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Advice on using the brass in Opus 1
Last post Fri, Nov 10 2006 by bluejay, 16 replies.
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Posted on Thu, Nov 02 2006 13:27
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49
Hi,

I've only been working on composing orchestral music with samples for about 6 months now and I've got a few VSL products.

Up until now I had been learning the orchestra section by section and I'd been avoiding most of the brass and getting by with 'just' the Epic Horns (which sound fantastic).

Now I've started using the brass from Opus 1 and I'm finding the sounds difficult to use.

To be absolutely honest, I was surprised at the basic brass sounds of trumpets and trombones. Given that I know the quality of these samples is great and I haven't seen a post complaining about the brass in Opus 1, I know that it must be something I'm doing.

I was thinking that the brass really needs reverb added to get it's full sound. Due to the nature of recording French Horn I guess there may be some room sound already in there (because they normally face away from the audience) and they sound great without any post-production.

Now I'm not particularly experienced at arranging or mixing orchestras so don't be worried about posting up novice advice, I won't be offended.

So, I'd really appreciate any advice on how to get the best out of the brass samples.
James
Posted on Thu, Nov 02 2006 14:02
by hermitage59
Joined on Fri, Mar 25 2005, The Slavic Cultural Empire, Posts 1050
bluejay,

I respectfully suggest the following:

1. Listen to Dietz and Michael's interview with Hetoreyn in the recent podcast. (Show 23. You can find it at Hetoreyn's terrific website, www.elvenmusic.com, or in the itunes podcast directory.)
Some interesting tips in there on how to apply reverb in a more subtle way.

2. Listen to good recordings of brass parts. I think it's important to understand the
difference between intepretation of Concert and Film music. (I generalise here.) Most modern film music tends to big wide brass, and that presents challenges in terms of how to use samples. Concert recording often have brighter brass. (particularly when played by European orchestras, and again i generalise.) that doesn't sit so 'densely' in the overall aural soundscape.

Some examples of prominent concert brass that may help, include:
Mlada: (Rimsky Korsakov)
Festive Overture (Shostakovich)

3. If you don't already, may i suggest you suscribe to Virtual Instruments Magazine (you can do this online). I asked a few dummy questions, and got great answers from Nick Batzdorf about the use of delay, 'verb, sidechaining, and other great tips. There's a lot of other useful information as well.

4. When applying reverb to Brass, it's important to have a good mental 'picture' about what you're trying to achieve. Where do the Brass sit, laterally as well as how deep? Will a predelay 'place' the brass in the right place, and create the impression of 'space' that you want?

5. Like any section there's a 'sweet spot'. That is, when the section (if that's what you're writing) is balanced correctly in volume and velocity, you'll hear that sudden gelling together. It takes practise, and that's why listening to good recordings is a worthwhile point of reference.

Epic Hons are, to a certain extent, unnatural. (I'm just going to put on my helmet and flak jacket.) Not in terms of film orchestration, but for concert use. This is ONLY my opinion, but the sound you hear in modern film score isn't neccessarily 'good balance' in relation to the rest of the orchestra, and that wide thick sound you hear is possible more the result of heavy use of effects to 'boost' the presence of the brass. In the VSL interviews on podcast, Dietz talked of using three 'verbs. A useful tip, and he explains well what he means.

Finally, it's important to place your section properly (IMHO) Having a brass section panned to centre is just that. All the instruments coming from an aural space maybe a metre wide. In a 'real' orchestra (lol) the brass players are set out in a wider footprint. A large orchestral brass section of 3 and 3 might occupy a width closer to 5 or 6 metres, or more. If an orchestra occupies a maximum width of 30 or 40 metres, then the brass takes a wider space than you would think. Worth remembering this. And if the trumpets (3) occupy a space 4 metres wide then that's ten percent at least of your total aural width. Maybe you're trying to get more 'space' from a metre, instead of using the obvious advantage of creating ther correct space per instrument, and letting the 'natural' placement assist you.


Good Luck with this. It's actually a lot of fun and much enjoyment (IMHO) to work at getting the placement right, in both width and depth, then applying effects from there, and i reiterate once again, this is ONLY my opinion.

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 02 2006 14:09
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49
Thank you very much Alex, very useful tips.

I guess one of the points I was trying to make was that so far I've found the trombone and trumpet sounds a little uninspiring. Are there better samples available in the VSL/VI range or do these samples sound a lot better once they're mixed, panned and 'verbed correctly? Again, I'm not trying to criticize VSL here but I didn't think the brass samples sounded as convincing as the strings or woodwinds. Incidentally, I appreciate the comments about the Horns having a slightly unnatural sound. I guess the 'Epic' title does slightly suggest some element of tweaking for the biggest sound possible.

Also, how do you tend to use the samples to build chords up (say in the trumpets). Could you use the same sustain sample for three different voices in a harmony or would there be phasing problems? As I say I am still quite a beginner at this...
James
Posted on Thu, Nov 02 2006 14:32
by hermitage59
Joined on Fri, Mar 25 2005, The Slavic Cultural Empire, Posts 1050
bluejay wrote:
Thank you very much Alex, very useful tips.

I guess one of the points I was trying to make was that so far I've found the trombone and trumpet sounds a little uninspiring. Are there better samples available in the VSL/VI range or do these samples sound a lot better once they're mixed, panned and 'verbed correctly? Again, I'm not trying to criticize VSL here but I didn't think the brass samples sounded as convincing as the strings or woodwinds. Incidentally, I appreciate the comments about the Horns having a slightly unnatural sound. I guess the 'Epic' title does slightly suggest some element of tweaking for the biggest sound possible.

Also, how do you tend to use the samples to build chords up (say in the trumpets). Could you use the same sustain sample for three different voices in a harmony or would there be phasing problems? As I say I am still quite a beginner at this...


I don't own VSL currently so the precise mechanics of this particular library i can't comment.
But as general observation, if you were to write three instruments in harmony, you would, at a basic level, use three seperate samples. (Not incuding layers of samples at different velocities)

And the placement, as i wrote, will help you. Let's assume your panning range is from L64 to R64. (Centre is zero.)

If you use a 'ten percent width' for your trumpet section (3) and they are placed to the left of centre, then your pan placements markers will cover an approx range of L5 to L11.4 (say 12) and could be placed as follows"

3rd Trumpet (from the centre out) is placed at approx L5.
2nd Trumpet is placed at approx L8.
1st Trumpet is placed at L12.
(There are those who will place their first trumpet close to centre, but this example is for placement only.)

This is a start point, and you will have to adjust this according to how tight (narrow) or loose (more separate) you want the trumpet section to occupy, as an audio space.

There's no doubt that any sound benefits from having effects added properly. In relation to 'brightening' your section sound, i'm no expert mixer or sound engineer (Why, i still use parchment and quill!), but in my limited capacity, i found EQ to be an important part of the process in highlighting highs, lows or mids. You would do better to ask those more experienced than i .(which in reality, is most here.)
My own experience with my own modest collection of samples is to increase the highs and mids a little for trumpets, and then after applying predelay, (thanks Nick, i've gone OTT with this!) listen to how it sounds. But again. I'm no expert, and Dietz's reference to multiple 'verbs, and the more general info he kindly imparts in the podcast, will be more useful to you.

Hope that helps.

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 02 2006 14:36
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49
Thanks again Alex.

Could you please just clarify about the three voices. You would definitely use three different samples for the voices? Three different channels using the same sample would not work effectively?

As you say, you don't own the library so I'm just asking here what most people do when creating a 3 note harmony with the trumpets... even down to which sample patches they use.
James
Posted on Thu, Nov 02 2006 14:57
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49
Oh and thanks for the tip on Virtual Instruments magazine!
James
Posted on Thu, Nov 02 2006 15:07
by hermitage59
Joined on Fri, Mar 25 2005, The Slavic Cultural Empire, Posts 1050
James,

My question at this point is, which DAW are you using?

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 02 2006 15:12
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49
I'm using Cubase SX 3 with Kontakt 2 as my sampler.

I have Cubase 4 but haven't bothered installing it yet because I'm halfway through some projects/assignments and I've heard a couple of worrying things about Kontakt 2 not working with it...

For sample libraries I have: -

Opus 1
Woodwind Ensembles
Epic Horns
French Oboe
Chamber Strings
Solo Strings
James
Posted on Thu, Nov 02 2006 15:35
by hermitage59
Joined on Fri, Mar 25 2005, The Slavic Cultural Empire, Posts 1050
Right.

Here's a quick and dirty generic guide as i don't use Kontakt, and i last used Cubase v5.

If you are using a stereo signal into a single channel, then you would record the three notes at once. (generally speaking). That means, if your three notes for trumpets are E4, G4, and C5 (with middle C as C4), then you will use a 'sample for each note.'
(I don't know if VSL Opus is recorded by semitone or tone, but using the notes i described, this wouldn't be relevant anyway.) And with a single channel that also means you'll have to try widening or narrowing your stereo width to 'fill the correct space'.
Even then, that means you'll have all three trumpets occupying ALL the trumpet section space equally, so the sound will possible sound 'false', or even too big, hence a need to readjust the balance, with other sections.

If you choose three mono signals in, each with it's own channel (and you'll find a thread in the forum about mono versus stereo, in which i express my preference for mono over stereo, and in which others enthusiastically disagree, so you'll have to decide for yuorself which method to use.) then you'll have three channels with which to place correctly. (See the previous post about placement.)

Either way, if you use three different notes, then your DAW will use three different samples.

If you wish to use three trumpets in unison (all playing the same note), then i'm afraid i can't help further, because i don't know how well Opus or Kontakt will handle using the same sample three times in the same space. Again, this is only my opinion, but if i were forced to do this, i would record the first voice (instrument), convert it to audio and save it to an audio track, record the second voice and save to a second audio track, and then record the third voice and save it to a third audio track.


That way, you can, if faced with any phase or other issues, you can manipulate the audio recording in each track to counter this. And, in addition, you can then place your instruments more precisely, instead of relying on a single channel with stereo width to do the same job. Again, this is about what sounds right to you, and is only my opinion according to my working method.
(Dedicated mono channel for each instrument.)

I hope those chaps who use Opus will step in here, and give you a more precise answer specific to the library, and with the unique working methods of using kontakt, but from a generic point of view, maybe this will get you started towards a better brass sound. It's also worth saying that, in my modest software effects experience, having separate channels for each instrument has also enabled me to brighten and 'fatten' brass sound more easily and quickly, and have greater control over each instrument, including EQ to brighten or dull one instrument in order to obtain a better balance, according to my perception of what i want.

Remember that if you apply an effect to a sample THEN record it to audio, you're stuck with it, imprinted in the audio segment. If it's not suitable, then you'll have to record the same line again, so it's worth making sure you get the inital recording right first. And again i refer you to the podcast, with Michael's comment about applying a little pan to each voice you record before applying 'verb, recording to audio, or adding other effects. I'll only speak for myself, but i've done this for some time, and Michael's advice is, in my opinion, sound.

Regards,

Alex.

p.s. The Vi magazine is excellent, with a LOT of great tips, tricks, and examples of working with software instruments. Well worth the price.
[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 02 2006 15:43
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49
OK, so you're saying that I could use the same patch (say a sustaining trumpet) for three different notes and that would be fine.

For the record, the way I've been working of late would be to load up the patch in Kontakt and then use Kontakt's surround panner and convolution reverb to place the instruments. For this I would use the same trumpet sustain patch (but load it into the sampler three times).

Unfortunately this is really, really heavy on my CPU so I usually have to burn these channels down to audio afterwards.

For big unison parts, I would use the brass ensemble patches. If I had a unison in the middle of a harmonised section then I might try out some tricks like replacing one or two patches or changing velocities or something like that.
James
Posted on Thu, Nov 02 2006 15:53
by hermitage59
Joined on Fri, Mar 25 2005, The Slavic Cultural Empire, Posts 1050
Now you have me at a loss, as i don't use Kontakt, and have no idea how it handles multiple instances of the same patch. I'm not surprised at the CPU usage though, as there has been much discussion over some time about this aspect of the software.

Yes, you could record three different notes, as the samples used would be different.

If you're going to use an ensemble patch (and again, i refer to a generic view) then you will need to deal with the stereo scenario i described in the previous post, AND each note you play will be the entire ensemble each time. (Using the previous example, E4 would be an ensemble or entire section, G4 would be an ensemble, and C5 would be an ensemble. So you'd have three ensembles playing three notes, equalling 9 trumpets, if each ensemble/section consists of three trumpets. This is common across all sample company ensemble library patches, so don't think of this as a fault of VSL. It's not.)

Ultimately, it's up to you, and i am reluctant to suggest a firm or 'preset' method, as i have no wish to interfere with, or influence your own creative choices.

Time to experiment, yes?

Why don't you try both methods, stereo one channel, and mono three channel?
That way, you'll have at least two choices of sound to work with, then you can build a working method that suits you.

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 02 2006 16:27
by Angelo Clematide
Joined on Thu, Sep 08 2005, Posts 1139
bluejay wrote:
OK, so you're saying that I could use the same patch (say a sustaining trumpet) for three different notes and that would be fine


Yes, sounds fine. Phasing would occour when triggering twice the same note with the same patch, and of course only when the sample is triggered at exactly same time. If it is a looped sample it could also come up later when the phase is in sync, but this is very seldom the case. I would pan the three trumpets a tiny little bit apart. Btw, I use Kontakt since a long time.

.
Posted on Mon, Nov 06 2006 09:35
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49
Ok, thanks for the tips. I've put some brass into a new piece I'm working on. It's for the Music for the Media course and it's supposed to be a 1 minute loop of 'action music' for a battle scene in a Tomb Raider style game.

It's a long, long way from finished; it hasn't been mixed, there's no reverb and there's a fair bit more arrangement to do. I've only put the bare minimum strings in at the moment.

Anyway, check it out at http://www.genomia.co.uk/boards/battle.mp3

All (polite) comments are very welcome. I know it's supposed to be action music but the lushness of the orchestra has been seducing me... bit by bit it seems to be turning into James Bond/Incredibles style music...

I'd love some suggestions for making the music more action. Perhaps some suggestions for better dissonances to use or something.
James
Posted on Thu, Nov 09 2006 23:47
by Martin Bayless
Joined on Sat, Oct 25 2003, New York, USA, Posts 266
some interesting ideas in the works. not particularly related to this piece, it might be helpful to think of brass registers like satb writing, trumpets = soprano, horns = alto, trombones = tenor, bass trombone/tuba = bass. now this doesn't necessarily mean you should just write satb parts like this because brass instruments are meant to play chords/harmony within their instrumental group as well (hence their usual numbers in the orchestra). the idea is that if you are writing in an alto register for trombones, although possible, it will likely create more problems than it solves. it may also be helpful to think of trombones as the power of an orchestra, much like power chords on a guitar and to keep them down there for when you want that kind of punch. so much of what you are trying to do tonally starts with good writing. i guess the last thing i would offer is to think about the concept of horns being a part of the woodwinds. that's no longer completely true but it is how they started, suggesting somewhat greater tonal coheasion between the other brass instruments. maybe your trepidation about these will go away more quickly if you left the horns out for a few exercises or at least switched to the opus ones until some of these ensemble concepts start to make a little more sense. as alex said, the epic ones are rather an extremely beautiful oddity that could be messing you up a bit at this early stage.
Posted on Fri, Nov 10 2006 00:21
by Martin Bayless
Joined on Sat, Oct 25 2003, New York, USA, Posts 266
ok on just the piece, i'd take a it little faster, and be clearer in what you're trying to do at the end to bring things to a close. i liked where you are going with the dissonance, and in that context thought the parallel chromatic chords about two thirds the way through sounded like you meant to move to a diminished chord rather than minor (try moving on of the voices up a step, rather than all three down and see if that clarifies anything). since parallel movement breaks a part writing rule, those kind of things need to be handled very carefully to get them to sound right. lastly, the plucky idea gives this a kind of news report feel which i don't mind, but maybe taking it out or replacing it with drums might move this more towards action.
Posted on Fri, Nov 10 2006 17:27
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49
Thank you very much for your advice Martin, it is much appreciated.

I've now gone back and severely modified this piece. It has a different rhythm for the opening (reminiscent of the Uruk-Hai theme from Lord of the Rings) and it takes a while to break into the bolero rhythm. I've also increased the tempo as you suggested and removed some of the lushness from the orchestra (in both instrumentation and arrangement). It now sounds a lot more 'action' and less 'smooth James Bond.'

I am also trying out some other orchestral packages and samples so I'm a little unsure as to whether I should post up the new version of this piece. I admit that VSL is the best however I simply do not have a good enough reverb unit or even the CPU power to run one. In the meantime I am using another orchestral library with more ambience and adding bits of VSL as I need.
James
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