I am new to Notion. (A couple of weeks.) I love the way I can get immediate feedback on my ideas for blending instruments to come up with novel sounds.
I was wondering if any of you out there have had a few pieces that were scored in Notion and subsequently performed by a real orchestra? What I would like to know is how the dynamic markings worked out. Did the perfomers end up with a lot of handwritten dynamic markings on their scores or did Notion's realization of the dynamic markings come close to the real world?
A lot of my music requires balancing unlike instruments to get particular unconventional sounds. A single line might have four instruments playing it, one at "f", two at "mp" and the last at "ppp". The same instruments, all playing at "mp", give a very different sound. How will the markings that I write in Notion be translated in the real world? Can I count on the combinations sounding like they do with my markings in Notion?
Thanks in advance for any insights you can give me.
I haven't had a piece written in Notion performed by a live orchestra (but maybe soon--positive thinking!). One of Notion's strong points is its playback of dynamics (btw--do you know that each dynamic has a + and - playback option, so pppp+ and mp- is possible and every dynamic variation in between?). I tend to shape everything, and litter the score with minute dynamic markings:Notion plays them back and it adds tremendously to the overall musicality and realism of the rendering. I find one can indeed make a very realistic playback by doing so.
Notion has sampled the dynamics of each instrument--and has also seemed to capture the various timbres and nuances of instruments at different dynamic levels. So, one needs to do some shaping in order to achieve a satisfactory result. For example, a mf in a low horn will give you a horn with a certain timbre--perhaps not the timbre that you wish. A mf in a high bass clarinet will likely give you a pretty quiet sound. You may also globally edit the volume of each instrument individually in the mixer. So, fiddle and discover the blend and mix that works for the sound that you are trying to achieve.
Likely though, orchestral players would find the plethora of dynamic variances annoying and mostly unmanageable. So I think it's a philosophical decision that one makes when writing with any notation software: to make the rendering 'virtually' as perfect as one can make it, or to make the score 'performance ready'. Of course, you can also 'sit on the fence' and fine tune and detail dynamics in Notion, while making some (or all) of the dynamic markings hidden. By doing so, you hear everything, but only see the dynamics that you wish to see.
Likely, if I was lucky enough to have scores played regularly by live orchestras, I wouldn't try to make the playback virtually perfect as my purpose for using Notion would likely be a little different.
I saw that you asked about sul pont and col legno in another thread. We have similar interests.
Thanks for your reply. I'm still thinking about it...
I tend to specify dynamics and articulation in a lot of detail anyway (but probably not nearly as much as you're talking about). The peformance that I'm getting from Notion sounds pretty good to me, but maybe I'm still so surprised at how good a job Notion does at reproducing the sounds of the instruments that my standards are low. ("It's not how well the bear dances, it's that he can dance at all!") I'll try some of your micro-specification...
I guess that, as long as the specification is made through Notion's dynamic markings, the relationships that real instruments have between loudness and timbre will be respected. Nothing that we write will ever not be reproducible by a real orchestra. I'm worried about starting to tweek the volume of instruments individually in the mixer, unless it's to make up for any deficiencies of Notion's sampling. I don't want to end up with a clarinet sound that was sampled at "ppp" playing at "fff" just because I dig the sound. At least not just yet. That would be using Notion as a kind of synthesizer, which is cool, but not what I'm after right now.
I guess what I'm wondering is, if I fine tune my sound in Notion by being really careful of my dynamic markings and repeatedly listening and tweaking (something that we rarely get to do with a real orchestra), will the subtleties of instrument balance be reproduced in the same way by a real orchestra or am I just fooling myself? Will those subtleties have to be added by the concert master and the players during rehearsal anyway and I might as well have marked everybody in the woodwind section "mp" instead of "mp+", "mp", "mf" and "p"?
Hmm... I guess that if Notion continues to improve to the level where a finely specified Notion performance is every bit as good as a good orchestra the point is moot, because who'll need the orchestra? Only soloists need apply. (Maybe some will say that Notion is already there... Any takers on that?)
I wonder if Notion's developers are thinking about artificial intelligence for duplicating the fine nuances of performers' interpretations? It's a "natural" next step.
Hi again. To my ear, the more I fiddle, shape, massage the sound, the more it sounds realistic. I definately 'micro manage' dynamics in Notion to the point where a single note in a solo instrument in a phrase is emphasized at times. This is what musicians and conductors do-- and this is part of what makes a piece,' musical '. I also detail the heck out of tempi. The last thing one wants is for the music to sound quantized.
'I guess that, as long as the specification is made through Notion's dynamic markings, the relationships that real instruments have between loudness and timbre will be respected'.
This is mostly true, but Notion is a work in progress. For example, they recently improved upon the trumpet sample, which wasn't awesome. Dynamics are very good in Notion, but there can be quite odd changes in timbre with dynamic level changes (it's built into the sampling--and this is where + - can really help)--I really notice it in the clarinet and in the bass clarinet samples as well as with brass samples. Whenever Notion releases an instrument data update I notice the changes in older pieces that I have written in this software, oftentimes changing the dynamic schemes again to match desired timbres. So, it is both a good and not so good thing. However, I am a detail freak!
'I'm worried about starting to tweek the volume of instruments individually in the mixer, unless it's to make up for any deficiencies of Notion's sampling'. I wouldn't be so worried--you can always change it right back. Besides, you might prefer a quieter viola or wish to make a harp part resonate more--all part of the fun in both writing and mixing the piece. I find the woodwinds too quiet(except for the English Horn sample which must be played in the LSO by a 6'7" man, 'cos it is loud!, so too is the Contrabassoon sample), the brasses are generally too loud and the strings just overbearing at times in Notion. The xylophone is still far too loud and I often write it pppp or just turn it down. So, I adjust to suit my preferences. You can also change the panning, as well as the overall volume of the score, so quite subtle detailing is possible.
'I guess what I'm wondering is, if I fine tune my sound in Notion by being really careful of my dynamic markings and repeatedly listening and tweaking (something that we rarely get to do with a real orchestra), will the subtleties of instrument balance be reproduced in the same way by a real orchestra or am I just fooling myself?' I would say no and yes. No, it wouldn't be reproduced exactly, but neither is each live performance of Beethoven's 5th or Mahler's 7th. Wouldn't that be boring? Yes, I feel you get a very good general overview of the sound that a real orchestra would produce, oftentimes getting a far better a sound in Notion than in a real orchestra. The virtual oboist never has a bad reed day, if you get my point. The virtual orchestra can do things--and do things well that a real orchestra would have problems with or would find impossible. I have to keep reminding myself not to write unprepared leaps for a high bassoon part, because in Notion it is just played beautifully. Likely, I would get daggers from a real bassoon player.
Ultimately, it boils down to your purpose in using the software. Are you using Notion for composition/playback or as a notation/performance tool? Notion is quite a niche product, yet it can do all of those things (plus blend them together by using Notion to augment a live orchestra vis a vis the NTempo features). Cool beans.
Ahh... you're starting to give me some gold here. "The xylophone is still far too loud and I often write it pppp or just turn it down." -- funny you should mention that. That is the thing that brought up the question in my mind in the first place. You see, I've never written for xylophone in a real orchestra and have no intuition about how to mark the dynamics. Just a couple of days ago I decided to double a violin part in Notion with the xylophone. It was overpowering! I had to make the xylophone "pp" for the violins' "mf". That got me thinking: is Notion out of whack? Was the xylophone sampled too loud? Or is it just me? Maybe that's how a xylophone is going to stand out in a real orchestra. Maybe it SHOULD be marked "pp". Or will the xylophone player naturally compensate for the nature of her instrument and I should consider the dynamic markings to be absolutes? To some extent, players tend to interpret an "mp" to mean "moderately quiet compared to everyone else".
On the other hand, I expect some tweaking of the dynamics for some instruments in some registers. When I combine a flute in its low register with violins I expect to have to mark the flute "mf" for the violins' "p".
This is actually a complicated issue!
If, as you say, some of Notion's instruments are a bit out of whack ("the English Horn sample which must be played in the LSO by a 6'7" man, 'cos it is loud!") then compensating in the mixer is exactly the right thing to do. I guess what we need then is a set of volume settings that, for each version of the instruments, balance their volumes in a realistic way.
But why wouldn't Notion's developers do this for us? Aren't they going out of their way to make the sound realistic? That's Notion's strategic advantage in the marketplace. It's hard to believe that they'd miss something as easy as relative loudness of instruments. Hmm...
The more I think about it and the more I hear from you, John, the more I think this might be an important issue, given Notion's emphasis on accurate playback.
I wouldn't put any blame on anyone--a lot of this is really just personal choice, and is also (with the non sectionalized sampled instruments) player specific. You are, after all, getting the sounds of the LSO, and it's a very 'individual' sound.
At least Notion offers the user the option to make these changes. One can handily and quickly edit in the mixer and can even make a template of the sound for future compositions if required.
Pleasing everybody all of the time just isn't going to happen. I feel Notion has done a good job in providing the samples, and then in allowing its users to tweak and edit away to their hearts content.
Certain samples bug me (don't ask me about the phlegmatic bass clarinet sample which must be turned way up to even be heard!). But they bug me only because I bring my personal experience, knowledge and preferences about orchestral sound when I use the program. So too do other users. Someone else may think, for example, the bass clarinet sample is superlative. Who's to say?
Notion's playback is accurate, but everyone bakes a cake a slightly different way. I would think it would be most disappointing if the samples were not adjustable or tweakable.
It's not a matter of blame. (I certainly don't mean to seem ungrateful to the developers of Notion who have done something pretty amazing.) It's a matter of knowing. Maybe the question comes down to is this:
If I were to give my score, with some fairly detailed dynamic markings, to the London Symphony Orchestra to play, would the balance of loudness in the real performance come out more or less as I notated it or would the players end up marking up their parts with a bunch of hand notated dynamics?
(e.g. would the concert master tell the xylophone player to take my "pppp" and mark it as "mp".)
The thing is, when we come up with novel sounds by combining instruments in a non-traditional way the orchestra only has our markings to guide them -- they know how the woodwinds are supposed to sound in a classical symphony and even how the Rite of Spring is supposed to sound. But no one but me knows exactly what my idea of a tenor saxophone at "mf" in the low register playing with a sul pont cello at "pp" is intended to sound like, unless the dynamic markings are reproducible. (Or I get to be at the rehearsals, or maybe I send along my Notion-realized performance for the concert master to listen to.)
To me the interactivity possible with Notion is revolutionary. In the old world you didn't really know if some radically new combination of instruments and articulations was going to sound the way you thought it would until you found an orcestra to play it (which might, of course, be never). Most composers have little or no access to an orchestra and their intuition of what instrument combinations sound like is based entirely on others' work. I expect that, with tools like Notion, we will begin to push the boundaries of orchestration farther than ever before. We no longer need to base our sounds on variations of sounds that we've heard before, we can try brand new things and know immediately what they are going to sound like. As long as Notion's dynamics are realistic.
My goal with Notion is to produce scores that hopefully one day will be played by an orchestra. I think one should try to familiarize themselves with how loud certain individual instruments and certain sections are in a live performance – and look at how an orchestra or ensemble works are laid out. Also, certain instruments are louder in certain ranges and will simply become lost if written in the wrong range in the wrong circumstance. With certain difficult instruments such as a French horn, parts are divided into higher and lower registers. Also, it must be remembered that without a certain sound kits individual instruments maybe pitted against certain sections of instruments.
As for micromanaging certain dynamics, there are cases where that is very necessary, given some of the circumstances I’ve listed above, but if you are even a moderate listener to classical type music (and a lot of other types of music) you will hear that many of those choices will be changed by the conductor – or interpreted is perhaps a better word here. It would think caution would be needed if one perfects a certain score dynamic and tempo-wise in a Notion playback thinking someone else may conduct it the same way. This is not just true of dynamics, but with tempo issues that revolve around fermatas and arpeggios just to a couple (will the “person” playing the arpeggio in Berlin know how I precisely made the arpeggio here in Virginia with my Notion score?). These are not flaws in Notion because I love the flexibility I get with such things when writing and hearing it when I hit play. Just in thinking of the various versions of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – the last note of that famous opening is a fermata (if I remember correctly)– how may ways has that ever been interpreted?
All of my playing any formal music (as opposed to being in rock/country bands) was/is limited to the string section (string bass) and that context. If one is writing for instruments and they don’t know how they sound in terms of dynamics in relation to other instruments I suggest research – then take what you learn and then apply it to Notion. A good site to research this stuff is here http://www.mti.dmu.ac.uk/~ahugill/manual/intro.html and I am sure there are others. Having lived in a “string” world it helped to get a much firmer grasp on things. Also, if you know anyone who plays outside of your “section” talk to them about their “section.” Then just bounce what you learn off what you know about Notion and how it works. It just makes using Notion all the more fun.
Both you and John have mentioned the "sectionalized" vs. individual instruments. I take it that you mean that, for example, the flute was sampled as a single instrument, while the violins were sampled as a section. Is that right? If so, what do you do when you score for the traditional "woodwinds in two's"? Add another flute staff to the score and copy the part to the second staff? Using multi-voice mode on a single melody line seems to double the instrument too, but neither of these solutions adheres to the traditional notation for two woodwinds. Traditionally two flutes is the default. If you want only one you have to say "solo" or "1." or at least have the stems all going up, even above the middle of the treble clef.
I've just done a little experimenting on the issue of non-sectionalized instruments. Here's what I've found:
Notating a single flute line on a single staff seems to give the sound of one flute playing. (Is that right?) Not what you'd expect from a real orchestra organized in "woodwinds in two's" or "woodwinds in three's" where you have to specially indicate a solo flute.
Notating two voices (using multi-voice mode in Notion) on a single staff gives the sound of two identical flutes playing. Better, but still not what you get with two different flutists playing in a real orchestra.
So far the best solution I've found (in the 5 minutes of exploration that I've done...) is to add a second flute staff, notate the dynamics one full level higher (e.g. the first flute at "mp", the second at "mf"), turn the volume on the second flute down to 80 in the mixer to compensate for the dynamic difference, and hide the second flute part. Bumping the dynamic level up seems to force Notion to use a different sample, imitating the kind of minor tone difference you might get between two real flutists and making the sound pretty realistic (at least to my ears).
(John, that sounds like the kind of trouble you would take for the sake of realistic playback.)
I wonder if there is a easier way to get both realistic playback and not violate the traditions of notation?