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Dear Forumites

I am writing to see if anybody would be interested in entering a competition to select a piece of concert music written by one of you to be programmed by myself and mastered by Ray. 

I have at my disposal high end orchestral samples that can be used to show the winner how their score would sound in a more realistic way. The samples are not perfect nor a replacement for real players of course, but the difference between what I can offer and whatever notation software is used for rendering is very marked, so much so that when the winning composer hears his/her piece, they may well get a nice shock! The fact that Ray has kindly offered his considerable skills in mastering for whatever comes out of my studio, means that the winner will have a full quality professional recording of their piece. 

I know some here will have the same pro samples as me and I respectfully ask them not to apply as I would like to limit this to those who can only use notation software for playback. 

I was thinking of setting this up pretty much the way Gav has set up competitions in the past
( and I thank Gav for his advice in this matter) with me choosing one out of the best 3 pieces voted for by the forum members to work on.
All this would be anonymous of course, but once the winning piece was announced online, I will have detailed discussions with that composer regarding performance details and interpretation. 


The music should be a concert work of between 2- 6 minutes for small, up to large orchestra. For clarification, a full orchestra can comprise up to (but not essential!) triple wind (auxiliaries are allowed) full brass up to 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 tenor trombones, 1 bass trombone and 1 tuba, percussion a4 if required (all mallets and non pitched perc available) 2 harps and full strings. Chamber orchestra is a paired down orchestra and personnel numbers can be left to the composer but there must be a minimum of around 20 players although if strings are used, then the composer must specify how many in each section. Please note that divisi in strings is also possible, with a limit of a3 for each section. 

No choir or avant-garde techniques should be used because they are not very convincing at present with samples. Any style/period of music is permitted and pieces will NOT be judged on this. The piece can be anything from an overture to a symphonic poem in any mood and on any subject if you need one to write with, but it must be a concert orchestral piece.

What I will be looking for whilst judging, apart from a good piece of music, is clarity of intent in the score because I will have to in effect perform it, this means as detailed a score as possible regarding articulations and dynamics. If I feel there is a problem with the scoring in terms of balance or performance on an instrument, I will gladly liaise with the composer in order to find a solution they are happy with. 

You can submit more than one work if you wish, but not with the same alias and you can submit a work previously posted on this forum. If you are interested please let me know in this thread. 
  Entrants should then submit mp3 and full score for each piece they enter and forum members will then be asked to vote for their three favourite pieces, the winner will be chosen from the top three. If the interest is there, I will sort out the next anonymous posting phase using Gavs’ advice and set-up procedures.

Deadline for entrants to register - 15th September

Deadline for entrants submission - 30th January

Here is a well known piece programmed by me in order to give you an idea of the quality of the samples I will use on the winning piece. There are 2 files, one is live, the other isn't. I didn't try too hard to create an exact replica of the live recording and it is possible to tell the difference, but they are pretty close. Also this file has no mastering applied to it, which will be done by Ray on the winning piece. Hopefully this will entice a few more entrants.

Any questions, please ask here and I shall endeavour to answer, as an added bonus, it will also bump the thread. 


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Nice mockup!  As I'm trying to work on creating better mockups, I'm wondering if you could share your process a bit for how you created it?   Certainly you've got great samples, but am wondering how much of the realism comes from the samples vs.  the time spent programming all the microscopic CC details in the DAW for dynamics and articulation?  Also, wondering if you started from imported Midi, or played the parts in from a Midi keyboard, or entered each note manually?

yes, time spent and learning curve was always one of my big questions regarding VSL, but as Mike said, it did not take very long for this piece, which as "an introduction/guide to the orchestra" I imagine it can be demanding. I suppose it often is a matter of choosing the right sample from a lot of alternatives for the particular sound and technique/effect you have in mind and Sibelius usually will obey to what is notated… but correct me if I am completely wrong.

Very nice mockup indeed.  I could tell almost immediately the difference between the mockup and the real recording, but mostly because of the mechanical character of the former (which I'm sure you can easily fix, given enough time, but I understand that's not the purpose here). In terms of the timbres of the sampled instruments, however, I'm very impressed.  Looking forward to seeing what my fellow composers come up with for this competition.  (And hoping I'll manage to crank out a piece in time for the deadline. :-D)

The realism comes first from the sample quality, followed closely by careful cc and articulation work. Socrates is correct in that knowing which articulations provided by a sample set will work best and are the most appropriate in a given situation, is an essential skill to develop. I read from the full score and play the parts in.

As I hear it, the only thing these two recordings have in common is that they are the same piece.

One of the recordings has very wide stereo separation. This "group" is either very big, or really spread out. The instruments occupy a definite space on the "stage". Every note of every instrument sounds perfect. Volume between groups of instruments is very good, maybe too good.

The other recording sounds like a smaller group on a big stage, recorded with maybe two microphones. Instruments farther away from the mics are not as clear. The stereo spread is much smaller. There is less definition between groups of instruments.

Which are you after, Mike. 

Extremely well done mock-up Mike..very impressive! :)

And I wish you (and Ray) all the best with your competition--very generous of you both..hope all goes well and I look forward to hearing the entries and winner!

Thanks Bob

@Bob M,

Thanks Bob, let's hope a few more folk enter.

@Bob P,

Not really after anything other than showing how more realistic the samples I have are when compared to notation software playback.
All options regarding mic position, stereo field and size of string section are on the table for the winning piece, which will dictate what sound is best.

Of course, DAW playback is going to be better than notation playback. You posted two very different recordings. My question ( and not really a big deal) is, which sound are you going for? DAW playback, or real feel. It might be interesting to post something done by notation playback and then, your version. Just a short example. 

There are a vast array of playback options in notation. The problem is that most users don't know they are there or how to use them. 

Anyway, it was just a question. It will be fun to see the result.


Daw playback and real feel are not mutually exclusive and both will be the goal when recreating for the winner. You are reading too much into the differences between the live and sampled version.

I fail to see what purpose there would be in doing a few bars of the Britten in notation software, it must be self evident to folks thay what I have presented is way beyond notation software in terms of realism and that is the point of the prize- an opportunity for someone to hear a more realistic rendering of their music, I did not say it would be perfect, because it can't be.
Sure, notation can have different soundsets but it does not have the in depth cc control to eke out a more musical performance. Notation playback can and does distort a composers' perception of orchestral sound and musicality, more so than good samples do, ( as well as dictating how they write because of a lack of articulation variety and performance technique) and it is this false impression a composer gets of his music that I would like to address in this competition. The winning composer will have to get used to a new sound, and it will hopefully be an equivalent paradigm shift to when one hears the music one has written being performed live, even though the performance is a sampled one.
He or she will also be able to write divisi and try out some other effects like sul pont or harmonics divisi and hear how they may well sound live, none of this is convincing in notation software.
I don't disagree with you, Mike. But it is a topic of interest to me. I know this is not the time or place.

Doesn't this tie in with your regular - and basically correct - assertion that once in the hand of players, a performance will be different each time? Mike's mockup to me, ignoring the fact that it's midi, just sounds like it's in a different space rather than it possessing a different sound endemic to midi mockups. Perhaps the way to look at it is that Mike, as the entire orchestra, will have his own interpretation, much as a real orchestra will have theirs, with the added ability to choose from a whole suite of virtual spaces in which to house the virtual players.

Bob Porter said:

One of the recordings has very wide stereo separation. This "group" is either very big, or really spread out. The instruments occupy a definite space on the "stage". Every note of every instrument sounds perfect. Volume between groups of instruments is very good, maybe too good.

The other recording sounds like a smaller group on a big stage, recorded with maybe two microphones. Instruments farther away from the mics are not as clear. The stereo spread is much smaller. There is less definition between groups of instruments.

Actually Dave, you have hit on another aspect here. I will have to interpret the winning score from all angles, balance, tempo, rubato, and all the things that make a performance. I will of course consult with the composer on these matters, but yes your assertions are right as far as I'm concerned.

Our talk does raise valid points and is appropriate for the competition. Perhaps another thread could explore these issues further as I agree that they are an interesting facet of the way music is produced.

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