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  • Zodiac suggests what surely must follow.

    First of all, huge congratulations and extremely well done, VSL, for the very, VERY splendid Zodiac!

    In Fabio Amurri's highly insightful Zodiac review video he mentioned one of the most acoustically revealing tests for any orchestral live room: trombones staccato. And oh man, Synchron Stage really does present its matchless acoustic credentials in that test!

    And what's more, Fabio automated the various mics to show off the incredibly impressive and wonderfully dramatic effects of using recorded ambience mics to provide not only non-linear dynamic ambience during a colossal crescendo, but also make it appear that more instruments are joining in as the crescendo proceeds. Supreme drama!

    But now I'm thinking ahead and wondering what might help VSL's tremendous campaign to secure for Synchron Stage its much deserved high rank in the media scoring business - both in live recording and in digital emulation.

    One thing immediately springs to mind. Looking to that other great city about 524 km NNW of Vienna as the crow flies, I notice certain competing products that offer not only huge ensembles but also some divisi groupings. This is the one big limitation I see in the BBO range. Without going to the extremes of the legendary VSL Dimension collection, surely it's not beyond the realms of economic and technical feasibility to record at least two subsections of huge ensembles - such that at least 2-part divisi would be then practical without sounding obviously over the top. So for example, providing, say, horns a6, trombones a5, violas a10, and such like, would extend BBO's capabilities into some new and seriously sophisticated areas of composition for drama scores, be it for film, TV, gaming or any other medium in which dramatic narratives reign.

    Just a thought.

    Anyway, I'm in no doubt that the superb BBO collection is already a great game-changer in many respects. I look forward to seeing yet more of VSL's revolutionary evolution!

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    @Macker said:

    providing, say, horns a6, trombones a5, violas a10, and such like, would extend BBO's capabilities

    Hasn't this already been done with the previous titles in the BBO series?


  • Maybe, maybe not, Paulo. I find it difficult if not impossible to untangle and identify all of the disparate elements that have gone into each BBO chapter: some old patches , some new for BBO. And of the new BBO patches, which have been re-used across the BBO collection and which are unique to any one particular chapter? And in any case my suggestion had in mind a (hypothetical future) single library or small collection library - able to compete directly with the likes of Ark - rather than the huge, diverse and very expensive collection as BBO is right now.

    Oh, and when I say "patches", as you know, not all recorded patches are equal despite having the same name, number of players, and intended use. Fabio and Paul highlighted the great dynamic-timbral range and beautifully extended range of force and power unique to Zodiac's own big ensemble patches; my thinking was all about getting access to smaller parts of great recordings such as those only (currently) in Zodiac.

  • But they are all made to be part of the same big instrument. So, you can combine them, either as libraries or individual patches that you can assemble with patches of different libraries.

    I’ll try to sort them by orchestral section:

    Woodwinds: N, O

    Woodwinds FX: S

    Brass:: H, J, K

    Brass FX: I

    Percussion: P, Q

    Percussion FX: D, F

    Percussion Patterns: E

    Choir: G

    Strings: T, U, V, W, X

    Strings (Combo High/Low): L, M

    Strings (Bigger sections): Z

    Strings FX: R

    Full Orchestra: A

    Full Orchestra FX: B

    Full Orchestra Patterns: C

  • I'm so sorry Paolo - I spelt your name wrong. (Dammit not enough sleep as usual!)

    Very useful quick guide to the BBO collection, thanks.

    Let me go right to the heart of what I'm talking about. Could you, for example, with the same intense timbral quality of fff as heard in Zodiac, produce 2-part, 3-part or 4-part trombone or horn harmony progressions, using BBO chapters other than Zodiac, and without the result sounding over the top in terms of number of players? The criterion must be that it would sound exactly as if Zodiac offered divisi subsections that would, for this part-writing, add up to no more than about 9 trombones or 12 horns. I bet it's not possible. That's what I mean.

    I could try it with 12 Dimension trombones or horns, 4-part a3 or 3-part a4 (I can have 3 full ensembles of Dim trombones or Dim horns in unison because I have extra Synchron Players transposed 200c up and 200c down). But I really do not expect the result to sound much like a hypothetical Zodiac with divisi subsections. Dimension brass just cannot do that Zodiac ultra fortissimo.

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    @Macker said:

    Let me go right to the heart of what I'm talking about. Could you, for example, with the same intense timbral quality of fff as heard in Zodiac, produce 2-part, 3-part or 4-part trombone or horn harmony progressions, using BBO chapters other than Zodiac, and without the result sounding over the top in terms of number of players?

    Dunno. And I'm not even that good at composing this kind of things. But here is a rough, grungy try with Jupiter's and Zodiac's horns:

    JupiZodiFanfare (Equal Tuning)

    JupiZodiFanfare (Just Intonation)


  • Blimey Paolo ! :D I was only talking in terms of a thought experiment but you've actually constructed a very good test. Well done and thank you. And it proves my point. Not even Jupiter's lovely new brass ensembles can match up to the stunning, dauntingly forceful, clear, bright, lusty, stentorian, masculine, warlike "yell" of Zodiac's great big burly brass brigade playing at their strongest level.

    It's not just big, wide, wet volume, nor the chorus effect of all the instruments in these Zodiac brass ensembles. I believe the Zodiac brass players really laid down something new and unique for VSL in terms of timbral dynamics. And I'm assuming no significant "photoshopping" has been applied to these recordings.

    Let's see if I've got my rough analysis, surmises and guesses right regarding your excellent test piece for huge horns, Paolo.

    The opening melodic passage is Zodiac, playing the first 4 notes at (or very near) max dynamic; then, much more softly, a melodic variant: G, D, A, G.

    Next up is Jupiter, with their dynamic matched to Zodiac's soft handover to them, playing first a comfy G triad with root doubled, then onwards through a short harmonic progression in 4 parts a6. Here, Jupiter's horns sound somewhat congested - which is to be expected for 24 horns playing chords, especially when in equal temperament. (At this softer dynamic level I believe I'd be able to match Jupiter's timbral character by using Dimension horns, but I'd have them playing 4 parts a3 to avoid the congested sound of Jupiter here.)

    During Jupiter's harmonic progression there are some short swells, as though looking across nervously at Zodiac and saying "yeah see, we've got you covered". But it's bluff. They can't match the intensity of Zodiac's max force, even though together they outnumber Zodiac's horn brigade 2 to 1.

    Then Jupiter hands back to Zodiac after a nice big swell (up to max dynamic? or nearly so) on a big fat open C chord.

    Zodiac, unimpressed, states another variant of its opening melody: E, F, E, up to C; this last note resounding with beautiful force at (or close to) max dynamic. Jupiter had done nothing to equal this intense strength of Zodiac.

    After that fearsome show of might, Jupiter jumps back in to end the piece with a celebratory fanfare kind of flourish at max power, as if stealing Zodiac's thunder by saying "oh yeah we got the power!" But it's clear who's got the real power - and it ain't Jupiter.

    And so, I say my assertions are vindicated in this test and my suggestion for VSL still stands as valid. If another great big orchestra similar to Zodiac is ever recorded, it'll need a bit of divisi to be available - cuz all the other libraries are blown into the weeds by Zodiac-type max force.

    What say you, Paolo?

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    @Macker said:

    Let's see if I've got my rough analysis, surmises and guesses right regarding your excellent test piece for huge horns, Paolo.

    Macker, perfect analysis (and congratulation for your perfect ear!).

    Yes, it seems that Jupiter can't match the power of Zodiac. But it's possibly because I’ve insisted more on its use for choral-like situations. I can't try more instances of Jupiter in unisons to avoid phasing, but maybe I can do a test with a different blend of microphones. I'll try to see what happens by matching note against note as equally as possible.


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    @Macker said:

    Here, Jupiter's horns sound somewhat congested - which is to be expected for 24 horns playing chords, especially when in equal temperament.

    Macker, sorry if I'm going off-topic, but — I know brass adjust tuning depending on the context (while playing solo or harmony). All considered, brass players are always creating their own tuning at each note.

    Which type of tuning would be the legit one, in these chorale-like passages? Going to Just Tuning for this type of passages? Do you have a reference to suggest? I have a lot to learn about brass.


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    That's an extremely good question, Paolo. I'll try to answer as concisely as I can here and now, but if you can wait a while (probably a matter of weeks), I'll have a document prepared that I hope will serve as a primer on orchestral intonation, and I'll post it (free) in this forum.

    I already have a few diagrams ready that I'll let you have now in the hope they may help you.

    A few points:-

    1. As you know, conventional European music theory has for centuries adhered to the Pythagorean Intonation (PI) schema as far as staff notation is concerned. In practice, strings playing double-stops and brass (perhaps woodwind too) playing chords will adjust thirds and sixths to conform to Just Intonation (JI) intervals. But customarily these adjustments are never notated explicitly in the score - conventional staff notation never deviates from pure PI.

    As far as we know there never has been any established technique of scoring in JI, which has led some scholars to refute the very idea that JI has ever been used as an intonation schema in its own right. For example, see what these music historians have to say about it in this excellent YT video discourse.

    Be that as it may, it doesn't preclude the use of JI intervals here and there where required to sweeten the polyphonic rendition of orchestral instruments. But that stands in fundamental contrast to what several theorists, from Ramos (1482) through to the present day have advocated, i.e. that JI scales ought to be regarded as the basis of an entire intonation schema and should be used for whole pieces of music.

    2. Whatever. But the problem here and now is, how do we 'digital emulationists' accurately mimic the playing of actual instrumentalists who make these small but crucial tuning adjustments in their renditions as part and parcel of their normal playing in orchestras? The answer is: with great difficulty, until I release my Situator Environment Subsystem which sits behind the scenes in Logic Pro X doing all the tricky PI and JI stuff for you. But alas, I'm still battling to get the damn thing into its final shape and fit for public release. It's still months away and I - already retired - am not getting any younger.

    3. In the meantime, I could perhaps suggest that (if you're into some gruelling arithmetic and tricky technical jiggery-pokery) you could apply MIDI Pitchbend messages to accompany the notes that need these momentary tuning adjustments. (In fact Situator does this for every note - each MIDI Note On triggers a Pitchbend "consort" to accompany the note.) But then you'd still have the problem that all the other notes are still in ET and may or may not be close to the pitch they'd have in PI even without JI adjustments. A bit of a nightmare all round to accomplish on a quick-fix, ad hoc basis, so really, in all good faith, I'd not recommend going down that path.

    4. There is a half-way solution already as a standard feature in Logic Pro X, called Hermode tuning. This facility automatically detects when a third or sixth in a chord is present and will adjust the tuning to make those intervals just. It's a clever system but its fundamental flaw is that it uses ET as the basic intonation matrix, so it's sort of a case of 2 steps forward and 1.5 steps backwards.

    5. To answer your question more precisely, when brass players encounter in their part, say, a major third of a chord being played by their section, they'll flatten the notated PI pitch by a syntonic comma (about 21.5 cents); thus rendering a beautifully clear and stable just major third within the chord. Or, for a minor third they'll sharpen the notated pitch by a syntonic comma. Overall it's these syntonic comma shifts away from the PI score which do the business and make brass ensembles sound so engagingly clear, positive and sonorous when playing polyphonically. When played in PI only, strictly according to the score, brass chords sound about as rough and unstable as chords played in ET.

    6. There is, however, a very useful property of PI (and this is what Situator used for years until recently). To render, say, the chord of C major using only notes within the gamut of the PI schema yet still making a sonorous major third, it can be played as C, Fb, G. This third given by Fb is within about 2 cents of the just third (it's a Pythagorean comma shift, about 23.4c, instead of the required syntonic comma, about 21.5c) and in practice can be extremely difficult to distinguish from exact JI. Therefore if, using .tun microtuning files in VSL VI Pro players, you can provide and organise all the PI notes necessary to play your piece, and then if you also make available those enharmonic PI notes that would closely approximate syntonic comma shifts wherever required, you'd have a reasonably good intonation system. However (as William will probably attest because he's tried it) this is not a straighforward or easy task.

    So in conclusion, I wish I could spell out for you a neat and practical method of sweetening your polyphonic brass. But alas, I can't - except to say hang in there, Situator is coming to the rescue .... eventually .... but only if you're ok with using Logic Pro X.

  • A few diagrams:

    (Dammit the resolution is terrible, sorry. I'm so used to seeing .svg pictures on a glorious 5k screen and don't often have anything to do with jpeg.)





  • Oh and lastly, I haven't yet found any one reference work that spells out all the necessary facts of actual, practical and theoretical orchestral intonation. Seems to me to be a bit of a dark secret - or perhaps nobody wants to rock the boat in which ET is held to be the one and only narrative worth shoving down everyone's throats.

    I've worked it all out for myself.

  • ok just one more pic then I'll leave you in peace.

    This is Situater's control panel. All 35 notes within the PI gamut (and one extra) are available, giving each MIDI keyboard note one of 3 enharmonically related PI notes to play. What can be played at any one time, either live by the keyboard or from a MIDI region in the sequencer, can be set manually, remotely or automated and is always displayed by these keyboard note boxes together with the state of the 4 buttons associated with each note box.

    To the right of each note box are two buttons: one to shift the displayed PI note up by a syntonic comma, the other to shift down by a syntonic comma.

    Above each note box are 2 ET on/off buttons. The smaller one can set only its associated note to ET, for cases when the orchestral instruments and an ET instrument are playing together but at some point orchestral intonation would put the note too far beyond the ET instrument's fixed tuning. The larger ET button is a global ET on/off switch and display, useful for those moments during writing when it's easier to cruise through a passage in ET rather than be distracted or inhibited by difficult intonation issues that could be sorted out later.


  • Macker, absolutely fantastic information! Thank you for being so generous in wanting to share it!

    This type of knowledge is usually only transmitted between musicians at workshops or classes. There is very little literature available. Not even easy to find. I could find some fundamental books on Renaissance or Baroque music, for example, only because some friends specialized in this kind of music pointed me toward them.

    It would be great if some university press supported your effort to create a systematic publication on the issue of the practice of instrument tuning. It would deserve it, as a sorely missing reference book.

    As a workaround with the available tools, I think working on the pitch bend could be another refinement to a score, like the ones we do with attack, release, legato speed. I'm also thinking to some techniques, in Dorico, adding or removing an approximate 21c from a note. If MIDI128 = 2 semitones, MIDI64 = 100c, and 21c = approx. ±12. It could be enough to go near the behavior of a real player.


  • Both Hermode and Situator (the one more automatic, the other more customizable and flexible) would be a great addition to our toolbox. However, our tools can't connect. Logic and Cubase both support Hermode tuning. If I'm not wrong, Cubase pretends that the sound player understands VST2 Detune commands. Dorico does the same with its custom scales (and doesn't support Hermode).

    Kontakt and the VSL players do not understand, as far as I can see, VST Detune commands. So, the fact that the sequencer/notation program can send these tuning commands is useless. I think only HALion and NotePerformer can understand these commands.

    Supporting custom tuning would not be a matter of responding to a niche request, but simply to make even a simple brass chorale sound better.


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    A very nice article on brass tuning I could find is this one. It contains references to natural tuning tendencies, that can help whoever would be so mad to manually retune a brass sequence:

    Ryan Williams - Intonation Guide

    This will add some guidance, in addition to your great spiral schemas.


  • I don't know if I've done my calculation right, but the attached table should show the Pitch Bend values needed to adjust intonation when going to Just Intonation from Equal Tuning, according to the interval found in the article I reported above.



  • Glad to be of service, Paolo.

    Sounds like you might make some headway with your manual version of the Hermode tuning technique. Wishing you the best of luck! Let us know how you get on.

    As for publishing, I'm not interested in going anywhere near any publishing houses - academic or otherwise. I recall the great days when complex chips and then microprocessers appeared and universities were totally in the dark and taking ages to catch up. Those of us who'd been through the academic mill and were already out in industry as pro design engineers got all the new knowledge from detailed spec sheets and application notes directly from the chip manufacturers. It was a similar situation in digital music production for quite a while, and I'm not about to look to academia for any kind of support in this next and long-overdue stage of the digital music revolution:- Orchestral Intonation (OI). Academia will no doubt catch up in its own good time but right now there's another technical and artistic revolution to be waged.

    Bear in mind, only sweetening brass polyphony, though a nice refinement, is a drop in the ocean next to the benefits of going full-on OI in digital composing. I'm thinking that conductors these days are inclined to brush off or simply ignore digital mockups sent by hopeful concert composers, simply because of the dismal lack of vibrant musicality in today's ET-centric compositions. Composers have become far too accustomed to the tiny sand box that ET provides. It's time to open the garden gate, venture out into the big wide world and get into some full-blooded musical adventures with OI.

    And with that, I'd better get back to putting Situater into shape. Good hunting, Paolo!

  • Here's one of my spreadsheets. Maybe you'll get something useful from it. Sorry Paolo, duty calls, I gotta go


  • Macker, VERY useful again! Thank you very much!