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


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:




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...