Moving from the Technology to the Art
I’m not sure how many posts have promised a look at the actual rendering of the music. I admit that we’ve gotten a bit wrapped up in the technical end of things. However, that’s not unusual. As technology gets more and more powerful, it also gets more and more complex, with numerous (or even innumerable) options to set. When just one of those options is set wrong, it throws a wrench into everything.
Now, however, I think I have all of the bugs worked out, and can get to the subject of rendering the performance. As I’ve mentioned before, I currently use the Garritan Personal Orchestra that comes bundled with Finale. I do this for two reasons – first, I’m cheap (often broke in terms of my music budget). Second, it’s a pretty fine library. I’m thinking about upgrading to the full GPO. If I do that, won’t get any brand new instruments, but I will get many variations of the instruments that I already have, which is the secret to GPO’s sound.
You see, in addition to complete sampled string sections, GPO includes 12 individual violins, and 4 each violas, cellos, and basses. The key is to then mix those instruments together to create section sounds that are amazingly real. If you listen to these demos, sometimes it gets really tough to distinguish the real from the synthesized (fooled you, they’re all synthesized). The Finale version of GPO comes with much smaller string sections (but still impressive) that can be put together to create very full sections.
In my case, I first wrote all the parts, assigning a single sample (be it a single instrument or sampled section) to each part. The next step was to split out the strings. All the other instruments could be used as is, since each of them represents a single, solo instrument. (That makes me wonder – how would this sound if I used the strings a solo instruments instead of sections?)
The strings (at least, for now), are set up as string sections. To make the sound even fuller, I took each string line and made one copy, erasing the pizzicato part from the copy. The reason for that is another bit of techie wonderment, the Keyswitch.
One of the reasons that synthesized or sampled recreations of acoustic instruments tend to fall flat is that the acoustic musician can make many changes to the tone of the sound, or the attack, or many other things, by changing their embouchure, blowing harder or softer, bowing a different way, or not using the bow and plucking the string with a finger (the aforementioned pizzicato). Synth players haven’t readily had all these options at their fingertips. The best solution for a realistic sound was to have a variety of patches and use MIDI commands to change between those patches in a sequence.
The new, large format samplers have evened up the score, somewhat. First, they often will load in the attack portion of a patch for a variety of articulations – bowing, plucking (pizz) and tremolo for the strings. The player can then pick which of the types plays by striking a key – usually in the bottom octave of the keyboard well below where the instrument can play. For sustaining instruments, they also will frequently map the volume of the instrument to a variable control that just about every keyboard since the MiniMoog has had – the pitch bend wheel. The velocity with which the key is struck then controls the intensity of the attack, while the pitch bend wheel controls the volume. Throw in some other controls like portamento, and you have a very realistic, organic-sounding instrument.
The reason that I copied each track and took out the pizzicato section is that of the instruments included in GPO, fewer than half of them have these keyswitches. Why not? Memory. Loading all those articulations into memory takes up a lot of space – so if you don’t need them, why load them?
I need them, however. So, I assign the non-keyswitched instruments to the version that doesn’t have the pizzicato section so they don’t play there. Then I benefit from the full section on the rest of the passages.
Well, that’s enough words for now. I have to take a short hiatus to work on an emergency mix (for a funeral). I’ll post about that in the Production Diary section. Then, when we come back, we’ll talk about panning, rendering, and mixing.