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Touhou Double Dealing Character - Castle in the Sky (5th stage BGM) [Orchestral]


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Original song:

 

I've worked on this on and off for way longer than I'd like to admit, but it's finally in a stage I'm comfortable taking comments.

V1.0:
http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20191101.ogg
5.0 surround version (untested): http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20191101_surround.ogg

V1.1:
http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20191109.ogg
5.0 surround version (untested): http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20191109_surround.ogg

V1.2:
http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20191121.ogg
5.0 surround version (untested): http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20191121_surround.ogg

V1.3:
http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20191212.ogg
5.0 surround version (untested): http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20191212_surround.ogg

V1.5:
http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20201011.ogg

V1.6:
http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20201012.ogg

V1.7:
http://www.kozanryusui.net/sakkyoku_nikki/20201015.ogg

The titular castle is the 5th stage of Touhou Double Dealing Character (or Touhou Kishinjou), an inverted castle floating in the sky. The original title 空中に沈む輝針城 ("Kuuchuu ni shizumu kishinjou") translates to "Castle of the shining needles, sinking into the sky". I've tried to emulate a journey through the castle:

0:00 - 0:40: Enclosing onto the castle through the cloudy sky, eventually reaching the front gates (which you can hear open if you listen closely)
0:41 - 2:26: Journying through the increasingly grand corridors and halls of the castle
2:27 - 3:08: Slowly tracking back while basking in the afterglow
3:09 - 3:23: Falling out the main gate into the evening sky (the gate closes behind you)

I've loved this theme ever since I first played the game. It was the first 5th stage theme for me to finally knock the one from Touhou Mountain of Faith off its first place pedestral, and it has become one of my favorites in the entire Touhou music corpus.
Initially my main motivation for creating the arrangement was to mark the climax off with the bells at 2:12 and the rest of the arrangement was just fluff to get there. Later on the actual climax shifted two more measures to the part at 2:17 because I just love deceptive cadences.

The rest of the arrangement should be a very straightfoward orchestration. I've taken some liberties with the instrumentation, chord progression and custom counter points, but it's essentially a single run-through of the original song. The seating of the orchestra is German instead of American (second violins opposite first violins, basses to the left etc.) which is mostly noticable during the beginning.

Considering how much I fought with almost every aspect of the song I'd be grateful for any comments on pretty much anything. The 5.0 version is a byproduct of my workflow which I cannot test due to a lack of a surround setup, so please don't expect it to be well-engineered.

I'm not sure if this arrangement would cut it for submission-level quality. Judging from the other orchestral arrangements on the site so far I'm tending towards no, but I could only find either Hollywood-style arrangements (i.e. with lots of supporting percussion and/or non-orchestral instruments) or rather mellow arrangements which tend to be not as thickly layered, so I'm not really sure if these comparisons are any good indicator.

Edited by suikun
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Updated to V1.2:

  • Massively (in my opinion) improved the string sections by messing with attack and release envelopes.
  • General improvements to ensemble and solo strings regarding volume and timbre consistency. Also made ostinatos less robotic in general for all sections by varying CC1 more.
  • Changed the added phrase from V1.1 to not include high woodwinds any more because they seemed very out of place.
  • Increased volume by 2db, but this might break things in tuttis louder than in this particular song.
Edited by suikun
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Updated to V1.3:

  • Fixed a bunch of issues in the solo and ensemble strings that were really bugging me, mostly related to consistent timbre, volume and timing.
  • Fixed accidental double reverb on double basses and trombones (yay, less muddyness).
  • Dropped BPM from 70 to 68.
  • Stretched out ending decelerando to create more gravitas (?).
  • Added the same panning effect to ostinato strings at the end as is also used in the beginning. It doesn't really fit the song's storyline but makes the song overall more musically coherent and this section in particular a lot less fatiguing.
  • Added gradual crescendo in the strings for the opening part.
  • Decreased volume of the background strings in the ending part to better highlight the front melodies.

Next up is a change in the woodwind samples which will finally allow me to do unison sections without phasing issues so I can unclutter the woodwinds. Right now there's lots of unison between for example a single flute and clarinet because unison between the two flutes just wouldn't work. This change should really de-clutter the sound scape a lot.

While I'm at I should also rewrite certain parts of the woodwinds because this is ok-ish writing:

20191212_ok.png

And this is just me being a huge derp:

20191212_wtf.png

Edited by suikun
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  • 3 weeks later...

Whoa, that's a really nice track, with great orchestration!

I am no orchestral arranger, so I don't know what to criticize, I am just happy to have stopped by and listen to your track. It's really solid stuff! Are you still working on it? It seems you are, and I'll gladly listen to any new iteration you'll have to offer!

Have a great day :D

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I am both an orchestrator and orchestral performer, so this is something I can comment on effectively.

First of all, thank you for writing an orchestral track that isn't just the stereotypical cinematic "epic" horns blasting the whole time thing. You actually wrote an orchestration that captures the history of orchestral writing much more effectively than that.

I'm absolutely horrible at reading piano roll, so I really can't tell you if that's good writing or not. Nothing sounds off, which is good. The textures are varied and there is a good management of register, which a lot of people tend to just ignore.

However, the sample quality is low. If there were a reason it's not submission ready, it would be that. Listening to a live orchestral recording, then this back to back is a huge difference, almost jarring. The writing is fine, but the samples definitely are a loss.

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Thanks for the comments!

@JulienMulard Yes, I'm still working on this. I got halfway through the new woodwinds so far and will probably post an update after those are done. After that it's back to the strings because of course VSL had to do a christmas sale...

@JohnStacy I explicitly dislike the modern "big cinematic" style of orchestation with lots of brass and percussion (oh god the overwhelming percussion). This ain't no Bach, but it's a lot closer to what I prefer an orchestra to sound like. The sound I strive for would be that of the performance of the Chrono Trigger/Cross arrangement in "Symphonic Fantasies".
The second piano roll picture is me going "ok, let's write a counter point for the oboe and another one for the clarinet and then double the octaves and..." without thinking. Aside from the problem that you can't really make them out anyway over everything that's going on, there's a lot of minor seconds over long periods of time which make absolutely no sense. The first picture is just the main melody doubled in thirds/fourths and the counterpoint doubled in thirds/fourths which is really boring from an arrangement point of view, but at least it works (hence "ok-ish").
Your remarks regarding the sample quality are actually a real downer because (at least for the current version) the strings are Vienna, the woodwinds are EastWest and the solo strings are Embertone, so the quality should be palatable at least. Could you give some more details where you think the sample quality is lacking?
The strings will get an upgrade to VSL Dimension Strings which will finally allow me to access different finger positions to fix some issues which have been bothering me for the longest time (I used to played the violin half a lifetime ago, so I'm sensitive to strings in general). The woodwinds still need work regarding humanization and the brass I'd consider finished. I'm still not happy with the beginning of the solo viola performance because the empty strings make it sound too harsh, but the Embertone VST doesn't seem to support forced finger positions. The solo chello part I'd consider finished.

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Updated to V1.5:

  • Changed woodwind samples
  • Upgrade string samples
  • Redid all automation for woodwinds, brass and ensemble strings
  • Lots of reverb and mixing changes

The solo strings still need a pass as well as the melodic percussion. Some things have to be fixed here and there in the first violins.

Edit: Also after listening to it on some thin speakers...wow, that oboe doubling the strings has to go...

Edited by suikun
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Updated to V1.6:

  • Fixed really obnoxious oboe as described in previous post.
  • Finished reworking all remaining instruments.

There's still some things left to fix in the first violins, but aside from the last remaining task is cleaning up the mix. I've already eq'ed into the basses a bit to clean up some muddiness, but the lower brass probably also still has something to fix.

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Updated to V1.7:

  • Fixed clipping issues during tutti sections.
  • Fixed some balancing issues in certain parts.
  • EQ'ing on several instruments.
  • Changed reverb just a bit.
  • Redid the automation of some parts of the first violins (the story never ends...).

I will let this sit for some days and come back with a fresh ear, but aside from some minor fixes I'd consider this (finally) done.
I will probably never be entirely happy with the realism of the violins, but I've run out of ideas what I could try. The only real big option would be dynamic vibrato changes, but VSL Dimension Strings is fatally flawed in that patches with and without vibrato have different volumes with the non-vibrato patches being way too quiet. This makes the non-vibrato patches effectively unusable in any melodic situation.

I wonder if there's anything I'm doing fundamentally wrong in the way I'm using the sound libraries, but from everything I've seen I've exhausted most features which could improve the realism.

Edited by suikun
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