make things slightly easier on myself, coinciding with the time between the start of Spring Orientation and the end of the second week of the semester. The extra time notwithstanding, the end of the process was still somewhat of a stressful rush. I suppose that’s the inevitable thing about moving.

The entire process of renting my first apartment — in a foreign country and culture, no less — was somewhat daunting with many obstacles, not the least of which was the linguistic barrier; my Spanish, while better than it was a few months ago, still isn’t great. With more than a little luck, I happened to contact a renter who, along with her family, has been very sweet, supportive, and helpful through the entire process (and willing to communicate with me in English). As she happens to be based in Barcelona, she was able to arrange for her (English-speaking) sister to show me the apartment. I’d like to give special thanks to my Spanish-speaking friends, namely Sergio and João, who offered linguistic support in messaging realtors, and to Niko for being an excellent burro to help me move my last few things.

Over the past couple weeks, the new apartment and I have been spending some quality time getting used to each other. I’ve bought it a few nice things, and in return, it has shown its own very special kind of affection. You could say that there has been a spark between us — or, at least, electric current. After having completed my move at the end of January, just as I was settling in for my first night in my new bed, I noticed that the oven and the metal border of the stove were vibrating slightly. While touching the stove, I happened to bump the metal sink.

ZAP!

After a couple more tests (read: successfully shocking myself), I decided that this was most definitely not normal, and — all jokes about me being a good conductor aside — required my landlady’s attention. Within a few days, she arranged for technicians to take a look at my kitchen, accompanied by her mother to let them into the building and to explain the problem. In the meantime, I had noticed that the electrical vibrations extended also to the new dishwasher that had been installed specially for my rental. The technicians came, saw, and, after one of them extracted an apparently-extraneous cable that had been allegedly touching the marble counter, deemed it fixed. Indeed, when I performed my manual test of the connection between the oven and the sink, nothing happened.

Then I noticed that the breaker had still been thrown.

They were already down the hall and waiting for the elevator when I, after having once again very successfully shocked myself, called them back. Of course, a problem with electrical current isn’t going to manifest if the power is off. So, I got them to fix it for real, and it passed the shock test. After I breathed a sigh of relief, my landlady’s mother suggested that I test the connection between the dishwasher and the sink.

ZAP!

It’s always comforting when the reaction to shocking yourself in front of a technician is, “You must be joking.” I assured them that I most definitely was not (and their own test confirmed it), and a second hour of debugging and fixing ensued. Finally, the electricity in the kitchen stopped passing through my body. I’m told that with the way this casa was built, the entire apartment is either not grounded or just not grounded well; they assured me that it’s not fatal. I’m not sure whether they were using “casa” to refer to just my suite or to the entire building (Spanish speakers, your insight is appreciated), but they said that redoing the wiring would take an entire week’s worth of work. I’m not sure that’s on the menu.

With my apartment and I having come to an understanding about the whole trying to kill me thing (and my hair returning to normal from its Einstein impression), let’s get down to music! As promised, here is the video of my last film cue from the first semester, a rescore of a scene from Gran Hotel:

Here is the music by itself:

This was the first time that a professional studio orchestra has played my work. As for the next opportunity for something like that to happen, scroll down to the bottom of this post.

Since editing and mixing my recording of “Pero nunca podrá ser” (“But it can never be”), I have written a couple more short pieces for my second-semester courses, which I may post in due time. More on those later. I am also considering posting a few other tracks that I produced for my Video Game Scoring course in the first semester. If you’re interested, leave a comment, send me a tweet, or otherwise get my attention.

Nearly two weeks ago, we were visited by Goya-winning composer Alberto Iglesias, with whom Lucio has worked closely as his producer on several projects, perhaps most notably on the soundtrack to the Academy Award-winning film, Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother). Through very openly sharing a number of anecdotes about his experience in the film industry, all of us were floored by his tremendous insight, his genuine nature, and, perhaps most importantly, his humility. He also had no problems posing for pictures with us, either:

David with Alberto Iglesias

Meeting Goya-winning composer Alberto Iglesias.

Course Round-Up

My courses this semester are largely, in effect, continuations of my previous work. Part 2 in the Advanced Scoring and Advanced Dramatic Orchestration series with Lucio Godoy and Alfons Conde, respectively, Dramatic Electronic Composition with Vanessa Garde, and Advanced Video Game Scoring with Ben Houge build on the foundations laid in the first semester. I am also studying privately with Alfons this semester. In addition, I have decided to join a handful of my fellow composers in taking an undergraduate course on Recording/Mix Techniques, taught by Senior Engineer Pablo Schuller.

Advanced Scoring and Dramatic Electronic Composition appear to have more of a focus on electronic and hybrid scoring techniques used in film and television. It was only very recently that it occurred to me that my very first film score, back in 2001, was composed as a synth-orchestral hybrid. I believe that my perspective on that at the time was not so much, “I’m going to sit down and compose a hybrid score,” as it was about choosing the right instruments for the job (it was all MIDI, anyway — we had 128 patches to choose from, and we liked it!). Although electronic composition itself is not new to me, most of my compositional experience to date, both for media and art music, has been in an acoustic instrumental idiom. I am looking forward to expanding my musical palette while, funnily enough, returning to my roots at the same time.

After our exhaustive study of instrumentation in the first semester, this semester’s edition of Advanced Dramatic Orchestration seems to be structured as more of an academic study of the subject, while still affording us composition assignments from time to time. Advanced Video Game Scoring will merge our musical skills with technological savvy, dealing with methods to demonstrate and implement video game music. We will be gaining exposure to such tools as Max/MSP, Unity, XNA, and Wwise. Becoming proficient with these tools, all of which are new to me, will be an interesting challenge. For any programmers in the audience, your well-wishes are very much appreciated.

In terms of recent compositions, the past week has seen me produce a short electronic cue, loosely inspired by the soundtrack to Homeland, and a dramatic cue for strings based on the opening scene from No-Do (“The Haunting”), which was originally scored by Alfons. While my composition schedule overall for this semester is not yet as clearly-defined as it was in the fall — we are not, for example, producing new material each week for Dramatic Orchestration this semester — I am content to wait and see what lies ahead.

As well, in contrast to the eight official recording sessions from last semester (with the latter five over the course of the final seven weeks), we are currently scheduled for only five this time: two specifically for Advanced Scoring (one in two weeks’ time, the other at the end of April, right after Spring Break), one with the Budapest Art Orchestra for Dramatic Orchestration in the week before Fallas in March, an instrument-sampling session for Dramatic Electronic Composition at the end of March, and a recording session with composer and producer Mason Daring, who is slated to visit us in April. Moreover, I am given to understand that the nature of these recording sessions will see me more in the role of producer than conductor. I hope that I will be able to keep my baton skills up in spite of this, because all of this is leading up to the biggest recording session of the year and the capstone of our experience here at Berklee in Valencia: a trip to London to record at AIR Studios in late May. The scope of the London recording will be an orchestral cue totaling no more than 2½-3 minutes’ duration.

That being said, I am in the process of seeking a short project that would benefit from a 50-piece professional studio orchestra providing its soundtrack. Readers, please spread the word!

¡Hasta luego!

One Year Ago…

One year ago, I was taking a course on music composition for film and television, working towards the completion of a certificate specializing in that subject from Berklee Online.

One year ago, I was working a part-time administrative contract at a college in Toronto.

One year ago, on the morning of January 25, 2013, I had my interview for the Master in Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games program at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain (via Skype).

I had practiced a number of pertinent talking points. I had rehearsed my patter. I had a set of notes for ready reference on my screen, as well as a slate of questions prepared for my interviewers to answer about the program. I was ready to take the next step in my professional and musical development.

It was one of the longest half-hours of my life.

I was interviewed by Laura Karpman, an Emmy award-winning composer for film, television, and video games, and then-director of the SFTV program at Berklee in Valencia. She wasted no time in cutting to a set of hard-hitting questions — that is, after we clarified my identity; the person who was scheduled to interview before me was apparently also named David, and he seemingly missed his interview. Oops.

I took the opportunity to articulate my passion for composition for media and more-than-lifelong love of music, particularly of the dramatic, narrative variety, all while enumerating the various resources that I could contribute to the Berklee environment, if they would have me among their number. I shared an array of anecdotes and addressed my experience with writing for film and game projects. On top of that, as I had completed more work in the intervening eight weeks since submitting my application, I sought permission to send additional samples.

This is where I claim victory and say that I nailed the interview, right?

I did my best, but I finished the interview with a “just missed” feeling — and they apparently felt the same way. Three weeks later, I received an e-mail informing me that my application would be held until the next round and reviewed again in light of the next batch of candidates. I was, understandably, rather disappointed, but I chose to regard it not as a “No,” but a “Not yet,” in hopes that they would not fill their cohort from solely their first round of applicants. I resolved to do my best over the following weeks to produce the best material I could for my portfolio, with an aim to submit more samples before they rendered their final decisions.

The rest, as they say, is history.

One moment of the interview still remains with me, even after a year. Laura asked me, “How do you feel about going to Spain?”

I answered, “It sounds like a grand adventure.”

It certainly has been, and I look forward to what has yet to come.

End of Act One

Written in part during the holidays in Toronto, Canada.

Did the past four months actually happen?

When I found myself in my own bed for the first time since August, had I not merely awoken from a dream?

The final three weeks of the semester became a sleep-deprived blur, but it wasn’t the same this time as those still-memorable bouts of university-induced sleep deprivation from my undergrad years; I wasn’t asleep on my feet in quite the same way, but rather, by the time I was facing my parade of final assignments, I felt an overwhelming amount of nothing.

Make no mistake: the opportunities that have been granted to me at Berklee Valencia thus far have been tremendously rewarding, from working with professional musicians and instructors to having my work recorded by a 32-piece studio orchestra (more on that later). The truth is that through chronic sleep deprivation, I, much like the rest of my classmates, was exhausted not only beyond belief, but to the point of numbness. In the final throes of this dream that has been the first semester at Berklee Valencia, I felt too tired to think, too tired to feel, too tired to write another note.

I did anyway.

We all did.

Our instructors pushed us to our limits, and then made us work harder. With our resistance and resilience having been eroded, we suffered intense stress, anxiety, and sleep deprivation (and generally feeling like this) as we battled deadline after deadline. We worked past the point of exhaustion and transcended a mere mortal measurement of stamina to become the iron men and women of musical skill that our chosen vocation demands — at least, in the context of this Master’s degree, anyway. Somehow, we managed to find the resources to muster that last ounce of strength when it was needed, long past the point of running on empty. Did we come out stronger for it? Honestly, only time will tell.

In two of our courses, Advanced Scoring and Video Game Scoring Techniques, we were given the choice of delivering our final projects in either the final week of the semester or, if we were exceptionally brave, the week before. Still recovering from the intense collection of assignments from the end of November and the beginning of December, I opted to deliver all of my courses’ final projects — four of them in total — in the final week of the semester. In retrospect, it is difficult to say whether doing so was perhaps the wisest course of action, but given the accumulated fatigue, I thought the better of volunteering to spend yet another consecutive weekend working to deadline, favouring instead to grant myself the gift of a weekend to take care of myself and convalesce (plus, I even managed to do the dishes!). I would like to think that such a respite, momentary enough as it was, served to give me the energy to make the final push to complete my courses. It did little enough to mitigate the overall accumulation of exhaustion, but I feel that things would have been worse without it.

When last we left off, I had little more than two weeks left in the semester, and was almost on the other side of a four-week crunch. Two recordings remained, along with two other projects. After posting my last entry, I plunged headlong into a daily grind of classes, coursework, and projects, all while subsisting on not much sleep during the week. Before I knew it, ten days had passed without even updating my Twitter feed.

Just to keep things interesting (and to prevent us from sleeping in, heh), part of my busy schedule included a seminar on the music business by Maggie Rodford, a music supervisor and producer from Air-Edel. As always, it was very educational to hear the insights from someone at the heart of the industry, and equally rewarding to make the acquaintance of one of Lucio’s personal contacts. I look forward to my next opportunity to speak with her.

My final film cue of the semester was a rescore of a romantic scene from an episode of Gran Hotel, a Spanish television series with original music by Lucio. To mark the culmination of our scoring experiences this semester, this recording was organized as a remote scoring session, performed by 32 members of the Budapest Art Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Peter Pejtsik. If our professors had been (rightfully) impressing on us to have our Pro Tools sessions, scores, and parts prepared to perfection all semester, it really counted now; more than representing the quality that we could provide as individuals to our staff and instructors, we were doing so collectively to an external agency on behalf of Berklee.

I was perhaps too overwhelmed with fatigue and stress at the time to fully appreciate it at the time, but it was an exciting experience to be producing my own session that was being played by a professional ensemble. We spent the first few takes scrutinizing the live playback, with my comments relayed directly to the session via Skype chat. It was only then, after all of the notes and expression were rehearsed and in place, that I was able to sit back and actually listen to my music. By the last take, I was able to let the music wash over me as I thought to myself, “My work here is done.”

(I still would have rather conducted, but that’s the way it was.)

As much as it was a pleasure to have written the cue and had it recorded by Peter and the BAO, it was an absolute relief to have finished that assignment. I look forward to editing and mixing the cue (and, of course, sharing it with you) once Berklee’s facilities open again for the second semester.

I could not afford to let myself enjoy the sense of relief for too long, as I had to quickly gear up again to spend the next few days finishing the slate of final assignments in the rest of my courses: an orchestral MIDI sequence for Computer/Synth Apps for Film, a 10-minute presentation on the use of music in Wing Commander for Video Game Scoring Techniques (which I delivered partly in the style of a mission briefing from the game) and a tone poem for string quartet and harp for Dramatic Orchestration. Ultimately, I was able to finish each one, albeit at the expense of sleep.

My last day in Valencia for the semester was rainy, much like my first; I felt that there was a bit of an odd sense of symmetry to that. In the morning, I was back on the stage of the Aula Magistral in the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía to conduct my final composition of the semester, running on a mere 90 minutes’ worth of sleep (remember that “at the expense of sleep” part? Yeah, that’s showbiz/being a grad student). From what I recall, the session went quite well, all things considered. With giving the final cutoff on the final take and meeting the applause of the musicians, instructors, and my fellow students, I was as sincerely overjoyed at having completed my first semester at grad school as I was sincerely overtired.

My day was just getting started.

After two sessions of producing for other students, I was back on the podium one last time to conduct the final session of the semester, recording the work of another student who was already winging his way home (don’t worry, I caught my second third fourth wind!). That evening, as my reward for having survived the semester, I treated myself to an evening at Los Miserables, conveniently playing next door at the Palau. This, incidentally, marked the third language in which I have seen Les Misérables (the second being Japanese, having seen it at the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo in August of 2007).

After Los Mis, I returned to the lab one last time to finish mixing the percussion piece that I recorded at the end of November, which you can listen to here:

While we’re at it, here is the tone poem for string quartet and harp, which I edited and mixed over the holidays:

Having completed my work in the lab, I wished my classmates a happy holiday and returned to my room to spend the next few hours packing before heading out to the airport at about 5 a.m. for an early flight to Paris. By the time I finally passed out on the plane, I had been awake (notwithstanding the 90-minute nap) for nearly 2 days straight.

Some 30 hours after I landed in Toronto, we were hit by the ice storm that ravaged the city. My home was without power for 3 days.

While there are a number of things that I ended up missing from my Canadian life, wintertime power outages are not among them.

After 2½ weeks at home, I returned to Valencia to ease back into the Spanish lifestyle and prepare for the second semester. My vacation is now drawing to a close, and orientation activities for the second semester are soon to commence. The curtain will rise on Act Two with a new slate of classes, challenges, and projects, and I hope that you will continue to join me on my adventures. I will try to update more regularly this semester (but as always, no guarantees).

¡Hasta luego!

Conventions, Compositions, and Climate

…in which David returns to his long-neglected blog.

Welcome back to the podium, faithful readers! Another busy month has passed, and if you have been following my Twitter feed (conveniently embedded on the right side of this blog for your viewing pleasure), you’ll have seen that there hasn’t really been a dull moment, and not much in the way of downtime. In that regard, the past month has been more of the same: days are spent largely in classes and at work, evenings and weekends are spent mainly writing music, and I manage the occasional night out; even more seldom is a day off. Finding the time to do the dishes remains a challenge as music composition and meeting deadlines always seem to win out.

We are being pushed to our limits on a regular basis these days, and I keep telling myself that the reason is to build up our tolerance, resistance, and fortitude. That said, sleep has been something of a luxury as of late. With final projects having been announced in each of our courses, the end of the semester is in sight. After an intense finish to November, we have one more push of three weeks to survive before our holiday break. We have a lot to catch up on, so here we go!

Off we go! (Ossia: Looks like the light at the end of the tunnel really is the incoming train.)

Conventions

The XIXe Salón del Manga de Barcelona.

When last we left off, I was in Barcelona with my classmate, Lawrence, to attend the XIXe Salón del Manga, which is a prominent Spanish Japanese animation convention. After arriving in Barcelona on Friday, November 1, checking into our hotel, and resting up to compensate for not having had much sleep the night before, we ventured forth to catch the latter portion of the programming day. Many things about this show were quite similar to other such conventions back home: throngs of cosplayers, more vendors than you have money to spend on, a prevalence of Internet memes, making lots of new 3DS contacts, live shows, people with “Free Hugs” signs, martial arts demonstrations, not being able to walk 3 steps without encountering impromptu photoshoots, logistical battles between the convention administration and the venue staff…

…which leads to scenes like this.

Wait, what?

Yes, there was apparently a disagreement between the convention administration and the building staff about the volume of attendees and traffic flow, which caused massive bottlenecks to form throughout the weekend. That being said, for a show that nominally boasts an attendance in excess of 100,000 attendees (I’m suspecting that number represents tickets sold, and I therefore counted as 4 attendees), I have to question the logic of using a venue with a posted attendance cap of less than 6000 (and as explained in an article in El Pais, an actual cap of 9500). Even if we were to suppose that the reported 115,000 attendees translated into an average of 20-30,000 warm bodies, holding your event at a single venue that can accommodate not even half of your audience may not be, I would suggest, the wisest decision. In spite of there being two lines to enter the venue, each stretching for more than 1 km on the Saturday of the convention, they were still selling tickets (which they ultimately ceased). On top of that, the exhibition halls felt more empty than they should have been (or, to be fair, than they probably were), but they also felt like the space within them could have been used and arranged more effectively to accommodate more attendees, vendors, and events.

…otherwise known as all of these people.

Admission to this event was surprisingly inexpensive, too: 7 € for a day pass, or 20 € for a weekend. As well, cosplayers were allegedly granted free admission on Friday, at least. At those prices, you would have to be crazy not to attend, if an anime convention is your kind of thing (and you happen to be in the area).

…which seems to apply to all of these people.

I knew something was up when it took 2 hours to enter at an off-peak time, with my ticket in hand. It would take 4 hours of waiting in line, ticket in hand, to enter the convention on Saturday. The crowd was surprisingly well-behaved, but I was severely disappointed, and like most upset attendees, I took to social media to complain. Someone referred to it as “Salón del Colas,” which is effectively what we would call, “LineCon” back home. FICOMIC issued a statement in response to the online backlash explaining their side of the story, and the lines, while still massive, moved fairly smoothly on the Sunday of the convention, with longer lines taking only half an hour to process. Given my own experience on the inside of major conventions, I imagine that there was a sit-down between the two parties after the frustration-inducing Saturday, which yielded the results of Sunday (and kudos to them for it). That said, also speaking from experience and at the risk of sounding sanctimonious, these are things that should have been planned for far in advance. This year did not represent a significant spike in attendance, and they even explained that they wanted to prepare to receive the same volume of attendees as they had the year before. The reason for the apparent organizational dysfunction this year escapes me. Appreciating that many conventions suffer years like this, it might just have been my bad luck to attend this year, of all years. It seems that there are plans to move to a more capacious venue for next year, and I wish them all the best of luck in the future.

Gastronomnomnomia Japonesa.

All that aside, once we finally got into the convention, we had a good time. One of the best things about the show was the Gastronomica Japonesa, which was effectively a Japanese food court set up within the convention space. Vendors sold everything from cup ramen to sushi, takoyaki to taiyaki, gyuudon to curry, and even Japanese beer. That’s one thing, I will say, conventions back home are sorely missing.

Award-winning cosplayers portraying characters from Vampire Hunter D strike a pose at the end of their performance. Watch their whole act here.

The other highlight of the weekend was attending the World Cosplay Summit competition, with presentations by world-class costumers. While this might be just another day at the office for my champion costumer friends and associates back home, this was some of the best cosplay that I’ve seen in a very long time. Particular care and attention was given to presentation, with use of portable set pieces and backdrops, well-implemented audio and lighting cues, and (at times liberal) use of theatrical fog. Getting to watch the competition itself was worth the price of admission (both in terms of money and time).

You could say that the show was — wait for it — a real knockout!

It was interesting to see the variety of series represented through cosplay, both in the context of the competition and in the hall. In addition to there being many attendees (and plenty of merchandise) dressed as characters from Attack on Titan, a popular series from earlier this year, and even plenty of Game of Thrones cosplayers (yes, at an anime con), there were many classic series represented, especially Utena, Chobits, Fullmetal Alchemist, Ranma ½, and Sailormoon, and such game series as Final FantasyTeam Fortress, and League of Legends.

One last glimpse of the Fira de Barcelona, from Plaça d’Espanya.

Even though I spent almost all of my Barcelona experience at (or waiting to enter) the convention, it really is a beautiful city, and I look forward to having more time to explore the city. I hope to return before my time in Spain is up.

Compositions

With our excursion to Barcelona behind us, it was back to work. We had an incredibly busy November at Berklee Valencia. Remember those five recordings in seven weeks I mentioned in my last entry? Three of them have passed, and I seized the opportunity to do an extra one for good measure. The recording schedule had been set such that my half of the cohort records on Mondays, while the other half records on Fridays. This arrangement prompted me to dub my team, “Los Lunes al Estudio” (Mondays in the Studio), in homage to one of the films scored by Lucio Godoy, Los lunes al sol (“Mondays in the Sun”).

I had hoped for an assignment with less angst after my scene from Los girasoles ciegos, and I got it. On November 11, I recorded a re-score of a scene from Cheaper by the Dozen, performed again by musicians from the local orchestras in Valencia. I love working with them, and the session was very satisfying. Working on this cue was exhausting, but well worth the payoff. Here is the session video (which you will also find under the new “Conductor” tab at the top of my blog):

Similar to Girasoles, I found myself quite affected by the emotional content of the scene; it was just a different emotion, which was probably for the best, this time around. In addition to composing and conducting, we are being trained in the art of session production as well, with each of us pairing up with another student to produce each other’s recordings jointly with our professors. While this aspect of the field is somewhat new to me, it has, over the span of three recordings so far, given me an opportunity and avenue for both collaboration and leadership.

Regrettably, I can’t post the video publicly, but here is the music by itself (which you will also find under the new “Composer” tab at the top of my blog):

The following week, I was on the stage of the Aula Magistral inside the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía to conduct a 2½-minute tone poem for brass quintet, written for my Dramatic Orchestration course. Similar to the woodwind quartet assignment, this was meant to express a narrative that was given to us by our professor, and you may listen to it here:

One week later, I underwent a marathon of writing and recording. In the same day, I recorded a percussion duet for Dramatic Orchestration, recorded a string quartet for a collaboration with a student from the Music Technology Innovation program, produced another percussion session, and wrote and recorded an excerpt of a sound-alike song for guitar and voice. The percussion piece is currently on the docket for editing and mixing, and I have since recorded and mixed an expanded version of the song.

For the SFTV/MTI collaboration project, I was given a minute-long track over which I was to compose music for string quartet. For the track that the MTI majors initially produced, they were meant to choose an emotion and create a soundscape that conveys it effectively. My partner, Alan Tishk, chose “contentment.” I enjoyed this collaboration very much, and it yielded a very satisfying recording session, the video of which you can see here:

Climate

While the weather felt like it was beginning to turn around the end of October, it quickly resumed its normal sunny disposition. Barcelona was a bit more chilly than Valencia, but overall not unmanageable. The most noticeable element has been the cooling chilling ocean breeze, which is much more active at night — bad news for those of us who habitually leave school to walk home after 2 a.m.! As a result, I was still in T-shirts (and occasionally shorts) during the day — in November, no less! — but I soon found myself wishing for long sleeves at night. This overall pleasant trend continued for the first half of the month.

The temperature dropped an average of 10ºC, quite literally overnight, starting on November 15.

No, really. The average daytime high between November 1 and 14 was 25ºC, with overnight lows of 14ºC, compared to average highs and lows of 15ºC and 6ºC, respectively, in the second half of the month. Together, they represent the monthly average of 20ºC/9ºC that is commonly published, which only goes to show you that averages, on average, are lies. Given that, I can forecast that it’s going to be on the chilly side until Fallas in March. As I said before, however, the temperature itself is more or less manageable; it’s the night winds and the effect of being on the seaside that chills to the bone. I almost wish I brought more in the way of warmer clothes with me. Very almost.

I hope to be able to write again soon, but given our busy schedule, as usual, I can safely make no guarantees.

¡Hasta luego!

Quick update

Just a few quick notes as we head into the All Saints’ Day weekend.

1. I am currently in Barcelona for the XIXe Salón del Manga. After all of my experiences working at conventions, it feels weird being on the attendee side of one. Today featured a two-hour wait to get into the convention — and that was in the evening, after the convention had already been open for several hours! I’m looking forward to making an earlier start and enjoying more of the convention programming tomorrow. I will return to Valencia on Sunday evening.

2. I am participating in the Movember campaign this year to raise awareness for men’s health issues. I’ve shaved off what has become my signature goatee and have pledged to make the commitment to grow naught but a moustache for the month (interestingly, I look more like my professional headshot now than I have since July of 2012). In any case, I need your help, faithful readers. Donate what you can or join the cause so together we can change the face of men’s health. Fight the good fight.

Donations are being accepted through my MoSpace at http://mobro.co/federmusik

3. Here is my latest recording, composed for our Dramatic Orchestration course:

4. Looking ahead, I have been informed that I will be scheduled for five recordings over the next seven weeks for both my courses in Advanced Scoring and Dramatic Orchestration (on top of my work for three others). I will attempt to blog when I can, but as usual, I can make no promises of regular updates.

¡Hasta luego!

Two months down

The view from the podium.

It’s been two months since I left Toronto for sunny rainy sunny Spain (and nearly a month since my last blog post). Free time is a luxury around here, and I spend most of it in the single-digit hours of the day/night sleeping. That’s not to say that I’m not managing the occasional night out with my friends and classmates, as well as allowing myself to participate in a couple of extracurricular activities now that I’ve got my general schedule and routine down, but spending 12 to 16 hours on campus has become the norm. I never thought I’d find myself looking forward to the opportunity to spend even more time on campus, often returning to work on my projects in the tech labs on weekends. Like weekends, the public holidays have largely been spent catching up on sleep, chores, and homework; save for the fireworks the night before, I missed out on most of the festivities on Valencian Community Day in favour of doing coursework and preparing for my October film cue recording session.

We all look out for each other here, though — and the staff and faculty are doing so for us as well — because we all know what we’re going through. There’s a tremendous sense of camaraderie and fellowship.

To catch you up with what I’ve been working on:

This is the piece I composed in September for Lucio’s class (for which I posted the behind-the-scenes session video in my last entry), inspired by a plot outline for a scene in which a woman wakes up one day in her regular, ordinary neighbourhood to find a rather distressing note.

Two-and-a-half weeks later, I was on the podium again, conducting the next cue — this time, with film!

Writing this cue was an interesting experience. This cue was a rescore of a scene from Los girasoles ciegos (“The Blind Sunflowers”), which was originally scored by Lucio. I’ve done these kinds of assignments many times before, but never before with the actual composer in the room (not to mention serving as my supervisor and producer)! This exercise was a simulation to partially recreate his experience writing this scene, with Lucio giving us the same direction and music in/out reference timecodes as he had received from his director.

I found this scene to be very tense and intense, often catching myself clenching my teeth even while listening to the playback of my demo version. You can only imagine, then, that having my impression of how the cue would actually sound being validated by the live, professional musicians performing it under my baton made the scene feel that much more real — more visceral.

…and it felt good.

So good, in fact, that the feeling of accomplishment yielded to an underlying melancholy afterwards as I allowed myself to be affected by the emotional content of the scene while watching the subsequent recordings in the morning session.

Here is the final result, mixed, edited, and synchronized to picture:

…and here’s the recording by itself:

In the afternoon following that recording, with barely a break for lunch, I was off to the town of Burriana to serve as a roadie for an ensemble of performers from Berklee Valencia. That’s showbiz!

The following week, we were honoured to meet the illustrious Robert Kraft, formerly the president of Fox Music. In addition to hearing him share his experiences about the Hollywood music industry, he took the time to sit in on our classes during the week and review some of our Girasoles cues.

Course round-up:

Advanced Scoring I: Narrative Analysis continues to exercise our creative muscles. Two recordings down, two to go (one per month). Classes have included reviewing each other’s work (both demos/mock-ups and final mixes), along with watching and listening to examples from both Lucio’s own repertoire and other masters of the craft. Being able to hear actual samples of Lucio’s work is very useful and enjoyable (and makes me hope that I’ll be able to track down English-subtitled versions of his filmography).

Computer/Synth Apps for Film (technically a Berklee undergrad course, but part of our program) has so far granted us some degree of proficiency with Digital Performer and Vienna Ensemble. Given that all of us in the Master’s program come from different compositional backgrounds and degrees of technological experience, my impression of this course is that it is intended to bring the cohort up to roughly equal footing on at least one of the standard workstation programs used in the industry. That said, practically no one in our cohort has come here using Digital Performer as a primary DAW, but the benefits of proficiency across many platforms speak for themselves. For me, since I’m no stranger to DAWs (having started on Cakewalk — I think v3.0 — at the tender age of 11), I understand essentially all of the concepts that are being discussed (sequencing, signal flow, use of virtual instruments, etc.), and I’m picking up a few new tricks along the way. The benefit of the class is being guided through the application of those familiar concepts to what is merely a new tool for me; I’ve likened it to getting into someone else’s car and figuring out where — not what — the windshield wipers are.

Video Game Scoring Techniques has taken a historical approach to video game composition, with seminars about the origins of MIDI, historical precedents for such musical concepts as cellular/modular and looping compositions, along with giving us opportunities to write our way through history, experience the limitations of our predecessors, and enjoy the technological transitions to more contemporary practices. So far, we’ve been rescoring game-states (menu screen, overworld map/exploratory, battle sequence, etc.), first writing MIDI to have it played on a mystery chiptune sequencer, then doing a MOD simulation with a limited selection of samples of our choice. We are currently exploring concepts of looping music and transitioning between game states. From the perspective of historically-contextualized writing, this would be the video game equivalent of recreating motets, sonatas, and fugues in Renaissance and Baroque counterpoint classes.

…and the class has given me opportunities to shamelessly plug my article on the history and practice of video game music. 😉

Conducting continues to see me refining my technique under the watchful eye of our Film Symphony Orchestra maestro and meeting the challenge of finding the musicality in even our exercise worksheets. The next few weeks will see us include real pieces from orchestral and film repertoire in our conducting practice.

Advanced Dramatic Orchestration continues to have us compose our way through the orchestra, writing short tone poems for the instrument-of-the-week inspired by an idea chosen by Alfons. It’s kind of like Iron Chef, which was memorable for its dramatic revelations of the ingredient-of-the-week with a lusty cry of「今日のテーマはこれです!」 (“This is today’s theme!”); I may or may not envision our instructor similarly donning a cape and making a dramatic flourish when he announces our themes (albeit by e-mail). Our themes thus far have ranged from “Days of Awe in the Desert” for flute to “The Celestial Whisper of Wrath” for trombone. Even though many of us Iron Composers already know how to compose for each instrument, these weekly writing assignments give us the opportunity to practice and explore the limitations of the instrument. Our reward is a concert of some of the freshest music on the planet (which often tests the limits of the performer).

We capped off our woodwind unit with writing a tone poem for the woodwind section, which was recorded by the four musicians who had been invited previously to give the weekly seminars and perform our weekly marathon of tone poems. In a similar vein, this composition was based on an idea provided by Alfons. Commensurate with the expectations of the assignment, the idea expressed was decidedly more of a narrative. I am currently in the process of editing and mixing the recording.

Coming up at the end of next week is a trip to Barcelona for the annual Salon del Manga.

Hopefully, the next update will come before the end of November (not that I’m promising much at this point!). As always, my Twitter feed (over on the right-hand side of this blog) is the more immediate way to follow my exploits.

¡Hasta luego!