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Something Sam said in a different thread prompted me to ask these question (and we need to spark some more conversation around here).

For a composition that will only ever be played by virtual instruments, how far do you go to make it realistic?

For example:
  •  do you ensure your virtual woodwind and brass players would actually have a chance to breathe?
  •  do you ensure they won't become exhausted by playing too long at the top of their range?
  •  do you ensure you don't use more instruments than would actually be in an orchestra? By this I mean do you take care not to end up with something that would actually require a hundred string players or 40 horn players?
  •  do you consider if a part you've composed would be boring for a player to play?
Along with the above, I'm particularly interested in knowing if anyone else takes it this far:
  • is there enough for each virtual musician to do?
There have been times where I really only need a single whole note from the Tuba in the middle of my composition, but I imagine a real composer would consider the absurdity of hiring someone to play one note and instead find other places to add Tuba just for the benefit of a Tuba player (and to get their money's worth out of the Tuba player)

I personally like to imagine that my virtual players are real in as many ways as I can. It makes me feel more like a real composer.

As a percussionist, (I'm probably exaggerating a little here) I've played pieces where I count 40 bars rest, hit a bass drum, count another 20 bars and then tap the snare drum a few times. Boring! I felt under appreciated by the composer. I don't want to do that to my virtual players if I can avoid it.  Big Grin
(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]For a composition that will only ever be played by virtual instruments, how far do you go to make it realistic?
I've definitely put a little bit of time into trying to volume-mix my instruments vaguely realistically... with that said, though, I haven't yet gone through Mike Verta's massive template balancing video, so probably still lots of improvements I can make.

(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]
  •  do you ensure your virtual woodwind and brass players would actually have a chance to breathe?
If anything, I'm probably overly cautious about this.

(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]
  •  do you ensure they won't become exhausted by playing too long at the top of their range?
Yep.

(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]
  •  do you ensure you don't use more instruments than would actually be in an orchestra? By this I mean do you take care not to end up with something that would actually require a hundred string players or 40 horn players?
That's how I've got my template set up - everything but strings is individual instruments.

(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]
  •  do you consider if a part you've composed would be boring for a player to play?
Not really? I figure there will hopefully be enough variety in what a player is performing that the boring parts will be livable.

(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]
  • is there enough for each virtual musician to do?
There have been times where I really only need a single whole note from the Tuba in the middle of my composition, but I imagine a real composer would consider the absurdity of hiring someone to play one note and instead find other places to add Tuba just for the benefit of a Tuba player (and to get their money's worth out of the Tuba player)
Oh, there's definitely been times where I treat the piccolo and the tuba that way - using the piccolo only for this run, the tuba for that held note or that arpeggio.

(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]As a percussionist, (I'm probably exaggerating a little here) I've played pieces where I count 40 bars rest, hit a bass drum, count another 20 bars and then tap the snare drum a few times. Boring! I felt under appreciated by the composer. I don't want to do that to my virtual players if I can avoid it. 
A lot of the music I write is influenced by game music, and game music uses the snare a lot. I've lately put effort into making those snare parts more realistic - a lot of it is really just a one- or two-bar line, repeated over and over, so I've tried to make them more interesting by adding grace notes, changing an eighth note on this bar into sixteenth notes, putting rolls where I'd used to put sixteenth notes, etc., so that each bar is a little bit different, even though in terms of practical effect it's the same couple bars, repeated.
Thanks for bringing up this topic. Smile

Personally, I kinda don't bother too much if I know it is purely for virtual use, and vice versa, I don't put too much effort into realism of the mockup if I know it's going to be for real life only.

Certainly there are ground levels of "this should sound at least mildly enjoyable" and "don't write something so impractical it's obvious that it's fake", but for the most part, I think virtual instruments, when used to create "purely virtual" music, should be treated as unique instruments, separated from their "real" counterparts, with their own unique rules and usages. I don't think it's wrong in any way to be able to enjoy virtual instruments outside of the rules of the "known universe" of real life, as long as the intent is not to force some poor sod to have to attempt playing the same thing in real life.

An example I use sometimes is Octo-Nova from the Airscape score. The actual notation is borderline undecipherable and the parts would be basically impossible to play with any but a world-class orchestra and a few hours of rehearsal. The trumpets spend most of the piece screaming, while some woodwinds are stuck playing ostinatos for ages. It is in my opinion a very fun piece to listen to, but would be an incredibly lousy piece to have to play:
https://samulis.bandcamp.com/track/octo-nova

(that said, I did do an arrangement/medley of themes from Airscape (intentionally not including that one) and it worked borderline acceptably on live instruments, so, sometimes even if you don't intend it to work with live instruments, it may still work okay)

Usually with something intended for live performance, I don't bother with decent sounding VI's, or, at best, stick some VSCO 2 CE or similar on there, directly played back via the notation software. My goal is basically just to hear the harmonies so I can tell if they make sense:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/7xaxv0grzg6ce1...3.mp3?dl=0
https://www.dropbox.com/s/qpnlpuiell01x6...t.mp3?dl=0 (realized by a friend with 'Note Performer')

For a natural sound with virtual instruments, in most cases I just play the lines in 100% live, sometimes even without a click. As a wind player, I like to think I have a decent natural feeling for how to phrase something with space for breaths. Here's a decent example of that:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/vphj45w4uxs98k...s.mp3?dl=0

As an isolated example of that, here are some simple velocity-only patches I've been working on adapting for VCSL, played live. With care in phrasing, even the absence of true legato is not that bad:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/hy07v9vwn4d392...s.mp3?dl=0

(02-15-2022, 04:37 PM)Terry93D Wrote: [ -> ]
(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]As a percussionist, (I'm probably exaggerating a little here) I've played pieces where I count 40 bars rest, hit a bass drum, count another 20 bars and then tap the snare drum a few times. Boring! I felt under appreciated by the composer. I don't want to do that to my virtual players if I can avoid it. 
A lot of the music I write is influenced by game music, and game music uses the snare a lot. I've lately put effort into making those snare parts more realistic - a lot of it is really just a one- or two-bar line, repeated over and over, so I've tried to make them more interesting by adding grace notes, changing an eighth note on this bar into sixteenth notes, putting rolls where I'd used to put sixteenth notes, etc., so that each bar is a little bit different, even though in terms of practical effect it's the same couple bars, repeated.

Absolutely! I always feel like I'm not giving enough interesting stuff to percussion, especially snare and bass drums. Adding those little grace note things or even just some interesting accents, I at least feel like I'm doing something. However, at the same time, sometimes I feel the opposite way: like I'm leaving too many instructions for the musician, and losing the music for the sake of giving instructions.
Yep, I keep all of that in mind. I try to pay attention to physical limitations of performers and their instruments because, over the years, I realized that what I didn't like in my own music was that lack of realistic dynamism. When I first started, I didn't know what the mod wheel was for, so I wondered why my flutes and whatnot sounded so sterile compared to even other VO tracks (heh). I don't claim to be an expert on how long a wind or brass player can keep a line going, but I try to write lines now that assume the player has to breathe. I spend time learning about instruments, too, to that end. I generally just follow the logic that what I like to hear most out of the instruments of the orchestra is what they CAN do. So I try not to do impossible or improbable things. In part, that's because doing socan also make your samples sound "cheesy." You can get away with a run that sounds a little fake because of the samples, but you won't get away with a fake-sounding run with the best of samples, if that makes sense. I do not try to pull off shreddy solos with my trombone section Big Grin

I try to limit myself to a certain number of performers in a section, which I find helps me keep tabs on things. I will definitely add extra things (especially exotic percussion and non-orchestral instruments), but I like to keep the core of my orchestra manageable. There's no big reason for this other than that it's the foundation of my VO tracks, and I want to have some sort of reference point to build on. There are tons of patches to keep track of with only that, after all. I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how to incorporate non-traditional instruments, and not just percussion. I did plenty of that on my one album, Beyond the River Skai, and I really like how it sounds in retrospect. These days, I tend to just think of the orchestra as occupying the "hall" and the other stuff sort of moving as needed between that "real" space and the idealized spaces that they sometimes sound better in.

In the end, I know I'm not working with a real orchestra, and that it would be a disservice to myself and my music to ignore the possibilities of the "studio." I love hybrid composition, and I know a lot of my favorite music is modern in the sense that it's more about the experience of the recorded product, which is precisely what I'm after; I'll likely never write anything a real orchestra would perform, so why limit myself all the time? I just try to be conscious about what I'm doing, because I've found that "if it sounds good, it is good" can backfire on you once your ears gain some more experience.

I do not, however, generally worry too much about whether the performers would be bored. Again, I am fully aware I'm not using a real orchestra, and I also have the knowledge of my own past, in which I always kitchen-sinked my arrangements and they came out as cacophonous mud with no cohesion or focal point. I like to play around with different timbres and textures, and it's just not possible to have everyone getting equal attention all the time. I'm thinking about the tracks and their effect more than the "performance." I'm going for overall listening enjoyment.

All that said, I'm no expert, and I'm sure there will continue to be times when I write something that is effective but totally absurd from a "realistic" standpoint Big Grin
(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]do you ensure your virtual woodwind and brass players would actually have a chance to breathe?

Yes.

(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]do you ensure they won't become exhausted by playing too long at the top of their range?

Yes.

(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]do you ensure you don't use more instruments than would actually be in an orchestra? By this I mean do you take care not to end up with something that would actually require a hundred string players or 40 horn players?

Eeeh... kind of. But not insofar that I slavishly follow what the sample libraries say about the size of their sections. For example, sometimes a 16 piece violin section won't actually sound all that big (due to how it's recorded I guess?), and in that case I won't hesitate to use it for divisi or even layer it with another large violin section. In the end, how it sounds is the only thing that counts. I rarely want things to sound completely unnatural though, so I watch out for it.

(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]do you consider if a part you've composed would be boring for a player to play?

Sometimes. Like, "does it make sense for [instrument] to just play the root notes over and over here?" Then I listen to actual orchestral compositions where similar things happen all the time, which makes me stop worrying about it.

(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]is there enough for each virtual musician to do?

It hadn't even occured to me. I just try to use whatever instruments make sense for a composition, and use them in a way that enhances the overall arrangement. If that means some poor virtual musician gets to play just one note every three minutes, so be it. What are they going to do, unionize? xD
(02-15-2022, 10:27 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: [ -> ]
(02-15-2022, 04:04 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]do you ensure you don't use more instruments than would actually be in an orchestra? By this I mean do you take care not to end up with something that would actually require a hundred string players or 40 horn players?

Eeeh... kind of. But not insofar that I slavishly follow what the sample libraries say about the size of their sections. For example, sometimes a 16 piece violin section won't actually sound all that big (due to how it's recorded I guess?), and in that case I won't hesitate to use it for divisi or even layer it with another large violin section. In the end, how it sounds is the only thing that counts. I rarely want things to sound completely unnatural though, so I watch out for it.

That's totally a good point! I've done recordings of live strings where 5-player sections sound like 15 and where 15-player sections sound like 5. A lot of it comes down to mic technique and placement I think!

Ultimately I agree with your general assessment: "how it sounds is the only thing that counts." Nayrb does bring up a good point though too, that sometimes what sounds good at one time or place (mentally and physically) does not sound good later or in another place. I would think a lot of my early stuff was incredible mix-wise when actually it was... okay-ish in retrospect (usually too much reverb!). Even now, sometimes I finish a piece and am very happy with it, then go back and listen later only to realize the mix or some aspect of it is really off, but that's a whole different thing...

(02-15-2022, 10:27 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: [ -> ]If that means some poor virtual musician gets to play just one note every three minutes, so be it. What are they going to do, unionize? xD

Amazing, hahaha!
(02-16-2022, 02:24 AM)Samulis Wrote: [ -> ]That's totally a good point! I've done recordings of live strings where 5-player sections sound like 15 and where 15-player sections sound like 5. A lot of it comes down to mic technique and placement I think!

Ultimately I agree with your general assessment: "how it sounds is the only thing that counts." Nayrb does bring up a good point though too, that sometimes what sounds good at one time or place (mentally and physically) does not sound good later or in another place. I would think a lot of my early stuff was incredible mix-wise when actually it was... okay-ish in retrospect (usually too much reverb!). Even now, sometimes I finish a piece and am very happy with it, then go back and listen later only to realize the mix or some aspect of it is really off, but that's a whole different thing...

I agree here, too. But we are also only ever as good as we are at a given time. We learn and grown by doing anything at all, so we have to consider that we'll make mistakes along the way. I think when we play more to our own strengths in situations where we're unsure, balancing that with a little push toward new levels, we run the best chance of being successful in the moment.
(02-15-2022, 06:42 PM)Samulis Wrote: [ -> ]I think virtual instruments, when used to create "purely virtual" music, should be treated as unique instruments, separated from their "real" counterparts, with their own unique rules and usages.

I can definitely see the other side. Why limit artistic expression? Using virtual instruments that are free of the physical limitations of their counterparts provides the opportunity for music that couldn't otherwise exist.

Sometimes I really want a high note that just doesn't exist on a specific instrument. So far I've resisted the temptation, but i wouldn't fault someone for exploring beyond what was previously possible to get a desired sound.

On a bit of a tangent,

Generally I also avoid using synths (with a single exception from my distant past) in my music. Not that I think there is anything wrong with synths or synth + orchestra combinations. Some of that style of music sounds fantastic but it would be too easy for me to use synth sounds as a crutch. A single synth pad or synth ostinato can fill up a large part of the frequency spectrum that would otherwise require more effort  to achieve with multiple orchestral instruments. For me, avoiding synths forces me to be better at using the orchestra. It's a form of restriction that forces more creativity from me. If I can't just stick a synth in my composition, I have to learn how to get what I want from the orchestra.

So, let me ask how the rest of you feel about using synths in your composition. Do you avoid it or embrace it? (there is, of course, no wrong answer)
(02-16-2022, 01:29 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]So, let me ask how the rest of you feel about using synths in your composition. Do you avoid it or embrace it? (there is, of course, no wrong answer)

I love synths, and I've been wanting to use more in my orchestral tracks. I think you're right, though: they have a tendency to take over a lot of space where you'd need to use interesting blends of orchestral instruments to achieve a similar effect. I think it's all a matter of choice, but that has been a challenge when trying to use them in my tracks. I think for me I'll try with trade-offs rather than blends to start. That is, I'll just have a part in a song where the synth takes over. I'm not worried about whether my performers will get bored, of course, so why not? In fact, I've been thinking a lot about how to make effective songs with that sort of shift in them. Doing it inconspicuously is the challenge.

Another approach is just a direct replacement for a voice in a given track. I've noticed that simpler synth patches, like basic saws, work better than big pads. FM bell pads also work pretty well because they are sort of like hyper real glockenspiel and glock/string blends.
(02-16-2022, 01:29 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]Generally I also avoid using synths (with a single exception from my distant past) in my music. Not that I think there is anything wrong with synths or synth + orchestra combinations. Some of that style of music sounds fantastic but it would be too easy for me to use synth sounds as a crutch. A single synth pad or synth ostinato can fill up a large part of the frequency spectrum that would otherwise require more effort  to achieve with multiple orchestral instruments. For me, avoiding synths forces me to be better at using the orchestra. It's a form of restriction that forces more creativity from me. If I can't just stick a synth in my composition, I have to learn how to get what I want from the orchestra.

So, let me ask how the rest of you feel about using synths in your composition. Do you avoid it or embrace it? (there is, of course, no wrong answer)

If I feel that synthesizers can really add something tangible to the music that the orchestra can't do, I will absolutely use them. Just as one tries to write idiomatically for the orchestra, one should try and utilize synths idiomatically. Here is a piece of mine where I think I succeeded in implementing that philosophy. The synths add colors that the orchestra can not, giving the piece propulsion that the orchestra doesn't (or would be very hard-pressed to): the bassline synth, which is still often doubled by basses, from the beginning; as well as at 0:37 a pluck synth with a pan effect on it, and then a rising synth at 0:45 which a long attack so that it creates the impression that a vibraphone's sustain is somehow decaying and then rising in volume; and thicker analog synths at 1:09. 

I wrote a track for Audio Secret Santa 2021 that also used lots of synths - as piece it was a structural wreck since most of it was composed in a time crunch because other projects were occupying my time - but I was told I should do more fusion stuff. So possibly I will be using synths more going forward.
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