Attack of the Synthestra 2 – “Willie Steals a Horse”

Note: A close Detholz! confidante (and former Detholz! bookie), Lena, needs your help in an excellent cause. After having her spirit broken by the VORTECS Corporation, the business arm of Detholz!, (just kidding) Lena decided to go into nursing and has worked at a hospital for the past year. Utilizing her training, she will be traveling to Nepal this Fall to volunteer and assist needy orphan children there (no kidding). She needs to raise $5,000 for her trip. Visit this link and donate, would you?

Any little bit you can spare will help immensely– no gift is too small!  Help Lena help orphans in need!  Thanks.  -Detholz! and the Maplewood Continuum

Welcome to the Detholz! Mp3 Blog, Episode XXXIV!

This week, we continue with our bloody orchestral onslaught of General MIDI madness with:

ATTACK OF THE SYNTHESTRA Part 2 : “Willie Steals A Horse”

For an introduction on this month’s Attack, check the last post.


This week, the vampire character we introduced last week is reminiscing about his misspent youth on Maxwell Street in Chicago, remembering an afternoon when he earned his nickname. On a dare, he creeps up on a fruit vendor and steals his horse, after which he removes the testicles and sells them to a restaurant in Chinatown (his nickname is “Potatoes,” har har). The scene depicted here is Willie sneaking up on the vendor, then untying and making off with his horse.


A lot of the ideas from this orchestration come from critical listening to Bernard Herrmann’s score for “The Trouble With Harry.” There’s a lot of call-and-response across the orchestra, which is a great trick. You can repeat the same phrase over and over and it takes on an entirely different character if played by different instrument families in different registers.

The core of the composition is a series of intervals– a major third and a tritone. I take a lot of liberty with the intervallic series, inverting it in a few instances, mixing it up in others. The most blatantly obvious examples can be heard in the quiet middle section of the piece– first in the woodwinds, then in the lower instruments as the piece revs up towards the end.

I purposely chose a brighter, “happier” scenario this week for a challenge. As most of you know, my default setting when writing music is either “Fire and Brimstone” or “Gloom ‘N Doom,” so I decided to take a trip to the Happy Store and see what happened.

The practice and obsessive listening is paying off– I’m finding it’s easier to make good choices vis a vis instrument combinations. One of the most difficult aspects of orchestration is balance– take your run-of-the-mill C7 chord, for example.


Which notes go where across the orchestra? What notes are doubled? By which instruments?

In my reading about this, I’ve discovered the 1357 rule. This means, in general, you want to give the most weight to the first note in the chord (otherwise known as the “root.”) In this case, C.

C = 1

So, given your average orchestra, you’d put C’s in the bass instruments (like the string basses, cellos, tuba, bassoons and bass clarinets) and in the primary melodic instruments (1st violins, trumpets, horns, flutes and oboes).

E = 3

This is the third of the chord– what gives the chord its character, major or minor, so it’s second in the pecking order. I would probably assign it to the 2nd violins, 2nd/3rd horns, and 1st clarinet)

And so forth and so on. You plug in the rest of the notes according to the 1357 principle until you’ve got a balanced-sounding chord across the orchestra. If it sounds complicated, that’s because… well… it is! I’ve got a lot more practice ahead of me before I master writing balanced orchestral scores.

So there you have it. Tune in next week for the next wave of Attack of the Synthestra, Part 3: The Rape of General MIDI!


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5 Responses to “Attack of the Synthestra 2 – “Willie Steals a Horse””

  1. jim Says:

    [He creeps up on a fruit vendor and steals his horse, after which he removes the testicles and sells them to a restaurant in Chinatown.]
    Brighter, happier scenario, huh? Well maybe happier. The nickname Potatoes is cute.

    Anywho, I’m liking this one more than Synthestra I. It really is more involved, as far as specific instrument groupings and dynamics, and seems less cliche stylistically than the side Willie Feeds pushes more towards.

  2. detholz Says:

    Jim: Thanks. Yeah, Synthestra I was a first attempt and as such was completely derivative of what I’d been reading about/listening to. As I become more comfortable with the composition/orchestration process, I’m feeling freer to use my own flavor injector. So to speak.

  3. Jim Says:

    Your flavor injector did not go unnoticed. Nice work.

  4. kebabdylan Says:

    this one is def’ more engaging. right around 30 sec mark, it quiets down and there is a flute or something that mimics the little drum beat. other instruments join in in like manner. nice.

    can’t wait to hear what it sounds like with the whole band!

  5. kebabdylan Says:

    how about this for off topic… I am currently in CA at a conference and at the kick off reception there are all these celebrity impersonators. One particularily creepy one is a Clark Gable. I am here with several co-workers. I mentioned that they remind me of a time I was in Chicago to see some friends of mine play in a band and they opened up for the really insane, amusing, and scary cross dressing david bowie impersonator. A guy I have worked with for over 2 years says “Oh, Ziggy 2000!”

    needless to say, my jaw dropped. A friend of his said he should check out this guy because he has hilarious and terrifying and that words could not describe the experience.

    that’s about right.

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