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Imagine, for a moment, that you're a top sound designer. Five years ago you recorded $10 million worth of the world's most coveted stringed instruments and created the first "super sample library," a $1,000 package released to industry acclaim. Then, with everyone expecting you to lead the way beyond the terabyte threshold with your next library, you experienced a major change of heart. Suddenly your original mission--to empower musicians through sampling technology--returned in a flash. So you lifted anchor and set sail for nobler seas.
That's what happened to Gary Garritan, "captain" of Garritan Libraries on Orcas Island, Washington. His conversations with financially strapped student composers and performers--who had never heard their music performed by a live orchestra or convincingly realized on their humble computers--led to his a-ha moment. The result? The Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO), a software instrument that delivers Garritan's high-end sounds at a unheard-of low price. And musicians have responded. GPO has won more awards and critical acclaim than any other orchestral sample library.
"I decided to entirely rethink the way virtual music instruments are developed," says Garritan into one ear as I listen to a beautiful, strikingly realistic French horn quintet with the other. "The best use of sampling, the real reason sampling was invented, was to help make the musician a better musician. Our goal was to make digital orchestration affordable, accessible, and useful to every musician--an orchestra on every desktop."
Garritan's renewed journey started when he began asking questions of faculty, administrators, and students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston: How do students learn music and interact? What programs and textbooks do they use? How can sample libraries help them reach their musical goals? They replied in a single voice: "Can you make soundware affordable? Do we really need all these expensive gigabytes of sounds and a degree in database management just to hear our music?"
Garritan listened. GPO runs on midrange computers (2.0GHz Pentium 4 or Athlon, or 1.33GHz G4). And it requires less than 2GB of hard drive space, although at least 1GB of RAM is recommended. You'll also need a MIDI controller to trigger and shape the sounds. The GPO package includes a music notation program (Overture SE-4), sequencing software (Steinberg Cubase LE), and a customized version of the Native Instruments Kontakt sample player.
It costs $250.
Comparing Personal Orchestra to the multi-gigabyte samples in your previous products, isn't there a discernible difference in realism?
It depends. Maybe you'll notice if you're a stringed instrument purist, but that misses the point. Are we in this for complete orchestral replacement, or are we in it to inspire musicians in their knowledge and compositions? Garritan is not in the business of replacing an orchestra, though it's possible to do that to some extent with GPO. We've proven with new sampling technologies and clever programming techniques that we can provide very realistic orchestral and solo instrument mockups without requiring massive amounts of storage and charging musicians thousands of dollars. We wanted to start the pendulum swinging back the other way, to a philosophy of "less is more."
That must have been quite a surprise to the industry.
Everyone was expecting us to come out next with another super library that was even larger--a gargantuan terabyte library. Instead we went light, sweet, and small.
But wasn't the point of making ever-larger samples to capture more of the performance nuances of live acoustic players?
To a point, sampling can play back the sound of discrete notes, but it cannot alone provide performance nuance. Let's say you record every note on a Stradivari violin. Each time you play a note back you're stuck with that same exact note, which produces the dreaded "machine-gun" effect--every time you come to that note in a piece, it will sound exactly the same. It doesn't sound human; it's too perfect. Even if you sample the note multiple times, you still have the same problem with a finite number of variations.
So how do you get the expressivity in there?
GPO's programming nuances and performance tools allow you to vary a note each time it is played by introducing automatic changes in attack, timbre, pitch, or other variables. You get an infinite variety of note variations at a fraction of the storage size. You can play a single note and let intelligent, clever programming do the rest every time you come to that note. Approaching it this way, a composer can do so much more, like impart subtle nuances and perform on a virtual instrument like a real player does. I must add that much of the credit goes to Tom Hopkins, Jeff Hurchalla, and David Viens for making these innovations possible.
Do you find that traditional orchestral composers and performers fully embrace computers for music?
Yes; the early adopters of notation software were, of course, the education and orchestral communities. Notation programs have always been great for scoring and providing parts to live orchestral players. But until recently, they didn't integrate well with sampling technologies. So they didn't allow a composer to "play" what was on the score without diving into DAW [digital audio workstation] technology, which most composers didn't do for a long time.
What is the state of notation software today? Is it accurate enough that a composer can confidently hand a chart to a live orchestral performer?
Oh, yes. Notation programs have been quite accurate for scoring for some time now. Notation and DAW technology evolved along different paths, but now those paths are starting to converge. We're beginning to see sequencers and DAWs becoming more robust in their notation, and notation programs are doing the same by integrating internal sequencers and mixers. I think we'll even see notation programs adding multitrack audio recording soon.
How are notation and sample libraries converging?
Notation is the language of music, but sample libraries were originally developed as standalone [data for hardware samplers] and then later as plug-ins for sequencers. Until recently the notation community has been ignored. Garritan Personal Orchestra was the first sample library to make a commitment to notation users--it was specifically designed from the ground up to work with notation programs. Finale 2006's integration of the GPO library is a good example of that convergence.
You're also a harpist [Garritan owns Harps.com]. Describe the most unusual harp in your collection.
That would be the MIDI Harp, which I invented in the early '90s. It's a head-turner when you trigger a tuba or violin or any other sound with a harp! I was sampling some of my real harps to use with the MIDI Harp and that's what got me into sampling technology in the first place. That experience led to my GigaHarp library in 1999, which was one of the very first libraries released for the GigaSampler platform.
Do you encounter much resistance from orchestral purists who don't think much of computer music tools?
Sometimes, but not so frequently anymore. This usually arises from musicians who feel threatened by new technologies. I try to make it clear that our virtual instruments and libraries are designed to inspire musicians, not replace them. Musicians are not being replaced, but the instruments they play are evolving into digital realms. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Stravinsky: All the great composers embraced new music technologies as they became available. Tchaikovsky was on the leading edge of technology when he used a new instrument called the celeste on the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy."
Music academies, orchestral composers, and film soundtrack creators are your main customers, but it's obvious from the extensive tutorials on your site that you also care about helping hobbyist musicians improve musically and cope with technology. What inspires you to put so much effort into the educational aspects of your company?
I believe in musical community, musicians helping other musicians. We want to lead the musicians to a path of acquiring skills and knowledge to be better musicians. That's why we have all the tutorials on our site, all provided by our users--there are over 70 tutorials so far. Everything from orchestration styles to using GPO with specific notation programs and DAWs to actual instrument performance techniques.
We'll soon have an interactive version of Principles of Orchestration, the classic Rimsky-Korsakov education text. There are GPO user podcasts and the Composer Channel Web radio station, which broadcasts works of GPO artists. We also staged our first GPO Orchestration Competition this year. [The winners had their GPO-created scores performed by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra in the Czech Republic.] And we're now working to organize a performance at Carnegie Hall for next year's winners.
Can you measure your educational efforts in terms of increased market share and sales?
The education market is very important--Apple is a great example of a company that is successful with education. The logic is simple: The students of today are the professional users of tomorrow.
Where do you see the future of soft synths leading?
Again, I think the trend will continue towards doing more with less. I think that future digital instruments will no longer even use sample playback technology as we know it today. Advances in physical modeling, additive synthesis, and recreating instrument body resonances via programming will provide a new paradigm in the way virtual instruments are created and used. You'll be able to perfectly model an instrument and have it reproduced from scratch with programming, or even model the performances and styles of great virtuosos and recreate all the acoustical properties of an instrument using modeled impulses and place it in any modeled concert hall of your choosing. I think we'll begin to see new forms of hybrid instruments entering the mainstream of music composition.
What are the best and worst effects of technology on musical creativity?
The negative is that we're losing humanity. Being perfect and using things like Auto-Tune to "correct" human error . . . well, you sort of lose humanity that way. It's the same thing with sampling: Every note is in absolutely perfect tune and every instrument intonates perfectly. That never happens in real life. The more perfect it is, the less human it is and therefore not realistic. I want to get people back more in touch with the humanity of music and to not lose sight of that again just because we can do so much with technology.
The upside to technology is still truly a case of "if you can imagine it, you can create it." Back when I was composing music in college it was virtually impossible to get a composition performed by a live orchestra. Today we're sitting here in a diner with a modest [Dell Inspiron] laptop playing a complete Beethoven symphony that we can alter, re-orchestrate, or rewrite in real time during our lunch.
But there's a laptop within inches of your elbow and you're using a napkin to illustrate your technology points. So we're not completely losing touch with the tactile nature of being musicians, are we?
Just like playing a real harp or guitar, this is our direct connection to the napkin! [Laughs.] We'd lose that touch if all we did was use an electronic tablet or a folding keyboard and a mouse. That's why I reached for the napkin. There's instantaneous feedback and tactile response--it's real. Technology is a tool, not a replacement, for making us better at what we do as musicians.
Rick Schneblin, an artist using Garritan Personal Orchestra, contributed this detailed tutorial to the Garritan web site about using GPO as a software instrument within Apple GarageBand 2. It has been lightly edited.
Before launching GarageBand, create a new folder named "GPO" inside the directory Library/Application Support/GarageBand/Instrument Library/Track Settings/Software. Now open a new sequence file in GarageBand 2; you'll see the default "Grand Piano" channel (Figure 1).
Double-click the indicated channel (1) to launch the instrument editing process, then click the Details arrow (2). I like to have global control over the "wetness" of the sound, so I deselect the default Echo and Reverb checkboxes. That will also reduce CPU usage. Click the Generator pull-down window (3), choose "Garritan Personal Orchestra," and then click the Edit button to launch the Kontakt Player (4). Next, choose the instrument for this channel--for example, French Horn Overlay 1 (Figure 2)
After loading the sound file into the Kontakt Player (Figure 3), apply an appropriate icon (5). I have GarageBand Jam Pack 4, so there are several orchestral instrument icons to choose from. Click the "Save Instrument" button (6) and enter an appropriate, short description (7) for your new instrument. Make sure the appropriate folder is selected or the new instrument may not be placed where you wish. (If you make a mistake, it's easy enough to change the name and location of the .cst file at the Library/Application Support/GarageBand/Instrument Library/Track Settings/Software folder.)
With the new instrument in place (Figure 4), choose the menu item Track, then Show Master Track. Now double-click the Master Track, click the Details arrow, and then deselect Echo and Reverb to save CPU power. Where the pull-down menu reads "none," click and scroll down to "Ambience," then choose the ambience color you desire. (Ambience is the reverb plug-in that comes with GPO.)
Once you've created and saved an instrument setting, there's no reason to call up the Kontakt Player again; just choose the instrument from your Software Instrument library in GarageBand. Another great feature in GarageBand 2 is the ability to drag and drop QuickTime MIDI files right onto the sequence window. GarageBand automatically creates the appropriate channels and sequences, and then all you have to do is choose the GPO instrument for each track you're going to use.
Garritan Personal Orchestra Instruments
Keyboards and Harps
The following MP3s were created by Garritan Personal Orchestra customers. Visit Garritan.com to hear hundreds more.
Randy Alberts is an author, musician, and photographer who lives on Lummi Island, Washington.
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