Hi fellow CF-ers!
It's been a while since my last post but I've had a shot of inspiration and have decided to write another article on orchestration. This time I'm returning to the woodwind section.
The Current State of Play
I think the first thing to mention here is that my situation with regards to woodwind is different from where it was when I wrote the last article.
Firstly, I now have access to a live woodwind player of amazing capability. She's a genuine world-class player and has been an enormous inspiration on my work. If anyone read my first article on woodwind you will know that I considered producing realistic solo instruments using samples was the most difficult task - having a live player has turned a liability into a strength.
Secondly, Cinesamples have released their new Hollywoodwinds sample library. This solves the other problem of creating realistic orchestral woodwind ensembles which are mixed, balanced and use a minimal of resources. Admittedly it has it's limitations (no bassoons, basically one kind of homophonic chord arrangement) but it can really be very effective in creating an ensemble sound, particularly when combined with one or two other woodwind samples.
So in addition to my live player I am using VSL woodwinds (combination of VSL Special Edition and download instruments), Westgate Flute, Project SAM Symphobia and Cinesamples Hollywoodwinds.
The other reason I'm writing this article is that I'm currently working with another member of the forum assisting her in orchestrating a new composition and woodwinds have featured very strongly. The orchestration has a strong Tchaikovsky vibe (by way of early Danny Elfman) and there is a great use of the colour that the winds can provide. My friend's composition is very strong and I felt this style of orchestration would be a perfect fit. Working on this project has reminded me just how much I love using the woodwind and how little chance I normally get!
So again most of this article is about writing with samples. One of the best ways to make samples sound convincing is to write idiomatic lines for the instruments. The first step in doing this is to spend time listening to idiomatic lines from these instruments. I also recommend that you spend time learning the range of the various woodwind instruments and how the tone changes throughout this range. Given that woodwind are used as a source of colour it's worth noting that each woodwind instrument can be generate a fair few different colours.
If you're aiming to write music in a purist way (i.e. so that it could really be played by an orchestra) then you may wish to make a decision as to what kind of woodwind line up you are planning to use. Here are some examples: -
This would be the woodwind compliment of a small orchestra. Generally the instruments can only be used for solos although you could manage a chord if you're careful. The different tones won't blend well but an open voicing can work. I would generally use the woodwinds for solos or to double up other instruments. I particularly like using them to highlight the top line of the strings.
In many ways this is my favourite. I actually think that double woodwinds gives a lot of opportunity for interesting combinations when creating chords. Also you have the flexibility to use auxiliary woodwinds (piccolo, English horn, bass clarinet and contrabassoon). It is worth noting that doubling the same woodwind at the unison is not a great sound and is usually not called for unless you require sheer volume. Doubling in thirds or sixths sounds a lot better. Doubling in octaves can work but often the different registers will not balance well.
So this is the kind of line-up seen in a big symphonic orchestra (think Star Wars!) This allows for either three instruments of each kind or two plus an auxiliary (the third player will usually change between the two). This allows for triads to be played in each section and this appears to be the most common way of arranging them. For this reason I find them often less interesting that woodwinds in pairs however sometimes they are necessary to balance the larger orchestras.
Creating Woodwind Sections with Samples
I hope that it's fairly obvious how you might create a line-up with single woodwinds. I recommend ensuring you have a good mixture of articulations as well. Nothing kills a potentially great lyrical solo line than a really dull sustain patch. Try and get mixtures of vibrato and non-vibrato (except for clarinets which don't use vibrato in a traditional classical setting). Get some good marcato patches and staccato patches. Basically make an effort to ensure that the solo lines can really come to life with the woodwind.
For the woodwinds in pairs you now have a choice. It is possible to use the same instrument to represent 2 by simply playing 2 notes on that channel. This has a couple of downsides: you'll have to keep dynamics identical on both and you won't be able to use legato patches. Also it wouldn't be possible to create unison lines. You could load the same instrument into two separate channels and this would overcome the first two issues but unison lines would be susceptible to phasing issues.
An alternative is to use 2 different VSTi's for each instrument. VSL have 2 entirely separate instruments for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon and that would work well. Another option would be to use libraries and I've definitely combined Westgate and VSL flute very happily in the past.
Creating triple woodwind again has a similar problem however at least you will find that often the third player might be playing an auxiliary. For unison lines you could use an actual unison patch (and again VSL do these).
For a less purist approach, I've often found that using something like Hollywoodwinds or Project SAM's Symphobia (or Woodwind Orchestrator) can be great for creating a basic woodwind sound upon which you can layer solo instruments. This is definitely not a purist approach and you would need to do some re-orchestrating if you wanted to have your piece played by live players. On the other hand this can create good results very quickly and is analogous to using ensemble patches on the strings ... and none of us do that do we? ;)
Wow ... I waffled on far too much. You know what, I think I'll save the rest of this for a follow up article coming very soon!