Sony Cinescore 1.0

When it comes to workflow, soundtracks represent their own unique challenges. In a lot of the audio-for-video work I do, the budget and/or deadlines won’t allow hiring musicians. Rather than break out a music library, which never seems to provide exactly what I want, I’ve taken to creating soundtracks using a combination of sample CDs and parts I play. With a bit of work, it’s possible to have the music ebb and flow with the video, speed up and slow down to accent moods, overlay hits and transitions, and so on. Using this approach has saved me hours of time, and produced satisfied clients (always a good thing).
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So when Sony claimed it was possible to basically automate this process, I was skeptical. After all, I put a lot of work into creating these soundtracks; how could a piece of software do the same thing?

WHAT IT IS

Cinescore consists of three main parts:

--An expandable sample library of “themes” (20 come with the program), with multiple variations (typically 20 or more) per theme.

--A workspace for assembling video and audio.

--An algorithmic composition generator that dips into the sample library, and creates music according to your specs.

Additional optional-at-extra-cost themes have already appeared, and I think it’s a safe bet we’ll see more in the future.

The workspace has four tracks: video, audio (e.g., the audio associated with the video, such as camcorder audio, narration, mixed dialog, etc.), generated music, and audio transitions (hits, sound effects, etc.; over 300 come with the package). Although you wouldn’t edit a video with Cinescore (for example, you can’t add plug-in effects to the video tracks), you can cut, paste, copy, group, move, crossfade, do ripple editing, etc. This makes it possible to assemble multiple video clips together, then create the audio.

But the big deal here is the Generated Music track, as that’s what holds the soundtrack. (Note, however, that WAV and AIFF audio files can be dragged into any of the audio tracks, so technically there are a total of three audio tracks available.)

APPLYING CINESCORE

First, you define the length you want the score to cover, then choose a theme. You can filter themes by instrument, tempo, genre, artist, keywords, etc. Next, you choose a variation on the theme; the audio preview button helps a lot with respect to finding you want.

An “advanced” option allows customizing the variation. You can choose a different intro, arrangement (changes the instrument sounds that are used), tempo, mood, and most interestingly, “intensity.” This increases the vibe from more minimal to adding more instruments, more notes, effects, and the like. We’ll revisit these later, because you can change the intensity and other parameters over the course of the score.

After setting up your basics, the Generated Music dialog box appears. Here you decide about the ending: fade out, normal (ends in a musically relevant way, but may change the length a bit compared to what you specified; in that case, invoke the “Fit to Length” option), abrupt (matches length exactly), and loop (for kiosk videos and the like that repeat).

But this is also where you hit the heart of Cinescore: Hints. You drop hints, with an almost dizzying array of options, into the timeline to change the course of the generated music. A graph below where you do the edits shows the various “sections” that make up the score, and displays how some of the changes affect the overall flow. For example, you can see the arrangement of the sections change as you alter the “randomness” parameter. “Variance” causes more changes to happen, again, reflected by the names of the sections shown on the timeline. It’s also possible to change the mood and most importantly, the intensity, as well as specify variations within the intensity changes.

Still with me? If not, don’t worry; you can just take what Cinescore gives you, and have something pretty cool. But the ability to key musical changes precisely to changes in the video is what puts Cinescore in a class by itself.

For example, when looking at the “Intensity” graph, because I’d inserted a hint to increase intensity, it kept peaking until the end. But the score I’d generated was intended only for the first half of the video; I planned to generate another piece for the second half. As I didn’t want the video to peak too early, I inserted another hint about 2/3 of the way through the first section to bring things back down a bit. Cool.

Finally, you can audition the entire soundtrack, or portions of it, to make sure all the changes are as desired. This offers the usual play, pause, stop, etc. controls, as well as the ability to jump to subsequent and previous hints for editing. Once you click OK, the music goes on the generated music track.

You can also edit or recreate the generated music if you change your mind later on. The score is saved as a WAV file, so you can process, edit, re-use, or master it. However, Cinescore saves everything, so prune away the stuff you don’t need if you don’t want your Cinescore 1.0 music folder to get bloated.

CONCLUSIONS

Cinescore is amazing, but not miraculous. For example, I just did a video where there was a solo guitar player, and it was decided that the soundtrack needed drums playing along with the guitarist. So, I dragged a bunch of individual hits and a few loops from the Discrete Drum libraries into Vegas, and matched the hits up with the guitar notes. There’s no way Cinescore can generate this level of detail, nor is it designed to.

What it can do, though, is shift gears very ably to match moods, and do so on a dime. This isn’t “dumb” algorithmic generation, but has intelligence thanks to the “hints” you provide. When you specify that the soundtrack get more intense, it really does get more intense. Being able to drop back to something more minimal, then build up to something more complex, is an incredibly powerful technique (as is stretching tempo).

The secret weapon is the transitions track, as you can line up hits and sound effects very precisely with any visual cues. This furthers the sense that the soundtrack was crafted specifically with the video in mind.

Maybe Cinescore won’t handle 100% of my scoring needs, but it can come surprisingly close — like when I need music now. You can generate a soundtrack in minutes (literally), and if you’re willing to put in a little more time, you can easily take a soundtrack to the “next level” where it truly fits the video like a glove.

In the short time it’s been out, Cinescore has proven to be a real time-saver and workflow enhancer that definitely exceeds expectations. If it wasn’t so friendly and obedient, it would be scary.

Product type: Algorithmic scoring software for Windows XP or 2000 SP4.
Target market:
Studios doing audio-for-video work that need to produce quality soundtracks despite low budgets and tight deadlines.
Copy protection
: Serial number and registration.
Strengths:
Actually does what it purports to do. Easy to use, but you can get pretty deeply into editing if desired.
Limitations:
Audio plug-ins not supported. Limited to the themes that come with the program, and whatever add-on themes appear in the future.
Price:
$199.96 list (boxed version); check website for downloadable versions.
Contact:
www.sony.com/mediasoftware