Friday, 31 December 2010

Recent Music Activities



The past two days MAESTRO-2 was not in its usual place - but visited a local professional studio for some new work: a very interesting unusual project, where I could apply my classical music expertise and the sounds on that system into a cross-boundary musical endeavour. Not much more can be said right now, as this is tightly under wraps... but it is quite an exciting project, out of my usual comfort zone. Will keep you updated, once things become more concrete with results.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Happy Holidays!

I wanted to do this already in October, to get a head start, but as usual I was not able to find time, and so I only could start work on this on 18.December. Since many years I wanted to create my own arrangements of some Christmas songs/carols. This dates back to the late 1970s / early 1980s when I did play the piano on Christmas eve with the family, when they would sing those carols, and I would improvise some adhoc accompaniment. I had many ideas at that time for new harmonies and unusual interpretations of the melody, but that did not sit so well with the other family members, who wanted the more traditional way...

Between 1998 and 2003 I did a few interpretations of Christmas Carols and recorded them, but since then the Christmas project has been on hold.

Until now. On 18.December I sat down on my keyboard, fired up Maestro-2, and began to create the arrangement of "Silent Night". I planned to put all original 6 verses in, with the "singing part" being arranged in traditional ways, but framed by a prelude, 5 interludes, and one postlude. Well, time constraints allowed me only to complete three verses. The rest has to wait until 2011.

I posted the MP3 recording on 19.December, and a few days later on 23.December I posted a slight update, in which I had taken off the edge of some of the dissonances, and also had added some more brass, for a fuller sound.

I then looked through my archive of Night/Christmas pictures, and assembled them in this video:





I hope you enjoy this!

Merry Christmas to everyone, and best wishes for the New Year 2011!

Friday, 15 October 2010

New Composition Draft: "The River Aire"

In the Rivers Movement Project, the overall theme of climate change and environmental protection is related to rivers in Yorkshire. Much of the work of the artists who are involved in this project, relates to the River Aire, which flows from Malham to Castleford.

In the past 6 weeks this Rivers Movement has organised a set of exhibitions and workshops in the Bridge Arts Gallery in Castleford under the theme "70 Reasons why I love the Earth" - that is the context in which I held my music composition workshop two weeks ago. Today, Friday. 15.October, is the final evening.

The River Aire has inspired many artists. One of them, David Wilders, has for this occasion (Rivers Movement workshop series) written a poem about the River Aire. This poem describes in a set of nouns the river, from its source to its merging with the river Calder in Castleford. Officially the river Aire continues until it merges into the river Ouse at Airmyn - I will have to talk to David about this.

The poem by David evokes images of the river in its various stages. I thought that it would be very well suitable to "musify" this (can I claim the copyright on the expression "to musify something"? Apparently not...). So I sat down and tried to translate the words of his poem into orchestral sounds, phrases, themes.

So far I cam only up to the line 5: "The birth, the source, the origin", which describes Malham Cove from where the river begins to flow. The music (following the poem word by word) describes Malham Tarn, storm, might, rain, deluge, sodden, saturation, overspill, energy, flow, movement, partially going down into the Gordale Scar, partially seeping through the earth, until in Malham cove the water is collected, and the river begins.

I plan to continue and "musify" the poem until Castleford, maybe with an extension to Airmyn.

For now I have the "draft" of the first part of this music ready. I was wondering if it is a good idea to put it out now in this unfinished state... it really needs a lot of fine tuning and polishing; also it ends abruptly, as the river would from here on continue to flow.

The final event of this "70 reasons..." workshop series tonight provides an opportunity to play this music to an audience, and so I am thinking that I should put it out there now. The cellist and composer Geoff King from Harrogate will also present a composition about this poem, and he will even play it live on his Cello - I am very much looking forward to this. I will only play my piece as a recorded wave file.

Here is the WMA file of my composition "Birth of the River Aire".
And here is the MP3 file of this music.
These files are currently not yet listed on my official web site, but are only available to readers of this blog.

The event tonight, with the premiere performance of this music piece, will begin at 18:30. Venue: Bridge Arts Gallery, Sagar Street, Castleford, WF10 1AF.

Please let the organiser's know that you saw this note on my web page.

--- Why am I posting this so late? Well, the idea to this composition came to me yesterday night, around 23:00, when I decided that this poem is really nice, and I should do something. So I improvised until around 2:00. The resulting 3 minutes of "music" are the result of 3 hours work. I think that the whole composition would then take about another 10 hours of work to complete, plus another 10 hours to create a well-balanced performance-recording.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

After the Music Workshop


The workshop at the Bridge Arts Gallery in Castleford on 2.October went well. We had five participants with a varied background: some with professional music experience, others with a general interest in music and arts. The first half of the workshop I presented the general concepts of making music with a computer. After lunch with good fish&chips from a nearby outlet we continued to explore the use of a sequencer for music making. I demonstrated some of the sounds of the Garritan Personal Orchestra sample library. Then I played the first movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1 through the sequencer. The participants, most of them in general not very fond of classical music, found it very enlightning to see the visual indication of the music structure in the piano roll: each voice had its own color, and one could observe the up and down motion of these voices. A teacher saw the great possibilities of this for introducing children to music. Also the intuitive note editing of sound duration through the length of the note bars on the piano roll view appeared to the participants as a major step forward from the traditional 5-line note staff view.

We did not have time to actually start a joint collaborative composition of our own, as I had originally envisioned - we may do this at another time.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Free Workshop: Composing Music Using Your Computer

2.October 2010, 10:30 – 15:00
Bridge Arts, Sagar Street, Castleford, WF10 1AF

Content


In this workshop the participants will learn about the tools for making music with the help of a computer. Those tools are nowadays available to anybody and allow the creation of music in ways that were previously only available to music professionals. This includes sequencing of music in abstract notation, the sound generation, the inclusion of acoustic effects, and the final recording of the music onto a CD.
The presenter Reinhold Behringer will give an introduction about those computer tools and will demonstrate them on a custom-built computer MAESTRO-2 as an example of a music computer system. The principles of sequencing and the use of samples will be explained and demonstrated with Cakewalk SONAR 8.5 and the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4.
The workshop will then focus on the classical orchestra and its instruments. Through demonstration of the individual orchestral instrument samples the acoustic space of the orchestral sound will be explored. As an example of a classical music sequence, the Symphony No 1 of Gustav Mahler, whose 150th birthday was celebrated this year (2010), will be shown as a computer score, and with this work as an example, the various techniques of electronic digital instrumentation will be demonstrated.
In the second part of this workshop, the participants will collaboratively compose a piece of music, using these computer tools. This will result in a music recording which each participant will take home as a CD.

Prerequisites brought by the participants: none, except an appreciation of music.


Schedule


10:30 – 12:30 Introduction to Orchestral Computer Music
12:30 – 13:00 Lunch Break
13:00 – 15:00 Collaborative Music Composition

About the Presenter


Reinhold Behringer is Professor of Creative Technology at Leeds Metropolitan University. His technical area of expertise is artificial intelligence, computer vision, and automatic driverless cars. His interest in classical music already began at an early age, and he played piano and joined the high school orchestra playing cello. In 1993 he began to use computer technology to create "renditions" of classical music, and in 1998 he founded the "Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra". He has created computer-based renditions of many classical orchestral music works, including Prokofjev's Symphony Classique, Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, several waltzes by Johann Strauss, and most recently Mahler's Symphony No.1. In addition he has collaborated with opera singers to create two duets from Puccini's operas using electronic digital orchestration.

www.virtualphilharmonic.co.uk

Book Your Place


To book a place on this workshop please call Bridge Arts at 01977 556741.
Alternatively you can call Bohemian Books on 01977 517262 or email info@bohemianbooks.co.uk

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

New version of Mahler 1, 4th movement

Yesterday evening I decided to give my recording of Mahler's 4th movement an overhaul. The initial recording from 6.July had been done in quite a rush, trying to finish it before the anniversary on 7.July. Hence there were a few details that were not perfect. Especially the tempo had its problems: in my opinion now it was too slow.

So I revised the tempo and accelerated in many parts. There could still be some more acceleration, to keep the tempo more consistent in pace.

I also reduced the violin attack in a quiet passage between bars 166 and 220. Now the melody sounds much smoother.

Overall I think that I improved this recording. It is accessible on its web page in two versions: as MP3 and WMA. It also is automatically inserted into the streaming of the complete symphony which is accessible through this page.

Some pages on this web site do not load very quickly, due to the scripts for creating the links to the music files. I will have to switch this eventually to a database-oriented version.

Web site outage

From 6.September, around noon, until today, 8.Sept. around 11:13, the website of VPO has been down. This was a problem at the server side, due to overload of the database engine. The site was not accessible, instead an error 500 was displayed.

This has been fixed now, and the site is up and running.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

150th Anniversary of Death of Friedrich Silcher

Today 150 years ago the German composer Friedrich Silcher died. There is not much buzz around him these days, he appears to be out of fashion. But this is really a pity: he composed many of well known songs that are a basic staple of the German folkloristic song repertoire. When I was a child, we did have a record in which a choir sang many of his songs. At that time I did not pay attention to the composer, but I took these songs in: "Aennchen von Tharau", "Ich weiss nicht was soll das bedeuten" (Loreley), and many other songs which capture very well the feeling and attitude of the early romantic period in the first quarter of the 19th century in Germany.

I do not know much about him or his life. There are a few sites that can be found by a Google search. He appeared to have been a quite modest man, somewhat silent, as the images indicate, and I can imagine his demeanor, with his Swabian dialect that is still spoken today around the area where he lived. His music reflects this modesty: no loud temperamental outbursts, just very modest melodies, trying to express the content of the song texts with harmonic turns that can be sung by the average human. And these melodies do have a somewhat evocative power, when they accompany the stories that are told in the songs.

It is a pity that his music is today rarely heard. I plan to create a CD with recordings of a collection of his music, probably with some "musical reflection" by myself.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

After the Release of Mahler 1

A month has now passed after my release of the recording of the complete Symphony No.1. For me this was quite a milestone, and I had to take a musical break for a brief time after completing this rendition. In the meantime I have uploaded two revision: one of the first movement, another one of Blumine. I am still not very convinced about these recordings - something is still lacking: an overarching clear implementation of a musical concept. A real orchestra conductor can do that easily, during a life performance. But I have to stitch, to draw controller values, to listen to short segments... and a lot of my musical intention that I have inside does not come through... there must be a better way to get the right tempo and volume balance.
The last movement needs some attention: it is currently too monolithic, too loud in the beginning part, needs more tempo variations, to be faster in some parts, slower in others. When listening to it in one piece, all this is very evident. But it gets lost once I dissect the piece and micro-edit events, note attacks (velocities), controller values, and tempo curves.

The BBC Proms show great concerts - many performances of Mahler's symphonies are scheduled, and they give great inspiration. Since I already have the 3rd movement from Symphony #4 in a MIDI form (from my earlier recordings in summer 2000), I can focus on this symphony. The first two movements should not be a large problem, and the long and intensive 3rd movement needs just a conversion to the GPO4 samples, plus a reworking of the dynamics. Timing appears already more or less ok. Then the 4th movement would need a soprano. I could use a synth voice replacement for this, and in the initial phase this is probably what I will do. However, if there is any soprano out there who wants to collaborate with me on this - please contact me!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Cover Graphics for Mahler's Symphony No.1

I plan to release my rendition of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1 as an "album" online. For this I need of course a cover graphic. When looking at many of the classical music CD, many of the covers are quite unimaginitive: often a painting by Gustav Klimt, representing the fin-de-siecle in Vienna, or some alpine mountains. But Mahler's Symphony No.1 contains so much more... and I wanted to express this.

Especially I wanted to express the personal background which contributed to Gustav Mahler's emotional state while writing this music. And of strong predominance were the two unhappy love affairs he had in 1884 (Johanna Richter) and 1888 (Marion von Weber) - there is a lot of source material about this in the literature.

First I selected van Gogh's painting "The Harvest" as a main background image. This painting was created in 1888 and therefore fits right into the timely context. It shows a rural countryside in harmony, with sunny fields, and I found this represents well the mood of "Ging heut morgen uebers Feld" (went this morning over the field), which is a theme in the first movement. Also the Laendler movement with its bucolic dances fit in my opinion well to the sunny and optimistic mood of this picture.

Then I used the wood cut by Moritz Schwind "Hunter's Funeral" which was a direct inspiration for the 3rd movement "Stranded".

In order to represent the personal unhappy love stories, I put two faint profiles of women there, and overlaid the whole picture with a pair of blue eyes. This represented the reference to "die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz" (the two blue eyes of my darling) which is part of the lyrical middle section of the 3rd movement.

I basically had a nice graphics representing movement 1-3, but then I worked on the rendition of movement 4, and this overall sunny mood was no longer representative for the symphony as a whole. So I added a dark thunderstorm background with lightning and added some fire flames in the foreground. This seemed to work well now. In addition I added a cuckoo bird, a trumpet and a French horn. Finally, with the inclusion of "Blumine", I added a bunch of blue flowers. And of course, a Gustav from a photo from about 1888 in the foreground.

In my initial draft the two women shapes were facing each other, but then I realised it would be better if they faced away from Gustav, representing the rejection of his affection.

Happy 150th Birthday, Gustav!

Today 150 years ago, Gustav Mahler was born in the small town of Kalitsch (with is today located in Czechia, but at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire). On my VPO website I have tried to give reasons why I like his music so much. So this anniversary today was for me the opportunity to express gratitude for the music he has written and given to the world.

A few years ago I thought about how to commemorate this 150th anniversary of his birth, and I decided that I would create a rendition of one of his symphonies. Time passed by, and suddenly it was March 2010 - the Mahler-year had already begun. In the meantime I had revived the VPO website and had upgraded my music creation setup. So it was time to pick up that thought of creating a rendition of a whole symphony. Since I already had a rough recording of the 3rd movement of Symphony No.1, it would be this one.

Symphony No.1 is - after the "Songs of a Wayfarer" the first large-scale public musical expression by the young composer Gustav. I personally find this music is the very first music of the 20th century. Just compare what kind of music other composers wrote around the same time... and then you can see the radicality of this composition. In my view, Mahler goes further than Wagner in his musical approach and language, going beyond the musical borders of the 19th century. Wagner pointed the way - with his complete filling out of these borders and the Tristan chord as an indication of what to come. But Mahler went beyond, exploring the area behind these borders where musical certainty is suddenly put into question. Where Wagner dominates, Mahler questions. In Mahler's music is irony and sometimes a little "twinkle in the eyes", something that is completely absent in Wagner's music.

Symphony No.1 was a start of all this. Feeding and literally quoting from the earlier work "Songs of a Wayfarer", the emotional event through which Gustav went during 1884 and 1888 have shaped this symphony. It is a very varied work: a homage to nature ("wie ein Naturlaut", the cuckoo motif throughout the symphony), to bucolic simple life, then also irony and sarcasm, and thundering emotions, tearing the soul apart, but finally being resolved in a triumphant Finale.

I have heard this symphony many times, by various conductors and orchestras. For creating my own rendition, I wanted to keep my mind free of any other explicit influences and did not listen to any other recordings of this work for quite a while. In March 2010 I used the rendition of the 3rd movement which I had done in the years 1995/1998/2003 and began adapting it for the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 samples. This was done in a relatively short time, so I moved on to the 2nd movement. This was straight-forward and took a few weeks to complete. The first movement took about a month: it was relatively complex, and it was not easy to determine the right pace. But the most challenging movement was the last one: a plethora of instruments, 7 horns, 4 trombones, two timpany... I often hesitated to work on it, because of the many difficulties I had to overcome each time I did some work on the rendition. Needed to add more and more tracks, to accommodate all the different instruments. In the end it took about 3 weeks - I had started on 17.June, and completed the rendition just in time for the birthday anniversary - on 5.July.

Now I had a rendition of the symphony as it was usually being performed - with just 4 movements. However, in a forum a musician and Mahler-fan mentioned the movement "Blumine" - about which I did not know anything before. When I did some background research, I uncovered the story of this movement, which originally had been a part of this symphony but was then removed by Gustav, as he received strong criticism about this Symphony 1. Since then this "Blumine" movement which had originally been the 2nd movement of a 5-movement work was not included anymore and was lost, before it was rediscovered in 1966.

Many orchestras and conductors do not include this movement in their performances and recordings of this symphony, out of respect for Mahler's decision to remove it. But I was thinking, why one only should respect "the old Mahler" and not the young Mahler? Gustav had good reasons for setting up this work as a 2-part work in 5 movements; there was a program, based loosely on a novel by Jean-Paul; and there was a strong personal attachment, as "Blumine" was the nickname for a woman Gustav was in live with: Johanna Richter. So I became intrigued to include this movement into the symphony and to recreate the original structure as it had been intended by Gustav during 1884-1888.

But time was short: just on the evening of 5.July I had completed the 4-movement symphony, and I already had given up creating a rendition of Blumine in time for the birthday anniversary. But on the evening of 6.July I thought that I would give it a try. I had never before heard this music, and I resisted the temptation of listening to examples on YouTube where a few recordings of this music are available: I was curious how the result would be if I would only have a music score as a source and would then be required to use only this score as a musical reference, without having any pre-conceived sound image in my head.

I started to work on this at 18:30. Sat straight on it, and the whole movement was completed at 2:30 on 7.7.2010. I had done it - the 5-part Symphony No 1 was completed. Now I still had to spend about 2 hours on uploading, changing the website and the mp3 playlists, finalising the cover graphics, and in addition I uncovered a technical problem with the special site I had prepared for this project - it had worked ok from my local computer, but once the page was on the server, it did not load... so after a while of bug-fixing I was able to locate the problem and get everything sorted, and the site for this special project was ready and online.

Got then only 3 hours of sleep... but the effort was well worth it.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Mahler Symphony No 1 Completed!

Yesterday night I completed the first release of the 4th movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No 1. This movement has been the most challenging rendition I ever did: 731 bars, 70 pages, lots of trills and percussion rolls, many instruments in each group. It took me about 3 weeks to do this. No major technical hurdles were faced, except that the Garritan Personal Orchestra does not include the whole range of instrument notes which are required by Mahler's composition.

This release concludes the recording of the complete Symphony No 1 by Gustav Mahler. All the files are accessible on my VPO website. I have now also created MP3 versions of each of the 4 movements, to be more platform compatible - those MP3 files are longer than the WMA files, at a comparable quality.

I am glad that I managed to complete this symphony in time for Gustav Mahler's 150th birthday tomorrow - I will have a special page dedicated to this event.

A pity that I was not able to complete the "Blumine" movement, the long-lost 2nd movement... I intend to add this one at a later time.

Enjoy Mahler's grandious work!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Embedded Windows Media Player Plugin for Firefox/Chrome

Up to my VPO website only supported streaming for MS Internet Explorer. Users of Firefox and Google Chrome had to either right-click-and-save, or might be able to just click and hope that the audio plays. A few weeks ago this playing seemed actually to work fine for WMA files: there was no GUI, just a black screen with the words "waiting for video", and the music played. In case of an MP3 file there was even a volume control that appeared. When I tried this today, however, I noticed that the screen just remained black, and no audio did show. It might have been that I installed in recent weeks another plugin, or newer versions of existing plugins, which then disabled this functionality of simply playing the music through the web browser. Windows MS Internet Explorer did not have this problem, as the standard Media player plugin embedded as an object into the HTML page worked just fine and allowed streaming of the music. However, this same object did not show up when the page was shown in Google Chrome or Firefox, so these two browsers only had the option to download the music files and play them offline.

This means that the result of clicking on a simple link to an audio file is strongly depending on the installation history and the way the user's browser is configured - quite dissatisfying. After a bit of research I found a plugin which plays audio (WMA and MP3 files) straight through both Firefox and Google browsers. It looks very similar to the plugin in MS Internet Explorer, just the dimensions are slightly different. This plugin for Chrome and Firefox is actually better: it also shows the file info, and therefore has to be a bit larger.

The plugin is at http://port25.technet.com/pages/windows-media-player-firefox-plugin-download.aspx.

I rewrote the Javascript/PHP for embedding this plugin into the HTML code, now working on all three browsers fine. Since Chrome and Firefox do not by default come with this plugin, I had to make provisions for automatically check if the plugin is installed. This was achieved in Javascript by checking the variable array navigator.plugins[].name and comparing if the "Windows Media Player Firefox Plugin" was among those found. A slight complication was that in the name is the symbol
®. Since there appear to be different code pages to be used for encoding this non-standard symbol, I was not able to do a direct comparison and instead had to compare the string piecewise. It works, and now the site is able to see if the user has the plugin installed. If not, then a link is given from where this plugin can be downloaded.

During edits there was a site outage today, as some wrong temporary site configuration had mistakenly been uploaded. Apologies to those who tried to access the site today and got only a garbled text...!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The "Blumine" Sheet Music Arrived Today!

A few weeks ago I had learned from Pat O'Keefe on the Garritan Forum about the "Blumine" movement. This movement was a part of the first few performances of Mahler's Symphony No.1 in 1889 until 1894, when it had five movements. These performances were not very well received, and Mahler decided afterwards to drop the formerly 2nd movement which had the title "Blumine".

I had not been aware of this movement, but I soon learned that there is a lot of information out on the web about it. Apparently it was lost for many decades, until it was rediscovered in 1966. Since then it has been occasionally performed, usually not as part of the symphony, but as a separate piece. The performers and conductors respected Mahler's decision to abandon this movement. Pat had "put a request" for this movement, and so I decided to get the score. I first tried to order it through the Sheet Music Exchange here in the UK. However, after 4 weeks I was told that the score is out of print, and it would take a while until it was available again. I found another supplier, Music 44 in the US. After a week I got the note that the item had been shipped, and today, just a few days later, I received the sheet music in my mail.

Now I am still very busy with the 4th movement of the Symphony 1, which I hope to get ready in time for Mahler's 15th birthday on 7.July. But the score of the "Blumine" movement does look very easy, nothing compared to the complex 4th movement. So I think that I could also prepare the "Blumine", to complete the recording.

After doing some more research on this movement I found the following background: this movement, as the other 4 movements of this symphony, do have titles which correspond to titles from the poet Jean Paul's novel "Titan - From the Life of a Lonely One". "Bluminenkapitel" is one of this titles. Mahler appeared to have linked the internal program of this symphony to this novel - but somehow decided later that showing this explicit link was not appropriate. There is also a very personal aspect: when Mahler was in love with soprano Johanna Richter, he appeared to have a nick name for her: "Blumine". This word actually does not exist in German language. There is the word "Blume" = flower. I would translate "Blumine" with "flowerine", to show the meaning and the equivalence. After reading a few very interesting articles I think that I do have an explanation why Mahler decided to remove this movement: it may be that he was embarrassed of this very close connection of this movement to that living person Johanna, and he wanted to remove this connection and memory of that failed relationship.

Well, one of the authors of a paper actually points out how this movement in fact contributes (with its trumpet motif) to the musical narration in the symphony, because this motif appears in later movements. Therefore, it actually makes sense to include the "Blumine" in the symphony as it was originally intended. So I have decided to include in my final release of Mahler's Symphony No.1 to reconstruct the original 5 movement structure, and to put "Blumine" as the 2nd movement. I will call it "Flowerine", to convey some of the meaning and slight weirdness of this title.

Some may argue that one should respect Mahler's decision to take this movement out of the symphony. I would respond: why only follow the older Mahler, and why not follow the younger Mahler? Is one really getting wiser when getting older? Maybe removing this movement was not done for musical reasons, but for personal ones... and since so much time has passed, and everybody is dead, these personal reasons are no longer valid.

One other aspect which is interesting: All other movements I have heard in various interpretations, and I do have a mental acoustic image of them in my mind, which naturally influences my own interpretation. But I never heard the "Flowerine" before. There are recordings on YouTube, but I deliberately avoid listening to them at this stage - I would like to do an experiment and only use the printed score as guidance, trying to extract a performance and interpretation from just the score, the same way as a conductor would do who gets handed score notes from a composer whose work has never been performed. I am curious how my result will sound, without any guidance from a pre-conceived tempo, volume, balance, sound image.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

New version of First Mvmnt from Mahler's Symphony No.1

I have slightly revised the first release of the first movement from Mahler's Symphony No.1: taken a few too edgy string attacks out, corrected two wrong notes, and changed the tempo, to make it more consistent. This tempo interpretation is of course very much only based on my personal opinion - I do not claim that this is how this movement is supposed to be played. But I think that this second release is an improvement over the first initial one. As always, I keep the previous files for comparison, if anyone is interested. All recordings, in WMA and MP3, are here on my site.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Mahler: First Movement of Symph1 now Online!

After a few slight revisions regarding tempo and instrumental balance I have now released the first movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1. The overall site of the First Symphony shows some background information about the symphony and has access to the newest audio files. All recorded versions of the first movement are available on a dedicated page to the first movement. I chose to refer to this movement as "Spring and No End", according to the original program notes of the first performances, which were later discarded.

It took me now a bit more than 2 weeks to create this rendition of the movement - this is a new personal record. A few years ago, a comparable music recording would take me about three months to create. One accelerating factor is the use of the mod wheel as input for expression changes: I now am doing this as a live recording instead of manually drawing the expression curves.

The Symphony No.1 is now to 3/4 completed - but the 4th movement is the most difficult one. Not sure if I can complete it in time for Mahler's 150th birthday on 7.July...

One editing note: I realised that I had made a mistake on the Symphony description: Marion von Weber was the wife of the grandson of Carl Maria von Weber, not the wife of the composer himself.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Mahler: Symph.1, 1st movement - all instruments completed

The rendition of the first movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1 has reached its first stage: all instrument notes have been recorded. This was a major effort: the overall music is around 13 minutes long (depending on the tempo), many instruments are played in duplicates (woodwinds, brass). What is to do next before the public release is to work on the tempo and the volume balance. It appears that the woodwinds sound too loud in some parts - I will have to revise the balance between the instruments. Also there is some slight volume clipping at the very loud segment towards the end - needs to be adjusted. Still a bit work to do ... but the Symphony No. 1 is now 3/4 completed!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Problem with Clarinets

The rendition of the first movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 is almost completed: missing are only the flutes, oboe, and clarinet voices from bar 263 till the end. But now I hit a slight obstacle: the Es-Clarinet requires a high A and high B to be played - however, the Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO4) samples only go up to the high G... I have hit these limitations of the GPO4 already in other instruments earlier, when I recorded other movements, for example when some very low notes of brass instruments were not there. Mahler just uses the full range of the instruments. For some reason, GPO4 did not record those extreme notes... it would be nice if in such a case the missing notes would just be automatically extended, based on the last available sample. It would not matter if this would not sound perfect - since it is an extreme note, it is anyway not supposed to sound perfect, even with a real instrument - these extreme notes are often only used to create an effect.

I had solved this problem in other renditions by using a standard software synthesizer in SONAR: Cakewalk TTS-1. However, as soon as I loaded that synth and played the first note on it, SONAR froze, the audio engine crashed, and I had to reboot the system. This happened several times... I suspect this has to do with the fact that I have loaded many (more than 30) GPO4 samples into memory, using 4 different ARIA VST instances. Should theoretically not matter, as the 12 GB memory of MAESTRO-2 are not fully used yet, but it appears that the memory management has some difficulties handling both the GPO4 and the TTS1 simultaneously.

So it looks as if I will for now not be able to play those high notes in the Es clarinet... fortunately this is in places towards the end where the music is very loud, most instruments of the orchestra are playing ff, and that single clarinet would not have been audible anyway, would only have contributed to the overall sound colour. But still, is a pity! I will have to find a solution for this eventually.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Progress on Mahler Symphony 1

On 29.May I began to work on the first movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1. My very first attempt to "midify" this work was actually done on 11.May 2001, more than 9 years ago. However, I got stopped in my tracks right at the beginning, when trying to render those very long sustained notes in the strings, until measure 47 or so: my samples and my synth just stopped looping these notes after about half the time that they were supposed to be played. I would have to record those notes in segments, and then cross-fade between them. Seemed like a bad workaround, with lots of time to be invested, and I never pursued this any further.

When I resumed the rendition two weeks ago, I started a fresh file, with the Garritan Personal Orchestra samples in Sonar 8.5. The long notes were sustained ok this time, and I progressed rapidly.

In Sonar 8.5 the drawing of the controller values is a bit awkward: there is no longer a simple line drawing tool, but instead one has to keep Ctrl and Shift pressed, then left-click the mouse and draw the line. Also one has to catch a gap between existing controllers; if these controllers are too dense, one easily catches one of the existing controllers, and instead of a line being drawn, this controller value is then modified and shifted. So the drawing of controllers has become a bit of a pain, and I have therefore changed my approach for entering controller values and have used the wheel in life play, as suggested by the GPO manual. I first record the track notes in live play, then do some adjustments of note quantisation, length, and attack, then I replay the recorded track and move the wheel. This allows actually a much more intuitive and musical conveyance of the expression as the line drawing method. Interestingly the GPO maps both controller #11 and and controller #1 (wheel) to the same expression (this leads to caution: there can be contradictory simultaneous controller values in control #1 and control #11). Maybe that change of allowing both controllers to map onto expression resulted from a talk I had back at the NAMM 2004 with Tom Hopkins from Garritan? This is actually really great: I could use the foot pedal or the wheel. My first tries with the foot pedal had not been very satisfying - I could excert a better and finer control using the wheel. This method also works much faster than the drawing method - I have used this wheel-recording method now since January 2010, with all recordings done on the new MAESTRO-2 system.

I progressed quite fast, although this first movement is quite a challenge: 550 bars, on 45 pages! measures! On 31.5. I already had completed the first part, up to marker 12, where the repetition is indicated. I had completed all the instrument parts up to then, which allowed an easy copy-and-past of the part to be repeated.

On 3.June I reached the end of the movement with the bass line, on 5.June I had completed cello and viola, the day after I completed the whole string section, then the harp, and yesterday evening I completed percussion, trombone and tuba.

The sound is just incredible: the wonderful melodies and themes in this symphony go around my head all the time, and I can admire the exquisite instrumentation which created that sound colour, as I am building up the orchestral score.

I cannot wait to add the proper tempo, so that I can hear all the progressions in their intended way... but if I would do that now, I would be a bit in trouble when adding the remaining instruments, because I would then have to play them in "real-time", which would undoubtedly lead to inaccuracies and mistakes... so I keep recording it at a slower tempo than indicated.

I hope to be able to complete this movement at the upcoming weekend. This means that by then I have officially 3/4 of the symphony completed: The 2nd and 3rd movements are already online. And then the real challenge will come: the enormous 4th movement, 76 pages - I have not counted the bars yet.

Also I have ordered a score of the Blumine. I never heard this movement before, and I would like to do an experiment: creating the rendition without ever listening to a real recording. All of my past and current recordings are from music which I had heard before - so I do have an acoustic image of that music in my mind, which of course influences how I interpret the printed music score. I would be very curious how the result would be, if I had not heard the music before - just looking at the music score and getting the music out from there. Once I have created the rendition of Blumine, I will then try to compare it with other recordings, to hear the difference in interpretation.

There is this discussion, if Blumine should be part of the symphony or not. Mahler has eliminated it from the score, and most conductors respect this. However, there are also good reasons to put Blumine into the score: the rejection of this movement by Mahler may have nad not necessarily musical reasons, but also personal ones: after all, his love story with "Blumine" Johanna Richter was already over, and maybe he was embarrassed of that personal display of affection... I would not trust the sentiments of an older guy about his youth "errors", as these sentiments are biased too. From what I read, critics at the time did in particular not like this Second movement Blumine, when the symphony was performed. This in turn would be for me a reason to put it in - those critics have been morons anyway, not understanding Mahler's music for a long time.

And from structural point, that 5-movement structure in two parts makes to me more sense than the standard run-of-the-mill symphonic 4-part structure: the Scherzo would be the center part, then would come the turning point with the "Funeral March". So once I get the hands on the Blumine score, I plan to put the symphony in the order as it was intended in the beginning. This will, however, depend on how the Blumine music sounds: I will judge if it makes sense, musically, of if it is indeed too sentimental, as Mahler once remarked.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Mahler: Symphony No.1, 2nd Movement

The recording of the second movement of this symphony is now complete. I did not have much opportunity to work on it during the past weeks, but once I started the remaining work, it went quite fast. The recordings - the very latest one plus the earlier partial recordings - are at www.virtualphilharmonic.co.uk/Mahler_S1M2.php.

The next tasks are to create recordings of the first and the forth movement - these are gigantic works, and I am quite sure that I will not be able to complete these recordings before 7.July, Mahler's 150th birthday... pity.

I also ordered the score of the lost movement "Blumine", which had originally been a part of this Symphony. That should be a relatively quick task to do, since it is a slow movement; but I never heard it nor have I seen the score... so this has some uncertainty.

On my site about Mahler and his First Symphony I mentioned the programmatic content that was originally handed out as program note for the performance. There were very nice titles, and I am going to adapt them. This second movement will hereby be known as "Set with full sails", indicating an optimistic start into the future. The whole symphony will be entitled as "From the life of a lonely one". That is so much more fitting than "Symphony No.1, D major". I think the classic music community has gotten used over the years to those non-descript titles of orchestra works, which really do not do any justice to the wonderful music they are supposed to describe. Also, I will break with the tradition of using the tempo instructions as titles for symphony movements: why should a work be entitled "Largo" or "Presto"? This is only intended for the conductor and for the orchestra players, so that they know how fast to play. These are completely inappropriate titles... and I intend to use different ones. Fortunately, Mahlers "Song of the Earth" does have very descriptive titles - it appears that at the end of his life he returned to using programmatic titles, which convey at least a glimpse of the context in which the music was envisioned.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A Sad Event

Berta Hopfner, my grandmother, died on 9.May 2010, following a stroke. She was 91 years old. I could book a flight on short notice with Easyjet, leaving on 11.May from Manchester (MAN) to Munich (MUC). From MUC I could rent a car, to drive the 2 1/2 hour distance to the town of Iphofen.

The evening before I left UK for the travel, Monday night, I looked through a bag with old pictures, and I scanned a few into my computer, to share them with other family members.

The church service and the funeral were set for Wednesday, 12.May. The night before I thought that it would be nice to play a video in church, and so I too the Windows ZP Moviemaker, imported the Dvorak Largo of which I recently had created a rendition (because this music was her favorite piece), and added a few of the pictures, in chronological order. This was done at night, between 02:00 - 04:00. Next day I asked if they had a screen and a projector (in Germany they call these projectors "beamers"). The church did not have any of the equipment that I would need, so I checked the internet. Came across the site erento which would provide links and information to providers of equipment for rental. I entered details of my request, and a few minutes later received an email with the address of a supplier in Wuerzburg: Seissiger Veranstaltungstechnik. I called, and yes, they did have the equipment available. So I drove to Wuerzburg, picked up the stuff, paid, and drove to the Stadtpfarrkirche Iphofen to assemble it. The setup included: a 2.40m x 1.80 screen, a "beamer", two active speakers with a signal converter box (from line to mic), and a frame for placing the projector. My brother arrived to help me with the setup.

It was a few minutes before the church service began (14:30), everybody was already seated, and the projector did not show any image, just a red-blinking LED. We would be able to only play the music, without video... but in the last minute, after another power switching circle, the LED blinking changed to green, and the image appeared on the screen.

After the priest hat mentioned about her life, silence set in, and I started to play the video.



The sound of the speakers was very good; the video on the screen was unfortunately not very well visible, because incoming sunlight caused a slight reflection.

But this idea was well received, and the people who attended the church service gave very positive feedback afterwards. The funeral went without any incidents, and we said "Farewell" to my grandmother.

I returned the equipment to Seissiger in Wuerzburg, and I distributed the video on a CD to our closest relatives.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Music on Wikipedia

Wikipedia does have a lot of information about composers and music. But there are only very few music files. One reason is that they only accept that strange OGG file format. The other reason may be copyright issues: one cannot just upload a recording ripped from a CD, as the performers do have the copyright; and the performers themselves probably have no idea how to upload files to Wikipedia and edit entries there.

Here is where I see a good opportunity to get some of my music recordings out in the world: ok, once they are on Wikipedia, they are no longer under my control and are basically available for free. But that is fine - I also give them away on my VPO site for free anyway. Through having my music on Wikipedia people would get to know my style, and may later actually buy something.

Sonar does not export OGG files, but I could take the wave file and process it with Audacity.

So far I have uploaded two files and linked them to the appropriate Wikipedia entries:
From Dvorak the 2nd movement from his 9th Symphony,
and from Mahler the Adagietto

New Rendition: Mahler's Adagietto

In summer 2000 I completed an MP3 file recording of Gustav Mahler's Adagietto (4th movement from his 5th Symphony). And last week I began taking the Cakewalk sequence for this file and rework it for the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4. The score is only 5 pages long, there are only strings and a harp, so in principle this is quite an easy piece. However, since it is slow, with long lasting notes, it needs a lot of attention to detail, otherwise the recording would sound quite boring, playing back long loops os samples. In the release of July 2000, I had mixed several layers: MU-80 strings as the foundation, then a few soundfonts on top, also a few solo strings; separating fast notes and slow notes into different tracks.

Now with GPO4, I also did some layering: added for each string track a "lush strings" from the section strings. I also added a few solo strings in the lower registers (bass, cello), but did not yet do this for viola and the violins.

Yesterday I uploaded the first version, today I uploaded a slight revision. The music is here on this page.

Using ASIO4ALL

The on-board soundblaster Xi-Fi which I am currently using as the main audio output, does not have an ASIO driver. This forced me to use the WMD driver which has a significant latency.

Today I found the ASIO4ALL driver and installed it - did the latest recording now with this driver, and it works great. Finally I will be able to record live playing without that delay.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Visiting David Solomons

It has been already 3 years that I had last visited my music friend David W Solomons. It was about time, and on the Monday bank holiday I drove across the Pennines to Manchester to have a meal with him and chat, about music and other things, listen to his latest recordings and let him hear my newest recordings. He has been very productive in creating new recordings, and has made a great collection of music videos on his YouTube site.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Dvorak: "From the New World", 2nd movement

My beloved grandmother, Berta Hopfner, is not very well: she is almost 91 years old, and now had three strokes within a short time. Her all-time favorite music is the Second movement from Antonin Dvorak's Symphony no.9: "From the New World". Everytime when I visited her, she asked me to play this piece (in my own improvisatory way) on the piano or on the organ.

To make her a joy and to cheer her up in her present condition, I decided yesterday that I would take that old MIDI file which I had made of this music 15 years ago, and would turn it into a recording with the new MAESTRO-2 system. It took me 13 hours to do this. Was not too difficult, the main work had already been done: getting all the notes into the file. I even did not change the tempo much: my rendition from 1995 was already up to my current standards. I had to edit new expression curves, and used some of the specific samples from the GPO-4 set (trills for strings, for example).

Now the music rendition is completed, and I already uploaded it to the web site. I did not yet make a special page for it, just placed it into the file collection.

The latest recording of this music is available here at www.virtualphilharmonic.co.uk/Dvorak_S9M2.php.

My grandmother is the only one in our family who has some significant musicality: she played piano and taught many students in Iphofen how to play this instrument, until a few years ago. Both my parents do not exhibit a significant musicality strain, so I must have gotten the music bug from her only. I hope that listening to this music will bring her into good spirits.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Consistent GUI on Webpage

For the Virtual Philharmonic Website a consistent number of icons have been designed, based on a set of freely available button icons.


General audio file



Wave audio file



MP3 audio file



MP3 audio file with 5.1 surround



WMA audio file



WMA audio file with 5.1 surround



General MIDI file



video file



Information page



Discussion



The following qualifier icons indicate additional information about particular music files:

file was created with the new
Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 (GPO4) samples.




For accessing the commercial outlets of my music I am using the following logos:


TopTempo



iTunes




Amazon


The background of the VPO website is based on the following tile:

Update of Website

In the past days I updated/upgraded the website of the Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra: a consistent set of icons was designed, and several PHP automation scripts were included to read the ID3 tags. For this I found the great getID3().php script, which allows to read the tags in all kinds of media files. In my site the use of this PHP automation required a consistent use of filenames; therefore I had to rename a whole set of WMA files for consistency. I could have used a MySQL database for this task, to achieve a more abstract separation of content description from the file name, but I did not want to go through the hassle of setting this up.

I also added a new partial recording: the first third of the 2nd movement from Mahler's Symphony No.1. It is so far up to the beginning of the Trio. A really marvellous work. Sounding deceivingly simple in the orchestra recordings, but it took quite a while to get these first 4 minutes recorded.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Progress on next Mahler Symphony rendition

I have started to work on the rendition of the 2nd movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony #1. This time I applied a new method: I first played "live" on piano the whole movement, with excerpts from the part, in order to get the desired tempo that I felt would be right. I also hoped that by this method I would be able to incorporate those slight tempo variations within a theme, a motif, a phrase, and within a bar. So after the recording was completed (it took me about 3 weeks to get this initial recording done, because I often stopped and repeated, as I felt the tempo was not right), I recorded another track, which just had the beat indicators in it. I listened to my recording and just hit a key on the keyboard, linked to a percussion instrument. This track was then the reference track for the tempo, and I used the SONAR tool "Fit to Improvisation" to create the tempo map which creates a list of tempo values at every quarter note. When looking at this tempo map, I saw very interesting artefacts: there appeared some patterns in the tempo within the bars, which were not consistent throughout the piece. In some cases there was a slow-fast-slow bar, and sometimes there was a fast-slow-fast bar. I was not able to determine first if that was just through my own inaccurate playing or tempo mapping, or if there was actually some musical principle behind this. But I noticed overall that I had started quite slow, much less than was noted in the score (score: 3/4=66, mine: 3/4=50), but then the tempo accelerated throughout the movement. Not very good actually - there was no good reason for that other than I had been carried away... I now can admire the conductors' ability to keep the tempo constant.

After having the tempo map I began recording the actual music instrumental tracks. And here it became apparent that this pre-recorded tempo map was pretty useless in many cases: the tempo variations within a bar prevented me to get a constant beat where the rhythm had to be exact and quantised. This was important for instruments which established the base rhythm, for example in percussion parts, or when a set of eighth notes were to be played: these need to be exactly quantised in many cases, otherwise it sounds uneven, as if the player cannot play properly. The varying tempo that I had incorporated into my live recording, came from an interpretation of various instrumental parts which could overlay their own more "free" (rubato) voice onto that fixed and constant tempo. Now, in order to achieve this properly I had to abandon the original tempo variations, and I flattened the tempo map to mostly constant segments. Then I recorded each instrument and applied a slightly different treatment of the tempo: the important rhythm-establishing parts are quantised, whereas other parts I played the instruments freely, not exactly observing the beat times. This added a bit or realistic and more musical flow to the piece. But there I encountered the difficulty that the audio lag (due to buffer requirements) was about 30 ms (this was the lag between me pressing a note on the keyboard and then hearing it). So it was almost impossible to create an appropriate consonant accompaniment with already existing tracks in live recording, as my playing was recorded trailing behind. I could shift this after the recording, but during the play I did not really get the right acoustic feedback from my own playing; therefore I was not able to properly play the instrument tracks live but had to do a lot of manipulation and correction afterwards. I often ended up quantising whole segments, so that they matched the existing rhythm.

What might be done next time: I could set the buffer to a low value, for fast response and short lag, and then record only track by track, muting the other instruments, and pretending I would play a solo instrument. This would prevent the overload of the buffer (which occurred several times while I had 4 ARIA VST instances for all the instruments), but it would also prevent me to hear the other instruments while playing "solo": in the end the coherence may not be very good... I mayjust have to try it out to see if this is feasible.

In the meantime I reached already marker 13 (about 3 minutes) in the 2nd movement of this Symphony, with all instruments so far. It sounds a bit "tinny", more like chamber music, because I did nothing to add more "lushness". But this has also an advantage: the instrumental voices come out quite clearly, more clearly than in the traditional orchestra recordings I know. And someone had made already the same observation in the 3rd movement which I had posted a few weeks ago: the GPO samples as I have applied them do have a chamber-orchestra feel to them. I might have to double the strings and layer them with more players, to populate them and create a kind of "wall of sound" :) .

Monday, 19 April 2010

Online Music Distribution Not Profitable - Not for Musicians at Least

See the article by InformationIsBeautiful. They provide a statistic on how much online-musicians need to sell in order to earn at least their minimum wage. They share their calculations in a spread sheet on Google Docs.

Is quite a depressing picture. I found this an article in the German magazine DER SPIEGEL.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Music Videos

Added a new page on the Virtual Philharmonic website: linking to my music videos. There are currently only two, which I made in January and February 2009.

One is "The Snow is Dancing" from Debussy's "Children's Corner". I played this music back in 1980/81, it was one of my favorite music works for piano, capturing the spirit of snow fall. Now I recorded this music with the "Steinway Piano" from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, version 1. I used several parallel tracks to be able to control velocity of different music themes independently. No live play there, all sequenced.

The other is "Internet Symphony Eroica" by Tan Dun. Is not really a symphony, as it is only a few minutes long... This music was in the "You Tube Symphony" which was performed in April 2009 with internet musicians. I had tried to create a purely synthesized version, no live play here.

If I have time, I would like to record more music videos, using some of my landscape videos as backdrop. But this is a very large effort...

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Leos Janacek, String Quartet No.2 ("Intimate Letters"), 1st Mvmnt.

In 1995 I created a MIDI sequence of the first movement of Janacek's wonderful string quartet No.2, also known as "Intimate Letters". However, the standard MIDI synthesizers are not suitable to play solo strings - their sound is quite awful. So this MIDI rendition was mostly made for the academic purpose of studying the score.

Later I tried to make an MP3 recording using better sounding synthesizers, but the resulting recording still did not sound good. Finally I took the time to rework the MIDI sequence using the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 samples. And now it was possible to create a more or less realistic sounding music, which conveys some of the qualities of this composition.

I placed the recordings on one single separate page as I am now doing on the Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra site for each uploaded music rendition.

For this recording I configured SONAR 8.5 on the new MAESTRO-2 computer in a spatial surround configuration from the start: violin 1 at the left, violin 2 at the right, viola in the left back, cello in the right back. I had tried to use the sonitus:fx surround filter, but somehow that had created only standard stereo recordings and had only changed the sound characteristics without actually positioning the source in a spatial arrangement, so I had to explicitly place the sources on a surround bus and locate them with the 2D placement tool. This time I disabled all the ARIA reverb and let the source play dry from the synthesizer, centred as basically mono, before applying the spatialization. I then added on each track a sonitus:fx reverb.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No.1, 3rd Movement


The 3rd movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony #1 was inspired by this wood cut by Moritz von Schwind (1804-1871), subtitled "Des Jägers Leichenbegängnis" (The Hunter's Funeral Procession). There is a whole essay written related to this movement, by Francesca Draughon and Raymond Knapp "Gustav Mahler and the Crisis of Jewish Identity", with interesting insight. Not much for me to add here.

I have decided to give my music repository some consistency: the latest version of this music recording of the 3rd movement will be available on the Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra web site under the file name MahlerS1M3.wma. Other recording versions will eventually be collected and made accessible in the rehearsal hall which still is to be created.

The version of the recording that is up to today the most recent one is MahlerS1M3_100324_90vbr.wma.

The same principle I will also apply to the surround recordings: The latest version will always be available under MahlerS1M3_5_1.wma, with the most current one up to date available as MahlerS1M3_100326_5_1.wma.

Next steps to do on my list:
- create the Rehearsal Hall in which all versions of any piece that I am working on will be released,
- create the Dress Rehearsal Hall where recordings will be shown that are "ready for prime time" but are part of larger works (for example single movements of symphonies, with the remaining movements still missing),
- create the Concert Hall where the latest and recordings will be available, which are deemed to be of a release quality,
- change the tempo flow of the Hunter's Funeral. When changing the tempo map, I sometimes felt that a bit of rubato would work well. However, when then listening to the overall work, I often realise that this rubato destroys the consistence and coherence of the musical flow. I have to work on this one still...
- add a consistent and coherent reverb environment for the 5.1 recording.

Lots to do, very little time...

A page devoted just to this music piece has now been set up at www.virtualphilharmonic.co.uk/Mahler_S1M3.php. It will contain all recordings that I made, plus it will in the future be expanded to contain more information.

First Experiments with Surround Recording

In recent weeks I have created several "rehearsal" versions of the 3rd movement of Gustav Mahler's First Symphony. The instrumental range exceeded some of the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 instruments, so I had to add a few tracks of standard Cakewalk TTS synths for extremely low notes.

I began to experiment with surround recording: assigning instrumental audio tracks to a location within the 5.1 SMPTE setting setup. Since the original mix had stereo tracks in which the reverb was created by the synthesizer, I placed these tracks in stereo into the 5.1 continuum, largely leaving the left-right balance intact. In the future I may revert to mono tracks for each instrument, without synth reverb, then place them in the 5.1 space, and adding a consistent reverb at the end.

For now I have the following files here for comparison (do not click for playing, but rather "right-click and save as", because the files are quite large):

regularstereo recording, 90% quality, variable bit rate, 8.6 MB

same stereo recording, lossless quality, variable bit rate, 33.6MB

5.1 surround recording, 90% quality, variable bit rate, 10.3MB


For now I only can encode multichannel recordings in the Windows Media Player 10 format, hence the WMA extension. The multichannel play will probably only work in Windows Media Player; I tried to play a 5.1 file in WinAmp, but only the front left and right channels were playing.

Friday, 12 March 2010

"Rehearsal" Metaphor

Many years ago, I had introduced on my site Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra the mataphors of "Rehearsal" (for "beta-versions" of recordings, which still can be improved), "Dress Rehearsal" (for almost ready versions, part of larger works which are not yet complete), and "Concert Hall" (for final versions of the recordings). These metaphors had been quite useful for the MIDI renditions which I had created 1993-1998. After that, I did not anymore publish MIDI versions of my music, and I abandoned this paradigm.

Now, with me recording new versions of my music renditions, I would like to give access to a reproduction of the "creative process", and therefore I would like to store previous recordings and demonstrate how the music gradually changes from the very first "rough" recording draft to the final version which I would then deem "publishable". So I am reviving this paradigm, and I am in the process of revamping the web site, with a "Concert Hall", a "Dress Rehearsal", and a "Rehearsal Room". This will be based on a database where I will store my music for easy editing, upload, and access.

The website right now has not much functionality: the latest recording is always at the front page, and the metaphors are currently only developed in the old legacy site of the MIDI files. Over the next few weeks I plan to implement these old ideas in a new way, also providing then access to all my previous recordings.

And, btw, a new and improved recording of Mahler's "Hunter's Funeral" (Symphony #1, 3rd mvmnt) has been uploaded to the site.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No.1, 3rd Mvmnt (first "beta recording")

Yesterday night I have completed the first "rough" recording of the 3rd movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1. This is the first music recorded on the new MAESTRO-2 computer. It is still quite unbalanced; I need to revise some of the instrumental timbres, attack, volume balance. But I decided to put this one out on the web, as a "beta version".

I had produced the very first MIDI "rendition" of this piece back in January 1995. It was one of my first renditions, after Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances" and Smetana's "Moldau". At that time I was still limited by the 16 MIDI tracks of a standard MIDI file, and I had to do lots of tricks to create a reasonable rendition, using the same tracks for different instruments by patch changing etc. A revision in 1998 allowed for more freedom, since I did no longer aim at creating a single 16-track MIDI file but used both my Yamaha MU-80 synthesizer and PC-based softfonts to create an MP3 recording. However, I was never happy with the result - this was just not the right sound, and I always had in mind to revise this rendition. In 2005 I started an attempt to revise this recording by including the Garritan Personal Orchestra sounds, but I only managed to get a few instruments converted: problems with an upgrade of the MAESTRO-1 PC prevented me to continue further. That PC simply could not handle the many audio and synth tracks.

Now after the new MAESTRO-2 has been set up, with the latest versions of Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO 4), Sonar 8.5, the RAID-HD array, and the 12 GB triple-channel memory, I felt that the resources would now be adequate to tackle this piece again. Since the big Gustav-Mahler-Year is coming up (July 2010: 150th birthday; May 2011: 100th death day), I wanted to create something nice for this.

I used 5 instances of the VST synth ARIA, each containing a group of instruments. Unfortunately, the GPO4 instruments do not all cover the extreme notes required by Mahler's music, so I had to add a few tracks of standard Cakewalk TTS-1 instruments for the odd note here and there.

The revision took more work than I originally had envisioned: I had to "declutter" my tracks which still had left in them some patch changes from the original 1995 version, and clean this out. Also, because in standard MIDI the multiple playing of the same note causes phase effects, I had originally "simplified" the score by eliminating those duplicate notes (for example when the first and 2nd violins play the same note). Now, with actually having separate sound fonts available for 1st and 2nd violin, I had to recreate those duplicates again.

Yesterday night I did a "bounce-to-track" and created a WMA file, which can be accessed on my Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra website.

I still need to revise several things:
- the overall sound balance is not ideal.
- the brass sounds "too metallic" for my taste, needs to be softer.
- some individual notes are too loud, some phrasing (attack) needs to be corrected and equalised.

I could wait and post only the very final finished version, but I thought it would be nicer to show the progression of this recording in public. So I will release once in a while improved version of this recording, following my old VPO paradigm of the "rehearsal room". When the rendition is such that I feel it has reached its final state, I will then move it into the "Concert Hall".

Monday, 8 March 2010

Article in Local Newspapers

An article about the event at the "Rivers Movement" in Barnsley has appeared today in several local newspapers: in the Star, in the Sheffield Telegraph, and in the Lancashire Evening Post.

When the reporter did her filming and interview, I was still in the process of setting up my music equipment, so I had nothing working yet... therefore there is no sound when I am at the keyboard... and when I was ready half an hour later, then she already was gone.

A pity.

Well, next time.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Current Music Projects

Using the new MAESTRO-2 computer, I have begun to set up templates. The gig last week showed that the combination of Sonar 8.5 and Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 are well capable of multi-track recordings - the system did cope quite well with the 250 tracks. What I have not yet tested is the simultaneous playing of several tracks.

I do have a whole shelf full of music scores which I bought in the past 15 years, with the goal of "electronify-ing / midify-ing" them. But since many of my previous recordings are quite inadequate, considering what is now possible with MAESTRO-2, I have decided to re-work each of my old recordings and re-release them. I have already begun with the very first orchestral piece which I midified back in 1995: the first movement of Alexander Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances". This is managable, not a very long piece, I should be able to do this within one week of evening work.

However, I realised that now in 2010-2011 is Gustav-Mahler year: his 150th birthday on 7.July 2010, and the 100th anniversary of his death, on 18.May 2011. Since I consider his music to be among the best ever written, I would like to pay a tribute to these anniversaries. In my repertoire I have 3 renditions of his orchestral works: Symphony #1, 3rd movement; Symphony #4, 3rd movement; and Sympnony #5, Adagietto. I have decided to re-work the 3rd movement of the Symphony #1 and have started on this the past weekend. Is quite a challenge, many tracks, independent instruments, orchestral sound effects. But this is a wonderful piece, and I hope my rendition will do this composition justice.

I plan to use for the first time a rendition in 5.1. Have never done this, although the previous Sonar 4 version did already have surround buses. I imagine that putting the orchestral instrumentation in a true 3D space would provide an exciting more immersive listening experience. This will require some experimentation... I will have to use my consumer grade Dolby Digital 5.1 Decoder for monitoring the mix.

So the plan is to have something ready from the Gustav Mahler oevre by the 7. July 2010, and if possible in 5.1 surround sound. I will keep you updated on this project.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

46 Improvisations on 46 different Instruments

At the Emergence Pod 1, Barnsley, 23.February 2010. (Picture © 2010, Bob Clayton)
On Tuesday I participated in that challenge about ageism: I pledged to perform 46 improvisations on 46 different instrument. This was a good test for the new MAESTRO-2 computer with Sonar 8.5 and the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4. I arrived around 16:00 at the gallery. It took about one hour to get the stuff from the car and set up everything. Then from 17:00 - 21:30 I played as if I would be at home: anything that came into my head. The Sonar template had a total of 250 different tracks, for the MIDI and the synths. I had chosen to use several variants of the instruments but still count them as on (for example I used 3 violins, 3 celli, several flutes etc. In the end I did not use all these variants, but I was able to fulfill my pledge and create a total of 50 improvisations. Had the MIDI recording running, so I might eventually go through and release these recordings.

At the event itself there was not a large audience. During the day the press and even TV (BBC Look North) had been here, interviewing Brian Lewis who had pledged to create 73 paintings in 24 hours. But when I came, the media buzz had been over, and there were only two painters, a photographer, and a poet there. I played my improvisations - and I hope that my music had inspired them a little.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

"Gig" in Barnsley, 23.February 2010, 14:00-evening

Through the project The Rivers Movement in which I am involved as the "technologist", I got "sucked into" a project about ageism: at this event on 23.February 2010 which takes place in the Emergence Pod 1 in Barnsley, May Day Green, artists will create something related to their age. The main organiser, Brian Lewis (age 73), will create 73 paintings in 24 hours.

I have pledged to play 46 improvisations on my new MAESTRO-2 synthesizer computer... using 46 different instruments. Have set up 23 Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) instrumental groups so far, and have added more Cakewalk TTS synthesizer tracks in Sonar. During setting this up I had a few crashes of Sonar while adding TTS tracks. I hope the final version will be stable. The hardware setup will include my Roland A30 Midi controller keyboard. Got a pair of wireless speakers from Maplin for a cable-free setup in the exposition room.

Hopefully I will be inspired enough on 23.February. I plan to start there at the exposition place around 14:00 and will go on into the evening. The improvisations will be saved and will later be recorded and distributed on a CD or online.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Finally: WOW!

I installed the Adobe Acrobat Reader for Windows 7/x64, and read through some of the documentation of GPO and Sonar. Finally I figured out how to install GPO as VST player: needed to copy the DLLs (I only took the two x64 DLLs) into the VST directory of SONAR. Then I could setup an ARIA player as a VST soft synth and control the 16 channels of this player through 16 MIDI tracks. This works remarkably well: even in the DirectSound mode and MME mode there is very little delay, and no crackling in the audio. And the files load so fast: I can configure a set of sound banks in the VST ARIA player, and the files are all loaded within a few seconds - no comparison to the minute-long loading on the old PC MAESTRO-1. I am using the onboard soundcard, which has a good enough sound quality. The XONAR Essence works ok too, but I do not hear any significant difference when using it: the ASIO mode which it provides does not seem to make a difference. I will use it when I will require external audio input.

One problem: when using the ARIA player in standalone with the ASIO mode of the ASUS XONAR soundcard, the buffer is fixed at 4 bytes - no way of changing this. And this appears to be too small: instead of instrumental audio, all I hear is audio crackling. I guess I cannot use the ARIA player in standalone mode then - it seems to work best as a VST within Sonar.

One other issue: it appears that when starting up Sonar one has to go into the audio menu. Doing nothing there, just loading the menu, then ckicking "OK". If this is not done, there is some crackling at the audio, as if there is some clipping or some non synchronised master clock... no idea what the reason for this is, but after doing this look at the audio menu, the audio signal is clear.

I begin setting up a few templates, and I am very impressed by the sound quality of Maestro-2 now!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Building a New PC for Music - Part 7: Music Software

A few days ago I got the notice from DolphinMusic that the items have been shipped. And today they arrived - Great! Finally I will be able to make music again. The MIDI interface M-Audio MidiSport 4x4 Anniversary Edition is recognised by Win7 without problems and without extra installation - it works as a standard MIDI interface. However, M-Audio also offers a driver for Win7/x64 on their website, which I downloaded and installed.
I installed Sonar 8.5, only the first DVD. There are 3 more, but I do not need them right now. This is an "upgrade" version, since I do have SONAR4. However, I was not prompted for any previous version key or anything - maybe this comes when I activate it. SONAR has my details on file; however, I ordered this software not through SONAR.
Finally I install the GPO 4.

The system is now ready!
I load the GPO ARIA player, to play a little around with the Steinway piano. No ASIO driver shows up, because I had not yet installed the ASUS XONAR ESSENCE sound card drivers. For the other on-board soundcard there are the 3 choices MME, DirectSound, and something that I did not yet know: WASAPI. All three of them could only be set to use a buffer of 4096 bytes - and while playing live this caused a significant delay. Quite disappointing.

Starting up Sonar, trying the TruePiano: sounds a bit tinny, no comparison to the rich and full GPO Steinway sound. But at least the latency is low, so I can play live and improvise. But still, a buffer setting too low results in audio cracking.

The overall first impression of this new system is quite disappointing: I thought the performance would be better.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Building a New PC for Music - Part 6: Finalising System

After a few weeks rest I found the time to finalise the installation. Got all necessary 64-bit drivers from the ASUS website, for the motherboard and the XONAR sound card. There was also a driver for the RAID array: this driver allowed me to reset the RAID array error message. However, one in a while this error still occurred out of the blue. I have a suspicion that it is linked to the online networking... it appeared once when I started Windows Internet Explorer, and a subsequent scan revealed that there were file errors in one of the IE tmp directories. Consequently I disabled the WIFI and ran the PC in stand-alone mode - have yet to see this error occuring again.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Building a New PC for Music - Part 5: First Problems

A serious problem occurred: the PC suddenly rebooted, without any obvious reason. During startup, the RAID array status description text indicated that there was a problem with one of the disks: an error had occurred. No description about this error, no logging, no debugging. The PC ran fine, but even after several reboots but the error message remained. No idea on how to fix this... I am now very hesitant to install anything else, because the system might completely be wiped out some day...