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Software Based Stuff


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
This is sort-of a continuation on the thread "Lack of Good Tone Generators," but I'm hoping for responses in this thread regarding other software.

First, my end-all, be-all of this is that I want to find an inexpensive software-based sampler or synthesizer that can accurately do something with the MIDI output from a wind controller -- something other than just "louder" or "quieter," that is.

Second, the reason why I'm going software-based is because the best hardware-based synths or samplers that can do something with wind controller data are old Yamaha VL-model synths or the pricey MOTIF line.

The #1 thing I had a problem with is that when you type in "software-based sampler" or "software synthesizer" into Google, what you'll get back is a bunch of software that plays ... samples. As in, "DJ Jazzy P" samples. Not what I'd consider a sampler or synthesizer.

I did find that you had to look for "virtual instrument." That's much gooder to Google for -- provided you don't get a billion links for something like testing and measuring equipment, which appear to be the most common "virtual instruments."

So, I tried Amazon.com. There are quite a few. I'm going to look for some trial and/or beta software to see if I can actually test out the products. I know there are a few examples on YouTube, too. The one big negative for me, at the moment: I don't have a wind controller. I've got a $75 Yamaha keyboard that has MIDI.

Anyhow, if you've got suggestions for me, please post. I'm going to look further into Kontakt and propellerhead, as those names came up often in my searches. I hear MOTU Software has something, too. That'll be a blast from the past: I remember using Mark of the Unicorn's software on a Mac 512.
Not sure how well it works, as I am not a MIDI guy. But, in the Fender world people are using IK media Ableton Amplitube and Live Lite. Mainly because both of these come free with the Fender Mustang amps. Sweet deal, and cheap at $100 for the amp, plus free software. I have not used the Live Lite 8, I don't currently have a MIDI controller. But I wouldn't hesitate to use that program to start. Very controlable, lots of mixing and blending options for recording. You can check out their web site here. Now that you have entered the 6 string zone, you might think about looking into an amp like the 'Stang I that comes with a nice sampler of the available software All for $100.

Screenshot from my laptop.

Left is amplitube, right is Live Lite 8

Again, I haven't used this software more that just checking out it's function. I tend to use the Fender Fuse software. But for recording it is a nice "Analog" like setup.
You've actually pointed out something that is a problem: it's really easy to get interesting effects stuff and/or virtual instruments of guitars, keyboards and drums (lots of those), but I'm interested in woodwinds.

The best saxophone sound I've ever heard was one of Roland's very high-end samplers back in the 1980's or early 1990's, and you still could tell that it wasn't a sax. Later, I bought the step-down version of that sampler and it was ... merely OK. I imagine someone spent a lot of time tweaking to get the thing have a passable sax sound. So ... I've given up that dream. However, the clarinet is relatively easy to sample or synthesize and flutes are, too. While they may not be, "Oh my gawrsh, it sounds like James Galway and Pete Fountain in the next room"-quality, it's better than James Galway on clarinet in the next room.

Oh. I mention elsewhere that I got IK Multimedia's SampleTank free edition for the iPad. It's got two problems: it doesn't accept wind controller info (I asked) and I wasn't terribly impressed with the sound quality. Guitars and keys? Passable. Woodwinds? So-so. Probably OK for the price-range, though ($25 or so), but the lack of wind controller support is a deal-breaker.
Hey! I had some time to test, today. All of the ones I tested were time-limited demos, so you can download them and try them for yourself. Also note that I'm not evaluating for building tracks, etc. I just want instruments. The things I'm specifically looking for are flute, piccolo, oboe, clarinet and sax.

* Arturia Brass 2.0. They have some demo songs here. $249.
If the demo songs are the best possible quality -- and they probably are -- you'll quickly understand how much the sax samples suck. I think the sax sound on a Casio keyboard's better. Admittedly, the muted trumpet sounds great, but that's it. Additionally, there are no other orchestral instruments available from Arturia. The demo software is also very difficult to install.

* Propellerhead Reason. Demo songs are here. $449.
Again, remember that the demo tracks are probably the best possible quality. I can easily tell that the clarinet on the demo is being played through a keyboard, but when you use the software, you can hear that it's still very clipped. The flutes are very "messy": a very breathy and fuzzy sound. The saxophone is about average: a lot better than on Brass 2.0, but nothing that makes you say, "Wow, that sounds sorta like an actual sax!"

* Native Instruments' Kontakt 5 Player Free.
The reason why this product is free is because they want you to buy some virtual instruments from them. Note that I didn't say "samples." These are actually pre-built virtual instruments (VIs). For instance, some of the sax VIs specifically support breath and/or wind controllers, such as The Sax Brothers suite. I can say that this was the first VI that sounded better on sax than the sax sound on the Roland D50 I owned years ago, but it's also 120 Euros. There's also a really decent clarinet VI here (for another $50) and there's an OK flute built-in to Kontakt.

You can really get in debt really fast if you want multiple instruments.

I'll offhandedly mention that it's a little difficult navigating the software, especially when it comes to licensing the free sound library.


Now, the fun thing is that a Yamaha Motif-"based" sound modules, like the MU-128, and keyboards are selling from about $200 and up on eBay. They have a lot more sounds than the above and the Motifs were (allegedly) built with the Yamaha WX-series wind controllers in mind. Hmmm ... I think a Motif 6 at around $300 would blow away most VIs.
The main problem that I have seen with software generated "instruments"...

...is that they have all been designed for rock or pop users. For example, the "breathy" flute sound appeals to the "It's acoustic!" tastes of the rock crowd (cf every rock flute solo ever performed).

We're too small of a market - they ARE the music world to the developers.
Very true.

FWIW, I've been conversing with the wife regarding getting a wind controller and tone module. She's receptive, but wary.
I'm now here to commit sacrilege. Or perpetuate it. One of the two. I came across a company that sells virtual instrument samples was brave enough to make one of Brubeck's "Take Five." Linky. IMO, it's not ... hideous.

How's that for a ringing endorsement? :D

At the very least, I commend them for doing that. I was listening to Jamie Hyneman (the guy with the beret) from Mythbusters, the other day. He said something like, "If you want to impress me, don't bring me a model of something that you dreamt up. Make me a model of a '57 Chevy. I know EXACTLY what that's supposed to look like."

Anyhow, there are an awful lot of interesting demos on the VSL website. They even have Stravinsky's, "Rite of Spring." The bassoon opening is convincing.

One thing to remember about any demo is that this is what the manufacturer thinks sounds the absolutely best humanly possible. YOU won't sound like that. So, if you're planning on buying, that demo better blow your socks off and make you weak in the knees.
I'm not looking for the kind of expressiveness that many on here strive for every second that they are playing a horn. As I've said many times before, I consider myself more of a mechanic who is pushing the keys and blowing the horn than an artist - my playing is primarily there to enable others to shine. So, super abilities in the altissimo register on the sax, or a sublime vibrato just aren't in my toolbox (excepting only on the bass clarinet, and even there probably not any longer).

But, the very least that I expect of a synthesizer is for it to produce the yeoman-like tone and timbre that I can create on the regular instrument. And, thus far, with the synths that I have experienced, that's just not the case (save only perhaps with the english horn patches on a couple of them).

Most of the synthetic tone musical instruments seem more enamored of putting every weird sound possible (dog barks, car skids, door slams (!!!) under your fingers than they are with accurately reproducing a saxophone, flute, clarinet or bassoon. An odd set of priorities.

By the way, I have not toyed around with the bassoon settings with any of them. The complicated and varied elements of the bassoon sound are very special indeed, and I do (or should I say "did"?) my very best to produce them when playing.

There is a piece by Varese (sp?) that has the most ethereal bassoon line (at the high end of the upper register) you have ever heard. If you were not familiar with what the bundle of sticks can do when properly applied, you would say "What the hell is that? when you hear it.

I can play it - just - on the regular bassoon. (And, that horn is certainly a suitable subject for a discussion of instrument ergonomics, I tells ya.) Sometime, if I ever get the spare time to transpose it out of tenor clef, I'll try it on the Yamaha and see how it sounds.
I often wonder if the next generation of synthesizer will program in variances in pitch, volume, and vibrato. I think of solos I've done that I thought was technically perfect (well as perfect as I can get it) and I get no responses. Then I do the same solo later with a less than perfect reed or maybe when I have a cold and I have to adjust to get it right. Invariably these performances get positive response, including one from a very tough director two weeks ago that my performance was the best she'd ever heard? WTH? But time and time again, when I'm not happy with a solo, I'll get a positive review.

Programing some variance in a synthesized performance might be the way to go.

When you look at how synth stuff is used in productions, you see things like pitch variation added to the layered strings so that it sounds "section-y" instead of one massive tonality. The ballet that I played for once had a mostly synth string section (two solo players plus the guy at the board), and he was one of the hardest working men in show business, constantly working to perfect whatever it was that he was doing with his synthesizer.

Of course, that was back in the early days, when we had little idea what these new electronic guys were doing, so I was mostly aware of the finished product, with little idea (beyond a broad understanding of programming) of what he was doing. Besides, I was busy enough playing a perfect bass clarinet line for Pioter's ballet.

The owner of the EWI setup that I'm playing these days says that he could tweak the baritone sax patch by layering other stuff over it, but that it is a tedious process to do this. Me, I don't understand the first thing about the process, and I am scared to death that I'm going to press the wrong key and send me off into "handclap" patch territory again.

When I think of what's going on here, I am reminded of the old adage that goes "One violin, superb; two violins okay; three violins adequate; four violins sublime". Sometimes, a touch or three of some random variance is just what a musical line needs.
Another thing is that when you actually do a sequence -- essentially making a "recording" with a computer that plays back the notes that you've entered into it; a score -- you have an option to randomize note lengths. This used to be called "quantanizing" in Coda's Finale and MOTU's Performer software. It makes things sound a lot less computerized. The thing is, though, you always have to decide how much randomization you want and it really should be determined by the music that's being performed.

My favorite modern composer, Peter Schickele, has a series of works entitled "Monochrome." For each piece, you'll have multiples of the same instrument playing, such as eight flutes or nine clarinets, sometimes all playing the same part. Part of the overall sound comes from the fact that you're never going to be able to play the exact same note lengths the same, nor are you going to have exactly the same tone as anyone else.
Yup. Irregularity makes it sound much more authentic.

Regarding Mark of the Unicorn's Professional Composer (?; it's been almost thirty years since I last used it), one thing that I miss a lot is their dedicated keypad. For a non-music major like me, having the note designations and sharps and flats printed on the keys beats using a standard keyboard (or, worse yet, a piano keyboard) all to hell.
MOTU had both Performer and Composer. I remember both fondly, but it's been since the 1990s since I've used them. I do think I have a floppy disk for each around here. Mac format. Amazing what you once were able to pack into 1.44mb.

I used Finale's free note entry thing a couple years ago. They still had the dedicated keypad for note/rest duration. You just moved your mouse to the correct space on the staff.
Yeah, I've used Finale and its system of note entry, so I know of what you speak. However, Composer's custom keypad was clearly labeled and separate from the typewriter system of the regular keyboard, making it a lot less cumbersome for someone as notationally challenged as me.

I gave the thing to Goodwill Industries about ten years ago, as we dumped all of the old pre-OSX Macs at that time save the 128K. The software went long time passing.

All that said, I preferred Composer to Finale.

And, en passant, as it were, I have to relate how I finally got a copy of Finale. While rummaging through the "junk" bin at the H & H Music headquarters up in Dallas, I ran into an unopened copy of the first or second iteration of Finale. I bought the junk copy for all of a half sawbuck, sent in the registration card, and then upgraded to the latest (and fifteen years newer, or so it seemed at the time) version.
Hmmm. Maybe I should see if I have that old version of Finale ....

Actually, I think my wife would smack me if I get too much back into electronic music. When I did have Finale, etc. a billion years ago, I was actually doing "being paid for" work, so I could justify all that stuff. Now? Well, my wife does need a transcription or two, every now and then. I do have a POS Yamaha keyboard that does have MIDI, so maybe ....
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