Across the Plains

We arrive at the month’s first dodged bullet. My time management over the weekend, complicated by impromptu hang outs with our neighbors in the evenings, led to me getting a late start. It’s hard to go to bed at a decent hour when you don’t go into the studio before midnight, but I was generally happy with both Continental Transit and Mare Vaporum, so I had no reason to think this one would be any different. How wrong I was.

There are now three project files on my computer dated 20230206, and that doesn’t reflect the multiple times I’d do a Select-All, Delete 1It’s amusing to me that both Select-All, Delete and Song-A-Day initial out to “sad.” and start everything over. I tried throwing a bunch of things at the wall and absolutely nothing would stick.

  1. Across the Plains Ray Toler 2:41

I couldn’t find a good sound. I could find a good sound but nothing to go with it. I could find a good set of sounds but no melody to carry them along. At about 2:50 AM… well, I gave up. My eyes wouldn’t stay open and not only was I not having fun, I was starting to get frustrated. I kept the most promising of the sketches open with the intent of fleshing it out in the morning.

And when I listened to it in the morning, it sounded like crap.

Tick… Tick… Tick… Tick…

Ok. It’s now 9:00 AM and I have absolutely nothing for today’s track, much less tomorrow’s. I decided it was time for a mental exercise: let’s pretend I’m an in-demand media composer (instead of the available media composer I actually am) and that I have to get a full cue to the editor by noon. What’s the subject? What’s on the screen? I have no idea; let’s not put toooooo many constraints on things.

I started with a fresh project and the very first patch I loaded was the rhythm pattern that starts things off. Hmmm. A little tribally. Maybe African? Dunno. Doesn’t matter. Cool. Then came the synthish bass swell. Ok. We’re off.

The arrangement of the track largely follows the sounds I found as I found them. String ostinatos, big brass, woodwinds, some synthy ending twiddly bits. Now we’re, well… not cooking quite yet, but the prep work is done. I went back and added the horn line that makes this thing sing, then some percussion, a sub bass under the “big” section, and last, but definitely not least, the percussion: timpani, tam tam, and piatti.

11:30. I’ve got the arrangement and programming pretty much where it needs to be. I spent about 20 minutes recording the various parts in. I could have just bounced all of the tracks at once, but I’m still finicky about not having gigabytes of silence in audio files. At 11:00, I started mixing. This didn’t really require much beyond balancing. I added a dash of reverb to the rhythm loop, a little EQ on the brass swell and an automated fade-out on the ending arpeggio because the delay actually kept going for almost a minute before dropping to silence.

Gullfoss and Pro-L2 are still my usual mastering chain. I didn’t do much, just some sweetening and taming. It was actually trickier to figure out how much gain to add to the final mix to get it level matched with my other tracks for the month. I took levels both for the entire track, and again for only the loud section. In the end, I think I may have gotten it a tiny bit too hot, and might go back and fix that later, but it doesn’t slap you in the face when it starts up after Mare Vaporum.

The final bounce to a two-track master happened at 12:38 PM. I missed the deadline by a bit, but that’s not really a concern – I gave myself a ticking clock and a scenario and that helped to frame the problem.

Haven’t We Been Here Before?

As the shape of this thing took form, especially when I got the loud section mixed, I started hearing some similarities between this track and one I wrote back in the late 90s. It featured a bodhran drum instead of, well whatever this drum is, and it used horns and strings from a JV-2080, so the realism wasn’t anywhere near as close, but the general feel of the thing was the same.

When I wrote it, I felt that it was very cinematic and always saw imagery of speeding just above giant wheat fields, or a three-masted sailing ship cutting the waves on a beautiful day. When I overlaid the recording of the Apollo 11 landing on it, it instantly fit, and the title was obvious: A Single Step. I included it on my first album, and you can listen to it2Or better yet, buy it! on Bandcamp.

So as I was mixing today’s track, I was getting similar imagery, but it was almost entirely the speeding-over-the-plains-in-a-low-flying-aircraft thing with giant herds of buffalo, or horses, or wildebeasts, running toward whatever those creatures run to in giant herds. The title pretty much wrote itself from that mental picture.

In the end, this is a far better track than I thought it was going to be. It’s got a reasonable composition and arrangement for the time given, and it would certainly benefit from additional attention. No time for that today, though. My replacement monitors have arrived, I have to get them wired in and do some audio tests, and then it’s straight on ’till morning!



Pigments, Polaris, Omnisphere

Sample Libraries

Albion One, Spitfire Symphonic Brass, Symphonic Motions, Spitfire Percussion, Landforms

Image Credit: Alan Green (CC BY-2.0)


  • 1
    It’s amusing to me that both Select-All, Delete and Song-A-Day initial out to “sad.”
  • 2
    Or better yet, buy it!

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