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Topic: Does it need to sound perfectly real?

  1. #1

    Does it need to sound perfectly real?

    We were recently talking here about how "real" sampled instruments need to sound.

    I started out performing as an acoustic guitar player in clubs and coffeehouses in the Midwest in my college years and beyond.

    I have always enjoyed an "unplugged" sound. But I recently found an older recording where I play the 12-string "guitar" on my Kurzweil K2000, along with an fiddle-type violin sound, mandolin, strings, woodwind, and acoustic bass...all on the Kurzweil.

    And while every single "instrument" did not sound particularly "real" all by itself, in the mix it all "worked" quite well and sounded warm and "acoustic"... to my ears, anyway.

    It cemented the thoughts I have been having lately that an individual instrument doesn't need to sound perfectly "real" to sound quite pleasing nonetheless.

    I have it listed below as my "latest recording". (due to the mix, you need to play it a bit loud for the vocals to cut through as they should. I was still learning).

    --- Glenn

  2. #2

    Re: Does it need to sound perfectly real?

    Glenn...I'm answering this before listening to your mp3, so none of this is personal...

    I think a sampled instrument should sound "real" if it's performing in manner that the real instrument would be. That is, mimicking a real instrument's part.

    If you want to play a nylon string solo with a sample, I think it should be an awfully good nylon string sample. If however, you want to double the bass line of a song with a nylon string sample, something that usually doesn't happen in real life, it doesn't matter how it sounds, as long as it sounds fine for the part. Doesn't matter if it's playing lower than it should, etc.

    Make sense?


    Tom H
    "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." --Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

  3. #3

    Re: Does it need to sound perfectly real?

    Real instruments have a certain quality associated with them that helps to bring about the aesthetic communication of music.

    I did listen to your piece and it would be enhanced with real instruments or at least patches that sounded real. The chorusing of the synth mandolin makes the instrumentation sound cheezy imo.

    Best to get as close to the real thing as possible. In the case of your song I'd actually get a real player to do some of the more exposed guitar and mandolin parts.

    Voice is lovely though.


  4. #4

    Re: Does it need to sound perfectly real?

    Music is art, and art is for the masses.

    I think music is about feelings, and sometimes we get too technic, and forget the emotions. In my opinion, it's ok to listen to a CD an try to apreciate every nuance in the music, but don't forget to feel what you listen to.

    For example, a REAL electric guitar... how does it sound? If you play it unpluged, it doesn't sound loud, but it has some sound. When you plug it in the amp and cabinet, the sound you hear is not the one of the guitar, since it's coloured by the audio chain. Each amp and cabinet has a special sound, and the same guitar can sound VERY different with different combinations, so... which one sounds like the REAL thing? None. You can add FX like phaser, wah, and more...

    What I mean, is that the important thing is not the sound itself. It is the vibe, the melody, the harmony, the emotion it transmits.

    When you make orchestral music, for example, your goal shouldn't be replace the real orchestra. The goal should be transmit some emotions, using orchestral colors.

    Just my opinion


  5. #5

    Re: Does it need to sound perfectly real?

    There's more to a 'real' performance than just samples.
    I have a question for you.
    Why don't you try recording a solo line on guitar, then record the same line with samples? I think you may find that the method variation in technique is the difference between live and not live. You play one on a guitar, you play the other on a keyboard. What's the difference in terms of playability and where can you hear the restrictions or lack of function using a keyboard instead of guitar.

    Just some thoughts,

    Regards, and i wish for all of you a jolly new year,


  6. #6
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Dallas, Texas

    Re: Does it need to sound perfectly real?

    I have not listened to the piece, yet, but I'd like to move a post I made in another thread to this thread, as I think it is a more fitting place for the discussion.

    Thanks for raising this...it's a good thing to talk about.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Dallas, Texas

    Re: Does it need to sound perfectly real?

    One can get a little too caught up in "real."

    I think Tom Stoppard's plays are brilliant in their examination of art and life. In The Real Thing (one of his finest), one of the characters is a playwright, and his wife, an actress, points out that the difference in real life conversation versus that of a play is "thinking time."

    In a play, there is no thinking time. Therefore, the way a conversation is depicted is almost completely un-lifelike. It's more concentrated, tighter, more iconic. Yet some playwrights--David Mamet comes to mind--specialize in depicting dialogue in a very realistic way. The play advances very differently than in the case of a Stoppard, who may be the modern equivalent of Shakespeare in his pacing, or of an Ehn or Wellman--playwright poets.

    It seems to me that sequenced composition is much the same. We get two artistic choices. We can either concentrate and refine the musical language to reflect the capabilities of the medium, or we can choose to use the capabilities of the medium to mimick the "thinking time" of live players in an imitative fashion.

    The former is probably the most obvious natural progression of the medium. The latter is more like Mamet (or if you're fond of painters, one of Monet's blazing haystacks). The tools are being used to create a simulated moment in time.

    The challenge with that second type of expression is that it's extremely risky. It's like writing a play. You cannot let any of the seams show, unless you do it in an incredibly audacious way, or the entire structure disintegrates on the spear of its on contrivance.

    On the other hand, if you let go of the constraints of needing to sound "perfectly real," then you should really make that a bold, audacious choice as well. That begins to call into question the artistic value of representing your choices with samples (at least crudely imitative ones) in the first place.

    Case in point: If you choose to sequence a piano part, this part has every opportunity to be fully expressive, because very nearly the full gamut of piano technique can transfer to the sampled medium. Oscar Peterson could play a solo, and it would sound like Oscar Peterson. Chick Corea would sound like Chick Corea, and Van Cliburn like Van Cliburn.

    On the other hand, if you're using a sampled guitar, it would be an extremely unnatural and time consuming exercise to make it sound like Carlos Santana, or to work another direction and make it sound like Joe Pass or another, and sound like Eddie Van Halen. In each case, you'd have none of the standard techniques available to you, and each performance would have to be an abstracted, contrived creation.

    And it becomes even less analagous to standard performance when you leave the percussive envelope instruments altogether and start talking about something like a saxophone.

    In those cases, I advocate that unless one has a very specific professional mandate (i.e., a scoring gig), then it is better to abandon the shackles of reality altogether and to go for sheer quality of expression and presentation. That is not to say one can't use these timbres with great effectiveness, only that extreme exercises in "imitating" are probably not going to pay off in the long run with an equally extreme benefit.

  8. #8

    Re: Does it need to sound perfectly real?

    It doesn't have to sound real. All that matters is that the end product sound good. Or, better yet, great.

    Real means nothing.
    Robert Gregory Browne
    KISS HER GOODBYE (now available)
    KILLER YEAR: Stories to Die For (Jan. 2008)
    St. Martin's Press

  9. #9

    Re: Does it need to sound perfectly real?

    But why can't an individual write music for the sake of music? Can music not be enjoyable without being realistic (in the truest sense of the words.) Why worry about the playability of the piece or if its 100% convincing provided that the composition as a whole is enjoyable. Or is this a throwback to the other thread in which it was stated that if you are writing for the sake of a good composition without the aim of realism, why not use synths so its not judged on its 'realisism' since the aim of samples is to provide a quasi-realistic sound. Why can't we have both? Why can't samples be used in much the same way a person would use synths? I don't like the sound of synths in a part that I would normally place an oboe, but I also don't want to be stapled to the job of making it 100% natural and believable. A close approximation suffices for me.

    Realism will always take a backseat to accomplishing an enjoyable piece. Having someone bobbing along is much more important than having it sound real. I, as a listener, only judge by the medium as its presented to me. If its music, if its enjoyable for me to listen to, that's all that matters. I could give a fly's bottom if its real or if its even realisticly achievable.

    An interesting discussion. I look forward to hearing all sides of it.

  10. #10

    Re: Does it need to sound perfectly real?

    I listened to the tune, and indeed the guitar and other instruments sound warm and musical. Would a real guitar sound better? Who knows...it would most likely sound different for sure...but better?

    I always enjoy these type threads...so many opinions and comments are made, but usually there's no consensus. Which is cool, since no one can really define what "good" music is, anyhow. Modern samples allow us to get close to the real thing, but also allow us to do things the real thing cannot. I just hope I put together some notes with my samples that make "good" music.

    I hear mock ups that sound artificial, other times I hear pure genius. If has a lot to do with the musician, but also has a lot to do with how I listen..ie; sometimes the same tune says something to me depending on my mood and the environment and context in which I am listening. . .

    So I guess my humble opinion: No, it doesn't need to sound real. Sometimes more realism helps, sometimes not.

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