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Topic: Live samples challenge: What would you do?

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  1. #1

    Live samples challenge: What would you do?

    I recently landed a quite big job arranging all the music for a review concert. The concert will feature a large choir singing arrangements of various popular songs. They have already rehearsed them with piano, and I have to flesh the given piano parts out for a small band, and play one of the keyboard parts.

    The music is very wide-ranging but mostly a combination of (a) synthy 70s & 80s disco-type songs, and (b) old-style 40s "studio orchestra" tracks, some with a slightly trad-jazz or dixieland feel. There are also a couple of songs from musicals with larger orchestral accompaniment.

    The director has said he wants the arrangements to sound "as close as possible to the original tracks". (ie, "make these nine musicians sound like fifty".)

    So the idea is to use a couple of keyboards playing sampled sounds for the strings and orchestral stuff, in combination with a rhythm section and a few live melody instruments. My first job is to decide on the exact instrumentation, and I'm finding this difficult. They have pretty much as a given:

    Piano
    Bass
    Drums
    2 Keyboards

    They specifically want the acoustic piano as well as the keyboards for various reasons. They also are adamant they don't want to use backing tracks.

    To that I can add probably three players, to get some live melodic lines in there. I'm thinking of either:

    Trumpet
    Sax doubling clarinet
    Trombone

    ie, standard small funk/soul horn section, plus clarinet doubling for the more trad numbers, or:

    Three saxes: one doubling clarinet and one doubling flute

    ...and use samples for the brass.

    Now before anyone jumps out of their skin, I should add that most of the brass stuff is very covered within other orchestration. It's all section work: stabs, riffs etc, no solos at all. One reason I'm unsure about the first lineup is that it isn't really that kind of funk/soul sound. The disco tracks don't actually have much brass in them, and the older tracks have actual big band brass with a whole trumpet section and trombone section, which that lineup wouldn't really capture. As I say though, it's mostly in the background and pretty standard cliched hits that a sample library COULD do.

    I am used to using Quantum Leap Brass etc for playing funk brass lines from my keyboard in function bands. For this gig, I'd consider buying Screaming Trumpet to improve the trumpet sounds a bit, and it's paying me enough to absorb the $200 (though not enough to justify Broadway Big Band).

    I'm thinking with a full three-piece reed section I could get some nice things moving around that, and having both the clarinet and the flute could be lovely for the orchestral things. Some of them are very contrapuntal, and I don't fancy trying to work them all within the hands of two keyboard players.

    Who thinks this could be made to work?

    Who thinks I should go for the more standard brass/reed small section, and avoid sampled brass altogether?

    Who's got any other bright ideas?

    And who thinks I'm mad to accept a task like this in the first place?

  2. #2

    Re: Live samples challenge: What would you do?

    No,no,no youre not mad to accept this in the first place!

    If I get this right, they want it fleshed out with samples, but youve got to play them in real time? Thats the unfeasable bit for me. My answer? How much do they intimately know what you are doing? They want it to sound good, and to promote the live samples gimmick at the same time- so give them a bit of both.

    Play the tracks in live that will sound ok live - and just preprogram the other stuff, and dont tell them. If thats too much of a 'milli vanilli' ethical dilemna for you, well ok, but if you want it to sound good, I think they're asking too much of you.

    This is assuming that you absolutely cant talk them into a mix of preprogrammed and live.

    Best of luck!

    PS: Maybe you need to show them the difference between a well sequenced sample line, and a live one, and then talk them into a combination where you keep only some of the performance aspect of the samples playing.

  3. #3

    Re: Live samples challenge: What would you do?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gesticulator01
    Play the tracks in live that will sound ok live - and just preprogram the other stuff, and dont tell them. If thats too much of a 'milli vanilli' ethical dilemna for you, well ok, but if you want it to sound good, I think they're asking too much of you.
    Smile,

    this reminds me to the time when One-Man-Bands started playing with GM Midifiles.... .

    And now, the most One-Man-Bands are sounding equal.....

    But at least, you are right... .

    Gunther
    "Music is the shorthand of emotion." Leo Tolstoy

    Listen to me, tuning my triangle http://www.box.net/shared/ae822u6r3i

  4. #4

    Re: Live samples challenge: What would you do?

    I'll be playing the keyboard within the band which will be conducted by the MD, in conjunction with the huge choir. So everything will have to be flexibly in time with his conducting. I won't be able to "get away" with slipping pre-recorded backing tracks in.

    I don't actually have a problem with the idea of playing the orchestral strings parts in real time. I do this all the time for disco songs etc and have developed ways of doing it effectively. After all, the kind of string writing we're talking about is pretty straightforward. It's not 32-part Ligeti full of obscure avant-garde techniques or anything.

    I'm only really concerned about the brass thing. Like I said I've done a lot of live playing of funk-style brass lines. But this is a bit different and I'm hesitating whether I can get full big-band style trumpet and trombone stabs, chords etc coming across without sounding corny.

    I suppose I won't really know until I try.

  5. #5

    Re: Live samples challenge: What would you do?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gesticulator01

    Play the tracks in live that will sound ok live - and just preprogram the other stuff, and dont tell them.
    I'm sorry, but you cannot fool a conductor into not noticing that sequenced tracks are being used. (The conductor most likely expects that the music will follow his stick, not the other way around.) If the client doesn't want to have to play along to a click track you are going to have to come up with something that can be played live. Unfortunately most of the cutting edge sampling technology in use today is geared for sequenced/studio use.

    You aren't going to be able to use keyswitches, and you are going to have to have the entire library loaded all at once. You've got the right idea bringing in live trumpet, bone and sax. You can get very good results creating brass sections with one live player over a sampled section. You might experiment with using a footswitch or expression pedal to do some simple articulation changes, since it's the articulations that will detract from the realism of your virtual brass ensembles, and unless you've got a lot of dexterity and a 99 note keyboard keyswitches are out of the question.

    Have you considered the WIVI brass? You won't have to worry about disk streaming issues and will have a lot of control over articulations.

  6. #6

    Re: Live samples challenge: What would you do?

    Quote Originally Posted by TechEverlasting
    I'm sorry, but you cannot fool a conductor into not noticing that sequenced tracks are being used. (The conductor most likely expects that the music will follow his stick, not the other way around.)
    Yes of course. Thanks for that. I assumed that the arranger, who is playing a keyboard in this small band - was also the conductor.

    Ouch's post - just before yours - makes it clear that thats not the case.

  7. #7

    Re: Live samples challenge: What would you do?

    Since the title of this thread is "What would you do" I will tell you that I would use a Kurzweil K2600 as a controller MIDIed to a Roland Fantom with the Symphonique Strings, Total Orchestra and Brass section SRX cards. If I had to use plug ins I would use a Receptor. The Kurzweil can easily create long chains of eight zone splits and layers in Setup mode, and the Roland produces some very nice sounds with nothing having to be loaded from a hard drive.

    There is no Windows based computer system I would trust for a live performance, and unfortunately there's very little in the way of software designed to make computer based samples useable live. The Logic 8 MainStage application sounds promising, but I haven't had a chance to try that.

    Since you will be playing the keyboard you'll be able to deal with any computer setup and troubleshooting issues, and it sounds like you've already had a lot of experience playing sampled instruments live. If you are going to put a computer up there I suggest using a controller that has some basic sounds you can quickly switch to in the event of a mid-performance crash.

  8. #8

    Re: Live samples challenge: What would you do?

    I have the security side of things pretty much sorted. I use a custom made system with two PCs I can instantly switch between in case of any problem, AND a hardware module as final layer of backup. In a couple of years of using this system, I've never had anything happen that's stopped a gig.

    And to my ear, the sonic superiority of what's available in soft makes it a no-brainer - particularly when it comes to strings, which will clearly be a major part of this project.

    My question was more about choice of sounds, where to use samples and how to distribute the limited number of live players - particularly in relation to brass and reeds.

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