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Topic: Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

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  1. #1

    Question Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

    So, I've been in past month working on building an optimum baroque string orchestra template using the GPO player string patches. I just finished setting the EQ(just a hi cut filter used sparingly on each instrument section), binaural panning positions, and reverb for the orchestra and now I'm ready to tackle a problem that's been bugging me for a while with the string instruments.
    I've noticed that on every solo string instrument, the volume of one note will not be equal to the volume of another note on the same instrument when played at identical velocity and mod wheel settings. For instance, Violin 2 Player 1, when set at -2dB in the Aria Player (its default setting) outputs at -13dB when C3 is played at a velocity of 127 and mod wheel at 127. However, when C4 is played with the same patch using the same velocity and mod wheel settings, it outputs at -10dB. It seems like all the notes across the range of each solo string instrument have this problem with each note having its own unique output volume.
    What I'm considering doing to solve this problem is to first find the loudest note on each instrument (the note that sounds the loudest compared to the other notes when played velocity 127 and mod wheel set to 127) and then applying a gain filter to the instrument track to make loudest note output at -6db (I'm considering -6db equal to a loud double forte). Then I would take every note on each instrument and determine how much I would have to adjust my sequencer's fader to make that note equal to -6dB and I'd save these specific adjustments to a spreadsheet that I'd refer to when writing data to automate the faders. Something like this: http://skitch.com/spock/b9cri/violin-adjustment-chart (note: when I typed this spreadsheet I had the gain filter set to +8.5 which would make each note at a velocity of 127 and mod wheel set to 127 when following the typed fader adjustments equal to about 0.0dB. I decided to switch to -6dB as double forte so these numbers on the spreadsheet will be adjusted in the final version).
    What I'm wondering is if there's an easier and more efficient way that accomplishes the same thing? I mean, I'm willing to do it the way I just outlined but it is going to take a while to determine all these adjustments. And of course, when I'm determining these adjustments, I'd be doing it with all my reverb, panner, and EQ settings and other effects off in case you were wondering.

    Thanks,

    Sheridan.

  2. #2

    Re: Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

    Hmmm, interesting, Sheridan - Why don't you just edit the mod wheel data in Piano Roll View - ?

    Randy

  3. #3

    Re: Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

    Another thing you could do if the volume difference are audible not just in the gain meter is to put a little compression on the violin track in question and smooth out the volume variances.
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

    Rich

  4. #4

    Re: Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

    Hello again, Sheridan - Rich's advice to use a compressor is very good and an idea worth trying. A compressor is a way of automating what I was talking about.

    I haven't noticed these wild fluctuations in volume from note to note like you're describing, but on a routine basis, I hand edit my cc1 data in the PRV to tame notes that are sticking out. Maybe I've pulled the volume down on the solo string instruments you're talking about, I just don't recall. But the point is that I feel you don't need a massively complicated plan of attack to fix what you don't like - just fix it in your MIDI app.

    Randy

  5. #5

    Re: Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

    Whoa, the compressor is amazing. Never looked at it before. After about an hour of reading about it, I figured it out. Set the attack to 0 ms, the release to 5 ms, the ratio to 2:1 and the knee to 1 (max value). Then for each instrument I set the threshold to just under the volume of the softest note played at velocity of 127 and a mod wheel of 127 and set the gain filter to get it back up to its appropriate max volume. Set a compressor filter plugin for each instrument and it sounds a lot better. The sound of each section is fuller and much more even for every note and the wide dynamic range that the mod wheel can produce is still preserved. There's still a slight difference between each note but it's not noticeable when you're listening. Thanks.

  6. #6

    Re: Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

    I think you shouldn't set the attack so short. It can compress the life out of the natural attack and decay. You should A/B mixes with and without compression to see if it is really what you want. I have always used compression sparingly, but the general problem is loudness. The compressor makes everything sound louder, and thereby reduces dynamics and kills the details. It will also pump up reverb in extreme settings, and make it as loud as normal notes. There was a nice article about it in Sound-on-Sound magazine last month.

    Anyway, the sound level of instruments drops off naturally at higher pitch. If you apply the same amount of force to a string, a low pitch produces more volume than a high pitch. So you could think of the mod wheel as the amount of force used, not as the volume. Try it on a piano: the same velocity results in a weaker tone, the higher the note. Or try it with your voice...

    Listen to a natural (i.e. not very processed) recording of a Baroque orchestra, and you will notice that the higher registers sound weaker.

  7. #7

    Re: Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

    Sheridan, I would take FLWrd's cautions about over-using compression to heart. It works well with pop music which has a small dynamic range, and some compression artifacts have even become part of the pop sound - like the squashed electric bass. But with orchestral music, we have to be very careful with using compression, and often it's recommended only as a last ditch effort solution.

    What I described about working with the cc1 data in the Piano Roll View accomplishes the same thing without the bad compression artifacts. You have to understand that compression is a way of doing "automatic gain" on a track, on an instrument. But HUman gain control is much to be preferred. Of course it takes some effort.

    In Sonar, holding down the Ctrl key while working in Piano Roll View, cc1 can be brought up or down with extreme accuracy - so that all of the notes you feel are too loud and jumping out can be controlled PRECIsely in the way you want. I still encourage you to fix your issues that way.

    Randy

  8. #8

    Re: Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

    Yeah, after listening to the effects of the compressor, I noticed that it ruins any sharp decrescendo. During last friday's chat, L0W recommended that I edit the amplitude parameters of the sfz files for the instruments. I'm looking into that alternative right now and it seems promising.

    @rbowser
    While I appreciate your advice and would follow it if the situation was different, there are several reasons why I'm not using the mod wheel to compensate for this problem. The first reason is that a lot of the notes are too soft. If all the notes that were giving me problems were too loud, then I could probably use the mod wheel to compensate. But if I have a passage that has double forte which I consider to be on cc1 about 105-127 and I need to get up the highest range of double forte then I can't compensate for those notes that are too soft because I can't go higher than 127. And if I establish that cc1 at 100 is equal to double forte for instance then use 101-127 for correct the notes that are too soft, that may make the instrument sound even but I've also reduced the dynamic range in the process. The second reason is that it would mess up the readability of the cc1 data that I write. And the third reason is that I would really slow me down in drawing cc1 data especially when each of the string instruments have different level of unevenness compared to each other.

    @FLWrd
    Thanks for the input about instruments sounding softer at higher pitches. I wasn't aware of that. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that the string patches correspond to that. On several of the patches, I remember that several of the notes in the higher pitches were noticeably louder than the lower notes. What I'm hearing and seeing is that across the range of the patches, the notes are a mix of either too loud or too soft. It's not an even gradient from louder lower notes to softer hight notes like you'd expect.

    I think editing the parameters of the sfz files is the best solution to this nuisance. I seem to be having some success with Violin 1 Gagli Plr 1.sfz. If you look at lines 118-131 you can see the parameters I'm editing.

  9. #9

    Re: Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sheridan View Post
    So, I've been in past month working on building an optimum baroque string orchestra template using the GPO player string patches. I just finished setting the EQ(just a hi cut filter used sparingly on each instrument section), binaural panning positions, and reverb for the orchestra and now I'm ready to tackle a problem that's been bugging me for a while with the string instruments.
    I've noticed that on every solo string instrument, the volume of one note will not be equal to the volume of another note on the same instrument when played at identical velocity and mod wheel settings. For instance, Violin 2 Player 1, when set at -2dB in the Aria Player (its default setting) outputs at -13dB when C3 is played at a velocity of 127 and mod wheel at 127. However, when C4 is played with the same patch using the same velocity and mod wheel settings, it outputs at -10dB. It seems like all the notes across the range of each solo string instrument have this problem with each note having its own unique output volume.
    FWIW I honestly think you are shooting into your own foot. It is normal on string instruments that the notes are not equally loud. This has to do with the resonances of the instrument and also with which strings and finger positions are used. A player will always have to deal with that and try to level out here and there but all in all this will add to the liveliness of the music.

    Also most deviations in your chart are quite small. The human ear can hardly tell a difference of 3 dB, not to talk about 0.3 dB!

    Bottom line is if your ear tells you something is too loud or too soft then by all means adjust it. But if you use a meter to make your samples machine-perfect there is a probablility that the result will sound machine-like.
    All your strings belong to me!
    www.strings-on-demand.com

  10. #10

    Re: Making volume output of solo string instruments even across note range?

    Hello again, Sheridan

    Hannes just now gave you some really good input that I hope you'll take to heart.

    I've used GPO for several years now, and have heard many many pieces others have created with it. The particular issue you're wrestling with doesn't seem to have ever come before in all that time. This indicates to me that you are causing problems for yourself, as Hannes said.

    Once in awhile there'll be a new person on the Forum who has a very complicated, intellectualized approach to what they see as a problem - and it never quite works out for them. I think this may be describing you also.

    Hannes pointed out that people can't detect some fairly major changes in volume. This is a total fact - and something you need to seriously consider.

    When I talked about editing CC1 values, I didn't mean trying to do it with the mod wheel--This is the type of thing you do in the Piano Roll View, as I described. It is so easy to change the value of volume data when you feel it needs changing.

    But, again looking at Hannes post, his caution that you could end up with overly perfect computerish music is something you need to really think about.

    HERE'S SOMETHING ELSE - Your reply to me is very reasoned - the difficulties of establishing what is Forte, Double Forte - and the limitations of what can be done only with MIDI.

    Generally, when people try to accomplish Everything using only MIDI tools - they don't yield the most dynamic results they could. You should be doing much more work in the Audio realm, with bounced tracks of your MIDI data.

    For instance - maybe you've reached the limits to the 127 volume ceiling with MIDI - But if you were working also with Audio volume, you could have a whole new ceiling ABOve that--That's the only way I can get the biggest dynamic range in my music. A loud passage playing at a MIDI volume level of 127 may be fairly loud - but with Audio work, I can make that even louder. I can make the soft passages softer - There's a whole finer level of control you can get working that way.

    I feel that MIDi wasn't ever intended to be the only kind of work a computer musician uses - that's just the raw data for substituting live musicians--Most of the work comes from massaging the audio data . Really.

    Randy

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