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This is a mix I've been trying to solidify for a few months now. Imil has a captivating, homey feeling that welcomes you in and seats you next to a warm fire. I wanted to take it out into the frozen woods under an aurora lit sky. Poetics aside, this is the product of an amateur playing with equipment that's probably out of his league (EW Symphonic Orchestra and Sytrus), so I welcome any tips/hints/critiques that could help me make this a more complete song. Thank you, and enjoy!

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Hey Souperion! I love the Golden Sun soundtracks, and I'm glad to see you're shining some light on them here (heh). You mentioned in your post that you felt you might be out of your league with EWSO/Sytrus, so I figured I'd do my best to give you a detailed breakdown of what I think is working well so far and what could be improved. This ended up being kind of a huge writeup lol, but I hope some of it helps!

GENERAL THOUGHTS
The mix is clear, and I don't find myself struggling to differentiate instruments. So you've avoided muddying things up, which is a good start.

I find the piece a bit thin and lacking in richness though. I think this is because frequency-wise I'm hearing mainly mids and highs. You seem to have a low synth pad at times (heard most clearly right in the beginning) but it's pretty subtle. You might try beefing up the low end during the busier sections (e.g. 1:16 to 1:40) with a deep cello/doublebass ensemble or something similar. Go for slow-moving progressions with a low attack/gradual buildup on each note, and see how that sounds.

Overall the playing style is fairly mechanical. Your voice selection is good - lots of bell/mallet-type instruments which create a nice wintry mood - but these instruments always seem to be hitting right on the beats and with the same velocity each time. In an orchestral style like this, more humanization is often preferable. Give some notes a stronger emphasis (i.e. higher velocity), while others can be quiet, understated, and/or slightly off the beat to sound more natural.

COMPOSITION/ARRANGEMENT SPECIFICS
From 0:36 to 0:44, you've got some nice melodies on what sounds like a music box, and I like where things are going here. But starting at 0:44 I'm detecting some dissonance between the pan flute and the music box (esp. during 0:54 to 1:04, after which the dissonance seems to clear up). I can't be sure without seeing the notation, but I think what might be happening here is that you're using different scales for the flute/music box progressions, so they occasionally play notes that are out-of-key with one another.

The flute sounds close to the original song during this section, so I think the best way to address this is to revisit what the music box is doing and explore some progressions that sound more harmonious with the flute. It'll help a lot to know what key the flute's playing in, if you don't already.

Moving on to 1:32 - the strings and other instruments are working well together here, and I'd say this is the strongest part of the piece. It's richer and has some pleasing harmonies. I'm less fond of 1:47 - 1:54 - the sense of completion at 1:49 seems a little abrupt and flat, and what comes after (until 1:54) strikes me as a bit underdeveloped. I might say end on the note at 1:47 instead - draw it out with a faded sustain, which would then flow into what you have at 1:54 to complete the musical thought more succinctly. (You might end up needing to trim out a few seconds of the song to make something like this work, but with a total length of 4:17 I'd say you're safe to shorten it some.)

At 3:14 - the swifter, descending progressions here and the way the strings jump upward in pitch for a bit before releasing at 3:33 works nicely. It's a good change of pace, an effective variation on the original piece, and the breathing room for a moment afterward helps with the song's pacing. I'd like to hear more stuff like this so the arrangement surprises me more and seems less homogenous.

For instance, there's a repeated musical phrase (an ostinato, more or less) that you first introduce at 1:58 on the music box, and the specific rhythm of this ostinato becomes a bit dominant throughout the second half of the song. It goes away at 2:20, but the strings pick up a close variation 8 seconds later. It's absent during 2:44 - 3:00, but returns again from 3:00 - 3:14. Then it's back at 3:40 and persists nearly until the song ends.

So due to this, I came away from the song feeling like the progressions during the second half relied a little too much on the timing of that ostinato, and exploring slight variations on the pitches involved with it. I think your relatively sparse instrumentation is part of what made that stand out to me. It's a fine phrase to use and repeat from time to time, but I'd take a look at some of the sections mentioned above and explore different phrases you could provide for that background rhythm. Or maybe eliminate the ostinato entirely in some of those spots, allowing the piece to flow in a different way for a while.

From 3:33 onward I like how the piece wraps up. The final staccato string notes that start at 4:02 sound clipped to me though - like they haven't been allowed to fully decay. This is especially noticable at 4:06 through to the end. I'm not sure if this is something about how your reverb is set up, or maybe to do with your original instrument samples, but perhaps you can hear what I mean.

So to sum up: arrangement-wise, what I'd like to hear is more build + release, more contrast in the pacing, more moments where I can anticipate what the piece is preparing to say and then be pleased by what's ultimately said. I think the best example you have of this now is 3:14 to 3:33. More humanization (velocity variation/less consistently precise timing) would also provide dynamism, and I feel like some extra low-end richness (cello/doublebass ensembles here and there?) would help as well.

Take my suggestions with a grain of salt though. Sometimes you can identify a problem in a piece and provide a solution, but that solution doesn't work so well in practice. You might find other better answers once you head back in.

Good luck with the next draft!

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A revised version of Deep Winter is ready for critique:

I included a double bass ensemble, widely interspersed through the piece to enhance the lower frequency aspect of the arrangement, as well as treated the deep synth pad with increased velocity/volume and more parts. The synthetic music box was replaced with harp samples, which I think deals with the shrillness and dissonance of the former (about which I had doubts from the beginning, actually.)  And I replaced synthetic wind sfx with real free samples.

In the effort to variate the piece more, I made some some arrangement alterations: The original 1:47-1:54 was replaced with a slightly longer section featuring lower tones and a variation of the 2:04-2:20 segment; the original 2:45-3:00 backing part was replaced with a faster, higher part that persists until 3:14 (this was an attempt to reduce the population of the ostinato that was prevalent in the last two minutes of the song, since I like the motif but want to keep it from dominating the piece as it has); and the extra echoes on the backing violins were removed from 3:32 onward, hopefully treating the decay issue in the end.

Gentle attempts were made to treat homogeneity of intensity and volume, as well trying to add more humanization of note velocities. As an amateur at the task, though, I’m opting to wait for in-depth efforts against mechanical playing until I’m confident in the arrangement. I hope you enjoy this new version!

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Wow!! This is great! Way better than the source. I'd like to hear this in the next Golden Sun game. :)

Do you have EWQLSO Gold? Only thing I can think of at the moment is that I think there should be a low presence from 3:30 to 3:45. The low wind/synth disappears at the beginning and then reappears at the end, but I would prefer that it didn't disappear so that you have a counter on the high parts during that time.

Do you have any more Golden Sun arrangements in the pipeline? I'd like to hear more of your style.

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Very nice improvements, Souperion! I find this version a lot more engaging. I can lose myself in it now, rather than being a little too aware of some of the repetitive/dissonant aspects of the first draft. The double bass and amped-up synth pad are really helping out the low end, harp is working better than the music box I would say, and even the new wind sounds are a nice upgrade. I can't pick out all the instances of it, but the "gentle attempts" to treat homogeneity you mentioned seem to be paying off - it definitely sounds more varied to me now.

One minor nitpick I have is that the first entry of the harp at 0:05 through to 0:12 is in a high enough register that it makes the instrument sound a bit too synthesized to me. You might try dropping that section down an octave. The harp phrases at 0:21 sound better to me, for instance.

I'd say the arrangement is in a solid place now such that you could do a pass on the humanization if you like. I noticed you marked it Ready for Review though, so perhaps you'd prefer to wait and see what an Evaluator has to add first.

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I'm happy that this piece is pleasing and progressing! For those of us who love Golden Sun, here's some good news: Tsori is leading an official OCR tribute album, the news of which inspired me to try making this remix. The album might make it out by the end of this year, so join me in restrained shouts of joy.

Light_of_Aether: thank you very much! This does indeed use EWQLSO Gold. I'll be taking a look at 3:30 to see about a gentle low range inclusion there. So far, this is the only Golden Sun piece I'm working on, but I hope to try Garoh or Kalt after Deep Winter is complete. You flatter me by asking, though.
Eladar: Thanks again for spurring so many of these updates! I'll be looking at the harp intros, smooth that out some more. I hope to get this evaluated again, so in-depth work will be in order.

Thanks for the feedback, I hope to make this arrangement worthy of the love Golden Sun deserves.

Edited by Souperion

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Update Patch #3!

This is my attempt at humanizing the track, including both note velocity and placement. There's some more arrangement work too, including the harp's introduction and some more contrast in volume. And I've started conservative efforts with panning.

Right now, the concerns are thus: am I on the right track for humanizing this thing (is it making a difference, sounding better); is the vibraphone working (is it's delay satisfying, is it's timbre itself cohesive with the piece); what the heck genre would this even be; and what else am I missing?

Thanks for listening!

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Sounds a lot more natural now. I can't think of anything that needs more humanization. Does the vibraphone start at 2:21? It sounds okay, but gets better with higher notes. The genre would be orchestral, in my opinion. I can't think of anything else right now. Sounds awesome! Very fitting for the setting.

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Liking this new draft, Souperion. I like the harp at the lower registers during the early sections better, and another new detail I'm fond of is the extra harp part that's harmonizing with the original one at 1:08 now. It's a small change, but to my ear it sounds much richer than before, to the point where I wish it would go on a little longer. The more touches like this you can include in your tracks the better - interesting harmonies and counterpoint can do a ton of work in elevating your arrangements and stirring emotion in your listeners.

Listening to version 2 and 3 back to back, I have to say the velocity and note placement changes are pretty subtle and aren't making a huge difference for me. I notice them here and there though and what you've done does help. To expand a bit on what I said before about humanization - there's a lot of other elements to it besides velocity/timing of individual notes. As an example, if you're crafting a MIDI-driven distorted guitar performance, pitch bends at the starts of certain phrases for emphasis and satisfying vibrato on the tail end of your sustained lead notes can be really impacting. A thing that's helped me a lot with learning how to humanize MIDI stuff well is to look up a bunch of Youtube videos of people playing the instrument in question live. Listen and watch real closely to the many techniques they use to vary up their performances, and you might be surprised how much you end up noticing that you never did before.

It comes to my mind now that I wish there were places you could add glides or vibrato on your leads for interest but to be honest, this might not be the right piece for it. Your flute lead is pretty synthy and might not lend well to such flourishes. Keep all this in mind for future pieces though; it's good stuff to think about when you're still writing your parts and deciding on instrumentation.

The vibraphone sounds good sample-wise and I wouldn't say it's out of place, but I'm also not sure it's bringing everything to the table that it could be. For instance from 1:17 to 1:48 it sounds to me like it's often mimicking the non-sustained higher string notes pretty closely and I find that I want the strings/vibraphone to be better-differentiated in their roles. I can't say I'm noticing much delay on the vibraphone either, I think that may be getting lost in the mix. Some EQ work to create more space to hear the nuances or simply exaggerating the delay effect might help if you want it to be more apparent.

Finally, something Rozovian mentioned to me recently on my Volcanic Glass thread might be helpful to you. It's not necessarily productive to spend too much time refining a single piece. I'm going to be wrapping up Volcanic Glass as soon as I can and submitting it so I can get a judge panel review and see what I learn from that. The reality right now on the OCR WIP forums is that official evaluator reviews are very rare due to lack of staffing/time, so you might consider wrapping this up and submitting it soon now that it's been a few months. In the meantime you could start another piece and put everything you've learned while working on this one into practice from the beginning. Just some food for thought. :)

Best of luck!

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I appreciate the feed back, Eladar. I've long since stopped working on this, but it's good to have more of an idea of how to make instruments sound more alive. Thanks, and good luck with your piece going to the Board!

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