Score The World submission - Son of Saul

I finally completed my submission for the Score The World contest. I submitted it tonight, so I’d love to hear any feedback from you guys.

The composing/recording actually went really fast, but I sat on this for a long time not really sure which direction it should go. This scene is such a strange balance between minimal visuals, really well done ambient audio, and a strong emotional undercurrent. But once it all coalesced in my head it went pretty fast.

The film is a WW2 story about a prisoner/worker at a concentration camp. So… dark, but very grounded.

Creative Vision for the Track:
Musically I wanted to keep it minimal, so no big themes or full orchestras. Conceptually, I wanted to do a kind of broken Hungarian folk tune. The main character is Hungarian, so I imagined what kind of theme I’d write if I were scoring the whole movie and that’s what I came up with.

Composition Details (Tempo, Key, Main Chords etc):
The tempo is about 107, but the main emotional swell is kind of tempo rubato. The root is D, but using a double harmonic scale which has the Hungarian gypsy scale as one of its modes. So main chords are D, sometimes Dsus4, Eb, and Gm.

Main Instruments used:
For instruments I kept mostly away from classical orchestral instruments. I wanted to sound like the instruments all had something wrong with them. Like they were maybe cobbled together or not quite in tune or slightly broken.

I used a violin and cello from BBCSO, and used Big Bang Orchestra to fill out the main swell.

The main piano is Christian Henson’s Binaural Family Grand.

I used a Slinky Violin and Box Violin from Decent Sampler. I love the Slinky Violin a lot. Used it on its own and to double violin and cello.

Mandolin is from Spitfire. So is a slightly overdriven Lap Steel.

And I used Winter Voices from Pianobook as a nice, thick background texture.


Real good work Mike. I’ve never attempted to score to picture before so I can imagine it’s not at all easy, so great job, I think it fits well! My only bit of critique would be that, while I really liked the light melody/theme between the piano and strings, it may have been better to keep it all more underscore as it felt like the music was drawing too much attention to itself.

Good ideas overall–I liked the use of the mandolin and the Gypsy scale; they added the right color for me. Maybe when I learn to write music, I’ll attempt something like this :smiley:

Great Job!

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Thanks, Matt! Some scenes are easy to feel what should be done. This was was really hard for me to figure out. At first I thought it needed more of a sound design, atmospheric approach-- very minimal. But that’s not really my thing. I like melodies and themes. So this one was hard for me. I just had to focus on doing what I do in a way that felt right.

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Yeah, same here. I’m always melody first everything else second, so trying to do film underscore is really challenging—unless there’s no dialog! :grinning: Still better than I could have done.


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Thanks so much for sharing your entry Mike. I submitted as well, so really interesting to hear yours! :wink:

In many ways they could hardly be more different - which is good, I think…! :wink:
I liked your very much Mike, but I’m finding it a little hard to comment on as my head is so filled with my version! At this point I’m mostly noticing the different approaches. I like the intimacy you get from your instrumentation. You don’t get that with mine! :wink: I will try and come back with more considered comments in a bit.

I went for a full orchestral approach, using BBCSO Pro. Although in earlier versions I did experiment with some additional non-orchestral instruments, in the end I ditched them and well full standard orchestra.

This was my first attempt at scoring to film and I was a great learning experience for me.

I through improved about 80% of what you hear now almost after just watching the video a couple of times. Orchestrating and performing took much, much longer! But there were a couple of sections I wasn’t happy with and re-wrote those. I think the overriding thought I had was to try to convey the emotionally tragic events, and the suspense of the scenes.

I then wasn’t sure that was the best I could do, and made several failed attempts to have a completely new go from scratch. Got absolutely nowhere with this, so gave up, went back to my original concept, and just tried to make it as good as I could. I have some concerns with it, but don’t want to spell them out in case I put ideas in any listeners head :wink: would be interesting to hear if anyone comments with the same concerns.

In the end I put quite a bit of effort into this, so very interested to hear others’ versions, and what the judges think. Please let me know any feedback you have for me.

Here’s mine:


The winners of this competition were announced today. Some really great work from the composers who won! After listening to the top 5, one thing I know for sure is, I need to find a really good solo violin and/or solo cello. I mean, I’ve known I need that for a while but it really would have come in handy in this project, and the top submissions all utilized one or the other or both.

They say the rest of the placements will be released later this week. Still looking forward to see where I placed and maybe get some feedback.


Or you can do what David @olofson did, and learn to play the cello yourself. :wink:

I dream that I could do that, but I already know it would be way too time intensive for me. But I am planning on finally getting my focus back on learning to play the electric guitar this year! :smiley:

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To be realistic, one should probably expect to invest 1000+ hours before expecting much in terms of usable performances out of these instruments. These are sensitive, unforgiving instruments, but that’s a core part of what makes them so expressive.

Either way, time flies no matter what you do, and if you’re a composer, the long term results of playing an instrument are probably more useful than most other spare time activities. :wink:

Personally, I was in desperate need of some deeply engaging form of “meditation” anyway. I’m the kind of person who can enjoy driving around a race track all day, trying to shave a fractional second off my lap time, and the bowed strings offer much of the same extreme real time skill honing experience, along with musical expression. I only wish I had started earlier! :smiley:


I use the Spitfire solo cello and solo violin–really good libraries, but not perfect. The Chris Hein libraries, whenever I’ve heard them, sound very expressive and realistic.

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Always fun learning to play instruments. I can’t play real expressively on my violin- that does take lots of practice time, but at least if I want to add some short spiccatos that’s not a problem :smile:

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Meanwhile, I’ve focused a lot on vibrato and tone in the context of expressive legato playing, and it’s getting there after a bit over three years, but my runs and arpeggios need work, and I haven’t learned much in terms of repertoire. There are no shortcuts here - only priorities. :smiley:


Have you considered an electric cello? I was thinking that most of us don’t have really a nice acoustic environment to record instruments in.

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Me? I’m not a huge fan of electric bowed strings, though it would be interesting to play around with some proper effects… However, the decent ones are still pretty expensive.

As for a classical sound, getting that out of an electric instrument requires a bit of physical modeling, and the instruments still don’t quite respond like a acoustic ones, so I’m not sure that’s a viable option for studio recordings. The are instruments/amps with “acoustic” modeling built in, but I think that’s mostly meant as a “hack” to avoid using acoustic instrument on stage, as that introduces a bunch of other issues.

Acoustic instrument with pickup or a (very) close mic of some sort is probably a better option in a “bad” studio, though that easily results in a lot of that “electric” character as well. Mic type and position gets more sensitive the closer you get, especially on the cello (and the double bass, I would assume), where each part of the instrument emits a distinct part of the overtone range, rather than that full sound you want.

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I agree, David. For me, the thing that draws me in the most to a solo bowed instrument is the character and “woodiness” of the instrument itself. That’s what I think makes a solo violin differ from a section of violins where the individual character gets blended into the group sound. And an electric violin can’t really have that quality. Even with an electronic pickup it doesn’t sound right to me, but kind of synthy.

I’ve tried to play a friend’s violin one time and I managed to play a very scratchy Mary Had A Little Lamb. Maybe one of my kids will want to play one and that’ll be my in to finally buy one. :wink:


It was really interesting to hear the winning submissions. I’ve listened to the top 5 so far, and realised straight away why I hadn’t come in the top few!

TBH - I knew even before I submitted mine that I was unlikely to score to highly. I let my attraction to the theme I initially came up with override the needs of the scene. EG I wrote the music I liked more than the music the drama required. And I knew I was doing it. And knew I shouldn’t. And still did it…I’ll pick that up with my therapist at some point! :wink:

But it was a great learning experience. And I still like the music I wrote for it, and in fact am now turning this into a stand alone piece, so not a total loss! :wink:

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It’s difficult to let go of ideas, especially if they’re basically good ones in themselves… What I (try to) do when getting that “this is nice, but doesn’t fit” feeling, is save the offending bit for later, and try to get back to what I was supposed to be doing. Only problem with that is, it’s always more fun to start something new, than to finish up old stuff from the “cool ideas” archive… :smiley:

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