Jim Cooper score – “BUNNY OF DEATH”

Welcome to Detholz! Blog Episode XXIV!

Today, a departure from the norm… at least if you don’t consider the narcissistic blathering about one’s own compositions the “norm.” Doughty readers: I need your help.

I have polished up my conquistador’s helmet, hefted a makeshift lance under my arm, and am preparing to storm a few windmills After that, I’m diving back into the world of– bom bom BOMMM! Orchestral composition!

So, this week, a practice score: BUNNY OF DEATH

Bear in mind before you listen that this is a soundtrack to an animated film short done by a friend of mine– so what you’re hearing is cartoon music without the cartoon. (I haven’t gotten my friend’s permission yet to post a link to the video, but when I do, I’ll post it here. )

Objective: working to improve not only my compositional chops, but the recording/mixing of convincing orchestra music. Comments/critiques on either “score” are welcome! Here, I used the “East-West Gold” orchestral plugin, which is my current favorite.


Regressing back to my music school days, this is a loose “cell” composition, based on the intervallic progression: minor 2nd, major 2nd, minor 2nd. Sometimes it ascends or descends, is broken across octaves or instruments, and at other times I gave myself the liberty to diverge from the constraint if it made sense melodically. When composing, I’ve found it useful to limit myself to 3-4 note cells, even if I don’t adhere too strictly to them.

It ain’t exactly serialism, but after having been a pop musician for so long, it’s difficult for me to write music that is completely atonal (meaning ALL gesture and no harmonic/melodic content).

Arnold Schoenberg (the inventor of 12-tone serialism, arguably) calls this approach “developing variation,” and though there is a lot of debate in theoretical circles as to what “developing variation” actually means– Schoenberg himself vacillates on its precise definition– it’s application in this piece is best described this way:

“Whatever happens in a piece of music is nothing but the endless reshaping of a basic shape. Or, in other words, there is nothing in a piece of music but what comes from the theme, springs from it, and can be traced back to it; to put it still more severely, nothing but the theme itself.” -A. Schoenberg, 1931, “Linear Counterpoint”

Bear in mind that Schoenberg equates a “theme” with a “shape,” (at least in the context of the 1931 article) so in the case of my little practice score, the intervallic cell could be seen as a “theme” of sorts, shaped and reshaped as the piece develops. You can hear it at the very beginning in the “Jaws”-like flourishes in the low strings, and in most of the descending lines in the strings towards the end of the piece, to name a few occurrences.

I think Schoenberg is absolutely right in his above quote. The older I get, the more I am interested in presenting more unified musical “ideas.” Oh, and speaking of “ideas, here’s dear old Arnold again:

“In its most common meaning, the term ‘idea’ is used as a synonym for theme, melody, phrase or motive. I myself consider the totality of a piece as the ‘idea’: the idea which its creator wanted to present.” -from a 1930 article entitled “New Music, Outmoded Music, Style and Idea”

I think this is a universal compositional technique. Those of us who aspire to compose music — in whatever genre– would do well to think “wholistically” before sitting down with pen and paper (or with mouse and keyboard). Rather than thinking of barlines, scraps of melody or little chord changes… why not conceive of something in its totality? How will a given piece develop? How can your “scrap” transmogrify into an entire piece? What will that piece sound like?  Or, more simply, what do you wish to communicate?

This is a mistake I hear in my own earlier pieces and with those of many music school students– too many ideas are crammed into too small a space! Because one HAS the chops for a pyrotechnical idea doesn’t mean that every one of those should be slopped into one stew… if you do, you almost always end up with a foul-smelling gruel.

Okay, back down to Earth from the Ivory Tower– a few things I need help on here:

1. To you non-classical types, are these orchestral sounds convincing? Or does it sound too “canned?”

2. To you mixologists, what do you think of the mix here? Clear or muddled? Weak or strong?

3. To you composers/songwriters: does this form work? Does it hold your interest? Or is it a mess?

Thanks for visiting, earthlings! Tune in next Wednesday for another Tune of Surprise!

(Tuna Surprise?)


5 Responses to “Jim Cooper score – “BUNNY OF DEATH””

  1. Brian Sole Says:

    There’s a lot of lingo in there that is hard for me to follow, yet there is also some good advice I will remember next time I sit down to write a new piece for taiko. To give you feedback on your questions:
    1. I think the orchestra sounds fine until the timpani come in. Then it sounded “cann3d”.

    3. I like the music, and I think it fits the animation well.

    Word to your Mother

  2. Tyler Says:

    Hello Detholz!!
    Well, the symphonic endeavors must be respected. To answer your questions about the track, I would say that it would be worth while to find an orchestra that would be willing to try this out. The sound does, uh, sound, rather “canned.” I’m not sure what the stats are for your streaming capabilities on this site but MP3 is a format which is given to sounding “canned,” regardless of care taken during production of the track. MP3 is also given to sounding muddy, of which this track is guilty as well. I think it’s the compression that is so overly used in digital recording (I think without the operator’s intent), especially when combined with the compression that takes place when converting to MP3. The good news to me is that the song is effective, such so that it sounds quite cinematic. Your reference to the Jaws-like opening is very accurate but I don’t know if I would have made the connection without the reference. The track is pretty cool. I think you guys could do something pretty neat with this as the Detholz! as well. Thanks for posting this.

  3. detholz Says:

    Brian: Gots to get down with the lingo, home skillet.

    From the first wave of off-blog responses, the general consensus was that the timpani is the most “canned” sounding element in this recording.

    I suppose I will have to call my local kettle drum dealer and rent a few next time!

    Tyler: TYLER! Been a long time, amigo. Thanks for weighing in, and hope this finds you well. Been a long time since the Ogden Avenue Omni 6, my friend.

    You’re right, of course, that it ultimately wouldn’t matter if I pressed this onto 220 g/m² vinyl from 6-inch tape. No amount of post-production will hide the fact that this is a Synthony Orchestra under the direction of Sir General MIDI. No amount of stretching, compressing, cutting, pasting, or VST plugin effects will change the fact that there are no real people playing real instruments.

    And let’s take a moment and thank God for that, shall we?

    I take comfort, though, in that most of the orchestral scores I hear on TV and in video games haven’t been overly tweaked to sound “authentic.” Obviously, hiring orchestras can be cost-prohibitive (cf. the growing amount of canned accompaniment on Broadway, for example), and though I fully support the doughty orchestral musician in his/her plight to find work, I am also grateful that if I continue to work at this, I, too, might secure some gainful employment as the digitized conductor of a faux symphony… big hair and all.

  4. Jim Says:

    “forever forever forever forever…”
    Wasn’t that sort of the effect that was sought out here? I get lost in that beautiful, hypnotic reverberation.

  5. Jim Says:

    woops. wrong song. duh

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