Virtual Instrument Libraries | The Hybrid Score

Jan 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Gary Eskow



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Composers who execute large orchestral scores on the computer tend to fall into two camps. Some prefer to work with folders that contain individual MIDI tracks for the different articulations that strings, for example, can play. Others like to minimize the number of tracks and use controllers to switch between articulations on a single tracks. Which work method do you use?
This actually depends on the library. For example, Hollywood Brass patches are broken down into articulations as opposed to Cinebrass, which has all of the articulations in one patch, accessible either by velocity or key-switching. I prefer velocity myself; it took a little getting used to but my creativity/workflow increased tenfold. My track count has gone down considerably in the past three to five years.

Newman: I use tracks for each individual articulation so that it’s clear for the orchestrator. However, I have lately been using lots of keyswitch patches, so I’m evolving my method.

O’Malley: I prefer to have individual MIDI tracks for everything. It’s more of a pain when things are going to be prepped for a live session, but I’m simply used to having everything split out. If I’m going to obsess over a mockup, it just feels more natural to me to see everything sitting in front of me.

Kliesch: I use both methods. I’ve put in a lot of time trying to get my template streamlined, and now I use the mod wheel to switch between a staccato and legato sound, for example. With Dimension Brass, you have to use keyswitches; their matrices come predefined with them.

Furst: I’d rather use more tracks. I’ve experimented with both extensively, and for me the single violin instrument with 20 keyswitches isn’t a viable option. Separated tracks allows me to focus the CC controllers for specific articulations without worrying about neutralizing them for the different keyswitch, which would likely have different controller needs. Also, I find separate tracks (and therefore separate regions) of articulations leaves less confusion for orchestrator/copyists. Everything is labeled and clean, and I don’t have to go through and hide keyswitch notes or anything. I manage the 500-plus track count with a combination of track folders and grouping.

Finally, the hushed question. Have we reached the point where sample libraries may in certain cases be better suited to a cue than live players would, even where budget allows for hiring musicians, or are sampled libraries always a second option?
Samples keep getting better every six months or so. The choices you have now with regard to soundstaging, miking and so forth—the universe of sampled sounds is miles beyond what is was five years ago. That having been said, you cannot replace live players. It seems impossible to me. Also, you tend to compose for your best samples, which can be limiting in some ways if you are not careful.

Kliesch: Not in my experience. I’ve been an orchestrator for 15 years and worked on over 100 films. Samples never sound as good as a real orchestrator, but the libraries are getting closer! We’re not quite there yet.

Pottorf: As a film composer, your first choice is always live. There’s nothing like the feel, the sound and interaction of a live orchestra. Now, that being said, libraries are getting so good that you can pull off a score that will fool 95 percent of the audience. And I don’t throw that number around carelessly because I do it on a constant basis. In the “old days,” you would have to “write around” certain samples (especially brass) because it was easier than trying to make a trumpet line sound convincing. But these days that’s becoming less and less of a problem. Libraries are becoming so good that you can create an entire score right out of your box. Or if you have a little extra in your budget, you can use a smaller live [ensemble] and really have a fantastic-sounding track. There’s no limit to what you can do anymore.

O’Malley: Our standards keep getting higher and higher. As composers obsessing over samples, we’re constantly training ourselves to listen in greater levels of detail. As libraries have advanced, so have our ears. In that way, my enthusiasm for sample libaries has remained about the same. I’m still equally frustrated by them in many ways. The better I’ve gotten at using samples, the more I realize the necessity of live players.

Furst: I regret to admit that in a couple of instances I have in fact recorded with live instruments and went back to the MIDI. A good example is a jazzy action cue I was doing with live strings, and I had written a lot of swinging syncopated question-and-response stuff between the celli, violas and second violins. The timing and energy was better with my MIDI (I never quantize) than I was able to get with the group. Sonically, they sounded exactly the same. I should stress that in every instance I think I could have gotten the live guys to where they need to be, just not in the time I’d allotted to recording that cue.

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