In this video I concentrate on the second storyline out of the orchestral composition Seven. I named it “Dark ages are upon us”. It’s that typical music for a dark scene. How did I write this? What were my thoughts? My process? Which pointers can I give you to write something similar? All topics in this video which I will address. So let’s start!
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Timestamps of the video
- 00:00 – Introduction
- 00:56 – Tip 1: Phrygian is your mode for darkness
- 02:11 – Tip 2: strings in tremolo and a sustained piccolo
- 03:24 – Tip 3: make use of dissonance to enhance a feeling of tension
- 04:18 – Tip 4: add accents and variation with orchestral sound colours
- 05:22 – Next week: storyline 3 which is floaty and mystical
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Tip 1: Phrygian is your mode for darkness
In the video from last week I told you that I gave myself an assignment to write a work based on the seven modes: ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian, myxolydian, aeolian and locrian.
For this second storyline I was looking for a great contrast with the first one which was friendly. I pictured myself a dark scene. Like the big black cat that was entering the garden and frightening the little birds.
The choice for a dark and frightening scene led me towards the darkest mode: Phrygian. This mode uses the formula of semitones and tones like: S – T – T – T – S – T – T. Or in half and whole steps: H – W – W – W – H – W – W.
When we have a look at the score of the second storyline and the notes I have used, you will see two flats: Eb and Bb. That means I wrote this storyline in D Phrygian.
Tip 2: strings in tremolo and a sustained piccolo
Darkness means tension. So as a composer it’s your task to trigger that feeling. And you can do that in many many ways.
I chose two specific instruments to enhance the feeling of tension. Well actually more, but I want to address two of them: the violoncello and the piccolo.
The violoncello, or just cello, plays a continuous low D. By adding dynamics, which I think is important, you make it a breathing and living sound. But that’s not enough to get the maximum feeling of tension. But by adding the tremolo articulation you will!
The other instrument, the piccolo, makes a great contrast with the low sound of the violoncello. That eerie sound of a piccolo makes me nervous. It’s very present in the beginning. Your ears are drawn to it immediately. But after a while it blends in naturally without losing its important addition to the entire uncomfortable sound of tension.
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Tip 3: Make use of dissonance to enhance a feeling of tension
Another great way of adding discomfort and tension is the use of dissonance. Two notes played at once which is experienced by the listener as a clash.
In this second storyline I wrote for example multiple times a D and a Eb at the same time. For instance in the bars 23, 24 and 25. The viola plays an Eb and the celeste plays a D. By the way, I love the sound of these two instruments together! And did you notice the Alberti Bass line in the celeste? It’s such a beautiful musical figure!
When you have a closer look at the score you will find more examples of these clashes.
Tip 4: Add accents and variation with orchestral sound colours
At this point I had the feeling that the second storyline was completed in its core. But it needed some more variation and some accents to drive the feeling of tension and discomfort.
So I added different orchestral colours. Like the trombones and the double basses which address the pace of this section. In my head they represent the steps of the big black angry cat.
The triangle and the timpani to build up the tension even more. With subtle accents of the glockenspiel which blend in well with the violin and the harp sound.
Notice that much of the instruments I’ve added during this phase, address the tonic of the mode. The D. Hammering in the tonic as I mentioned many times before in the orchestral sketch videos, is important to do when you write in modes.
Next week: storyline 3 which has an air of floatiness
That’s it for this week. Hopefully I gave you some valuable insights and pointers to start writing music for your own dark scene.
Next week I will continue with the third storyline which I named “Floaty and mystical sky”. Again it’s a complete mood swing that brings us in totally different vibe. Already looking forward to that! I hope you do too!