Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Song of the Week 38: 'Dear Death' by The Opensky

So it's been a little while since I've put up a SotW. Marim does just fine without me, but I do like to pitch in once and a while. I find that I tend to enjoy examining atmospheric tracks so I can point out all the little things that really pull it together. Ironically, this atmospheric stuff is what I'm bad at when I compose music, so hopefully I'm learning a few things. Anyway, this week's track comes courtesy of The Opensky a.k.a. Joe Byun who's been producing a lot of high quality music... especially for someone who is 15 years of age. The Opensky isn't OCR related, but I found him through following Stargame on soundcloud (however, even if I didn't notice a Stargame comment, I would've soon noticed that he took a crack at the Weeping Clouds remix contest held by Hollidayrain and Flexstyle, two OCR and Protagonist Records contributers). This particular track is titled Dear Death. I've had it on my mind for a while to review an Opensky track, but I couldn't get myself to choose. I went for Dear Death because of the wandering atmosphere that this track has, featuring plenty of ambient sounds, strings, and piano. Going back to the comments on this track on soundcloud, this is Mr. Byun's first attempt to create something orchestral. I'd say it went off rather well otherwise I don't think I'd be taking a look at it here. Anyway, let's get down to business...

The first three seconds of this track immediately remind me of Last Man Standing by Hybrid although I can also tell this is going to be a lot more relaxed sounding (the tracks aren't really that similar, it's probably just because Last Man Standing is frequently listened to). Different beeping tones fade in and out as a ambient tapping/scratching noise with added effects enters in at 0:05. Pretty good atmosphere establishment that sets the tone for the first true note to be played at 0:18 as a simple two note string/synth bass rotation. The ambiance is slowly building during all of this and hits a good volume at 0:36 when the piano is introduced. The piano does a good job of containing two parts that split to create an interesting melody. All the while the "beepy" ambiance starts to remind me a bit of Pink Floyd (although nowadays there are tons of things that remind me of how Pink Floyd originally sounded). The piano goes through four "series" of melody lines interconnected by well placed pickups to measures. After the fourth "series" a brief string section comes in for four notes down a chord. This lightly played "dun dun dun dun" (just had to type that out) becomes one of my favorite parts of the track as you just learn to anticipate it and it forms a big part of this track. After the "dun dun dun dun" a higher string melody is added to the mix as it plays slow, drawn out notes to help create some interplay with the piano. At 1:02 the ambient tapping/scratching with effects is subtly removed in order to avoid damaging the melody. This leaves the remaining elements to slowly increase in volume with another casual "dun dun dun dun" coming in at 1:11-1:12 this time followed by a bass drum at 1:13 (albeit a very ambient bass drum in keeping with the elements of the track). Once again this "dun dun dun dun" (which isn't very loud at all) introduces new elements to the track. A subtle synth fluctuation (similar to the one heard in Under Mars by The Opensky) emerges buried deep underneath the bass elements. At this time the strings get a new bass section added to the two note rotation, adding some more variety to the mix. Now with these elements in play The Opensky runs with this setup, as the sounds seem to drift in a dreamy sense with no distinctive elements (in fact, what makes the "dun dun dun dun" so pronounced in this track is the fact that it is a short, consistent series of notes repeatedly played). Speaking of which, 1:48-1:50 brings this "section" to a subtle transition with the "dun dun dun dun" followed by the ambient bass drum. It really isn't much of a transition except in the following section the piano plays a little less low notes relying on melody more and the atmospheric elements don't seem as prominent, leaving the listener to follow the notes of the string and piano interplay. 2:43-2:44 is another "dun dun dun dun" transition followed by the bass drum. This transition is definitely more pronounced than the last, yet none of the transitions are truly pronounced by my standards other than the distinctive "dun dun dun dun". The ambient tapping/scratching noise with its effects reenters here. The strings make a very subtle exit amidst the newly found atmosphere. The piano also becomes a little more recognizable as running through a melody instead of wandering. This section transitions with another "dun dun dun dun" at 3:38 at which time the string section is reintroduced again by switching out the tapping/scratching ambiance. Once again we're left with piano string interplay with an ambient bass drum entering on its own at 4:15-4:16 (this reintroduces some of the atmospheric synth fluctuation that was going on in the previous section). This is transitioned at 4:51-4:53 with another "dun dun dun dun" and the ambient bass drum the listener has come to expect. This section removes the piano entirely, letting us enjoy the drawn out notes of the soft strings and the mixing of the atmosphere. The tapping/scratching ambiance comes back as well, but more subtle than when it has been reintroduced in the past (around 5 minutes is when it starts to reenter). The ambiance seems to slowly build in this section with another "dun dun dun dun" coming at 5:09-5:10 (this time it isn't followed by the bass drum). The change fades without the bass drum to introduce it, the tapping/scratching ambiance builds and the string/synth bass drops out entirely at 5:20 (good example of a soft element influencing the entire track). Now the ambient elements slowly exit with the soft "beeping" tones going first, leaving the tapping/scratching ambiance as the only thing still creating music. This is also given a good exit as it is slowly run under a low pass filter until it is faded out. Good stuff.

Pros: Unlike the last track I did for SotW, this will not leave you shaking in your boots. This is very good ambient layering and atmospheric setup that makes a hard track to create sound easy. I have to love how each new "section" was subtly introduced yet at the same time it wasn't because there was always the "dun dun dun dun" (which is played a total of 7 times by the way) or the ambient bass drum to cue us in to the change. The piano and strings worked well together and the "beepy" (that word is not as "subtle" as I would like) ambiance really put things together. Dynamics are also fantastic.

Cons: The melody does a lot of wandering that makes it too easy to loose interest sometimes. The piano is also a little sharp and I'm sort of disappointed the melody interplaying with the strings wasn't another synth tone or at least a piano with effects added on. I think the piano's initial entrance stood out after hearing the rest of the song.

Overall: Atmosphere wins. I still feel like I missed some sort of sine waveish synth pad that was used in the ambiance. The landscape of ambient sounds is really something to admire. While the title "Dear Death" brings to mind something a little more emotional, I think this track has put a new meaning on the words for me and I can see how it works. Good stuff.

Rating: 8.7/10

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