An Anatomy of an Arrangement

3 08 2009

Hohoho…been neglecting the web journal a bit have we, ey?

Well, its only because there’s not a whole lot to write about – mom came down with a pretty severe case of bronchitis, and so I’ve been doing a lot of domestic chores (you know: laundry, dishes, cooking the occaisional meal) – the most exciting of which is feeding our big, ornery Doberman, Weiner. Use your imagination.

Hmm…I have been trying to write a story – but details on that are privy only to me and a select panel of editors/reviewers. Sorry, ladies and gentlemen.

When I’m not working on that (which is often, since mom calls me every few minutes to do a chore or help her with a chore – I’m not complaining, mind you), I try working on one of my arrangements; the current one being 다시 만난 세계.

Unbeknown to most people, I do not go rooting around the World Wide Web (does anyone still call it that nowadays?) looking for orchestral scores. This is because the music we The Orchestra plays is very often either not scored for orchestra, or the score is not readily available (i.e. for free, since we can’t afford them). Thus, unless I can find a midi file of a melody or (preferrably) a piano arrangement, I usually have to transcribe the whole thing by ear. Such was the case of Fureai and Viva la Vida.

But what if we want to play something that was never meant to be played by an orchestra? We’re not talking taking a poprock song and sticking string arrangements onto it (ala Iris) – we’re talking translating a whole song in the language of rock or pop into the language spoken by an orchestra.

I realize this closely parallels my (mis)adventures in trying to learn the Korean language by total immersion – in KPOP tunes; but more on that some other time. Jinjja.

다시 만난 세계 is, to put it bluntly, a KPOP tune. It’s run mainly on synthesized sounds and beat, with 9 female voices singing in simple, two-part harmony (sometimes) – but mostly solo or in unison. The melodies are somewhat angular and are at times heavily syncopated, primarily because it helps make the song “danceable”.

Well, the language the orchestra speaks is quite different – the intricacies of angular melodies and heavily syncopated rhythms get lost among the sheer number of sonorities being produce, and two-part harmony suddenly seems eminently laughable when trying to produce it on an instrument that can, without much effort, produce ten-part harmony if it so wished – and sound like the voice of God in the process. It’s a bit like trying to get somebody who speaks Italian (with all those lovely rolling lines and intonations) sing in, say, Swahili…or that language spoken by the natives of Jumanji (comprised entirely of snorts, clicks, and whistles).

The solution? A little of give and take from both sides. I have to modify the syncopations of the melody to make them easier to produce by say, the brass section, and so that when the whole orchestra is going full blast, you can actually hear the melody being played. It mean really getting into the two-part harmony and figuring out (mostly by trial-and-error) what chord is really being implied at that moment before exploding it into, say, 4-part harmony.

It sometimes means having to change the tempo – for my arrangement of 다시 만난 세계, I’ve chosen to take the original 120bpm tempo and bring it down to 90bpm, since I’m going for a more majestic approach to the overall tune. This will allow me to use other rhythmic figures, played by other instruments (like the horns) to drive both the rhythm and outline the harmony.

Lastly, it involves composing a few measures of original material, which will serve as transitions between sections. Sometimes these are just chord progressions that go from, say, a minor 6th, and go down stepwise to the tonic, with an ever-diminishing dynamic level, which will then allow me to introduce the melody for the stanzas within a more subdued atmosphere. Sometimes it involves coming up with little flourishes for the winds or the high brass or the strings.

All in all, its taking longer than I first imagined, but I am pleased somehow with my current progress – that for once, my creative powers are being put to the test.

I’ll let you know how this turns out. GTI, hwaiting ipnida!

…at least I hope that’s how its supposed to go.




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