How do i make my midi strings sounding real?
DrDeltaM
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#1
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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How do i make my midi strings sounding real?

Face it. Strings ruuule on many tracks in many styles. But a string orchestra ain't that readily available at a price you can afford, is it?

You might have some ol' (or new?) midi module laying around, but at first try it all sounds pretty plastic and uninspiring...


First : the soundsource:

As for midi modules, most are 'usable' in some way, but some nice cheap 2nd hand tips here:
-Roland SoundCanvas SC88pro: has rather some stuff on board, can be picked up cheap these days
-Roland JV series with the orchestral expansion board, there also is a 1U Orchestral unit the M-OC1
-The Emu Virtuoso 2000
-analog synth strings (more further)

Sample libraries:
-Garritan Strings lite or Garritan Personal Orchestra: www.garritan.com
-East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra Silver: www.soundsonline.com
-the older Roland libraries are very usable as well
-Sonic Reality has some nice affordable String 'Expansion Tank' http://www.esoundz.com/details/viewD...rrer=libraries
-you can find very usable free samples of synth strings at www.hollowsun.com
-anything you can find cheap!


Second : bringing them alive!

Layering is your friend. Combine sounds from different sources. Analog synth strings (or samples of such strings!) are excellent for this to warm stuff up!
Also put variation in the sounds: using different string presets for different notes (fast attack, slow attack, soft warm, hard biting).
Think like a string player: is it playabe or not? It helps to read a bit about the instrument or even try to play a bit yourself. (i'm a hobby violinist myself)
Set up a section with each part playing monophonic rather then just playing chords with one sound.
It's a classic, but it's true: Make work of your arrangement, more then half the work of realism lies there.
Volume-automation as well as playing with a low pass filter (warmer or more shrill) can bring some death samples alive as well.

Third : icing on the cake!

Find one real player (about every family has one?), go to the local music conservatory, ... One is enough, more is better, but one can make the difference already. Let it do overdubs. If it ain't a very good player (your uncle's brother in law's daughter for example), no problem: make a simplified version, even a few notes of real rosin might give the extra shine you need!


If anything more pops up in my grey cells, i'll add them.

Looking foreward to hear anybody's tips'n'tricks'n'experiences!
#2
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Here is a little one.
Had worked out a single chello track which friends and me thought to be nice already with its timing and all its push, shoves and stops. However when my neighbour heard it who is a chello player she shaked her head.
The point was that the library samples are "too ideally" and often too strong in the transcients for to sound like real in passages of playing.

So, taming the start of the notes and scuplturing players feeling could be one other aspect to consider.

---

I have a question about sampling too.
That chello for instance consisted out of 6 midi tracks in order to trigger six different samples ( for different moves and emphasis ). That made the work on it pretty large scaled. I was sure to be doing something not too practical, but didn´t know what.

In the sampler I used you could allocate several samples individually to octaves of the keyboard, but that feature I thought wouldn´t help the problem as it is about play-related moves rather than notes scale dependend.

How do you guys organize a pieced instrument?

Ruphus
#3
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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I like to send string patches out to a set of speakers and set some mic's up. Play with the distance from the speakers for more "oxygen" (room). This works pretty well with midi drum/percussion stuff as well... thumbsup
#4
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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I'm an XV-5080/SRX Orchestra user here and it's got some decent sounds.

One of the things that makes strings sound more realistic is the "space".

We often associate orchestra sounds based on what we're used to hearing... and most of the time this comes from some previous listening of a real orchestra, in a real space... even if it's in a TV or radio spot.

These spacial cues are important... not all the time.

So don't be afraid to use reverbs and delays to accompany your sounds.

Remember that reflections/spacial cues are a large part of some sounds, as a whole and they can contribute greatly to an instruments authenticity.

Or run your keyboard through a nice tube pre... I love my Sebatron for this.
#5
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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I have been called to arms and will be posting on this subject when I have a minute!
DrDeltaM
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24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by Ruphus

How do you guys organize a pieced instrument?
One thing that can be very important to realistic playing, but that's often overlooked in sample libraries, is the position of the hand of the 'virtual' player on the strings. You can play one note in several ways, on different strings. A violin player is physically limited by his hand and the speed of moving it, so is gonna choose certain notes on certain strings over other notes, also in function of timbre (lower strings playing higher notes are 'warmer' then same note on a higher string).

Strings are tuned (from low to high):
Violin: G - D - A - E
Altviolin: C - G - D - A
Cello: C - G - D - A

This can help you figure some realistic positions out maybe ;-)
DrDeltaM
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#7
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Indeed, the space is very important as well!
Nice tip of micing some speakers Tim! Hadn't considered that yet myself.
Creating space inside the computer screams for convolution reverb, for which there luckily are more and more options these days :-) From the free SIR plugin on PC to the 'free' Space Designer in Logic :-)
Besides Bowics warming with DI tip, you can also throw some plugins at it in the DAW if you don't have a nice DI around. I had a nice (tho subtle of course) experience here with inserting the Sonalksis compressor, without actually adding compression, of course tons of possibilities with all the plugs out there!

Thanks for all contributions, keep 'm coming!
#8
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
  #8
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Hey Doc D,
Slightly OT, but...

All of the suggestions in your initial post also work with brass sections. Cool - two threads for the price of one!


Cool forum BTW.


Cheers,
Tim
DrDeltaM
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#9
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Well noted! Thanks Tim!
#10
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Or you can leave them the way they are and blow up like the Neptunes did with there "cold digital sounds"

They sound like good tips Doc definitly gonna try them out.
#11
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by Tim L
I like to send string patches out to a set of speakers and set some mic's up. Play with the distance from the speakers for more "oxygen" (room). This works pretty well with midi drum/percussion stuff as well... thumbsup
Great tip!
I do this fromt time to time with canned drums. Then compress and mix back in. Nothing drastic, but it creates a sense of space.
#12
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by DrDeltaM
One thing that can be very important to realistic playing, but that's often overlooked in sample libraries, is the position of the hand of the 'virtual' player on the strings. You can play one note in several ways, on different strings. A violin player is physically limited by his hand and the speed of moving it, so is gonna choose certain notes on certain strings over other notes, also in function of timbre (lower strings playing higher notes are 'warmer' then same note on a higher string).

Strings are tuned (from low to high):
Violin: G - D - A - E
Altviolin: C - G - D - A
Cello: C - G - D - A

This can help you figure some realistic positions out maybe ;-)
Hi Doc,

Thanks a lot for the explanation ( also for your initial post which is indeed very interesting.)

What I meant though was: How do you roganize to trigger a bunch of samples to emulate an instrument?

Do you fiddle between a row of tracks like I did, or is there a better way?

Thanks!

Ruphus
DrDeltaM
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24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Depends a bit.
The Garritan Orchestral Strings Lite which i use offer "keyswitching". This means you can trigger with a low midi-note (out of the range of the instrument) what 'set' of samples are being played. You can load a '1st Violin keyswitch combo' program for example, which includes several playing styles: soft attack, hard attack, pizzicato, thrills, ... You can easily switch between those playing styles simply by triggering the low midi note that switches to the sound you want. Include this keyswitch note in the midisequence and all playbacks fine since all samples of all playing styles are loaded at once, keyswitching is very fast.

With a midi module you can try program changes, but i find this not too handy (plus with many gear simply too slow). I'd rather make several tracks for every string part then, each with a different playing style. First sequence them all in the 'standard' first playing style, then copy this track over to the other playing style tracks. Erase unneeded notes in the different parts, so that each note gets it's own playing style as you wish.
#14
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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2 things work for me.

1 - Gently roll off the highs...Never heard a synth regardless of price that sounded real with an even distribution up to 18K

2 - place them in the stereo field as they would appear in a live orchestra setting...violins at 11, french horns 2 with a few milliseconds of delay, etc...remember there's 30 feet of distance between the conductor and the rear line of players, and to get a real sound, this has to be accounted for.
#15
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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What has helped me the most in sequencing realistic string parts is having studied the cello for 9 years and played in orchestra string sections for most of that time as well.

I'm not sure anyone could figure out hand positions simply from the pitch of the open strings. There are so many subtlities like playing in higher positions on lower strings, avoiding open strings in general, etc. Seems like you'd really have to study the instrument to make sense of how the strings relate to hand positions.

Most of the advice here is excellent, especially the part about layering. In my opinion, when layering with different sample libs I feel it is best to play each layer in fresh. Sequence each layer individually, even if it means playing the same part over several times. In other words, don't play the part once and then copy and paste for the other layers.

Also, play each line individually as an orchestra would, don't sequence multiple parts at once as chords. Nothing gives away sequenced strings (or brass) more quickly than when sections have been sequenced keyboard style, as chords. It's a dead giveaway.

Use lots of volume pedal moves. Basically, your foot should never be stationary, it should always be moving. That's another dead giveaway, when the attacks and releases aren't properly tapered, but are kind of blocky sounding. The volume pedal should always be moving, keeping the musical line alive and finessing attacks and releases.

As far as laying out the different articulations in your sequencer, that's what I do. I also lay out the different sized sections that way as well. So for first violins I might have individual midi tracks for fast strings, medium strings, slow strings, marcato, pizz., tremolo, chamber string, and solo string. Same for second violin, viola, and cello. Bass is simpler, with basically just arco and pizz. The midi track count adds up quickly, as you can see! However, having the tracks laid out in advance allows you to work very quickly when sequencing, just jumping to whatever track has the proper sized section and articulation you need. Sometimes libraries also have different attacks at different velocities, so you can double up some of those tracks.

Coming out of the sampler, I lump all the arco articulations to a stereo output, and the pizz and any very short articulations to a different stereo pair. That's because pizz generally swims too much in reverb that just right for the arco strings. This eats up mixer channels like crazy, but gives the kind of control you really need. Of course, each string section has it's own set of outputs, so they can be mixed individually. So that's two stereo pairs for viollin one, two stereo pairs for violin two, violas, etc.

I also use the XV-5080 and the SRX-04 Symphonique Strings board, as well as the SRX-06 Orchestra board, which is still useful for layering. However, The SRX-04 board sounds absolutely killer when layered with a bigger sampler string library, which is how I use it. Layering the Roland just under the other libs really sounds good to my ears.

Hope some of this is helpful.
DrDeltaM
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#16
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by Albert
What has helped me the most in sequencing realistic string parts is having studied the cello for 9 years and played in orchestra string sections for most of that time as well.

I'm not sure anyone could figure out hand positions simply from the pitch of the open strings. There are so many subtlities like playing in higher positions on lower strings, avoiding open strings in general, etc. Seems like you'd really have to study the instrument to make sense of how the strings relate to hand positions.
I agree, being a player of a string instrument helps a lot. Figuring out hand posititions is maybe harder then it seems to me (as i'm used to it), but nonetheless it's worth thinking about imo. Simplified it's just like this: you start with a note (open string or your first finger), every finger you add raises pitch by half or one tone. the relation of a finger position to the same position on a neighbour string is always a fifth ;-)
Handy would be if you have a violin around of course :-) Like for example, i'm no guitar player, but i could figure out stuff on a guitar that would be playable by a real guitarist. It would take time for sure tho
#17
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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That's simple enough! Where it gets trickier though is when you get into double stops and chords. Some are possible and some are not. Some are possible, but not quickly. Some leaps between strings are easy, but some leaps are not easy or even really possible. It gets very detailed if you want to be nutty about realism.

One super help is to have a few books on orchestration around. I personally like the Walter Piston orchestration textbook, and another favorite of mine is Rimsky-Korsakov's book called "Principles Of Orchestration".

A *great* little guide on orchestration is called simply "Orchestration" and was written by King Palmer of the Royal Academy of Music. The King Palmer book is called "a guide for the amateur" and was published as part of the "Teach Yourself Books" series, but it is anything but amateur and has tons of great info on instrument ranges and playing styles. It's a fabulous quick reference and is a scholarly work that I think they labelled an amateur guide solely in order to sell copies. It's a paperback, which has made it perfect for me to take it on out of town gigs where I'll be doing orchestrations.
DrDeltaM
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#18
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Excellent tips there Albert! Cool
#19
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Also important is having collection of orchestral scores, even if it is just a few of the major ones. Nothing beats going directly to the masters and studying how they did it. Composers like Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Wagner, Richard Strauss, the folks who had that special talent for orchestration (among many others of course) are the best teachers. Money spent on a few great orchestral scores is money very well spent.

On a side note, back in Beethoven's day the strings were set up differently than now. As you faced the stage, violin one was in front on the left, as it is now, but violin two was in front on the right. Violas were next to violin one and cellos next to violin two, both on the inside of course. I personally think this layout sequences really well, and often use it although I use the standard layout as well. Having the two higher string sections on both left and right as in the old days seems to balance out the stereo image well.
#20
24th September 2004
Old 24th September 2004
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Thanks, Dr.Delta!
- and to you other guys too, naturally.

Ruphus
#21
25th September 2004
Old 25th September 2004
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Quick tip I use when mixing fake strings and trying to get them to sound real.

I'll create a group for the strings and put a reverb plug in the insert chain, pick a nice 'big hall' preset, tinker with till I'm happy and then chuck a compressor plug in afterwards and compress the hell out of it.

THEN, EQ the group whilst playing the full mix back and boost and cut until the strings are right in there (they'll probably sound horrible on their own).

Cheers,
Rich
#22
26th September 2004
Old 26th September 2004
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Don't forget...

Don't use any kind of Tape Emulation/Distortion and/or compressor on string parts(whole orch. if you want)...

It sounds ugly...

stike
#23
26th September 2004
Old 26th September 2004
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There is some excellent advice in this thread.

I'm a cellist, too, and one thing I've noticed with sampled string sounds is that the attack needs careful attention. Many people use the same slowish attack for every note, and that creates a big "sucking" effect on each note that is a dead giveaway. Solo strings are the worst in this regard, and I believe it's almost impossible to create a realistic exposed solo string line using samples. Or at least it would require so much effort and time that it's much more economical to hire a real player or two.

I agree with Dr.D that layering several different patches together makes a huge improvement in the smoothness and realism of the sound, especially if you do what he says and record each instance separately. I often blend the Garritan and Sonic Implants strings. Also, instead of recording each part separately, you can nudge (or if your sequencer has a "humanize" control, use that to randomize) the start and end times of each note to achieve a blurring of the attack and release, which helps to simulate the effect of having multiple players in each section. But I'm not sure that's any less time-consuming than recording the tracks individually. As you can imagine, this can get very tedious.

The other things to tweak are the overlap between notes in a legato line, the velocity of different notes in a phrase, and of course the volume.

But one problem I still haven't solved is that automating the volume can introduce a certain artificial sound, because in a real orchestra both the volume and the timbre change in a crescendo or decrescendo (i.e. a swell). To get a realistic effect you'd have to crossfade between velocity samples within a single note, and I don't know yet how to do that in Logic and the EXS24. Maybe one could layer different tracks with different velocities and somehow make a smooth transition.

Don Newmeyer
#24
26th September 2004
Old 26th September 2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by Dr.Grace
But one problem I still haven't solved is that automating the volume can introduce a certain artificial sound, because in a real orchestra both the volume and the timbre change in a crescendo or decrescendo (i.e. a swell). To get a realistic effect you'd have to crossfade between velocity samples within a single note, and I don't know yet how to do that in Logic and the EXS24. Maybe one could layer different tracks with different velocities and somehow make a smooth transition.

Don Newmeyer
That's why I like the Kirk Hunter Virtuoso Strings library on the Emu Ultra series samplers. You can bring in a different layer in realtime using the mod wheel. Nice for creating a timbre change on cresc. and decresc. in conjunction with the volume pedal.
DrDeltaM
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#25
26th September 2004
Old 26th September 2004
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You can do layer switching controlled by the modwheel with the EXS24 as well:

In the program editor, assign every layer to a subgroup.
Make all parameters for the group visable (you need to go into the menu for that). The parameter we need is the 'Select by'.

Once set to visable, you can set it to 'Select by' 'Ctrl.:' (midi controller), and select '1' (modulation wheel control number) in the next field. The range in the next fields is the modwheel parameter range for which this layer will play.

In this technique the velocity parameter is independant of the layer selection, every layer can have a full range velocity, so each layer (group) in itself has dynamic playing (can have multiple sample layers in itself as well). There is no crossfading tho, when you start a sample and move the modwheel, no other sample is crossfaded to.


Another way is to assign in the EXS24 main window the mod-matrix like this:
Dest: Sample Select
Src: Ctrl #1
And set it to full positive or negative as you want.

Your programmed sound now must have just one main group. Layers now are build by selecting their range in every of the zones (so for every sample). The different timbres of samples (sample layers) are now chosen by the modhweel position rather then velocity. You can have true crossfading now if you have overlapping sample zones.


The first method is handy for switching between 2 real different playing styles. The 2nd method is to have dynamic control with timbre changing in one playing style, for example to make swells.

Happy experimenting!
#26
27th September 2004
Old 27th September 2004
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A lot of good advice.

Real strings sound a lot screechier than most people would expect. What you are used to hearing is quite a bit of reverb on them.

The main thing is to think in terms of counterpoint. Real string parts are often scored in octaves with two part harmony only used to add tension in spots. More harmony than that will tend to sound more like a string quartet.

It takes four violins to balance out one viola and one cello acoustically. Maintaining that perspective will go a long way toward making it sound real.
#27
27th September 2004
Old 27th September 2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by Bob Olhsson
The main thing is to think in terms of counterpoint. Real string parts are often scored in octaves with two part harmony only used to add tension in spots. More harmony than that will tend to sound more like a string quartet.
You're talking more about a pop type arrangement here, aren't you? In classical symphonies or string orchestra works like the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings each section of the string orchestra has it's own lines, making at least five parts at any given moment (including the bass). And frequently the sections are broken down further into divisi for even more independent lines.

That said, Violin 1 & 2 are indeed often written in octaves, and another popular device is to put violins and celli on the same line a couple octaves apart.

I agree about the screechy part regarding the violin. At one point I thought I'd also pick up a little violin, since I already played cello. That lasted about two weeks, I just couldn't stand that scratching screeching tone in my ear for hours. Maybe that's why violinists are the way they are.....(love 'em though)
#28
27th September 2004
Old 27th September 2004
  #28
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Quote:
Originally posted by Albert
You're talking more about a pop type arrangement here, aren't you?
My experience has been that a pop type arrangement is the only thing that can sound reasonably convincing using fake strings.
#29
27th September 2004
Old 27th September 2004
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I think film scores can be convincing with fake strings as well. But even there, the standard of realism has to be higher than in a pop arrangement. Pop arrangements are mostly pads. And in both cases the strings parts are certainly accompaniment to the main action, which is either the lead vocals or instrumentals in the pop song, or the picture in a movie. So the listeners prime attention is diverted elsewhere.

I have yet to hear an orchestral mockup of a classical piece done on samplers that is even slightly convincing as a stand-alone type listening experience. Over on OSXAudio.com they are raving about a couple simulations, one of them Debussy's Jeux de Vagues, and neither of them are very good in my opinion as they are clearly not a real orchestra. They were done using the latest VSL and East West libs, but are still obvious simulations that lack the punch or life of a real orchestral performance.

The problem with simulating classical works is that the number of different articulations is astronomical. Even the big new libs like VSL are missing many commonly used articulations.

The typical library has string articulations that get sharper/faster as they get louder. However, one of the most common attacks is soft but fast. No library I know of has soft but fast, or loud but slow, or the kind of accented "push" articulation so commonly used as an accent, which is loud but with a lush attack and a fairly quick decrescendo off the back of it. Until there are articulations that are opposite of the dynamics most any string simulation can't be terribly realistic.
#30
27th September 2004
Old 27th September 2004
  #30
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Quote:
Originally posted by Albert


I have yet to hear an orchestral mockup of a classical piece done on samplers that is even slightly convincing as a stand-alone type listening experience. ...

The problem with simulating classical works is that the number of different articulations is astronomical. Even the big new libs like VSL are missing many commonly used articulations.

The typical library has string articulations that get sharper/faster as they get louder. However, one of the most common attacks is soft but fast. No library I know of has soft but fast, or loud but slow, or the kind of accented "push" articulation so commonly used as an accent, which is loud but with a lush attack and a fairly quick decrescendo off the back of it. Until there are articulations that are opposite of the dynamics most any string simulation can't be terribly realistic.
So true. I've tried to simulate that sort of thing, and it's difficult.

I have, however, heard a couple of fairly convincing full orchestral mockups, especially this stunning one of the Magic Flute overture by Duncan Brimsmead:

http://www.northernsounds.com/forum/...ht=magic+flute

This one is especially amazing because it was done using a $250 piece of software, the Garritan Personal Orchestra.

Mockups like this won't fool the experts, of course, but they might fool a casual listener.


Don Newmeyer
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