Why the hate... For Portamento String slurs?

jononotbono

Luke Johnson
I constantly read differing opinions on the use of Portamento String slurs and I’m curious why. What is it that people don’t like about them, hate about them? I’ve even read that people think that a String library should not to bother even including them!

Is it a snobbish thing? An elitist attitude? A technique that isn’t used by real players as much as people that write with sample libraries so therefore people think it’s not “valid” music (whatever that means). Personal dislike? Just thinking out loud.

Coming from a Rock background to recently trying to write music with Orchestral instruments (and going down the path of studying composition, Harmony, Orchestration which is obviously a life long journey etc), I genuinely don’t know why some people hate them and interested to hear some reasons why.

I should add, I love the sound of them and I have now decided I will endeavour to always have at least one in every piece of music I write, for the rest of my life, just to annoy the “haters” haha!

Jono
 

Saxer

Senior Member
Simply used too often and in the wrong places.
I think it's still compensating that string libraries (or simply string 'sounds') couldn't do that until a couple of years ago.
If done in the right places it can be a nice nostalgic romantic or funny effect. I like portamentos for smaller steps in inner voices. Not really recognizable as portamentos but somehow it can give a kind of individuality to an inner voice in a chord change. I don't like portamento very much in higher registers. It always sounds like cats to me. Nothing wrong with cats but...
 

Vik

Senior Member
I think the main problem is that they often haven't been sounding real enough (in sample libraries) - and when they are sounding believable, they are sometimes used too much.

Personally, I think the main reason (besides not sounding real) sampled portamentos sometimes are disliked is that there's too much them when they are there: the portamentos are either too long or too loud, and some libraries don't have dedicated control over portamento volume and length.

That, in combination with being used too often, gives the opposite effect of what slurs ideally should be used for.
 
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Motr3b

Member
i think the problem is some people overuse them in every single piece of music, and unlike libraries like chris hein ensemble strings, not all libraries give you the ability to adjust the portamentos, glides, ... the way you want so they might not sound realistic. but saying something like developers shouldn't include them in the libraries is wrong.
 

Jimmy Hellfire

Senior Member
Anything sounds stupid when overused. Not sure why there's a specific disdain for this particular thing. Nothing better than portamento just in the right spot.
 

Wunderhorn

Senior Member
Done well and in the right place it is an incredibly important element to conjure up romantic expressions.
 

NoamL

Winter <3
Jono if you love the sound then write them as much as you want!

My issue with sample library portamento is similar to what @Saxer said.

Here's some pretty over-the-top Wagnerian scoring in a modern film:


Not a portamento to be heard. There is a world of difference between a slow, emotional legato transition and a portamento.

String players practice a lot to make their legato transitions clean and precise, even when slow. So the "gliding" sound of the portamento can sound more like bad technique than a deliberate creative choice.

The issue is that libraries advertise "We have legato transitions, and if you want especially slow and emotional, there's portamentos too!" when in reality a great & accurate string library should be more like:

1. fast legatos / runs
2. normal speed
3. slow / emotional
4. portamentos

with the portamentos being BY FAR the least used of the bunch.

In fact I would only use portamentos in a mockup under these circumstances:
  • it's a melody in a slow or especially emotional passage of music
  • AND the interval is a leap upward of a perfect 5th or more
  • AND the top note is more than a perfect 5th above the instrument's top string (this rule can be waived for certain passages on cello or bass)
  • (AND the portamento sample actually sounds good and doesn't stick out like a sore thumb)

If portamentos should be so rare, why does every library have them? Well, that's a good question and it can go right next to "why does every library sample col legno?" ;)
 
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whitewasteland

Senior Member
What @NoamL says !

The sample library world is kind of obsessed with legato. Legato means quality, and legato means realism.

The portamento is by far the most obvious, loud transition possible between two notes, so using it too much is a bit like saying "Hey, look, these notes are connected, there is legato here, this sounds real !".

A real string player simply wouldn't have to emphasis legato to make it sound real, it would anyway. That's really a sample library gimmick.

But yes, sometimes that's just beautiful :)
 

jneebz

Senior Member
I like portamentos for smaller steps in inner voices. Not really recognizable as portamentos but somehow it can give a kind of individuality to an inner voice in a chord change.
Ohhhhhh....that’s a great idea.
 

muk

Senior Member
I constantly read differing opinions on the use of Portamento String slurs and I’m curious why.

The use of portamento has always been a judgement call. The amounts being used has varied widely over the decades. It's subject to fashion. At the moment it is common practice to use it sparsely, for emotional effect. In the romantic era, however, it was common to use lots of portamento – much more than we are used to today. Listen to this historic recording of Elgar’s cello concerto, for example, conducted by the composer himself:




By today’s standards this would be seen as a tasteless overuse of portamento. At the same time there is much less vibrato than we are used to. So, in historically informed performance practice, romantic pieces should be played with a lot of portamento, but very little vibrato. It’s almost the opposite of what we are used to today: portamento was used liberally, but vibrato only very sparsely for emotional effect. If that sounds strange to our ears that only goes to show how ingrained the current fashion of playing is in our brains. And that this fashion changes a lot over time. What we can do is to experiment with it, trying to be open minded to what deviates from current fashion, and in the end go with what sounds natural to us – fully knowing that in due time our choices will go out of fashion as well and sound dated.


Haydn, by the way, made a joke of the overuse of portamento in the scherzo of his string quartet op. 33 no. 2:


 
OP
jononotbono

jononotbono

Luke Johnson
Jono if you love the sound then write them as much as you want!

My issue with sample library portamento is similar to what @Saxer said.

Here's some pretty over-the-top Wagnerian scoring in a modern film:


Not a portamento to be heard. There is a world of difference between a slow, emotional legato transition and a portamento.

String players practice a lot to make their legato transitions clean and precise, even when slow. So the "gliding" sound of the portamento can sound more like bad technique than a deliberate creative choice.

The issue is that libraries advertise "We have legato transitions, and if you want especially slow and emotional, there's portamentos too!" when in reality a great & accurate string library should be more like:

1. fast legatos / runs
2. normal speed
3. slow / emotional
4. portamentos

with the portamentos being BY FAR the least used of the bunch.

In fact I would only use portamentos in a mockup under these circumstances:
  • it's a melody in a slow or especially emotional passage of music
  • AND the interval is a leap upward of a perfect 5th or more
  • AND the top note is more than a perfect 5th above the instrument's top string (this rule can be waived for certain passages on cello or bass)
  • (AND the portamento sample actually sounds good and doesn't stick out like a sore thumb)

If portamentos should be so rare, why does every library have them? Well, that's a good question and it can go right next to "why does every library sample col legno?" ;)
Well I think the answer to Col Legno being recorded in sample libraries is because it's a stylistic thing. Col Legno is a great sounding "percussion" articulation when you don't want to use actual percussion and obviously wind out everything but the attack of the pluck. Well, that's my opinion. It's a good thing to bring up though because I can imagine the purist classical types hating the use of them to. I sometimes think "a few Col Legs would be great to accent a downbeat slightly and give some more movement to a track" and sometimes don't even think about Volume and levels/balance to a real orchestra because I live in Producer world where I have faders and can automate anything. If you record Col Legnos with live players they are obviously very quiet (I've actually experienced an orchestra recording a short passage of them for a couple of composers I was assistant for) but with the power of technology, they either get mixed/turned up or just completely replaced using samples (or both).

Your circumstances for using them are very interesting. I kind of figured out a while ago that there needs to be a big enough of an intervalic leap to justify them (in order to portray some kind of realism - realism in the sense that a player could actually perform them). I've been recently writing a piece of music, for no other reason than trying to get better with SSS and to see what happens. The piece is turning out to start with slow beginning of which a couple of notes sounded like they "wanted" to be Portamento (wanted being, me wanting them to be haha). It wasn't long though before my brain started thinking "There's too many of these now. With each one added, the affect is slowly waning". I believe they are each a perfect 5th apart (I'd have to load up the project file to check for sure) so I'm glad that I'm sort of along a similar mind set as people that know what they are talking about in context of an orchestra. It's just silly to think you can have player create an over the top slur when their fingers aren't literally moving very far etc

I completely understand "too much of anything". It's like asking a Guitarist to play pinched harmonics. Love them, and they are great fun to play but playing them on every note (unless for Sound Design/SFX/etc)...well, there can only be one Zakk Wylde and it gets old real quick.

I can see in the sample library world not being able to adjust the port speed being a massive drawback to using them. Unless of course you specifically write music to the samples, at some preordained tempo and that's not gonna be a huge amount of fun... Perhaps if drinking a bottle of Port whilst writing it might be more fun.

I seem to remember the Blood theme for TV Show Dexter using heavy amounts of String Port slurs (I've not watched it for years). And I also remember loving it (but I loved that show). I thought it was a great use of making a weird "romantic" feeling between Dexter and his obsession with blood. And association of Port slurs and romanticism is something my brain thinks of (perhaps it doesn't for others) which is probably an association learnt by the use of it for romantic films or music over the years. I'm not sure why I would associate it with romanticism otherwise.

Thanks for everyone's thoughts. Very helpful so far!
 
OP
jononotbono

jononotbono

Luke Johnson
The use of portamento has always been a judgement call. The amounts being used has varied widely over the decades. It's subject to fashion. At the moment it is common practice to use it sparsely, for emotional effect. In the romantic era, however, it was common to use lots of portamento – much more than we are used to today. Listen to this historic recording of Elgar’s cello concerto, for example, conducted by the composer himself:




By today’s standards this would be seen as a tasteless overuse of portamento. At the same time there is much less vibrato than we are used to. So, in historically informed performance practice, romantic pieces should be played with a lot of portamento, but very little vibrato. It’s almost the opposite of what we are used to today: portamento was used liberally, but vibrato only very sparsely for emotional effect. If that sounds strange to our ears that only goes to show how ingrained the current fashion of playing is in our brains. And that this fashion changes a lot over time. What we can do is to experiment with it, trying to be open minded to what deviates from current fashion, and in the end go with what sounds natural to us – fully knowing that in due time our choices will go out of fashion as well and sound dated.


Haydn, by the way, made a joke of the overuse of portamento in the scherzo of his string quartet op. 33 no. 2:


Really interesting. And great Elgar example. So much Port and fascinating that one of the classical masters has written music with so much of that playing technique, despite so many people (that are certainly nowhere on that level of composing) having opposing opinions on it's use. I guess that's it. "Opinions".

So, in a nutshell, do whatever you like because different fashions come and go. I've never been one to wear designer clothes so I reckon I'll always be someone that loves a good ole port slur! I hate to say it but I think it comes down to the age ole question, "Does it sound "good"?". If not, then don't do it! haha!
 

Saxer

Senior Member
There's one more reason: repeating the same note with the same portamento is different for live players and samples. Real portamentos sound different each time but with samples it's mostly the same sample.
I think the portamento maniac time started with LASS. The velocity slots for the gliss and portamentos are large by default (I think everything below velocity 30 was portamento). It happend by accident on every few notes.
 
OP
jononotbono

jononotbono

Luke Johnson
So, and this could probably be it's own thread, but what String library options are there for varied Portamento Slurs? Or at least giving the ability to change the speed using Scripting etc?
 
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jononotbono

jononotbono

Luke Johnson
Basically they hate "wacking" something so expensive, and fragile
The players definitely use a shit $5 (whatever their personal price is for a cheap bow) Bow. Playing them is no problem. Of course it would be a problem if you expected someone to whack a Strad Bow haha! That would be ridiculous. When organising an Orchestral session, if Col Leg is in the score, it would be expected to inform the fixer who would tell the the players what they need. And besides, like you have said, players often have one in their bag. If I was a string player (and one that is hired to work in Film, TV and Games) I would have one as standard.
 

Nick Batzdorf

Moderator
Moderator
Col Legno is a great sounding "percussion" articulation when you don't want to use actual percussion and obviously wind out everything but the attack of the pluck.
Or if you just want the sound of col legno!

It and out-Bartok-ed Bartok snap pizz are examples of sounds that you can't really create with a live orchestra. They rely on miking for that kind of impact.

I love them both!
 
OP
jononotbono

jononotbono

Luke Johnson
Or if you just want the sound of col legno!
Well yes. And I genuinely don’t mean to sound rude when i say this but I didn’t say that because to me that’s extremely obvious.
I love the sound of Col Legno and glad it’s recorded in sample libraries.
 

Jimmy Hellfire

Senior Member
I too think that Col Legno samples are incredibly useful in so many ways in music production, and would never want to miss them.
Also, it's one of those things that justify the existence of sample libraries in the first place. It's great to be able to punch in things via samples that would be too difficult, impractical or costly to record live, or you'd have to give up players in the section for. Also, who cares about what purists think. There's so much stuck-in-the-mud ridiculousness in that world.