I wanted to start this blog with First by Emir ‘Drey’ Diril for a number of reasons. This track was made back in 2007 and it was the first piece for which I wrote an in-depth song analysis back in the day. So in a way this was the piece that got me started doing song analysis.
Emir Diril is a very talented young composer/guitarist. You are likely to see many more pieces from him getting reviewed here as he is one of my favorite composers. Definitely check out more of his stuff.
The track starts with a minimal but tasteful Japanese motif played with a Yangqin that starts to get some support from a western string section; first the violins then violas and cellos. I must say I really love the sudden jump back to the east at around 00:34 with the wind instrument (sounds like a Bawu but I am not sure) and the taiko drums coming back. Especially the build up of the bass moving from A to D starting at 00:45 is another piece of simple yet masterful orchestration. This build up gets even more epic with the addition of the chords played by the brass section at 00:59
I need to pause here and talk about something else here briefly. The use of brass section in computerized orchestrations is extremely tricky business. It is very hard to achieve believable and technically sound brass parts. We are all spoiled by Hollywood soundtracks that have been using brass in actions scenes, epic wars etc. that I believe we have certain expectations from the brass section by now as listeners. The other main two melodic families of instruments in the symphony orchestra (namely the strings and the woodwinds) are not as hard. Somehow the strings (even with somewhat lame sound libraries) sound well (especially if slow enough) and the woodwinds also have less problems especially with fitting melodies and Mozart-like solo use. But the brass my friend… You can tell a lot by a modern day composer by looking at their proficiency at using brass.
And this is one of the highlights of Emir to me. He is an absolute master of the brass section. OK I hope I have brought enough attention to this issue, let’s move on with the review
The build up ends with a great hook at 1:08. Again notice how masterfully the orchestra implements a crescendo into the harp sweep. The timing at which the brass section is silenced, followed by the violas and cellos with only the violins remaining at the top. In a matter of three seconds where many composers would have probably just gotten sloppy and forget, Emir here displays a finely tuned sense of dynamics understanding and perfect taste.
And comes the heart stopping piano motif (A, G, D, E) at 1:13. From this point on the piece seems to just gain momentum and keep flowing non stop to its end. It is a particularly hard part to review in writing, since there is so much movement intervowen. But the first time I listened to this piece I got goosebumps at the piano motif. And before I could even comprehend what happened Emir kept coming back with more orchestral sophistication, taking the listener on a flowing voyage through melody and harmony.
Even as early as 1:18 the cellos start supporting the piano with an answering bass melody while the rest of the violins calmly provide the harmonic framework. 1:24 the violas enter into an arpegio motif under the violins and after two measures get joined by second violins a third away. And at 1:37 things start to get seriously epic, with the addition of snare drum (the marching band rhythm) and the brass section again (almost like a battle cry in the making)
Another harp sweep in 1:53 takes us to a part dominated by harmonic movement without a melody in the fore front. This is a choice that I particularly admire. For listeners melody is usually the most memorable part with rhythm being the thing that moves them and harmony being the thing that whispers to their mood. For a composer to take the harmony center stage like this is rare and takes courage. Courage in orchestration and structure. Obviously Emir has that. And he not only has the courage but also the technical prowess to pull this off beautifully as well. Piano gives up its melodic role and falls into an arpegio. There is a gradual build up among the brass, piano and finally strings until 2.20. That’s when the yangqin makes its return with its part from 0:45, but this time in front of a more mature, finalistic and resolving harmonic framework. It takes us all the way back to the beginning motif at 2.39.
I believe in all art forms there is an inherent conflict. A conflict between the technical prowess about the medium and the artistic attributes like originality and sincerity. As an example think of Malmsteen with his extreme technical prowess (but often critisized of being repetitive – btw I love Malmsteen). Or think of Nirvana and other grunge artists that had a lot of sincerity and originality (but often critisized for their lack of technical prowess). The main conflict is the moment you start to “show” technical prowess, it becomes recognizable in and of itself as a separate entity then the overall context which it is a part of. And that breaks the flow of the overall piece more often than not. That is why doing something that is both technically awesome and artistically true is very hard and rare.
To me Emir managed to do exactly that with First. A perfect combination of artistic integrity and technical prowess. A natural beauty with a strong design.
You can listen to First in Emir’s MySpace page.