I made some new things. Check 'em out...
We're also having a 50% off sale on the Dan Tranh, so check it out! ;)
Over and out!
I just put up a new album if you want to take a journey through my music from this last year (not including the several OSTs which are yet to be released). It's available for free or PWYW.
It's that time of year again; @camoshark and I just released a new product! *oooh* *ahhh*
It's a deep-sampled vietnamese zither called the Dan Tranh, played by Camoshark himself! Consider this the first actual "Camoshark VST" (@skyewintrest, that means you can't say you used the Camoshark VST anymore unless it is this, muhaha!).
We put out a free version too that you can check out and use. :)
Hi. This is a story and a bit of philosophy. If you don't like thinking, harps, or music, you'd probably be better off TL;DR. If you like any of those things, you might find this at least interesting and perhaps even inspiring. :)
The other night I was walking back to my dorm along the streets of Boston when I heard a harp. At first I thought it was in my head or perhaps over a radio at a nearby restaurant, but then I saw it- the top of a real lever harp on the streets of Boston! I approached and listened to the young woman playing the instrument. The music was a primeaval, emotion-rich blend of textures, and listening to it put me at ease and somehow cleared my mind.
It is funny to stand still amid the hustle and bustle of a city and hear an instrument with roots over 3,000 years ago and mostly unchanged over the past 500 years, almost like an oasis in a desert. In a city, you are so shocked and stimulated by the amazing environment around you- endless restaurants, endless faces, a constant wall of sound and language, but amid all of that there is this one stretch of sidewalk in which an ancient sentient force dwells in the evening, reminding us of a simpler time.
At this point in my thought train, a man walked up and started chatting with me. He said, with a thick Boston accent so "harp" sounded like "hahp", "You know, they say harp and flute are the two instruments best for finding, you know, your inner self- meditation and all that."
From the standpoint of the average person, harp and flute are beautiful, expressive instruments, often evocative of a warm spring day or the countryside, but to a lover of music history it is much more intriguing than that. The harp and the flute are the oldest two instruments (aside from drums/percussive instruments) in existence by our best reckoning. Could it be that millenia of exposure to these two instruments in their various incarnations has ironed a certain positive stigma into our brains? Some sort of "harp-flute complex" where these instruments are the most capable of reducing us to tears perhaps? Add to that the power of voice, the oldest "instrument" of mankind, and you have three instruments that seem to just put out an aura of beauty, grace, and love.
So what "gets" us about the harp? Why is it so beautiful to listen to and what sets it apart from guitars and other plucked string instruments like Zithers? How about in comparison to a piano?
Perhaps it is that the harp is one of the only remaining instruments that generally uses real gut strings, or perhaps it is that "catch" we hear when a harpist mutes a string in order to repluck it- a sound that might remind one of the feeling of their heart "catching" when they see someone they love. Or perhaps it is the Romantic symbolism of Cupid carrying a lyre, one of the ancestors of the harp, that we relate to.
Whatever it is, there's something magical and ancient about these instruments and the human voice. If there wasn't, they would have died out like the Crumhorn.
Something magical had transpired over the half-hour I stood and listened (and asked lots of nerdy orchestration questions between songs)... As I walked back to my dorm, I found myself in a different state than I have been for a very long time. A state of mind able to take on anything with a slow, steady determination and without anger or impulse. All my worries and issues plaguing my mind had been put in order and filed away neatly. Perhaps that was what one of music's early purposes was- to help mankind think and clear his mind. We listen to music in order to help us identify what we are feeling and organize our mind.
Despite how much anyone might rag about "Two-Note Hans" or the simplicity of popular music, that simplicity is very important. It is music without the clutter- just raw emotion fueled into a standardized format. Just like the repetitive arpeggios of the harp with the yearning melody singing on top across the high strings of the instrument, the music of emotion is here as a way for us to feel things- all of us. The early blues, ragtime, classic rock- it is all the same idea. Music to make you feel; music to make you think.
I know this has been a bit of a random news post, but I hope someone gets some ideas and thoughts out of my ramblings. There's a whole world out there and there's no need to dismiss it because of what it looks like. I hope in your mind right now there is a harpist playing on the sidewalks of your neural passages, making you think, making you feel. ;)
I've read many proponents of a New Age tenent that A440 is a "wrong" or "unnatural" tuning frequency, instead insisting that frequencies such as 432Hz would be better. While this is a cute and well-argued point, it has absolutely no merit in an acoustical and musical sense simply by looking at musical history, basic high school physics, and by doing a few practical experiments. If you find anyone of this disposition, link them here!
Back in the Renaissance, instruments had all sorts of tunings- anywhere from A380 (an english pitchpipe) to A480 (a German organ) could be found in abundant use! Slowly this consolidated down to the main few we see today- 435, 440, 442, and 443. Other cultures use other tuning frequencies sometimes too. 432 was never really a common tuning (a basic google search can show you this) and is actually NOT the same as C256 (it's actually C258). Instead, 415, 435, 438, 440, and 442 are the most common ones in history and to the modern day.
The original decision of 440 was decided in 1834:
: The Stuttgart Conference of 1834 recommended C264 (A440) as the standard pitch based on Scheibler's studies with his Tonometer. For this reason A440 has been referred to as Stuttgart pitch or Scheibler pitch.
This was reinforced twice, by a conference in 1939 and again by the ISO later on in the 20th century. This has absolutely nothing to do with Nazis no matter how much you idiots want to make it sound like it does. The need for a common tuning pitch was important in a fight, but the fight was against "pitch inflation", or the slow raising of the average pitch of music, not any country or other cause. 440 was a great median compromise between the High Pitch average of 445, which was proposed in England, and the French Law 435.
Here's the deal- a note is a note. I can take my trombone and move the tuning slide out so it is at A432, but it will just sound like an extremely out of tune trombone, nothing more, nothing less. I might as well use A415 or A460. The reason this works this way is something called Temperaments, which describe the relation between the notes. You can use this to create any musical scale you desire as long as you pick a tonic, or starting note, for instance, C. In our modern system, we use Equal Temperament, which means you can pick any note in the chromatic scale to start your piece on and it will work as all the half-steps are the exact same size. This supposedly has the downside of removing something called "key color", or textural coloration created by the unique dissonances and consonances of certain intervals found in temperaments in which half-steps are not equal.
300 or even just 200 years ago, ET didn't exist- instead, there were unequal temperaments designed to create contrast and the "key color". Perhaps this is what people complain about music "lacking" these days- equal temperament spoiled the perfection of the triad ever so slightly as a sacrifice in order to make music accessible across any instrument and key- small sacrifices in the name of a huge step forward. Equal Temperament revolutionized music the same way the abacus revolutionized mathematics- it practically multiplied the tools available to composers (key changes, new/larger ensembles with less intonation issues, etc.) and standardized music so any instrument could play anything as long as it was within range (theoretically). It was through Equal Temperament, NOT the change of the note tuned to, that changed harmony to be slightly imperfect.
Finally- the nail in the coffin. Anyone with basic knowledge of how sound and music works will know that the scale is based on ratios, at least, traditionally. You can take ANY pitch and create a scale using the ratios of the notes and it can be heard, played, and resonate properly. Anyone who knows basic acoustics will know that resonance and reverberation are different qualities and are not limited to certain "ratios" or "perfect numbers" for most musical instruments. This can be proven very easily with a guitar or a piano with a string slightly out of tune- if you press that key or pluck that string, it still resonates inside the instrument just as much as if it were in tune! This is why guitarists don't check to see if their instrument is in tune by seeing the notes resonate or not, duhhh. The only way a note will resonate in an situation where other notes would not would be in a place such as the resonators under the keys of a Xylophone- big metal tubes cut and designed perfectly to resonate with the pitch the key above it is. This gives the xylophone and marimba their "ring"- otherwise it'd just sound like you were hitting a chunk of rosewood (or synthetic material). You can make a resonator to any length to match any frequency your little heart desires.
And one last thing- any physics student will know this one! The note you tune to is actually completely irrelevant if the temperature changes. As sound moves differently depending on the temperature of the air, your instrument will sound lower or higher if it gets hotter or colder! Also, instruments made of metal or wood can change as they heat/cool, causing them to change pitch as well. That's why you can "get" in tune while you play if you play a brass or woodwind instrument as it heats up if you were previously out of tune.
Ah, but that's enough ranting for now! I hope at least someone got enlightened by this. Feel free to learn more about temperaments (<3!) here, and more about concert pitch and its long history here. I drew most of my information from those pages and my other studies, practical life experience as a musician and a composer, and someone fascinated in early instruments, temperaments, and tuning practices.
EDIT: The special offer has ended! However, you can still purchase a copy for $20! Thanks to everyone who helped donate.
I am offering my latest project for three days for a pay what you want (that includes free!) pricing, so feel free to swing on by and get it before I set the price. ;)
As thanks to those who donate, the following rewards will be available depending on how much is donated. Instructions will be sent to your e-mail regarding your reward soon after your order!
$5+ : Personalized thank-you e-mail.
$10+: previous + get a free copy of the Tubular Bells ($10 value)!
$20+ : previous + get your name with a hyperlink on this page!
$30+ : previous + get a free t-shirt from this page OR we will place a banner ad to a website of your choice on our home page for a month!
$50+ : previous + get the next virtual instrument for free when it comes out!
$75+ : previous + you get a chance to join the VS testing crew: free copies of all our products for as long as you keep testing!
$100+ : previous + help us pick our next virtual instrument and help design it (limited).
I'm pleased to present my latest (and also first commercial) VSTi: some deep-sampled tubular bells! 5 velocity layers, 2x Round Robin, and some good samples. Feel free to check out this page for more information, or watch the video below, which as a demo by @nimble and a demo by me.
I've met and know a whole host of fabulous composers across Newgrounds, the internet, and real life so far in my journey through the dazzling world of music. There are people out there who rightfully make me feel like I am just getting my feet wet in the subject of composition, and they are a continued inspiration for me to try harder and learn new things!
However, that's not what this post is about.
I have noticed a frightening, startling, and threatening trend in the realm of orchestral music recently. I see many people popping up in the forum and other places saying they are a "____, ____, and Orchestral composer". If you call yourself an orchestral composer, I call upon you to answer the following 10 questions. If you cannot, then I don't see why you can call yourself that. Instead, I suggest the name "orchestral pad composer" or "virtual orchestral composer".
1. How many strings are on a Violin?
2. What transposition is the Concert Trumpet?
3. How many fingers may a harpist use on each hand?
4. What note is the middle line in a staff marked with Alto Clef?
5. How does the E-Flat clarinet differ from the B-Flat clarinet in size, range, and timbre?
6. Name the following techniques for bowed strings, plus, describe how to mark these in notation:
- The back of the bow is drawn across the string(s), creating a glassy sound
- A string is pulled away from the instrument and allowed to "smack" back
- Two strings are bowed simultaneously
- The instrument is bowed closer to the bridge than usual, creating a more nasally sound
7. Describe the difference in timbre between a double-reed and single-reed woodwind.
8. What is the term for brass playing "full tilt" that gives an edgy, high-overtone sound (it's french)?
9. Name a tempo marking that is slow (the actual word for it, not just bpm).
10. Each timpani is centered a ______(nd/rd/th) away from each other.
I am by FAR no veteran, not even a journeyman in terms of knowledge and yet I can provide the answers to all of these things without thinking for more than a few seconds (vocabulary isn't my strong suit). You may wonder- why does any of this matter? It's not like you need to know notation or weird things about instruments, right? They're just instruments, and I can just put in notes in my host/sequencer and hear them play, and that's all that matters!
Unfortunately, that's not all that matters. Recently, there has been what seems to be a trend of people writing orchestral music that is not idiomatic or even vaguely playable. The advent and use of samplers has been a double-edged sword. While they let us hear what things sound like, they also let us forget what things REALLY sound like. We grow used to our EWQL SO flute with its excess vibrato and our endless bass trombone sustains. In real life, these things DON'T work this way- the bass trombone requires an enormous amount of air to sustain for long times (esp. in the lower register), and the flute hopefully doesn't sound that way when played live. I have heard stories of beginner composers like myself who have been upset when they get to see their work finally performed but it doesn't sound like the samples. I have come to the conclusion that there is an urgent need for focus on the actual theory and knowledge of music.
Let's have a short thought experiment to prove this.
Imagine there are two furniture makers in a town. They make the chairs, desks, tables, etc. that the residents of the town need. One day, one of them decides that instead of having to buy all the wood and materials and build furniture, he will just buy it from a furniture maker in another town who has a large surplus at a heavy discount and sell it to the townsfolk marked up to a normal price. The other furniture maker sees this, but decides to continue working by hand. As generations go by, both businesses go well. However, the sons of the woodworker who decided to instead import furniture forget the crafts of their father and their sons in turn are not trained to judge furniture as their grandfather and so on. More people from the town see how easy it is to just put furniture on a cart and carry it over from neighboring towns to this one, and eventually people who have no idea how to judge furniture and have no understanding of what woods are good and bad start joining in. Some might buy a load of furniture made from poor wood that breaks or cheap furniture that breaks after a few years and sell those, being inexperienced. Others are very successful and find a niche well. However, one day the town from which they all purchased furniture burns in a great fire. There is nothing left. Their stock of furniture dwindles and then vanishes. They are now all on the streets. Some try to learn the tools, but no one knows them... except those who decided to instead take up the art of carpentry and learned from the descendants of the furniture maker who decided to keep making his own furniture to sell. These people do very very well, as they are the ones who still have the tools. The descendants of the furniture maker who decided to import furniture look at the remains of their distant ancestor's rusty ramshackle workshop in dismay, for they have no idea how to use the tools.
And so it has become. Our tools are rusty and dull and sit abandoned. We are too content to buy the furniture (i.e. samples) we need, ready to go- putting our trust in the quality of the "furniture maker" instead of doing the work (and paying the price) needed to learn about the wood and how to work it. We can only write music using these samples we have, and that is all we are left with. We can't carve the delicate beautiful figures of a fine custom piece of furniture just the way it is needed, but we can buy furniture that looks pretty darn close. That is what it sounds like when I hear a sample company offer their stuff- we can sell you a bureau that looks like this, and a chair that looks like this, but we can't tell you how to build your own chair.
In addition, people who otherwise wouldn't be composing music can join in, just as anyone with hands and legs (or a cart) can help carry furniture between towns. It has become an open market, where the playing field is being constantly equalized between those with training and those completely without. I have heard of brand new people looking to compose who buy a DAW or some samples straight off the bat- an extreme risk in speculative investment. There are companies that offer "simple ways to write music" that "require no booooring theory knowledge" such as loop-based systems in which you drag in a looped sound of an ostinato or a riff and just keep doing that to build a piece.
So what's wrong with that? A level playing field? A way for the common man to write music, just like his/her hero, that big-name club producer? Sign me up, right?
Well, not so fast. We need to take one tiny little thing into account- . The sole purpose of our existence and duty as composers is to create music that says something- about ourselves, about our times, about our loves and passions, our ancestors and heritage. We write music that moves people in ways that science can't even fully explain yet.
Although the playing field may be level, that doesn't mean everyone automatically knows how to play. It's like trying to have a game of basketball with some people who are professionals, some who have played competitively a few times, some people who used to just shoot hoops for fun, and some people who have never touched a basketball in their life. The last two groups are the expanding part of the demographic, but everyone wishes they were the first group instantly- and they figure if they buy some good balls and just keep throwing basketballs eventually they'll make it in. Unfortunately, it rarely happens that way. While practice is good, and some people have a natural knack for composing (or playing basketball) and might just get there just from doing that, there is no way to learn the techniques and strategies without working with others or reading up on all that.
So why does it matter if we know how music works then? What if I just want to make sick beatz?
Understanding how music works- just like knowing which tool to use to make a clean beveled edge on a piece of furniture or how to throw a basketball correctly- allows us to create music that not only sounds better, but music that can be exchanged with others through notation, and lets us speak a common language in musical terms: we are all better "team players" so to speak. Understanding general theory, orchestration, harmony, how melody works, counterpoint, and even complex things such as overtones, temperaments, and the history of instruments allow us to write music that flows better, sounds nicer, and lets us get to the very heart of that one tiny thing, emotion, much much much easier. When we do get the chance to go onto the field of glory and make it big-time, we can be confident in what we are doing and we will be able to produce something that is able to be read by the orchestra.
The orchestra and its members are some of the oldest and most sophisticated tools ever conceived by the human race. Look at the orchestral harp, with 47 strings, weighing in at almost 100 pounds, with hundreds of moving parts that allow the marvel of changing the pedals to take place. When a harpist moves one of the pedals at the base of the instrument, it moves little discs that sharpen or flatten the strings for that particular step in the scale. This machinery must be flawless, smooth, and the strings must be tuned properly- every single one.
When you go to write your harp part, however you do it... notation... playing it into your sequencer... even clicking each note in... do you think about the harpist? Do you imagine him/her in your head, plucking those strings you just indicated are to be plucked? Do you imagine the pedals moving? Do you ensure there is time for him/her to move the pedals? These are realistic concerns every single composer from 180(4?) when the pedal harp was first conceived has had to take into account.
The harp is only an example. When writing for an orchestra, you must do this for EVERY SINGLE INSTRUMENT. I don't care if it is a violin or a trombone or a tambourine. You need to know if they can play that trill or if the technique you are asking for is possible in that range.
Instead of taking a shot in the dark, you will know that having a droning cello solo in a minor key with a series of semi-dissonant minor chords being played along with it will create the sad mood you need for that game track in which the hero's mother dies. You will know that if you syncopate that rhythm on the trumpet like that, it will create a lighter more bouncy mood that will help lighten up the victory music. You will know that you need to give the harpist at least two measures to adjust the required pedals to get that pentatonic glissando you are dying for at that tempo.
This isn't only true for works destined for performance too. If anything is true, it's that music you put your heart and soul into- music that READS right, SOUNDS right. If everyone builds their own furniture and knows how to use their tools, the furniture will be all around good. If you are importing furniture from a shady guy and you have no idea what you are getting into, you might have some shoddy furniture for sale, or, if you are just starting out and new to the tools, it may not look very pretty or be as functional as it should (which is the reason why things like apprenticeship and family inheritance of such things were and are common, so consider finding a mentor or even just collaborating a lot with other composers, even if you ARE experienced- I do it all the time and I learn new things every time!).
So how can I start learning this stuff?
Unfortunately, there aren't as many resources on the internet or for free as I'd like. Some great places to start include the Rimsky-Korsakov Orchestration Manual (http://web.archive.org/web/20070806024828/http:
f=77), digitized by Garritan and partially updated. In addition, the youtube channel of orchestrator Thomas Gauss- OrchestrationOnline, is another great place to start.
However, the most important place to learn is other people- composers and orchestrators, as well as the players themselves. There are musicians both across the web and around the world- go arrange a meeting with one or send off some e-mails with questions you might have and ask if they could give you advice. At the worst, you might get a "sorry, I'm too busy at the moment" reply. At best, you might learn the most important thing since you figured out how to write a melody in your new DAW.
I have a wide range of materials and links I've collected over my past three years of teaching myself and studying with others that I would be more than willing to share for starters. :)
So get out there, be brave, and keep compos(ed/ing)!
-Sam "samulis" Gossner, Orchestral Composer Wannabe (getting there!)
EDIT 2: Anyone having issues with the 32-bit version... there was an issue with the file export. That has now been resolved. Please redownload the file, or just the .dll HERE and replace the OLD 32B .dll.
EDIT: Download links changed to my own site because Dropbox doesn't like all the traffic... as a personal plea in the name of my bandwidth, don't download this unless you really plan on using it. :P
I sampled a fretless zither (say what?) and made a basic vst out of it! Check out some music I made using it here:
Clicking the above links will help me support the load on my website (seriously... I don't want it to asplode or anything) and make it easier for everyone and also make it so I can afford to create more virtual instruments, free and/or reasonably priced, in the future. You can also make a donation to my paypal if you liked it enough (send me an e-mail and I'll give you the details). :)
Please send any issues, requests, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will get back to you as soon as possible!
Virtual instrument created using Maize Sampler. Examples composed in Finale 2012. Info on my site.
Just to let you guys know...
I've been really busy working on a massive music-related project for school among a pile of other things, so time that is normally spent writing music for fun is being spent on that and several commercial projects and such.
Look forward to the big project being up in a month or two!