“Real Orchestra” Problems

Coming from a sampling background, many young composers are surprised about what main problems usually arise in “real orchestra” recordings that are practically non-existent in the sample world. When recording a real ensemble, the biggest factors that will need to be addressed and are reasons for another take are timing and intonation.

Getting a group of 50+ musicians to play tightly together will take some time. Complex harmonic situations with dissonances or unisono lines of musicians sitting quite far apart are another issue that will cause problems in intonation that simply don’t exist in the sample world. Also, the dependency of the musicians on each other are often ignored when programming music while in real life, every musician will listen to what is going on around him/her to find his/her place in the sound. As a consequence you should pay attention to a few things when writing music that eventually will be performed by a real ensemble:

1.) Avoid tricky rhythmical figures that are not identical between sections or players that sit next to each other. For instance having 1st and 2nd Violins playing complex rhythms that rhythmically interlock into each other and are not identical are destined to slow down a session tremendously. In many such cases you can create the same end result by adjusting the rhythms in a way that they are more logical to the players. Of course notating them logically and understandably is another important factor.

2.) Avoid tricky intervals between neighboring players. Trying to get a complex harmonic situation where for instance 1st and 2nd trumpet play a semitone apart is very hard for the players to intonate properly. Rather have both trumpets play easily understandable intervals between each other and place the dissonance somewhere else in the orchestra. A very good strategy to create dissonance is to have different consonant structures in sections of the orchestra “clash” against each other: e.g. having the trumpets play a C major triad and the horns an F#major triad at the same time will make intonation very easy as they all will find their place very easily in their own triads. Yet the final sound will still be massively dissonant as these two chords together create a lot of dissonance.


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