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  • ENGAGEMENT! Vel. versus Vol. (Rach 2nd P, VSL D-274)

    We can now, with our ultra low-noise digitally-mediated sample libraries, attain a huge dynamic range in our midistrations. But .......... do most listeners really want or need that?

    I think not.

    Those ultra-quiet little details in a composition - do they tend to add to or detract from listeners' engagement? I say the latter. What have we learned from the past century of sound recording, if not that listeners love to be spoilt by a great mix in which their ears don't have to expend too much effort in adjusting between different levels of loudness? One might say, "well that may be true of popular entertainment but we're talking about classical music here." Ok, but be honest: who except perhaps your doting grandma is likely to want their ears to be put hard to work nowadays, just because you think it should be so since that's the real nature of orchestral music? Not many, I'd bet.

    Yes of course we need a broad range of expressive possibilities if we're to make our music engage listeners. But let's not forget, the vast, overwhelming majority of music today is listened to via electronic media, not at a concert house - sad though that may be. To be sure, you can specialise in mimicking the sound of a live orchestral concert, if you're ok with making little or no money from it. But what about the big commercial media markets? Isn't there a huge difference in style of sound presentation, compared to an orchestral concert hall?

    Let's get down down to brass tacks. It's a simple matter to modulate pure loudness, but does that always artfully convey an emotional difference? Or is it just a blunt, attention-seeking short cut? Most musical instruments can convey human expression other than by merely modulating loudness, and in live performance this is where musicianship really comes in. In practically all serious musical instrument sample libraries nowadays we find at least some means of modulating intensity of feeling without having to rely on simply volume-up, volume-down.

    I could go on but I think you get the point. So let me offer an extreme audio example of taking a very familiar instrument - the piano - (well this is actually a very special virtual piano: the VSL D-274), and finding what happens if we take away most of its ability to modulate pure volume. Is it still expressive?  Oh yes, without a shadow of doubt! Have a listen to the audio file attached below. It's the first 8 bars of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto, reproduced twice in succession:- the first pass being pretty normal Synchron Piano; the second pass being very deeply compressed in order to reduce the volume range as much as possible without wrecking the original sound quality.

    Yes, yes, but that's a VSL virtual Steinway - many, many thousands of samples were precisely played and recorded in order to do unprecedented justice to its superb velocity-dependent expressiveness. What about other kinds of orchestral instruments? True, those other sample libraries don't have the same huge velocity-expressiveness as a Steinway, and hence other means are needed to eke out their expressiveness. Fortunately, VSL's Vel XF and Timbre Adjust controls help enormously, and yet it's still also very much a matter of artfully finding ways in both the composition and the orchestration to convey human expression without resorting to pure volume. But that's another story.

  • Oops, sorry, the audio file didn't upload with my OP. Now fixed.

    Also, attached below is a picture of the EBU loudness levels plotted across the two passes. Quite a difference!

  • Thank you for the two interesting music examples!



    In my opinion, the two most elusive (and therefore most fascinating) parameters of music are timbre and harmony.


    The reverse is the case with speed and dynamics, because almost every person can express themselves using terms such as “fast / slow” or “loud / quiet”.


    Does this make tempo and dynamics less important?



    When the first audio CDs came onto the market in the 1980s, one of my first purchases was the complete recording of “Tristan and Isolde” with the Dresdner Staatskapelle under the direction of Carlos Kleiber - this, by the way, despite Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's singing, which was almost unbearable for me.


    Listening to the same recording on vinyl was equally difficult for me to bear, because although I always treated records with care, after a short time cracking and scratching noises became unavoidable and were extremely annoying to me during the numerous quiet passages.


    What, for example, would a Finale II (from 2 h16' 22": be without the extreme dynamic contrasts in the „König Marke“ monologue between "Dies wundervolle Weib" (from 2 h 23' 23") and "Warum mir diese Hölle?" (until 2 h 27' 15")?


    Regardless, I cannot imagine that sampled music with a “VelXF”, “Expression” and “Volume” control will ever be able to reproduce such highly emotional passages even remotely adequately.



    PS: ... another example, this time for the Tempo parameter:


    Some time ago I wanted to get to know all of Mahler's symphonies and decided on different orchestras and conductors.


    In the 2nd Symphony, the singing in the 4th movement was an important selection criterion for me - but even more so was the incredible, for me unsurpassed ritardando in the first movement of the Bernstein recording:


    From 3'17:


    And here from 16'58" without any annoying interruption before the congestion resolves at 17'26":






    Vielen Dank für die beiden interessanten Musik-Beispiele!



    Die beiden meiner Ansicht nach am wenigsten fassbaren (und mich deshalb am meisten faszinierenden) Parameter der Musik sind Klangfarbe und Harmonik.


    Umgekehrt verhält es sich mit Tempo und Dynamik, denn nahezu jeder Mensch vermag sich durch Begriffe wie beispielsweise „schnell / langsam“ bzw. „laut / leise“ hierzu zu äußern.


    Sind Tempo und Dynamik deshalb weniger bedeutsam?



    Als in den 1980er-Jahren die ersten Audio-CDs auf den Markt kamen, war eine meine ersten Anschaffungen die Gesamtaufnahme von „Tristan und Isolde“ mit der Dresdner Staatskapelle unter der Leitung von Carlos Kleiber – dies im Übrigen trotz des für mich kaum erträglichen Gesangs von Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.


    Gleichermaßen schwer erträglich war für mich das Anhören der gleichen Aufnahme auf Schallplatte, denn obwohl Schallplatten von mir stets pfleglich behandelt wurden, waren schon nach kurzer Zeit Knack- und Kratzgeräusche unvermeidlich und wirkten bei den zahlreichen leisen Passagen auf mich extrem störend.


    Was, beispielsweise, wäre ein Finale II (ab 2 h16' 22":

    ) ohne die extremen Dynamik-Kontraste im „König Marke“-Monolog zwischen „Dies wundervolle Weib“ (ab 2 h 23' 23") und „Warum mir diese Hölle?“ (bis 2 h 27' 15")?


    Ungeachtet dessen: Dass gesampelte Musik mit einer „VelXF“-, „Expression“- und „Volume“-Regelung allerdings jemals in der Lage sein wird, solche hoch emotionalen Passagen auch nur annähernd angemessen wiederzugeben, kann ich mir nicht vorstellen.



    PS: ...  ein anderes Beispiel, diesmal zum Parameter Tempo:


    Ich hatte vor einiger Zeit den Wunsch, alle Mahler-Sinfonien kennenzulernen und habe mich dabei für unterschiedliche Orchester und Dirigenten entschieden.


    Bei der 2. Sinfonie war für mich der Gesang  im 4. Satz ein wichtiges Auswahlkriterium — aber mehr noch das unglaubliche, für mich unübertroffene Ritardando im ersten Satz der Bernstein-Aufnahme:


    Ab 3'17:


    Und hier ab 16'58" ohne störende Unterbrechung, bevor sich die Stauung bei 17'26" auflöst:

    Best regards, Jürgen
  • My fault for not making a point of this question for all readers here:-

    Are you composing - and/or perhaps mixing - (1) a concert piece; or else (2) a piece for media in order to accompany some other content?

    if (1), then of course why not simply carry on with that tradition if you wish? (And hang on to your day job!)

    If (2), then certain considerations of expressivity, not least being dynamic range, may almost certainly be substantially different and even critically important, compared to a concert piece.

    Nothing new there. But perhaps I was hinting that even in concert pieces, some composers - most certainly including Wagner - have used dynamic range far too much in trying to secure unwavering attention. Excessive volumetric dynamics are like "empty calories" such as candy, in that they'll eventually do little more than inflict a musical equivalent of the metabolic disorders that at least half the western world is suffering from today.

    I call out Wagner in particular because I know he had superb skills as a composer: Isoldens Liebestod being a prime example and an enduring firm favourite of mine. Yet elsewhere he tended to dish out the "empty calories" as well so readily.

    Here's a very old but still powerful illustration of the virtuous discipline arising from restricted dynamic range:-

    Here's Looking At You, Kid - Casablanca (1942) Movie Clip

    In this clip, naturally the dialogue is given the lion's share of the soundtrack's dynamic range. The composer - the great Max Steiner - occupied a low and narrow band of dynamic range with his beautiful arrangement of Hupfeld's jazz standard "As Time Goes By", into which he nevertheless packed masses of human expression.

  • Hello Macker,


    neither (1) nor (2); I'm currently arranging a Bossa Nova by A.C. Jobim.


    Do I understand correctly that you advocate a sparing use of dynamics in a composition/arrangement - in favor of other, less "striking" design means?


    A key feature of 19th century music is expansion: larger orchestras, more and new timbres, longer movements and works and also the exploration of the limits of dynamics. Would dispensing with extreme dynamics actually do justice to the music from this period?


    I also like the “As Time Goes By” arrangement in the linked film excerpt, but I don't see instrumentation and harmony, for example, as competitors to dynamics, but rather as complements to them.


    I've only been active in this forum for a very short time and have only read a few threads so far. Are there any arrangements of yours that I could listen to?


    Best regards







    Hallo Macker,


    weder (1) noch (2); ich arrangiere derzeit einen Bossa Nova von A.C. Jobim.


    Verstehe ich es richtig, dass Sie eine sparsame Verwendung von Dynamik in einer Komposition / einem Arrangement befürworten – zugunsten anderer, weniger „plakativer“ Gestaltungsmittel?


    Ein wesentliches Merkmal der Musik des 19. Jahrhunderts ist Expansion: größere Orchester, mehr und neue Klangfarben, längere Sätze und Werke und eben auch Auslotung der Grenzen der Dynamik. Würde ein Verzicht auf extreme Dynamik der Musik aus dieser Zeit überhaupt gerecht werden?


    Das „As Time Goes By“-Arrangement im verlinkten Filmausschnitt gefällt mir ebenfalls, allerdings betrachte ich beispielsweise Instrumentierung und Harmonik nicht als Konkurrenten der Dynamik, sondern als deren Ergänzung.


    Ich bin ja nun erst sehr kurz in diesem Forum aktiv und habe bislang nur in wenigen Threads gelesen. Gibt es hier Arrangements von Ihnen, die ich mir mal anhören könnte?





    Best regards, Jürgen
  • Jürgen, my ideas above are just that - ideas - for any reader. They're not offered as rules - hope I didn't give that impression.

    Glad to hear you're currently enjoying yourself with a new production in a popular genre.

    I don't doubt that most if not all pro media composers are already well familiar with the "virtuous discipline" of composing within certain dynamic constraints. (And in any case they tend not to frequent these forums.) My thinking here is that anyone aiming eventually to go pro as a media composer might do well to familiarise themselves with and practise this "virtuous discipline" sooner rather than later.

  • Hello Macker,


    but no, your ideas don't seem like rules to me.


    As far as "virtuous disciplines" are concerned, I am currently practicing the implementation of Beat Kaufmann's spatial concept for my current bossa nova arrangement ...


    Mixing-in with Synchron Player


    Professional Panning


    ... without MIR.


    I'll probably link it here when it's finished (which should take some time).


    Best regards




    PS: I appreciate the dialogue with you ...






    Hallo Macker,


    aber nein, Ihre Ideen wirken auf mich nicht wie Regeln.


    Was „tugendhafte Disziplinen“ anbelangt, so übe ich mich gerade in der Umsetzung des Raumkonzepts von Beat Kaufmann für mein aktuelles Bossa-Nova-Arrangement ...


    Mixing-in with Synchron Player


    Professional Panning


    ... – und zwar ohne MIR.


    Ich werde es vermutlich, wenn es fertig ist (was noch dauern dürfte), hier verlinken.


    Viele Grüße




    PS: Ich schätze den Dialog mit Ihnen ...

    Best regards, Jürgen
  • Thanks for your voluminous input to this thread, Jürgen!

  • BenB Ben moved this topic from Orchestration & Composition on