James Kirby – BBC Radio Wales

If you were tuned into BBC Radio Wales on Saturday Night, you will have heard the National Radio premier of James Kirby’s “How the Story Goes” from his new album “Foreign Land”, which is released to all major platforms including Spotify and iTunes on 1st August. The triumph is especially noteworthy for myself, as presenter Adam Walton comments on the “wonderful” string arrangement at the end of this clip.

A Day In May – writing a “non-orchestral” film score

Having spent the last year or so delving deeper into the realms of synthesis and electronic music, it felt almost impossible not to move away from the classic orchestral scores for Monkey Dribble Films’ latest feature, A Day in May (currently in post production). Of course, it would take a great deal of work to get me to score a movie without any string parts at all, so I present to you a not-so-unfamiliar fusion of genres. For decades, electronic music has heavily incorporated orchestral sections of all sizes into their studio mixes. The difference here is that I work primarily on the acoustic and instrumental side of things, and the “electronica” is then added to the mix later on, rather than the other way around. For 4 more tracks from the A Day In May soundtrack, click here

THE HUNT – First composition of 2017

It’s 2017 and the time has come to turn to the next page, or start a new chapter, depending on whether you consider yourself a reader or writer, or both. Whatever it is that you do for life or leisure, variety is essential to everyone. I am fortunate enough to still be at an age where I can potentially justify making significant life decisions (providing my wife is game), yet I know so many people, some even at my age, who feel cornered by their careers, unemployment, habitual behaviours, surroundings, finances, responsibilities, etc… Not everyone has the freedom or resources to pack it up and travel the world for a year.

However, I do believe that the majority of people in this western world who complain about the banality of their 9 to 5 are mostly responsible for their own tedium. We’re either aiming far too low, which can only end with underachieving, or seeking the wrong things entirely, which can be far worse. I don’t consider myself successful professionally, but I do have an idea of where I’d like to be in 10, 20, 30 years time and I enjoy watching myself gradually getting closer to those goals. I may allow my dreams to change over time to suit my interests, but I would never discard them entirely. If you don’t dream, you won’t have anything to reach for. But if you set too tight a deadline, unless you get a kick from working under pressure, you’ll burn out and be disappointed. Take it one step at a time and make the most of all the mistakes you’ll make along the way.

This piece is my most recent step forward. It’s the result of a few days work. It’s possibly slightly better than the last piece I wrote, or maybe it’s worse! It doesn’t really belong anywhere. It’ll never make me money. It certainly isn’t groundbreaking. It might remain unheard by anyone other than a small group of followers. But every piece I write is pivotal to my journey. I have learned things from this piece that I can take forward to my next work. Sure, I write music professionally, but I am still learning. As soon as I think I’ve stopped learning, I’ll stop writing. There is no end game. In 30 years, once you’ve achieved  all your dreams, start dreaming some more!

Pen Y Fan

Inspired by the South Welsh countryside, Pen Y Fan evokes the grandeur and vastness encountered from the summit of the Brecon Beacons.

Unlike previous works, this short orchestral movement was written without film in mind. Without any visual incentive but my experiences of the Brecon Beacons, only an hour’s drive from Swansea, this is what I’ve come up with. The track has been produced solely using Spitfire Audio sample libraries, so has also been treated as a test run of some of their incredible sounds, most notably the Chamber Strings flautando patches.

What’s this, a new score? And what’s that, a new Sample Library?!

That’s right!

Last week, I took a bit of a plunge and invested in a new orchestral library, Spitfire Audio’s lastest addition to their Albion range: Albion One. I’ve been eye-balling their plugins for some time now, and whilst Albion is effectively their most basic package, it absolutely packs a punch. Until now, I’d only owned a couple of very select plugins from Spitfire, including their Labs “Scary Strings” but have been very aware of just how powerful their larger libraries are. Perhaps one day I’ll be reviewing their BML (British Modular Library) range, but for now, Albion One will absolutely do.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about here (sample library?! plugins?!) Let me very briefly explain what’s going on. Many film (and particularly TV) composers have started to turn to what are known as VST (Virtual Studio Technology) instruments, also known as VSTi’s. Of these, are a particular type known as “samplers” or “sample libraries”, which are made up of very small recordings of real instruments. A violin library, for example, might include hundreds of tiny recordings ranging from 1 second to x seconds long, of a violin playing every single note within its range, at different velocities (loudnesses), at various lengths and with a selection of articulations. Within their DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), a composer or producer can stitch these little fragments back together in whatever order they like, to produce a track.

Generally speaking, this stitching process is made easier by the samplers, which can vary hugely in ability (how seamlessly they are able to stitch 2 notes together). Whilst Spitfire Audio are relatively new to the industry, they are already one of the leading producers of Kontakt samplers on the market. The term “true legato” is one which can be easily thrown around, with samplers claiming to replicate the sound of one note naturally leading to the next. However, I’m almost certain that within Spitfire’s Albion One library, many of these “legatos” are not artificially created. Instead, I would suggest that they actually had every instrument (with real legato samples) play each note followed by very potential transitioning note. Assuming an instrument has a range of 4 octaves, or 48 notes, it’s sample library would have to increase in size by 5000%!

To improve their sound further, Spitfire Audio have taken extreme levels of care and detail in their recordings. Recorded at the hall in the prestigious Air Studios, they have masterfully devised the best microphone positions to give an all round (and fully adjustable) timbre to the orchestra.

Because of this insane level of attention, I do need a beast of a machine to be able to run the samples, especially when layering an entire orchestra together. But hopefully you’ll be able to hear the difference in the track above. I would expect that, to a layman, it sounds pretty darn realistic. Even to someone who knows a fair bit about how an orchestra should sound, ought to be impressed. And why? Because essentially, it is a real orchestra. Bearing in mind I’ve only just started using the library, there are obviously a few areas which need ironing out. But folks, this is for life, and it cost me about 20 times less than hiring a professional orchestra!

Welcome, one and all

Thank you for visiting andywillson.com

My new site is currently being updated. New music and works are on their way very soon! I’m excited to share with you some of my latest projects, working alongside some incredible film makers and truly sublime talent. So stick around and buckle up. The journey begins here…