Hey all, I wanted to let you know what I've been up to this summer and what musical ideas/processes/technologies I've recently become obsessed with.
At the very beginning of July, I was out on my friend's sail boat and had a traumatic fall. While we were docking, with the rope in my head I made a leap from the boat to the dock. The tip of sandal caught on the lifeline and I fell onto the concrete dock. I went to the ER it was discovered I had 3 broken ribs and had injured my liver in the fall. I was transferred to Harborview for observation and to see if surgery was required. Luckily, I did not require surgery and was sent home the next day. I also injured my right arm and wrist. The doctor told me I need to take it really easy for the next 3 months while my ribs and liver heal. I am thinking I will be able to ease back into teaching, but I haven't felt up to it yet, and my wrist still hurts after playing guitar.
Over the last month I have had a lot of time to watch Youtube music tutorials. I can't remember how I got there, but I ended up down a rabbit hole relating to virtual orchestration. During one of the tutorials relating to how to play a virtual orchestra, I noticed there was another layer below where the MIDI notes were being written. I instinctually knew this was very important and had to find out what it was. What I had observed was "automation lanes". A simplified explanation of automation lanes is that you can control and write parameters into the track of the instrument you are playing, such as volume. So in addition to the notes being played, the volume of the whole instrument could be written into the track to create dynamics. However, it is much more complex than just volume. There are multiple automation lanes, and each one controls a different aspect of the instrument being played. These automation lanes can be drawn in, or they can be controlled live in a real time with a fader or knob. When you move the fader up and down, it cycles seamlessly through different recordings of the note being played at different volumes using a wide array of techniques. When a producer is using these automation lanes, they are often times using multiple faders simultaneously to control dynamics and techniques of the instrument. The realism and expression this brings to virtual orchestration is astounding in my opinion.
How could this be applied? Take a simple chord progression of triads (3 note chords) on a keyboard. Play this into a midi editor in a digital audio workstation and select an instrument that has a lot of nuance, like a cello. Then copy this chord progression on 3 different tracks. For the first track, delete all of the notes except for the high notes. For the 2nd track, delete all the notes except the middle notes. For the 3rd track delete all the notes except the low ones. Now go back to each one of these tracks individually and record the automation for the dynamics and technique, either by writing it in with your mouse, or using a MIDI fader or knob. This brings dynamic and life to the each track. When you play them all back together it will sound like an orchestra breathing. If you want to see what I am talking about, this is the video that opened my eyes and ears:
If you found this video interesting, I recommend watching the follow up video. The follow up walks you through the process I described above of how to turn a simple chord progression into an orchestral arrangement.
Christian Henson is the creator of this video, as well as co-founder of Spitfire Audio. In addition to him making these amazing videos and being the founder of one of the company that makes some of the most high quality virtual instruments for professional application, here are some projects that he is also involved in that happen to be FREE!
BBCSO Discover - https://www.spitfireaudio.com/shop/a-z/bbc-symphony-orchestra-discover/
This is a virtual instrument library of the BBC Symphonic Orchestra that is free. You do have to fill out a survey and wait 14 days, but it has all of the instruments of an orchestra and ability to play with dynamics and expression for each one. This is a great tool to help you get started writing music, and you can always upgrade to the next level if you became more interested. Here is a youtube video Introduction to BBCSO Discover.
Spitfire Labs - https://labs.spitfireaudio.com/
This is another free collection of virtual instruments by Spitfire. It is a curated collection of eclectic instruments such as autoharp, synth strings and whale sounds.
Pianobook - https://www.pianobook.co.uk/
This is another project by Christian Henson with a focus on sampling your own piano and uploading it to an online library. The result is a huge collection of sampled pianos from all over the world, as well as many other instruments. There are tutorials here that teach you how to sample your own instruments and a collaborative online community of other people doing this work to help, all together creating a massive instrument library.
I look forward to getting back to playing and teaching real instruments soon. In the meantime, I will be diving deeper into what I have shared here so that I can be a greater resource for my students. In the spring of this last year, I did a group class called "How Music Works". It was my first online group class and I learned a bunch that I look forward to applying and making future classes better. In the fall, I am planning to do more online group classes that focus on music theory, music production and technology, so stay tuned by signing up for my e-mail list. Thank you!