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My Old Music Workstation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Thursday, 05 March 2009 11:06
Indie Game Jam 3

Since the release of Flower and a couple of articles on it and its music, I've been getting a few e-mails on the usual stuff: how to get into the game music world, what classes to take in school, what looks good on a resume, things like that.  Seems to be a good thing to jump off of for a few write-ups in the hows and whats of my music making stuffs.

That pic?  Yeah, that's what I was using for music making back in 2005.  The keytar was indeed trés cool.  I'm nowhere near as cool anymore (why oh WHY did I sell it?  Anyone have a Roland AX-7 for sale?) but I definitely have a lot more capability these days.  I'm actually going through a bit of a transition period at the moment, so let me start off with what I was using day to day up to January 2009 and the end of Flower music production...

(If you're not really a music composer guy, this probably won't be of too much interest to you.  If you are, read on...)

  • Computers!
    • Dell Dimension 4550 (from about 2002)
      • Pentium 4 2.4 GHz
      • 2 GB RAM
      • E-mu 1820 sound card
    • Toshiba M200 convertible tablet PC (bought refurbished around 2007)

So my computers were definitely far from high end machines... but hey, they got the job done.  I didn't have to freeze tracks too often or constantly reboot in the middle of intense composing sessions.  They really were just enough computer to get things done.  The sound cards, though... man.  Excellent hardware and excellent software.  Loved those things.  Too bad I've already moved on to another sound card (a t.c. electronic konnekt live).  Similar to my stint with the Pentax K20D camera that I documented earlier, a lack of customer support options really soured me on an otherwise fine experience.  Long story short, Creative Labs couldn't sell me a replacement for my broken CardBus card; the only option they gave me was to send in the broken part and be without a sound card for an estimated two weeks.  Not cool.

Of course, the computers and sound cards are a small part of the equation.  What about the software?

  • Sequencer
  • Noise Makers
    • Miroslav Philharmonik
    • Synful Orchestra
    • MOTU Symphonic Instrument
    • Random other stuff
      • Some cheapo ProSamples and old Akai CDs here and there running in VSampler 3
      • E-mu Proteus stuffs
      • Sonik Synth 2, Sample Tank 2, and other IK stuffs
      • some other really small stuff I'm forgetting right now...

So yeah, these aren't exactly the hottest stuff among composers these days.  Let's start from the top...

Sonar 5.  Before that, I had Sonar 3.  Before that, Sonar 2.  Before that, Cubase 5.  Before that?  For MIDI stuff I was using an old Mac with Digital Performer 3.  (OS 9.2.2 WASSUP!)  For MOD stuff I was still using Impulse Tracker 2.14.  I could probably go on and on about the old stuff, but that's for another time.  Sonar 5 has served me really well for the last few years.  I know Sonar 8 is available right now but nothing about it has really jumped out at me.  Sonar 5's got what I want. Some decent sounding Lexicon and Sonitus effects, that nifty V-Vocal pitch corrector, a clean and fast interface, and a decent amount of stability.  Maybe I'll upgrade when Cakewalk brings out Sonar 9 next year.

My noise makers are a little bit off the beaten path.  Typically when you talk about orchestral sound libraries, the same few names come up: East West, Garritan, Vienna.  I actually avoided those libraries when I was putting together my collection of libraries and synths because it seemed like everyone was using them.  Yeah, I know with some effort I wouldn't sound like other Garritan users, but that didn't change the fact that even before trying out the interface for the first time in my local music shop, I was tired of the sound of those libraries.

My very first orchestral sound library was Miroslav Mini, and I thought it was amazing.  Loading up Akai CD partitions in Vsampler and doodling with the Sonar 3 piano roll view was just an awesome experience back in 2004.  Sure I didn't have all those cool articulations, and it didn't have some basic instruments like tuba, and if you focused you could hear the pitch shifting that was happening on certain notes... but it wasn't Advanced Orchestra and it wasn't Garritan and it wasn't all the other stuff I was hearing on music forums and composer communities back in the day.  Not that those sounded bad, but I was honestly tired of their sound.

Miroslav is still trundling along in the form of Miroslav Philharmonik.  It's quite a bit larger than the original Akai multi-CD incarnation, but it still doesn't have sophisticated keyswitching for multiple articulations on a patch or multiple microphone positions or even disk streaming, all of these standard features in modern orchestral libraries, but man does it have a singing voice that I just don't get tired of.

Synful Orchestra is sort of the opposite of Miroslav.  In Miroslav, there's a lot of love embedded in the sample.  Lots of tone.  Lots of arc.  Lots of: STUFF.  Lots of people tend to dismiss Miroslav for having over performed samples, and they do have a point.  Synful Orchestra is the opposite... if there's expression in the note, it's because you put it there.  If you don't put it there, well, you get some of the worst sounding orchestra sounds ever.  But, and this is a big but, you can put SO much emotion into Synful.  It's a lot of work, putting lots of continuous controller information and tweaking the note data... but you're rewarded with probably the most emotive orchestral sound library available.

I'll probably write more about these two libraries later.

MOTU Symphonic Instrument... maybe I'll write about it, maybe I won't.  I use it a lot, but I find it to be pretty pitiful.  Fancy interface, nice sounding reverb, and some really nice percussion and period instruments just can't make up for problems in the sound of their core orchestra sections.   I've had MSI since about 2005, and I don't think I've used the strings or winds in a single commercial project in the last 4 years.  Doesn't help that the violins on D and D# two octaves above middle C have a hitch in the loop.  Also doesn't help that D major is quite possibly my favorite key...

Flower production ended a few months ago, and I've decided that it's time for me to upgrade.  Most of the software will remain but man oh man... having a computer that can actually play modern video games will be pretty awesome n'est-ce pas?

Yeah, the French is a bad habit.  I probably won't fix it any time soon... certainly not by the time the next blog post rolls around...


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