Exactly! I mean, as amazing some of them are, instruments are “just” instruments.
And, as I’ve been touching on before, that’s the major issue with modeled instruments. Even if they were to accurately replicate the tone of world class soloist instruments, it will just not fly, unless they’re also played with the technique and expression of skilled, talented players.
Samples have the advantage of having “canned expression” from real players in them, which avoids this problem to some extent, but then we hit the next problem: What we’re doing when playing these is essentially equivalent to trying to paste convincing emotional human dialog together from sampled syllables and words. I mean, that is literally what sampled strings are starting to sound like to my ears recently, and I can only imagine what it sounds like to seasoned professional players.
As I’m going deeper into belcanto and bowed strings lately (or becoming increasingly neurotically obsessed? - I don’t even know anymore ), I’m becoming more and more convinced that that last bit that turns a piece into an emotionally touching performance, is embedded in the subtle technical details, on a level that we can’t realistically control on a fully conscious level. Kind of like these invisible fingerprints embedded in the noise of samples and images, only detectable by algorithms that know what to look for. There’s certainly a LOT of technique to all of this, and endless hours of trying to figure out how to create just that sound you’re looking for, but when it comes down to it, the magic doesn’t happen until the subconscious starts to take over, and it all turns into emotional expression, much like speaking in a language in which you are fluent.
Sample libraries can’t give you too much idiosyncratic expression, of course. The more perfectly tailored a sample is to a particular note in a particular piece, the less likely that sample is to “work” for any other piece–or even for any other phrase in that same piece!
In order to be most universally useful, sample libraries MUST leave their samples somewhat bland and devoid of expression, or even devoid of any uniqueness at all. For example, if my V2’s mf sample of F4 has a moment where one of the violins momentarily pops out and is heard distinct from the section, that renders the sample almost useless, because you’ll hear it every time my piece calls for the V2s to play F4 at the mf level, and it will quickly become very annoying. But it’s fine for that to happen in a real orchestra, because every time the section plays F4, it’s unique.
That kind of idiosyncracy is part of the experience of the music, and makes the listener feel a certain way. But sample libraries cannot give you that, or else they’ll render themselves useless and unplayable from a keyboard. They MUST give you bland, undifferentiated samples.
Some composers will try to simulate this kind of uniqueness by blending a solo instrument with the section so that there’s more texture in each note, and I do think that bridges the gap a little, but it’s still not the same as adding live players.
Oh, and what is belcanto? Tell me more about that part of your comment!
Indeed, it is what it is with samples; a delicate balance between keeping them lifelike, and avoiding instantly recognizable “fingerprints.”
And I do the solo/first chairs thing a lot, and it does help with adding a sense of life and extra detail, and even allows one to “lean” the overall sound a bit in one direction or another, but one can only allow the solo instruments to detract so far from the sections before it literally just sounds like they’re doing their own thing.
I did some experiments using modeled instruments as first chairs for sampled sections, and while it obviously offers more control, it still has the same problem of needing to not deviate too much from the sections.
With one or two modeled desks over more subtle (and smaller) sampled sections, it shifts towards the samples just adding subtle life and “space” to the now mainly modeled sections, but that instead the modeled instruments (and their issues) more naked, which kind of defeats the point of involving samples in the first place.
I don’t know… More research needed.
Oh, and bel canto (dropped a space there) - opera singing, more specifically. Picked up singing a bit in late 2019, after about two decades of hardly using my voice, and a bit later, joined a one-month opera workshop, figuring I’d learn the basics properly. Tried some baritone arias, finally started to get some grip on the tilt/head voice thing, tied some tenor pieces, and was like “wow, never imagined I could actually do this…” So I guess I have another instrument to fit into my schedule now.
Wow, you’re singing opera, then! Whoa!
I have heard the results you get combining first chairs with sections, and it’s really nice.
Honestly, I haven’t done it because I’m…lazy and want to get done with the piece? And because I have kind of abandoned the hunt for realism. I’m already frustrated that we are stuck spending dozens of hours mocking things up, when a real orchestra is what we really want to hear. I’ve gotten to where I kind of hate mock-ups. Creating them is drudgery. I’m jaded.
Thanks for listening Everett. Difficult style to nail down, but there are so many great composers from that era that are sadly not well known today. Obviously John Williams can be considered from that school of writing, and your Star Wars pieces have that kind of magic to them. Hopefully, my main title theme piece will be better. Trying to write something like Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s “Sea Hawk” themes.
Loved it! These are the pieces where you wish you were the composer. And that Star Wars atmosphere is amazingly accurate. Wow.
I’ll add that think extreme patience is key too. I throw out so many ideas, try so many different things and reject them, to get a piece to completion.
I do love how this piece turned out, but a lot of so-so and even straight-up bad ideas—both in the melody and in the arrangement—got tried and tossed out to arrive at it. It’s not like a piece like this just flows out of my fingers when I sit at the piano. It’s a grueling process. Lots of sweat. I wonder how effortless or effortful it is for Johnny?
Oh and man I’ve been meaning to get into more Korngold. Thanks for reminding!
I always remember an interview with Steven Spielberg when he was doing the Indiana Jones movies, he had asked John Williams how the music was coming and John presented him with two ideas for the main theme and asked Spielberg which he liked more, and Spielberg paused and asked Williams if he could use both? And Williams was like, “Sure, OK,” and thus in the Raider’s of the Lost Ark main theme you have the first theme in the trumpets and the second theme in the horns/cellos.
Melodies are the easy part for me; everything else–all the texture parts–are maddeningly difficult to write and take me forever. Really looking forward to hear your next works!
It’s all hard for me! I store up dozens of melodies, singing them into my iPhone. I pick through them and discard most of them.
Going back through them, I can’t believe I saw promise in most of them.
I wish any of composing felt easy!