Some Edward Lear Pictures

David Watson has put together many of the Edward Lear compositions to form a Suite. We shall post a version of this shortly. In the meantime, in celebration, here are some Edward Lear illustrations.

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owl and cat japanese

lear and Howard Carter

Here is the Dong with a luminous nose-

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Daniel Radcliffe, Sitwell & Oxxxymiron

I am not a natural rap fan, but I am always impressed by people who do it with intelligence. Words are words after all and there is a history of rap arguably as old as the G&S nightmare song in Iolanthe, but certainly going back to Edith Sitwell and William Walton’s “Façade”, a series of sound poems or Klangdichtung. Sitwell simply called them an “entertainment”. This nonsense incantation is the stuff of magic and religion. With my own interest in Edward Lear, it is not perhaps surprising that I should be a fan of Façade!

Sitwell first performed Façade standing behind a painted curtain and speaking through a papier-mâché megaphone, the “Sengerphone”. Noel Coward hated it.

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I did the 1951 version of Façade in a concert a few years ago and have always thought how well it would animate! The rapidly morphing images would lend themselves to gloriously anarchic animation. The concert version is much briefer than the revised 1977 version and Walton’s music is tremendous. It is, however, fiendishly difficult to remember all the words because the whole piece is predicated on nonsense. But great fun.

Below is my version of the Cecil Beaton portrait from late in her life. I suppose this was Beaton’s take on the famous triple portrait of King Charles. It was all done with her head poking out of bits of torn paper. Very interesting.

At the time, her personality was probably more important than her poetry, but I think if it is considered in the context of the modern rap movement, Façade becomes much more significant.

daniel-radcliffe

I saw Daniel Radcliffe rap the “Alphabet Aerobics”. Really very impressive.

Here is a link which I hope Youtube does not remove:

Meanwhile, I urge you to follow Miron Fyodorov, now known as “Oxxxymiron” whose work, though so far in Russian, is clearly clever and punchy. Heavily influenced by Grime, (and better than Guf) he is very keen on the Rap-fighting thing and has some bookings next year in Canada when he promises to do something in English. Meanwhile, he is writing his third album.

Here is a song from his second Album “Gorgorod” which tells a story through a series of rap pieces. This song was, I think, censored by the TV screening. I was in the audience (the show was the Russian equivalent to the Graham Norton show, or The late late show with James Corden in the US) and afterwards the host of the show, Ivan Urgant I think, gave me a signed T-shirt asking me publicly (to much mirth from the rest of the Russian-speaking audience) whether (a) I spoke any russian at all, and (b)if I understood what was going on. I confessed that I had not the slightest idea but that I was a dutiful member of the audience and I knew my job was to laugh and applaud. It was clear, anyway, that Miron was in complete control!

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-man-who-was-raised-in-slough-and-raps-in-russia-8324127.html

oxxxymiron-by-tim

Trial by Jury -the “Tenniel” style

Just getting to the point where the judge can be coloured.

The 19th Century woodcut illustration industry was very peculiar. So while Leech, Tenniel, Phiz (Halbot Knight brown), Dore and co produced very fine and very quick drawings, these were then copied by craftsmen called “woodpeckers” and turned into prints. In the case of the Punch cartoons, this process must have been accomplished in a matter of days and some of it is astoundingly complex. The best “peckers” in the business seem to have been the Dalziel brothers who worked on the Tenniel Alice illustrations of 1865 and 1871 as well as Moxon’s Tennyson poems of 1857.

 

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The wood engraving process was different to that used in the late middle ages. The woodcut used the plank wood or side grain, and tend to be larger using bigger tools, but for Tenniel and co, the end grain was used on very hard wood (boxwood/ Buxus sempervirens, though lemonwood is also used) and the quality of detail compared favourably with copper and steel engraving or even etchings. The wooden blocks are often worked on stuffed leather pads which allow the craftsman to work at almost any angle, a bit like a modern Cintiq and the resulting block could be printed with ordinary letter-press rather than using a special printing press as in the case of steel, copper or etchings.

The wood engraving process was expensive and labour intense. Gustav Dore, for example, could not find a publisher prepared to cough up the funds to print his illustrations to the Inferno, so in 1855, he self-published the book which not only continues to be reprinted but both made him a household name and a tidy profit.

There were cheaper and quicker processes available. The Voltaic press (electrotyping) allowed for a greater print-run but the same woodblock seems to have been the starting point and litho-prints allowed for colour but until the late 19th Century had very limited print runs. The photomechanical systems introduced by 1893, the year Tenniel was knighted,  pretty well destroyed the woodprint industry overnight.

Our “Trial by Jury” images try to nod towards the style of the “woodpeckers” and accordingly I have been “inbetweening” crosshatching effects. It demonstrates how time-consuming and effective was the original craft.

 

Ola Kala

While there is a fairly good account of the introduction of the expression OK into the UK in the song “Walking in the Zoo” sung by Alfred Vance, the Great Vance, one of the great “lions comiques”, it probably emerged from the Greek migrant population in Boston or New York and is first recorded in use in 1839.

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The sheet music here is decorated with a drawing by Richard Childs and dates from 1871.

sakis

Sakis Rouvas (whose birthday is tomorrow) popularised the term “Ola Kala” in a Greek pop song written by the American songwriter, Desmond Child in 2002. Child also wrote “she bangs” and “La vida Lorca” for Ricky Martin.

Trial by Jury, Judge’s song

Here is a post on progress on the Judge’s song from “Trial by Jury”.

This is a line test of the first verse. The Right arm and some of the body is still missing as well as the earlier frames of the pigtail and the pupils.

The animation was completed on the Harmony/toon boom system though I note the production of the brilliant and recently-screened “Ethel and Ernest” on BBC was done with TV Paint which seems to offer so much more opportunity in terms of textures and usability. Harmony was a wonderful tool when it was run by the Vogelesang family, particularly Lilly and Joan, but they were taken over by Corus entertainment in 2014 or so and it does not seem to have been the same ever since. I have been teaching in a school in Moscow that apparently promotes the software and it was a devil of a job to get it actually to work at all on the school machines. So much for Industry standard! I note the company also acquired Animo, Pegs’n’co and the Cambridge animation system, rival 2d animating software and has not made any effort to update any of these since, effectively smashing the opposition and leaving precious little choice.

Here is an earlier version:

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This is the finished “look”-

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First combined image of background and character…

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History of the Music halls part 2- progress

For the last year I have been grabbing time between lectures to make some progress on part 2 of the documentary talk about music hall. I have also been finishing some storyboarding for a couple of proposed films and some preparation for a BBC project, so it has been a full year! (That is by way of a preamble and an excuse for tardiness!)

Here is the full documentation on a piece I have just finished animating which is based on a song by Harry Champion:

First sketches:

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with jacket sleeves:

With coloured and shaded hat:

body sketched in:

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the tomato plant:

and adding the jacket design incrementally

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The finished product:

The Context:

The first part of the Music Hall documentary:

The Coburn scene developing:

Marie Lloyd scene:

The original song:

My animation:

The beginning of the film (Music Hall part 2)

 

 

juststeve interview

“I’m happy as a pig in mud”

Q. So, why “juststeve”? What is wrong with Steven Kokkas, your real name?

steve

Nothing, I love my real name, I am proud of my family & given name. Basically, I am just fooling around, having a blast. YOLO! [ you only live once ] Life is too short but even if it were long, I am allowed to fool around. If politicians can fool around so can an artist.”

Q.  Yes but there are also other very big changes mainly in your music. In two years you went from Pop rock where your songs were available on iTunes with a Greek record label and now you are producing swing music that 90% of the people don’t really care about and you have started your own label.

I see your point. My songs are still on iTunes and as a matter of fact several more on-line record shops and I am in complete control over everything I produce. I am tired of asking people for their opinion for everything. I am also very exhausted of people giving me a date or time and I sit around just waiting as if there are no other roads to take in this life. I don’t want to sell my face and frankly I don’t care what the rest of the industry does. Whatever they have been doing has been putting money in their pockets but they have really destroyed the industry. It’s safe keeping away from their system. Right now I am doing something which has never made me happier. I have just released an album and 4 singles and I am in complete control over what I do, whom I work with and how I produce my material. I have  a cover design made by my younger cousin, lyrics by another cousin, another song has lyrics written from my best buddy, vocals by a dear friend of mine, [ the singer MaRina ] and nobody can tell me anything about my new project and how to run it, record it or promote it. I don’t even want it to succeed so there is no possibility of failure. Some of the songs were written years ago but not in swing. Just regular  Pop Rock stuff. I turned them around because it was fun.

Q. You’ve matured.

Yes, I think so. I like it. I like having the odd wrinkle on my face and get a real kick out of 20 year old’s calling me “Sir.”

Q. Tell me about the industry, you mentioned that you are keeping a distance.

Yes and No, I don’t want to get involved with the industry to the point where people are telling me what to do. Franky I think that the wrong people have been chosen to make decisions in the record business. It’s all beat, no content and lots of anatomy shaking.

Q.  Can you give me an example?

Yes, Rihanna. I don’t like her songs and her music videos are giving the younger generation the wrong idea of what a lady should be. She promotes sex and drugs and that is a complete “no no” according to little Stevie.

Q. You’re angry.

No not at all, I am happy as a pig in mud. I am just being honest, I can’t sit here and lie to you. I am honoured that you are asking me questions and I don’t want to play that “reporter – musician” game with you. I don’t want to speak using the industry lingo I want honesty.

Q. Tell us a little about your past

My parents are Greek, I was born and raised in Toronto and I have been living in Greece since the fall of 1989. Music is the only thing I know so that’s what I do. There was a period of 10 years where I just did karaoke and consumed lots of whiskey but that was boring. Now I prefer waking up at 6:30 in the morning, observing the climate, breathing in the fresh air and writing music.

Q. What’s it like living in Greece?

It’s tough. Great sea and sun but it’s tough. It seems like the government is always working against you and they aren’t really helping much. They assume you are going to  break the law and they treat you that way before you have even been convicted of anything.

Q. Tell me a bit about the economic and political situation in Greece.

I can’t, I don’t know enough to be able to draw a conclusion. I avoid watching television too. There is something wrong though. Perhaps, bad management. I am really the wrong person to ask because I know nothing about politics, most of the people I know won’t admit to “not really knowing enough” but I do.

Q. I’ve spent a few years in Greece, that is where we had our first conversations, how has it changed. Tell me a little about Athens.

Most of the city is the same. The transportation has really improved. The past two or three years the number of shops which have closed give Athens a different feel. It’s not as active or as happy as it used to be. The old city, the downtown core hasn’t lost it’s magic, especially if you are around the Acropolis area.

Q. Do your prefer Greece or Canada.

Well many people have asked me the same question and I used to say, “ oh both are nice, Greece has great climate and Canada has a great system . Now I’ll tell you that Greece is a pretty country but it’s draining me. I don’t think Greece will treat me well as a elder, and that is pretty much how I feel. It’s the truth.

Q. Ok back to the music. What next?

I have no idea. I have Ikarian roots which means I may live to record another 20 albums or maybe just quit yesterday and milk goats for a living. Both are quite exceptional.

Q. Do you visit Ikaria Island?

Yes, my family has a home in Ikaria and I am not spending enough time there. I would like to go to Ikaria tomorrow and spend 6 months there.

Q. Would you write music?

I don’t know, I have never tried to write music there. I would love to try.

Q. You mentioned your cousins helping you in the “just4fun” project.

Sure, well there is the youngest who is Nikos, he has Ikarian roots and is very talented and he is studying art in Greece. He designed the cover. He sent me 3 or 4 ideas and I picked the one I liked and then he just polished it. I don’t know if I took him 2 minutes or 2 weeks to do it but I am proud of him either way. Then my cousin Maria, also Ikarian had written a poem years ago and I had written the music for that so I included it in the project. It’s the “Antidrasi” song. Then 2 friends of mine added lyrics to English lyric songs I had written. I really enjoyed that. I really like that people who are actually a part of my life have contributed to my album. I actually know the people who did the art work and wrote the lyrics. It’s not as if I went looking for a famous lyricist who will write something for me. It’s just that simple and I like simple. I wish I could be more simple.

Q. What is medium swing?

Hmm, I am not  a jazz musician, this sort of style just surfaced from within and I love it to bits. One day I just  started playing Fly Me To The Moon and I used a series of chords I found while searching through google. One musician referred to it as  ” medium swing” so I had to investigate. Some people use the swing terms depending on how much groove the song contains. Others just use the term “medium swing” as a tempo reference. That is how I use it. I am just saying that these songs are medium in tempo on a swing beat.

Q. Do you enjoy recording?

No, I don’t like recording studios. Most of them are quite cold and industrial looking and they make me feel as though I have to perform my best. I think that we are performing our best as each minute goes by, as long as we a true to ourselves. From now on, I record at home or even on a mountain. I don’t care so much about the sound quality anymore. As long as I can take the listener on a small journey then my mission has been accomplished. Actually it’s not even a mission. A song is a song. Hamburgers are more important because we actually have to digest them.

Q. Describe the life of a musician. Actually I am interested in Steve the musician. Are you happy? If you had a choice would you have  done something else?

My sister asked me the same question. That is a tough one. I wake up and sleep thinking music and sometimes I learn music even when I sleep. When I am out with friends, I make up excuses for leaving early so I can work on a bass line or write a musical phrase for the 2nd Clarinet. I guess music is a drug. My drug. Then there is also another side to me, sometimes I think that if I had another choice in life I would choose psychology, have a family and a home with a white picket fence. Two extremes eh? I don’t reaaly like the lifestyle of the traditional musician. I like sleeping and waking up very early and I am not fond of the bar scene. I like the company of very few people and I prefer to have conversations that will educate me and not hang out in a sports bar talking about a hockey game.

Q. Ever do drugs?

Of coarse, I ‘ve tried it all. Tripping is quite funny once in a while but after a while I realized  that drugs are for those who need them. I don’t need them. I can trip on my own the minute I walk out this door and I can keep my high for as long as I choose and it’s free.

Q. Have you written any music under the influence of any drug or alcohol?

No, far from it. I am always with a clear mind and stress free. When I am in that frame of mind I can write a song each day, actually upon the hour. I don’t want that though, I want to enjoy other things in life too. I want to have a complete sense of time with my music. I want to feel every minutes that goes by and I can’t do that when I am drinking or on drugs. I want to know and feel that this song was just written in 5 minutes and know what it needs one day before I start polishing it.

Q. Name some musicians you admire.

I admire Elton John for his craft in song writing but I am not too fond of his productions. I should be careful, I am talking about a Sir. I can listen to some Rolling Stones but not too much, actually, I get a real kick out of watching them. I think I can appreciate all kinds of music and I can appreciate all musicians whether they are famous or not. I don’t like noise, distortion, heavy metal or any kind of aggression in music. I admire those who really study hard and long and it shows in their work. I can appreciate a fine production even if the song is shallow but as long as it makes me happy. The final product is what matters to me. I don’t care about fancy guitar solos or high end productions, I just like a good song.

Q. Do you enjoy Rap music?

No.

Q. Why not?

hmm… it doesn’t make me feel good. If you want me to get more specific or technical, it usually doesn’t contain a melody line so automatically I find it lacks in composition. Then the lyrics are not in a style I can appreciate. Most of it is pure aggression. One can argue that but I don’t care, it doesn’t make me feel good. There have been Rap songs I’ve enjoyed. Years ago I enjoyed Rappers Delight and I have enjoyed some Eminem. I am a little old fashioned I suppose. I love Abba, I think they have written absolute perfect music and I know their music will be around for many many decades to come. I don’t like the elements of Rap music or the lack of.

Q. Can you tell me about the elements of music?

Well, there is rhythm, that is the first element and I think it’s the first element because everything about us is rhythmical. Our heart beat, the way we walk, talk, dance. Then Melody. I always die for a good melody line. Third is harmony, it’s how you colour your melody. I think they are all beautiful and necessary.

Q. Looking over your C.V., I notice that your music studies are quite extensive.

No they aren’t really. Not enough. I studied piano for well over a decade in a fine institution, The Royal Conservatory of Music and had private lessons with Stefanos Karabekos, the Conductor of the New Canadian Symphonic Orchestra. I am fond of my instructors, especially Karabekos.

Q. What made Karabekos so special?

Well, all of my music teachers were special but Karabekos showed me that I can bend the rules anytime I choose. I don’t know if he intended to do that but that is what `I realized years later. When you are playing a song and at one point you have to slow down, it’s up to me how much I prolong that “ritardando”. It’s nice when you are studying a piece of music and your instructor stops the lesson and sais, “oh look what they did there. It sounds like this other song I know” and they just start playing it for you. It puts you in fun mode, almost like we are jamming.  Maybe it’s non of the above, maybe it’s just because that is where I learned the most. I don’t believe that rules were meant to be broken but expression is what makes one person different from the other. I really picked that up from Karabekos.

Q. Are you in love?

I sure am Sir, I have been for over 25 years and I don’t mean in love with myself. I am married, that just actually happened recently. Funny social status isn’t it?

Q. How do you mean?

Well people perceive your relationship or your love for another person with greater value if you tell them you are married. It’s almost as if you are in love without emotion or depth prior to that but society itself can be quite funny at times.

Q. Going back to something much earlier in our conversation you mentioned you are now in complete control over what you deliver. How so? I mean is that really true?

I have my own record label so yes, it’s true. I write the music, I arrange it, I select who I want to mix and master my music. If I record in a studio I can select the studio myself. If I release a project which contains ten songs I can choose which song I would like people to hear first. I can add bagpipes to African instruments and use them in the most unorthodox way without anyone accepting or rejecting the choices I make. I can put them up for sale, I can take them down and rearrange them using splashing water instead of drums. I can have one track with birds chirping and call it Lasagna because I just felt like it.

Q. If you had a choice to record a song with a Mega Star who would it be?

Nobody. They don’t want to record a song with me. Unless of coarse the artist called me personally then I would prefer Kenny Rogers or Paul McCartney. As long as the artist actually called me. I wouldn’t want to feel as though I recorded a song with a mega star and they made me famous. I would be just as happy having a cup of tea with Paul and talking about life. not even the music industry.

Q. Do you like Pop Music? I know the answer but it’s something I would just love to hear you say in public.

I love Pop music. You know me better than I thought. I was born in 1966 which means that my most impressionable years were 70’s and 80’s top ten in North America. I love anything that is Pop. Of coarse there is bad pop but who cares , there is good and bad in everything from music to world leaders.

Q. Are you currently writing new songs?

Yes, I have just written one and I have a bathroom recording of it. I will polish it when I get back home and I am half way through another.

Q. So where is home?

Toronto!

Q. When will we hear these new songs?

I will release them in October. Both songs will belong to a set of songs in swing style but I don’t have an album title yet. I might call it “Sweet Toronto”. I’ll see.

Some Gilbert and Sullivan

I am about to compère a concert of G&S  favourites. I was writing some programme notes and started to draw- the first three pictures are my copies of original photos and the two pictures that follow are a quick attempt to conjure up the look of Yum Yum and Mabel. Years ago, I designed a production of both the Mikado in the Playhouse in Oxford and then later a production of Pirates.

WH Smith was the original of Sir Joseph Porter whatever Gilbert might have said to Sullivan. Smith knew it and so did Disraeli who thereafter called him “Pinafore Smith”

and here are some photographs from the production of the Mikado which goes back to the early 1980s – I found a photo of the rather grand front drop but have somehow misplaced it.

 

Florence

florenceJust to point out- I have not yet seen the film though it strikes me that Hugh Grant looks more like the pianist Cosme McMoon than St Clair Bayfield! I await the film with great joy! But I wanted to scribble a few thoughts first about Florence Foster Jenkins whose image I recall from reading about her in “Look and Learn” in the early 1970s, but whose voice I first heard when a friend called Gerald Dowler showed or gave me the record. It was a great pleasure. Even more so because on the flip side was a New York cabbie destroying Faust.

La Jenkins was supposedly “the worst singer of all time” (“Her singing at its finest suggests the untrammelled swoop of some great bird,”) and she drew crowds from the 1920s until her famous debut at the Carnegie hall during the 2nd World war.

“She clucked and squawked, trumpeted and quavered. She couldn’t carry a tune. Her sense of rhythm was uncertain. In the treacherous upper registers, her voice often vanished into thin air.” She had a heart attack two days after the show and died.

She was certainly eccentric, confident, hopelessly pursuing a fantasy of herself, a camp  stylist with a vision that was entirely her own, and she remains an inspiration to anyone who follows a dream.

I love her determination. I am sure she would have done much of what she did even without her escort, “Whitey” St Clair Bayfield (who called her “Bunny”). She was disowned by her father after she ran off with her first husband Frank Thornton Jenkins. Frank gave her syphillis so when her hair fell out and she was forced to wear wigs. Then she badly injured her arm and could no longer play the piano. Still, she did not give up. She was supported by her mother who encouraged her daughter’s pursuit of music and society.

She may have been practically tone deaf, “the queen of dissonance”, but she had guts and determination: her line was, “people may say I can’t sing but no one can ever say I didn’t sing,” suggesting she was more aware of her failings than the stories suggest. She also had inherited buckets of money and while pursuing her own benighted career, promoted others, and, for instance, put on a series of privately funded and fully staged operas for the Euterpe Club in english during the 1st World war often in Hotels; she continued to patronise the arts generally through the Verdi club.

The picture is after one of the photographs of her in a costume she had designed especially for  her to perform “the glory of the human voice”.

here she is crucifying both Bach and Pushkin and finally the Queen of the Night::

 

Digital Orchestration The use of Sample Libraries / Virtual Orchestration in Music Production

Turn on the television anytime and the chances are you are going hear music that is produced using digital orchestration and sample libraries. So, the orchestra you are hearing is not, in the conventional sense, an orchestra at all – it just sounds like one. If the music production is done well, it should be almost impossible to distinguish between what you are hearing and what a “real” orchestra would sound like. That is the art / science of digital orchestration. The music for CSI, The Mentalist, Dexter and many more, is all produced “inside the box”. It is now almost impossible to find an advert where the music is not produced in this way. Tight production schedules and limited budgets usually don’t allow for recordings of real orchestras, so the sample based recording isn’t just a demo or a mock-up, it is the final cue.

Click on the link below. Here, there are two examples of an orchestral piece by Vaughan Williams and two examples of a Beethoven string quartet. One of each piece is produced using digital orchestration – which is which?

http://www.kanon.co.uk/XY.htm

More and more, and for the same reasons, this also applies to films. Low and mid-range budget films will never be able to finance studio recording sessions with a large orchestra, music director, producer, recording and mixing engineers etc. Even in some blockbuster films where large Hollywood style orchestras are used, the soundtrack will often be enhanced with extra sampled percussion and brass etc.

What is sampling and how does it work?

Not Robots and Nothing to do with Synthesizers!

When you hear sampled music, you are hearing real musicians playing real instruments, – a solo violinist may well be playing a Stradivarius! – but, every single note and articulation has been sampled – recorded – separately and often many times over. Every note an instrument can play and in every way – ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff, fff, sfz, staccato, detache, legato, flautando, harmonic, con sordini, pizz, and so on, is sampled in meticulous detail. Often, but not always, these samples will be recorded “dry”. That is, with absolutely no ambient sound, echo, reverb. If you listen to dry samples, they are very uninspiring – if you have ever been in an anechoic chamber you will get the idea. Reverb to taste is added later. More about reverb anon. The world leading Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL) have built their “Silent Stage” so that all their sampled recordings are completely dry.

A full orchestral sample library will go through this process for every instrument. In addition, where sections of players are required e.g. First Violins, Second Violins etc. there may well be 14 or more players playing together. Full professional sample libraries are massive containing millions of samples.

The Legato Revolution

An important milestone in orchestral sampling occurred in 2002 with the development by Vienna Symphonic Library of the “interval legato concept”. Anyone who has learned to play an instrument to a reasonable standard will be aware that it is not enough just to play the correct notes in the correct order in the correct time. Good phrasing, and especially legato phrasing, will utterly transform a piece. Hitherto all sample libraries faced the same problem – how to join notes together so the phrase or passage sounded completely authentic. In 2002 VSL developed complex algorithms which overcame this problem, the results were astounding and this process has been taken up by all sample developers ever since.

Click on the link below to listen to a 1st Violin section from VSL.

http://www.kanon.co.uk/XY.htm

No More Machine Guns!

Around the same time VSL also developed the method of using different samples for repeated notes. Most music contains many parts where the same note is repeated many times. If the same sample is repeated many times the result is not at all convincing and is known as the “machine gun effect”. The developers created a system where each repeated note triggered a different sample of the same note giving a much more realistic sound – this is now universally referred to as “round robins” and all serious sound libraries use this system.

Software

What do you do with 10 million samples?

Fortunately the companies producing such vast libraries also produce highly sophisticated software to control and manipulate the samples. The screenshots below show part of the user interfaces for VSL’s Vienna Instruments and East West Quantum Leap’s PLAY software. It is here that the user controls and manipulates the samples. There are many other companies with similar products but these are the two with which I am most familiar and use on a daily basis.

Usually there is a matrix where the user loads the samples required. In some pieces only a few articulations will be required e.g. sustain and legato, for other more complex pieces a wide range of individual articulations will be needed. This can be very demanding on computing power and often slave computers with powerful processors. a lot of RAM and several solid state hard drives, will be needed to take the strain.

Screenshot 3 Screenshot 4

A set-up like this can be used as stand-alone connected to a keyboard where the player can play, for example, an incredibly realistic string or brass section. This is commonly used in “live” situations. This of course has been and continues to be controversial as many musicians see it as a threat to their jobs and there is no doubt that this does and will continue to happen. On Broadway in 2003 there was a Musicians Strike which began as a strike over pit minimums and rapidly escalated. In London’s West End Cameron Mackintosh moved Les Miserables from the Palace Theatre to the Queen’s Theatre leading to a reduced orchestral size – a smaller pit – and increased use of samples triggered from keyboards. So, from the audience’s perspective there was no reduction in sound produced by the orchestra.

In music production for TV, Films and CD type work these interfaces will normally connect to a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Cubase, Protools, Studio One etc. Here the user controls the whole audio project with as many instrument tracks as required – it could be over a hundred.

Below are examples of editing widows from Cubase.

Screenshot 2 Screenshot 1

The coloured track lanes are individual instruments which are processed as required and eventually mixed down to stereo, or surround sound. It is in these widows that all the minutiae of editing takes place. The process here is similar to standard multi-track recording which of course is the staple of many recording studios. In some cases this is still done using multi-track tape recorders – analogue – but more and more, using computers – digital. Each method has its own champions and many a heated discussion takes place over their relative merits.

How Pleasant To Know Mr Lear

Screenshot 3 is from “Following Lear” Zontul Films Ltd currently in production. The music was composed and produced by David Watson (Kanon Digital Orchestration) using the digital orchestration techniques described above. A mixed stereo file was sent through the ether to Shonk Studios Oxford where soprano Thomasin Trezise recorded the vocals which were then sent back to Kanon for mixing and mastering. This track is not finalised but you can listen to the work-in-progress by clicking on the link below. You can also see Tim Wilson preparing some of the storyboards and animations for the piece.

A Note on Reverb

I mentioned above that many sample libraries are recorded completely dry i.e. with no ambient sound on the recording. This has the benefit of giving the producer much greater control of the final audio track. Reverb techniques have come on a long way since the days of the old “spring” reverb. This was literally a spring inside a plastic pipe which could be inserted into the audio path. It gave pretty impressive results for its time but if you want to see one now you will have to go to a museum!

There is a vast array of very high quality hardware and software reverb systems available. Where pure acoustic realism is sought, rather than a reverb or echo “effect”, the most commonly used system is that of Convolution Reverb or Impulse Response. Without going into the physics of the process, convolution reverb involves audio engineers going to a particular venue – a concert hall, scoring studio, a church or even a famous cathedral and actually recording the directional sound impulses of that space. Using these programs and impulses you can then place your “dry” instrumentalists or singers “virtually” in that space. The realism of the results can be quite amazing.

VSL’s Multi Impulse Response convolution (MIR)

VSL’s MIR, which I use a lot, goes even further taking up to 5000 impulse responses per room. They will also consider the placement of any instrument on a stage and the directional and sonic characteristics of the instrument. Microphone placement is very important and it is possible to listen as the conductor, someone sitting near the front of the auditorium or at the back or in the balcony and so on.

Mozart wet and dry.

Click on the link below to listen to excerpts from the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro.

http://www.kanon.co.uk/XY.htm

This first one I have kept mercifully short. It sounds raucous, out of balance and truly awful. Yet, apart from the addition of the MIR impulses and instrument placement, it is identical to the second example which I hope is more pleasing to the ear. This second example is placed in the Mozartsaal in Vienna.

Where to now?

The speed of technological advance is unlikely to slow down. Computers are getting more powerful, processors ever faster, solid state hard drives will become the norm – this can reduce the need for huge amounts of RAM. The professional sample library market is very competitive with new top-end products advertised in specialist magazines every month. The digital / virtual orchestration area of the music business is almost unrecognisable from that of just a decade ago.

Where does that leave our living breathing musicians? The business will continue to change and musicians will have to adapt, there is no doubt about that. However, music conservatories across the world continue to produce incredibly talented musicians. Perhaps the British – but not the Scottish – Government has come up with a solution – stop producing musicians! The introduction of the Ebac. The Ebac will essentially be compulsory for all maintained schools. The Ebac does not include music and the arts! Any school which does not conform cannot be graded as outstanding. I feel sorry for the head teachers – especially those with a creative arts background – who will have to make very difficult decisions. I suppose we get the governments we deserve. After all we elect them. Or at least at the last election the 66% of us who voted did.

Perhaps there is something to be said for a benign dictatorship – especially if musicians are in charge!

David Watson

August 2015

Kanon Digital Orchestration

Auchermuchty Scotland

www.kanon.co.uk