Secrets of the Score-Charlie Clouser and JIGSAW

Daniel James

Senior Member
Even though I was air-playing (cringe) all over the place in those videos, the only actual synth part was that little industrial / EBM synth bass part for about 16 bars, and that was ES2 doing the main hammering part with some ZebraHZ with its arpeggiator / step sequencer running behind it. The ES2 is the main, legible part and the ZebraHZ is the more dirty and continuous thing behind it that sticks out into the gaps in the ES2 part.
Legend! thank you. Sorry I only saw you answered this in part 2.

-DJ
 
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Sekkle

Member
One train of thought that's always guided me a little is my "anti-Big-Fish" theory: If a style of music can be easily encapsulated / simulated in the context of a sample library of "construction kits" that you can buy for $99 on the Big Fish Audio website, then that's a style I should try to avoid. By revealing itself to be easily reverse-engineered, such a style is therefore no longer something I think of as all that innovative, interesting, or difficult to achieve. Plus every punter on earth will be churning out library tracks that sound 85% as good as the original source that was the inspiration for all those sample libraries.
This is a real gem of wisdom right here.
 

germancomponist

Senior Member
... When the retro-synth-wave craze hit a couple of years ago, with Stranger Things and Mr. Robot and all that, it took about three months before the sample library sites were absolutely awash in this type of content - pre-packaged and ready to rock. Same thing with "inception braams", "epic trailer drums", etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum. A lot of that content is quite well-produced and useable - drop some 16-bar loops into Ableton, overdub a few lines, and in an hour you've got a tense documentary score suitable for the Vice TV channel. But nobody is coming to me for that type of music, and it's not "morally satisfying" to me to use that kind of content anyway. So I'll buy that Boom Library "cinematic metals" library on special for $99 from VSTBuzz or whatever, just because with a name like "cinematic metals" there HAS to be something good in there, and then immediately load it up in AudioFinder, audition every one of the 4,000 wav files and delete them as I go. No backups, no second chances - just "spacebar, delete, spacebar, delete, spacebar, oooh I'll keep that one, spacebar, delete" all day long. Then 6gb of download becomes 100mb of stuff I might be able to use without being too embarrassed. ...
Yeah! This!
 

germancomponist

Senior Member
What I like is that/how Charlie show us, that we do not need the last plugs/libs to produce a best sounding score. Be creative with all what you have! Very sympathetic and accurate my way of thinking. This was and is always also my way.
Thank you Charlie!
 

FredW

Member
Thank you for showing your compositions and custom sound palette. High amount of file management to keep track of all those instruments and audio files used in the franchise I assume.

Great work and sick bassline, put a donk on it!?
 
OP
charlieclouser

charlieclouser

Senior Member
What I like is that/how Charlie show us, that we do not need the last plugs/libs to produce a best sounding score. Be creative with all what you have! Very sympathetic and accurate my way of thinking. This was and is always also my way.
Thank you Charlie!
You're quite welcome. I actually DO have most of the fancy libraries, and I do pick bits and pieces that I like from them, but a lot of the time when I try to build a cue from those sounds it just sounds "normal" and "ordinary" and I quickly lose interest. When I'm trying to get those chugging ostinato strings, then, sure.... I need a wide variety of string libraries so that I can find the ones with the kind of attack and "chunk" that I want to hear, and I combine and layer them in various ways to sculpt the sound to my liking. But things like the sustained strings and high staccato melody in the Hello Zepp cue are made from a live string quartet layered with an old Kirk Hunter "chamber strings" library that was originally for the Akai S-1000 and is maybe 20 years old. It just had the sound I liked. I've tried out many other libraries like CSS and Spitfire in that cue, thinking I could improve upon the sound, but I always wind up going back to the original combo of live + Kirk Hunter.

As for the plugins, it's kind of hard to see in those videos but for the most part I am just using Logic's stock eq and compressor on every channel, with Space Designer's "Piano Hall 2.3 sec" preset as my only reverb, and Waves L3-LL as a limiter on the stems. That's pretty much it. Once in a while I will use a UAD plugin like Ocean Way Studios for strings reverb, or some sort of saturator to add bite on the short strings, but this is not all the time.
 

synthpunk

Senior Member
Good reminder from Charlie to the kids that despite all the synth plug-ins out their Logic ES2 is still a great one as well and perhaps has the best stereo spread.
 

Mornats

Senior Member
I've been playing around with a different route recently. I've taken Rhapsody Orchestral Colours and have put them through the Guitar Rig presets that came with Photosynthesis Vol. 1 then put Tantra on it. A single sustained note has now become a pulsing synth-style line. I've only just started playing with that and I want to see if I can bring up some of the more organic original sound back into the mix. It's kinda fun mangling sounds isn't it?
 

petejonesmusic

New Member
Hey Charlie,
Wondering how you approach your workflow for getting your ableton files into your Logic session (all named so thoroughly as well!). Do you just have 1 rewire return in logic then just bounce it into audio as you go or is there some more complicated routing involved?

Thanks heaps!

Pete.
 
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charlieclouser

charlieclouser

Senior Member
Hey Charlie,
Wondering how you approach your workflow for getting your ableton files into your Logic session (all named so thoroughly as well!). Do you just have 1 rewire return in logic then just bounce it into audio as you go or is there some more complicated routing involved?

Thanks heaps!

Pete.
My Ableton workflow is about the same as it's been for the last fifteen years or so. Despite improvements to both Logic and Ableton, which would probably let me do things faster / better, I just keep doing it this way because I don't have to think or set up complex ReWire routings, etc.

- I have only a single stereo ReWire return from Ableton into Logic, and it's routed directly to Logic's stereo output 1+2, going "around" all of my stem sub masters, limiters, etc. so that the ReWire channels appear at Logic's stereo output at unity gain (faders all at 0db) and with no effects or processing.

- When I want to bounce Ableton material, in Logic I de-select any Regions in the Main Window, and then use Object Solo (aka Region Solo) with nothing selected, to, in effect, "solo nothing". This way all audio pathways are open but it's as though all Regions in the Main Window are muted or have been deleted.

- Then I set a Cycle Range in Logic that is rounded by bar lines, so that an exact number of bars is defined. This prevents me from winding up with oddly-sized audio files.

- I set the Cycle Range to begin one whole bar before the desired audio starts in Ableton, and to end one bar after the audio (and any effect tails) ends in Ableton. This prevents my bounces from trying to start exactly on the first kick drum hit or whatever, and avoids any clicks or weirdness at the top of the resulting bounced files.

- Then I just hit "Bounce" in Logic, usually bouncing in real-time so I can hear the results (unless I'm in a big hurry), and when the resulting file appears in Logic's audio file pool, I drag it to an empty audio track in the Main Window and position it so that it starts at the left-most boundary of the Cycle Range. I have a key command that's whatever they're calling "Pickup Clock and Move By Rounded SPL" these days, so I usually use that to move the audio to where it needs to be.

There are two different approaches to how I bounce audio from Ableton:

- If the cue is all at one tempo, and I don't have any automation of effects inside Ableton, then sometimes, in order to save time, I make a "construction kit" layout, where each piece of audio in Ableton occurs for exactly four or eight bars or whatever, butted up against each other, one after the other (but usually still on separate Ableton tracks for clarity), and then I bounce the whole collection as one Logic audio file with a name like "SAW8-3m23-elements". Then, once the file is in Logic, I chop it up into pieces using the option-scissors trick that divides a long region into equally-sized pieces, and distribute them onto different audio tracks. Even if a piece of audio is only a one-bar loop, I'll repeat it in Ableton so that each piece of audio is the same length - this way I can use the option-scissors trick without needing to clean anything up. This method works well when I have a ton of percussion elements that are essentially loops that do their thing in a few bars, as opposed to song-length performances involving lots of edits or effects automation. Then I just do all the complex editing in Logic. This is just a quick way to bring over a ton of stuff that I haven't decided exactly what to do with yet.

- If the cue has tempo / meter changes, or I'm doing song-length automation of effects inside Ableton, or I'm editing tons of drum parts into a complex arrangement inside Ableton, then I need to bounce each element separately by soloing each track in Ableton before bouncing them one at a time. This can get time consuming to sit through a six-minute cue twenty times, so often I will do "offline bounce" to speed up the process. The resulting handful of audio files then get distributed to empty audio tracks in Logic.

I usually don't combine multiple tracks in Ableton into a single bounced element, unless I'm absolutely sure of the layering and mixing between those elements, or have built a stack of guitar slams or whatever. When I'm working in Ableton it's generally in the beginning stages of the cue, so I'm probably not sure how I want to combine those elements and I prefer to mix and process in Logic as the cue gets closer to being finished.

I then save the Ableton project and tell it to move all audio to the local saved project's folder, which lives inside the Logic Project folder for that cue, so I can always go back to the Ableton session to re-bounce, change or add elements, etc. I can also easily load up Ableton projects that are ten or more years old and everything's there, even if I've moved, renamed, or re-arranged my source sample library folders.

During the process of finishing a cue I often have to go back to Ableton and change some effects automation and re-bounce some files, add some new bits, etc. But I don't like the idea of needing Ableton to be running in the background in order for a cue to play correctly - that's why I just do my thing over there and bounce it out. That way, if there's any issue with CPU, or Ableton or ReWire acting up, it doesn't matter because all of the audio for a cue has been bounced into Logic.
 

D-Mott

Member
Hey Charlie,

I just have a couple of questions about your work. I think the sound of SAW is awesome because it really paints the colours and the world this series is based in. Not only that, but it has a theme, and for me when I go to the movies it's something that's important to me and makes the movie more unique and memorable. I recently saw Blade Runner 2049 and that had the same vibe going on. The music coloured the scenes really well i thought.


I watched your videos and it got me thinking - Before you make a sound to go into your compositions, do you have that sound in your head, or do you just experiment and see what happens when you mess with your recorded sources?


- For the Hello Zepp song, did you have that melody idea in your head or was that just playing around too?

- When you went and recorded that subway train, did you know it would make those kind of sounds when pitched down, or did you originally think it was a creepy sound in the first place and you just wanted to capture it for your Saw compositions?


- When you were first chosen to write for the movie SAW, did you have an idea of what this movie would sound like as well as the sound design? Also was this a lot of trail and error for you or was it pretty straight forward?

I guess I am asking all this because you seem to have a lot of recorded sounds and they fit perfectly in your compositions. I was thinking that wow, does he just have all these sound ideas in his head and he knows what to record to get it? haha. I am the type of person that writes but I never really have a melody or any sort of sound design in my head and that can make you a little overwhelmed at times of the possibilities you can do with sound.

Cheers!

 
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charlieclouser

charlieclouser

Senior Member
1 - Before you make a sound to go into your compositions, do you have that sound in your head, or do you just experiment and see what happens when you mess with your recorded sources?


2 - For the Hello Zepp song, did you have that melody idea in your head or was that just playing around too?

3 - When you went and recorded that subway train, did you know it would make those kind of sounds when pitched down, or did you originally think it was a creepy sound in the first place and you just wanted to capture it for your Saw compositions?


4 - When you were first chosen to write for the movie SAW, did you have an idea of what this movie would sound like as well as the sound design? Also was this a lot of trail and error for you or was it pretty straight forward?
1 - When it comes to sound design, I generally follow my ideas as opposed to trying to ruthlessly pursue them. By that I mean that I'll think, "I want that sine-wave-distorting-through-a-blown-speaker sound I heard in Terminator 4", then start fiddling with synths, samples, and effects, and I might get sidetracked when I hear something in that general category but that doesn't exactly match what I started out wanting. So I'll record or build a bunch of sounds based on that side track, and maybe never even get to the thing I originally started out trying to do. If I didn't do that, and just kept pressing on trying to make that first sound I wanted, I might miss out on lots of cool sounds that were accidentally discovered along the way.

2 - For Hello Zepp I knew that I wanted to use a strident, small string quartet sound, playing a simple, repetitive pattern that could change and evolve, and I knew I needed two main sections plus a couple of melodic breaks. So the first thing I put up was the hammered dulcimer part, which took all of two seconds and actually contained the same three-note progression that's in the string part. So the idea had germinated already. Then I put up a string quartet sound and just started playing around with that basic three note progression, and it all came together very quickly. So I knew ahead of time what the FORM should be, but not the CONTENT. As I messed around, staying true to my idea of the form, the content revealed itself under my fingers.

3 - When I recorded that subway train, I had already been messing around with samplers and tape machines for a few years, even though the technology was crude at the time, but I knew how magical some things could sound when slowed down/ I knew from my limited experience at the time that I should be on the lookout for sounds that had interesting, evolving textures and might respond well to being slowed down. At that time (early 1980's) I was a fan of Peter Gabriel (and his work with the Fairlight sampler) and the albums by David Byrne and Brian Eno (My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts and The Catherine Wheel) - and all of those records had lots of tape and sampler manipulation. At that time I had a terrible Ensoniq Mirage sampler, and I would rent time on a Fairlight system when I could afford it, and I had some tape machines that let me record at one tape speed and then play back at either half, double, or a variable speed. So I knew how cool some of those techniques could sound. I would carry this recording Walkman around with me in NYC and record snippets of sounds whenever I heard something interesting. Most of it was unusable garbage, but once in a while I'd find a gem amongst all that garbage. That subway squeal was one of the gems. In subsequent years, as I got better samplers with more and more memory, I was able to actually achieve many of the ideas I had that were too much for the crappy Ensoniq Mirage - and these days, the sky is the limit when it comes to manipulating and processing samples. With Kontakt, EXS-24, Granite, Omnisphere, Falcon, Iris, and Alchemy... any one of those tools is more advanced than the Fairlight that cost me $30 per hour to use back then.

4 - When I started on the first SAW movie, I knew what categories of sounds I wanted to use, but maybe not exactly which sounds to use. As I said above, I usually respond to sounds as opposed to struggling to achieve one specific thing I have in mind. Regardless of the project, most of my time is spent listening to sounds and trying out musical ideas and saying, "No. No. No. Maybe..... No. No. Yes. No." until I have a pile of "Yes's and Maybes". Then I can take those and start to build my result. Audition a hundred kick drum samples until I find one that doesn't totally suck. Try out a dozen chords until I find one that doesn't sound lame and then try to find a second one. And so on.

That said, after all these years, when I DO have a very specific idea I can usually get there pretty quickly - on those rare occasions that I do have a specific idea. I always think it's more fun to follow the train of ideas as opposed to battling against them.