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  • Anti-Epic film music

    I am wondering if anyone ever thinks about this - how all sample music for film is HUGE ensembles like Appassionata strings, etc.  Even though Appassionata strings are my single favorite string library, I am working on a small-scale film score and am thinking obsessively about how the gigantic string ensemble - which no low budget film could ever afford, instantly screams "SAMPLES!"  And I am hearing this more and more - whenever someone scores film or tv with samples, it is ALWAYS giant ensembles.  In fact, the large sound now is normal for samples.  That seems very lame.  In other words, just because something uses samples doesn't automatically mean  one must use only the most gigantic Richard Strauss size orchestra conceivable.  

  • Although I never have composed a film score, I can imagine very well, that sometimes less is more.I can enjoy very much that one piano tone, one very carefully timed placedbeautiful strike on a cymbal, even a strike on a triangle on the right time can do so much. Just a few tones on a bass guitar can give such a specific atmosphere... I can imagine, that working with music and film can be very fascinating...

  • William and MMKA,

    I agree with both of you that the over-reliance on "epic" orchestration is getting almost comical.  I recall a scene in a Hungarian film that I watched at the Toronto Film Fest one year.  It was essentially an apocalyptic "walking dead" type story, but the score was so not what you'd expect for the film, and yet incredibly effective!  At one point, an empty street is panned with Faure's Requiem playing.  I thought, if you're going to not use original music, at least you're using a masterpiece that fit the scene so well!

    In general though, I believe there's a "lemming mentality" that pervades the industry.  Keep in mind, my only experience is reading the VI forums, not from actually scoring any films (William is the expert in this area!)  It just seems that everybody that isn't established chases the sound and style of those on top.  Nobody has the guts to write what will best suit the film and/or create music to their natural interests/strengths.  I would imagine though, that much of these decisions is heavily influenced by directors/producers, etc. and that unless you are an established composer, it would be difficult to sell the idea of a delicate, shimmery piano score, with the occasional well-placed cymbal.  

    Further frustrating me, is the idea that it seems like commercial music/film music, etc. is all about "buying a sound" rather that composing music.  To stay on top, you've got to constantly invest in ridiculous numbers of libraries, all promising to have that contemporary "current" sound that everyone covets. You've got to have plugins, gear galore, and production values so high that it almost always requires a team of highly skilled people working together, which many young/new composers won't have access to.  So, if you've just got composition chops, but limited access to all the other stuff, you're left on the outside looking in.  


  • In the non-musician circles I run around in here in Hollywood, the "Hans Zimmer" "epic" orchestration with 342 basses and 75 cimbassos with 8 takio drums played by Pharrell is an on-going joke.

  • The only meaning of the word 'epic' I know is the ancient Greek one denotating a heroic tale about gods, half gods and mortal humans in a never ending battle, going to the limits of their abilities to win one of the many battles. In my eyes, it has nothing to do with music or orchestras of giant or even ridiculously oversized proportions, making as much noise as possible. In my country there's an old sayong that goes: "muziekske hard en luwe", something like a (bad) marching band whose only merit is that they can play loud and hard, but without any musicality and correctness. The more players, the better. Tuning the instruments is mostly a waste of time. As long as it is loud, it's OK! Quality doesn't matter.

    So speaking of epic in terms of classical music... ? Not for me. An orchestra can play almost everything with minimal strength, as long as the proportion of the orchestration are respected.

    It strikes me by the way, that baroque chamber orchestras can take huge benefit in terms of loudness from the fact that they play without finger vibrato. That way, all the strings resonate a lot more since the vibrato doesn't kill the sympathic reactions of the strings. This creates a lot more transparency and clarity. Decibels are not really necessary to hear things distinctly.


  • Well, for your information, today "Epic" is used colloquially for various large size ensembles - i.e. Epic Horns here at VSL.  It doesn't fit into your more correct lexicon apparently.  Though yes, I studied Greek language as well as mythology, and have an appreciation for it.  So the condescending explanation of "Epic" is not needed.  

    My point was to do something other than the standard "Epic" size.  It seems to have become a cliche that is instantly recognizable.  

    btw I am using an ultra-small ensemble precisely to contradict the Zimmer style "Epic" strings.  Just so I can continue to make no money while Zimmer cleans up.  But since I want the music to fit the film I am working on, I don't care.  Part of my problem with money...

  • Hi William,

    Well, for your information, today "Epic" is used colloquially for various large size ensembles - i.e. Epic Horns here at VSL.  It doesn't fit into your more correct lexicon apparently.  Though yes, I studied Greek language as well as mythology, and have an appreciation for it.  So the condescending explanation of "Epic" is not needed.  Not everyone here is a moron in need of your tutelage. 

    Sorry about the misunderstanding. I wasn't lecturing or behaving in any condescending way with my post. I'm simply not a fan of the so often (ab)used word 'epic' in a musical context. I just wanted to explain how I feel about it in a rather ironic way. Of course I'm aware of the actual meaning and that's the only reason why I posted something in this topic. The reason of my so called lexicon explanation was to point at the difference in meaning (total loss of original meaning) and it is great that you and many other members have studied Greek mythology.

    As to music and money making, I guess we have more or less the same history. Only I've been a music teacher for many years which makes me a professional musician (whatever this may mean). With my compositions and hundreds of arrangements, I've only earned some peanuts through author's rights. The investments in equipment were a multiple of my income from music creation. But I don't complain, it's a great hobby and it keeps the brain in good shape (so they say). In Europe the term epic isn't used that much, probably because we don't have that huge film business here and there is no actual need for super large orchestras. That's maybe the reason why Europe counts so many very decent chamber orchestras playing on period instruments with original playing techniques. And the second reason of course is again the money, the cost of the size...

    I hope I've made my point now and sorry for having created the wrong impression.


  • Jos

    Thanks, sorry also for my misunderstanding!  

  • PaulP Paul moved this topic from Orchestration & Composition on