Jump to content

John Williams and his trumpets


Datameister
 Share

Recommended Posts

Things that could maybe play a part:

 

Dropping analog completely

Venue renovations

Balance/placement of room/ambience mics.

Engineers getting old and going deaf.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is a difference but I don't hate it. The trumpet sound recorded in Los Angeles sounds a little flat and thin. Something about the trumpet sound makes me aware of the room feeling smaller.

 

Lincoln is a score that does not have this problem and that is probably due to the Chicago orchestra and concert hall used for recording.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

20 minutes ago, artguy360 said:

There is a difference but I don't hate it. The trumpet sound recorded in Los Angeles sounds a little flat and thin. Something about the trumpet sound makes me aware of the room feeling smaller.

 

Lincoln is a score that does not have this problem and that is probably due to the Chicago orchestra and concert hall used for recording.

 

Lincoln also lacks the kind of big action writing that tends to expose the difference the most. More lyrical passages don't sound as different to me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For KOTCS and Tintin I believe Malcolm Macnab was still playing first, but was definitely getting up there in age, it would have certainly affected  his tone a bit. He also had a tendency to use smaller horns on higher stuff (Eb and D trumpets, and even piccolo in JP)which would definitely contribute to a brighter and more edgy sound. More recently in LA the guys are using C trumpets for the most part, so again slightly brighter than Bb. The sound concept is also quite different between North American and British players. I’m not saying the recording locations and techniques are not playing a part too. So I guess your list of reasons is definitely a good one to explain the difference in sound.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I so hesitate to jump to age as a factor, but I can't deny that it's a possibility.

 

Interesting Jon Lewis quote I just found:

 

Quote

I met Hub [Van Laar] in 2005 when I was invited to the Netherlands to work together to build a C trumpet. It was a very exciting week and the trumpet we came up with has be the best instrument I’ve ever used. Since 2005 I’ve used this great trumpet on probably 300 or more movies.

 

Source: https://www.vanlaartrumpets.nl/en/?vanlaar_artist=jon-lewis-3

 

Jon played on most of the scores in question, making his way up to principal. Wouldn't it be funny if my problem largely came down to a single custom-built instrument? :lol: I doubt that's the case, but maybe it's a factor.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

13 hours ago, Datameister said:

There has been a shift in the way trumpets sound in Williams scores. The difference is both subtle and impossible to ignore, and unfortunately, it's a change for the worse. I would like your help in figuring out what has changed.

 

(This is where I give the disclaimers that this is all entirely subjective, that I have the utmost respect for professional trumpeters on both sides of the pond, and that there are non-Williams scores with similar trumpet issues.)

 

The change became really noticeable with KOTCS, and it's stuck around in his (LA) recordings ever since. It's most noticable in loud passages for multiple trumpets, perhaps playing triads or octaves. There is a quality to the sound that is somehow both grating and underwhelming—aggravating yet anemic.

 

Here are some examples of JW scores in which the trumpets do NOT have this problem:

 

  • E.T.
  • Temple of Doom
  • Hook
  • Jurassic Park
  • The Lost World


I have no complaints whatsoever about the trumpets in these scores, all of which were recorded at the Sony Scoring Stage with LA studio musicians. The sound is bright, clear, and modern, but not unduly fatiguing.

 

As the new millennium hit, Williams recorded six scores in London: three SW prequels and three Potters. These too feature glorious trumpets, recorded mostly at Abbey Road and mostly with LSO players.

 

Williams's next film was KOTCS. Suddenly, the trumpets took on a different sound: dull but strident, claustrophobic but distant, weak but distracting. It's hard to put into words. To be clear, these performances and recordings are still by professionals, but something definitely shifted.

 

Unfortunately, this wasn't a one-off. Tintin, the SW sequels, the Adventures of Han … they all have the same problem. But we've also been treated to a few more London recordings—Galaxy's Edge, for instance, and Powell's adaptations for Solo. And what do you know? These sound great.

I've become increasingly preoccupied with trying to figure out what's different on a technical level. Here are some possible factors that have occurred to me:

 

  • Choice of recording venue
  • Choice of mics
  • Placement of mics
  • Mixing choices
  • Tape vs. digital
  • Use of artificial reverb
  • Preference for Bb trumpets in London and C trumpets in LA
  • Choice of specific trumpet manufacturers/models
  • Shifts in performer technique/style
  • Shifts in compositional style

 

But I don't see how any of these alone could account for the change.

 

What do you think? It's understandably hard to find truly detailed information on a lot of these recordings, so despite all my listening and searching and pondering, I haven't been able to come up with an answer.

My instinct says it's the players, but I can't be sure. How could you? 

 

I was hoping Williams would programme some Star Wars Sequel music in the 2018 LSO Programme so I could hear 'London' trumpets/brass. 

 

How you feel about the trumpets is how i feel about the trombones as well. 

 

Disclaimer, i'm not trying to 'bash' anyone, i'm just interested in the differences. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 minutes ago, Datameister said:

 

The rest of the brass don't actively detract from my enjoyment. But there are definitely broader differences between Williams's London and LA recordings. I've never been inside a scoring stage—more's the pity—but I get the impression that Sony does have a drier sound than Abbey Road or AIR Lyndhurst. The PT and the Potter scores have very noticeable (but natural-sounding) reverb tails that I assume are partly artificial and partly from the room. Recent Williams scores don't sound close-miked to my amateur ear, but the sound certainly seems to decay more quickly.

 

This holds true for all the instruments, and it holds pretty true for scores like E.T. and Jurassic Park—scores in which the trumpets still sound great to me, albeit different from their British counterparts.

 

Well I do know that for the albums they add more (artificial) reverb than they do for the film mix [from Shawn Murphy]. I think the film mixes generally are just what's present on the stage through the various microphones. Abbey Road is much more reverberant than the HW stages yes, could be the height of the ceiling? 

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, TownerFan said:

I think an overall argument can be made about a change in sound and performance in JW scores recorded in LA after 2005, imho. I have an upcoming podcast episode with a LA musician who addressed exactly this point and made some very interesting observations. It is my opinion that there is a golden two decades period performance-wise in JW scores recorded in LA that goes from early 1980s starting with E.T. and stops some how in 2002 with Catch Me If You Can. Mind you, there is nothing inherently bad in the scores recorded before and after that timeframe, but I believe that the orchestral performances heard in Hook, Far And Away, Jurassic Park for example represent the peak of the ensemble who was playing for JW at that moment. All the first chairs were at the top of their game and they were playing together also with many other composers as well, so they had a truly fantastic togetherness in terms of sound and style of playing. JW did a major overhaul in 2015 when he did The Force Awakens, as a lot of his historic principals retired, or were just not at his requested top-tier level anymore. Anyhow, there was the inherent issue of having a new generation of players who were now more used to record without vibrato, mostly doing striping (i.e. recording in separate sections) and without the same type of cohesiveness that JW always wants from the band. A lot of his preferred players nowadays come straight from the LA Phil or are at least musicians with strong classical backgrounds who also play a lot in local bands like the LA Chamber Orchestra, the Long Beach Symphony and the Pasadena Symphony.

 

Orchestral recordings for film scores in LA are now truly a fraction of what it used to be, therefore the level and the style of playing suffered some consequence. Again, this is not to say the quality of the playing of current LA musicians is subpar. Not at all. Some of them are just as great as their older colleagues: French Horn Dylan Hart is a genius, and flutist Heather Clarke did some incredible work on The BFG, just to mention a few. But I think the change that happened over the years is audible.


Very interesting, thank you for sharing. It’s especially interesting to me that you mentioned this golden period stopping around 2002, as I can also quite clearly hear this “new” trumpet sound throughout 2002’s Minority Report (Anderton’s Escape, for example).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm sure some of you have heard the VuVu Land story where on the original Star Wars soundtrack recording, Williams used to go in to listen to the take in the control room and asked Eric Tomlinson (Recording/Mixing Engineer) to move the levels into the VuVu Land, meaning push the gain up into the higher levels, which then resulted in a much 'cruchier' and 'agressive' sound. This is also known as 'going into the red', it creates something called harmonic distortion/saturation and that is "the sound" of the original trilogy (Specifically Star Wars and Empire). This would affect the sound of the brass the most (I suspect) due to the dynamic nature of the instruments. 

 

The prequel trilogy is much cleaner and i'm not sure who dictated the sound, but I vauguely remember Shawn Murphy saying he doesn't change that much from the capture on the day to the final mix, which I speculate is because Williams had 'approved' of the take during the recording sessions. 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, Tomlinson was recording in the days of classic analogue tape, the saturation of which does indeed give an exciting sound - just ask any metal guitarist.

 

SM was recording for JW in the digital era, where distortion sounds vile and is to be avoided at all costs. Different worlds.

 

Mark

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Being a trumpet player, I've done a lot of listening and thinking on this very subject. To my ears, I hear very little difference in the timbre of sound coming from LA trumpet players from E.T. until today. They all possess a kind of "burnished steel" sound, dark, a lot of "core," and somewhat metallic. It's not really fair to compare to the LSO, nobody sounds like Maurice Murphy. 

 

But listen to T-Rex and Finale, and then The Conveyor Belt, that trumpet sound is remarkably similar. What is different is the mixing and reverb. Trumpets love a little reverb. I used to have all my lessons in a giant cathedral and I sounded amazing, then had to go and play in a 5x8 practice room, and I would sound very dry and harsh. I agree that striping is evil and should be banished, but otherwise, I think it's more to how they are being recorded and mixed, than how they are being played. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Schilkeman said:

Being a trumpet player, I've done a lot of listening and thinking on this very subject. To my ears, I hear very little difference in the timbre of sound coming from LA trumpet players from E.T. until today. They all possess a kind of "burnished steel" sound, dark, a lot of "core," and somewhat metallic. It's not really fair to compare to the LSO, nobody sounds like Maurice Murphy. 

 

But listen to T-Rex and Finale, and then The Conveyor Belt, that trumpet sound is remarkably similar. What is different is the mixing and reverb. Trumpets love a little reverb. I used to have all my lessons in a giant cathedral and I sounded amazing, then had to go and play in a 5x8 practice room, and I would sound very dry and harsh. I agree that striping is evil and should be banished, but otherwise, I think it's more to how they are being recorded and mixed, than how they are being played. 

 

Maurice Murphy was obviously a powerhouse, but he didn't play on the recent London recordings I mentioned, nor SS and POA. The trumpets still sparkle in a way I haven't heard in the LA recordings that followed.

 

Even beyond questions of causation, I'd love to be able to just analyze the difference in the final audio signal. I've tried to compare spectrograms, but the presence of other instruments makes it harder to visually isolate the trumpets. There haven't been any obvious patterns that stick out to me: "Oh, the third partial is rather loud and there's a muffled band of frequencies around _____ Hz." You know, something like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I believe he did play on Sorcerer's Stone, but yes, while no one sounds like Murphy, the British style of orchestral trumpet playing is very different from the American style, and the commercial LA style in particular. I defo think the music is being mixed much more loudly than in the past, and the brass seems more prominent in the newer recordings, at least the LA performances, which gives it a harsher edge. It seems more like the brass is playing on top of the orchestra instead of through it.

On 18/09/2022 at 7:54 AM, ricsim88 said:

For KOTCS and Tintin I believe Malcolm Macnab was still playing first, but was definitely getting up there in age, it would have certainly affected  his tone a bit. He also had a tendency to use smaller horns on higher stuff (Eb and D trumpets, and even piccolo in JP)which would definitely contribute to a brighter and more edgy sound. More recently in LA the guys are using C trumpets for the most part, so again slightly brighter than Bb. The sound concept is also quite different between North American and British players. I’m not saying the recording locations and techniques are not playing a part too. So I guess your list of reasons is definitely a good one to explain the difference in sound.

I hadn't noticed this before. On what JP tracks does he use piccolo trumpet?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Schilkeman said:
On 18/09/2022 at 1:54 PM, ricsim88 said:

I hadn't noticed this before. On what JP tracks does he use piccolo trumpet?

Never heard that either. "Journey to the Island" would be the most likely candidate because it contains the highest notes. The Berlin Philharmonic principal also used a piccolo trumpet on Jurassic Park. That was the first time (the concert in general) that I heard Williams music played on piccolo trumpet. Not sure what the background was. Surely Williams approved that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, Schilkeman said:

I believe he did play on Sorcerer's Stone, but yes, while no one sounds like Murphy, the British style of orchestral trumpet playing is very different from the American style, and the commercial LA style in particular. I defo think the music is being mixed much more loudly than in the past, and the brass seems more prominent in the newer recordings, at least the LA performances, which gives it a harsher edge. It seems more like the brass is playing on top of the orchestra instead of through it.

I hadn't noticed this before. On what JP tracks does he use piccolo trumpet?

To me it’s very obvious at the very end of the Finale. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole cue was played on a smaller horn. It’s definitely high and taxing. I would do the same if I had to play it. I’ve seen photos of recording sessions where he has like 4 trumpets in front of him. That being said, this is not a dig towards his playing whatsoever. He’s been an idol of mine. He’s just a smart player who does whatever it takes to get the job done as efficiently as possible, while respecting the composer’s wishes. I think JW has nothing but respect and appreciation for Malcolm.

3 hours ago, Steve said:

Never heard that either. "Journey to the Island" would be the most likely candidate because it contains the highest notes. The Berlin Philharmonic principal also used a piccolo trumpet on Jurassic Park. That was the first time (the concert in general) that I heard Williams music played on piccolo trumpet. Not sure what the background was. Surely Williams approved that.

I would imagine that Williams doesn’t dictate what trumpets the player should use, as long as it doesn’t change the overall sound of the brass section. As for piccolo trumpet, I’m not sure if I would use it on JW, but like I said in the other post, it’s about making your job easier and as efficient as possible. Sometimes you pick a horn because it makes playing the part much easier, even if it’s not necessarily what you would have preferred to do.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll buy an Eb, but if that's a piccolo, that's the fattest piccolo I've ever heard, and I definitely don't think the whole section is using them in unison. Small trumpets don't really help to play high all that much, so I would imagine its done more for timbre, or a particular key that's easier on a certain trumpet. Pretty sure Murphy did all six Star Wars scores on Bb, so JW's nutso trumpet parts can certainly be played on bigger horns.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You certainly do get a wide range of sounds with The Raiders March, don't you? I don't know that I'd agree about placing Wallin's TLC mix over Murphy's KOTCS...but that's because of my distaste for Wallin's sound, not because of any fondness for the KOTCS recording. (As you said, I don't mean to be unkind; Wallin sure seems to be something of a legend in the scoring world, but his recordings are definitely not to my taste.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, Schilkeman said:

I'll buy an Eb, but if that's a piccolo, that's the fattest piccolo I've ever heard, and I definitely don't think the whole section is using them in unison. Small trumpets don't really help to play high all that much, so I would imagine its done more for timbre, or a particular key that's easier on a certain trumpet. Pretty sure Murphy did all six Star Wars scores on Bb, so JW's nutso trumpet parts can certainly be played on bigger horns.

I think only Malcolm would have played a smaller horn on these passages. And small trumpets can definitely help you play the higher range more accurately. Especially for longer periods of time. And some players can definitely make a piccolo sound pretty big. Like the Berlin Phil principal. I use piccolo in the orchestra quite often, and not only for baroque music. Sometimes it just makes your job easier.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

45 minutes ago, Roll the Bones said:

It's the snares for me, utter trashcans in KOTCS.

 

Interesting, I've never taken issue with the snares in KOTCS. Anything in particular you can put your finger on?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't mind the modern JW recording sound. The only scores that did badly are TFA (way too dry!) and the album mix for The Post.

 

Curious if you all think the sample library CineBrass matches the issues you have with modern JW trumpets. It was recorded in the same room as the SW sequels and may have used some of the same players.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

12 hours ago, crumbs said:

There's already plenty of discussion around that strange opening note on Force Awakens (I can't explain in technical terms why it sounds so thoroughly wrong, except that it does)

Yeah, I did a comparative listen to all nine opening notes. Obviously the prequals are all identical, or nearly so, I'm not sure if different takes were used from the PM sessions, or if its just the same recording. What struck me with the sequels, and especially 7 and 8, is how much louder the trumpets are in the mix, and how much more trombone is present on that opening note, and, I think most importantly, how much more of that perfect fourth interval is present in the trumpets. Usually that lower trumpet part is a lot less noticeable.

 

To me, 4th intervals create a peculiar brand of openness and activate harmonics in a way other intervals don't seem to. In my opinion, this, combined with the mixing, creates that unusual opening note. It's nothing that hasn't been there before, we're just hearing it a different way.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hell, when we get expansions and we'll have TLJ's recording, I'll just use it for TFA too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just came upon another example of the LA guys using piccolo trumpet while having my morning coffee and music  listening session. It’s on Hymn to New England, from the American Journey recording. I’m guessing Malcolm was playing 1st, but Tim Morrison was also on that recording. In this case, I would also have used it, makes perfect sense in the context.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, ricsim88 said:

Just came upon another example of the LA guys using piccolo trumpet while having my morning coffee and music  listening session. It’s on Hymn to New England, from the American Journey recording. I’m guessing Malcolm was playing 1st, but Tim Morrison was also on that recording. In this case, I would also have used it, makes perfect sense in the context.

 

That piece was performed by the Utah Symphony, btw (as was Call of the Champions on the same album). All the rest of the tracks were done in LA.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, TownerFan said:

 

That piece was performed by the Utah Symphony, btw (as was Call of the Champions on the same album). All the rest of the tracks were done in LA.

Interesting info, I didn’t know that. That might explain the choice of trumpets.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, TownerFan said:

 

That piece was performed by the Utah Symphony, btw (as was Call of the Champions on the same album). All the rest of the tracks were done in LA.

 

Where in LA was this recorded? The room tone sounds too fantastic to be in LA.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Recorded at: Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City December 9-10, 1999

 

Recorded by: Simon Rhodes

 

 

Champions and Hymn recorded at Maurice Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah, by Shawn Murphy

 

Summon the Heroes recorded at Symphony Hall, Boston, by Shawn Murohy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow. What you get out of that room really depends on the quality of the recording and mixing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, Drew said:

Wow. What you get out of that room really depends on the quality of the recording and mixing.

Yes - that's what I've been saying!!!  The mixer is the bulk of the sound!  You can tell a good mixer to give me that Abbey Road sound in LA.  But not many ask for that now.  It's too retro.   Think of it this way.  Can a great chef make a great meal with mediocre ingredients?  Generally, yes someone who is a master in their craft can make wonders with something subpar.  Someone who doesn't know what they're doing can't do much with even the best quality ingredients.  It's the same with the mix.  They might not be able to make gold out of crap but sometimes, the highest quality craftmanship will exceed poorly handled gems. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 20/09/2022 at 6:34 PM, Drew said:

I don't mind the modern JW recording sound. The only scores that did badly are TFA (way too dry!) and the album mix for The Post.

 

Curious if you all think the sample library CineBrass matches the issues you have with modern JW trumpets. It was recorded in the same room as the SW sequels and may have used some of the same players.

 

 

 

Belated thanks for posting this. It's a really interesting question. On the one hand, I think the library is very well-programmed, so there's a certain "it sounds so real!" excitement in listening. But yes, I do hear some of the same tendencies in the trumpets, and they still crop up a lot more with polyphonic than monophonic passages.

 

@karelm my questions are … what specific mixing choices contribute to this sound, and what specifically is (subjectively) wrong with the resulting audio signal?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'd also love to hear from someone knowledgeable about this. It seems to me that older recordings were mic'd for the room, whereas new recording feel like they're being mic'd to the section. But I don't think that's a new technique, so it must be something with the mixing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All good insight, @karelm. Thank you.

 

One recording that hints at this not being exclusive to the Sony Pictures Scoring Stage (as I've sometimes mused) is "The Adventures of Han." I'd either forgotten or not known that the suite was recorded at Fox, not Sony like the other disappointing recordings. But it does have the same sort of sound, pointing toward performance, miking, and/or mixing as causes.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

I wonder if it is simply that more of the close mics are being used. When I listen to fanfares in TPM, I get a sense of the space of the room, the trumpets sound more distant to my ears. 

 

In TFA, it sounds like I'm close up to the trumpets, and the rest of the brass really. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 23/09/2022 at 3:53 PM, karelm said:

For instance, Don Williams said he can tell if the engineer knows what they're doing by how close they have the timpani mic to the drum.  Sometimes it will be just a few feet from the drum but some of the overtones are around twelve feet, so the sound of the drum won't be what you hear in the room because if the mic is three feet above the drum, it's not getting all the low frequencies!  The resulting sound will be tight and emphasize higher overtones. 

 

I will say, i have no idea how it was done, but regarding recording the trumpet, to this day i never heard a more perfect trumpet sound than on the original recording of 'Born on the Fourth of July'. It sounds so full and rich, i don't know why no one could quite catch that sound again (it stuck with me even as a youngster, when i was into SW and stuff, that it was more exceptional).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, MrJosh said:

I wonder if it is simply that more of the close mics are being used. When I listen to fanfares in TPM, I get a sense of the space of the room, the trumpets sound more distant to my ears. 

 

In TFA, it sounds like I'm close up to the trumpets, and the rest of the brass really. 

 

Well, there are definitely longer reverb tails in TPM, both real and artificial. With TFA, the room feels smaller to me (even though Sony is comparable in size to Abbey Road). The mics don't actually sound particularly closer to me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.