Finnish symphonic metallers NIGHTWISH have nearly completed the additional score for their upcoming Imaginaerum film.
As previously reported, on August 8th, Nightwish will debut the film to fans with a special showing at the Hartwell Arena. The 11,000 capacity arena has hosted previous Nightwish live gigs, but this would be the largest movie premier in Finnish history.
Petri Alanko, “the wizard behind the newborn versions and soundscapes,” checks in with the following update:
“Since July 2011 I’ve been working on Imaginaerum The Movie soundtrack based on the album multitrack sessions and the original songs by Tuomas (Holopainen) (and one by Marco Hietala). I’m afraid some of my text will be more or less technical mumbo-jumbo, but I’ll try and keep it as readable as it’s humanly possible for yours truly.
A brief history: I met Stobe Harju whilst working with Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake XBOX game for which I composed the soundtrack. I worked briefly, yet closely with Stobe during the game’s cinematic cue production phase. To be honest, he must have enjoyed to make me cry, really. Every visual thing he ever showed me brought me to tears. Obviously he didn’t hate me much, as I’m here again – and it’s been a damn funky ride! Better than any theme park ride, this; at times you feel the wind on your face and things just couldn’t come any better, no matter what you do. Then there’s that one occasional moment of ‘how the eff do I turn this 16 bar riff into a nine minute monster?’, a thought repeatedly waking me up at nights for what seemed like a week. Oh, the agony – and how simple and elegant the solution eventually was! A lot of things have just clicked, which makes this one of my most enjoyable jobs ever and definitely the most original one. What I do is a passion, not a profession. I do make a living out of it, but without the spark that ignites me the living would suck.
Indeed, the sparks were many in this project. Let me elaborate a bit.
The process of turning an album track full of orchestra, keyboards, bass, guitars, Uilleann pipes, percussion and vocals into a mayhem of grief, misery, joy, yearning or wonder is not an easy one. It’s a method of analysis combined with the gut feeling, at its best. I think I utilized some serious “blinking” (quick decisioning, a term borrowed from Malcolm Gladwell) during the pre-production phase: I had to listen to and through every single track of every song on Nightwish’s Imaginaerum ProTools multitrack sessions – and cut out and paint green every ‘ok’ snippet. If a certain thing sounded like it would benefit from further processing, I’d paint it orange or yellow, depending on my mindset (or a process anticipated for that particular cutout). Yellow meant simply “retune”, orange “beat the shit out of it no matter what”. Retuning usually meant throwing pitches around until the original sample was no longer recognizable… The decisions had to be made presto prestissimo, as I rapidly understood the more I thought of something, the more the original idea dissolved.
I remember one day particularly well, in the very beginning. I had been working on a single track for the whole day, drinking about 7-8 espresso shots, and finally the last track was cut into grays (no-go), greens, yellows and oranges. The arrange page seemed a bit crowded, so I decided to select only the colored sections… and I think I crapped my pants a bit then: there were – I just checked this – 1073 tiny sections separated from their original tracks, in one song alone. Multiply that number by the amount of songs on the album, and you come across with a number such as about 12773, which my ‘Imaginaerum raw material’ folder tells me whenever I hit cmd-I. (The size of the folder is 7.94 GB, by the way. That’s a lot of raw material, in other words.) After a weekend off, I did a second run for the material, and to my surprise, I didn’t have to do much additions or corrections.
Some of those snippets were then turned into keymaps, them into instruments, instruments were combined to form multi-instruments – and little by little I had managed to develop myself a virtual Nightwish! Well, not really, as they were only single sounds, not pieces of performances as such. However, I did create some tempo-lockable guitar/bass instruments, shredding Nightwish riffs from one key only – and I could switch the key while they played – but these instruments were often used underneath the orchestral sections, to provide some extra “oomph”, and you can _not_ hear them playing solo anywhere on the soundtrack. What’s loud and sounds like a guitar or bass, it’s Emppu or Marco. Period. I did similar stuff for Jukka’s drums (again tempolockable) but this time I ran a lot of his stuff through different resonators and filters. Often I took the tom tracks only, picked up a rhythm from his playing and used that rhythm to control the pitches I was putting into a resonator by a keyboard. The result sounds like a percussive huge bass instrument and must be heard to believe… also, some of the vocals were turned into choirs or manic chanting. Marco’s demonic “down down, deeper down” in Ghostriver redefined word “scary” after a treatment. You wouldn’t want to hear that at night, I promise. At least my neighbour didn’t – and he lived 20 meters away. Lived. Moved. Marco’s chanting is used on a dark gray field, by the way… I did use “commercial libraries” as well, but wanted to rely on what I had on the Imaginaerum hard drive.
(A side note: I was constantly amazed throughout the process due to the fact every song still sounds like a proper Nightwish track, thanks to the strong personalities behind the performances. You can’t fade or mutilate true passion. Period.)
It’s probably pointless to say the number of tracks per song/cue turned into nightmarish amounts pretty soon after I had started. I’ve never been a fan of “let’s just put that trendy Casio shit on and sing on top of it” method, and Nightwish are even less so. These two combined = oh holy crap and a thousand portaloos… ‘Last Ride Of The Day’ alone had 327 tracks altogether when it went to mix, of which about 100 from the band itself, and the rest was put in to emphasize the action of the scene in which it was needed. In some cases I had to keep two spare computers running Vienna Ensemble Pro 5 (a virtual instrument networking application, not an orchestra plugin), slaved to my master computer. Yes, master had two slaves – hmm… I wish I had some assistants, too.
I know some of you keep on repeating ‘Why all this hassle? Why must that nasty bloke destroy everything we love?’, I’m sure. Movie scores are a different beast. It’s not about egotripping or hating original music (I _love_ it, by the way, I, too, am a fan. ‘Hello, my name is Petri and I’m a Nightwish fan.’), it’s about emphasizing the picture and the storyline. Grabbing the essence and rebuilding emotions selectively onto that. Some wiser man (must have been my piano teacher) said movie scores build tools for “dissecting the dreams we see and turn them into consolations or encouragement”. There are two (well, three to be honest) tracks that were left as is: Slow, Love, Slow and Scaretale. The third is I Want My Tears Back, sort of.
One by one the songs of Imaginaerum The Album have reformed – transformed – into a soundtrack. It hasn’t been easy – and hey, it shouldn’t have been; in creative field, comfort zones are for suckers and nine-to-five people. One has to trust the “gut feeling”, though. No use to choose the hard way just because it’s there. Some things have transformed themselves almost by accident, whereas some have taken a slightly longer time. It’s been a damn good ride, and there are still a few good curves ahead – but I can already see the final straight of this rollercoaster, and all you people waiting for your turn on the platform, soon joining the ride. I’m thrilled to be a tiny part of your experience.
There have been a few times when I’ve wished there was a shotgun in my studio, but only a few. Much more often it was the wind machine that was missed. Or a wedge monitor on the floor onto which to rest my leg. Or a fog machine. A multi-kilowatt PA. A crowd of >20000 people… Heh, the amount of air guitar played in this room has months ago gone through the roof. The end result is going to sound magical, and fear not: I cannot spoil any of it, the original songs and themes are that strong. I’m mixing/cutting the fourth reel (of five) and I can’t wait to see this on the big screen.
To be a part of this realising dream is a privilege, and I cannot express my gratitude and pride in an appropriate way; sometimes words just _aren’t_ enough. I hope the soundtrack recites wiser words than what I just did.
‘My god, it’s full of sparks!'”