In addition to the mini film score reviews, you will find some of my technical reviews of products for film composers and sound designers. In the pipeline is a series on using Apple Logic for film music and sound design and interviews with some of today's top film composers. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Film Music Mini-Reviews

The Descendents
The Lovely Bones
The Host
New World
Teen Wolf

Music Product Reviews

ProjectSAM True Strike 1 & 2
Vienna Symphonic Library - Appassionata Strings
Quantum Leap Storm Drum 2
Flying Hand Percussion
Vienna Instruments - Special Edition
Eastwest/Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs
HALion Symphonic Orchestra

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Fingerprinting, Watermarking, Tune Sat and Competitrack


Fingerprinting is a term for software that performs fuzzy matching of audio or video content.  Each technology implementation has its own “special sauce” for representing audiovisual content and for matching fingerprints of unknown content against a database of previously extracted fingerprints.  The fingerprint can be thought of as a summarization, or signature of the recorded audio or video that is robust against natural degradations such as lossy compression and frequency or temp changes.

Attributes that go into an audio fingerprint can include tempo, dynamics, general frequency patterns, segment structure (verse/chorus/bridge) and specific patterns in rhythm, melody and harmony (chords) in relation to the timeline of the audio.

Shazam is a company that built a business around a technology that is optimized to identify sound recordings in noisy environments. Their flagship application provides instant track recognition on mobile devices.  Another company, Audible Magic uses their fingerprint identification for anti-piracy purposes.  There are many other technologies; some are specialized in identifying brief snippets of a recording — suitable for airplay monitoring.  Other technologies require a complete song recording to make the identification, and are therefore more suited to digital asset identification than to performance monitoring. 

A fingerprint identification service begins with a set of audio files and metadata describing the content.  Each audio file is fingerprinted and the fingerprint is stored in a database along with metadata, which could be artist, title, ISRC, and copyright holder information in the case of music tracks.  If the tracks being indexed are commercials, the metadata might include the company name, product name and the Industry Standard Coding Identification (ISCI) for each ad. 

Fingerprinting technology is frequently used for airplay monitoring.  Automated listening stations can be configured in the desired geographic areas and computers can be configured to monitor multiple stations simultaneously.  The monitoring software applies the fingerprinting algorithm to the broadcast signal and compares each short segment of airplay against the database of known fingerprints.  When a match is found, a record is stored in a database indicating the date/time, channel and the identifier for the audio that was matched.


Whereas fingerprinting technologies do not change an audio file in any way, watermarking technologies do change an audio track (or video) by adding a perceptually inaudible (or invisible) signal.  The signal carries the watermark payload — a set of digital bits.  A watermark detector is a piece of software that “listens” to an audio recording or stream, say a broadcast, and extracts the payload from a detected signal. 

Watermarks payloads are measured in terms of the number of bits that can be represented.  In practice, a music label or film studio can watermark their content forensically using a different payload depending on the supply chain.  For example, a hypothetical payload of “12345” might be used for all audio sent to a particular CD pressing plant and a payload of “67890” is used for audio sent to a digital fulfillment partner.  If a piracy leak were found before the product is released, the watermark would identify which path in the supply chain resulted in the leak.  

Forensic uses of watermarks also include “serial” watermarks, where each copy of a file or audiovisual stream is watermarked individually for each consumer or each performance.  For example, the watermarks used in Digital Cinema not only identify the theater but also the date and time of the screening.  When a “CAM” of a movie is found on the Internet — for example, on YouTube — the watermark identifies the source of the recording.  


TuneSat is an independent audio monitoring services. They claim that their fingerprinting technology is used to monitor hundreds of TV channels.  Their customers include organizations and individuals who desire an independent survey of broadcast performances of their audio content, including recorded music and commercials.
TuneSat claims to have listening stations worldwide.  Each monitored performance includes channel, country, show name, date/time, descriptive metadata and a link to a downloadable recording of the broadcast.  One limitation of their service is that it is focused on national broadcasts.  Smaller, local broadcast markets are not monitored.

The benefit for rightsholders is that data from TuneSat can be used to dispute royalty statements from PROs that may not account for all performances.  Another application for the TuneSat service is monitoring for unauthorized uses.  An example would be commercials or shows that use a sound recording without a master use license. 


Competitrack is a New York City based company providing ad tracking and business intelligence services across 22 media channels, including TV, print, radio and online ads.  They were acquired by Market Track, LLC in 2013. claims to have data on 11 million ads that have run in the US and over 60 countries.  They offer their customers information on ad spending by their competitors.  Customers of Competitrack can view ad images across various media to learn where their competitors are running ads and how much is being spent on ads in different markets and across different media outlets.

In 2007, Competitrack announced that they had acquired an “advanced video fingerprinting technology,” which can be used to monitor video piracy.  They claim their technology combines audio and video luminescence pattern recognition that can find a match with as little as 5 seconds of content.

Competitrack says their fingerprint technology has been used by most of the PROs in the US.  In 2007, SESAC announced their in-house tracking system, which leverages data from Competitrack’s fingerprint technology along and DigiSound, a watermark-based tracking system for production music.  SESAC points out that fingerprint and watermark technologies improve the accuracy of performance tracking without requiring their members to provide “proof-of-performance via media buys, traffic schedules or station logs.”


Friday, January 1, 2016

CD Review: Manna/Mirage by Blue Dogs

One of my favorite new albums was released at the end of 2015 and showcases seven compositions by Dave Newhouse​. The sound is punctuated by his incisive keyboards and features his one-man woodwind ensemble. Also featured are fellow members of The Muffins​, Paul Sears​ (drums) Billy Swann​ (bass) plus guests.

The Muffins are a Washington DC area band that has been together since the early 70's.  While their sound is grounded in the Canterbury rock/jazz school (Soft Machine, Gong and Caravan, for example), this spin-off group leans a bit more towards mainstream and big band jazz.

The compositions and arrangements are refreshing and tight. There is a worthy and fitting homage to Ellington jazz but, in true Canterbury style, there are also whimsical moments to put a smile on your face and even a nod or two to Frank Zappa.

There is quite a range stylistically, from the dreamy "Lost in a Photograph" to the rock/jazz energy of "Blind Eye".  My other favorites are "Shwang Time," with its driving New Orleans party vibe and "Rovian Cue", which ends the album with an upbeat soaring horn arrangement and Dave's piano firmly in the driver's seat.

The cool harmonies and rhythmic interplay are crystal clear -- no easy feat given the complexity of some of the arrangements. Kudos to the recording team at Abin Sur Studios in New Market, MD and mixing/post production at Orion Studios in Baltimore. My only wish is that the album were longer but apparently a followup is already in the works.

The Tracks:
1. Canterbury Bells (4:50)
2. Duke Street (4:47)
3. Muffin Man Redux (7:23)
4. Lost in a Photograph (4:21)
5. Blind Eye (4:56)
6. Shwang Time (4:58)
7. Rovian Cue (4:10)

The Players:
Dave Newhouse – keyboards, woodwinds, drums
Billy Swann – bass
Paul Sears – drums
Mark Stanley – guitar
George Newhouse – drums
Steve Pastena – French horn

Additional info and CD available at:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

WITHIN THE DARKNESS (2013): Sound Design for a Haunted House

In 2013, I finished my 3rd contemporary feature film (17th film overall, counting all the silent films), WITHIN THE DARKNESS.  My main contribution to the film was the score, for which I was given a generous amount of freedom in terms of the style and quantity.  I will post some tidbits on the score in the future.  I also designed some sound effects and vocal processing. Here's a clip where I explain how I created the unsettling sound of the haunted house using multiple tracks of a Chinese instrument called an Erhu and some effects processing in Pro Tools. Are you scared yet? 


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton - Concert Review

Oct. 30, 2013 
Last night at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles marked the first US concert by Danny Elfman in 18 years.  He is back and he is a force of nature.  His versatility as a composer is second only to his talent for melody and dramatic storytelling.  As a performer he commanded the stage and the full house was all over it, from the steam punk kids down to the toddlers (yes many little kids) and their grandmothers reminiscing about his days in Oingo Boingo.  Elfman proved that he is still a larger than life performer and a talented songwriter who is at the top of his game at 60!  He IS the Pumpkin King after all.

Check out his songs from "Nightmare" in the concert phone video (Not my video).  He could have yet another career on broadway.   Among the other performers, Sandy Cameron gave a dazzling extended performance on violin for the gypsy jazz piece from Edward Scissorhands.  Catherine O'Hara gave a heartfelt and moving performance of Sally's Song from Nightmare.  The audience clearly wanted to hear more from both of them.  What a treat.  I've been watching Catherine O'Hara since SCTV (early 80's) and never knew she could sing!  

The choir was well used throughout the night and the ladies came through with his trademark sound. A boy soprano carried some of the more poignant pieces through he looked a little frightened at times.  Who wouldn't be on that stage?  Maybe it was the eerie Theremin, featured on Mars Attacks and elsewhere.  

Conductor, John Mauceri earned his pay throughout the night.  In the clip below, you can see him joining Elfman in a rendition of the Oogie Boogie song. He conducts, turns the pages, grabs the mic and sings.  Elfman does hilarious dance at about 1:45 in the video below. Coming out of it, he seems to have slightly misjudged his next vocal entrance.  Notice how the conductor jumps in with a "one two three" count off around 2:00.  I didn't even notice it during the show.  No harm, no foul, what a great save.   

Tim Burton's concept drawings for each film were splayed across the three jumbo screens like the awkward birth of a weird and wonderful new universe.  The hand drawn concept art dissolved to clips from the film showing the evolution of Burton's vision through the contributions of the larger teams -- over and over for the 14 films featured in the concert.  Elfman and Burton have worked together for 25 years and I'm thinking, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship... 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

ProjectSAM Orchestral Essentials

Orchestral Essentials
Review by Carlos Garza (

Originally known for their straight ahead symphonic products, ProjectSAM found success in recent years with the Symphobia series -- two high-end collections of symphonic effects and sound design samples.  Their newest collection, Orchestral Essentials, combines highlights of Orchestral Brass, True Strike and Symphobia products with some new samples to create film and game composer’s dream package. 

Their percussion libraries, True Strike 1 and 2 were the subject of my 2008 article written for Pro Audio Review.  Here’s a deep dive into their brand new and very affordable symphonic instrument library. 


Orchestral Essentials (OE) includes strings, brass and woodwind ensembles, select solo instruments, concert and ethnic percussion.  The ensembles include staccato, long notes, legato, and for the strings, pizzicato and tremolo. 

There are cinematic effects in each family, including string and brass rips, clusters, falls, drum phrases, scraped and bowed metal instruments and more.  The legato combination instruments include horns with trombone, strings with flute and flutes with clarinet.  There is also a Dystopia Sound Design collection, including drones, risers, reverse effects, alien and ghostly sounds and a collection of things that go bump in the night. 

The percussion includes concert bass, timpani, snares, toms, cymbals, gongs, a djembe ensemble and a Japanese set.  Rounding out the collection are Piano Mystique, a concert harp, harpsichord and a church organ. 

Among the highlights of the OE collection are the “multis” and full orchestra patches.  Many of the strings, brass and woodwind sets include percussion in the lowest range on the keyboard.  An excellent combination for live performance or working out ideas. 

OE instruments are loaded into the free Kontakt Player 5 (included).  The custom tabbed interface exposes controls for simple EQ, effects, attack and note release.  The built-in effects include a simple, but nice sounding, reverb, a compressor, delay, filter and stereo control.  Specific controls and effects vary by instrument. 

Some of the sustain instruments have a velocity switch, allowing you to play with regular key velocity or use the mod wheel to fade in the higher intensity samples.  You can create strings and brass swells using the mod wheel to drive the tonal intensity while your expression pedal controls volume independently. 

In Use

My primary composing rig is a MacBook Pro with 6GB of RAM, OS 10.5.8 and Logic 9 as host for Kontakt 5.  I was excited at the possibility of using OE to sketch out ideas for my current project, Within the Darkness.  This paranormal ghost story is screaming for orchestral effects and sound design from hell. 

I was amazed at the fullness and overall blend of my arrangements with OE.  Remember that it’s an “essentials” set so we’re not going to see great variety in articulations and very few solo instruments.  That said, this package sounds great!  I had no trouble getting realistic symphonic arrangements very quickly.  Check out the following sound clip, which includes three short builds.  This track was created entirely with OE. 

It sounded so good that sometimes I found myself layering too many parts.  I was thankful for the Enhance control, which let me quickly try larger or smaller ensembles with some of the instruments.  See the Enhance and Modwheel switches on the left side of the player window below.  

Orchestral Essentials Main UI

The brass instruments in OE are top tier -- no surprise, since they are from one of ProjectSAM’s flagship collections.  As with the other sets, the brass ensembles mix low, mid and high instruments in one keyboard mapping for staccato and one for sustained notes.  It’s nice to have the option for normal keyboard velocity or using the mod wheel to shape the tone during performance. 

The Brass Cinematic effects patch has a nice assortment of clusters, blasts and falls (think “LOST”).  The solo horn and trumpet are excellent.  The solo trombone was fine but in mod wheel mode I was not able to hear the loudest samples two octaves below middle C and lower.  I think this is simply a bug in the Kontakt instrument patch -- I’m sure it will be fixed in an update.  All the samples are there in normal velocity mode. 

The woodwinds are very lively.  Once I learned where the flutes, clarinets and bassoons transition on the keyboard, I found these sets very inspiring.  The settings tab in the Kontakt interface allows you to turn on the release tails and kick in the “octaver,” which is very handy for punching up a melody quickly. 

I explored the woodwinds and some of the darker cinematic effects for a score to the silent short, "Monkey Cookie Jar." 

You can get more from OE by tweaking the patch settings but I didn’t find much need.  I adjusted the attack, decay and sustain to create a diminuendo patch with the sustained woodwinds.  All of this is very quick and easy and that means you are spending more time writing and playing your music and less time tinkering with the patch settings. 

The Woodwinds Cinematic Effects patch is one of my favorites.  The modest sampling of flute rips worked well in climactic sections.  I combined this with staccato winds and brass and some reverse effects to score a trailer for a short film project.  Below is the trailer for the upcoming Anthony Faust film, "Make Her Smile" -- scored entirely with Orchestral Essentials. 

Watch the make-up removal time lapse above or watch it on Vimeo.

The low-end woodwind effects clusters are very creepy and one of these is already in my score for Within the Darkness.  There are some wonderfully unsettling symphonic effects. 
The arco strings with mod wheel dynamics are simply gorgeous.  These sounds are ready for prime time!  The short notes were perfect for action sequences and the cinematic effects are right out of a Bernard Herrmann score. 

The power of Orchestral Essentials is most apparent in the Full Orchestra and multi sets.  The Full Orchestra sets combine layered sections with multiple controls for dynamic live playing.  For example, the Epic set has strings and trumpet in the right hand and mostly brass in the left whereas the Suspense set features tremolo strings in the right and mixes brass with drums in the left. 

Among the multis that I found very useful are, Darko, with the mysterious reverb piano and The Gathering, which mixes strings brass and woodwinds into a taut thriller palette -- just begging for diminished harmonies. 

Another handy feature is the Seating Tab (see below), which shows where the orchestra sections are located on stage.  You can see which instruments are present in a basic patch and which are added by hitting the Enhance button.
Orchestral Essentials - Seating Chart

I really appreciated having round robin samples in most of the set.  More round robin would be helpful, especially the short brass samples. 

OE includes 8 Sound Design layouts.  Names like “Ghostly Winds” and “They arrived” give only a hit at the sonic mayhem.  Reverse Engineering has several long builds and sweeps from symphonic instrument glissandi and atonal clusters -- just the thing for a paranormal, “Fringy” film or TV show. 

The percussive sound design set is loaded with multi-hit and layered booms and clangs to make your audience jump out of their seats.  The drones and risers are richly complex and well suited to professional film, TV and game productions. 


Orchestral Essentials is a great sounding package.  With little effort, you can create high quality, believable symphonic realizations for film, TV, electronic games and pop productions. 

The symphonic effects and Dystopia sound design elements are powerful and dramatic and rare in a symphonic library product in this price range.  As you can hear from my demos, Orchestral Essentials inspired me in a number of ways from romantic scores to dark drama and intense action.  The multi-patches are impressive and I’m looking forward to using them in live settings (for example, live silent film score accompaniment). 

The quality of the recordings and the selection of straight-ahead instruments would make OE worth the price alone.  The inclusion of so many symphonic effects and dramatic sound design elements make Orchestral Essentials a rare and unique offering.  OE is strongly recommended for aspiring film and game composers and anyone wanting to explore the darker and more dramatic edges of symphonic realization. 

  •     Beautiful 24-bit samples
  •     Natural hall reverberation
  •     Instrument groups recorded together
  •     Dystopian sound design elements
  •     More round robin samples needed
  •     Mod wheel control not available on every instrument
Applications: TV, film and game scoring, concert work mock-ups, pop arrangements
Installation: Direct Download or DVD boxed
Company site:

ProjectSAM libraries are sold internationally through ProjectSAM's web site and through world-wide affiliates in the US, Europe, Japan and India. 

The Bottom line: This is a very satisfying and inspiring collection of virtual instruments at a great price.  Highly recommended. 

€299 / $399 USD

(c) 2012 Carlos Garza,