After a long break from making music due to my thesis, here I am again! This time I’ve decided to share my workflow on a recent project. You can listen to the final result below:
The song is part of the Vision of Escalowne‘s original soundtrack (third CD album). I’ve seen this anime more than a decade ago, made cassette copies of my sister’s CD, and listened to it regularly back in highschool. For a cartoon, it has a soundtrack that goes beyond what you would normally expect. It’s one of the reasons I got hooked into orchestra music (as opposed to the serious and profound classics that is less accessible to my less mature mind back then). It’s composed by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi and (probably) performed by Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. The score was based on this transcription by ThePochaccos and all thanks to him/her for doing a great job.
Unfortunately it is not a public domain score, so I won’t be able to share it that easily. But basically, I transcribed the video using MuseScore. It is not that difficult, there are parts in the piano that need “voices”, but the whole piece is mostly strings (for me., that’s actually easier and more fun than emailing the youtube user). (I hope to share something public domain next time).
I’ve been itching to get Reaper for a long time already, but so far, my projects are not too complex, so this setup is still fine.
Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra
For this song, I decided to do a proper demo of SSO. I’ve always used multiple orchestra samples and layer the different results in Audacity. Using SSO by itself has also revealed some of its shortcomings. Sometimes the release does not sound well, giving an unnatural sound at the end of the note (i.e. in long contrabass notes or in violas). I work around this by shortening the note until the odd sounding part is no longer audible. The slow attacks also made it less favorable for fast short notes, making them sound mushy, and making the melody less defined. I try to remedy this by increasing the note velocities or decreasing the note velocities of the background instruments. I wonder whether using a VST SFZ player, instead of Syntfont’s native sfz support, might give better results, but I have not really explored this option.
Update: As it turns out, this manual looping workaround was unnecessary ans I should apologize for the misinformation. My mistake was to directly load the sfz file to Synthfont (an older version back then) instead of using an sfz playing VST. SSO strings loop nicely with Plogue sforzando. The text is maintained for historical purposes and as it may still be helpful for other libraries that do not have looping in them or, for another application, to hide the distinct repetitive sound of looped samples.
Another shortcoming of SSO is its lack of looped samples for some instruments, which has forced me come up with a tricky work around. The first note of the first violins is 9 bars long (31 seconds at 70 BPM!). At first I thought of editing the SFZ samples, but that seemed overkill for a single note. So next, I imgained how a real orchestra would actually play a half minute note. If it were a single violin, the maximum amount of time you could slide the bow over a string would be limited by the bow’s length and the minimum bow velocity needed to produce an acceptable sound, maybe five or 10 seconds (my imagination’s approximation). Restarting the bow slide would have made a new note. But an ensemble of more than 10 violins doesn’t have to simultaneously restart their individual bowing. So while one violinist restarts there are about 10 others who are still bowing midway, hiding the restarting guy and creating an illusion of continuity. That’s my guess.
Back to the MIDI editor, I implemented “manual looping” by making an extra first violins track (not to be confused with the second violins in the score). I broke the whole 9 bar note into shorter segments that can be played by SSO. The extra violin track continues the note when it’s about to end in the original violin track. Then the original violin track continues the note when the extra violin track’s note is about to end. Hence, by alternating and overlapping these two violin tracks for the same note, I get a manually looped violin note. To mask the attacks of this repeating violin, I align them with the attacks (note start) of the other instruments in the score. Of course, these alternating violin tracks must have the same volume and panning and go through to the same effects chain.
It may also be worth noting that the SSO updated sustain violins worked better for this trick.
Guitar = Guitar Pro
Since I can’t compete with a real orchestra, I generally avoid making inferior copies of something that it is already great (except for personal studies or demos). Who would listen to that? At the very least, I would change an instrument to give a different feel that is worth listening to. Hence, I changed the piano part into guitar. Being a more common and accessible instrument, and being a long time guitar player myself, I could relate more with the sad sound of a guitar.
I’m also known among my friends for advocating Guitar Pro (GP) as a virtual guitar addition to their DAWs. Even though I play guitar well (used to?), and own many guitars (too many to remember), recording guitars with my limited laptop studio setup has never given me satisfying results. GP actually started as a tablature study program (coincidentally at the age when I was crazy about studying guitar tabs). When it started out, there was a free alternative that can do as much, Tux Guitar. But since Guitar Pro’s introduction of RSE (realistic sound engine), it has, in my opinion, left Tux Guitar far behind. GP would not integrate with a DAW like a VST or soundfont, but it’s notation based interface, optimized for guitar articulations, makes it far more intuitive than any VST I know. GP can simulate vibrato, hammer on/pull offs, ringing, chord “brushing”, harmonics and many more with a few mouse clicks and without having to tweak MIDI parameters. And the demos sound realistic enough for me (listen or download here). It’s probably the guitar equivalent of Finale + Garritan combo, but at a price below a hundred dollars. Software that unify sophisticated music notation and virtual sound production is really something we should be thankful for (although I would also hope for piano roll integration).
There’s nothing really new here, but I would be happy if a newcomer in digital music production/midi orchestration would learn something from this. Note that the only tool that costs money is Guitar Pro, although I’ve also donated a small amount to Synthfont as it is very useful to me and it was the first thing to exactly match what I was looking for before, a simple tool that applies soundfonts and VSTi’s to an existing MIDI file that is not as overkill as a full blown DAW. With diligence, passion and knowledge of what great tools are available out there, making quality music, one that you can mix in to your iPod or MP3 player, is no longer a thing that can only be done with professional thousand dollar studios.
Happy music making!
Planning to give a gift to the person you admire this coming Valentine’s? If that special someone is an aspiring rocker (that are also usually admirer/stalker magnets), these fantastic air guitar strings might be that gift you’re looking for! It is also wouldn’t hurt your budget, emphasizing that it is your thoughtfulness that counts.
Quoting from their website:
…Our strings are made of the best available air, that has been cold filtered to remove 99.99% of all toxins, smogs, acid rain residue and greenhouse gasses. Best of all, our strings have a LIFETIME GUARANTEE! Yessiree, you heard me right there Yngwie, if our strings don’t last the lifetime of your air guitar, just send them back and we will replace them at no charge!
Can any other offer beat that?!
… so I was on a procrastination streak, looking for inspiring ideas from Pointless Inventions, and googled something I found interesting, “air guitar tuner”. But I missed the point that you need strings before you can tune a guitar, my bad. This is the best marketing idea I’ve seen so far! :-)
PS: Maybe someone should also create a VST or soundfont for an air guitar. Complete with velocity layers and round-robins samples. Just saying.
PS: Those of you who may not now, Yngwie is s Swedish gutarist famous for his Statocaster’s anorexic fretboard and neo-classical style. He’s too famous that there’s no need to know his last name, or spell his given name exactly either if you want to look form him.
Back from Hungary to my hometown, I found these on my mail box:
A few months ago I decided to support the development of the You Rock Guitar Pro in Kickstarter. So I decided this time to give a little review about the You Rock guitar (YRG)…
I’m an owner of the early version (YRG-1000) of this guitar as I’ve seen it before in thinkgeek and knew that it is a great concept. First, it is a MIDI device. Any app you know that will work with a MIDI device can be controlled by this. It does not require special drivers, just like many MIDI keyboards. It can use either USB or 5 pin DIN connection. In my opinion, it is the poor man’s replacement for the Roland Gk-3 plus GR-50/55. It is also probably my first possession that introduced me to the wonderful world of MIDI that eventually snow balled to DAWs, soundfonts, VSTs and all that digital music production stuff. It can also be played as a stand alone “electronic” guitar (though considering its size and how much circuitry and memory can be crammed into it, the built in sounds may be as cheesy as Windows GM) and as a game controller (though the leading guitar games use 5 button toys… anyway that widens their market as it will also include imaginary guitarists and this makes a room for developing a more real midi guitar game).
Unlike other MIDI guitars, the YRG does not use a separated switch per note on its fretboard, hence it looks much cleaner and more guitar like. Since the strings are not segmented, sliding up and down the fretboard becomes possible as in a real guitar. The strings use a sort of touch sensor instead. As there’s no need to push the strings like switches (I’m assuming this is how it’s done on other MIDI guitars based on how they look), tapping on the fretboard is much easier (even compared to a real guitar). But since they are not real suspended strings, they can not be bent, although with little practice, the whammy bar can be substituted for the same effect.
What prevented me from using the YRG-1000 more often is it’s not so responsive strings for the right hand. If you’ve play a real guitar, you have to pluck harder than usual for the YRG-1000 to produce a sound. That was undesirable for a self proclaimed guitar virtuoso like myself. It limited it’s playability as you lack control on the notes softness or loudness. The greater force required also made finger picking less comfortable. It’s sensitivity/responsiveness is the main feature I wished that they continue to improve. Anyway, Inspired Instruments claim to have improved this part in the second generation YRG.
Although, my contribution to the kickstarter project is minimal, I strongly believe that it is worth supporting. MIDI guitars are far behind MIDI pianos, despite the fact that there are probably more guitarists as guitars are more convenient, size wise and price wise. A cheap guitar is not as bad as a cheap piano (whether acoustic or electric). Having a MIDI device, whether a piano or a guitar, is like having an instrument for all instruments. Looking at youtube videos of the Roland GR/GK series may give you an idea of what can be done with a MIDI guitar.
I won’t be buying right away when the YRG Pro is released though. Primarily due to my room running out of space. I’m also the type who waits for feedback from initial buyers. And depending on how much it turns out, I’m not sure yet whether a Roland GR/GK might be a better choice. And there are also shipping and import tax considerations in my location. It will be made of wood. That’s heavier. I’m also worried that the neck might no longer be detachable. One thing I really like with the YRG-1000 is how it easily fits in a normal school bag. I also personally don’t know how playable is the Gen 2 YRG. The YRG Pro will be using the same Gen 2 pickup, so maybe its improvements wont matter to me and I might instead settle for a Gen2.
Anyway, I think the picks and earphones are not bad as rewards for a little gamble on technology. And these little stuff, although commonly taken for granted, are very practical. I might make backing interesting projects a new hobby just for the fancy gifts (and the greater good), even without motive of acquiring the actual product being developed. I may still have doubts about the YRG Pro in this particular case, but it is still fun to have supported the Inspired Instruments team in a small way.