Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra sample CD-ROMs, Prima Publishing Quick Time: Making Movies With Your Macintosh by Robert Hone
Miroslav Vitous first came to our attention as a member of the jazz-rock group Weather Report back in the '70s, astonishing the musos of the day with his virtuoso double bass performances. If memory serves, his experiments with fuzz boxes and wah-wah pedals produced a particularly fine racket.
Now Miroslav is back with a fine new racket - a magnificent collection of orchestral samples which set new standards in realism and expression. It seems the Czech musician has spent two years digitally recording the members of an (unnamed) Eastern European orchestra and the resulting samples are available for Akai and SampleCell users on four CD-ROM discs, titled String Ensembles, Woodwind & Brass Ensembles, Solo Instruments 1 and Solo Instruments 2. A fifth disc, Violin Ensembles, duplicates the violin sections of String Ensembles.
When I first heard these sounds on a demo CD last year, I found it hard to believe I was hearing samples and not a unified orchestral performance. A deep, panoramic wash of strings filled the room, followed by the majestic sound of three bassoons sobbing out the plaintive opening melody.
The sonic perfection was marred only by the dull thud of my jaw hitting the floor. After a frustrating 9-month wait, I finally got my hands on the CD-ROMs and spent an enjoyable few days playing with the most inspirational set of samples I have heard in a long while.
The String Ensembles disc was the first to be thrust into the CD-ROM drive. This contains unison note multisamples from groups of 11 violins, four violas, 10 cellos and nine double basses. The families of instruments are kept separate so there are no bass/cello octaves or violin/viola combination samples - and no chords or melodies. Hoorah, say I - far better to preserve the characteristics of the instruments in this pure single note form and allow the user to create his or her own combinations and performances.
The instruments play long notes lasting for five or six seconds (need 'em longer and you'll have to loop) and also shorter detaché notes, plus staccato, pizzicato and tremelo performances. For fast moving passages, the detache samples can be used alone while for sustained notes with initial bow articulation, the long notes and the detache programs can be layered. The latter combination sounds great, but gobbles up polyphony and memory: a 4-note chord uses 16 voices, while the combined stereo 'long note' and detache violin programs use some 14Mb of memory!
For this reason, alternative 'light' and 'mono' programs using less samples are provided. These sound fine, but to hear the strings playing together in true stereo glory you really need 32Mb and/or a multitrack recorder. If that sounds rather OTT, be assured that the quality of these string ensembles fully merits the consideration of such an outlay. The samples are beautifully recorded with a controlled but emotional vibrato on the long notes, a warm but clear tone, a lush, wide stereo image and just the right amount of concert hall ambience. Play a humble C major triad on layered violins and violas and the sound of 45 impassioned Slavic string players comes pouring out of your speakers.
The Woodwind & Brass Ensembles disc is of the same, exceptionally high quality. The ensembles comprise three bassons, three clarinets, three oboes and three flutes in the woodwind section, and four French horns, three trombones and three trumpets in the brass. Again, if you want really long notes you'll have to resort to looping, those 5-or 6- second notes which are included represent a pretty healthy lungful of air. Staccato notes are also included: I was able to successfully layer these with longer trumpet notes to produce sustained notes with articulation, which was encouraging. The three bassoons I loved to death, and used them to compose many strange and wonderful melodies; the clarinets and oboes are so accurately played as to occasionally sound rather synth-like; the flutes are pretty, but contain one or two rather 'wispy' samples; and the brass sounded rich and bright.
The Solo Instruments discs are unlikely to prove as popular as the ensembles (when did you last use a solo viola?) but are no less impressive. Anyone composing film music on a tight budget will appreciate the excellent solo flute and oboe, but will perhaps be less happy to discover the other two members of the woodwind families are not included on the same disc. A similar problem faces the would-be string quartet composer who'll have to splash out on two discs to get the full family of instruments. I have to say this does smack of commercial opportunism, given the price of this collection. At the very least one might have expected some kind of discount when buying both CD-ROMs that make up the pair.
Anyway... the other instruments included in the solo collection are bass clarinet, contrabasson, piccolo, alto flute, cor anglais, trumpet, trombone, bass trombone, French horn and tuba.
Despite Miroslav's promise on his demo CD that the solo instruments would be looped, they are not. And some might see this as a major omission: there would certainly have been space to include both looped and unlooped samples. I also noticed some quite bad tuning problems with some of the samples (solo violin in particular) caused, presumably, by over-zealous tweaking. And it also proved necessary to globally detune samples (15 cents sounded about right) to overcome the fact that Miroslav has adopted the A=442Hz standard in favour of the A=440Hz standard used here. These problems are easily overcome, but of course, you can't save edited programs back to CD-ROM. If you don't want to have to loop or retune samples every time you load, you'll have to save to hard or floppy disk.
Now the really bad news. These CD-ROMs cost an arm and leg - and a couple of other essential parts of the body thrown in. The String Ensembles disc alone costs £1,145 inc VAT. No, you're not seeing things. The others are about half this price, but that still puts them way out of reach of most prospective buyers. Sorry I didn't mention it before but I didn't want you to start hating me too early on. In his defence, Miroslav argues that the discs are very good value because the sounds are "all great". He has a point; this is, without doubt, the definitive collection of orchestral samples. And, given that many people still think nothing of spending a couple of grand on a synth and using it purely as a preset machine, one could view this collection (for those with samplers) in a somewhat similar light.
But I suspect the only takers will be professional musicians for whom buying CD-ROMs (even at this price) is a more economical alternative to hiring orchestral session musicians, and studio owners who will no doubt use the collection as means of enticing potential customers. And of course, there will always be those people who just have to have the best, no matter what it costs. For the first time someone has put all the instruments of the orchestra (percussion excepted) at our fingertips in their full sonic splendour, opening the door for a new wave of creativity and composition. One can only congratulate Miroslav for capturing and releasing these beautiful sounds.
Disc 1: String Ensembles £1145
Disc 2: Woodwind & Brass Ensembles £525
Disc 3: Solo Instruments £580
Disc 4: Solo Instruments 2 £580
Disc set: 1-4 £2695
Disc 5: Violin Ensembles £495
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by Robert Hone
You don't have to own a video edit suite to create your own movies. OK, it helps, but if you have a (fairly recent) Mac running, say, a 68020 processor, preferably higher, then you can make DIY movies with QuickTime.
QuickTime is a System Extension which handles the nitty gritty of running video on the Mac's screen - albeit through a rather small window. The nice thing is it's free and available from PD (public domain) sources and Bulletin Boards. Included with it is a Movie Player program which lets you cut and paste the movie frames just as you would a wordprocessor document. This is great fun and makes it easy to mess around and experiment with the dozens of movies which are also available in the public domain and on Bulletin Boards.
There's really not much more to it than that - unless you decide to use it as a springboard to create and edit your own movies. For this you need additional hardware such as a video card, available from around £500 (unless you have one of the new AV Macs), and a video input device such as a VCR or camcorder. And this is really where this book begins - the point at which basic editing facilities leave off. It covers virtually every aspect of QuickTime movie making such as lining up the shots, camera angle, tracking, panning - all the basic skills the aspirant desktop video director is likely to need.
There are sections on editing your shots into an 'interesting' video production. (Ever wondered why people's home movies are boring? It's because they haven't been edited in a way that gives them the 'pace' of professional productions.) And there's plenty of information on sound and synchronisation - very much a line-it-up-by-hand-and-eye job when working in QuickTime.
Also included are chapters on creating montages and special effects, and advanced techniques such as voiceovers, background sounds and selecting the right music. There's a section on getting your creation down onto video tape and the book covers interactive multimedia, too. It has to be said, however, that these advanced editing techniques require something rather more powerful than the QuickTime Movie Player; indeed, the bulk of the book is about editing movies using commercial programs, such as Adobe's Premier and DiVA's VideoShop. The author refers to these as 'budget', but with Premier currently costing over £400 I can only conclude we have different thesauruses in our machines. That said, with upmarket programs such as MacroMind Director priced at around a grand, I suppose it might be argued that anything under £500 effectively falls into the budget category.
Essentially, this book is as much about planning and creating movies as it is about using the software. Follow the advice and you'll be well on your way to being a (QuickTime) movie director. Just make sure you budget for some serious editing software. Once hooked, you'll stay hooked.
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