Tuesday, April 04, 2006

London orchestra builds in obsolescence

Do orchestral musicians have a future in the brave new world of digital technology? And more to the point do musicians even care about their future? The following worrying story, which was given to me by a professional musician, suggests that the answer to both questions is no.

Music composition software is a large, and lucrative, market currently dominated by Sibelius. But there is a new player in the market called NOTION, based in Greensboro, NC, and their new software offers two competitive advantages over Sibelius.

First, NOTION uses London Symphony Orchestra players to produce the sampled sounds, and this gives improved quality. ActiveX is fully exploited, and the results are pretty realistic, with the percussion instruments really sounding like bass drums and tam-tams, a big improvement on typical MIDI samples.

The second feature is the really worrying one. The London Symphony samples can be used in live performances. NOTION say: ' The NTEMPO feature which gives you real-time performance control. Rubato, holds, cutoffs, and vamps are accommodated with perfect precision. Incorporate NOTION performance as live accompaniment to players, theatre, or anything else in the real world - seamlessly'. This means you can simply tap the keyboard to conduct it to stay in sync with a live band.

In 2004 impressarion Sir Cameron Mackintosh controversially replaced half the musicians in his Edinburgh production of Les Miserables with American computer software called Sinfonia, which records and reproduces the sound of 300 different instruments.

The purpose of the NOTION samples must have been blindingly obvious to the London Symphony Orchestra musicians at the recording sessions in EMI's Abbey Road Studios, yet they chose to go ahead with them. In view of what happened to their colleagues in Edinburgh that is pretty extraordinary. Although when you consider the same players accepted a recording deal with LSO Live that earns them each around £400 (720 US dollars) per year in total from the sale of all their award winning CD's it becomes a bit more understandable.

Now, if you still think this is a lot of fuss about nothing follow this link, and listen to the strings in the Nutcracker Overture and the choir in the snowflakes waltz played on NOTION - truly frightening. If you are a professional musician you may well be listening to your own funeral march.

Read NOTION's response to this article here On An Overgrown Path.

Image credits: Rai.it and BBC News. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Musicians' jobs before free downloads

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised some musicians are up in arms, while others are only interested in the quick buck.

Plus ca change.

However, I am rather impressed with the sounds. Sibelius has nothing like the choir sounds at the end of the snowflakes waltz - sounds like real singers.

and/or said...

As time passes, if anything, people's ears will become *more* attuned to the difference.
Not to mention, doesn't a great sounding piece of software behoove musicians to play more expressively than a computer? When a competing player comes on the scene impressing everyone, what do other players do? They practise and get better to keep their work, rather than complaining about someone else who worked hard at their specialty and got good.
What's more, there is so much great music out there that will never be heard for lack of funding to get it played. If Notion can cut composer/arrangers expenses enough to get their ideas out there, then society will be that much richer for having the music heard; and a few musicians will be out a hundred imaginary dollars that the composer couldn't afford to pay them in the first place.
This is a new instrument, and people can get skilled in that too, and put their skills to new, fresh use. When did this cuttthroat survival as a working artist become more important than new mediums for the communication of creative ideas?

Pliable said...

NOTION has its own blog, follow this link.

Jon said...

I couldn't agree more.
I think the natural reaction to this from a professional musician is one of fear and curiosity. There are obvious benefits to this technology. If its used in schools for example, to accompany/extend,a small town amateur, semi pro band/orchestra/society, miles away from any professional Orchestra's/halls to put on a perfomance of xyz, nutcracker, Guys and Dolls etc, it could encourage that audience to make a trip to hear the real thing, or even to invite an Orchestra to the town, outdoor concert etc..
However they WON'T be encouraged to hear the "Real Thing" if they are using the same machine in London/New York/Berlin/Vienna etc.
Live performances of ANYTHING will ALWAYS prevail. A Playstation can show a game of football for you but you still want to watch Manchester United V Chelsea, and not an autoplay with a pre programed result!
I don't see it as any different to CD's, no one sits down in a concert wall to watch a HI FI, even if its the greatest of all the greatest, human beings want to hear,see, feel, absorb the Human excitement, anxiety, tension, passion emotion, EVERYTHING that machines do not do and never ever will do. Machines are the same everytime, even with all the Rubatos, crescendos and all that, just like the CD which is(or could) be from a live performance, if its the same EVERYTIME you hear it and its 100% predictable, it becomes boring. You can watch the 1966 world cup final video as many times as you want, but unless you were there you will never know how amazing that moment was, it can never be replicated, and this is what keeps all artists employed. Blood Sweat and Tears is what people want with all entertainment,to feel engaged and part of the performance. This will never happen with anything thats prerecorded hence why live entertainment still exists all over the world. IF this instrument/machine is used appropriately it could help to spark people's passion/desire for this performance and increase audience numbers. All it would take at the end of a performance/demonstration is for someone to say, if you like this taste of Orchestral music here's where you can see the real thing, as live performance is a whole different world. If its used to spread music to the masses, it can be a good thing for everyone.