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Composing orchestral music with score sheet vs DAW

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borisb2

borisb2

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We've got several issues here: DAWs, music notation, the piano-roll, traditional manuscript, etc. etc. My recommendation is DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO, and write what you want to write any way you want to write it. I can guarantee this: Whatever you write, somebody might love it, somebody might hate it and somebody won't give a rat's ass about it.
and that brings me back to my original question:

using the DAW for composing results for me in a way of composing where I always kind of "perform" (only) 1 line at a time. Being a piano player doesnt help in this case. No matter what sophisticated library with custom build expressionMap I have loaded up, I tend to improvise/perform/focus on one line. I would imagine, using either notation with multi staves (or piano roll/score editor with some good practise) I could more efficiently "web" on multiple musical "threads" at the same time - in other words just work more contrapuntal.

If you say you dont compose/work with piano roll .. what is your typical process when letting your ideas come to life?
 

jsg

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and that brings me back to my original question:

using the DAW for composing results for me in a way of composing where I always kind of "perform" (only) 1 line at a time. Being a piano player doesnt help in this case. No matter what sophisticated library with custom build expressionMap I have loaded up, I tend to improvise/perform/focus on one line. I would imagine, using either notation with multi staves (or piano roll/score editor with some good practise) I could more efficiently "web" on multiple musical "threads" at the same time - in other words just work more contrapuntal.

If you say you dont compose/work with piano roll .. what is your typical process when letting your ideas come to life?

I still maintain that your issue is not about DAW vs traditional notation. It seems to me more about how to learn how to think as a composer, rather than an instrumentalist (actually you want to think as both). Have you taken a course on counterpoint? My own way of working is to pop notes onto the staff using a mouse, which for some might seem absurd. I might start with a motive or melody, or a rhythmic pattern, or a chord or harmonic progression. Then I go from there. I think each person has to find their own method, no one size fits all. There's many ways to use the musical tools that science and technology has given us. You'll just have to do what the rest of us are doing--experiment and find the way that works best for you. I can say that approaching this with enthusiasm, confidence and a certain kind of "lightheartedness" is helpful.
 
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borisb2

borisb2

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I still maintain that your issue is not about DAW vs traditional notation. It seems to me more about how to learn how to think as a composer, rather than an instrumentalist (actually you want to think as both).
I agree .. yet, the DAW still channels me of thinking less contrapuntal, but more in blocks / individual parts .. - guess I have to free myself from that thinking. (I have to mention, in my earlier life I used to produce EDM and pop music for years - using Emagic Logic Audio :P )
Thats why I think either using notation or the DAW in a bit different way than I used it before would be sort of a fresh start for that.
 

jsg

Active Member
This thread seems to be planing on different levels. MIdi can of course be 'programmed' with those notes but what GeneP (and me for that matter) is saying I believe, is that it would not represent nearly enough, music of a complexity demonstrated in his post above and the expressive reach that live musicianship and ensemble imparts to such work. In fact, the vital 'music' in a midi/sample rendition would be lost imv, much to the detriment of the great classics.

However, I'd love for someone to try and match a live recording of the Strauss with the best available in samples to see how close we can get at present. Another thing, how would one for example perform with samples, the 5 violas harmonic glissando sul C in Gene's second example? Is there anything out there that could do this at the required dynamic and tempo?...I'm genuinely asking as it'd be nice to have a flexible, programmable harmonic gliss for all the 4 strings of each string instrument...oh with solo and divisi options too... ;)


Likewise on a different plane and getting back to the OP, a composer's creative mindset can be hampered by sample limitations and they may have to decide between writing to sample strength or write in a more unlimited way on the manuscript. Writing successfully, free of sample limitations requires more knowledge than synthestration and the decision on how to proceed (synthestration or orchestration), is inevitably influenced by how much one has an understanding of individual instrumental capability and instruments in combination with others, along with the artistic intention and/or the reason for writing. One can of course, embrace the samples for what they are and with full orchestral knowledge or not, still produce artistic worth.


A mixed approach will inevitably have to be used by those fluent in synthestration and orchestration in the absence of real performance, unless they decide not be dictated to on the ms. It's quite the artistic trap and the temptation to give in to what sounds ok in the DAW can be a limiting factor for some.


Here's another perspective: When Strauss or Mahler or whoever was composing for orchestra a hundred or 150 years ago, the orchestra was IT. That's all they had, that's what they knew, that's what they wrote for.

What is the end game here? Sure, as musicians the end game is to write the best music we can, to put our commitment, time, energy and love into what we're making. That's a given. But isn't the goal, in a more general sense to be happy, to be a reasonably content human being, to strive for, yes, of course, but also to be able to go to work and be grateful, thankful that you're alive and lucky enough to be able to even be writing music. Any one of us could drop dead any moment, get COVID, get into a car crash, whatever. Life is uncertain in every respect. The pandemic just brings it out more.

If your chief pursuit is to take a classic, say a Mahler symphony, or a Strauss opera and interpret using samples and a DAW, well, that's certainly your right to do that. And if you do, you'll probably learn an awful lot about music, harmony, orchestration and sequencing in the process. But remember: You're re-adapting a work for one medium into another medium. Strauss and the other composers of that day knew nothing of our instruments today. They wrote for their medium. Not ours.

When it comes to writing your own music, might not the wiser course of action be to decide: Am I writing for a new medium as an end in itself, or am I settling for something I don't really love because what I really want deep in my heart of hearts is getting works played well by a great orchestra (not to mention getting a good recording)? But these opportunities are really hard to get unless you're writing for film or some other commercial pursuit, which brings an entirely different set of compromises. (The politics and economics of getting works played is a whole other discussion). Remember, composers are in a profession where we're literally competing with about 300 years of dead people! Yes, most of the music played by top American orchestras is music composed by men (very few women unfortunately) who passed away decades or centuries ago. Now that's competition! :)

If your dream is to get all, some, most, or even one of your serious works played by a live orchestra, go for it! Keep on pursuing it until you get what you want. But I think comparing what samples can and cannot do relative to a live orchestra is kind of self-sabotaging. Part of the problem is in the terms we use, terms like "mockup", or "symphony" (I plead guilty) or "virtual orchestra"--they invite us (tempt us) to compare what should be a new, exciting musical frontier with a long-established tradition. I personally do not think this is healthy.

To compare a live performance in a great hall with expert musicians, an eager audience, a gifted conductor with a recording of a virtual electronic piece is, to my mind, such a futile comparison that I don't ever even go there. First of all, the psycho-social aspects of live musicians interacting with each other in real time is not duplicatable with MIDI. Even when I improvise with just one or a few other musicians, I realize there's a give-and-take component of the experience that is unique. I think we're setting ourselves up for unhappiness and frustration by comparing the old way with the new way of music-making.

So how is it I wake up nearly every morning, eager, enthusiastic and excited to go into my studio and work in a medium that will never be a real orchestra? Because I never pretended, even to myself, especially to myself, that it is that in the first place. I completely accept it as a different way to make music. Better? Worse? Good? Bad? It doesn't matter, what matters is I show up, do my best, and let the chips fall where they may. I am not seeking immortality through music, I seek it through being human. If I put meaning into my work, and I get meaning out of it, that's all that matters to me. I could be dead tomorrow and I sure as hell don't want to spend my life not appreciating what I do have and what I can do.

Mike's work is incredible. I keep urging him to post on here but he has his own reasons for not doing so and I respect that. I know he's worked with top players for years, which I am sure colors his thinking on these matters. And yet I've been listening to his MIDI interpretations of his scores and they are, by any standard, superb. Are there some moments where we might realize we're hearing samples? Sure, but so what? He' still showing great skill as a composer, orchestrator and electronic music producer and I think the hair-splitting he does regarding samples vs real players is beside the point. If you're really a good composer and you know you are, why do you care if some one picks apart your work and exclaims "Yikes! I heard a sampled instrument"! Maybe that person is unable to let themselves really sink into the music for reasons having nothing to do with you or your piece. Does that make you a fake? Illegitimate? Not a real musician? C'mon people, get some courage and self-esteem going and believe in your creativity. The medium is just a medium. It's not your entire destiny.

My philosophy has been and still is to embrace the medium I work in. There are people who love my work, people who hate it and people who are utterly indifferent. Should that matter? Just keep growing and learning. Life is short. A photograph isn't a painting, yet there are great photographs. A film isn't a play, yet there are great films. A recording made with samples and synthesizers is not an orchestra, but there are people do great work in this medium. What's the problem? I really don't think there is one.
 
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Welp, looks like I get to add yet another topic to The Official List of Things That Can't be Discussed Cuz Muh Sensitivities + You're a MIDI-ot + Discount Strawmen @ 3-for-a-dollar + Off-topic Axes to Grind + Virtue Signaling "You Might be an 'Incredibly Dangerous' Rayciss™ if You Prefer Notation Over Smoke Signals."

Over four months to go in the year and my 2020 VI-C play-at-home bingo card is already filled up.

Ethnocentrism isn't really racism and that's not the point I'm making. It's simply that we tend to think in the western tradition that we are the be all and end all and the highest art in music. We're not, necessarily. But I'll tick the "a few people missing the point entirely" box on my card and move on.

One of the most interesting things of notation vs an oral tradition that relies on basically no notation at all for the most part can be found here; Kopatchinskaja is playing from a written out transcription. Shankar is playing it entirely from memory. The violin part is pretty much as close as you could hope to notate traditional raga, and still doesn't even get close to all the detail in some ways, but it's a truly extraordinary performance and illustrates a bit of what I mean, especially if you skip in a few minutes to the really mind bending stuff for the violinist.

 

TinderC

Supplicant ... for now
Here's another perspective
Sounds like we're getting philosophical but that's OK. VI libraries allow lots of people to express themselves and find an audience on sites like VI-C. Many of us I'm sure find validation from feedback on the sites, but unless you're a media composer with a client it's a bit like self-publishing a book. When the relatives say "So ... how's the music coming along these days?" we'd be even more happy to say "The local chamber orchestra chose my piece to perform next month".
 
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jsg

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Sounds like we're getting philosophical but that's OK. VI libraries allow lots of people to express themselves and find an audience on sites like VI-C. Many of us I'm sure find validation from feedback on the sites, but unless you're a media composer with a client it's a bit like self-publishing a book. When the relatives say "So ... how's the music coming along these days?" we'd be even more happy to say "The local chamber orchestra chose my piece to perform next month".

Maybe, maybe not. Lots of fine writers and musicians publish their own works. People aren't the same; we all get validation in different ways. The kind of validation a 30 year old needs can be quite different from what a 60 year old needs.
 

Gene Pool

Active Member
The discussion was—according to my understanding of the OP's initial inquiry—work methods, or maybe work modes is better, when one is composing either with MIDI or with music notation, specifically with respect to how the alternate approaches can change one's mindset during the compositional process.

But after you and a couple others here continued to demonstrate what was in some respects a somewhat superficial understanding of notation in its fuller sense (which I remained charitably silent about for the duration), you started off on some tangent about “slippery slopes” and “extremely dangerous ethnocentrism.” And now we have a decidedly off-topic sitar + tablas concert, and you claiming that it’s other “people who are missing the point entirely.”

This subject is already tricky enough to discuss in and of itself, but it's made worse by people acting as if their usual work method was being impugned—despite emphatic declarations to the contrary—or as if it was a contest between one thing and another thing. And the goalposts were being moved so often and so quickly it could give one whiplash. Fer cryin’ out loud, one post unexplainably tried to narrow the issue down to a list of his favorite film composers, since non sequiturs never go out of style, and immediately after that we were going on a whirlwind globetrotting tour for our Ethnomusicology 101 field trip, first stop, New Delhi.

I don't think this should be a revelation, but I'll go through it anyway. The process of turning someone else's DAW or MIDI files into something that will work for orchestra is typically not what one would describe as a straightforward process. Before the actual orchestration can begin, there is editing; lots of problematic, unusable stuff clogging up the notation view has to get deleted. Then the essential bare bones remainder is transferred usually to Sibelius. In the working out of the score, there is a great deal that has to be added to it that wasn't in the original data. Some of that is because it just wasn't included in the original, but some it is because the data for it simply doesn't exist outside of the notation environment. The list of notation elements and instrumental devices for which there is no MIDI data is quite long. Hence, my initially stated position.

Most people I know work in two modes, according to the task at hand: notation and MIDI. None think either is perfect, nor that one's usually preferred approach testifies to their skill as a composer. Simply, that they are two different environments, therefore not the same, therefore not equal in all tasks. There should be nothing controversial about this reality. A hammer does not compete with a wrench.
 

mikeh-375

old school
Here's another perspective: When Strauss or Mahler or whoever was composing for orchestra a hundred or 150 years ago, the orchestra was IT. That's all they had, that's what they knew, that's what they wrote for.

What is the end game here? Sure, as musicians the end game is to write the best music we can, to put our commitment, time, energy and love into what we're making. That's a given. But isn't the goal, in a more general sense to be happy, to be a reasonably content human being, to strive for, yes, of course, but also to be able to go to work and be grateful, thankful that you're alive and lucky enough to be able to even be writing music. Any one of us could drop dead any moment, get COVID, get into a car crash, whatever. Life is uncertain in every respect. The Pandemic just brings it out more.

If your chief pursuit is to take a classic, say a Mahler symphony, or a Strauss opera and interpret using samples and a DAW, well, that's certainly your right to do that. And if you do, you'll probably learn an awful lot about music, harmony, orchestration and sequencing in the process. But remember: You're re-adapting a work for one medium into another medium. Strauss and the other composers of that day knew nothing of our instruments today. They wrote for their medium. Not ours.

When it comes to writing your own music, might not the wiser course of action be to decide: Am I writing for a new medium as an end in itself, or am I settling for something I don't really love because what I really want deep in my heart of hearts is getting works played well by a great orchestra (not to mention getting a good recording)? But these opportunities are really hard to get unless you're writing for film or some other commercial pursuit, which brings an entirely different set of compromises. (The politics and economics of getting works played is a whole other discussion). Remember, composers are in a profession where we're literally competing with about 300 years of dead people! Yes, most of the music played by top American orchestras is music composed by men (very few women unfortunately) who passed away decades or centuries ago. Now that's competition! :)

If your dream is to get all, some, most, or even one of your serious works played by a live orchestra, go for it! Keep on pursuing it until you get what you want. But I think comparing what samples can and cannot do relative to a live orchestra is kind of self-sabotaging. Part of the problem is in the terms we use, terms like "mockup", or "symphony" (I plead guilty) or "virtual orchestra"--they invite us (tempt us) to compare what should be a new, exciting musical frontier with a long-established tradition. I personally do not think this is healthy.

To compare a live performance in a great hall with expert musicians, an eager audience, a gifted conductor with a recording of a virtual electronic piece is, to my mind, such a futile comparison that I don't ever even go there. First of all, the psycho-social aspects of live musicians interacting with each other in real time is not duplicatable with MIDI. Even when I improvise with just one or a a few other musicians, I realize there's a give-and-take component of the experience that is unique. I think we're setting ourselves up for unhappiness and frustration by comparing the two ways of music-making.

So how is it I wake up nearly every morning, eager, enthusiastic and excited to go into my studio and work in a medium that will never be a real orchestra? Because I never pretended, even to myself, especially to myself, that it is that in the first place. I completely accept it as a different way to make music. Better? Worse? Good? Bad? It doesn't matter, what matters is I show up, do my best, and let the chips fall where they may. I am not seeking immortality through music, I seek it through being human. If I put meaning into my work, and I get meaning out of it, that's all that matters to me. I could be dead tomorrow and I sure as hell don't want to spend my life not appreciating what I do have and what I can do.

Mike's work is incredible. I keep urging him to post on here but he has his own reasons for not doing so and I respect that. I know he's worked with top players for years, which I am sure colors his thinking on these matters. And yet I've been listening to his MIDI interpretations of his scores and they are, by any standard, superb. Are there some moments where we might realize we're hearing samples? Sure, but so what? He' still showing great skill as a composer, orchestrator and electronic music producer and I think the hair-splitting he does regarding samples vs real players is beside the point. If you're really a good composer and you know you are, why do you care if some one picks apart your work and exclaims "Yikes! I heard a sampled instrument"! Maybe that person is unable to let themselves really sink into the music for reasons having nothing to do with you or your piece. Does that make you a fake? Illegitimate? Not a real musician? C'mon people, get some courage and self-esteem going and believe in your creativity. The medium is just a medium. It's not your entire destiny.

My philosophy has been and still is to embrace the medium I work in. There are people who love my work, people who hate it and people who are utterly indifferent. Should that matter? Just keep growing and learning. Life is short. A photograph isn't a painting, yet there are great photographs. A film isn't a play, yet there are great films. A recording made with samples and synthesizers is not an orchestra, but there are people do great work in this medium. What's the problem? I don't think there is one! Rejoice!



You're too kind Jerry. I'll send the cheque via pigeon carrier as your postal service is about to get f**ked... ;)
There isn't much to discuss here as it is an absolutely valid position you have taken in your work and the results prove it. (I'm still jealous of the fact that you have written, what 11 symphonies...11 fer christ sake. I'm still pissing in the wind with my 2nd....:)).
Excellence can obviously be achieved in either medium, separately or in combination. I concur with GeneP's (@Gene Pool) last paragraph above which I believe is an even-handed, straw free desription of mine, your's and many others approach to creating music within a DAW.

......Most people I know work in two modes, according to the task at hand: notation and MIDI. None think either is perfect, nor that one's usually preferred approach testifies to their skill as a composer. Simply, that they are two different environments, therefore not the same, therefore not equal in all tasks. There should be nothing controversial about this reality. A hammer does not compete with a wrench.

Amen.

(I preferred the coloured tree Gene, who's the Prokoffievan geezer in the hat)
 
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ptram

Senior Member
While I know that my music will only live in digital form*, I still believe that the orchestra is the highest achievement of the Western civilization, together with the big-building architecture and the comprehensive system of philosophy systems.

Orchestra is a term born when an organized society was first meeting in a theatre. It ultimately means putting our conscience together in a public space, to form a collective idea on ourselves. More than a technical term, it is an idea and a way of being humans.

Composing for the orchestra is not just a matter of putting together particular sounds, but to act for a complex form of social organization. El Sistema is a strong representation of the equivalence between a music band and an idea of society.

Writing for the orchestra is a social act. My music will remain in a computer, but I try not to ignore that I’m not writing for a violin, but for a violinist that is playing (and living**) together with other violinists. Thinking to bowing and breathing should connect us to the actual body of the people who are going to play the music.

Then, samples are also objects trouvés. We can do with them what we want to do with them. It's legit. But I’m still convinced this shouldn't be their ultimate goal.

Paolo

(* Actually, I had an orchestral piece performed by a real orchestra; but the version performed with samples sounds better!) (Of that experience with a real orchestra I have better memories of the human, than the musical experience).

(** The corrector wrote "loving" instead of "living'. It would have been perfectly fine. Germans also rightly use similar words for both concepts.)
 
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Vik

Senior Member
I finally read through this thread – interesting topic. I would be interesting with a parallel discussion about DAWs could improve in order to make them more convenient for composing orchestral music.
Relevant to the topic of this thread, I believe we also have to look at not what our DAW or pen/paper can do, but what our hands can do. We can, for instance, even with only one hand and a keyboard instrument, improvise a some bars with three different lines, some harmonic structure and hopefully interesting counter point movements. This is easy to translate into notation with pencil and paper (for someone who knows how to do it, obviously). When trying to record this into a DAW, and edit it – and listen to it before we make edits – the process will vary from one DAW to another. Some of the actions that are very easy to perform only with one hand and a piano sometimes require a lot of steps and key commands in a DAW, and the process is sometimes quite counterintuitive.

Example: At some point – say, at the second beat of bar 2, play chord with three or four notes, as one of the ingredients in the bars I'm improving. I want to check out how that chord would sound if I changed the G into a G#. Relying on the hand>piano>pencil method, the workflow is obvious: Hage the finger you have on a G to a G#. If you do that while the other notes still are being sustained, you'll hear how that G# will work with the other notes. If you you want you can also lift your hand before playing that G# instead of the G - easy. some DAWs/notation programs may deal with this in an elegant way – others aren't. In Sibelius, for instance, there are key commands which allows you to transpose the selected note which also will play the other chord notes every time change one of the notes. There are also key commands in some programs that – when proceeding to the next note – will let you hear all the notes happening at the same time position as the note you are proceeding to – if you want that. And so on. Many things have be done to emulate what we, in the composing process, easily could do with minimum effort (using our fingers).

We can't really discuss DAWs/notation programs as one homogenous group of tools here; they are, after all, quite different from each other. Some of them also create hindrances for us when we want to edit our way through an improvised number of bars, eg. by notating rather simple stuff – even three note harmonies – wrongly. If something a simple as an E major triad is shown as E, Ab and B, things simply look wrong. Of course – it's not that we don't understand that it's an E major triad, we'll just auto-translate that into correct notation – which, of course, may take some more time with a chord with 4 notes using a not-so-common combination of notes. But I want my DAW/score editor to be smarter than me, not more stupid.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while most stuff is possible with any workflow we choose, tools are important (as usual): how convenient and obvious/intuitive are the DAWs we use, compared with relying on the piano>hand>pencil method? Of course both methods have their pros and cons, we know that, but the above question is still important IMHO – and maybe even more interesting that a simple A vs B comparison, because there's still massive room for improvement in DAWs.
 

Uiroo

Señor Member
and that brings me back to my original question:

using the DAW for composing results for me in a way of composing where I always kind of "perform" (only) 1 line at a time. Being a piano player doesnt help in this case. No matter what sophisticated library with custom build expressionMap I have loaded up, I tend to improvise/perform/focus on one line. I would imagine, using either notation with multi staves (or piano roll/score editor with some good practise) I could more efficiently "web" on multiple musical "threads" at the same time - in other words just work more contrapuntal.

If you say you dont compose/work with piano roll .. what is your typical process when letting your ideas come to life?
Why don't you just work in the DAW the same way you'd work on notation software?
I do, my shortcuts on notation software are 90% identical to Cubase. Step-input is a godsend, it works awesome in Cubase.

What I love to do is to improvise on the piano, until I have something good.
Then I put it in via step-input, so it can be 1000x the complexity of what I could normally play.
Then work on it until I am sure the notes are exactly right, then I orchestrate it.

When I started working with a DAW I used to perform every part, and the music I did was the horizontal linear kind of music you typically expect from a DAW composer.
Now I rarely perform anything in as long as I'm still writing.
 
OP
borisb2

borisb2

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Why don't you just work in the DAW the same way you'd work on notation software?
I do, my shortcuts on notation software are 90% identical to Cubase. Step-input is a godsend, it works awesome in Cubase.

What I love to do is to improvise on the piano, until I have something good.
Then I put it in via step-input, so it can be 1000x the complexity of what I could normally play.
Then work on it until I am sure the notes are exactly right, then I orchestrate it.

When I started working with a DAW I used to perform every part, and the music I did was the horizontal linear kind of music you typically expect from a DAW composer.
Now I rarely perform anything in as long as I'm still writing.
it might sound stupid, but thats exactly what I have to learn - back to the drawing board.
/blabbering on:
When I worked with Logic back in the day (we're talking 15 years, doing EDM), performing a part was all we wanted, Logic (Emagic) was considered more musical because of things like groove and human quantize, swing factors etc., step input was considered a curse - not "musical" enough :P .. working with Cubase now it seems to be like the opposite is true, at least for orchestral music ... funny world :)
 
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