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  • The Tallis Fantasia temptation for Duality owners

    In today's - erm - wonderful world of universal communication, so-called "moderation" all too often tends either to run amok moronically and without efficacy, or else never get a proper look in at all. Nevertheless, here and now, I'm going to urge caution, self-restraint and moderation for Duality library owners when it comes to considering fabricating a MIDI mockup of Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia. My grounds for nagging? Respect for the aesthetic art and techniques of live orchestral performance. Your motive for paying heed? Perhaps none needed, or perhaps an eye to keeping intact your eminence as a skilled midistrator.

    Orchestration for the Tallis Fantasia requires a double string orchestra and a string quartet; Orchestra II being 1 desk each of Vn1, Vn2, Va and Vc, and one player on CB. Divisi and double-stopping are used extensively. So it appears Duality could serve well here as Orchestras I and II, whilst the VI or Synchronized Solo Strings library is an obvious choice for the quartet. Also, there's masses of scope for improvising spatialisation and ambience as desired.

    The piece premiered in 1910 in Gloucester Cathedral, conducted by Vaughan Williams; and was also recorded there about 10 years ago by Andrew Davis. (Personally I'm not altogether convinced the piece is musically optimal in such lush ambience, though it's surely a viable option - but that's not the point here.)

    The thing the digital midistration community always seem to forget or overlook so readily is intonation. You expect to render Orchestral Intonation always entirely in Equal Temperament? Well you can get away with it easily sometimes but there are cases where ET's 'cartoonified' intonation becomes more of an artistic liability than an asset of convenience. Would you go copy the Vatican's Sistine Chapel ceiling using a cartoon graphics app?

    To treat the Tallis Fantasia as if it's merely some melodic lines and some harmonic accompaniment - much like any facile modern piece one might play on a piano - would be a mistake. Why? In a word:- counterpoint. Vaughan Williams made a point of counterpoint in this piece which, after all, is a highly artistic yet essentially faithful elaboration of a 16th century polyphonic psalm chant for 4 voices, originally named "Third Mode Melody"; one of 9 pieces written by Thomas Tallis published in 1567.

    Whether in vocal harmony or in a string quartet, counterpoint typically involves Just Intonation - usually worked out between the performers as an essential part of rehearsal. In this piece the main strings are often highly responsive to the quartet and hence issues of intonation can tend to be orchestra-wide. Indeed this may explain some (slightly) noticeable intonation differences at certain moments, between various recorded performances of this piece. But when it comes to attempting a MIDI mockup, ET can make a terrible mess of trying to render delicate and complex matters of intonation such as these.

    There's more. In a few places Vaughan Williams deliberately exposes traversal of the Pythagorean comma. As Hindemith has pointed out, usually the comma is fastidiously hidden as far as possible in composition and orchestration. But here, these particular comma-traversals can be heard clearly and with exquisite, rapturous effect in all the great recordings of this piece. (Special praise to the recordings of Barbirolli, Silvestri and Bernstein). The 'great advantage' of ET is of course that it does away with the comma; hence in an ordinary MIDI mockup this sublime aspect of the Tallis Fantasia won't be expressed at all.

    Naturally the choice is yours. Perhaps at least now, if you do succumb to this temptation, you might have a better idea of why your mockup doesn't quite measure up to various stunningly beautiful orchestral recordings of this exquisite piece.

    The solution? It's a long way away. There'd need to be a critical mass of MIDI mockup creators who feel the need for some technical means of applying orchestral intonation accurately and reasonably conveniently to their MIDI mockups. (Personally I'm not hopeful that MIDI 2 will be a catalyst for this future revolution, despite MIDI 2's elaborate new specifications for fine-tuning operations.) And then we'd need to address the political problem of highly accomplished orchestra musicians no longer being willing to participate in recording sample libraries – because who in their right mind would want thereby to give away what has previously been an exclusive strategic advantage of their own and an important part of their livelihood, i.e. recording bespoke scores for well-heeled media productions?

  • William, your trick of emphasising the melodic aspect in order to help ET 'transcend' its own lacklustre intonation, sounds interesting and useful, though I do wonder how much it might help those listeners whose ears have little or no familiarity with orchestral intonation in real life.

    Yes I know what you mean about low-down rats. My better half has recently been working as a nurse in a locked psychiatric hospital (the majority of patients are in there because they've been legally "sectioned"); and she and I have discussed the malignant-narc thing quite a lot. In most cases these types don't (and won't) realise that their attempted tricks, gambits and manipulations are mostly somewhat pathetically obvious to other people and hence aren't effective; yet if they're pointed out it can trigger some extremely hostile and aggressive behaviour and even psychotic breaks. Unfortunately there's no cure; it's thought to be a developmental failure which can't be fixed after the natural developmental window has closed; instead, there are many drugs that are supposed to manage the worst of the symptoms.

    In the case of 'composers' out there afflicted in this way and needing desperately to believe that they are masters at manipulating people's feelings, emotions and motivations - yet in reality are far from being such masters - here again we have seriously unwell individuals ready to exploit others and explode in all sorts of very unpleasant ways (and who also typically make unending accusations that attempt to denigrate and invalidate their "enemies"), if the bogus validity of their impossibly precious self-image is 'harmed' or in any way threatened by other people. Also they're typically always acquiring character traits from other people in order to patch together a counterfeit personality, often highly specious, covering up the tragic void where a normal human "soul" should be. Needless to say, it would be a struggle for them to produce music that does not appear soulless and does not betray their permanent lack of normal human empathy.

    Perhaps there are so many 'composers' afflicted in this way because the cover is ideal - composers are supposed to manipulate the feelings etc of others by sheer artifice; also because the lure of possible fame and adulation is irresistible to narcs.

    What the staff in the loony bin usually do is give these toxic types a wide berth and have as little engagement with them as possible (while applying sanctions to their "privileges" if necessary) even though that might seem poor medical care. Alas, currently there's not much else that can be done with these toxic travesties.


    But onto pleasant matters. Since I'm a pushover for many of Hollywood's 'Golden Era' movies, I watched "Deception" (1946) again and enjoyed the whole thing very much - especially Korngold's solid and enormously influential mastery of his art. Thanks for reminding me about that excellent classic movie.

    (Oh BTW, did you know that Tubi doesn't stream to the UK?)

  • Hello Oceanview, glad you weighed in.

    I also think very many midistration enthusiasts are not bothering to study or fully appreciate the artistic material they're dealing with. I've often thought that today's sample libraries - combined with DAWs - are taken by many if not most users to be a natural progression of the domestic entertainment delights offered first by upright pianos and piano-reduction sheet music, then by electric organs, then by synths and romplers. Well it's a profitable industry - of sorts - and I can think of many less harmless ways in which people could spend their leisure time.

    Now, about that exposed comma-traversal I'm claiming to hear. I recall one place where it happens twice in fairly quick succession, pretty much emphasising that it's an intended special effect, not a mistake. I'm willing to be wrong about this because I'm only going on a 100% subjective little cerebral sensation that in the past I've felt whenever I've pushed Situater (my bespoke orchestral intonation subsystem in Logic's Environment) into traversing a comma. This little sensation has popped up for me pretty reliably over the years. (I think the sensation might actually be a little hit of norepinephrine - if I recall the name correctly - the neurotransmitter associated with novel or unusual sensory experiences.) 

    When I first bought and listened (a lot) to the Bernstein/NY Phil CD, I consistently got that same little sensation at a few particular places in the piece. I promised myself that one day I'd do a MIDI mockup of this piece, which would force me to find out exactly where in the score and why I'm getting that "comma traversal" sensation. And it would also be a great piece for showing off my Situater orchestral intonation subsystem. But alas as yet I haven't gotten any closer to executing the idea (Wagner and others keep pushing into my to-do list whilst Apple have been, until very recently, causing mayhem in Logic's functional stability); nor have I bothered to do any analysis of that score.

    I'm presently avoiding listening to recordings of the piece because I don't want to chase my telltale sensation away by making the sensory experience too familiar to me. Sorry, hope you can understand my reluctance to go back to the recordings right now in order to pin down times of occurrence. I do recall that it occurs in each of two quite close and fairly rapid transitions from ff to ppp (although there are several such moments and not all produce this effect). But best I can offer at the moment is that in the not too distant future I'll try to find time to run a recording through Melodyne's polyphonic detection algorithm in order to get an objective grip on what exactly is going on with the intonation. I'd rather do that than try to talk about entirely subjective impressions that others might not experience.

  • BenB Ben moved this topic from Orchestration & Composition on