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Will orchestras survive the digital revolution's next step?
Last post Sun, May 08 2022 by Macker, 9 replies.
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Posted on Sat, May 07 2022 10:03
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 563

The digital revolution in music-making has already come a very long way. Is it done yet? I don't believe so. There is yet another quite radical step waiting to take its place in this revolution. But I'm not seeing this prospect with undiluted optimism and joy. This next step and its possible consequences have engendered much doubt, inner conflict and concern in me with regard to the future of real orchestras and orchestral musicians.

This next step I'm talking about is the option of using Orchestral Intonation (OI) in any and all digital virtual instruments in DAWs, including orchestral sample libraries and other digital technologies that emulate orchestral instruments. OI doesn't involve any technological breakthroughs - indeed technologically it's pretty tame stuff.

But here's the revolutionary bit. Innovation alters what is taken intuitively as "normality". Once an innovation has become naturalised, a different normality exists for those affected by the innovation. OI in DAWs would affect untold numbers of music makers who use purely digital means. Those who listen to DAW-produced music that includes OI would also be affected, perhaps even to the point where it's very difficult if not impossible for them to know whether the music has been produced by purely digital emulation or is a recording of real musicians playing real instruments. And so enters my concern for orchestral musicians.

I've long been puzzled about the continued absence of OI in DAWs. (Hermode Tuning is not OI - it's a hybrid of ET and OI.) Knowing that the technological implementation of OI is far from rocket science, I've come to regard the continued absence of OI in DAWs as a potential avalanche or a tectonic plate shift, primed but still waiting to happen - there will come a time when it can't be held back.

What might have been holding back OI as the next step in DAWs for so long? Could it be the exclusive vested interest that all orchestras have, i.e. that today only a real orchestra can render a piece of music in OI? Zimmer and others seem to have succesfully convinced orchestral musicians that they can and should contribute to the making of digital sample libraries without trepidation, since media composers who use such libraries are in many cases actually generating more work for real orchestras.

Film makers know that audiences appreciate scores recorded by real orchestras, and hence they're usually prepared to stump up the hefty fees asociated with recording a real orchestra. Would that change if DAWs had OI? Would orchestral musicians become very short of work - perhaps to the point where their profession would shrink drastically? I'd much prefer to think not. I am and will remain an ardent appreciater of the fine work that orchestral musicians do and I don't want to contemplate a world without real orchestras. But since I don't have a crystal ball, the question remains a worry and ever-present source of concern for me, as one who is in a position to trigger this next step.

Why then don't I just shut up and forget about OI for DAWs? The answer is I can't stand hearing the ever-downward trend in the musical quality of works produced only on DAWs. Far too many who call themselves composers nowadays clearly are far from fluent in the language of orchestral music - their works speak in a kind of pidgin. It's grotesque and depressing to see one of our great cultural treasures being debased like this. I know others feel the same way. And yet once OI in DAWs is a widespread reality, could that not bring about the eventual demise of real orchestras?

If someone could convince me I'm being far too pessimistic about this whole thing, I'd be grateful.

"Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words."
~ Franz Liszt
Posted on Sat, May 07 2022 16:28
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 438

What is Orchestral Intonation? Tuning of the orchestra?

I don't see orchestras dying anytime soon. To prove for  yourself, try finding a seat in a classical/opera concert at leading orchestras. For instance I could not find tickets to the Met Opera playing Turandot, granted I only looked 2 weeks out....there were 5 seats left with an openly stated 'obstructed view', costing 150 bucks. Rest is sold out...including the > $500 seats.

Why? Incomparable sound to listening to a DAW recording, or even a real orchestra recording. You can'treplace the acoustics of a concert hall easily, let alone the dynamism of 100 professional players playing live.

Cheers

Anand

Anand Kumar
Posted on Sat, May 07 2022 16:32
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1107

Originally Posted by: Macker Go to Quoted Post

Why then don't I just shut up and forget about OI for DAWs? The answer is I can't stand hearing the ever-downward trend in the musical quality of works produced only on DAWs. Far too many who call themselves composers nowadays clearly are far from fluent in the language of orchestral music - their works speak in a kind of pidgin. 

This post was a little generalised. I take it you are talking about media music, in which case I agree wholeheartedly. 

I wish that the ever-downward trend in the musical quality of works produced only on DAWs was a matter of tuning. I've expounded my views on musical illiteracy in the locked thread.

In the 'real' orchestral world, the ever-downward trend of the musical quality of works produced on music manuscript (if digital) and why we have had no 'classics' for decades now is a matter of current composers' aesthetics, unfortunately.

The very existence of orchestras would be irrevocably threatened had they to depend on audiences wishing to hear contemporary works (99,999% ). Thank God for the countless and timeless masterpieces of the past that keep attracting people to the concert halls and opera houses! Where DAWs, "inspiration" patches, MIDI packs, layered orchestral families and (s)EP(t)IC tracks are, thankfully, still ridiculed and prohibited!

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Sat, May 07 2022 17:15
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 563

Anand, the Met in NY and the Royal Albert Hall in London, together with a handful of other very famous concert venues elsewhere, are hardly enough to support a 'critical mass' of competetively skiiled, highly trained and extremely well-practised orchestral musicians worldwide. Substantial charitable donations by sponsors have for a long time played a large and crucial part in keeping many of today's concert venues and concert orchestras going. And of course the demand for orchestral musicians by the multimedia industry nowadays is a huge help in supporting the profession. It's the future of this latter source of support that worries me.

Orchestral intonation is a big topic that I don't intend to go into here. But perhaps it may help to think of a skilfully 'coreographed' admixture of Pythagorean Intonation and Just Intonation. The more and further a composer modulates away from a single diatonic scale, the less able Equal Temperament is to mimic OI, and the more the sensitivity and emotional narrative of the piece is blurred, dulled and degraded by ET.

"Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words."
~ Franz Liszt
Posted on Sat, May 07 2022 18:08
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 563

Errikos, you noticed of course that in the OP I kept away from certain (mostly speculative) causes and effects. That's largely because it was already getting too long and I didn't want to try encompassing too many topics at once. But I would certainly accept the criticism that the OP is thereby somewhat lacking in foundation, and if so, you have my unreserved apologies for that.

You've identified a highly pertinent issue:- how big or small a factor is ET v OI in so much of today's lamentable excuses for "composition"? In my opinion it's a huge factor. It's not hard to observe that people tend to get lazy and slipshod in their speaking and writing wherever slang and dumbed-down idioms are the norms - e.g. in Twitter and so many other online platforms. In my opinion, ET has had a very similar bad influence on all too many of today's writers of music - both serious and pop.

The "pidgin" I mentioned has long been for me a telltale sign that the music's writer has come to believe (or perhaps has always believed) that ET is sufficient unto itself - nuance, subtle inflection and tantalising glimpses of profound insight be damned. Henry Miller's books outsold the works of Shakespeare and Goethe put together and that's all that matters, right? I believe that focusing only on using ET as the basis of the language of music has necessarily robbed all too many of its users of the breadth, depth, richness and nuances of expression that OI has furnished for many centuries. And so it's hardly surprising to find that aesthetic taste in music is disturbingly thin on the ground these days.

Worse, I fear that ET has been and is increasingly being used as a cover or disguise by those phoneys who have nowhere near the strength, integrity, depth and sensitivity of character needed to write orchestral music as the greats once did, and yet who nevertheless harbour grandiose opinions of their own abilities and talent, and who insist on promoting themselves above others simply because of their grandiose self-image. It's all about stardom and celebrity, right? Fake it till you make it, right? Taken in isolation on its own virtues, ET is as specious and phoney a dissembler as these grandiose toxic wannabes are; hence for them it can be a Machiavellian enabler.

It's also notable how few of the great composers of the past managed to transcend the dire limitations of ET and write sublime, exquisite pieces for pianoforte. What are the chances of a great piano piece being written today that would rival those of Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, etc? I'd say nil.

If I may throw in one more metaphor, I believe far, far too many would-be composers today have given into the addictive temptations of ET as 'junk food', never mind that artistic taste, 'nutrition' and long-term health all take a serious nose dive as a result.

"Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words."
~ Franz Liszt
Posted on Sun, May 08 2022 00:05
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5710

Macker, I wish you would create a utility that could be used with various sample libraries to do something like tuning that occurs intuitively in orchestral playing. From my experience it is simply playing "in tune" with the ensemble, so it's not fixed to any specific system. But it is definitely NOT fixed to equal temperament either. Like when an orchestra tunes up at the beginning - that is simply hearing the tone and then adjusting what one is going to do based on that.  That gives a general note that can be matched like an A on the oboe, but then the rest of the tuning will shift based upon the music and whatever sounds "in tune."  It is an intuitive intonation rather than a fixed system of tuning. Only keyboards have that fixed. Or sample libraries of course. 

One thing I disagree with on your post is that producers know audiences want live recordings.  Producers don't know anything of the sort, but have shown themselves to be MUSICAL MORONS and are teaching audiences to be as stupid as they are.  Also, audiences don't have the slightest idea whether something is recorded live with an orchestra or totally sampled. They can be fooled so easily it is laughable.

On your idea about orchestras being replaced, I feel it is like the bicycle. We have motorcycles that can go much faster and farther than bicycles, but people still want bicycles because they are a perfected technology that does something good.  Somewhat similar to film - it won't ever truly go away despite there being digital video because it is simply cool and fun to instantly make an image in celluloid that moves.  Without all the other technology demanded by digital video. It has become something of a niche except in big Hollywood style productions in which a director wants to prove he is truly an artist by using film - even though he couldn't even load the camera let alone shoot the film - but  it still exists and is appreciated by some.  And has continued to create a market that is tiny compared to the past but still there. 

Posted on Sun, May 08 2022 01:36
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1107

Just a quick addendum that really belonged to that 'other' thread, but applicable here also. I was just watching the latest vlog by one of the two proprietors of a very well known and successful VSL competitor - a popular vlog almost exclusively dedicated to composing orchestral music with samples, where the vlogger was showcasing various string-pack products in his habitual engaging ways. At one point, he says something of this sort: These are scale performances and I know that many of you know nothing about scales, so I'll come back to this and explain etc.

This is the best, most concise - if inadvertent - description of the case of affairs in media composition for "orchestra" today.

Need anyone really say more?..

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Sun, May 08 2022 21:54
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 563

William, I'm grateful for your view on the possible future of orchestras. Yes, thinking of bicycles and celluloid film (and I'd add analogue electronics with vacuum tubes), I can now see it's highly unlikely that orchestras will disappear - at least not within the foreseeable future. Thanks for easing my anxiety on that quite a bit (though I'd still not rule out the possibility of death threats being sent to me by one or two extremely aggrieved orchestral musicians!).

On reading your deliciously cynical take on film producers, it made me laugh and I see the naive mistake in my too-generous assumption about when and why live orchestras are recorded for film scores! I guess their motivation is typically more a case of swanky commercial prestige, arising from keeping up with the Joneses.

Alas I'm unlikely ever to be able to fulfill your wish for an intonation utility; certainly not one that could emulate results of the intuition of a well trained, practised and experienced orchestral musician and composer such as yourself. I don't think so-called "artificial intelligence" technology is up to a task quite like that yet. My Situater serves in a precise but totally dumb way, in that it never tries to second-guess the composer. However, in the not too distant future a utility like Situater will perhaps benefit from something similar to the main feature of Hermode Tuning, whereby it detects chords and identifies them (using Hindemith's method), and automatically and instantly applies pitch modifications where required. That would indeed remove some of the inconvenience of Situater's current dumb innocence.

"Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words."
~ Franz Liszt
Posted on Sun, May 08 2022 21:59
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 563

Errikos, oh dear what a huge giveaway gaffe by that vlogger! Lolol

P.S. Just thought of a (far too lengthy) subtitle for this thread:

"Will the next step force phoney 'composers' to finally get down to studying composition for real, or will they just  slope off and look for some other territory ripe for toxic exploitation and degradation?")

"Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words."
~ Franz Liszt
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