Friday, November 6, 2009

CG Challenge - We made it!

The project this time was actually a bit tough for the CG guys. Computer related accidents slowed down the process and it ended up to be quite a race against time in the end. I'm not a specialist in terms of CG, but I know that making a CG movie is insanely time-consuming. I was surprised ...or shocked I should say :) by how fast the team worked in the final week of the project. Incredible! And so rewarding... because:


If this isn't cool, what is!?

Here is the link to the result announcement at CG Society. Click here!

...and here is the completed piece in HD :)

The background story:
Agent Omicron

Aging International Superstar Steve Camembert stars in the 80's classic Japanese spy show "Agent Omicron"
While not popular outside Japan at the time, the show has gained cult status in the United States and Germany.
The Fans or "Cronys", as they call themselves are drawn to its campy fun and exploration of almost precient Sci-fi concepts. The ethics of cloning, genetic manipulation, nanotechnology and robot/human hybrid rights were common themes featured on the show.
An other star of the show was Japanese American actress Aiko Givewell. She played Omicrons Techy sidekick and had quite a following among the younger male audience. in the second last season her character in the series greatest twists, turned sides and became the main antagonist.
After the cancellation of Agent Omicron Ms. Givewell stared in a very short lived spinoff.
The last stand out cast member was Thud Thompson. He was a Worlds Strongest Man Champion from Sweden. He dreamed of being the Swedish Arnold Schwarzenegger. Agent Omicron was his only acting job.

One other contributing factor of the alure of the show was the mystery surrounding the death of its star. Steve Camembert killed while filming a spectacular stunt for the series final episode.
An early edit of the show was said to have put together but it was never aired. For the "Cronys" finding this episode is the holy grail.
In early 2008 it was rumored that Michael Bay was in talks to tale Agent Omicron to the big screen. He was quoted saying that he wasn't interested in making another stupid Japanese movie for kids. So for now Agent Omicron and his crew of super spies will only live on in decaying VHS tapes and Youtube...

...And this is the making of:

It was incredibly fun to work on this project. That's definitely a team I'd love to work with again. And who knows? Maybe we will... in one of the upcoming Challenges at CGSociety or somewhere else...?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

CG Challenge - Secret Agent JAZZ! (part 5)

Time flies!

Life's been a bit hectic recently, and I didn't get to write this entry, which should have been up here like 2 months ago!

Anyways, so this is the last one in the CG Challenge Secret Agent series.

After having finished the tune, my brother asked me: "uh, we kind of need a tune for the making-of sequence. Can you put together something nice based on the main tune? Something jazzy would be cool :)"

Yeah, that's the kind of thing that tends to come towards the end of a project, right? 2 days until the deadline and we run into new ideas :)

So I sat down and slapped together a jazzy version of the main theme I composed. Here's the output:

Since there was no time, the drum pattern is a copy&paste job as is the walking bass. I just made sure that both drums and bass don't sound to synthetic, tweeking around with velocity values and adding dead notes etc.

The piano and guitar part is played in realtime, with some additional MIDI note adjustments and quantizing here and there, but I wanted to preserve an "organic" feel to the tune, so I tried to keep the recorded material as natural as possible.

The tune only needed to be a minute long, so you will notice the repetition in the second half (in the final video, the music fades out).

The guys were happy as was I, and we finally, finally made it!! Just in time.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

CG Challenge - Secret Agent (part 4)

OK, here comes the last part of this project (at least on my end).

In the previous (third) draft, I replaced the synth lead sound that played the main melody with a saxophone sound taken from AMG's Kick-Ass Brass library. I also added some brass tracks to the intro to build up some tension.

To be honest, I wasn't 100% happy with this last version. Although the sax in the melody sounds quite authentic, it was somewhat weak sounding and not strong enough to dominate the tune. But since that's just my limited opinion, I sent it to my brother's team anyways to see what they think.

Well, they shared my opinion haha.

So we decided to give it a try using the VL70-m synth. Even though it's not using any samples at all, its physical modeling synthesis is still pretty good. Combined with a breath-controller, it does sound solid. So I went with the motto "let's hope it'll sound good enough as a main melody track! "

On top of that, they needed the brass tracks out of the intro. It was too dominant that it dictates the mood, limiting the options when it comes to creating the visuals. That's something I couldn't forsee, but it made sense. Since the production on the visual side was still developing it was better to keep the music more neutral. Also, my brother liked the sudden change to the main theme as opposed to the rather smooth transition I had made in the third draft.

So my tasks for the final version were set:
  • Remove the horns from the intro
  • Make the transition to the main theme more sudden
  • Replace the main melody with a VL70-m Sax sound (in hopes it'll work out OK)

The other "polishing" tasks I had pending were:

  • Add details to the bass track (string noise, dead notes etc)
  • Sync the rhythmical patterns of the E-piano with the drums and the bass
  • Edit the drum breaks to sync with the horn riffs and other fills
  • Replace the guitar tracks with a real performance
  • Mixdown everything

I had asked a guitarist friend of mine to play the cutting patterns and the solo for me. Synth guitars just don't compare to a real performance. At least the guitars in my hardware synthesizers just don't do it for me :)

And it got good!

Here's the final version:

A virtual sax can sound pretty good, huh?
Well, of course a real saxophone would always be better, but for this time anyways, I'm pretty happy with the outcome. My brother and his team were happy too :)

And many thanks to guitarist Yuya Haraguchi, who laid down some awesome guitar tracks!

As for the project, the animated visuals are still in works. Can't wait to see the final result!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

CG Challenge - Secret Agent (part 3)

After the second draft, my task was to merge it with the first draft. That wasn't a big issue, since I had that in mind while I was writing the second draft :)

The other request I got was to change the instrument that plays the main melody. So far I had been using a Synth Lead sound, but we came to the conclusion that a saxophone would be a better fit.

The problem was that I didn't have any sax-players around me who could record the melody track, and synth-saxes are only so-so when it comes to taking the lead part in a song...

The closest I had to a real saxophone was (a) AMG's Kick-Ass Brass, which by the way has become my absolute favorite Brass synthesizer, or (b) my Yamaha VL70-m sound-module.

Kick-Ass Brass sounds just awesome (as you can hear in the drafts already), but as a solo part it may be a bit weak. Well, partially probably because I don't have the skills (yet) to really bring it to life.

The VL70-m module is cool too, but I was afraid to use it for the main track for the same reasons: it may not sound convincing enough...

I decided to go with the Kick-Ass Brass solution, since it's using samples from real instruments as opposed to the VL70-m which is "merely" simulating instruments.

So here's the output. Draft number 3:

In addition to replacing the melody track with a saxophone, I also tweaked the intro a bit by adding brass tracks to build up some tension towards the main theme. That was a mistake as I saw from the reaction I received when I gave it to my bro haha!

... to be continued!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

CG Challenge - Secret Agent (part 2)

The first draft was well received. Yay! It's good to know I was able to create the desired mood. There were some extra requests here and there which I needed to incorporate.

It's kind of difficult to convey in words how a tune is supposed to sound. So people would tell me stuff like "it should sound darker" or it could have "more action" in it. My task is to interpret this and convert it into notes. I think it heavily depends on the person describing the music, how well or easily it can be turned into actual music.

Anyways, my brother wanted the intro to be a bit calmer and maybe more mysterious. So that was one thing to take care of. Since there is still time, I also came up with a slight variation of the first draft. The overall direction was already OK, so I played around with the chords and tried to provide an alternative idea. Just to see how it would be received. Who knows? Maybe the second idea is even better than the first one!

So here's draft number 2.

As you can hear, the intro has been changed completely and the main part has a different chord structure and a different melody. I took the theme from the first draft and moved it into the B part of the new draft.

This version was well-received too, and the intro was pretty much what they were looking for, but for the main theme, my brother and his team opted for the initial idea. So my next task was to merge the intro of the second draft with the main part of the first draft. be continued!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

CG Challenge - Secret Agent (part 1)

Recently, my brother and his team decided to participate in a CG Challenge at CGSociety. Now, I'm not doing anything CG-related, but since this time the challenge subject was a video, they needed some background music. So my bro asked me if I felt putting together a tune for it. I DID feel like putting together a tune and so I hopped on board.

The instructions of the challenge say:
"This challenge asks you to render a scene of secrecy and espionage. Depict a scene of a secret agent in a binding circumstance. Are they caught in an ingenious trap by an evil genius? or about to bring down an enemy base? Show us cunning devices, subtle disguises, and really cool cars."

Sounds exciting!
Here's the link to the challenge page. I had some e-mail exchanges, Skype conversations and chats with my brother, and we were able to share an understanding of what the atmosphere should be like. Initial sketches and images gave me an idea of how the music could sound.

The guiding keywords were:
  • Time period: late 70's - early 80's (?)

  • Lots of action

  • Not dead-serious. Comedy elements are included

  • cartoon / comic book style, rather than realistic characters

In addition to the rough sketches I had seen, I was given an animatic (a rough draft animation) depicting the first seconds of the animation. Based on this, I put together an audio draft.

Here it goes:

The best part are the horns haha. For the first time I used AMG's Kick-Ass Brass VSTi. Pretty awesome sounding. You don't get that from a hardware synth. I'm really happy with its quality, it was worth the purchase.

But anyways, my bro and his team were pretty happy overall. The only thing they wanted to have changed was the intro. It should be more mysterious and calmer.

OK, no problem, that's what drafts are for. So I sat down to come up with an alternative version... be continued!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Slapstick Music

April was a killer month!

First I had to move to a new place, then I had a concert, family gatherings etc... Too busy to do anything! Since last week the dust is settling finally, so I took the time to finish a little tune I promised to create for my brother. He's putting together a video and he needed some old style ragtime-like music that would fit into a black and white slapstick movie.

I searched YouTube for some Charlie Chaplin footage in hopes to find some hints, since I've never really written anything like this before. And YouTube is really helpful in that sense, you just find ANYTHING. I found some videos that gave me a rough idea of the general tendency in terms of instrumentation and orchestration. From there I came up with 2 themes which I used as a base for further arrangements.

So here's the completed song. I called it "The Good Old Days"

As opposed to other works, this time I didn't have to worry about clear sound quality. Of course I needed to make it sound right, but in this case my goal was to give it an antique, vintage sound. That meant: No beautiful reverb, but instead vinyl noise and random (slight) pitch shifts.

In order to "simulate" the speakers of an old record player (or phonograph), I also played around with the EQ (enhancing mid frequencies, cutting lower frequencies).

Given that I didn't need high quality sounds, using Steinberg HALion Symphony Orchestra seemed like overkill, but I realized that even with reduced sound quality, the articulation of each instrument is still audible (especially with instruments playing the lead melody), so I used HSO for some of the major tracks in this sequence. The remaining instruments come from the MOTIF ES.

I'm curious how this tune will fit into my brother's video!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Movie Trailer Music

Here comes my latest composition. It's another full orchestra song, but this time non-Disney style for a change ;)

This time, I wanted to create music that you would hear in a movie trailer. The film genre I had in mind was contemporary action-thrillers or mafia / organized crime stuff.

Here we go:
I called it "Coming Soon" :)

One challenge this time was to finetune the drums. I always wanted to create that deep, rich and powerful drum sound that you always hear in this kind of movie trailer. You know, the sound that makes your stomach vibrate when you're sitting in a Dolby THX enabled theater (booooom).

It's kind of hard to tell what instrument they are using for that sound, so I had to experiment a bit.

I took a drumkit and tuned the samples for the floor toms down to a pitch that was almost the same as the bass drum. Combining that sound with Timpani and Gran Cassa samples lead to a pretty nice outcome. A good amount of reverb is also added.

Still not sure if that's the "correct" way of creating this drum sound, but for this song it worked alright :)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

When you wish upon a star

Growing up I can't count how many times I've heard the theme of this song. At Tokyo Disneyland, in Disney Movie jingles etc etc. Until recently I didn't even know it was originally used in Disney's Pinocchio. I have never watched the movie, yet I know the song. I think the tune might be more famous than the movie haha.

Anyways, when I was younger, this song was one of the tunes I could never copy by ear, simply because the chords were way too complex for me to "decipher". Sure, I could have worked with sheetmusic, but as mentioned earlier, I don't do sheetmusic ;)

So I had given up on this song since then. But then recently, I stumbled upon a video of this song on YouTube. I tried to copy the first chords and suddenly IT WORKED! My ears must have evolved over the years (yay)!
I kept going until I had the chords down, and then worked out an arrangement. Here's the result:

Doing piano arrangements is always challenging to me because you have to play the bassline, chords and the melody all by yourself, as opposed to ensemble arrangements where you can delegate certain parts to other players (or tracks, if you're using sequencers).

It's like 15 years ago when did my first attempt (and got stuck), but finally I'm able to play it!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cinderella Overture

I created this one back in December last year. My brother was participating in a competition at CGSociety. The theme of the competition was Steampunk, and my brother chose the story of Cinderella as the base for his work.

While he was telling me about his concept, it gave me the idea to compose a soundtrack to his version of Cinderella. So I started working out my own concept for a possible "overture" pretending that the Steampunk Cinderella were a movie.

Here's the completed piece:

The piece consists of three sequences:

In the first sequence, the spectator would see a aerial panorama view of a beautiful castle and a small village just beneath it.

Second sequence: From the bird-view perspective, the camera quickly goes into street-level, showing the everyday life of the commoners.

In the third sequence, the camera ends up in Cinderella's house. Her theme is introduced and she is seen doing her work, dreaming of a better life...

This was my first real attempt to create a full-orchestra piece from scratch. I did a rough "sketch" with a single piano-track first so I would have a "wireframe" that would keep me from derailing too much from the initial ideas I had in mind. Then I went on to orchestrate everything, which was a lot of fun especially with the nice sounding software synthesizer I was using (Steinberg HALion Symphonic Orchestra. Definitely worth the money!)

Personally, I'm actually pretty happy with the outcome ;)

Hope you like it too!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Here's a song I wrote randomly.

I wanted to create a tune that could work within the framework of a musical. It could be inserted in a scene where the main character is gazing into a possible bright future. Perhaps there could be two characters interacting and the melody could be sung as a duett. Overall the scene should be filled with hope and positivity.

The instrumental part is intentionally kept rather simple, since it shouldn't clash with the vocals. The lead melody kind of sounds dull in the current version, but I'm pretty sure the song will shine more if there were actual lyrics and singing voices.

Here in Japan I don't have easy access to native English singers who would fit into the context of this song, but hopefully I can eventually find a nice lyricist and singer who could fill in the part. Recording this would be fun for sure!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Arranged a song I found on YouTube

So there was this video that was on the YouTube top page one day. It was in the "featured videos" list and I clicked the thumbnail.

It turned out to be a video of a Japanese girl (Sachiko) who filmed herself singing a song she had written. As of now the video has been played over 88000 times! Pretty nice. She has a very beautiful voice and I think the song suits her voice well.

This is the original video:

Then I had this idea to re-orchestrate the accompaniment of the song. Since the original accompaniment is kept rather simple (which is good too), I thought "How would it sound as a pop-version?" ...You know, like in Disney animated movies, you'd have a title theme (e.g. "A Whole New World" from Aladdin) that would be played in the movie as part of the storyline and again at the end of the movie as a pop-arrangement serving as background music for the credits.

So here it goes: my pop arrangement (without vocals though)

This was my first YouTube post by the way ;)
Thanks to Sachiko for allowing me to put the video up here!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Music by ear

Many of my fellow musicians (especially keyboardists and pianists) read and play sheet music. A skill that I don't have. I admire people who can just look at the notes and play pieces they never heard before. I mean, I'm familiar of the concept of sheet music, and I'd be able to decipher notes if I have enough time, but reading AND playing in realtime? Never!
To this day it's a mystery to me how pianists can read the melody, the accompaniment and the rhythm from sheet music and actually play it.

I've always been a "music by ear" kind of person. Simply put, I'd listen to a tune, process it in my head and play it. This has advantages and disadvantages, but so far it has worked out OK for me :)

I also use the movable do concept when I listen to music. Whatever key is used in a song, the root note is defined as the "do". In my case, I go further and define the "do" as the "C" of the C-major scale (that way I don't have to worry about flats and sharps). So, whenever I hear a tune, I transpose it in my head to C-Major and go from there (hence the title of this blog).

These days synthesizers have convenient transpose or key-shift functions that simply shift the pitch of the keys. So if I have to play something in E-major, I'd shift the keys 4 semitones upwards. As a result, I'd be playing in C-major, but the audible output would be in E-major.
This confuses the hell out of people with absolute pitch. Pressing the C key and hearing E is apparently very uncomfortable. Fortunately I only have a relative pitch (hence the URL of this blog), so I don't have this problem :)

All in all I guess I have a rather unusual way of approaching music when I play the keyboards. I sometimes feel I'm some kind of rare exception because all piano or keyboard players I met so far (no fail) would rather read sheet music than copying music by ear. Not that I feel left out or anything ;) but it would be interesting to know how many people out there have a similar standpoint.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Hi people out there! Here we go, my first blog in English! Yay!

I've been writing blogs in Japanese so far, but as nice as this language is, it's incompatible with the majority of the world :(

So my thought was to make things a bit more accessible and start a blog in English for a change. I'm sure it'll be interesting to share some of my work with you guys out there. Hopefully I can make this page an interesting site to check out.

Contents will include my own works, talks about music-related gear (instruments, recording equipment, etc.), and other random topics that I'll probably stumble upon on the way.

So, enjoy, have a good time here and hopefully this blog will be around for a while!