Archive for January, 2011

Broadway Big Band, part 1

Those of you who own the original version of Fable Sound’s Broadway Big Band, distributed by SONiVOX MI (www.sonivoxmi.com) may have had an experience with this product similar to mine. The initial release included features- particularly in the brass and reed sections- that allowed you to create powerful and soulfully expressive legato lines along with the crackling hits you’d expect from a well sampled brass library recorded any time after the turn of this century. The sheer playability and intelligence of these instruments placed BBB at the top of the class.

But the developers tethered BBB to the Halion player, and for many of us- at least for Cubase users like me- significant work flow problems came along for the ride. Fable Sounds hunkered down and ported BBB over to the Native Instruments Kontakt 4 player. They also came up with a subset of the original release, “Broadway Lites” that costs far less than the full product.

We’ll have more to say about BBB in the near future. I wanted to let you know that I installed the full Kontakt 4 version yesterday and spent several hours playing with BBB.
Wow, what a pleasure! If you own the original version I’d strongly recommend that you consider crossgrading.

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Avid Shutters PCI/PCIe Exchange

Early last week I got an email from an engineer who went to turn his Pro Tools PCI cards in for PCIe cards per Avid’s long running discount/exchange program and avid1.gifwas turned down by Sweetwater. I approached Avid and they said there was no announcement at this time about the exchange program ending. Two days later, I heard from my source again saying another retailer (Alto Music) had reiterated that the program was no longer in place and “someone high up at Avid emailed him (Alto music) and said the program is absolutely, positively DONE.” After more digging, I found out there is a new program in the works and much to Avid’s dismay, the news got out early to the dealers about the end of the exchange. More on this as the story develops. There should be word very soon on the end of the program and what’s going to take its place.

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My Favorite Finale 2011 Feature

Sibelius user, eh? Great, it has a loyal user base and I’m sure the app does an outstanding job for you. I’ve been with Finale for the last five or six years and am sticking with it. Each year makemusic (www.makemusic.com) releases a Finale update. For the last several years much of their work has focused on ramping up midi playback, which doesn’t interest me at all- my scores are ready to roll by the time I hit notation software.

“Staff Drag” is the go to feature for me in Finale 2011. In earlier versions it was difficult to select a single staff- the bass clef on the third page, second system of the piano gem you just finished writing, for example- and nudge it up or down. The program was geared to grouping all staves together, and you had to go through a few hoops to execute this simple procedure.

Finale 11’s “Staff Drag” lets you grab an individual staff without disturbing any others. If you’ve decreased the distance between a staff and its neighbor you might (depending on the dimensions of your newly repositioned set of staves) also see a system hop over from the next page.

A simple but elegant advancement!

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Marketing Your Music, Part I

We all know that the model for distributing recorded music is undergoing profound change. Produce a CD, talk it up on Facebook, build a website- bam, you’re an artist, a label, and your own management company.

But what if you had a different goal in mind when you made your last recording? I produced “Not Forgotten: Three Scenes for Vioin and Piano,” last year hoping that a well known fiddle player or two would hear and want to perform it.

Once the tracks were on my website I took the obvious next step and Googled “violin players.” I was also looking to present the demo of my string quartet, “The Amazing X-Ray Machine” to ensembles of that type, so I also searched for “string quartets.”

It was easy to compile fairly extensive lists of both soloists and quartets. The next step was to compose a couple of generic e mails that contained a brief bio and links to the music- which could be tailored to the intended receipient- and send them out. I expected limited feedback and that’s exactly what I got.

Interestingly, one of the responses came from the Emerson String Quartet’s management company. The Emerson (http://www.emersonquartet.com/), who just won their ninth Grammy, have been one of the world’s most highly regarded string quartets for about a quarter century.

The e-mail suggested that I send a CD directly to Phil Setzer, one of the group’s founders. I burned a disk with the two compositions mentioned above plus several others, and included a letter that told Phil a bit about myself and thanked him for the extraordinarily gracious act of accepting unsolicited material from a writer unknown to him.

After not hearing anything for about a month I took it upon myself to look up Phil’s telephone number and phone him. His wife answered, told me that the group was in Copenhagen, gave me his e mail address and suggested that I e mail Phil, which I did.

To make a short story shorter, Phil listened to the CD when he returned home, sent me an e mail that was extremely positive, told me that he wanted to perform “Not Forgotten” but that commitments precluded him from doing so in the near future, and asked if I would be interested in having some of his top students read the works immediately.

I’m putting together a package of CD’s and scores and sending them to Phil today.

2.26.11

PS: Marketing is important, right? I just emailed Phil asking if he’d be willing to provide a quote for my website. Here’s his response:

“As a member of the Emerson String Quartet, I receive dozens of scores and recordings of new music every year. I try to listen to everything. Some things I like, some not, but every once in a while I pop something into the CD player that really impresses me. That was my experience with Gary Eskow’s Not Forgotten: Three Scenes for Violin and Piano. The music is very well crafted and the writing for both instruments idiomatic and intriguing. I have recommended these beautiful, touching pieces to my students and I hope to play them myself in the future. Bravo, Gary!”

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Blade Studios Construction Progress

While everyone is enjoying NAMM we are working hard to get Blade Studios open. Everything is coming along nicely. The construction is finished and we are onto the wiring. We hired Paul Cox to do our wiring install and him and his team are doing a wonderful job. Next week will be exciting because the SSL Duality will be commissioned and will be up and running. The following week we hope to have the Ocean Way monitors installed and ready to start making some noise. Here’s a short video of the progress this week. Just follow the link: http://youtu.be/2ZDSD7JN2js

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A conversation with Tonehammer’s Mike Peaslee

Sure, the comparison is over the top, but during his inaugural address JFK said: “Let the word go forth… the torch has been passed to a new generation,” and you have to ask yourself if the old guard is today being nudged by a generation of sample developers who grew up staring across broader horizons then their forebears had. True dat, I say.

Mike Peaslee founded Tonehammer (www.tonehammer.com) in the 4th quarter of 2008 with his partner, Troels Folmann. A California native, Peaslee (who now lives on a seven acre spread in Texas) met Folmann when both were working at Crystal Dynamics, a gaming company based in Menlo Park, CA. Interested in sound design from his early days, Peaslee knew that the boundaries of computer speed and memory were transient. His goal was to dream big.

Gary Eskow: Mike, you use the term “deep sampling,” a lot. What does it mean?

Mike Peaslee: “We massively sample an instrument, capturing lots of variations of sound and dynamics, in order to create a matrix that lets the user feel like he’s playing the real thing. We go very deep inside an instrument, and that’s where the term comes from. Our first product, Epic Toms 1 and 2 (now combined into a single release) consisted of nothing but tom hits.

“We’re probably one of the leading developers in this area. Whether it’s our 8,000 sample deep Bongo/Cajon library or the Solo Frame Drum library, which contains 3,000 samples, the concept is identical: capture everything down to the smallest possible detail so that we never have to go back and re-record.

“But we’re not just out to field impressive numbers. To really craft an expressive instrument – not just a collection of sound clips – you need to capture the fundamental dynamic range and natural fluidity that’s inherent in a real instrument. Sampling has historically been carried out in a somewhat conservative manner, in part due to hardware and software limitations. And perhaps some people didn’t think it was necessary to go deeper, or believed you should only present the purest, most flawless samples that an instrument or performer can produce. Thankfully, those physical limits and that incorrect thinking are obsolete now. Nothing is as passionless and uninspiring as over-perfection.”

GE: How did your partnership with Troels develop?

MP: “Back in the 2003-04 time period I was working in the music department at Crystal Dynamics. Troels, who was living in his native Denmark at the time, wrote the themes for a game of ours called Snow Blind that was quite successful. A vacancy came up as composer and department head and Troels was drafted for the position.

“We got along really well, and since we were both developing our own sample instruments using the Kontakt platform we began sharing ideas and material. After several years and four consecutive Tomb Raider titles we individually moved on to seek out fresh creative and professional outlets. A shared passion for instrument design and recording inevitably steered us toward a common path in Tonehammer.”

GE: It seems like your product line falls into two categories. There are libraries like the Lakeview Organ and Requiem that strive to faithfully recreate real world instruments, and others like Frendo that cross into the bizarre sound design area. Eric Persing was a pioneer in this latter sphere; you couldn’t turn on the television for several years without hearing Distorted Reality 1 and 2 samples. Was his work an influence?

MP: “Troels is a huge fan of Spectrasonics and definitely sees Eric Persing as one of the real captains of this industry. They do amazing work and the standard they’ve set is a huge part of our professional ethos.

“Oddly enough, I didn’t have any direct personal influences in the sampling world. Artists like Tom Waits, DJ Shadow, Nine Inch Nails, Amon Tobin and Soul Coughing probably had the greatest impact on my aesthetic sense later on, but for me sampling is more just a permanent state of awareness. I don’t always have a mic handy, but my mind always has that little red record light on. I have to breathe it in and our instruments are how I can breathe it back out again.”

GE: The Zen of Zampling?

MP: “Some of our instruments just flow out of instantaneous inspiration. We often stumble across an object or instrument and it just makes sense to capture it right there. We also tend to hoard odd flotsam and jetsam that feel like they might have some sort of sonic potential. Microhammer is where we let our weirder side flow, with ideas that aren’t quite mainstream enough on their own for a full Tonehammer library. Microhammer is more stream of consciousness, while Tonehammer is our deliberate and focused art.

“Products like Requiem and our soon to be released sampled children’s choir library, Liberis, take a lot of time and attention. But all of our products have to reach an identical bar in order to be released.”

GE: At $59, Lakeview Organ may be the best value I’ve ever come across in the sample library market. Can you tell me a little bit about this project, and how you came to price it?

MP: “Pipe organ was something that I’d wanted to capture for awhile, partly because it seemed beyond reach when we were first getting started. In an odd way, pipe and theater organs represent the true origin of on-demand ‘sample instruments’. That huge array of sounds at the push of a button or pull of a stop is not unlike what you’d get with a hard drive full of Tonehammer instruments. The main difference is that you used to need a 4-story building attached to your keyboard.

“As it turns out, my mother had worked with Donald Sears while she was a teacher in Hayward, CA. He taught music for the school district and was the musical director at the Lakeside Temple of Practical Christianity, a very welcoming non-denominational church in Oakland where the organ resides.

“Don gave me a full tour of the 850-pipe Rodgers Organ and I spent a few days studying and recording, with him at the keys. The library includes an extensive interview with Don [the interviews and demos that ship with most Tonehammer libraries are not to be overlooked. GE], including impromptu performances and demonstrations. It was important to share the whole spirit of the instrument, directly through the voice and hands of the man for whom it was built. That soul definitely carries through.

“We weren’t trying to cover every possible aspect of a church organ and that’s part of the reason why we priced it so inexpensively. It’s also a very niche sound. It’s specifically built around the five main pipe stops and is designed purely to deliver that classic pipe organ sound – from somber to warm, to bright, towering, all the way up to fantastically bone-shaking. We wanted the steel pipes and it had to be the best-sounding pipe organ you could get, bar none. We didn’t artificially try to remove the background sound of the bellows, so the sound quality remains rich, crisp, bright and most importantly, completely lifelike. We also captured some of the mechanical elements, as well as the mechanical struck bar chimes and bells.”

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The Three Reasons Why You Must Purchase Ivory II

Several years ago a pair of ex-Kurzweill Music Systems employees, George Taylor and Joe Ierardi, formed a company called Synthogy. Their first release, Ivory, was a set of primo quality pianos that quickly established the pair’s bona fides. In short order Synthogy released Upright Pianos (a personal favorite of mine) and Italian Grand, which I have not played.

Retooled and released as Ivory II, this set (a Bosendorfer 290 Imperial Grand, Steinway D and Yamaha C7) is simply the best collection of sampled pianos that has ever been brought to market. If you’re a pianist who works in the studio or plays live, here are the three things that separate Ivory II from the pack and make this a must have collection:

3. Dynamic Range and Trim controls.

How simple! A high quality Dynamic Range Control built into a piano plug-in that acts very much like a compressor. I never thought that 16 velocity layers (or 18, which several of these pianos have) would ever be sufficient to yield a realistic feel. I was wrong.

Using the Dynamic Range and Trim controls you can personalize the touch of these instruments to suit your style. Highly sensitive and expressive players capable of realizing the widest and most touching range of emotions (like me!) will open up the Dynamic Range Trim controls. Troglodytes who believe that Little Richard remains the greatest piano player of all time will scale them back.

2. Sustain Resonance

The brilliant manner in which Taylor and Ierardi have integrated modeling into their engine is the feature that separates Ivory II from its competitors. Engineers have been taking stabs at modeling pianos (and other instruments) for some time, with results that results that range from really bad to fairly impressive, but none of them- at least to my ears- has quite pulled off the assignment.

Synthogy took its original sample set (no new recording sessions were conducted) and folded in a soupcon of modeling- the resonance of the soundboard and the overtone series. The results are spectacular. You can choose from several different modeled soundboards and dial in the amount of effect to taste.

1. Sympathetic Resonance

Here’s where the modeling really shines. Synthogy found a way to algorithmically model the overtone series as it’s revealed on a piano. Play a note, or chord, and then strike another note. Wow, there it is! Listen to this audio clip: Does your go to piano achieve this level of realism?

I never understood how important the presence of sympathetic resonance was to me during the composing process. When you write aren’t you listening more carefully than at any other time to individual notes and harmonies? I’ve never been able to write, or even test out any of my ideas, on a sampled piano- until now. I’m working on an orchestral piece called “4,3,2,1” and spent over an hour the other day working on a sketch of one of the movements while sitting before my Yamaha KX88 with the Ivory II Steinway D routed through Cubase 5.

If you own Ivory I stop at this point and update. If you’re in the market for a new set of pianos you can check out the full line of Synthogy products by clicking on this link:

http://www.ilio.com/products/synthogy-instruments/

Bottom line: 6 stars out of a possible 5

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Pro Tools 9: Rethinking IO Setup

One of the most noteworthy changes to Pro Tools 9 is how it manages outputs and buses. It’s main-screen.pngall good news here with Pro Tools 9 taking on a fresher view of IO with a more organized approach. Simple and often-repeated workflow tasks that used to take multiple steps are now more integrated and automatic. To get your head around Pro Tools’ new IO attitude, let’s get some “historical� perspective.
Track Submixing and Aux Sends
Like an analog console, Pro Tools allows you to use buses, inputs and outputs to route signal around inside the box. For instance, a bus can route audio from a number of track’s outputs to an Aux input for global control, or you can Send audio from a channel, post-fader, to an Aux input which could carry a plugin or group of plugins for effects such as reverb, delay and more.

In past versions of Pro Tools, this was accomplished as separate tasks, but now Pro Tools 9 integrates all these steps into one operation with the addition of the New Track option on every track and send output. (see fig. 1). After choosing New Track, you can specify the type of track (Audio, Aux or Instrument), then name the bus path and track in one step (see fig. 2). Pro Tools creates new or renames an existing bus for your specified task and lists it on the newly redesigned bus page (see fig. 3). It’s a very simple method that dramatically cuts workflow time. You can also assign multiple channels this way by first selecting a group of channels, then hold opt+shift before you pull down and select New Track from the Send or Channel output.
Paths and Subpaths
Pro Tools 9 has also changed how IO setup traditionally routed audio to gear outside the box. For instance, from IO setup, you used to designate and label outputs to route signal to specific locations, then carve them up into subpaths to better address separate or multi-channel inputs on hardware. But now, in Pro Tools 9, as never before, the output and bus functions are linked. This theoretically streamlines the process of moving sessions between Pro Tools 9 systems by letting you take your bus settings along with you, then remapping them to another system’s IO from the bus page.

Pro Tools 9 achieves this in part by moving the ability to make subpaths from the output page to the bus page. It’s easier to understand if you think of it this way: The output tab in the IO setup is your 30,000 ft. overview of the physical analog and digital interface outs, while the Bus tab is your zoomed in “street view” representing a breakdown of these master paths.

Creating Your IO World
Pro Tools 9 is versatile and you can run it old school style with buses and outputs numbered by the system. But in my opinion, to take full advantage of Pro Tools 9s new IO setup capabilities, it’s best to start with a blank output slate. You can do this by going to Setup – IO – Output tab, and select all outputs by holding option then clicking on any path. Once all paths are selected, use the Delete key to remove all paths. Then do the same on the bus page. (see fig 4). Inputs are not effected by this new setup so should be managed as they always have, whichever way you’re comfortable and accustomed to.

For starters, let’s dream up a system and use it for our sample setup. Let’s say our Pro Tools rig has a 5.1 playback system, a hardware 5.1 capable reverb using digital IO, and an 8 channel analog cue system for tracking that can be used as combinations of stereo or mono signal paths. Of course we’ll have to own an über amount of IO and cards to handle all this so let’s say we have an HD3 with 3 HD IOs providing 32 analog plus 24 AES/EBU digital in/outs.

Let’s start from the output tab under Setup IO. Here we’ll create master outputs for our system without worrying about specific subpaths because we will handle that on the bus page. Click on New Path, name it HD IO 1-6, choose 5.1 from the pulldown, and be sure to check the “add default channel assignments� box before you click Create (see fig. 5). If you don’t click this option, you’ll have to manually load the paths by clicking on the first empty box to the right of your path name and Pro Tools will lay out the channels according to your preferred multichannel setup.

Now let’s go to the bus page and see what happened (see fig. 6). Pro Tools 9 created a bus path (left of screen) that is mapped to the physical output path we just created under the output tab and named them both. This next step is key: Rename the bus path (left) to Surround Master (see fig. 7). By doing this, you can choose this output from any send or track out, and see the actual signal path. This is a great way to document what’s going on in a complex system especially on a system with multiple users (see fig. 8). Also notice on the channel output, the bus subpaths have been automatically created by Pro Tools 9. As you can see, this can get a bit cluttered so you may have to clear out unnecessary paths to clean up your output list.

Then create a path for the remaining two outputs on the first HD IO by clicking New Path on the Output tab, name it HD IO 7-8 and choosing stereo as the format. These are stragglers but should be accounted for. Pro Tools will create bus subpaths automatically on the bus page.

Once you have the idea of this, you can make the paths for your other hardware. If you follow the model above, you will see both the name of the gear and the physical output it is mapped to from the output or send pulldown, without going to Setup IO.

There is one last thing to keep in mind with this new setup. Buses mapped to outputs don’t count against your total bus count: despite it looking like you are using a bus, it goes behind the curtain and you get your bus back. So there are plenty of buses to go around in any size system.

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Under My Thumb- Or Yours

The Three Reasons Why You Must Purchase Ivory II

Several years ago a pair of ex-Kurzweill Music Systems employees, George Taylor and Joe Ierardi, formed a company called Synthogy. Their first release, Ivory, was a set of primo quality pianos that quickly established the pair’s bona fides. In short order Synthogy released Upright Pianos (a personal favorite of mine) and Italian Grand, which I have not played.

Retooled and released as Ivory II, this set (a Bosendorfer 290 Imperial Grand, Steinway D and Yamaha C7) is simply the best collection of sampled pianos that has ever been brought to market. If you’re a pianist who works in the studio or plays live, here are the three things that separate Ivory II from the pack and make this a must have collection:

3. Dynamic Range and Trim controls.

How simple! A high quality Dynamic Range Control built into a piano plug-in that acts very much like a compressor. I never thought that 16 velocity layers (or 18, which several of these pianos have) would ever be sufficient to yield a realistic feel. I was wrong.

Using the Dynamic Range and Trim controls you can personalize the touch of these instruments to suit your style. Highly sensitive and expressive players capable of realizing the widest and most touching range of emotions (like me!) will open up the Dynamic Range Trim controls. Troglodytes who believe that Little Richard remains the greatest piano player of all time will scale them back.

2. Sustain Resonance

The brilliant manner in which Taylor and Ierardi have integrated modeling into their engine is the feature that separates Ivory II from its competitors. Engineers have been taking stabs at modeling pianos (and other instruments) for some time, with results that results that range from really bad to fairly impressive, but none of them- at least to my ears- has quite pulled off the assignment.

Synthogy took its original sample set (no new recording sessions were conducted) and folded in a soupcon of modeling- the resonance of the soundboard and the overtone series. The results are spectacular. You can choose from several different modeled soundboards and dial in the amount of effect to taste.

1. Sympathetic Resonance

Here’s where the modeling really shines. Synthogy found a way to algorithmically model the overtone series as it’s revealed on a piano. Play a note, or chord, and then strike another note. Wow, there it is! Listen to this audio clip: Does your go to piano achieve this level of realism?

I never understood how important the presence of sympathetic resonance was to me during the composing process. When you write aren’t you listening more carefully than at any other time to individual notes and harmonies? I’ve never been able to write, or even test out any of my ideas, on a sampled piano- until now. I’m working on an orchestral piece called “4,3,2,1” and spent over an hour the other day working on a sketch of one of the movements while sitting before my Yamaha KX88 with the Ivory II Steinway D routed through Cubase 5.

If you own Ivory I stop at this point and update. If you’re in the market for a new set of pianos you can check out the full line of Synthogy products by clicking on this link:

http://www.ilio.com/products/synthogy-instruments/

Bottom line: 6 stars out of a possible 5

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