What is MIDI MOCKUP?
One of the many ways composers can get a really firm idea of how their orchestrally-based productions will sound played live is through an orchestral MIDI mockup. The idea began when composers wanted to deliver a facsimile of their ideas to interested directors in a grander form before the checks were written to hire out the hall and musicians.
Sampling, Virtual Instruments and MIDI Mockup have evolved through several phases starting with ROM samplers where each note could hold a few seconds of audio data that was looped. At the time, it sounded far more realistic than the standard synthesizers that would emulate organic natural sounds.
Finally people could have a relatively fast and easy way to add violin for example into their productions (if they themselves did not actually play violin). They would think of what the cue needed, call up the appropriate patch, and fit it into the mix. EMU, Roland, and others were at the forefront of this new technology.
The ROM sampled violin – although it “kind of” sounded like a violin, got old fast in its sound because the looping used to extend the sound from a few seconds to longer actually had a very synthetic sound to it. Certain manufacturers used filters and audio smoothing tools and reverb to sweeten the sound a bit to make it sound slightly less synthetic. Korg and Yamaha tried their best to make it work and sound better.
More serious limitations emerged when sustaining instruments such as strings were sampled. Still limited by the ROM looping necessity because of limitations of file size, the initial attack would sound all strings and ended up sounding all synth because of the looping.
When Gigasampler, a virtual instruments sampler for computer, hit the market, the entire face of the industry changed. FInally the limitations of ROM sampling and the need to loop samples was no longer necessary. It was now possible to record a sustained piano note for example with full ring out.
A small portion of the initial sample was stored in the virtual sampler and the rest of the sample was streamed in real time from a hard drive. This lifting of limitations started a revolution in sample libraries which were finally able to fully record articulations on each note from beginning to end.
Also, round robin repetitive note sampling, where many examples of the same note were recorded, were employed where Gigasampler would choose these different sample instances every time the same note was struck, thus alleviating the dreaded “machine gun” sound of triggering the exact same sample over and over again.
Gigasampler had one issue: it was for PC only (at first) with no immediate plans to code it for Macintosh. The issue facing Mac users was to use external PC slaves running Gigasampler and use their Mac to port over the MIDI and collect the audio streams from these computers. It was an added expense.
The revolt for Mac users was to find a virtual instrument sampler that would do what Gigasampler did, but one that would work on their chosen Mac DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) in the box. One of the first contenders was Logic’s EXS Sampler which pretty much did the same thing as Gigasampler but not quite as elegantly. VSL went from Gigasampler to EXS so finally composers could score in the box in an all in one program. This brought a lot of users over to Logic’s sequencing engine.
Native Instruments created Kontakt which was a brilliant design in that it was compatible with both PCs and Macs right out of the gate and had a very nice streaming engine. Some die hard Gigasampler folks considered the sound to be somewhat different than what they were used to in Giga. Sound tests seemed to confirm otherwise. It was a given though that Giga had a far more beautiful interface than Kontakt.
Kontakt had a problem though: piracy. Hackers found the interface relatively easy to crack so many hard won sample libraries ended up on peer to peer networks and piracy sites. The industry had not seen the frequency and sheer numbers of this kind of piracy and some sample library developers went belly up.
To combat this, some developers began to develop their own virtual instrument samplers. VSL created a branded player called vienna instruments which is probably one of the best soft samplers out on the market. It was difficult to hack. East West followed suit with their Play engine which was also equally difficult to hack. Yellow Tools also developed a strong soft sampler contender. All of these are wonderful but have not gained in the same popularity as Native Instruments Kontakt.
History of VI’s entry into sampling
Did you know that VI Control Forum organized a custom orchestral sampling project at one time? Not everyone is aware. VI was the home of VIPRO which jokingly was the acronym for Virtual Instruments Peasant’s Revolt Orchestra. Why was it dubbed that?
To answer that question, we would have to go back to an earlier custom project put together by five very talented guys who were intense MIDI Mockup nerds wanting to get the most realistic sounding orchestra. They called it Project Prague, or PP for short.
As witnessed by several midi mockups done by some of the custom project’s founders (Thomas J Bergersen, Craig Sharmat, and Simon Ravn), it was immediately apparent that some kind of sampling magic was happening that at the time were not being offered by the other libraries. They all paid in a large sum of money each to participate (undisclosed). And they all also signed a rather terse NDA to keep the sampling secrets under wraps.
So the “peasants” revolted. Back in 2006, VI Control formed a 40 member sampling coalition where each member paid only $1000 each to participate in creating a custom orchestral sample library of their own.
A hidden forum on VI Control was created; multiple surveys were created asking participants what qualities and features they wanted in a custom sample library that were not being presented in the current crop of sample libraries of the day.
The custom articulation list was formed. Those adept at scoring would score them out. Some were charged in printing them out for the individual players. A team was organized to oversee, review the performances as they were being recorded, and conduct the orchestra.
The raw recordings were kept by a couple of people who then would divvy them up and send them to pods charged with cutting, editing, evaluating, and optimizing the samples that made the cut. These samples would then go to another pod charged with programming the samples.
In all, the project took about 6 months start to finish. Not everyone was at the same level of knowledge and skill level. In retrospect, the most important job was quality control in every step of the process: from scoring, conducting, recording, retakes, editing, programming, scripting and distribution.
The project’s participants used the samples in multiple projects including major and minor video games, music libraries, movie trailers, films etc. I do know that VIPRO custom orchestral sampling library made its way into many movie trailers. I personally used it throughout Transformers Fall of Cybertron in collaboration with another member of VI-PRO.
Additionally, a much smaller pod was created called the VIPRO “Angry Choir” project – in reference to the massive epic productions of films and movie trailers requiring a choir with hair in their sound. Nearly every movie trailer for the next couple of years had our custom choir somewhere in it.
I did not want to out anyone who used our custom samples but if anyone who was part of that project wants to let me know where they used those sounds, I’m definitely open to amending this article.