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The Sound of Chords - PPH - 06-13-2020

A violin section doesn't sound like several solo violins. That's why sample libraries have ensemble patches. Since the day I discovered that (ages ago), when I make chords, I always use the ensemble patches. Yet, some time ago, I saw a comment in some forum that said something like "this sample library has only a 11 violins patch, so if I make a three-note chord it will sound as if 33 violins are playing".

I dismissed it as nonsense. This isn't true, of course, for the same reason that a three-note chord of a solo violin doesn't sound like three violins playing together. So, as a matter of course, if I have more than one instance of the same instrument playing together, I will always use the ensemble patch, because to my mind the sound will be more realistic than if I use solo samples.

And yet, recently I found a passage in a series of articles about orchestral writing with sample libraries that seemed to validate somewhat the view that I dismissed. And it said something I find reasonable: that how you go about these combined sounds depends on the sound you want to achieve (and it's true that ensemble patches usually sound bigger but duller). So what's your take on this?

By the way, the series of articles is the one whose first article is this one: It's not bad, but I haven't found it very helpful, probably because I've been writing orchestral music for years, even though not continuously.

RE: The Sound of Chords - peastman - 06-14-2020

One thing to keep in mind is that many instruments are played differently when they're part of an ensemble than when they're played solo.  Generally speaking, when you're in an ensemble you want to blend with the rest of the section.  The audience shouldn't be able to hear any single instrument.  It should just sound like a single note.  When you're a soloist it's the opposite: the audience needs to clearly hear you, even if 11 other violins are all playing at the same time.  That means producing a sound that's not just louder, but also more intense with more overtones.  If you combine a bunch of solo violin sounds, each being played as if it were a solo, the sound won't be the same as an ensemble.  I think that's what you meant when you described the ensemble sound as "bigger but duller"?

Quote:I saw a comment in some forum that said something like "this sample library has only a 11 violins patch, so if I make a three-note chord it will sound as if 33 violins are playing".

Consider how a real violin section with 11 members would play the chord: 4 people taking one note, 4 taking another, and 3 on the final one.  That's certainly a different sound than having 11 musicians on each note.  Of course, if everyone is blending well it might not be that different.  Just pull the volume of each note down a bit.  It depends how concerned you are about absolute realism.

RE: The Sound of Chords - Samulis - 06-14-2020

Consider some thought experiments:
Consider a situation where you, due to budget limits, can only hire 8 violinists to record your project, yet you wish to have the sound of 16 violins in the 1st violins section. So, you record the whole piece with the 8 violins, then have them move over to where the other 8 musicians would have sat, and record another pass. Is it not true that the sound of the 8 musicians tracked twice is in theory identical to the sound of 16 musicians tracked once?

Consider a situation where you have three trombone parts (divisi), but can only find one trombonist. So, you track the piece three times, with the trombonist moving over one seat for each take. It is only logical that the result is timbrally the same as having three trombones. So, we must conclude, if you were to use three different solo patches, pan them out so they are not seated identically (if not done already), and have each play a voice in a chord, it will sound like a section of three playing divisi.

For a real life proof of that, here's a (rough) multi-track I did a while back of myself playing 5 different baritone parts, moving around room with each take to pan the instruments around, then applying some hall reverb in the end:
(excuse the messy high part!)

For a virtual proof, here's two oboe d'amore, cor anglais, and baritone sax playing a piece virtually, panned around:
I think we can all agree it would be funny to say that it sounds like there is only one instrument playing all of those lines, or even only one oboe d'amore playing two notes at once.

If you were to have six musicians in a section (say, six horns) and have 3 sets of 2 musicians each playing a note of a chord, you would get a different sound from having the 6 musicians all play the same note with 3 takes. After all, if we wanted to do 6 musicians to a note in a single take, we would need 18 musicians, or do 3 passes with 6 musicians. So, logically we must conclude that the argument is correct: if you take a patch with 6 musicians and play two notes on it at the same time, it is the sound of 12 musicians; 6 playing one note, 6 playing the other. Long ago I used to regularly load up a 6-horn patch and lay down 4-6 notes on it at once. It's a cool sound, but it's acoustically 'mythical' in character, requiring 24-36 horn players or 4-6 passes with a 6-horn section in unison to replicate in real life, a completely different sound than 4-6 solo horns playing divisi. It's good to use a library that has, say, solo, 2-horn, and 4-horn patches available, so that you can select the right one for the context.

Perhaps the issue with your solo observation comes from not panning other voices, or not using alternative solo instruments (if available). Using the same patch, the same takes, with the same placement in the stereo image, especially sans vibrato and if the samples are phase locked or mono, will result in a sound not so different from a solo violin doing a double- or triple-stop. Even having one use a vibrato patch and the other a non-vibrato patch should resolve this, or ensuring that the vibrato is at different rates, but for best results, a different performer entirely, sitting in a different position, should be used (if available). Of course for most instruments, only a single note is possible at a time, so it is harder for the brain to be convinced there is only one musician playing two notes on their magical oboe. Wink

RE: The Sound of Chords - PPH - 06-14-2020

Well, I read somewhere that when, say, three trumpets play together, then they modify each other's sound (because the vibration of each affects the others). But that probably has something to do with the material they are made of. I don't think that's an issue with violins, for instance. Also, if using two solo patches, I think they should be different (and "neutral", not more expressive because they are played solo, per peastman's comments). Part of the thing is I know that playing the same patch twice in unison will only duplicate the amplitude of the sound. It won't sound as if there are two trumpets. So maybe I generalized from that idea. I'm not looking for absolute realism. I guess I'll have to decide according to the sound I want. But I'm not convinced a chord of three trumpets using the same patch sounds like nine trumpets.

RE: The Sound of Chords - Samulis - 06-14-2020

"playing a patch twice in unison will only duplicate the amplitude of the sound"
Only if you play the exact same sample at the exact same time! If the sample is different (e.g. a round robin or different velocity), or if the timing is different, you will then be combining different sounds. Phasing will occur and the sound will be as if two instruments. This is the same principle by which 'chorus' effects work; taking a signal and slightly detuning it, causing phasing to occur and thus turning a solo instrument into multiple instruments (well, kinda). Consider what happens if you apply a chorus effect of 4x to a string ensemble of 6 players. On paper, it is the same as having those 6 players do 4 different takes (which is one of the reasons chorus effects were developed, to save session time by needing fewer takes with small ensembles or make a solo take sound like a big, thick, ensemble).

Likewise if you combine two different notes with the same patch. Because the phase relationship is different, it will sound as two instruments.

The combination of tones of multiple instruments may be experienced through the digital world too; in the real world, we experience it as phasing, that is, constructive and destructive interference due to the signals (and the space around them) having different distances from the point of observation. Similarly, in the virtual world, multiple signals combined will cause phasing if they are not aligned. You may experience this, for example, in a video game, where a sound may be triggered twice in quick succession, causing a 'phasy' version of the sound to play.

There's nothing inherently wrong with using, say, 3 trumpets playing 6 notes. Yes, on paper it's 18 trumpets, but maybe that is just the sound which is appropriate for your context? Besides, I know of plenty of concert bands with 18 trumpets, so no reason to say it's not possible at least, haha

RE: The Sound of Chords - PPH - 06-15-2020

Of course. I meant the same sample. Anyway, I'm not thinking of using this for unisons. For unisons the three trumpet patch is ok. The problem is with chords. I'll have to experiment a little.