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Topic: An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

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    An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

    <font color=\"purple\"> Gary Garritan presents the second in a series of Garritan Orchestra Libraries \"Meet the Artist\" Interviews: </font>

    An Interview with ROBERT KRAL

    Rob is a well-know film and television composer and has worked on such projects as the acclaimed series \"Angel\", \'The Hostage\', \'Sliders\' and others. He is a long-time member of the Northern Sounds User Group and regular contributor. We are pleased to have Rob as our guest.


    <font color=\"blue\">Do you feel that you get to write the kind of music that you really love, most of the time? Do you ever have a feeling of \"well, it is music after all (even if it\'s for TV) and I love to write music and it wouldn\'t be my fist cup of tea but it\'s a job and it\'s music and...I love music so...that\'s why I keep on writing this stuff.\"? If this comes up, how do you deal with it...the subtle sellout of the soul? Thank you for your time.submitted by Marty</font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Most of the time I do feel I\'m writing the kind of music I really enjoy writing. The cool thing about working on a show like Angel is that it\'s like working on a movie: it\'s often epic, all orchestral, lots of moods and atmospheres. The themes deal with forgiveness, redemption, consequences, a battle against evil, and all this stuff is the kind of thing I love to work on, so luckily for me on this show there\'s little \"sell out\". The \"Even if its for TV\" doesn\'t come to mind. However if I\'ve done something I\'m really especially proud of it\'d be a nice thought to have it play in a movie theater to a big audience!

    Angel has quite a following, and even some music fans of the score, so at least I know it is being appreciated. In other projects where the subtle sell out might happen, you can only deal with it by being wrapped up in the story and the characters. It doesn\'t matter if you\'re writing for a kids series with no budget, a B movie, or a blockbuster: the music job is exactly the same: you are performing the story, the moods, the realism of what\'s happening, not the size of the amphitheater it might or might not get played in.

    <font color=\"blue\">Do you ever get chances to write music \"for yourself\"? What types of music would that be? submitted by KingIdiot </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    As far as writing for myself goes, I really enjoy writing for Film &amp; TV. This has been my main goal all along with music. I\'m interested in film making as a whole, so writing music for this industry is what I enjoy most. I\'m someone who wanted to be in the film / TV industry, and music was my way into this. So, of all the things I\'d like to do with music this is it: supporting the stories, providing the atmospheres, sharing these moods and creating these \"places\" for an audience.

    If I had the time, I\'d like to get back into song writing, perhaps some ambient stuff and some edgier techno / trance also. You might\'ve seen my posts about the virus and I\'d like to just muck around with instruments like that and do something completely different. Then again, old analog synths are how I started anyway! I remember my first short film projects where I would use a Juno 60 and bounce the tracks on a four track to ten tracks total. No timecode and dozens upon dozens of hit points. How far we\'ve come! But in the end, orchestral, emotional music is my real love.

    <font color=\"blue\">Is music still thought of as an \"afterthought\" for Angel? Or is it something that takes up importance the start of each episode. We all know of the ballet episode you did and recent turns in other series with \"musical\" episodes (Buffy, Scrubs, third Rock), so of course those are important, but how about the \"other\" episodes. submitted by KingIdiot </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Thankfully the producers and directors and writers on Angel do not think of it as an afterthought. One of the writers has my CDs playing whilst she comes up with scripts. I consider that a great compliment, that it might inspire. Even the editors who do the temp tracks are very thoughtful. They temp it mostly with my music and often there choices are interesting, not just always predictable. The meetings with the producers always leaves me feeling appreciated.

    Unfortunately music is often thought of as afterthought for many other productions, partly because its one of the very last events on the production line. You can be looked at to \"save\" a scene because they\'ve been through everything else (writing, acting, lighting, editing) and it still doesn\'t work. What\'s left? Music! Those aren\'t happy times for a composer, because you end up being asked to make the music do more than it should.

    <font color=\"blue\">I am interested in the process you go through from viewing the scene(s) to composing...How many times will you watch the scene to get a feel for it before you actually do any composing? submitted by jubal </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    To begin with, they send me a videotape of the episode. It\'s got a temp track so it gives me an idea of the type of music they might be after. I then attend a spotting session, where I meet with the producer, writer, editor, music editor and sound editor, and we watch the show through and decide precisely where there music will come in and out, and a general idea of moods and style. So when I start actually composing, I\'ve seen the scene several times already. Its digitized into my computer so Digital performer follows along (or rather, controls it). I then usually watch the scene and listen closely for ideas, but especially pay attention to what I feel from the scene: and what the director needs the scene to do to the audience (which might be something very different that the most obvious thing). I\'ll then layout important \"markers\" or hit points in DP: I try to keep these to a minimum, but often they are good \"sign posts\" as I can see them coming up on the screen ahead of time, and compose or improvise the music accordingly.

    For \"problem\" scenes: ones where perhaps I felt we shouldn\'t have music, but the producer really wants it, I have to watch the scene several more times, as it goes against my intuition so I don\'t \"hear\" anything right away. That\'s the worst scenario for me: writing music for scenes that shouldn\'t in my opinion have it.

    <font color=\"blue\">When you score an episode, do you write in a linear way (from beginning to end of the episode) or do you bounce around (i.e.- do big action sequences 1st, then dramatic, or transitional sequences.) Your using MOTU DP 3.0 right? do you open a new DP project for each cue, or just one project with tempo changes for the entire episode...Thanks for lending your time on this forum...and I\'m looking forward to new Angel episodes in the next couple of weeks...keep up the EXCELENT work Robert!!!! submitted by Christopher Drake </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I most always score it from beginning to end. I just like to work this way although in my mind I know what\'s coming so mentally I might hear something and add hints of it at the beginning of a story to introduce it. If an episode calls for a definite theme I occasionally write that theme first to get it out of the way and base certain scenes on it. I would work that way on movies. However often I\'ll wait until I get to that scene with episodic

    TV and begin creating it then. It\'s all a matter of timing, this creative process. If I decide to write the theme ahead of time, and it\'s just not coming to me, I\'ll just start on the other scenes. Sometimes the time just isn\'t right to work on specific themes. I\'ve learned to listen to what\'s going on inside: to realize that my plans might not be the best for the time, and go with what I\'m being told to do inside.

    Occasionally I have \"bounced around\" when I was tired. I\'d get to a scene and think: \"Um, I\'m just not up for this, how about this one\". There was one episode I did completely out of order scene-wise. There was no real logic to it, I just did what I felt like at the time!! (And no, that\'s not my whole philosophy on life by the way!)

    DP 3.0 yes, and good questions! I work this way with DP files: I create one folder for the episode. Inside this I create an Audio folder right away, and within this audio folder I create folders like \"woodwinds\" (as they are usually recorded live) \"effects\" etc, so they are ready when I will need them. I then copy a file from the last cue of the previous episode, because this contains the latest update of my template, which is about 300 tracks. (Not something you\'d want to recreate each time!).

    I change the name of this copy to the first cue for the new Ep. I compose it and once done I back it up to another hard drive (actually if its a big cue this has been done dozens of times already). I then duplicate this file so it appears as a copy beneath the first one, change its name to the next cue and go through this procedure for every cue. I do not keep more than one cue within the same \"file\". This gets too big, too cumbersome. By keeping each cue to its own DP file, when I open it everything is self contained within that file: audio, system exclusive data for sending to synths etc (which I keep in a different \"chunk\" etc.

    When the Ep is finished, I end up with one folder for each Ep, within these a list of all cues as files along with the correct audio files. I can then simply drag one of these folders to a CD burner and burn everything to do with that episode onto a back up CD. I have found this to be the best way to work, keeping it super organized and easy for back ups.

    <font color=\"blue\">How do you decide what key fits the scene best, and fits the instruments you are writing for? submitted by Thomas_J </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Paying attention to what I hear in my head really helps, well, that is when I DO hear an idea off the bat! It\'s part of the mood completely, when a string note comes in high, low, or mid range. Other factors are samples and instruments that speak better in certain ranges. Knowing my libraries and where they sound best becomes automatic usually, but sometimes I experiment.

    <font color=\"blue\">How long does it take on the average to compose and then get the final product out for a weeks show? What do you do if you have writer\'s block? submitted by Haydn </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I usually have about 5 days to write and record all the music. Once the music is finished, I dub it onto a video of the episode and send it to the producer to check out. This avoids any surprises at the final mix, and gives them an opportunity to get involved with the music more. They comment on any tweaks they want, usually \"make this bigger, make this smaller, make this darker\" type of stuff. It\'s their chance to direct the music in a powerful way because now they are hearing it. If something is way off the mark I\'d rather find out 3 days before the mix instead of when its too late.

    Writer\'s block? I just pick out a piece of music from last season and play it backwards. It works every time!

    Seriously though, that\'s not a bad approach in the sense that you need to do something different to get fresh inspiration. Its a matter of working with what you have. Pulling up a sample I\'ve not used much and playing it differently, or just watching the scene a few times without music, not even thinking of music, just enjoying the scene, THEN taking a short break. The back of your mind can work on these things even when you consciously might be totally stuck. Give the brain a little time, focus on something else, and way back there the wheels are turning, churning out a solution.

    I\'ve found that the more I work the less writer\'s block happens. Thankfully for now, it\'s at the point where I don\'t get full writer\'s block. SOMETHING comes out that usually works. It might not be the best idea but I shape into something that will really work.

    <font color=\"blue\"> How much music are you required to write per day? Do you often write more music than necessary in order to give the music editor a better selection to work with? How long are your work days? submitted by Thomas_J </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    We have a running joke at most of our meetings. I come in and say \"look I know this is how we usually do it but this week I insist on not writing music through the commercial breaks\". Meaning there is usually lots of music!

    I always tally up the total amount of music we\'ve decided on at the spotting session as soon as I can, then divide this by the number of days it needs to be finished in. I set a deadline that is 2 days before the final mix for the show (when ALL sounds, FX, dialog are mixed).

    Per day it is usually about 5 minutes. The worst was ten minutes per day and the most I\'ve done for a TV show is 11 minutes per day for three days. The most I ever wrote in a day was 30 minutes, but it was for a relaxation video so it doesn\'t really count! Funnily enough, the most grueling Angel episode (the ten min/day one) turned out to be my best score.

    I don\'t write more music than necessary for the editor. It doesn\'t work that way. The \"in and out\" points of the music is carefully decided ahead of time by me and the producer, director and writers. In the first season and a half I felt I was often writing more than necessary for THEM though! Silence or no music in a scene can be as powerful as music if used in the right way. I think for the last year and a half on Angel we\'ve got the balance worked out very well now.

    <font color=\"blue\">How the heck do you keep yourself from getting bogged down with the inevitable technical obstacles when you’re on such a tight schedule? submitted by Scott Speed

    [Robert Kral]

    If the computer is running, then the vast majority of technical obstacles are cleared. But this is a very good question in terms of preparation. I need to be prepared that my machines will DIE, because it happens sometimes and if I didn\'t leave space in the schedule for this I\'d be toast. I have the studio worked out so that there is minimal set up time. The machines (Gigastudios and samplers) are left running and fully loaded. The templates are worked out so I know right away where to find everything and this saves huge amounts of time. When I only had my 3 Roland samplers everything used to take forever because of all the loading and unloading, looking for sounds, auditioning sounds etc. With the Gigastudios having them set up and fully loaded saves hours upon hours every week.

    Thanks to many a tight, grueling schedule, I know what I am capable of. When there might be a PC guy here ironing out a dead computer and it takes 5 hours and I\'m should be working, but instead I\'m trouble shooting, I know I can pull a series of all-nighters or what ever it takes because I\'ve been through enough \"work-outs\". It\'s like working out at a gym for a sport: you feel your legs burn but you know you can go further. Somehow, anyway!

    <font color=\"blue\">It\'s rare to get a glimpse inside the insular world of TV/film composers. My question has to do with workflow and deadlines. What elements (sounds, gear, mixing automation, temp score,...anything that comes to mind) absolutely have to be in place at all times in order for you to crank out the amount of music you have to create, week in and week out? I read about the grueling 3-day turnarounds and I\'m guessing that there must be some time-saving \"insider\" studio/workflow tips that could help us all work faster and more effectively! submitted by Phattlippz </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Number one product features I am interested in: ANYTHING that saves TIME. Keyboard shortcuts, faster CD burners or whatever: these are the most precious things in order to save TIME, as this is one of the most precious things in life.

    See above for how I workout my schedule. I know I must stick to this and it can be broken down further. If I\'ve hot six minutes to write each day, I know by lunch time I\'d like t be 2-3 minutes done. 5 by dinner and perhaps the last minute after dinner. If I stick to each of these smaller deadlines each and every day I know I\'m on schedule.

    I have a template that is spread across 3 Gigastudios, 3 S760s and 2 Emulators. Everything is ready to go but there is room for extra sounds as needed. Each episode requires new sounds, to keep it interesting. Everything is grouped logically in DP: the tracks are moved to be listed in a way I know where to find things. From top to bottom its orchestral FX, standard strings, then brass, then piano and harp and celeste, then weird FX, then percussion. I keep all the percussion at the bottom because often I like to isolate them and I can get to them quickly by simply hitting the \"end\" button on the keyboard. In use the color codes in DP to specify these instrument types. The percussion and weird FX (there are LOTS of these) are listed alphabetically. All these kinds of things add up to saved seconds, minutes and hours.

    The episode is digitized via an Aurora Fuse card. Digitizing video saves enormous amounts of time that would be spent rewinding and forwarding video tape, besides being locked to picture constantly which is by far the best way to do this.

    I use 2 Yamaha 02Rs, but as yet I haven\'t automated mixes with it. All that happens in DP which has very easy to use automation features. I like to be able to hit PLAY on the sequencer and know it will sound right each time, so extra effects are recorded on audio tracks in DP, using plugins and different setting on outboard reverbs etc.

    Everything is bussed to 8 busses on the 02R, through to the DA88 final master. FX, Piano &amp; Harp on 1/2, Orchestra on 3/4, percussion on 5/6 and woodwind and special solos on 7/8. This gives flexibility on the final mix stage. Also if changes are needed or extra music sounds needed at the last minute they can be pulled form these isolated tracks. It also sounds a lot better than a stereo mix, though I don\'t really know why.

    <font color=\"blue\">Have you developed any techniques to keep the muse well oiled? How do you keep your writing fresh and inspired? also submitted by Phattlippz </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Often times getting a new library for sounds can be a great source of inspiration, as it changes the usual palette and opens things up to a wider universe. Sometimes its surprisingly useful to play samples in unorthodox ways: like playing an orchestral hit sample way down low, or reversing samples even orchestral ones, I\'ve even played melodies using a cymbal scrape stretched out. But by far the best way for me is to take a break if there\'s time. It\'s great to get away from it for a bit and come back with a fresh mind and more energy. Nothing like a few days snow skiing to blow out the cobwebs.

    [color]<font color=\"blue\">because you thought you could have done something \"cool\" for it?</font>

    I would like to have scored \"Dragon\'s Lair\" which was a video disc arcade game from the early 80\'s. Not because I might or might not have done something better, just because I thought it was so cool and the music was fully orchestral: not the usually thing you\'d find in an arcade back then.

    I would love to have scored Star Wars, again, not because I\'d do it better, I\'d just be the composer of that wonderful John Williams score and that would be cool.

    I\'d love to score a James Bond film. I think Bond got me interested in music even before Star Wars, so I was about 6 years old. It\'s all just too cool. It\'s orchestra plus it\'s nice cool grooves and edgy stuff in the action. It\'s so stylish and it can also be moody an atmospheric in the orchestra.

    Most of the time I feel that the top composers do an amazing job and score their films wonderfully, so I don\'t usually feel coming out of a movie that I would have changed much. Often I\'m bewildered by the incredible job that they do.

    <font color=\"blue\">Will Angel and Buffy share screen time again? submitted by KingIdiot </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    A lot of fans would like this, and I don\'t really know the inside word. But I highly doubt it. Angel is so much its own show now. Even when Buffy visited Angel the last time, when he was helping Faith, it really was a clash of two very different worlds. \"Go home\" I think was the last thing he said!

    <font color=\"blue\">Could you give us a rundown on your studio setup? Synths, samplers, monitors, FX. Thanks submitted by scf3 </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    3 Gigastudios (share one screen, keyboard and mouse)

    3 Roland S760s

    2 Emulator 4s

    1 JV1080 (mostly for Click!)

    Mac G4 450 dual, extra 80 gig internal HD

    External 80 gig FW drive

    2 CD burners

    2 Yamaha 02Rs

    Aardsync 2

    Kawai MP9000 controller keyboard

    Tascam DA88

    Panasonic and Tascam Dat machines (now hardly ever used)

    Lexicon PCM 90 reverb

    Lexicon MPX100

    3 Miditimepiece AVs.

    (Also see workflow above).

    I came to America to start this career with an Ensoniq EPS, Korg M3R and a TASCAM 4 track cassette recorder.

    <font color=\"blue\">What\'s your absolute favorite piece of gear (hardware or software) and why? submitted by Scott Speed </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I have to split this answer:

    Hardware it\'s the Kawai MP9000 keyboard. I feel if there was one piece of gear I could keep forever its this one. It just plays so beautifully and never tires my wrists, even on those 120 hour weeks I did during season 2 Angel. When I unpacked it standing on end and could see the keys hovering midway between up and down because of the way it was balanced sideways, I knew this was a keyboard unlike any other. I just love the feel of it and wouldn\'t trade it for anything. In the end, I\'m playing music: the keyboard just HAS to be right.

    Software: The Gigastudio of course. Nothing short of absolutely revolutionary to our industry and the MIDI musician. I\'d have to spend tens of thousands of dollars more to do what it does otherwise. It has completely blown open the door to full orchestration to every midi musician of every budget. I\'m glad the days of spending $4000 on a sampler that fits only 4x30meg sounds into it are over!

    <font color=\"blue\">When syncing your studio together, do you use a separate box like the Aardsync or Digital Time Piece? Or are you in a studio where house sync is available? What audio card(s) have you found to be the best for your situation? submitted by peter269 </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I use the Aardsync II. The week I started using it, with my new 02Rs I had two separate calls: one from the producer and the other from a co-producer, asking what did I do to make everything sound so good? I had previously used an analog board. Since then I\'ve heard the Aardsync can improve the sound, so it might not JUST have been the fact I\'d changed to digital, but used a solid house sync. The audio card I use is TDIF for the Gigastudios. I used to use Aark TDIF but its not available anymore, so for new machines I use the TASCAM PCI 822. TDIF manages sync so I don\'t need to worry about GStudio sound being out of sync.

    <font color=\"blue\">What sequencing program and version are you now using? Also submitted by peter269 </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Digital Performer 3.0 I briefly looked at Logic a few years ago. I couldn\'t wrap my head around it, though I can see its a powerful program. I just love the ease of use of DP and I can understand it all right away, or by reading the manual. My experience with Logic was I couldn\'t \"get\" several features even when reading the manual. However it had many features DP didn\'t.

    Lately though, DP now has all the feature of Logic that I wanted so I am more than happy sticking with it. The tempo change features of DP that I use ALL the time were simply not possible in Logic, which was verified on Logic user forums.

    <font color=\"blue\">Expanding on what someone asked earlier regarding your work flow, I was hoping you could walk us through your actual scoring routine with your sequencer of choice in as much detail as your comfortable with. For example: Do you work with video clips within your sequencer? submitted by Scott Speed [/b] </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I digitize the entire episode to the internal hard drive. This way if they need to add music anywhere at all, its all there ready to go. I call up this video in DP and it becomes the new template for the episode: so each file (in my case this means each cue also) contains this episode\'s video. As Danny Lux once told me, \"if I had to go back to using video tape, I\'d just quit\".

    <font color=\"blue\">Do you have templates setup between your sequencing program, GigaStudio and other equipment so you can load and go? submitted by peter269

    <font color=\"blue\">How do you go about establishing your tempos in the sequencer to complement the visuals so smoothly? i.e., do you create your own click track and work from that, do you record a reference track with no established tempo and line everything else up with it afterwards, do you \"reclock\" or \"tap tempo,\" or is it something else entirely? This one has me stumped, and I will gladly name my first born Robert if you would answer this one...I just hope it\'s a boy or I\'m going to have one angry daughter... submitted by Scott Speed </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Yikes! I understand how you\'re stumped on this: it\'s what frightened me before I ever got into even my first student films. It really depends on the scene. Sometimes it\'s just free time if I really can\'t stand the click running and I need the music to breathe. I do lay out markers as mentioned above for the key moments in the scene, so even in free time I can see those markers coming. I love writing around the dialog (digitized video essential here!) and having the tempo breathe as much as it needs to. So usually the quieter scenes will be done this way. If it needs real woodwinds I slightly adjust things to the nearest click and my poor woodwind player sometimes has to play to this even though the measures are changing constantly. Actually he does this in a snap luckily for me!

    But more often than that, it is to click in Performer. I don\'t map out the tempo for the cue. I couldn\'t stand doing it that way because how do you know that the fight that starts 2 minutes into the music will be 120 bpm or 40 bpm for the right feel and the sad music after that will be 60bpm or 45bpm or 75 bpm? Sure you could program it so the down beats will match hit points etc, but in terms of feel, I need to see how it feels when I get to it. So I start out at one tempo and stay with it until it needs to change. I can see the marker coming and I might speed up if it\'s going into action, but once there I\'ll experiment with tempo for the right feel. So I am changing tempos as I go, and Performer is supreme for this in terms of flexibility and speed of operation.

    Sometimes when I really need to keep to the click because of real players, I might continue performing to click, spilling over to the next scene where tempo needs to change, then adjust the tempo once I\'ve played that first \"key\" instrument (see above) to compose. I can then decide if it should speed up suddenly or slowly, and start changing tempo earlier or later, or maybe gradually so it\'s not even noticeable.

    Another great feature in sequencers if I play free time is \"Scale Time\" where you can highlight an area and scale it (e.g. 120% or 70 %) to fit things into where they need to be. In the end, with the schedules, I often will do whatever is fastest and feels most natural. If the click is getting in the way I shut it off and completely ignore bar lines etc, to get the job done without the constraint of listening and obeying the click. Of course if this show was all real orchestra, I\'d need to seriously rethink that idea!

    <font color=\"blue\">Do you start with one instrument (e.g., piano) as you work on the cue for the scene and orchestrate from there? submitted by jubal </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I orchestrate on the fly. If I hear strings in my head, I start with string patches. If I hear percussion, I\'ll start with that. So I don\'t write then orchestrate. I choose the patches / instruments just as I might choose notes. Of course, I do have to go back and over and over to layer it all up, but I start with whatever main instrument I hear in my head first.

    <font color=\"blue\">Hello Robert. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Your work is amazing. I\'d be very interested to hear about your MIDI methods, specifically when it comes to performance of and phrasing. submitted by ProfessorOak </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Firstly it is best to keep listening to the real thing. I listen to film soundtracks to \"check in\" on the real orchestra sound. With MIDI it is very easy to get used to your sounds, and before long you not only settle on them but you think they sound real when perhaps they don\'t, especially with older libraries.

    Next, a fader box for controlling volume information is absolutely essential. I reach for the fader box EVERY time I play something. I use it as a violinist would apply pressure in varying degrees to the bow, for phrasing and expression. The box I use is the Peavey PC1600.

    The next most important thing is to know all your libraries. Just as a synth programmer would \"synthesize\" acoustic instruments by studying how the sound is made up, you need to KNOW every patch in your libraries so you can draw upon them when needed for different parts to the one sound.

    Layering is the key. Don\'t limit yourself to one patch, it won\'t work. I usually pick the best, most broadly useful patch to play the music first when I\'m writing. Then it\'s layered with accents, swells, other sustains etc to make it more expressive. A loud French horn staccato might help accent the beginning of an accented horn line. Swell samples help it breathe right. I often layer soft and loud brass samples and play them independently, even if cross fade patches are available and already being used.

    The GOS library is fantastic for this because there are so many choices. Even just within short bows, its great to have the ability to choose between different types (Marcato, Spiccato, Portato etc). Plus, often you can\'t tell witch patch will work best and until you go through and try them. As such, I\'ve often used the SHORTEST, lightest Spiccato violin patches for loud action cues, as when played loud they give a hard, noticeable edge to the rhythm. The end result is realism.

    String parts might be played deliberately out of time, making it sound more orchestral. Quantizing is very rarely used. A soft string patch might carry the music, but I\'ll fade in a different, more expressive one and fade it in and out.

    I use the GOS Sordino patches for this: fading them up from other patches for more expression / vibrato. All of the GOS library is extremely useful for realistic phrasing, especially because of the EXP instruments where the layering has been done right. (I wish I wish I had a brass library like this!!). The EXP cellos are wonderful for this, and I\'ve found myself using them for phrases and musical ideas I normally wouldn\'t have even thought of. Its important to really use the mod wheel in dramatic ways on these patches: not just subtly, but the full throw to get the right expression. Likewise with other sections of the orchestra, EG brass: a swell might contain 8 different patches of layering, some of them only introduced for the last split second of the swell but going from zero to 127 for the right dramatic, realistic effect.

    <font color=\"blue\">Do you like working with temp scores? Do they end up saving you time (because you can easily identify the musical \"vibe\" that the producers want)? submitted by Phattlipz </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I do like having the temp score. Sure it can get in the way, but the final work tape doesn\'t have music on it so you can always ignore the temp. It really saves time in terms of knowing what the producer wants, except if you work on something where they don\'t like the temp but forgot to tell you! For Angel, the guys who do the temp have to go back and redo it as many as three times until its working for the producer, so I know a lot of effort has already gone into at least getting the right feel or pace.

    When we have extra time I have a private spotting with the producer and for this we play the temp (we don\'t in the normal spotting session). Right away the producer can tell me how he feels about the temp and its very helpful. Otherwise its a really blank page. There might be a hundred right ways of scoring the scene, and the producer might like only one of them. It\'s good to get as many clues as possible!

    <font color=\"blue\">Do you have a standard set of samples loaded for easy workflow and sketching down ideas? submitted by Thomas_J [/b] </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    (See above).

    There\'s a template of about 280 tracks of midi that rarely changes for this show. With that I am off to a flying start because I can start playing something right away instead of looking for sounds. This is mostly thanks to Gigastudio of course. Within each group of samples mentioned above, there are key patches I can start composing with and then orchestrate further from there. Its best to whip out a quick orchestration with your key samples to hear how its working. If it is working, then you know that all you need to do now is orchestrate, and go crazy with your midi. Its important to know if your idea is working correctly.

    Even on the next level, within the particular orchestral section there are choices say just for short bows, laid out on the ready to go template. I have all the GOS short bows violins loaded (the key switch patch), and use different ones for accents or cross rhythms, I use different ones again for down beats or accents, or the grand detaches for making a sustain more expressive via layering. I also love the Prosonus Marcatos and the Rolands get used a lot.

    I have a favorite timpani for example (An old one from the Roland library). I use this always for timps, then accent it with other libraries. Rolls are filled out with other patches. Certain downbeats I start with the Roland Bass Drum menu. Then add different bass type drums from other libraries.

    <font color=\"blue\">Performance Editing - [what is] your approach to MIDI - e.g. delay or anticipating beats in the strings, pitch bending from one note to the next, dropping the volume right after an attack...that kind of thing? submitted by composer22 </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Anticipation of beats etc is absolutely essential. You practice this so much that it becomes part of your instrument playing. I don\'t even think about it because I know when I call up, say, Ethereal Pad from Distorted Reality, not only must I anticipate how long it takes for the note to swell in, but when it opens up further into the sample to a light airy vocal sound half way through, and when it closes the filter back down again.

    Pitch bend trick is a good one, but I very rarely do it because it takes so much time. Thank goodness for Maestro Tools: this has come in very handy for legato playing. We just need it now on woodwinds and brass… huh Gary?

    <font color=\"blue\">What do you think is the biggest flaw in today’s sample libraries? submitted by Thomas_J </font>
    [Robert Kral]


    How much longer can we go on buying libraries that have no expression? What\'s the use of a perfectly recorded scale of notes, if it sounds like a machine? My Juno 60 had more expression than some of the libraries that have come out for powerful samplers. Often this is a programming problem, and GOS really makes the most of every opportunity for this. What I\'d like to see is more libraries that fill this huge gap: the one of expressive samples that swell in and out for big brass for example, ones that sound REAL, and like the players were, well, PLAYING. Can you tell I feel strongly about this? It starts at the recording. The performance. I\'d just like to see more risks taken instead of capturing just the perfect sustain. Or maybe it starts before the recording, when a library developer tries to once again rehash everything that\'s been done before already instead of looking at what\'s missing and filling that gap.

    Perhaps those of us who have most of the libraries feel this way, but those of us who don\'t need those bread and butter basics to start off. Perhaps these \"gap filling\" libraries of the future might be offered at a higher price. Then again, because they probably wouldn\'t contain all the re-hash stuff, they would contain fewer samples and take less work to produce.

    What I\'m getting at is I\'d like to see complementary libraries: ones that aren\'t starting again from scratch (except Gary\'s orchestra!) but are meant to be USED with what we already have: filling the gaps, layering for realism etc. Of course, however, there\'s the problem of computability with sound and different recordings. So maybe this is just a pipe dream rant.

    <font color=\"blue\">What percussion CDs do you suggest especially for realistic bass drum, hand drums, etc. Which woodwind and brass libraries do you find blend the best with GOS? &lt;/font&gt;submitted by peter269 </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I love the old percussion libraries from Roland S700 series. They are nicely laid out and have a great sound. Most of my bass drums are from the Roland percussion CD. I haven\'t yet purchased LOP, but I highly recommend Ultimate Percussion for quality and excellent programming. For Gigastudio it’s the best library but I do use the Roland sounds just as much. I\'ve also yet to check out the latest Dan Dean woodwinds, so for the moment I use Advanced Orchestra for staccato, swells and trills etc, and Miroslav for solos but these are replaced by the real thing on this show anyway. For brass you\'d be surprised how powerful Advanced Orchestra is and it offers lots of great useful choices and good programming for Gigastudio. Roland Brass should not be ignored either for their warmth especially the French Horns. I also use Quantum Leap Brass for staccatos and swells and sometimes sustains.

    <font color=\"blue\">Have you made any of your own custom sound libraries? Are there any cues that use live players? What about the main/end titles? Once again, do you use any live players for these musical sections of the show? Thanks for your time. submitted by esperlad </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I do not have my own custom libraries, though I might process samples for weird stuff, running through plugins and huge reverbs etc. I do have a massive set of piano scrapes that I recorded in Australia, very useful for Angel! Lots of very weird and frightening stuff. I still haven\'t programmed it though so I just record it from the master DAT to audio in DP. All the solo woodwinds are live in Angel. Chris Bleth is a master session musician here in LA and does a beautiful job of breathing life into those cues. Occasionally I\'ve hired viola, trumpet, and voice. Main /end titles are by a band called \"Darling Violetta\". And I DO wish I had written it, I love it.

    If I had the time and extra money, I\'d love to make my own custom libraries however. I know exactly what\'s missing and what gaps I need to fill in.

    <font color=\"blue\">For mixing, do you prefer to do your mixing inside the computer with a virtual board, or with a hardware mixing board, and why? Thanks, Rob! submitted by peter269 </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Most of the mixing is happening in DP. If a sound needs different outboard FX, I\'ll record it right away into DP and add the FX it needs. The instrument exists as a midi track but I\'ll make it into audio and treat it, assign it to the proper output track, then erase its midi version. This way its all ready to go every time. For Angel, there\'s also lots of levels to keep on top of because there\'s often very quiet scenes juxtaposed with really loud action stuff. I\'d rather not have to suddenly pull down the hardware faders on the mixer when I forget that some major bad guy suddenly storms in. I do find I might have to ride the levels slightly in the end on the 02Rs, but having it all happen as I compose and orchestrate in the sequencer keeps everything under control.

    <font color=\"blue\">For mixing, do you prefer to use hardware or virtual effects, and what are those boxes/ plug-ins that you prefer? submitted by peter269</font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I like to send the mix out to hardware effects to save on processor power, and I also haven\'t had MUCH experience with software reverbs. However I do use plugins for special FX which are printed to a new audio track so they play right every time without relying on the plugin to be there next time I open the file. Plus this way I can import the audio to a new file later if I want to use it again. Lexicon is my favorite. I use the PCM90, but wish I had a 300L.

    <font color=\"blue\">Mixdown Editing - how you stage/chain your reverbs/FX and what on instruments; EQ tweaks? also submitted by composer22 </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I use 8 busses, 4 stereo splits in other words. Piano and FX on one, Orchestra on the next, percussion the next and solo instruments on the last split. Each gets it\'s own reverb unit. Piano gets 02R verb, Orchestra gets Lexicon PCM90 (usually Gothic Hall), Percussion gets Lexicon MPX100 (yes I need to upgrade!!) and solo instruments get the Lexi PCM90 also but are laid down separately because I just have the one PCM90. Solo instruments are BEAUTIFUL through Gothic Hall on the Lexicon PCM90.

    I rarely ever use EQ tweaks. In Angel I haven\'t tweaked with EQ at all!

    Percussion sometimes requires heavier reverb FX for a spooky, deathly sound. I\'ll work on those specific FX moments on their own, and print it to new audio tracks in DP.

    <font color=\"blue\">I\'d love some insight on the methods you use for processing (reverbs, EQs) your work for TV. Again, thanks so much.&lt;/font&gt; submitted by ProfessorOak </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    (see question above). Its kept very simple, especially as I haven\'t felt the need for EQ tweaks on the music. I have recently obtained the new BBE plug in from virsonix which is absolutely wonderful for clearing up anything muddy. I use this for isolated instruments that might need it, and print them to a new audio track. I have also experimented with full mixes with small amounts of the BBE and more often than not it\'s great. It\'s has instantly become the most useful plug in that I own.

    <font color=\"blue\">Hi! Love your work! I was curious if you have kind of a set \"template\" for EQ\'ing down to your final master...This isn\'t just limited to strings, I would also like to know what sort of guideline you follow with Choir, Brass, Percussion, etc, etc...Do specific instruments always get the same treatment? Thanks for the feedback! submitted by zquarles </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Well, brass can always use extra sizzle in my opinion. There\'s yet to be a brass library that TRULY rocks. A small amount of BBE helps me with the sizzle, and (as above) I haven\'t tweaked EQ on anything! When I wrote the music for Sliders, I had an old Mackie analog 32x8 board. I fed all brass to their own set of channel strips and EQ\'d them much brighter than normal. This really helped in a big way. But on the 02R they sound really good: everything sounds much better and clearer, so I haven\'t felt the need to mess with EQ very much at all.

    <font color=\"blue\">Are you responsible for the surround mix of your music, or is this something that is done by the final dub engineer? Do you have time to engineer your final music mix yourself, or do you have a music engineer that works on the mix, while your off working on the next episode? Do you work with digitized QuickTime video, or sync to tape? If you do work with Qt files...do you have to capture the video yourself, or does the studio provide you with the digitized video file on disk? What type of media do you deliver your final mixes in...pro tools file, Tascam Da-88? How many tracks or stems do you deliver to the dub? submitted by Christopher Drake </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I create the 8 tracks on DA88 (see above) so that if the final mixer brings those 8 channels to zero, he\'ll have what I think is a perfect mix. So yes, I do the final mix in that sense, getting everything just right and dumping it to 8 tracks on DA88, but this does go to another mix facility that mixes it with dialog and sound FX, and they have the 8 tracks of flexibility. What they can\'t mess with is the orchestra mix, the percussion mix etc.

    Having someone with an identical studio to do all the mixing and final recording would save a large amount of time. But I don\'t have this facility!

    Video is digitized to Aurora Fuse card. Wouldn\'t work without this capability! (see elsewhere). Syncing to tape works but it\'s just so slow. The fuse card is worth every penny and it doesn\'t cost that much anyway. Not anymore at least. The studio provides me with VHS: time code on one channel and dialog on the other. I digitize the picture and the dialog channel. I usually deliver on DA88 (and Fox\'s antiquated contracts require a DAT before I can get paid!). Sometimes I deliver everything on CD: the sound files with timestamps.

    <font color=\"blue\">Another question (I just can\'t help myself!) What significant events in your life/training as a musician/composer have been the most helpful towards the goal of creating those wonderful, high-quality scores week in and week out? In other words, can you identify elements of your art and craft that you rely on instinctively today that you can trace back to certain activities (i.e., Danny Elfman\'s daily intake of films and film scores from a very early age) in your early development as a commercial composer? submitted by Phattlippz </font> [/b]

    [Robert Kral]

    I did start my piano training at age 5. It helps in a big way to have a long history with an instrument. It\'s just a part of you after a while. I always loved music for film and TV movies (well most of them). Even when very young with an early bedtime, I\'d lie awake and listen to the music I could hear on the TV in the living room when my parents would sty up later and watch. When it was really good music, I\'d come out and ask them to tape the music with a tape recorder (no videos back then) so I could listen to it the next day, and the next day etc!

    The ones I really liked were the haunting, beautiful ones, the ones with lots of atmosphere. I used to call it \"ghost music\". At one point I was being taught piano at a convent. I remember asking the nun: \"this music gets kind of boring, can you teach me to play \"ghost-music?!!\"

    The most important event for me was first hearing new music in my head (see the end of this interview), from then on I didn\'t have to put up with what I felt was a dull repertoire of music that was required by the syllabus of learning piano: instead I could just write what I WANTED to play.

    <font color=\"blue\">Hi Robert! I really enjoy your music! Great work! Thank you for taking your time to answer these questions (you don\'t have to answer everything if you don\'t have time!) I would like to know what formal music training you have and how much you benefit from the music theory you know when scoring for TV. Recently I\'ve been studying modulation/transitional stuff to learn guidelines on how to seamlessly and efficiently get from one key to another (and one mood to another). submitted by Thomas_J </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    As much as I kind of \"ragged\" on the training above, as much training as possible is a great way to go. A small minded education system that I went through insisted I not continue learning piano if I was interested in composing. They said I couldn\'t do it all (receive training on piano and have time for composing). Truth is I believe they were discouraging me from composing, to try to get me to practice the piano more! So I answered the ultimatum by choosing piano. As such my adventure in composing began, but my piano instruction stopped right away. I could really benefit from better piano technique and further training in harmony, transitions, and other genres (EG Jazz). I continued formal music training to receive a bachelor of music in composition. I also continued learning percussion to almost bachelor degree level, but again had to choose between that and composition. The percussion training (and violin training earlier) was extremely useful.

    <font color=\"blue\">1. When did you know you wanted to compose for film and TV? 2. Did you study film composing at the University back home in Australia or here in the states? 3. How does your training as a film composer compare to your training as a concert composer (assuming that\'s what the Music Department back home was grooming you to be)? In other words, what are the differences and similarities between the two educational experiences? 4. What would you like to write that you suspect or know would not fly with your producers and directors? 5. Do you write music for any other medium or venue (e.g., computer games, stage plays, ballet, concert halls, chamber rooms, opera houses)? submitted by PatS </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Once I could hear music in my head (see below) I knew I wanted to create atmospheres and feelings for others to experience, and that film and TV was what I wanted to do. I am constantly inspired by the power of film. There\'s nothing like a great movie, because, like a dream, it is an actual experience even if it is just a story. Film brings audiences to a special place like no other medium can. So I knew this at about age 13. I then studied to bachelor degree level in Australia. Formal training as a film composer only began in the states, a long time later, a USC film scoring program and it was COMPLETELY different from non-film training at university back home. Back home it was a constant fight to do anything \"film like\", as I\'ve posted on another thread at Northern Sounds. USC was a big relief, to finally be encouraged to do this and receive training in this field. However the standard bachelor degree was very useful: orchestration and other techniques as well as music history lessons etc. But the USC course was right up my alley: pieces performed (a virtual impossibility back home) conducting for film training (a whole extra dimension to standard conducting) etc.

    I\'d like to get edgier with Angel. For episode 11 season one I used a lot of urban grooves. It worked on that episode but very rarely did they want it again. I have managed to get the fight scenes more industrial over the years and this is lots of fun and I think it really suits the show. Often the urban groove thing doesn\'t fly with the producer, but occasionally its worth a shot. I\'ve also pushed for more \"silence\" to be used rather than reams of music like season one. This has gradually been used more this season. If you\'d like to know what I mean, rent a suspense thriller called \"Deep Red\". I don’t like most of the music in it, but I love, absolutely LOVE where the music comes in and out. There\'s large amounts of SILENCE in extreme suspense moments and its terrifying! (Not one for the kiddies).

    Other mediums: before coming to the States I wrote concert hall music. When I was 15, I wrote my first symphonic piece and I\'m still waiting to hear it one day. That was a self imposed assignment. I thought if I was really ever going to write for movies I\'d better start getting to know the orchestra and how to orchestrate.

    <font color=\"blue\">Do you have perfect pitch? submitted by Thomas_J </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    Absolutely not!

    <font color=\"blue\">Have you ever experienced a nightmare project, where the producer and you were completely on different pages, and writing became utter drudgery because you were trying to second-guess this producer? (Not that I\'ve ever been in that situation...!) ;-) submitted by Phattlipz </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    I worked on a project with Chris Beck when there were, I believe, 5 producers. They each had different ideas, and when the \"notes\" came back after the heard a preview of the music, there was this list of all the changes they wanted and all the changes were DIFFERENT from each other! Talk about second guessing!

    Another show I was working on seemed to change its overall concept for the music half way through the season. But I could only really figure that out after the fact, it wasn\'t something they announced at the time.

    <font color=\"blue\">Rob, Do you have any advice for anyone wishing to become a composer for television? How did you get your first big break? Thanks in advance. submitted by Tokyo Joe </font>

    [Robert Kral]

    My advice is for you to realize that everyone has a different story of how they got into the business. You can\'t compare yourself to other success stories, although hearing those stories is very useful. Often the best opportunities come out of left field, in unexpected ways. I do advise that you should be open to Ghost writing and the like: as this is how many of us break in. Its not for everyone, but those who advised me against it never got work composing. It would be nice to not ghost write, but sometimes that is the way in and it beats not writing at all.

    My first credited big break is the series Angel, and I got this through working with Chris Beck as we shared credit for the first season. I had worked for Chris many times before, initially ghosting. I first met him when we both ghosted for another TV writer, who was one of the teachers in the USC course for film scoring we both had taken (in different years). I found about USC when I was in Australia by meeting a big name Aussie composer at the Film Corporation. I got into meeting people at the Film Corp because my neighbor was the meat butcher for the senior mixer. I got into actually working for the film Corp because I worked for a TV station, and the TV station job came about when I did music scores for free for the local film makers festivals and they found out about me. My first theatrical feature came about because of that festival also. All this began with the desire to create atmospheres and places in the mind and heart for others, as I marveled at wonderful places God had taken me and prayed I might one day have the ability to share created moods with others. That\'s when I began hearing music in my head.

    So you can see I\'ve written the story backwards, to illustrate it happens one step at a time, over a long period of time. You take it as it comes and make the most of it, and enjoy and celebrate each opportunity for the gift that it is.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Orcas Island

    Re: An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

    Thomas_J posed this question in the Sample Discussion thread. Perhaps additional questions could be posed and answered here (presuming Rob doesn\'t mind)

    <BLOCKQUOTE><font size=\"1\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Thomas_J:
    Sorry about this mac! but I got really interested in hearing more of your music when I was reading your review and I happen to have a friend who tapes all the episodes, so I was going to ask you which episode (in season 3 preferably) you hold dearest (as far as the score is concerned!) So I can get that tape and listen to the music!

    Right now I\'m watching \"Dad\" Season 3 - Episode 10. 4 mins into it. Very good so far!

    Thanks in advance,

    [This message has been edited by Garritan (edited 04-23-2002).]

  3. #3

    Re: An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

    For season 3 my favorites include episode 6 \"Billy\", Episode 9 \"Lullaby\" and Episode 13 \"Waiting in the Wings\".

    Ep 13 is the Ballet episode, extensive use of GOS used.

    But by FAR my absolute favorite episode of Angel, for both music and as an episode in general, is from season TWO: Episode 7 \"Darla\". It\'s totally my favorite score to date. This is the one that had 38 minutes of music and 3 and 1/2 days to write it, and funnily enough, turned out one of very the best. Definately my favorite!

    [This message has been edited by Robert Kral (edited 04-23-2002).]

  4. #4

    Re: An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

    Thank you for your answer, Robert! Today I saw \"Dad\" and tomorrow I will see a couple of more episodes if I find time! I really enjoyed the music, but the episode was somewhat dull and I got pretty tired of that crying baby all the time! Excellent writing though! Was this before or after you got GoS?

    Thank you,

  5. #5

    Re: An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

    Like Thomas J, if you don\'t mind, I have an additional question prompted by your excellent interview answers.
    For some time now, I have been trying to figure out which video machine to use to transfer to AVI and was interested to see you use VHS.
    Is this an SVHS deck? Could you tell me which model you use?

    many thanks


  6. #6

    Re: An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

    This is an example of where you can save some big bucks if you don\'t NEED the high end machines.

    Right now, my \"high end\" video machine is being serviced, so for the last few weeks I\'ve used a bottom of the line Sony SLV-N71. The cheap VHS machines are including less and less features however. This one doesn\'t have audio levels on the front panel, (which I ONLY need for the video preview tape I make) but it does have hours mins seconds counter which believe it or not is a feature very hard to find now on cheap machines. This machine is about $110.

    But my usual machine, when I get it back, is a JVC HR-VP720U. I got this years ago for about $300. Unfortunately this is a discontinued model, which is why I keep repairing it instead of replacing it. It does have audio level readouts on the front, which is great for when I go to do the video preview. Audio level readouts are impossible to find these days unless you get a Super VHS machine (but they start at $500).

    So my other machines are cheapies because I don\'t need SVHS nor do I need audio levels just for copying tapes or a back up machine.

    So far I haven\'t needed to use anything \"higher end\" than this. It gets digitized anyway, and I don\'t digitize at maximum quality to save disk space, so SVHS is overkill. (Except as your main machine because as I said it\'s the only way to get audio readouts on the front panel nowadays).

    If you\'re looking to save money, get a cheap stereo hifi VCR with hrs mins secs readout as bare minimum (the above Sony is possibly the ONLY cheap VCR that does this anymore).

    The next model up, only to get the audio readouts, would be SuperVHS.

    Unless anyone can tell us otherwise !?

  7. #7

    Re: An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

    Hey Robert:

    Thanks for your taking the time. This is \"Really\" a greta interview. Lots of stuff to come back to time and time again to digest here.

    All the best!


  8. #8

    Re: An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

    Wow, thanks for the reply, the reason I thought your machine would be an SVHS was for sync, I assumed you would need B+B going to everything, to keep it all locked tightly together. But your stuff looks + sounds great so now I know better

    Thanks again,


  9. #9

    Re: An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

    (can you tell I\'m on an extended lunch break?!)

    Naaa, I USED to sync the JVC vhs to a miditimepiece. (Actually I think it\'s the other way around). What a total drag, but it works.

    The minute you can afford it, get a digitizer card and digitize the video: no more rewinding etc. No more concerns for sync in regards to the video, picture and dialog.

  10. #10

    Re: An Interview with ROBERT KRAL - April 2002

    Hi, Robert!

    Thank you for providing us with such informative answers. I have a few questions (if you could bare with me?) regarding video.

    1. When you receive a new ep. on VHS, is there a visual SPMTE window on the screen, so you can just digitize it directly, or is it recorded as an audio signal? If the latter is true: How do you deal with syncing and digitizing?

    2. You say that almost any stereo VCR will do for digitizing VHS tapes. Considering the amount of time you spend in front of your TV monitor, how important is the quality of the digitized video (resolution etc...). I just imagine it would be tiresome and uninspiring to watch something that looks lo-quality?

    3. What kind of TV monitor are you using?



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