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  • Samples vs. Live

    I recently noticed a local paper article on how a production of Camelot, in Reno USA where I live, used a computer orchestra instead of a live one.

    All the people writing letters to the paper, after this article, were saying how disgusted they were that the guy who handled the computer was given a curtain call. Because there was no live orchestra. And so this joker took a bow after having faked everyone out. I couldn't help agreeing, even though I had just finished doing some recording on my computer (though I didn't take a bow).

    I used to play in live orchestras, and in fact played in a casino orchestra, all of which have now been discarded because every casino and commercial orchestra here in Reno now uses samples. The union orchestras used to be big here, and employed many musicians, including string players and horn players like me who also played in the symphony but now have to take other jobs.

    So all this sort of discussion disturbs me, since I love samples and digital virtual orchestra. In fact, I think it can be an art form unto itself, not just a substitute for live.

    so do people here agree that the problem with this is that people went to this performance, expecting a live orchestra, and got a recorded one (though with samples) Or are samples just phony bullshit and we should all be doing live orchestra work?

    I know, it is ridiculous of me to think of these things, but I actually do. Because I come from a background of playing in, writing for, and conducting live orchestras. But I love samples because they give a composer incredible power and expression, immediately. Just like an oil painter has huge power right at his fingertips with his pallette, his paints and the canvas. I suppose I need a little reassurance that I am not investing huge amounts of time and labor and enthusiasm in a fake. What do the experts here think of this extremely elementary question? Are we all indulging ourselves in an artificial phony fad?

    I can't believe that, because I think day and night of ideas that I want to test out and then really do with VI. But I also know that there are classical purists who think sampling is garbage. Are they snobs? Somehow I think they are, after doing a huge orchestral work and programming with more detail all of the nuances of the performance that no conductor I ever played under ever bothered with...

  • William, IMO this is a very simple dilemma to solve. In a musical sense there is no difference between a recording of a live orchestra and a sampled one. Sure, with the live one it is easier to get a sense of breathing, but if the performance is good it doesn't matter how it happens. Of course, if the performance isn't good.........

    The question of a theatre performance is slightly more tricky. However, these days there is so much amplification that often if wouldn't make any difference whether the whole performance was recorded or not anyway. The problem comes when trying to accompany art forms (there's a stretch) like ballet, where the performance is much more of a partnership between the dancer and the conductor. In this situation if would be very difficult to match a "live" performance, even if the playing (using samples) was technically of a superior standard.

    DG

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    @William said:



    I know, it is ridiculous of me to think of these things, but I actually do. Because I come from a background of playing in, writing for, and conducting live orchestras. But I love samples because they give a composer incredible power and expression, immediately. Just like an oil painter has huge power right at his fingertips with his pallette, his paints and the canvas. I suppose I need a little reassurance that I am not investing huge amounts of time and labor and enthusiasm in a fake. What do the experts here think of this extremely elementary question? Are we all indulging ourselves in an artificial phony fad?

    I can't believe that, because I think day and night of ideas that I want to test out and then really do with VI. But I also know that there are classical purists who think sampling is garbage. Are they snobs? Somehow I think they are, after doing a huge orchestral work and programming with more detail all of the nuances of the performance that no conductor I ever played under ever bothered with...


    I don't think you have anything to worry about my friend. (Bill, Daryl,Happy New Year to both of you!)
    For the same reason that the piano and then pipe organ (both viewed as 'Orchestras' in their infancy) eventually took off as viable instruments in their own right, so i think it will be with sample perfomance instruments. From a purely commercial perspective, it's my opinion that we, as composers and musicians eager to embrace this technology have perpetuated the sample evolution (revolution?), and so given the commercial operators the opportunity to chop their bottom line and basically save money. It's also worth remembering that audiences in general haven't had enough time or exposure to sample performances at an orchestral level to 'get used' to, and evaluate a performance on its merits. There's a 'magic' in going to a live performance that the average Joe Blow enjoys, as he or she watches another human being express creativity in playing. And as we're on the 'inside' so to speak we can sometimes forget that our view is different to the punters.
    Daryl also makes a very important point about flexibility. At the stage we're at in performing with samples, we lack a RELIABLE method of varying the tempo live to enhance the nuance of a particular performance and give conductors and performers alike that 'fluidity' that can often be the difference between an average/good/great performance. I don't think this insurmountable, and will come.
    The example of a pallette is a good one too. Instead of focusing on comparisons (which is inevitable), maybe we would be better served, in developing a mindset that thinks of sample performances as a different animal, and i say this as a former orchestral player as well. It's far too easy for me to slip into comparison, just based on experience and memories, but i'm learning fast to treat a sample performance as a 'solo', complete within itself, and written as a encapsulated entity. I still draw on past experience in terms of articulation, nuance, tone, etc...when considering an orchestrative decision, but try to keep ths within a mental sample realm of its own.
    But the problem remains of audience perception in its CURRENT awareness.

    And Bill, as for the example you gave, the theatre would have done better (IMHO) to present the sample performer as the 'music director' or something like that, acknowledging his contribution to the whole, and not presenting his sample performance as 'live' (At least, not until audiences are prepared to evaluate such performance in its own right, within new mental and emotional parameters of playing 'live' with samples, as a viable subject for intelligent critique.)

    As for the classical purists, don't get me started, lol. 99 percent of 'purists' i ever met were more interested in enhancing their own egos with public pontification than a genuine objective and knowledgable critique of performance.
    ('No i can't read music, dear fellow, but i know what i'm talking about. That chap playing that bundle of sticks thingy was defintely waving it further side to side than the player next to him. A lesser player, to be sure.' ......Yeah, right.)
    Most of these people are more interested in being seen to be 'cultured' , than actually connecting with the music, between powderbreaks, pink gins, and boring people to death.
    So don't take your foot off the pedal, pal. There's a validity to what we do, that given its curent historical infancy, and the precedent of instrument development, (a pipe organ is really a mechanical 'sample library', with an active performance interface. You could say the same about an accordian) will take time to mature, not only in technological terms, but in the minds and hearts of punters. They still like the idea of 100 plus musicians in penguin suits sawing and blowing, banging and gasping for all their worth, as its a show, and they can 'see it happening' in front of them, and for what its worth, i'm still very fond of attending live performances regularly, be it a full orchestra, or a kid with a violin doing wondertful outrageous things with the music of Paganini, or Tchaikovsky, etc...

    Pianos and Organs are 'mature' technology with hundreds of years of use between them.
    How old are current sample instruments?
    Give it some time my friend.....

    Right, time to dust the parchment, light the candle, and sharpen the quill!

    Regards,

    Alex.

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    @hermitage59 said:


    Daryl also makes a very important point about flexibility. At the stage we're at in performing with samples, we lack a RELIABLE method of varying the tempo live to enhance the nuance of a particular performance and give conductors and performers alike that 'fluidity' that can often be the difference between an average/good/great performance. I don't think this insurmountable, and will come.


    This is not the case when, as many musicians as required for playing the composition play with keyboards, synthophon wind-controller and other performance comtrollers. Maybe it looks cheap when one single person plays a whole orchestra in a live concert. But it is also not smart to leave the audience in the believe that there is a full orchestra or band somewhere behind the curtain. On the contrary, if the one bloke would play visible on stage and the people see that a physical action produces a sound, the audience may freaks out about what a single person can perform.

    .

  • Here is what comes to my mind after reading William's post about composing and making music today.

    First, work has to be fun. Do not compromise. Trust your instinct. Don't go cheap, you will always regret it. With virtual instruments you can create a new sound you can not do with musicians. For the first time in history, a composer can be independent to the point where he presents the music to an audience. People heard the real thing for centuries. Create a new musical reality with your personal sonic signature. You can execute figures, that would be fatiguing or impossible for human players. Nothing that I did live taught me anything about making music in a studio, this are different worlds. I’m free from any limitation of musicians. There is no limit of what you can create, you are your own limitation only. I’m a Johnny Controletti (engl. control freak). When recording live I ended in the studio to fix most of it. It’s also about great sound, but that alone won't make anybody cry. Anything you make up, can be played with the machine. Things live musicians do and machines don't are good and some are bad. Every imaginable group of instruments play the most complex passages because the little fellows inside will always play it. One of the good things live musicians do is improvise. They respond to the moment, and can play with more expression than a machine. Not that a machine knows no expression, but I have to input it to get the same amount of expression as of a well rehearsed orchestra or band. Be yourself! Great music is about innovation. Distant yourself from composing something what has already been done. If you feel an undoubted urge to present yourself to the audience to receive bravo every day, you better become a soloist, for composers bravo occasions are rare.

    I love what I do! Do you love what you do?

    Happy New Year and all the best wishes from me to you all.

    .

  • I still don't compare the two mediums William. Will samples ever hit me in my gut the way a room of great players does? I tend to think not. Would a top notch sample performance be preferable to a very badly performed recording of the same piece? Probably so.

    I think I would always prefer a real orchestra (but it would have to be good enough to really pull off the music) to samples. However, I thank God for samples and love them ultimately because I can hear my (and other's) orchestral music daily.

    It's this simple to me in the end: If I had to choose between hearing a great sample based performance of a piece and a great performance of it by a top notch orchestra I would prefer the latter. I just worked on a film where my mockups sounded very good. Then I heard the cues with 95 pieces at Todd AO. No comparison.

    In your case Bill, I think you are on the right track and one of the few composers that conveys your artistic aims wonderfully with samples. You don't have hundereds of thousands of dollars to shell out for an orchestra so you're doing the only possible alternative and in an uncompromising manner at that. Keep going!

  • William:

    IMO this is all related to using sampled/computer based music in live performance rather than on recordings. In recordings, people don't bring the expectation of seeing that orchestra in the pit or on the stage so, they simply respond to what they're hearing. Live perfromance is a different animal altogether.

    I live in Las Vegas and have seen and heard reactions very similar to the one you describe, not only from critics but from musicians, on-stage performers and audieces as well.

    In the case of the the musicians, I feel this is mostly related to the fear that they will be put out of work (which has proven to be true). The stage performers tend to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to not having the orchestra with them but they are starting to adjust. Those in the Pop music world are the fastest to accept this for obvious reasons. The older performers and those from the theater are not happy about it but they have to deal with it. For them, it is not having a negative effect on their opportunity to work so, it's not so bad. Indeed, in many cases, there wouldn't be a show if a live band was required or there would be far fewer dancers/singers. etc., simply because the show couldn't afford them along with a live band.

    Of course, the symphonic musicians here simply don't want to hear about it. My acquaintances in the LV Philharmonic absolutely insist that this technology is going to be the ruin of modern civilization. Especially since all that extra studio work they were getting in the past has been almost eliminated.

    Some of the really big shows are starting to combine the sampling with their live band/orchestras and working toward what can eventualy be a really great sound.

    The most difficult problem in my mind is the audience reactions. Especially in area such as Musical Theater (my forte) and "serious" music. Those with whom I get a chance to speak have a geniunely negative reaction to what they perceive as "computerized' or "synthesized" or "tracked" music. It doesn't really matter whether it sounds better than a mediocre live orchestra. I'm of the opinion that most general audiences don't have the ability to determine the difference between a good and mediocre musical performance. They are there for the overall experience and, for them, part of that experience is seeing all those musicians. They will often base their perception of what is good on what they see, on the spectacle of the thing rather than the actual quality of the performance. This applies not only to the music but to the dancing. singing and acting as well. If the piece is presented well, and their expectations are met, then they consider it a "good" show.

    I believe this is what critics react to as well. I don't belive they are even trying to determine whether the sampled creation/performace was any good. They simply decry the fact that there was no "live" orchestra and immediately close their minds to the actual musical merits. It would be one thing if a critic said the Virtual Orchestra was poorly executed (which certainly is often the case) but they aren't doing that. In fact, sometimes they don't comment on the quality of the music at all. They are so outraged that there was a computer rather than a live band that all they can express is their anger about that. The actual quality of the performance may not even be mentioned.

    I feel this is going to take quite some time to overcome. It will be far more difficult than getting people to accept sample based recordings. As Virtual Orchestra technology improves, the quality of recorded performances will reach the point where even professionals will be hard-pressed to differentiate them from the "real" thing. Also, as several people have mentioned, the Virtual Orchestra will continue to develop its own identity and that sound will be accepted as well. However, getting audiences, musicians and performers to feel comfortable with computer based orchestras in live performance is a different deal. No matter how great it may sound, people won't respond the same way as to a group of live players scraping, blowing and banging away on their instruments. For them, its's not just the sound that matters, it's the whole thing.

    In the meantime, we have to keep writing, recording and performing and getting better and better at it. In time, we will be accepted. It's inevitable. However, in live performance, I think it's going to take a while.

    Be well,

    Jimmy

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    @dpcon said:


    In your case Bill, I think you are on the right track and one of the few composers that conveys your artistic aims wonderfully with samples. You don't have hundereds of thousands of dollars to shell out for an orchestra so you're doing the only possible alternative and in an uncompromising manner at that. Keep going!


    Well said Dave, and i enthusiastically second this, especially where you write about Bill's obvious TALENT. (And i've had the privilege of hearing some of Bill's other work as well) I've learnt much from our esteemed friend and colleague, just listening to his deft touch, and creative capacity.

    If memory serves me correctly, it was Browning that wrote:

    'A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?'

    Regards,

    Alex.

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    @PoppaJOL said:



    In the meantime, we have to keep writing, recording and performing and getting better and better at it. In time, we will be accepted. It's inevitable.
    However, in live performance, I think it's going to take a while.

    Be well,

    Jimmy


    Jimmy, an interesting post, and i note you refer to Musical theater as i did a bit of that some years ago, albeit all live. I quoted this part of your post, as i'm not actually sure a live sample performer will ever sit easily with audiences.

    But i do remember seeing a chap called Rick Wakeman on the box, surrounded by a large collection of keyboards, large synths, etc, who 'presented' well, and made a show of the fact he was a solo performer, 'surrounded by synths, even if he didn't play them all!.
    If a sample performer is to make an impact as a 'genuine' article, then a bit of theatrical smoke and mirrors may be needed to 'exaggerate' his role as the player, and strengthen and validate his role to audiences.


    Alex.

  • Alex:

    It is certainly true at present that audiences have a problem with "live" sample performers. I like to hope the solution to this is time and familiarity but I'm really not sure. I suspect that there is a generation that will never accept it and others that will become more accustomed. In any case, music technology marches on and those who can't adapt will likely choose to remain loyal to their past preferences. For the composer however, this may be the best time in the history of music!

    Be well,

    Jimmy

  • Any time is the best time for a composer to be alive. If a composer can't accept that irrefutable fact, he has a problem who has nothing to do with music.

    Just because a performing musician in Reno made a bad choreography with a virtual orchestra, doesn't change the path technology is going.

    .

  • I'm with Dave completely.

    There was an interesting discussion recently on the NS board where a project was described which actually generated jobs for musicians by using a virtual orchestra. The orchestra pits were too small so the only other choice would have been to completely cancel the show.

  • Interesting conversation. Another spin on the subject...

    I read a fascinating article in the New York Times this weekend. A study reveals that listeners respond to live music in a manner quite different than listening to recordings. And there are brain scans to prove it!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/31/arts/music/31thom.html?ex=1168146000&en=396d2061e43fff7a&ei=5070&emc=eta1

    (Free registration required, unfortunately)

    Fred Story

  • Hello William, and Happy New Year.

    You're right on the money by agreeing with people's discomfort. To me, this fellow would basically be a programmer/technician, and I have yet to see a production where the lighting designer, sound operator, or stage manager gets up for a bow.

    I'm also completely with you on the idea that samples can be a special musical entity unto themselves. But we've gone over that before, so I won't elaborate. I think, if they're used live, then the operator should only be acknowledged in the credits for the show, along with the rest of the technical support. If the person running the samples is the composer as well, then s/he could certainly bow, but as a composer, not a tech. For me, samples belong to a virtual world, though. So I'm only really interested in using them in a completely disembodied way -- heavily mediated stuff: cd, dvd, interactive music programs, art installations, and so on. Those all work for me. And even "live" performances in which the medium being put on display is NOT specifically the musical performance -- so, dance, theatre, and so on. I have no problems with samples in those contexts. But having the computer technician bow after a performance using sample-based music is just like having the sound-op bow after a performance using "canned" music. It's a tech support gig, and should be treated like one, IMO.

    cheers,

    J.

  • Happy New Year to you too!

    I find all these posts very encouraging and thoughtful. Thanks for your insights and I wish all you guys a very Musical New Year.

  • One other thing - I think that what disturbs me is that people like this newspaper writer and those writing letters of agreement with him do not understand is that there is something else that can be done with samples besides faking a missing orchestra. Even though they were right in that context. All these issues have become very complex today, and someone using samples risks getting lumped together with things that have no bearing upon what that person is trying to do.

    For example a little thing I did today for muted trombones legato, which I wondered "will that work?" because it was rather odd, and then I tried it with VI and the performance was exactly right. How could it not be with these players we have thanks to VSL at our beck and call 24 hours a day? This piece is for a live theater production, which explains my paranoia. And I sure as hell am not taking any curtain calls! But the music is appropriate for the production and it actually does not matter whether a live orchestra is sitting there very bored (as in my past experience as a horn player), or samples are doing it. Though I agree that the problem in that other production was the disjunct between technicians and live perfomers.

    Not to mention the distinction between pure recording and live performance. There are people who insist live performance is always better.

    It is not! Because first of all, there are live performances that are terrible, but even with great ones, they are only performances. A recording is forever. I simply have a different outlook I guess, as someone who is interested in trying to create things that last through all the ages of mankind (but admittedly in my case will probably be forgotten BEFORE I die, let alone after). And this sort of creation, which after all every poet, painter and sculptor is also going for, can be done so perfectly with samples, as opposed to the flighty, disturbing transience of live performing, that I naturally gravitate to them like a duck to water. Or a nerd to a new release of Windows. Or whatever simile you wish to apply.

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    @William said:

    I simply have a different outlook I guess, as someone who is interested in trying to create things that last through all the ages of mankind (but admittedly in my case will probably be forgotten BEFORE I die, let alone after). And this sort of creation, which after all every poet, painter and sculptor is also going for, can be done so perfectly with samples, as opposed to the flighty, disturbing transience of live performing, that I naturally gravitate to them like a duck to water. Or a nerd to a new release of Windows. Or whatever simile you wish to apply.


    William:

    I really feel you hit on an important point here. Painters, writers, sculptors, etc. have always worked in media where their work was preserved, for good or ill, exactly as their vision and ability (and resources) conceived their pieces. There are thousands of such artists who are not world renowned but who created quality work which still exists and can be enjoyed (or criticized) by others. The thousands of composers' works of the past however, are merely paper. Most have never been and never will be heard by anyone, ever, including the composer. Choreographers, dancers, actors, musicians and composers have not had this option until the 20th century. However, even after recording and film/video technology developed, it is a fallacy that this was available to all. Eventually we reached the point where choreographers and playwrights were in a much better position than composers. It costs so little to get a decent camera and a group of good actors or dancers together to perform their works. Also, the culture of performing artists is different to that of musicians. Actors and dancers, including professionals, are far more willing to put time and effort into creating these recordings than are professional musicians. For orchestral composers, getting even mediocre recordings of one's music was next to impossible for most, until now.

    Obviously, there are those who use samples for mock-ups, to demonstrate to others what their work will sound like, and for various commercial purposes. The key point though, is that the technology also allows any composer to do what other creative artists have been able to do for centuries. That is, preserve h/his conception exactly as intended. Sheet music is not the "music" itself. Rather it is a graphic representation, a symbolic guide for performers to use in order to execute the "music."

    There is a group of composers emerging who will use sample technology as their primary means of musical expression. These composers are not thinking of sample based composing as a substitute for a "real" orchestra, as a poor second best. Rather they conceive of this medium as the musical pallette with which they can actualize their true vision with no intention that it be performed by a live orchestra. This is a HUGE paradigm shift in the world of music. It is an entirely new conception in the creation of music.

    I believe sample technology will, in time, liberate the composer from almost all externally imposed limitations. Cost will always be something of an issue, of course, but that has moved into the realm of the possible now and is getting more and more manageable as we speak. The technical difficulties are being addressed even faster than the cost issues. Eventually, we will be able to execute virtually anything we can imagine at the highest possible quality level both sonically and musically.

    This is the great value of the sample world and why I feel you not only should but "must" continue. Acceptance may or may not be slow in coming but is really not the issue. The music is the issue and you are a great composer of this music. However, even if you were a Musical Theater hack like me, it would still be important that you do what you're doing. I truly believe that the entire musical landscape of the future will be profoundly affected by this developing technology. We're all a part of that and I find that fact very exciting.

    Be well,

    Jimmy

  • You formulated the idea perfectly. In fact this could be a statement of a whole school of thought. I agree completely about the idea of artists in painting, sculpting and other visual arts, not to mention poetry and writing, being able to put down ideas - maybe a great masterpiece, or maybe just a minor work - but all of them can be appreciated. However the composer, at least in the past, was never able to work this way. It is truly a paradigm shift, because you are talking about applying a different way of working - the personal expression of one artist - to a medium that has always be a mass or group performance art. Masses of musicians, or at least groups, determining what is "playable."

    One additional way I noticed the same thing in a very personal example - I had written as a student an absurdly ambitious piece, portentously titled "Apotheosis" - yes, I was an enthusiastic nerd. Well, it got played in a rehearsal by some students and was completely destroyed, both in front of everyone, and within my own mind, since I thought it was just a lousy piece of juvenilia. So about 20 years later I found the score, and almost as a joke did a sample performance of it, and was shocked. It was a piece of music, that had never been expressed, and had been dismissed totally even in my own consciousness - BECAUSE OF PERFORMERS and the whole mentality of music as a performer's art. Because what they do dominates everything a composer does. So if a composer can be freed from this kind of thing, and do a little sketch, or a simple watercolor, or maybe a big oil painting if he wishes, but with pure sound, then it really is a completely new field of expression.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts on this!

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    @William said:

    It was a piece of music, that had never been expressed, and had been dismissed totally even in my own consciousness - BECAUSE OF PERFORMERS and the whole mentality of music as a performer's art. Because what they do dominates everything a composer does. So if a composer can be freed from this kind of thing, and do a little sketch, or a simple watercolor, or maybe a big oil painting if he wishes, but with pure sound, then it really is a completely new field of expression.


    I hear you, William. I've been to rehearsals and/or performances of my works which simply were *not* the same piece. It's truly painful. What made it almost worse is that, in some cases, I already had a VSL version, so I knew exactly how it could (and should) sound, yet all those present in the audience had no idea. Mind you, I also realize that they did hear something, and that it may have been quite interesting and enjoyable to them... so I just smile, and bow, and say "thank you" to those who comment, and go home and put it out of my mind! [;)]

    ps -- Please don't think that I blame performers for the above. It's difficult to approach a new work, by a composer whose music you have no knowledge of, and to do it all with the bare minimum of rehearsal time. Actually, I'm generally in awe of performers. But until they really get to know a piece, it's an uphill battle trying to hear one's work as it was intended to sound -- at least if one's musical style makes performance reasonably demanding... but I feel the water getting murky now, so I'll shut up! [;)]

    J.

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    @William said:

    So all this sort of discussion disturbs me, since I love samples and digital virtual orchestra. In fact, I think it can be an art form unto itself, not just a substitute for live.


    That is a good point. We should just name it!