Will symphonic orchestras survive?

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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  • Like Ray, I don't hate technology or think of it in itself as negative. But I see the largest problems we are facing in pro composing biz is the advent of technology that 1. Makes it so easy to make some non music that has high quality sounds (like fruity loop crap) which fools a very young composer into thinking he has created a masterpiece 2. The unbelievable overflow of mediocre to poor musical product that has flooded the market to such a degree that the value of ALL music has disintegrated and 3. The "American Effect" where the freedom we are told we are given is in itself just a managerial tool to keep the masses placated and to not strive for excellence. In other words we are given this freedom of cool software that we can do all these incredible things with, but ultimately we are actually being limited, forced into the constrains and confines created by the programmers.

    And while it is cool and fun to mess around with samples I have to reflect on the amount of time I wasted focusing for the last seven years on production instead of creativity, too much analytical brain being forced with marathon sessions of minute detail. Of corse I love it, that's the trap, just as email is a trap for your mind. And as for your argument about your samples being their own instruments, well I am sorry man, but it's just not true, but rather it is a crutch. That is truth and reality as I see it as uncomfortable as it might be.

    I might be short in my words, but they are only meant in the best of ways and to consider and contemplate where we are going. I just happen to have a lot to say about this subject as it has been deep in my mind of late, as I try and grasp what all the problems are and where they have come from and where we are headed - stuff recently spurred by the LA gang trying hard to unionize with the teamsters. So I have done much research and soul searching and these things I mentioned coupled with an industry based almost exclusively on greed and desire to exploit kind and caring musicians is a major portion of how we have arrived at this lowest of lows business and industry wise

    AndrewG said:
    Gentlemen, why you see the technology only in a negative light? Your synthesisers probably contain not only these problematic classic instrument samples. There exists a plethora of ambient noises, artificial instruments with deep effects, and a whole industry of creating new expressive sounds outside of that 99 classic instruments. And you have all this at your hand, just try and combine this with the classic sounds, just like Craig Hopkinson brilliantly does. Look also at brilliant pieces by Ronnie Doyle, to name a few members of this forum experimenting with new technological sounds.
  • Let me nevertheless highlight some positive points in this dark picture...

    I agree non-music with high quality sounds overflows the media, and this happens not only with music. The effect of free copying devaluates anything however good is the original, especially if this is a tool for creating art which should be unique by definition. Computer games frighten me still more, since they produce an illusion of creativity, while everything was already created by the game designer, so this is the illusion of insight and discovery that may program anything into the head of the player. This devaluation started more than 100 years ago, when Marconi and Edison introduced radio and recording device (BTW, the eclipse of Symphony Orchestra, which was unbelievably widespread phenomenon before, started approximately in 1920 exactly because of this). Maybe even earlier, when first hurdy-gurdies with perforated codes appeared, and this probably leads to far more wide discussion about social and philosophical aspects of information copying, which I didn't intend to rise here; note only that we witness positive aspects of this too, e.g. many new and beautiful art genres have appeared.

    I disagree we are being limited and forced into the constrains and confines created by programmers. Remember that Beethoven sometimes had to do the work with hammer and metal for engraving his scores; imagine how much time and efforts he spent on this. Why you complain about bad-programmed samples and not strive to program yours? It may be easier than it seems, although needs some training and efforts orthogonal to a music writing.

    Samples being their own instruments; is it a crutch? Well, EVERYTHING artificial can be considered a crutch, but... we apply a fork to better hold food, a car to better move (continue ad libitum) and do not consider ourselves crippled because of this. I do not consider my synthesiser a crutch (well, I have quite expensive one, which is Yamaha S90ES, with very good phones) and sometimes find or create voices which allow me to create the music I like.

    I completely agree that the industry we deal with is based almost exclusively on greed and desire to exploit kind and caring musicians. But isn't ANY industry based on greed and exploitation? Alas!
  • I don't think its necessarily an either or choice. Electronic instruments are just additional instruments in the arsenal to create a composition. And the two can blend together -- recall Rick Wakeman's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" which blended 70's electronic with symphony and symphonic choir. If that same piece were to be performed today using only electronic, something would definitely be lost.

    I think the orchestra is safe for decades to come!
  • Ray Kemp said:
    Donald McLaughlin said:
    I think the orchestra is safe for decades to come!

    "decades" ........was that a freudian slip?

    Not really. "Centuries" sounded a bit presumptuous. I mean who knows what musical instruments will be invented 100 years from now.
    Will symphonic orchestras survive?
    I have a feeling that symphonic orchestras will be extinct. A few hundreds years ago so called horn orchestras were widespread, where each instrume…
  • 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 not...it'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.
  • Hello,

    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.
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