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  • "Comments please!", part 2: Long and winding roads................



    I would like you to listen to these two versions of a beautiful arrangement of "Long and Winding road", again made by the same arranger of Over the rainbow (see the "Comment please!" thread on this forum here): Frits Bayens. So all credits for this go to him! This time I changed a few notes, added some harp arpeggios somewhere in the middle.

    The arrangement has been made for the famous Metropole Orchestra (The Netherlands) a sometime ago. I believe there isn't any recording of this piece.

    Instrumentation used by Frits Bayens: muted string orchestra, non muted string quartet and harp. I was very very lucky to get a copy of the original score from the archives of this orchestra. Of course I tried to implement most of the advices this time I got in the first "Comment please!" thread: a.o. track shifting, a fine rubato, tweaked attack, release and EQ settings, etc..  In real life it must have been quite difficult for the conductor to balance the orchestra and string quartet well. It was a challenge for me as MIDI orchestrator to handle this demanding item again with Origami as reverb plugin with their positioning tool. I have made two different versions: the first one has been made with only instruments/samples form the SE plus version. There is a slight difference in rubato between both versions by the way.

    You will find them here:

     The VSL version (No.1): The other version (No.2):   What was quite interesting is that a second version gives a total different sound and feel to this piece. It (the No.2 version) has been made a.o. with the String Library Pro by Kirk Hunter, which offers users a quite nuanced choice in expression (than at least my VSL SE +): from non vibrato to espressivo plus a tweakable (!!) glissando. (Please note: also in the non muted as well as in the muted versions! I am not the one to promote whatever at all, but I read often about the strict handling of ‘espressivo’ in the VSL on this forum, that’s why I mention this here) It needed some more fine tweaking in the EQ however. I didn’t exagerate the glissando this time in this first version. In the VSL version glissando is just absent, because I don’t own the full versions of the appropriate (muted) libaries. I did some layering with the Chamber violins and celli, but only a little bit.I had some difficulties to get natural, smooth, non crescendo lines in the VSL muted sustains to be honest, so I had some extra work to get that better. Maybe the real library could solve this problem. I didn’t have had this problem (at least) in the Hunter version.  So MIDI-pro’s and aficionados: again I am asking you to comment these arrangements. Plaese go ahead!  Regards Erik

  • Well, it's Sunday night and I don't feel like working... [8-|] Let me share my two (more like ten) cents.

    It sounds to me like both versions could go heavier on the reverb- it's especially evident when we hear those solo strings, neither the Hunter nor the VSL sound authentic when used too "up front".

    Personally,  I prefer the VSL. To my ears, the Hunter strings have a very unnatural (yet still expressive!!) quality, especially the vibrato. That said, if you were to choose between elements of these in their current forms, I would prefer the solo strings from "Hunter" for their warmth, and the group strings from "VSL" for their truer sound.

    I also think you can get more subtlety out of VSL SE if you tweak further. Some of these moments sound somewhat static, like block chords, walls of sound. The toughest thing about recreating a string arrangement is that it must be ever-changing and evolving. When a large orchestral string group plays something, you have 30-50 individuals in there! Not at any point will it stagnate -- so how can we recreate that?? I try to put my "chaos theory"  into practice when putting together a VSL string arrangement, by making sure that every moment of every track has some kind of direction, dynamically (velocity crossfading), with volume envelopes and also slight pitch bend...

    This requires breaking all of the parts out into single lines and separately adding automation (pitch, velocity, volume). Also, toggle your attacks and releases so that none of the notes hit at the same exact moment.

    I've been doing a lot of work with the VSL samples lately, and I've gotten great results by judiciously combining Solo, Chamber, Orchestral, and App. String articulations. I find that by mixing them all together, I can get the best of all worlds: the grit and passion from solo strings, the thin, fragile quality from chamber, and the varying thickness btwn orchestral and appassionata. Of course, you have to mix them carefully: the solo strings only slightly into the mix, and levels of the rest depend on how big you want the group to sound.

    For your arrangement, I would also suggest that you try combining chamber strings with that string 4tet. It may go against the direction of the written score, but I believe the result in a digital world can be a lot more satisfying and authentic to the ears.

    And finally, just to add a bit of icing on the cake, I always like to add a slight noise floor behind the track. Bela D Media and Maarten Spruijt (of ProjectSAM) both have libraries of "orchestral background noise", both of which I think are free. This is simply the sound of an orchestra sitting on stage, doing, well... nothing. Just slight sounds of fidgeting and shuffling of feet, breathing, turning pages, etc. Of course, it has to be added to the mix VERY quietly! And even though nobody else can hear it, it gives me an odd satisfaction just knowing its there [:)]

    If you have a minute, you can hear what I've been able to do with these techniques... Most of these examples were achieved with Vienna SE and the full Appasionata strings.... except for the last demo, which was written before the App. Strings came out.

    Hope this was helpful!!


  • Hi Alex,

    Thanks for your comprehensive reply. I will try out your suggestions of course. Adding a bit reverb is no problem at all, as you can imagine. Your other ideas might be more difficult to realize for me. Please read why.

    1. I was wondering what you exactly mean with To my ears, the Hunter strings have a very unnatural (yet still expressive!!) quality, especially the vibrato. For the record: the solo strings are from EWQL, unfortunately they have all just one velocity layer, but the result is often very expressive and transparent. To be honest there is much EQ-ing needed using the Hunter muted strings.

    2. Some of these moments sound somewhat static, like block chords, walls of sound. I have had this comment before in the first thread (so it will mean something important very clearly!). The suggested solution of velocity crossfading), with volume envelopes and also slight pitch bend... your attacks and releases so that none of the notes hit at the same exact moment is quite relevant to me. Could you specify which moments lack the transparency you have in mind?

    But combining (all kind of) patches, however carefully mixed, makes me think of a "300" players orchestra in the end, instead of what I expect of an honest MIDI translation: I mean: what is the point in buying (for quite an amount of money and thus having) e.g. the Chamber strings if it is necessary to mix it necessarely with all kinds of other (equally priced) libraries eventually? This way all sizes of orchestras will sound the same after all, or am I mistaken here? 

    Please note, that I am not offending your personal point of view here, I just am trying to get things clear for myself (plus that I can't allow myself to buy all these nice VSL-libraries for the moment, :(   ).

    I used the slight noise floor in the last version of the Over the rainbow in the first thread by the way. You are totally right in your icing on the cake!

    So again, thanks for your investment in this issue here!

    Interesting stuff, your AD_strings BTW! (but what is sonicly happening at appr. 00:18? )

    all the best to you,


  • Erik, I must admit, the second version breeds more life. More expressive.. I would like to hear them both with more reverb in it. My thoughts of course. Best, Joseph

  • Hi,

    I added more (overall) reverb on both tracks now.

    The VSL version (No.1):
    The other version (No.2):  



  • Hi Erik, after all in all I now prefer number one. I would love to hear this with the App strings, which I have. I also own the KH library, but I noticed today after long sustains the KH library it loses it beauty, which I do not find in the App strings. In other words from a nice Vibrato to a non Vibrato, no matter if I adjusted the settings or not, which of course I did not find in his heavy vibrato samples, which carried a nice sustain.   I have been back and forth with both libraries all day trying to make a comparision since I really had the time to really dig into them for hours on end for the first time..As of now I prefer the Vienna.  KH does have a fantastic library also. It can be, I also do not control the controllers correct in Kontakt. But I still find the App strings, the Pro edtion Giga format I have,still to have more of a rich sound. My thoughts of course.Best, Joseph

  •  The reverb makes such a big difference. Love the new versions. Also, I should say that the arrangement is lovely. I’m just getting right to business about what I’m missing from the arrangement. I hope you don’t find that my tone is condescending. I find that by analyzing the work of others, it helps me make decisions when writing my own stuff.

    To answer your questions one by one:

    1)    The Kirk Hunter Strings- I find the tone sounds synthetic. Almost like someone created it using FM Synthesis (I know that’s not the case). And the vibrato, something about its width and regularity adds to the problem. Though at the same time, I do appreciate the expressivity of the sound itself, it just doesn’t sound to me like it completely belongs to the acoustic world.

    Sidenote- while listening to the VSL version, it sounds to me at 2:15 in the melody that you’re not taking advantage of VSL’s legato. Are you using a general sustain string patch there? Perhaps my ears are deceiving me. In general, I’m not hearing legato lines. Notes sound somewhat detached?
    2)    An example of the block feeling occurs c.a. 3:37 in the VSL version. Maybe it’s a mix issue- when you have a very thick texture, you have to make sure it’s not too prevalent in certain frequency ranges. It’s difficult for me to describe. A real string section just doesn’t sound that THICK.  So it might be a matter of mixing down certain instruments/voicing’s to lose that “wall of sound” feel. In general , what I miss from the Kirk Hunter version is complexity in the sound. When it’s loud, it’s quite in your face, without any slight waves in dynamics. To be fair, all samples suffer from this to a degree, so there’s only so much you can do about it.

    It might also be an orchestration issue. This is not one that occurs in the world of live players, so I guess it’s more exact to call it a “digital orchestration” issue. When you have a texture of block chords in the score, it creates a problem for the digital orchestrator. This is mainly because when each sample is played repeatedly, the flaws become more apparent. You begin to hear that each sample attacks and swells the same way. So it might not be something you can fix without changing the arrangement (by holding more sustained tones and toggling note changes throughout the string sections).

    3)    As far as an “honest” MIDI translation… for me, that amounts to what SOUNDS the best. There’s not a single collection out there that can do it standalone. I know it’s not logical to mix all of the VSL collections together, but to me it simply sounds better that way. Besides- by mixing solo violin (1) with chamber (6) with orchestral  (14), that makes a very healthy and “realistic” sized section. However, I find that by subtlety mixing in App below it all, it smooths everything out in a beautiful way. It’s really about the mix- Solo instruments are mixed in at a VERY low volume level, and I usually toggle between chamber and orchestral. App. Is usually mixed in very quietly as well.
    If you’re going for a smaller, chamber sound though, then I suppose you can’t use this technique with the same kind of success

    So, the short version of that answer is, what I consider an honest MIDI orchestral MIDI translation is what sounds the most authentic. What tricks the ear most.

    4)    My “AD_Strings” example is a compilation of moments from my recent work. I was simply fading into a different piece of music at :18. What you were about to hear, if I didn’t cut it out, was a large choir of men shouting ☺.
    I really hope this helps. I’m not trying to overwhelm you. Sorry that this post turned out a bit on the long-winded side.

  •  Hi,

    Thanks for your contribution. Don't be afraid to overdo or to do anything wrong here; the more discussion and comments the better! So I am really grateful to have your replies.

    Concerning the Hunter strings, I must agree with you (and others), that there is something in the sound that shouldn't be there: is it a kind of digital overtone or something like that? The EWQL quartet on the other hand is much easier to handle in terms of expression and transparancy. The VSL solo strings have potention, but it is hard to give them a kind of "natural space" (at least) in my SE+ version.

    I focussed on the VSL version this time, moreover because this is the right place for presenting this specific issue now, isn't it?

    I repaired as much as possible the weak points you mentioned (at 2:15 and 3:35). I tried to get things more balanced in the mix with a new EQ setting for especially the quartet, I think it is a bit better now: more transparant. I also improved the extra instuments (settings) in the orchestra this time, plus some tick-shifting "within the same parts", an advice I got from somebody and implemented later (see the prior thread).

    Perhaps I will also try out adding some App.Strings from the SE+ version, very delicately! Within short time I'll leave for a nice holiday [H], so if there is some radio silence starting next week, it will have this reason only. (I won't throw my PC out of the window because of any disappointing comment)

    More on your instrumentation point of view the next time: as fars as I can say you at this moment: I do agree with you in many respects.

    Maybe in the future the software itself will (have to) be more creative in handling and choosing the samples itself, based on very clever (and eventually user friendly) algorithms?! I imagine with presets varying in several different styles (from Bach to Stravinsly) or something like this?! I stop dreaming now............. enjoy the last version!

    regards, Erik

  • Hi all,

    On special request by the arranger Frits Bayens I changed the reverb of the string quartet more into a chamber ambiance. It should come out better in the mix now also, I think personally. The reverb settings of the muted strings and harp are kept the same.

    Please enjoy this version and don't hesitate to send your comments!

    Erik Otte

  • PaulP Paul moved this topic from Orchestration & Composition on