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Synth Celesta vs. regular celesta


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#1 filmmusic

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 11:59 AM

I have noticed in many Williams scores that he uses synth celesta instead of regular celesta.. (e.g.in the beginning of "The prologue" in Harry potter and Sorcere's stone)
Does anyone know why is that?
well, I understand that in passages that require 2 celestas he uses synth too, because there can't be 2 celestas in the orchestra..
but when there is a passage with one celesta? Is it because it might have a softer sound from the regular celesta and generally you are able to manipulate it's color?
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#2 gkgyver

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 12:29 PM

Why can't there be 2 Celestas in the orchestra?

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#3 Hlao-roo

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 12:54 PM

Why can't there be 2 Celestas in the orchestra?

Celestas are notoriously territorial.

I have noticed in many Williams scores that he uses synth celesta instead of regular celesta.. (e.g.in the beginning of "The prologue" in Harry potter and Sorcere's stone)
Does anyone know why is that?

A sly acknowledgment of the synthetic nature of the film's CG elements, including Hedwig himself. Williams is a genius!

#4 E.T. and Elliot

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 01:19 PM

I don't really notice.

#5 Hlao-roo

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 01:25 PM

I don't really notice.

You have to admit it's a dick move on the part of Williams, though. He's basically pulling a Zimmer and pissing on over a century's worth of tradition.

#6 E.T. and Elliot

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 01:27 PM

Well, Williams is a fraud. Didn't you know? All his music sounds the same anyway.

#7 filmmusic

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 02:15 PM

Why can't there be 2 Celestas in the orchestra?


Well, I believe celesta is a rare instrument for an orchestra to have, let alone to have 2 of them.


A sly acknowledgment of the synthetic nature of the film's CG elements, including Hedwig himself. Williams is a genius!


That was just an instance I gave as an example. What about other scores?
He uses it all over Hook if you see the score.
In Hatching Baby raptor from Jurassic park too (there he uses one synth and one regular celesta).
and many others..
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#8 E.T. and Elliot

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 02:19 PM

Remembering Petticoat Lane

#9 Datameister

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 03:54 PM

I don't think the choice has anything to do with whether or not the orchestra owns a real celeste...after all, there are cues that call for synth celeste and acoustic celeste. But the bulk of his writing for celeste after...oh, maybe the mid-80s has been intended for a synthesizer. There are probably a number of factors: lots of control over the timbre and the decay, much easier action on the synthesizer (easier to play fast stuff), stuff like that. The real celeste always has a slightly harder and more music-box-like sound.

Of course, if you go back far enough, this wasn't really an option, so if you look at the scores for Raiders and the like, they just call for celeste. (Although Raiders does use some electronics in a few cues...)

#10 Docteur Qui

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 05:07 PM


I have noticed in many Williams scores that he uses synth celesta instead of regular celesta.. (e.g.in the beginning of "The prologue" in Harry potter and Sorcere's stone)
Does anyone know why is that?

A sly acknowledgment of the synthetic nature of the film's CG elements, including Hedwig himself. Williams is a genius!


Hedwig's a girl! you can tell because her theme is all fruity like Tchaikovsky.

#11 Jay

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 05:13 PM

(Although Raiders does use some electronics in a few cues...)

Which ones?

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#12 ETMusic

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 05:16 PM

Just a note that in the recording studio, it doesn't matter what is 'standard' in an orchestra. Williams could have 18 piccolos if he wanted (I believe he had 6 on The Patriot). Herrmann called for 8 bass clarinets in one of his scores (I don't remember which one though).

I would bet that Williams is calling for a synth celesta for control over intonation/tuning. Hell, Williams is one of the few guys who still records most (if not all) of the percussion with live players.

#13 Datameister

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 05:41 PM

Williams is one of the few guys who still records most (if not all) of the percussion with live players.


Definitely not all. Scores like Jurassic Park call for a lot of sampled percussion, sometimes by itself and sometimes doubling the real thing.

(Although Raiders does use some electronics in a few cues...)

Which ones?


Let's see...

* "The Cave" calls for an ARP synthesizer playing "hissing white noise" as Indy sees all the tarantulas on Satipo's back. It also plays along with the strings (not hissing) as he rescues Satipo from falling into the pit. Most importantly, when the strings start glissing up and down as we see the idol, the ARP plays the soft melody "quasi ondes Martenot." Toward the end of the cue, there's some organ bassline stuff, but it's unclear whether that's still the ARP or an actual organ.
* "The Medallion" starts with the ARP doubling the strings. Later, it plays a "dark sound" just before the dissonant brass when Toht grabs the iron.
* There's some electric piano here and there in "Escape in the Alleys."
* "Discovering the Script" calls for the ARP and a Fender Rhodes piano, though neither is very audible.
* "The Floor That Moves" and "Uncovering the Ark" have a little Fender Rhodes piano in them, too, I think.
* The ARP plays a low cluster at the start of the scary music in "Escaping the Pit", as well as some white noise a little later.
* There's electric piano doubling the winds in some parts of "Indy's Feats."
* The Fender Rhodes piano doubles the winds at the beginning of "En Bateau", and later as well.

This isn't a totally comprehensive list, but I think I covered all the major uses. Most of these are subtle at best, but they're in the score. And this pales in comparison to his use of synths in more modern works, of course.

#14 tharpdevenport

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 05:42 PM

Just a note that in the recording studio, it doesn't matter what is 'standard' in an orchestra. Williams could have 18 piccolos if he wanted (I believe he had 6 on The Patriot). Herrmann called for 8 bass clarinets in one of his scores (I don't remember which one though).

I would bet that Williams is calling for a synth celesta for control over intonation/tuning. Hell, Williams is one of the few guys who still records most (if not all) of the percussion with live players.


What he said. When you're big enough, you can have what ever you want. Especially if it's percussion (no matter how rare, Emil richards likely has it in his big-ass stor\age building of percussions instruments).

Horner had five pianos on "Flightplan", and Walker set a record (as I read) for the biggest number of assembled accordians on a film score on "Willard" (remake).
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#15 Jay

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 05:45 PM


(Although Raiders does use some electronics in a few cues...)

Which ones?


Let's see...

* "The Cave" calls for an ARP synthesizer playing "hissing white noise" as Indy sees all the tarantulas on Satipo's back. It also plays along with the strings (not hissing) as he rescues Satipo from falling into the pit. Most importantly, when the strings start glissing up and down as we see the idol, the ARP plays the soft melody "quasi ondes Martenot." Toward the end of the cue, there's some organ bassline stuff, but it's unclear whether that's still the ARP or an actual organ.
* "The Medallion" starts with the ARP doubling the strings. Later, it plays a "dark sound" just before the dissonant brass when Toht grabs the iron.
* There's some electric piano here and there in "Escape in the Alleys."
* "Discovering the Script" calls for the ARP and a Fender Rhodes piano, though neither is very audible.
* "The Floor That Moves" and "Uncovering the Ark" have a little Fender Rhodes piano in them, too, I think.
* The ARP plays a low cluster at the start of the scary music in "Escaping the Pit", as well as some white noise a little later.
* There's electric piano doubling the winds in some parts of "Indy's Feats."
* The Fender Rhodes piano doubles the winds at the beginning of "En Bateau", and later as well.

This isn't a totally comprehensive list, but I think I covered all the major uses. Most of these are subtle at best, but they're in the score. And this pales in comparison to his use of synths in more modern works, of course.


Thanks Joe, very interesting stuff!

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#16 Datameister

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 05:54 PM

Sure thing! Kind of surprising, isn't it?

Oh, and by the way, before someone corrects me, I know some of these instruments aren't really electronics, per se. I just meant non-acoustic instruments.

#17 Jay

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 05:55 PM

I think its amazing, some of the deep layers of sound he includes in some cues, when so much of it is only noticeable if you know to listen for it on CD, and not noticeable in the film at all.

However if you listen to the same cue with it removed, you'd probably notice something was missing without knowing what

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#18 Datameister

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 05:58 PM

It's definitely interesting how detailed the orchestration can get. Sometimes I wonder if some parts of it are futile...especially where piano is concerned. In many Williams scores, you almost never can hear piano...yet it's there in almost every cue. He loves to double heavy basslines with the piano...or, at the other extreme, double woodwind and/or string flourishes and runs. In either case, the piano tone is almost impossible to hear, even on CD. It just quietly blends in. I'm not sure why Williams does this so much.

#19 Stefancos

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 06:22 PM

He does it because it it obviously makes a difference.

When he doubles with a piano, it's not about being able to hear the piano.

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#20 Datameister

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 06:29 PM

Well, you're right, it is important to give the piano players something to do, even if it doesn't contribute anything to the music...

#21 tharpdevenport

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 06:34 PM

Well, you're right, it is important to give the piano players something to do, even if it doesn't contribute anything to the music...


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#22 Stefancos

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 06:41 PM

Well, you're right, it is important to give the piano players something to do, even if it doesn't contribute anything to the music...


You are an idiot if you think it matters nothing at all.

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#23 Blumen Cohlsman

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 06:42 PM

If you listen to the Imperial March on the Skywalker Symphony and John Williams CD you can hear the pianos! It's really quite cool.

#24 OrchDork

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 06:43 PM

I had a conversation with Randy Kerber (Williams' principal keyboardist) about this and his work on Williams' "Harry Potter" sessions a few years ago, actually. He told me that Williams uses a synth celeste so that he can get rid of the 'hard attack' that a real celeste has. I can't recall what synthesizer Randy used for those sessions, unfortunately. He mentioned using the same synthesized celeste for "Home Alone," "Hook" and "Jurassic Park," too.

While I'm writing, a funny little story that Randy shared with me: he got the music for the first "Harry Potter" sessions ahead of time (I think he said he had one week) and practiced the music in "3." Of course, when he got to London, Williams said to the orchestra, "Alright, we're going to do this in '1'," and Randy muttered, "Oh shit." I'm sure he nailed it, because he's a fantastic player, though I would have a mini-freak out if I was in that position, too!

#25 Datameister

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 06:57 PM


Well, you're right, it is important to give the piano players something to do, even if it doesn't contribute anything to the music...


You are an idiot if you think it matters nothing at all.


You're losing your touch, old man. It sounds cooler if you just say "Idiot!"

#26 Stefancos

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 07:04 PM

The piont it, that Williams cares deeply about the subtleties of his music. Adding a piano may not be noticable in the film, and barely on CD, but somehow it does may a subtle, even subliminal difference.

If you find that pointless, then don't worry.

Here is the place for you!

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#27 Datameister

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 07:27 PM

:D Missed the point much?

I have great respect for Williams' craft. His incredible amount of training and experience and raw talent manifest in many ways, not least of which is his attention to detail when it comes to the subtleties of orchestration. But when he makes a choice so subtle that it's literally impossible to hear, even on CD in a silent room with excellent headphones...I have to wonder.

Here are just a couple of very representative examples for you to ponder.

At 2:53 in ROTLA's "Desert Chase" (DCC version), the Raiders March B theme comes in and there's piano playing two low C's as an eighth note on every beat. That's twice as fast as the timpani. This is doubling the cellos and basses, which are themselves difficult to hear, but not impossible. What would that passage sound like without the piano? Exactly the same. You cannot hear it at all.

At 12:32 in...whatever you want to call the final 3.5 cues of E.T., there's piano doubling the flutes, clarinets, and bassoons in octaves. Can't hear it at all, not even as a slight crispness to the attack.

In "Journey to the Island", as soon as the island fanfare business starts, the piano is doing these descending and ascending runs in unison with the woodwinds. All you can really hear in the recording is the tops of the runs, and all that comes through is the flute color. It would sound exactly the same without piano.

Of course, it's your prerogative to tell me you can clearly hear the piano in all three examples. And it's my prerogative to not believe you. ;)

#28 Stefancos

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 07:32 PM

What would that passage sound like without the piano? Exactly the same. You cannot hear it at all.

Can't hear it at all, not even as a slight crispness to the attack.
It would sound exactly the same without piano.

Of course, it's your prerogative to tell me you can clearly hear the piano in all three examples. And it's my prerogative to not believe you. :D


This is all just your opinion, and obviously John Williams disagrees with you.

Did you ever hear these cues without the piano?

No!

So how can you be so 100% sure?

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#29 Datameister

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 07:54 PM

Because I've spent a lot of time doing stuff with music - listening closely, transcribing pieces, studying scores, playing with groups (including piano!), playing by myself, conducting groups, etc. In other words, I know how to listen. Piano has a very distinct timbre, as do all the other instruments in the orchestra. When they're audible.

Of course, it's not like having the piano play inaudibly is necessarily a bad thing...it doesn't hurt the music in any way. And in some cases, it most definitely is audible, even if it's still subtle. (To bring it back to Potter, the beginning of "The Quidditch Match" puts the piano to nice use, doubling the cellos and basses. It's quiet, but it's there, and it changes the sound in a positive way.) But sometimes, it just seems to have no effect whatsoever.

#30 Marian Schedenig

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 09:10 PM

If you listen to the Imperial March on the Skywalker Symphony and John Williams CD you can hear the pianos! It's really quite cool.


Asteroid Field, too. You need a good system or headphones, or at least good ears though. I used to think Murphy's recording sucked, but it seems it just needs good equipment to bring out the details. I first heard that piano about 10 years after I bought the CD.

#31 Blumen Cohlsman

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 10:02 PM

Datameister,

Just because you don't easily hear it doesn't mean it's not there or contributing to the dynamics of the recording. If you took it out, you could notice. The recording studio isn't a digital world where if you plate a note, the moment the sampled recording stops...the sound just stops.

Believe it or not there's a very good reason Williams uses the piano "to double heavy basslines with the piano." The very sharp waveforms of bowed chordophones get balanced out by the smoother waveforms of the low piano keys. So instead of getting jarring sound, you're getting an overall smoother sound. Pianos have a remarkable quality among the string instruments in that they are very close to producing pure sine waves. The rest of the strings have sawtooth waveforms. This is why strings are said to be the closest to the human human voice. Our vocal chords also generate predominantly sawtooth waveforms.

You may not be able to distinctly hear the piano, but every time the waveform of the strings dips sharply, the smoother waveform of the piano balances out the overall waveform, bringing it closer to a nice sine wave. The effect is subtle, but very meaningful if used correctly.

I'm trying to find a prominent example to sort of illustrate it. Michael Giacchino's really close recordings actually work to our benefit here.

Listen to season 5: Dharma Delinquent 0:40-...0:50

Dharma vs. Lostaways 1:25-1:35

The dynamic power of the piano overpowers the strings a little in the latter, so you can *just* hear the piano distinctly, but you get a feel for the effect.

#32 Datameister

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 10:11 PM

That's an interesting point, Blume. Thanks for your reply. I can hear what you're talking about in the two examples, though I still wonder to what degree that produces any perceptible effect in the sort of recordings Williams does. I suppose the only way we could know for sure was if we had recordings with and without the piano, as Steef said.

#33 Blumen Cohlsman

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 10:20 PM

You know, in a huge recording like The Desert Change, I'm not sure that it has any truly audible effect.

But I would imagine it's one of those, "good practice" things, that Williams does out of habit. His overall sound is always very smooth. I imagine if someone like Giacchino or Goldsmith had written that same track, you wouldn't be seeing the pianos in there.

Which brings us full circle. John Williams picks the synth celesta because of its smoother sound. Amazing how consistent the man is, isn't it?

#34 Datameister

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 10:29 PM

Haha, fair enough.

#35 filmmusic

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 11:22 PM

I had a conversation with Randy Kerber (Williams' principal keyboardist) about this and his work on Williams' "Harry Potter" sessions a few years ago, actually. He told me that Williams uses a synth celeste so that he can get rid of the 'hard attack' that a real celeste has. I can't recall what synthesizer Randy used for those sessions, unfortunately. He mentioned using the same synthesized celeste for "Home Alone," "Hook" and "Jurassic Park," too.

While I'm writing, a funny little story that Randy shared with me: he got the music for the first "Harry Potter" sessions ahead of time (I think he said he had one week) and practiced the music in "3." Of course, when he got to London, Williams said to the orchestra, "Alright, we're going to do this in '1'," and Randy muttered, "Oh shit." I'm sure he nailed it, because he's a fantastic player, though I would have a mini-freak out if I was in that position, too!


thanks, that's very interesting!
So the synth celesta plays at the same time with the rest of the orchestra, right? Since it is a synth they could put it later in the mix too I assume.
I wonder if they use a regular synthesizer with the sound of a celesta or celesta sound from known sample libraries...
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#36 Alexcremers

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Posted 31 October 2010 - 05:35 AM

I wonder if they use a regular synthesizer with the sound of a celesta or celesta sound from known sample libraries...


Probably the former because samples means hassling with computers and software. Plus, it sounds like something out of a workstation rather than a faithfull sampled replica.
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#37 guest

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Posted 01 November 2010 - 04:52 PM

I never would have known he used a synth celesta.

#38 airmanjerm

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Posted 02 November 2010 - 01:38 AM

I learned an interesting technique years ago that I've used ever since. The concept was about "doubling" instruments, and it had to do mainly with brass. I'd written for brass groups for years, and wind bands as well, but the technique showed that If you gave a bunch of trumpets playing a chord, it will actually decrease the impact if you add clarinets to it. I'm not a physicist, so I don't know all those details, but it is due the overtones produced by the brass vs. the woodwinds. Same goes for adding woodwinds to the other brass (trombones, etc.). So, if you want a big impact you don't double the brass with the woodwinds in the same register...you put them up the octave, like God intended. :thumbup:

The corollary to this, of course, is in the extreme upper registers of any of these, when sheer windburn will take over! lol Also, double reeds are a little bit of an enigma as they don't really have this effect...mainly the single reeds and flutes, etc.

#39 Blumen Cohlsman

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Posted 02 November 2010 - 02:59 AM

I think that's because woodwinds attack high and very quickly transition into lower frequencies. The trumpets keep playing at higher harmonics. What you end up having is a phenomenon called masking, where lower frequencies will "swallow" up the higher frequencies.

#40 gkgyver

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Posted 02 November 2010 - 03:22 AM

I adore the sound of trombones playing unison with bassoons.
Also, the trombone section alone, without horn or wind or string doubling. Maybe an added tuba.

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