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Topic: Tempo tracks and film

  1. #1

    Question Tempo tracks and film

    Hi all

    I'm hoping to get a little help from those with experience using tempo tracks for scoring to film.

    For a long while, I was using the method where you can 'warp' the tempo grid by pulling the bars/beats to fit the length of a cue. I am now working on a scene that has so many cuts, and so many hits, and requires such drastic change in music, that this would be unfeasable, as the tempo cannot be 'ramped up', but rather only 'jumped' or cut from one to another.

    However, using the tempo editing function and ramps is proving very difficult, in terms of accuracy - hitting the 'hits', and also getting the right number of bars/beats in, b/c when you adjust one area, it affects the other hits and everything is off.

    Can anyone suggest their way of working or indicate what I am missing that can ease my pain?



  2. #2
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    West Seneca, NY

    Re: Tempo tracks and film

    I'm not at all versed at on the subject matter, but couldn't you play in the parts real time to the cues timing?
    Just inquisitive as to this thought triggering question.

  3. #3

    Re: Tempo tracks and film

    Hah ahahaha... oh man, just the thought of that makes me giddy... Styxx, the changes and hits in this thing are so dense (like me!) and I would have to be some sort of keyboard genius with lightning hands to pull it off. Which I am so very much... not.

    It is theoretically possible, yes, but it would be SO HARD!! Also, in the end, because (I think you're suggesting) not using a tempo track and/or tempo/click, would make it nigh impossible to go in and edit with any accuracy.

    I did actually do a score with live guitar in the manner you suggested (much as Neil Young did for 'Dead Man'); however, the cues and hits were further apart, and the tempo track was much simpler because of it.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    West Seneca, NY

    Re: Tempo tracks and film

    Happy to tickle your funny bone a bit!
    Yes, very clear as to how problematic it would be for real time especially if one is not a keyboard virtuoso. No chance in slowing down the film either I suppose?
    Nonetheless, this is an interesting question you have and I am very curious as to the suggestions you receive!
    Good luck!

  5. #5

    Re: Tempo tracks and film

    Here's my rather lengthy take on this.

    I use Sonar 5 PE for my scoring. It's a fantastic sequencer and audio recorder/mixer, but falls just a little short when trying to sync to film. Yes, you can import video files and watch them in real time while listening to your sequence, but there are some missing options, such as the ability to slide a video file forward and backwards in the sequence, and a tempo stretch-to-fit time function. I'm hoping these come in the next version.

    I've still been able to manage quite well, however. As long as you remain flexible, you will be able to fit your music in. Here's what has helped me:

    1. Except where absolutely necessary, and/or where the director explicitely requests it, avoid too many "hits" in your music. From an asthetic point of view, too many of these turns your score into something more of a cartoon accompaniment rather than effective underscoring. Playing against the action is usually much more interesting than underlining and punctuating it. There are obviously moments when a hit just has to be there, but limiting the number of hits makes the ones you use much more effective, and makes your life much easier as well.

    2. Where you want to match action to a specific sound or melody, consider starting somewhere other than the first downbeat of a 4/4 bar. There is nothing wrong with beginning the melody on a different beat, beginning it on a beat division, or having a bar of different length to accomodate.

    3. If your sequencer allows it, mark important moments in the film with a marker that is locked to "real time." That way, you can always keep track of where things should fall around it.

    4. Loosen up your rhythms where there doesn't need to be a solid beat. Remember that you are supporting the action on screen, and subtlety is usually best. Long sustained chords don't have to fall on or even near even beat divisions. It's often easier to shift notes around then stretch tempos.

    The important thing is to write flexibly, and to anticipate possible changes or requests. An example from my first film:

    The music was to start halfway through the scene. The very first note was a low sustained cello that signified some tension when one character caught another's eye through a window. The cuts went back and forth quickly between character A, character B, and back to character A. The music began to become more rhythmic in nature a few moments later.

    The director wanted the cello to enter at "just the right moment." He asked me several times to move it forward or backward a bit, until he was finally satisfied. The music that followed never changed, nor did the tempo. I simply made the first note begin earlier or later and ignored the fact that it didn't fall on a beat.

    I hope this is helpful.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  6. #6

    Re: Tempo tracks and film

    Thanks, Jamie.

    good points on all counts. I do have a marker track up, and I agree very much with your points on 'underscoring' as pertains to subtlety. This project, however, is a silent film. Hence, although I want to avoid 'Mickey Mousing' the scene, it is very melodramatic material, and added to that fact I have to also make up for lack of dialogue, sfx, and ambient sound. There are a lot of cuts, and I feel I need to 'keep up' in order to maintain what I imagine the late-directors goals might have been.

    "Loosen up your rhythms where there doesn't need to be a solid beat."

    That's an excellent point. I think that so far I have been maintaining a rythmic element throughout - damn rock musician background! Obviously, more flowing sections will add to the movement of the piece, and perhaps a solution to my problem of hard tempo edits is to use sustained notes to 'mask' the changes.

    Editorial: Writing to silent film is HARD!!! Way harder than for 'talkies', or such is my experience so far.

    PS: Jamie, I don't know how you live without tempo editing and grid warping... you're so old school!! It's been absolutely essential in my work - contemporary film work. But I'm a hack, anyways... I watch those guys do it on the scoring stage with the bpm sheets and stop watches and break into a cold sweat.

  7. #7

    Re: Tempo tracks and film

    Hey Andrew

    Yes, I'm using Cubase SX3. I've been using jumps till now, but I need to switch to ramping because the jumps are too hard with the density of changes I have in the cue. What I'd love to know is if there is a way to use ramping, and be frame accurate with beat/bar changes.


  8. #8

    Re: Tempo tracks and film

    Quote Originally Posted by aelliscomposer
    Writing to silent film is HARD!!! Way harder than for 'talkies', or such is my experience so far.
    Indeed it is! Music for a silent film is the only sound that will be heard by the audience... what I've seen sometimes in silent films is that the orchestra also does of a bit of sound effects, like a cymbal when something crashes. I've only scored 30 seconds of silent film music for that good old TCM YFCC competition, and it was quite a challenge.
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  9. #9

    Re: Tempo tracks and film

    I've only tried my hand at silent film scoring once, and that was for a contest I could not enter (YFCC)... but I think the differences between scoring for talkies and silent are more artistic than technical, so here are some things I've tried in the past...

    first, I almost always spot sound effects first, especially if they have a big impact on the total message. I did this for the silent film contest and it made things a lot easier to map out.

    second, with the sound effects in place I create my "hit" map. I watch the film with stopwatch in hand, and record those places where I need something to happen, whether it is music start, music end, or an accent I'd like include.

    With the hit map in hand I then try to block out the various cues I need to write. All of this, I might point out, precedes any concious effort on my part to come up with melodies or orchestration ideas. I find that by separating the analytical steps, and taking care of them first I have much more freedom when I get to the more creative steps.

    Blocking out cues - if I need to fill 3 minutes of space I'll start by simply calculating how many beats (and full measures) that is at different tempos. 3 minutes at 80 bpm in 3/4 time is 80 measures (I cheated, that's an easy one!!!)

    3 minutes * 80 beats per measure = 240 beats
    240 beats / 3 beats per measure = 80 measures

    (I love it when the math requires no thought<G>!!!)

    OK, now I know where every beat falls if I keep strict time. If an action I want to accent happens between beats that's OK, I can usually adjust the tempo accordingly, or I can have the accent occur on the second note of a triplet, or whatever.

    And sometimes I'll purposely not have a musical accent happen in time with the action on the screen, especially in a setting where the hit list is dense. Sometimes NOT accenting the music has the opposite effect, and accents the action. (Think about it a bit and it starts to make sense<G>!)

    Mechanically, I use Sonar5, and the tempo mapping capabilites are (as noted earlier) limited. However, for a three minute cue I can usually get away with playing without the click, and letting the music flow a bit more freely.

    I should mention that my own approach to using a computer in the studio is based on my experience using tape recorders. That is, I generally will not make an edit in either the MIDI or audio data that I could not have made on tape. This provides some real freedom, as I no longer have to worry about having every note hit on a metric boundary.

    I did say generally didn't I? Sometimes I still have to go in and edit something at the old microscopic level. If I am ignoring the click track I can still do this by disabling any snap-to settings.

    At first this took a LOT of getting used to! If you stick a graph in front of me I am going to line the notes up with the grid<G>! Human nature, or at least engineer's nature I suppose. With a little practice I've learned to ignore (or turn off) the grid and just place the notes where they need to be. In this way I can create a piece that is very fluid in terms of tempo.

    One last thought... I am not opposed to asking the video folks to recut their video to the music if the director simply has to have that note happen at a specific moment in time. In some ways that turns out to be easier<G>!

    Hope this helps.... writing music for film is something I really enjoy, and I am always glad to compare notes with other composers!!!

    Take care,


  10. #10

    Re: Tempo tracks and film

    My last two projects have been writing the score for some action spoof short films. Cartooning is a way of life!

    The most recent scene included a fight, a chase and a scene with ping-pong cuts that moved from mood A to B to A to B... In each case the hits didn't occur on a set rhythm.

    My approach was:
    1) Get a feel for the tempo that I wanted by playing in real time, let's say it was around 150 bpm.
    2) Map out the hits. Write down the time of each hit.
    3) Figure out the number of beats between each hit that keeps the tempo near 150 bpm (0.4 seconds per beat). Let's say two events are 1.6 seconds apart. That's easy. It's four beats. Another is 2.8 seconds apart. Okay, seven beats. What about if they're 2.6 seconds apart? Then I can choose seven beats at 162 bpm or six beats at 138 bpm. Either will work.
    4) Hand sequence a drum rhythm that has accents on four beats, then six or seven beats and so on. You can set the time signatures, but it's optional.
    5) Edit the tempo map as needed. You don't have to jump from 150 to 162 bpm. You can draw it in with ramps and overshoots/undershoots. Work it until the hits are close enough and it flows.
    6) Play around with the melody/backing and mouse something into the piano roll.
    7) Listen to it a number of times, until you wrop your head around it.
    8) Play the tracks in live, using the drum track as your metronome. If you edited the time signatures, you can use the click, if you prefer.

    Normally, the "math" of music is just about intervals, which is just addition and subtraction. This tempo thing gets into division, and if you don't step the tempos, integration. It's fun stuff.

    BTW, as long as you write a melody that works, and emphasize the right sub-measure beats, the audience won't even be aware of your time signature changes or tempo games. They'll just hear some active music that matches the scene.


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