Acoustic or Synthesized

Acoustic or Synthesized

While composing music for a video game, a question came up. Should the style be acoustic or synthesized? That is to say, should the instruments be standard acoustic instruments, or should all or most of the instruments be synthesized?

Acoustic instruments are familiar to everyone. We all have heard wind and string instruments, and we remember what they sound like. On the other hand, synthesized instruments often sound “electronic”, perhaps even robotic. But that really depends on whether the composer treats the synthesized instruments in a manner similar to acoustic instruments.

There are plenty of composers who took classical music and reframed it as electronic. 

I remember listening to the a very early recording of Wendy Carlos’ 1968 production of Switched on Bach. Carlos later composed a hugely influential music score for Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 movie “A Clockwork Orange”. The music is intensely sinister in this scene, shown in the video here.

Isao Tomita is another favorite of mine. He composed magnificent renditions of classical music, such as Claude Debussy’s “Arabesque Number 1”, shown here. I loved this album; what a sense of humor he had! I also greatly enjoyed his synthesized arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”.

I have no intention of arranging a classical piece of music in a synthesized format. Instead, I want to explore how one of my own pieces of music might translate from a purely acoustic instrumentation into an electronic arrangement.

Here an Armenian woodwind instrument known as a “duduk” plays the melody, accompanied by a guitar. About halfway through the piece, soft guitars rapidly strum the chords.

Here is the same piece, played by synthesized instruments. The arpeggiated accompaniment has been transferred from the acoustic guitar to a synthesized instrument, but the arpeggio pattern has been changed. Also, with a deep bass has been added. The melody originally played by the duduk has been distributed to three electronic instruments, each with its unique tone quality. I have chosen the instrument sounds to have a deep, warm quality. Since this version was intended to be continuously looped in a video game, at the end of the piece, the player returns back to the beginning. 

So, which version do you prefer? They both have their advantages. Either one might be preferred in the proper setting.

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