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I have a feeling that symphonic orchestras will be extinct. A few hundreds years ago so called "horn orchestras" were widespread, where each instrument, and of course the musician who was usually a slave, could perform only a single note by the command of the conductor. These instruments and orchestras disappeared with the advent of multi-note instruments of the same or better quality of sound.

Now the parallel: Today, using advanced DAW and synthesisers, a single musician can perform sounds of the best symphonic orchestras and more. Not only he can write and have the music performed automatically, he can actually play and combine the sounds of different instruments in real time using a single synthesiser...

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I haven't read what everyone else has said. I'm going to jump in anyways :). I don't think its going to disappear. I think it will be like film photography. there is alot less of it, but Its not going to go anywhere.

I think the all theses new things that make the sounds of orchestras are great tools for us composers. But i don't think if could ever replace going to a hall and listening to people play.
I couldn't agree more. I just got into a heated discussion with another full time composer about this. While I believe a few will survive, most are already hanging on by a thread if not dead already financially. We have so much in the way of sounds at our disposal that composers of all calibers can bypass them for original work and most studios (one of which I co-own) simply don't need them now for most orchestrations/arrangements.

I love the live orchestra sound feel and wish they would survive, but it just doesn't seem likely

Great point Andrew.

Yes, but it's a real catch-22. Our struggle to replicate 400 year old tecnology (which amuses me to no end) depends entirely on people who can actually play these instruments. Our capability to mimic them has improved dramatically in the past ten years, but that evolution will always depend on actual players honing their craft.

Plus, the symphonic experience is much more than just sonicology - to sit and actually watch an orchestra live is a much richer experience than listening to an electronic reproduction. Seing the bows in the violin section sweep out a robust lagato passage: it's very cool.

And although MIDI based tecnology is the only means by which it has been possible for my music to be produced, Tyler hits it right on the head: we all would like to see our work performed by people. The few people how have heard my music have heard it thought headphones or cheap computer speakers - not even on a decent stereo system! If a music director came to me and said, "Hey, Mike, we're going to include your piece in the program a few weeks from now. But you have to get rid of all your computer music stuff. It's a commitment thing. I dunno, the maestro is wierd that way," I would not hesitate: "Done!"

Thechnology which mimics performance and produces a manufactured acoustic will always be a picture of a sunset. Their ain't no substitute for the real thing.
I believe that Thomas is right in a lot of areas. I don't think that live orchestral music will disappear entirely. We still use in our studio a lot of live classical instrumentalists. I just got done writing and arranging for one of the best jazz trumpeters in the world and felt absolutely blessed to do so.

My feeling is that some orchestras will die out entirely (as they already have), some will perform fewer times per year, give out less commissions, etc. because of constraints and some will go on as normal. It has nothing to do with whether I think they are better or's the economic realities that have faced these organizations for the last 2-3 decades that are now coming into play.

I think dying out is too strong of a term perhaps. But, becoming less frequent is certainly happening. Even studios/labels with large budgets are encouraging, when possible, smaller studio musician budgets and less live orchestration because of the costs.

I hope there is a way we can change some of this, but we will see. I think this is a great discussion by the way.

Thomas Green said:
Sorry about going on and on, but I really want to make myself clear about this. It's an interesting and important question.

All of my comments are absolutely not denials of the benefits of music technology. I am myself enamored by music technology (of many different variates) at the moment.

Furthermore, I think it is an interesting thing in and of itself, that people can now create orchestral-sounding music completely independent of an orchestra. I DO NOT think that just because a composer doesn't have a traditional understanding of orchestration, that they cannot make good sounding music using modern sample libraries (even though I believe it helps).

I am stating an entirely different thing: Live music will survive independently of all this. Even considering the incredible complexity of the present day situation, thanks to the utterly befuddling state of Western Art Music and the recent advent of very decent and affordable mimicking technology, we can still be confident in this: People still like to watch a live performance. The evidence for that is all over the place. The onus is entirely on the composer to use that potential. But I think it's encouraging enough that we can confidently say instrumental groups will be here for a long time.

Starting this discussion, I meant only technology and did not intend to raise such social and economical issues. This is, of course, interesting, but I think we miss here some very important technological developments. Namely, the advent of principally new ways to create sound combinations. We can criticise the "pristinnes", "too much purity" etc of the instrument samples, but we cannot deny that we can afford many new and interesting sounds if we do not limit ourselves by the classical orchestra structure and the range and performance limits of the acoustic instruments. Below are some examples:

I find new and interesting sounds when performing typical virtuosic piano passages using non-piano instrument samples. Examples are trills, clusters, glissandi (possibly performed using 2 fingers with tercia distance or one on white and another on black keys), 6-note atonal chords of a solo violin (possibly with simultaneous trill of the same violin sample), cluster of 7-8 notes of a single brass instrument, large clusters of bowed or pizzicato strings etc. A sane manager of live orchestra probably will not include into his orchestra a group of 6 flutists only for performing a single 6-note chord of flutes. With a synthesiser & DAW this is very simple. Another example: sometimes I speed up my improvisations and find very interesting sounds, although get results almost non-performable by a human.

Well, my examples may seem artificial and pianistically-biased. You can probably add yours. You can also tell that when playing 6 notes on a piano keyboard I cannot apply articulations, specific for a violin or flute, which 6 human performers would apply. You will be right, but it is the composer's decision to give up or not give up this when he looks for new sounds for a piece.

The examples above are generally non-performable in a classical orchestra framework. This is its limitation. That's why I think it will be extinct, or deemed to perform only music with traditional sounds, if it will not incorporate the new technology.
If the orchestra is going away it won't be for another few hundred years at least, I can say that because large businesses use symphony orchestras to record music for their ads, commercials, promos, etc. There is a huge amount of money in them, which is how our whole world works. Therefore, symphony orchestras aren't going to die aanytime soon. Music falls when ciilization falls, for a historical example: In China, around 2852 BC emperor Fu Hsi had many different "symphonic" based orchestras, though they had a different instrumentation than they do today. The orchestras now function to make money. In China, they functioned to hold everything together spiritually, societally, economically, and it was used to create a so called "invisible matrix" to hold the society together. I think more of the question should be along the lines of: Is our musical system going to change? It could seem that it will, using china as an example. China began using the Twelve tone system very early on. There were other systems that competed such as a system with 360 different distinct "lüi" tones. Between 2697 BC (the year the twelve cosmic tone system was developed) and 1712 AD, the cosmic tones were under continuous rearranging and design. The system was based on a cycle of perfect fifths intervals. The Chinese believed that "innovations in the tonal arts would ultimately become precisely mirrored in society at large". It would cause fair amounts of chaos if symphonic orchestras were anywhere near to looking at extinction.

And to comment on the horn orchestras, that's how bach's orchestra had his horns too, he had to give trumpet players either roots or fifths to make them sound the best, (because the trumpets had no controls, just the lips) it seems not valid for this example. Also, horn orchestras were never popular compared to how symphonic orchestras have exploded in popularity.
Yes, you can sample music on a computer, but everyone knows that a real orchestra playing your piece will sound much more solid. It's easy to hear the difference between computer music and orchestral performances. The DAW doesn't function as a replacement unless the project is very low budget and an orchestra is far too expensive for that.
Chris Alpiar said:
"Consider also, 60 years ago, bands with 20 - 50 live musicians were extremely prevalent. Every city had live music in every club. Big bands were roaring, every singer had a pops orchestra. What do we have today? Go out to the restaurants with music: laptop+ 1 or 2 musicians :P You may think that the symphonies arent touched and will remain aloof and safe, but you are very wrong. I say we are at the edge of a very gloomy time for music making."

I have to agree with you, and this is not only about music. 50-70 years ago mass radio killed 90% of live music (orchestras included). Today computer-generated drum loops kill the art in what is sill called music. Unfortunately, the greatest scientific discoveries cause harm when get into wrong hands, and this grave list can be continued by Ahmadinejad's atomic research, Dr.Goebbels feel of mind manipulation in mass media, computer spam and viruses etc. We can only hope that new, more strong methods, will first get into the right hands, and I hope that new composers will appear, who will be more interesting for the mass listener than the drum loops.
I know a guitarist who would regularly get sesssion work as a musician twenty years ago, playing for film and television soundtracks and other recordings at the local BBC studio.

These gigs were the sort of thing that orchestral musicians fell back on.

Does anybody know what sort of percentage of TV/ film soundtracks are now just done by samples as opposed by orchestras.

My friend tells me that the recording studio at the local BBC for TV sountracks has now been turned into a canteen and most recordings are done by samples or one off concerts at head office in London.

The threat is REAL, despite the fact we all love our sample libraries.

Has anybody else thought of the irony of the musicians who make these sample library recordings - they are doing a job that is ultimately sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

(added to the humiliation of having to record a single note about 100 times at different dynamic levels ! - god that sounds dull).
Thomas, if you still here, I have a better proposal. Let's freeze this thread, say, for 500 years, and then continue. We will have much more info... ;). I am as optimistic as you. I only think that the orchestras will be smaller and incorporate principally new instruments, which already started to appear.

Thomas Green said:
Oops, I was supposed to be finished. Okay, this time for sure :)

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