The birth of MCCW
MCCW issue 91, January/February 2000
Back to contents
De Maiskoek/Bits and Pieces
part 1
The wolf and the seven notes

This course — when MCCW continues of course — serves as a helpdesk for composers to get rid of any musical problem. Not for composition only, also for specific sounddesign.

Maarten van Strien


Let me introduce myself: I’m Maarten van Strien, in my early MSX days crawling around as Wolf in the dark cold dungeons of Fuzzy Logic, making MB-Muzax 2 & 3. Currently I’m studying Music-Technology in Hilversum and working as sounddesigner, composer and softsynth-coder (Ixalance) for an internet-technology company in Maarssen, The Netherlands, see [1].

     The deal is this: I discuss several subjects or I answer your questions — which is enough material for an article —, ofcourse this means that there have to be questions/reactions/discussions. These questions can be anything related with music, like: ‘How do I compose for strings?’ or ‘We’re making an introdemo for a game we’re making, what kind of music fits best?’.

     Another deal is this: I give some sort of homework! I discuss the contributions here. But, as stated before, there have to contributions! The same goes for the rest of the MCCW articles. Without interaction from readers, MCCW will die very soon...

There are two kinds of sounddesign. The first one is synthesizing sounds with a synth-model, for example achieving a fat rich sound with FM synthesis. The basic need for this is a good set of ears! You have to decide what sounds can and cannot be realized with the synth-model you’re using. The problem with midi-files played on an FM-model, is that you try to achieve a piano sound from only one FM voice, which is not really possible. — I have heard of a sounddesigner at my study who got close to a real piano with FM, but then again: he used six operators on a real DX7. — This all does not mean that FM is worthless crap, it’s just that you have to use FM for typical FM sounds only... after all: we’re talking about FM! For pianos, use a sampler. Yamaha released the FS1r synth a year ago: a great — cheap! — synth with eight operators and formant shaping to simulate the human voice. FM is not dead at all!

     The second type is sounddesign for film (or demo’s for RPG games). Nice examples of sounddesign are: Bladerunner (Vangelis), Aliens (James Horner), Saving Private Ryan (John Williams). TV-commercials are even better examples with stunning sounddesign. It’s useful to define the global soundesign before you start composing. This gives you a uniform sound in your game. If you’re making a science-fiction game, it’s a good idea to make music like ‘Aliens’. It isn’t necessary to make conventional music only, the so called ‘soundscapes’ also come in handy for some parts. A soundscape is a piece of noise which is based on the colours of sound themself and not really on harmony and rhythm, like conventional music. Most people regard soundscapes as modern art (and don’t like it at all :). When I’m talking about sounddesign for film, I’m talking about common action/thriller music. Aliens for example consists of dissonant harmonies, percussion hits, sound effects — synthetic sound design —, double basses contrasting with high violins playing tremolo, and much more. Soundscapes in movies are not only a must for several scenes, they are also quite easy to make. After all, you don’t need to be good in writing good melodic themes, often the bottleneck of a good composition. For these cases, a melodic theme would rip away the attention of the viewer, since the story is the important part. I’ll come back to this in a future article.

I would like to hear sounddesign from you, next time. Some director made — this is fiction ofcourse... — an SF-movie. He wants you to make the music and to start with, the intro only. Below you will find a timing-table. Note: stay to this timing! Never say: ‘I can’t sync well with Moonblaster’ A director isn’t interrested in your problems: if you can’t deliver, he picks someone else who can!


Timing-table SF-movie
Time (min.sec)typedescription
00.00 start black screen
00.05 text1 MCCW pictures presents
00.08 text2 Bill Gates
00.11 text3 Sigourney Witkop
00.14 text4 Mr. Piet
00.17 text5 ‘Alien planet’ (the title!)
00.22 movie floating gently past a starry sky on the background
00.45 movie fade in: planet far away, zooming in
01.10 movie zoomed in to planet, screenwide
01.12 movie screen faded to white
01.16 movie white screen fades to black
01.17 end ...

     A standard storyline as you see... The choice of sounddesign is free (soundscape, melodical etc.) but once you’ve chosen one, stay to that! How you make it is your problem, you can use the normal MSX chips like FM-Pac, MSX-Audio or OPL4. Send it — MP3 would really be the most convenient format — to me (

     This kind of homework is what you can expect in my study. These articles save you a lot of money if you had ideas to study something like this too... ;)

     For more information about filmmusic and its composers, check out [2].

     See you next time...

The birth of MCCW
MSX Computer & Club Webmagazine
issue 91, January/February 2000
De Maiskoek/Bits and Pieces