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OCR04348 - *YES* Aquaria "Immemorial Waters"


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(5/11/2022 version)

(Old Version for Reference)

Remixer Name: Ryan Davis Music
Game: Aquaria
Source-Undiscovered Waters

Website: http://ryandavismusic.net
 


Hey all. If you remember me you might know me as the guy who would do some Aquaria inspired remixes a few times a year during the old competitions on the forums. Usually this time of year I do my annual playthrough of my favorite indie game but due to the passing of Alec Holowka last year, one of my favorite indie developers who also did the OST for the game, I haven’t been able to bring myself to play it. Instead, I felt compelled to do this new age cinematic rearrangement of Undiscovered Waters which is one of the more prominent tracks of the game. Never knew the guy personally but I connected strongly with the game and it's music when I crossed paths with it a decade or so ago. RIP Alec.

-rdm

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  • 2 months later...

I love what you've attempted here, I feel an incredible amount of ambition and intensity in your arrangement. The variety of instruments, moods, and colors throughout the arrangement absolutely justify its length. Before I dive into any of my critiques, I want to offer my admiration for the work that you've put into this already. I'm sure it was a monumental effort to arrange and I don't want any of my crits to suggest I didn't enjoy this, because I genuinely did.

However, I do need to highlight a number of small production/sequencing issues that I picked up on during my first listen that, while insignificant on their own, definitely compound and leave this track feeling underwhelming and in need of another round of polishing before it's ready for the front page. 

Right off the bat, you have some really cool ambient sound design and pads that feel very organic, but the piano sequencing is clearly more rigid and locked to the beat. Some minor velocity and timing adjustments, and perhaps a sustain pedal, would smooth this out and make the whole section sound more natural.

With the sampled vocals, the tone is perfect for the track, but there's some very noticeable sequencing artifacts that take me out of the moment. For example, 1:25 has an extremely abrupt cut during the middle of a phrase, which needs to be ironed out. 1:06-1:08 has a similar set of issues, where the final note ends unexpectedly and then the next note fades in rather synthetically. Right now, the vocals are in this uncanny valley, so some extra TLC to smooth out those transitions would go a long way. This issue is unfortunately present later on when the solo vocals return for a second time, too.

The drums that come in at 2:42 are incredibly thin, and generally feel like they should be more dramatic. That whole section has a huge gap in the low end of the frequency spectrum that just sounds unnatural, compared to the lushness of the rest of the arrangement. Layering in a bass drum would help fill that out. Alternatively, you could also go a different route to provide more contrast as you bring in the full orchestra, and put a high-pass filter on your master track that sweeps out when your brass finally comes in to make things extra dramatic when the bass frequencies return. There's a few ways you could tackle this problem, but right now that section sticks out like a sore thumb because of the frequency imbalance.

The strings and choir sound pretty great to me, but the prominence of the ensemble brass does expose the weakness of the samples. When you write longer legato lines, there's not a lot of articulations to help smooth out the note transitions, leaving you with sequencing that still feels lifeless to an extent. 

I also want to touch on some of your transitions. The transition around 3:03 stood out to me on my first few listens as abrupt. A bigger problematic area would be 5:29, which really needs some sort of upsweep or some sort of transition sound to help smooth out the impact hit. It's simply too abrupt in its current form, and the dead air between sections comes off as awkward.

These are a few of my preliminary thoughts, and in my book, resolving even some of these would leave you with a much stronger product that would elevate your concept to new heights. Again, I need to stress how much I enjoyed what you've put down, but the unnatural sequencing on many of your instruments and frequency imbalance/dead air during some parts of the arrangement are preventing this from reaching its full potential. 

Happy to talk more in detail offline if you'd like clarification on any of this or would like to bounce revisions off of me. I'd really love to see this posted in some form! For now though, it's not quite ready.

NO (resubmit!)

 

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  • Emunator changed the title to 2020/08/24 - (1N) Aquaria "Departed Waters"
  • 1 month later...

the opening has a real sense of something bigger. i agree a sustain pedal and some more realistic variations/playing would help a lot. similarly, the vox sample at 0:59 sounds nice, but the artificial cutoffs totally pull me out of immersion (no pun intended). i liked the vox a lot but the cutoffs are really rough, i'd almost suggest a different instrument there if that's a limitation on the synth you're using.

the continued swells in the background at 1:26 are really nice. this is a low-key intense section and really does a good job keeping the same idea going without it getting stale from the opening. the flute lead was nice, and the reverb on it was great. the keys that came in after felt a bit derivative and didn't really say anything new or dramatic, but they helped fill the space.

the drums at 2:41 really sound pretty bad. i get what you're looking for but they just have no guts to them at all. i initially thought it was col legno in the strings it was so thin. a bigger and better set of samples would be an incredible upgrade here.

at 3:05 there's an immediate wrong note. it sounds like your strings don't quite shift to the new key appropriately. the drums are meatier here for sure but still too quiet overall. i liked the variety of lead instruments you used through this section, but did notice that the violins mirroring the melody just kept going. it's good to shift the melody around between instruments to avoid it getting tiresome, so consider leaving the vins off of some of the melodic content in this section. near the end of this section the drums started to get enough body to them - not sure if that was an EQing thing or what, but they start to sound more confident and full.

the break at 4:09 was well timed. the vox samples at 4:27 sound great in a very narrow range and anything outside of that sounded really obviously pitch-shifted. i'd recommend working with someone who has melodyne or autotune and can change the formant of the lower notes so they don't sound so obviously transformed. 

at 5:09 when it drops off, that's a nice shift. your backing pad is slow compared to your lead here - you may want to consider doing some predelay to avoid that on that instrument alone. i personally didn't care for the bass hit at 5:30 - i find that technique to be generally overdone - but the subsequent part was nice. i think overall this ending does drag on longer than it needs to by about 45 seconds, but the parts that are here are pretty, just repetitious. the ending is surprising as well - you've been very attentive to the chord structure and pattern throughout, so just dropping off on the V feels very incomplete. a true ending would have made a big difference.

this is definitely a track that isn't 100% there yet, but like emunator said there's some real awesome and ambitious ideas here that just don't quite work or need more attention. one thing that can't be overlooked is that this is over 6:30 of the same four-chord structure without even a key change to liven it up after like four minutes. i would highly recommend looking at your middle section and identifying areas where you could explore alternate chord structures - even going to the minor overall! - and the separately considering shifting up a key for the last big section at 4:30. that combined with some significant trimming on the last minute and a half would overall make for a package that is tighter, more exciting, and more exploratory, making listeners want to come back and hear more.

this isn't there yet, but there's a lot of great stuff here. i'd love to hear a second version.

 

 

NO

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  • Emunator changed the title to 2020/08/24 - (2N) Aquaria "Departed Waters"
  • 4 months later...

My first impressions of this were that it's really, really gorgeous.  Aquaria already has a stellar soundtrack, and the arrangement and instrumentation choices made here really lift it up.  I found myself closing my eyes and just immersing myself in it.

On the other hand, my colleagues' criticisms are valid concerns.  The cut-off vocal samples, the thin drums in the shallow middle, and the transition at 5:29 all caught my attention.  I also didn't care for the bagpipe samples at 3:24-3:45.  I'm okay with the rest: the transition at 3:03 was fine IMHO, and the length, repetitiveness, and ending are fine for the genre.

But when this nails it, it really nails it.  Normally when I listen to a track a few times, picking at the flaws, they stand out more and more to me to the point that it sounds bad to me overall.  This doesn't.  Sure, the faults stand out, and there are definitely a lot of things that can be improved.  And I would love for this to see those improvements; with the recommended changes, this could be an outstanding track even among the rest of OCR's offerings.  But is it over the bar now?  I'm going with yes.  Some notable weaknesses but some heavy, heavy strengths.  I'd put this on my personal playlist as it stands.

YES

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Very Hans Zimmer / Gladiator, which of course ain't easy to pull off from a production perspective.

@Emunator wrote quite a bit, and I don't think he was way off the mark with any one point, but different things bother me. In a nutshell, the single biggest thing to me is the accelerando - I think it goes too far, too fast. It's a familiar cinematic motif, starting ambient & then picking up momentum for the more epic vibe, but I think it needs to be executed over a smaller BPM range and/or a longer period of time. This starts a seemingly linear tempo increase, and perhaps a curve may have worked better, but I also think it lands just a hair too fast, as well. The thing about this particular cinematic trick is that when it works, it's pretty cool.... but when the tempo curve, length, or range isn't quite right, it can really disrupt the vibe. So for me, that's the single biggest issue: sub-optimal accelerando.

The background vox are gorgeous and lush but yeah, a consonant or vowel shift in some of the solo melodic lines would have masked some of the artificiality at points - Lisa Gerrard temporarily morphs into T-Pain for a fleeting moment. But this is more of a nitpick, and the drums, while admittedly a little thin, didn't bother me much.

The bigger deal is the accelerando, because it's a key shift in the structure of the arrangement - a pivotal transition that bridges the reflective with the epic - and it's not quite there, and I think even a casual listener would notice. But would they be truly distracted?

If this could be revised accordingly, it could really live up to its potential and deliver a stirring, cinematic experience. If revisions aren't possible, that's a bummer, but in the end it would still get a yes from me for the many things it's doing right... and I would just grit my teeth through the accelerando.

YES (BORDERLINE)

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  • djpretzel changed the title to 2020/08/24 - (2Y/2N) Aquaria "Departed Waters"
  • 5 weeks later...

Yeah, this is really tough. There is a lot going on here, and a lot of it is really great, and there are some things that are really holding this back. The arrangement is lush and very well fleshed out. As DJP mentioned there's some Hans Zimmer feelings here, and I can definitely see a woman walking her way through a great wheat field as this plays epically. I appreciate that you absolutely put a lot of care and detail into the various sections of this, and is very much shows. 

That being said, the flaws do stick out. I don't think there's anything I could bring up that hasn't already been mentioned here except maybe that when the vocals come in and layer with the brass later in the track (~4:40) they start out strong/solo, then repeat with the brass at a lower volume that feels strange. The vocals feel like a soloist, and having them then get swallowed by the brass soon after creates a strange dichotomy. I think keeping the vocal volume up and bringing the brass down as more of a supporting role would alleviate this. All this being said, I think this is a smaller issue in the grand scheme, just something I didn't see brought up by the others.

I think for me, the order of importance of things to fix would be: Drums, vocal sequencing, accelerando, and then the rest, with the first two being larger issues than the rest.

I've flip-flopped a lot on this, even as I've been typing this out. I think it passes, but it's about as on the fence as I've ever been. Good luck on the rest of the vote!

YES (borderline)

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  • DragonAvenger changed the title to 2020/08/24 - (3Y/2N) Aquaria "Departed Waters"
  • 3 months later...

Very cool source tune for this one - the ambience is certainly aquatic (wait…), and the instrumentation fits the theme. You’ve taken the source and amplified that feeling in a cinematic style, and for the most part it’s a success.

A few points stood out to me as nitpicks, and there were a couple of misses in there for me. The tempo change from 2:55-3:26 goes from 75 to 95 BPM and it just feels awkward with the percussion behind it. By adding percussion during such a large tempo change over 30 seconds, it gives the impression that the percussion is dragging behind the beat, and sounded awkward to my ear. I question whether going for such a large tempo change was necessary, and if so, whether paring back the percussion until the tempo got up to speed would have been a better choice.
The second miss was the false ending at 5:30. It’s already a fairly long track at this point and it felt like a natural ending point, especially with the echoey kick to punctuate it. To return and repeat the same chord progression added nothing for me.

A couple of other nitpicks were the reverb on the water effects in the intro, which gave it a slightly unusual space, although perhaps that was intentional. The female vocal sounds nice although the release is too short (you can hear the almost instant cutoff at 1:06), and at 4:29 the quicker notes just sound noticeably fake. Could have used some more delicate legato/portamento on the samples there.

As a whole though I’m impressed with the overhaul of the source tune on this one. It feels epic and cinematic, and maybe it’s because I just watched Moana a couple of times, but I can totally see this as the soundtrack to an ocean voyage. It’s got that spine-tingling factor of the beginning of a journey, and could also fit right in as an intro cinematic for a Civilization game.

YES

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  • DarkSim changed the title to 2020/08/24 - (4Y/2N) Aquaria "Departed Waters"
  • 3 months later...

The track was 6:50 long, so I needed to identify the source tune in play for at least 205 seconds for the source material to be dominant in the arrangement.

1:01-1:18, 1:51.5-2:08, 2:15.5-2:19.75, 2:22-2:24, 2:25.5-2:27, 2:28.75-2:32.5, 2:34.5-2:36.5, 2:37.75-2:39.75, 2:53-2:59, 3:05.5-3:20, 3:25-4:06.5, 4:08-5:28.5, 5:31.5-5:47 = 207 seconds or 50.48% overt source usage

It's a knowing underestimate of source usage, but I'm just sticking to what I could initially & explicitly match up to the source, more of a sanity check than believing the arrangement was approaching being too liberal.

Opens up with a similar vibe to the source due to the piano so we'll see where it goes. Piano felt somewhat stilted but still sounds decent and well mixed in the soundscape. Nice transition at :57 and vox at 1:01. I'm about 1:30 in and wondering how something this solidly produced could get 2 NOs, but we'll see.

Piano from 2:16-2:40 was too rigid and locked to grid, but was mixed well, so it wasn't a huge issue.

Uh oh. From 3:05-3:15, the bowed strings were super rigid and exposed. From 3:25-4:07, I liked the instrumentation, but the soundscape was muddy and cramped, IMO, and the timing remained mechanical-sounding, particularly the brass from 3:46-4:06.

Nice vox and choral backup at 4:27; switching it to brass as the lead at 4:47 wasn't as smoothly executed but again sounded serviceable while being lightly supported by the vox.

Plunky piano again at 5:31. It doesn't sound totally robotic, but something felt stiff with the timing; no big deal. Really like the ambient finish after that. For all the issues I had with timing/realism, the mixing and production was able to mitigate the negative impact even if it couldn't fully hide the issues. I'd love to hear another production pass on this before posting it, but there's no reason to hold this back as is.

Nice arrangement ideas, Ryan!

YES

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  • Liontamer changed the title to (2020/08/24) *YES - TAG* Aquaria "Departed Waters"
  • Liontamer unpinned and locked this topic
Ryan's going to give this another pass based on the feedback, so just leaving a note that we'll await a potential revision.
Quote

 

Yea I see what the judges are talking about. Very helpful writeup from emunator especially.  I'll get the fixes done and get the track back in sometime early next week. 
 
Thanks!

 

 

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  • Emunator changed the title to (2020/08/24) *YES - TAG* Aquaria "Immemorial Waters"

Ryan got back to us with a fully revamped version of this track, and WOW! The new mix sounds fantastic and addresses my concerns fully. I know nearly everyone else was already down with the original mix, but this resubmission knocks it out of the park. What a beautiful remix. 

YES

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  • Liontamer changed the title to OCR04348 - *YES* Aquaria "Immemorial Waters"
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