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.