The girl on the swing

I have been drawing the opening sequence for my documentary about Edward Lear, “Following Lear”. Here is the latest version with some detail:

It is a complex scene featuring a swing in a music hall.

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One of my early memories of watching black and white tv was of a girl on a swing in “the Good Old Days”. I think that swing was brought out on a number of occasions actually, and at least once, in the 25th Anniversay season, Les Dawson was strapped to it in drag. It was generally there for the song “Swing me just a little bit higher, Obadiah do”. It made a lyric loaded with innuendo seem homely and very jolly.

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The music hall was full of daring routines and “the Good Old days” captured some of that spirit throwing acrobats and trapeze artistes directly into the auditorium. In the mid 19th Century, there was a craze for tightrope walking over the heads of the audience. Brilliant! I wonder how often there were accidents?

One of the early films made by Dame Joan Collins in 1955 was about Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, tied up in a messy muder trial and called “the Girl in the red velvet swing”. Of course, at a time when she was dazzling in BA and Cinzano adverts, she went on to make a slightly more scandalous film featuring an aquatic swing that arguably re-ignited her career, was based on a book by her sister Jackie, and somewhat incongruously, propelled her as staple fodder for family viewing in nearly a decade of “Dynasty”. What seemed very daring in the “Stud” and the “Bitch”, however, would today seem tame, and the thought of an A- grade star like Joan Collins getting involved in such stuff would no longer raise an eyebrow, particularly after Gielgud, Helen Mirren and O’Toole romped through “Caligula” at the end of the 80s.

I like the “Girl in the Red Velvet swing” though; it treats the subjects rather better than the subsequent film “Ragtime” which is both pedestrian and laboured. The publicity photos for La Collins, moreoever, are a treat. They are even better than the movie! Doesn’t she look radiant!

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twiggyThere is also a swing scene, though fairly modest in “the Boyfriend”, designed by Tony Walton and a great scene in an early Angela Lansbury film,”Till the Clouds roll by” .

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I think I have now looked at almost all the swings in the movies!

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The problem with swings is that every single frame represents a change in perspective- a nighmare for 2d drawing and I have had a few attempts so far. I am quietly pleased with the lastest effortwhich I will work on over the next month.

The music is by David Watson and the song is sung by Thomasin Tresize. If the spirit of the animation is a bit racy, I suppose that is to do with Joan Collins as much as with the hint of naughtiness that Tom suggests as she sings it!

I think it is meditative of course…. I tried to time the swing to the bars of music and it looks too premeditated- a bit like an early Mickey Mouse film. The idea of timing animation to hit the beat gave the whole screen animation/ music industry a very bad name, and it is bizarre that this was taking place at exactly the same time that Astaire was developing his technique of dancing OFF the beat. It’s when the dancer hits the beat at a specific moment that the magic happens. So the swinging motion is now independent of the beat (just).

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Here’s the sequence partly storyboarded:

and here is an early sketch:

 

EDI RAMA

When I was last in Tirana, I tried to make a record of the buildings coloured in what appears to be Dazzle Camouflage by their Mayor, Edi Rama, elected at 36 in 2000. Since 2013, he has been the Socialist Prime Minister and now I believe is taking advice from Alistair Campbell as he seeks re-election and entry to Europe.

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The picture below showing the Mayor’s offices was finished a few weeks’ later as I was recovering from a botched Appendectomy in Oxford. I stepped off the plane from Tirana complaining of food-poisoning by BA. Instead, my appendix burst and I had to deal with peritonitis. I went back a couple of times after this I think and there should soon be enough sketches to complete our EDWARD LEAR film about a journey from Istanbul to Albania in 1848. The film will copmpare the views Lear drew with the smae views drawn over the last 15 years. The views of the various sketches will be interrupted by musical numbers based on Lear’s poems and set by David Watson in a style that should recapture the spirit of the 19th Century music hall. Throughout the film, an animated Edward Lear will deliver some sort of commentary… I hope this will end up as the very first fully-animated documentary.

One of the first things Edi Rama did as mayor was to restore the Ethem Bey Mosque which can be glimpsed here. Lear drew at least two views of the Mosque, then surrounded by trees.

Tirana-Skanderbeg square and etham Bey by TIM

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A few thoughts about Trial by Jury

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While John Hollingshead’s “Thespis” was the first piece that Gilbert worked on with Arthur Sullivan, “Trial by Jury” remains the first in the existing canon of 14 G&S operettas, written three years after Thespis and staged at the Royalty theatre. At 35 minutes, and originally penned by Gilbert to be set by Carl Rosa (the essence of the piece can be found in a ballad published in “Fun” even earlier), it was composed to open on 25th March 1875 as a companion piece to Offenbach’s Peruvian romance, “La Perichole”  and Charles Collette’s farce “Cryptoconchoidsyphonostomata” (when you can get it/while it’s to be had); so, even at the beginning, it was already up against stiff competition.
Changes
There are some changes that Gilbert made before he teamed up with Sullivan for the “Trial” we know. For one, the setting changed from “A Court of Law at Westminster” to the Exchequer. (it is called Urtrial in the 1980 edition of “Bab Ballads”) but the original plan was for a musical setting of this to be presented with a production of Wagner’s “Lohengrin”, quite a novel idea. This is what a 1907 interview records, “Trial by Jury had already been published in Fun by Bab.  Gilbert elaborated it for the ParepaRosa Opera Company and it was set to music by Carl Rosa, but the arrangements for producing it fell through owing to the death of ParepaRosa, Carl Rosa’s wife. Gilbert then took the libretto to Sullivan…”
Tableau
However, I realise that it is only in the context of Offenbach’s piece that one of the more peculiar bits of staging begins to make proper sense; for, in the final bars, Gilbert conceived of a tableau involving a transformation and plaster cherubim descending over the courtroom, the sort of whimsy that might make sense in an Offenbach piece and that is at odds with Gilbert’s stated belief in realism. Whimsical and foolish if seen alone, then, but a rather nice gesture to the French piece that it followed.
The Oboe
There is more: the first Bridesmaid played the main part in the Collete piece, so again perhaps explaining why the nebulous first bridesmaid attracts any attention at all in the score of “Trial by Jury” as it stands! As for the orchestrations- maybe again dictated by what was to follow, as Sullivan highlights the oboe again and again- indeed, it was an oboist who pointed out the importance of the woodwind in Mozart and I have never forgotten the lesson. It pays off here too. Neil Farrow- Thankyou!
I think the section “that she is reeling is plain to see”, by the way, is in fact a joke about Offenbach settings. Listen to it! But Sullivan is playing around with what is expected here, fortissimo crashing in quite unexpectedly and it underscores perfectly the heightened reality that Gilbert intended.
Real characters: honesty
What happens when people sing as they do throughout this piece is that their real emotions and their real characters emerge throughout. The defendant is a cad from beginning to end and we all know him well enough in real life. I can personally name a number of people who behave exactly like Edwin. He cannot disguise what he is, but equally, Sullivan gives him some of the best songs to make sure we can equally not ignore the effortless charm that wins him so much favour. In the end, after all, let’s not forget, he gets away with it!
Harlequinade
The defendant is the harlequin character that Gilbert had invented a few years’ earlier in “A Consistent Pantomime”, who committed crimes in mirth and then had to answer for them in the dock. It was then that he described the jury as “twelve men picked from the most ignorant, narrow minded, opinionated, intolerant and dishonest class of civilised beings in London”. It is also in this piece that he imagines the judge and defendant swapping places, each as awful as the other. In the play, Harlequin places placards around the court accusing the judge and the jury of bribery and corruption. We are clearly in the same universe. I am not fully convinced about the harlequinade at the end of Gilbert’s initial staging of “Trial by Jury”, although I agree it may have been a subconscious attempt to draw parallels between the two productions, and I would be tempted to see the defendant, in my production, as a commedia character and to find some harlequin reference in his costuming however taxing that may be to animate. The judge may be a likeable old rogue, but so is the defendant. Both are colourful which alone more than justifies any move away from putting the Judge in Black robes.
Music
There are various editions of the score, many like the Schirmer, with little errors, some like the Broude rather better. However, there seem to be a number of interesting musical oddities –some indeed that seem never to feature fully in the routine recordings. For instance, in the opening sequence, (the sextet may be after Bellini- a vague quote from La Sonnambula- but the whole owes more to Donizetti) the chorus sing the word “Tried”, yet there are three differing versions of that word, 1) one with a dotted crochet, 2) one with a crochet and 3) then a minim. In the recordings I have found, these all seem to be about the same length but Sullivan clearly intended a difference to be heard and I assume a reason for that. Similarly, there is an odd moment in the same opening chorus when the sopranos and mezzos swap notes. Again, the effect is minimal in recordings, but it would be very nice in an animated version where the visuals lead the sound, and certainly comment on the sound, to see some justification of what Sullivan is already doing musically.
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Animation
The Usher enters to a strut. It is clearly in the music and is a routine piece of animation – indeed, once the basic walk is mastered, the strut and the sneak are the next exercise and I have certainly taught them in that order. (I am not sure all my videos have survived the cull from MPGU online videos, but if not I will do a summary on youtube shortly and post here!) The same pomposity suggests a joke after “Never never never since I joined the human race”, though it is more subtle.
Air-guitar
The first Defendant aria is fairly straightforward (but after the first revival, he lost his prop guitar completely although he still played “air-guitar” in the refrain) but the second “Oh Gentlemen listen” was an afterthought by Sullivan.
The legal changes
Not enough is said of Angelina who seems to be a golddigger. She does not want to marry Edwin but to get substantial damages from him. The hearing was at the court of the exchequer which was closed in 1873, so whether that court ever heard anything other than revenue cases is a moot point. By the time the piece was performed, it was all old history anyway! One of the biggest shake-ups of the British legal system had just taken place in 1875. It is the same year that Bazalgette started the london sewerage system. To add to the nonsense, it is likely that a real breach of promise would not have been a Jury case anyway.
Oh- and the reference to the trousseau is an attempt to keep the Jury’s mind on the costs that Edwin must cough up.
The Judge
Incidentally, the tradition of dressing the Judge in Purple (ordinary) or in Black comes from the new legislation so putting the Judge in scarlet might well be “justified”, although the early performance history has him in Black.
I rather like this joke from Utopia Ltd: “Whether you’re an honest man or whether you’re a thief / Depends on whose solicitor has given me my brief” It chimes in with the idea that the Judge got his briefs by buying them when he was working as a barrister. Certainly there was some underhand activity. Our judge might just be carrying around legal papers to make himself look good. He is all glitter this Judge- a swallow-tail coat, a ring that looked like a ruby and a brief that somehow got him into a crown court.
The Handel parody of the Judge’s entrance , I think, needs all the religious imagery that it can muster to make the point. Musically, I have yet to hear a recorded version that gets the full humour of the fortissimo revival of “He’ll tell us how” that follows the diminuendo. It should be so musically funny that the imposed cod interjections both here and  “tried vainly to disparage” before “And now if you please…” by the judge become unnecessary. I hate these ad libs anyway! I also, incidentally, hate all the nonsense that has crept in around the echo effect that brings in Angelina. If it works at all, it should be a visual that travels down the corridors of the courts of justice exactly like an echo. The “Nice dilemma” is really an early 19th Century end of act chorus and it needs to feel like that maybe even pushing the visuals back earlier even to the court of Louis’ Versailles!
Comedy
One feature marks out “Trial” from the rest of the G&S canon is the absolute absence of bitterness and  misogyny which creeps into almost every piece thereafter. Trial is a very optimistic work. It might be lampooning corruption but it retains a hopefulness that even “the Mikado” fails fully to sustain. There is, for example, in “Trial by Jury”, no middle aged Katisha to lampoon, no Ruth to mock, though admittedly the bride Angelina has a waywardness that anticipates that of Rose Maybud and starts a theme that marriage is some sort of lottery that later operas certainly develop (“I’ve no preference whatever.. Listen to him: well I never.”) The other thing that marks Trial is the way the chorus change their opinion to support whoever happens to be speaking at the time. this is the first time we hear this Gilbertian trick- This was something that Nick Jenkins pointed out to me about G&S in general but in fact given the legal setting it has even much more significance here. It is senseless and funny- it is this mindless decision-making surely that lies at the heart of the piece.
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Transation
It is high time “Trial by Jury” was translated and performed in other languages and I would like to see our planned animated version broadcast in a variety of tongues from the start. Any offers? Legal corruption is by no means a wholly British issue.

Yet more trial by jury storyboards

Here are some more storyboard illustrations from TRIAL BY JURY

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I’ll tell you howcampaign 1820

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Above: for today in this arena

Below: the judge’s entrance: behold your judgecampaign 1837

to your bright rayscampaign 1835

we never grudge ecstatic praisecampaign 1836

may each decree and statute rankcampaign 1838

and never be reversed en blanc

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Hark the hourcampaign 1823

breathing hope and fearcampaign 1824campaign 1825campaign 1826campaign 1827

in this arenacampaign 1828

for today

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for these kind words accept my thanks i pray

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For these kind words etc

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A breach of promise we’ve to try today

campaign 1833.jpgAll hail great judge etc

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but firstly if the time you’ll not begrudge, I’ll tell you how I came to be a judge

More storyboard illustrations from TRIAL BY JURY

Here are some more (the order is not correct)

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hark the hour of 10 is sounding

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hearts with anxious fears aboundingcampaign 1806campaign 1805campaign 1804campaign 1803campaign 1802

Upon the other side…campaign 1802campaign 1801

What he may say you needn’t mindcampaign 1800

from bias free of every kindcampaign 1799campaign 1793

oh listen to the Plaintiff’s casecampaign 1792

the broken hearted bridecampaign 1791campaign 1790

More Matilda

Here are some videos showing progress on the Matilda song

In the “Harmony system” used here, I am inbetweening drawings by drawing between the red (the previous drawing in the sequence) and green (the next drawing in the sequence) In this song, because there is so much action, I am drawing every frame (25 frames/ second) whereas many Disney films rely on 12 frames/ second with every frame exposed twice. This more labour-intensive approach should guarantee much smoother action.

The upper body is sketched in with rough lipsynch in blue

here the arms are encased in jacket sleeves and the whole jacket is added to the figure. Matilda is sketches roughly in blue. For a fuller image, see the end of the previous post (Showreel)

Current Showreel

Here is a version of the current showreel:

 

with some additional imagery from “How pleasant to know Mr Lear”

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From BBC 4

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From A History of the Music Hall, Part 2. (Part 1 here:

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From Juststeve: Μία Ζωή Στα Χέρια Σου | Mia Zoi Sta Heria Soy

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From a film about the Odyssey (Zontul)

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From Wasteworld, dir Andrea Niada

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From A history of the Music Hall, Part 2

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Jumblies (Zontul)

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Captain Cod (Better off Out campaign)

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Aubade- titles for a film about a guitar: dir Henry Astor.

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Marie Lloyd from “A History of the Music Halls, part 2 by Tim Wilson” (Zontul)

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Introduction/ overture to “Trial by Jury” in development (Zontul. Music David Watson, Kanon editions) Gilbert and Sullivan

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Red is the colour of life: charity campaign and TV series in Turkey (Title sequence)

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Burlington Bertie (Animation & Voice Tim, music David Watson/ kanon editions)

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“Torture Cartoon” sponsored by Screen south, dir photography Richard Hering, animation by Tim. (Zontul)

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Bread father- Darende a personal history

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How to be Boss, What Plato says – Best animation 2012 (Reed) Animation by Tim, Music Juststeve.

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How to write a good essay – by Professor Tim Wilson (Zontul) animation and presentation

 

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Better off Out campaign 2016 – Betty Brexit

 

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From British History’s Biggest Fibs Episode 3 (17 animated sequences throughout the series and titles by Tim) Produicer: Nick Gillam Smith, presented by Lucy Worsley for BBC4

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From British History’s Biggest Fibs, part 1 (Richard III) 6 animated sequences by Tim

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Episode 2: British History’s biggest Fibs (5 sequences animated by Tim)

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Matilda sequence from “A history of the British Music Hall part 2” (animated by Tim, cel- painting by Necati Zontul), music by Kanon editions

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The Judge’s song from “Trial by Jury” (Zontul) by Gilbert and Sullivan (In development)

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Storyboard from Trial by Jury showing original blocking for the scene

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How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear (vocals: Thomasin Tresize, music David Watson, Kanon editions, other storyboards: the night I appeared as Macbeth, vocals Tim Wilson, arr David Watson.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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