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The thinness of sampled strings in mixes
Last post Thu, Dec 01 2005 by clarkcontrol, 32 replies.
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Posted on Wed, Nov 23 2005 17:21
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5428
I decided to make a separate thread for this topic which has been brought up in other threads.

My feeling on this is that the thinness is most noticeable in violins. It has never ocurred to me that basses sounded thin, or even, upon reflection, cellos. Maybe violas a little, but mostly the violins. And the phenomenon is mainly in fully scored passages, which in a live orchestra does not seem to happen. In live playing, the violins may simply disappear if overbalanced by the brass or percussion, but they never do this atrocious morph into a thin little whiny tone.

So why does this happen? Is it the fault of the samples or the mix? Is it a mysterious phenomenon peculiar to samples, as opposed to RECORDED live orchestras? Even in recordings of live performances, you don't seem to hear this, though it is definitely true that some recordings by expert engineers will sound much fuller than others.

What can be done? Wait for new samples as some people seem to think?

Some things that occur to me are the following:

Dynamic range This is a crucial aspect of the overall sound, since samples distort dynamic range in an extreme way. A solo piccolo can be louder than an entire trumpet section. And this pertains not only to the overall level, which may be simple to adjust in a mix, but to the variation of dynamics in a line and the variation of sound pressure throughout the range of the instrument. The piccolo, to use as an example again, simply disappears in its low register, but is audible over the entire orchestra in its top notes. All these elements must be represented in the performance/mix since the entire process of recording the samples deliberately nullifies the differences. In effect the midi performance must restore the differences between the instruments.

EQ one thing I constantly notice is that sampled strings always sound brighter, even grotesquely brighter, than live. When a live violin section is playing softly, they become extremely dark, almost like sine waves with just a little bit of rosiny bow edge audible. This never happens in samples. They always retain their brightness because the job of the sample recording engineer is to capture all of the frequencies. So I think that EQ is something that should be approached with a far more extreme approach than is usually assumed.

Ensemble Another aspect of the bad sampled string sound is the lost sense of many different instruments playing at once. Whatever can be done to restore this ensemble feeling is needed, whether through layering solos or different smaller sections (like VSL Chamber Strings) or adjusting the stereo size and overall level and not allowing its sense of space to be covered up. Also adjusting the timing of layers across tracks is something that is very important: in live ensembles you will hear players all over the place as compared to a perfect sampled unison line.

Sample Quality There is one sample library (not to be named here because I have already alienated enough people) that is absolutely awful in its basic sound quality, and always sounds thin, whiny and nasal. Even alone! There is another - Miroslav Vitous - which is old and far too limited to be a competitor for VSL (or any state of the art company) but which has a number of non-chromatic samples that are nevertheless really spacious and full sounding. This was a function of the original recording/playing quality. Some of this quality must be heard in a combination of texture and size, as well as basic things like intonation and tone quality. These elements are by no means automatic in a recording, but are the "art" of sample recording. Without this art fully present in the original sessions and the processing/post-production, it is useless to have thousands of notes and articulations.

It would be helpful to hear other ideas on this topic, especially practical approaches to overcoming the problem.
Posted on Wed, Nov 23 2005 17:49
by JBacal
Joined on Sat, Mar 27 2004, Posts 1206
William,

I mostly agree with your analysis. I have been EQ-ing the violins more and more lately. But I remain afraid that I'm screwing things up by doing so because frankly I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to EQ Surpriseops:

You're points about ensembles having difficulty maintaining their ensemble quality is very true. And it drives my wife crazy when she listens to my work. Unfortunately this appears to be an inherent weakness of sampling in general because (especially at faster tempos) all the starts and stops of the players in the ensemble are more or less simulateneous on every note. Layering is currently the best work-around, but it's far from perfect. I've also found that some sloppiness between different sections of the strings can help create the audio illusion of "out-of-syncness" within a single section.

One additional area that I think helps improve the high violins is the near total avoidance of straight unchanging tone. If one makes liberal use of crescendos, diminuendos, portamentos, sfz etc. -- the sound becomes much more "alive." And when the sound is alive and expressive, I think we are more forgiving of any harshness in the timbre.

My 2 cents,

Jay
Posted on Wed, Nov 23 2005 18:14
by magates
Joined on Thu, Aug 14 2003, Los Angeles CA, Posts 484
I think it is all about context. They sound great by themselves on one note. There has to be a way to put things in proper context though. Performance patches are the best leap forward in corect context so far. PErhaps mir is the next leap?
Posted on Wed, Nov 23 2005 19:14
by PaulR
Joined on Mon, Dec 22 2003, England, Posts 2370
JBacal wrote:
One additional area that I think helps improve the high violins is the near total avoidance of straight unchanging tone. If one makes liberal use of crescendos, diminuendos, portamentos, sfz etc. -- the sound becomes much more "alive." And when the sound is alive and expressive, I think we are more forgiving of any harshness in the timbre.
Jay


Did you read that post from Bruce at NS? Render everything to audio - I didn't really understand that to be honest. Why would one do that? Surely you need to get the sound right in the beginning?

Your above quote is true - but it takes a lot of time and tracks.
Posted on Thu, Nov 24 2005 04:14
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5428
Besides just orchestration itself, which if poor will actually CAUSE the strings to sound bad - actually acoustically bad - this point of Jay's is very true also. It reminds me of an analysis of a string line I did once, and one of the main things I noticed, to a surprising degree, was how INCONSISTENT the levels were. The sound level went up and down radically depending on the note, without any written crescendos. It was simply the expressiveness of the playing. Now contrast this to a typical sample performance. Assume the line is marked f in the score. What do most people do? Use all f samples. And these samples are recorded with almost superhuman consistency (because of the extraordinary quality of musicians combined with the focus of the sampling session) in isolation from any musical line. Think about how utterly unnatural this really is, how completely unlike what happens normally in a line that is marked f. And this is just dynamic or volume level. So I think these inconsistencies are hugely important in creating a sense of reality.

BTW Jay did all this with solo strings to an unprecedented degree on the Ravel performance.
Posted on Thu, Nov 24 2005 06:35
by JBacal
Joined on Sat, Mar 27 2004, Posts 1206
PaulR wrote:

Your above quote is true - but it takes a lot of time and tracks.



If playing a real violin didn't require studying for 15 years from the age of six, it would be a lot faster than working with samples. Smile

Alas at my age, samples (extremely time consuming though they are) offer me my only opportunity to "play" this magnificent instrument.

Of course, if someday there is an easier and faster way to achieve the same or better results i'll be the first in line to use it. [Wink]

Cheers,
Jay
Posted on Thu, Nov 24 2005 07:42
by magates
Joined on Thu, Aug 14 2003, Los Angeles CA, Posts 484
yea just hook yourself into the matrix thingy and your set.
Posted on Thu, Nov 24 2005 11:47
by Dietz
Joined on Tue, Aug 06 2002, Vienna / Europe, Posts 7316
PaulR wrote:
[...] Did you read that post from Bruce at NS? Render everything to audio - I didn't really understand that to be honest. Why would one do that? Surely you need to get the sound right in the beginning?

Your above quote is true - but it takes a lot of time and tracks.


What Bruce is trying to tell us on NortherSounds.com is that the "pure" programming with our samples has to be treated like a typical multi-channel recording. Performance is the first part, mixing the second. I think Bruce means that it is easier to focus on the mixing-(read: sound)-aspects when you have one _finshed_ track for one instrument or ensemble.

Actually this is the way we do more or less all of our demos and productions here at the Vienna Symphonic Library.
/Dietz - Vienna Symphonic Library
Posted on Thu, Nov 24 2005 17:02
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5428
I never have wanted to "record" or dub to a final master directly out of MIDI programming since when you do that, you lose the mix which allows another entire arsenal of tools to work with. You also make it necessary to have an enormous and flawlessly running computer system... [Indifferent]
Posted on Thu, Nov 24 2005 17:04
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5428
"yea just hook yourself into the matrix thingy and your set." - magates

This brings up the question what if this were possible? What if you did not need technical knowledge, but could just "think" art. Woud it be as good as the accomplishment of a master?
Posted on Thu, Nov 24 2005 17:57
by hermitage59
Joined on Fri, Mar 25 2005, The Slavic Cultural Empire, Posts 1050
Wonderful topic Bill, and in direct relation to sample performance.

For those who started experimenting with samples many years ago, as did I, the quality often had us cursing, and spening large amounts of time re recording, and experimenting, trying to get that real sound. In a way, the 'roughness' added to the humanity of what we heard, and gave samples, in particular strings, a unique sound, not always true in pitch or quality of even sustained tone, but human nevertheless. And although the humanity was welcome, aiding the overall sound, more often than not, the uneveness of recording, or articulation, meant huge chunks of time taken with finessing the final product. And orchestral performances left a large gap in credibility between a sampled recording and one with live muso's playing a group from notes.
Now, finally, we have a consistent set of sampled sounds that we can rely on to be mp when we require, with consistent tone.
But is this enough? No. And it's not VSL that provide the limitation, on the contrary, they provide the quality and consistency that enables us to perform with confidence, knowing the relative values of volume, tone, and articulation are constant.
The thinness of strings isn't a recording error, but a perception of an instrument (s) from a perfomers POV. That is, we hear the strings as thin, becuase we hear 'live' with many inconsistencies, and variations, however subtle they may be. The action of drawing a bow across a string is not one of controlled friction within the context of a performance, but just one part. The player will emphasise, however slightly, the first beat of a bar, or cut that second staccato a little shorter because he's mentally preparing for that next stretch of hand position. And there are preconceptions of how a certain piece of music should be played, according to the conductors wishes, and performances from others. All of this affects the 'mental aural picture' the performer has, and he or she will play accordingly.
The first violin player may hear a fine section performance of the 1812, and decide the next time he plays he will lean more into the offbeat quavers in the descent before the finale, just because it sounds different.
Sustained notes are most difficult because (a) WE play them with too much consistency, (b) WE don't have set firmly enough in our minds the performance or tone and articulation we want, and (c) WE tend to play to the samples, instead of working to extract the performance we truly want. If you ask a violinist to play a top C several times, each time will be different. And the variation of tone, bow pressure, and the players own assumption of what you want will produce that which we seek, humanity, and a thicker sound, not lost in the mix. It's always been my practise for years, based on experience and the wisdom of others, to record violin sections not once, but two or three times, each time played live, and each sample section with it's own variation in pitch and bow sustain consistency.
And when i finally get to purchase VSL, my first task will be to construct violin sections from the original samples into, 1st Vi a, 1st violin b, 1st violin c. etc. Each with changes by a tick or two in pitch, and ech line played live, as my own variation in performance will give enough difference to create that human element.
(Assuming of course that i'm human!)

Regards,

Alex.
[i:d09f9c4039][color=blue:d09f9c4039][size=11:d09f9c4039]Orchestration is the art of making your own choice.....
Genius is the art of making the right choice....[/size:d09f9c4039][/color:d09f9c4039][/i:d09f9c4039]
Posted on Thu, Nov 24 2005 21:14
by lgrohn
Joined on Sat, Feb 05 2005, Nauvo, Finland, Posts 198
I thing William has set up a very important point. Thje violins are the worst and until now I have always avoid using violin sections. I tried to find an answer to the problem elsewhere (having perhaps a wrong hypothesis about the reason of the problem, but anyway):

http://www.soundsonline-forums.com/showthread.php?t=2241&highlight=string+section

Thank you also for others of your good points. LG
metacomposer Lauri Gröhn
http://www.synestesia.fi
Posted on Fri, Nov 25 2005 07:49
by Dietz
Joined on Tue, Aug 06 2002, Vienna / Europe, Posts 7316
lgrohn, the superlative "worst" seems to indicate that everything is "bad" about our samples. Is this really the way you feel about our work ....? What a pity. :-/
/Dietz - Vienna Symphonic Library
Posted on Fri, Nov 25 2005 10:13
by DG
Joined on Wed, May 12 2004, Posts 8608
Dietz wrote:
lgrohn, the superlative "worst" seems to indicate that everything is "bad" about our samples. Is this really the way you feel about our work ....? What a pity. :-/


I wouldn't take it to heart, lgrohn feels that way about all libraries, so you are not alone Confused

DG
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Posted on Fri, Nov 25 2005 12:59
by lgrohn
Joined on Sat, Feb 05 2005, Nauvo, Finland, Posts 198
Dietz wrote:
lgrohn, the superlative "worst" seems to indicate that everything is "bad" about our samples. Is this really the way you feel about our work ....? What a pity. :-/
No, no. Perhaps the proper word would have been "the most difficult", compared to horns etc. Sorry. As a user of EWQL and owner (but not user anymore) of Garritan, I still think that VSL still has the best demos.

I guess that this has happened to everybody:

When you have got one of these great new software it is so much better what one has used earlier ( I used Roland JV1010). But after some months of use one starts to get to know some limitations. I think critical people should be listened because that's one way for future development.

By the way, EWEQL just cancelled my writing rights on their forum. Garritan did it last spring. They just couldn't stand someone writing of the limitations of their products. Am I near of that on VSL Forum, yet?
metacomposer Lauri Gröhn
http://www.synestesia.fi
Posted on Fri, Nov 25 2005 13:15
by Dietz
Joined on Tue, Aug 06 2002, Vienna / Europe, Posts 7316
lgrohn wrote:
[...] By the way, EWEQL just cancelled my writing rights on their forum. Garritan did it last spring. They just couldn't stand someone writing of the limitations of their products. Am I near of that on VSL Forum, yet?

What makes you think so?
/Dietz - Vienna Symphonic Library
Posted on Fri, Nov 25 2005 13:24
by lgrohn
Joined on Sat, Feb 05 2005, Nauvo, Finland, Posts 198
Dietz wrote:
lgrohn wrote:
[...] By the way, EWEQL just cancelled my writing rights on their forum. Garritan did it last spring. They just couldn't stand someone writing of the limitations of their products. Am I near of that on VSL Forum, yet?

What makes you think so?
Actually nothing. But I just always try to be honest, even on the risk of being cancelled. And of course, many times I am just wrong and would enjoy if I am corrected. I call it learning.
metacomposer Lauri Gröhn
http://www.synestesia.fi
Posted on Fri, Nov 25 2005 13:52
by Dietz
Joined on Tue, Aug 06 2002, Vienna / Europe, Posts 7316
We all enjoy a vivid discussion here on these boards, and I think it's safe to say that we can stand an healthy amount of criticism. The only point when things got ugly was when the same wrong or meaningless statements were repeated over and over again, or personal attacks got out of hand.

So - don't hesitate to let us know what you think, but be prepared that we have _our_ strong opinions, too! Wink

All the best,
/Dietz - Vienna Symphonic Library
Posted on Fri, Nov 25 2005 14:46
by Christian Marcussen
Joined on Mon, Nov 10 2003, Posts 1508
lgrohn wrote:
Dietz wrote:
lgrohn wrote:
[...] By the way, EWEQL just cancelled my writing rights on their forum. Garritan did it last spring. They just couldn't stand someone writing of the limitations of their products. Am I near of that on VSL Forum, yet?

What makes you think so?
Actually nothing. But I just always try to be honest, even on the risk of being cancelled. And of course, many times I am just wrong and would enjoy if I am corrected. I call it learning.


Lgrohn... VSL is also the best comapny when it comes to its forums. They take far more critisism and positive comments about competing libraries than any other company. They have such enourmous class, and in the time i've been here I have only seen one or two bannings. Hell someone posting here is known to try obtain illigit versions of VSL (and posibly owning a few) and still has not been banned. So I think you can take it easy Smile
Posted on Fri, Nov 25 2005 16:15
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5428
" Thje violins are the worst and until now I have always avoid using violin sections. " - lgrohn

I changed the name of this thread because lgrohn really distorts what I was trying to discuss. The violins sound great out of the box. I am not talking about their sound in isolation, I AM TALKING ABOUT THEIR USE IN PIECES OF MUSIC.

This thread is not critical of any sample library (except that one another company sells that I didn't name) but rather of the use of violins or strings in general resulting in a thin sound.

I am trying to get ideas on the treatment of sampled strings, particularly violins, in both midi and mixing. The kind of thing Jay wrote is exactly what I am hoping people might want to discuss, not a bunch of negative trashing posts and bickering.
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