The Numbers of the Beast

June 19th, 2019

In case there are any computer freaks listening in I thought I’d post the specs of my new PC. The components which make it possible to cope with the huge task of creating this virtual performance are 64GBs of top quality RAM, the high end processor and the super fast Solid State Drives for the operating System and the Sample drives.

Motherboard Asus Prime Z-370-P LGA 1151
Processor Intel core i7-8700K LGA 1151 3.7 GHz
RAM Corsair 64GB Vengeance LPX DDR4 2666 MHz
Graphics Card ASUS AMD Radeon R5 230 2GB
Audio Card Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen) USB AudioInterface
Monitor 1 Samsung SyncMaster S27B350
Monitor 2 Samsung SyncMaster 2693HM
OS Drive Samsung 970 EVO V-NAND M.2 500GB SSD
Samples Drives OCZ Agility3 500GB SSD x 2
Cooling Fan Corsair Hydro Series H80i V2 Liquid Cooler
Power source Corsair RM750x 80 PLUS Gold

The software I use hasn’t changed other than the several updates over the years. Sibelius 8.2 and the Vienna Symphonic Library. I use the VSL Symphonic Cube sample collection. I have not moved on to their newer “Dimension” or “SYNCHRON-ized” sample sets, just too expensive. The main VSL software is the Vienna Ensemble Pro 6 (the virtual mixing console) and MIR Pro (the virtual concert hall where the virtual performers gather).

They’re Back!

June 18th, 2019

I’m back on it. Following xmas 2018 I managed to get together enough finance to build me a monster PC. Once assembled I went straight into testing it on the remainder of the 3rd movement from where I had left off nearly six years ago. It quickly became apparent I was good to go and the new machine could cope with whatever I wanted to throw at it without compromise. Needless to say I was too excited creating the performance to worry about updating this blog and in any event I had forgotten usernames and passwords. Obviously I’ve now resolved that and can now regularly update the legion of followers of this blog and Sorabji fans worldwide (insert emotican for tongue in cheek here).

I know there are lots of broken links to earlier posts and I will get round to trying to sort that in due course but first I will post all the exciting stuff I’ve been doing in the last few months. Regular visitors to the Sorabji Archive forum will spot much duplication of posts there.

The Tuba Takeover

February 21st, 2015

It’s been a long time because In May 2014 I was offered the opportunity to perform a tuba concerto with my orchestra The Forest Philharmonic Orchestra and one thing led to another and I’ve ended up commissioning a new concerto from Derek Bourgeois. That has in effect taken over my life and squeezed out any real time to spend on furthering the Jami. The WP of the Concerto is on Sunday 26th April 2015 at 6:30 at the Walthamstow Assembly Hall. And in January 2014 I joined East London Brass my local brass band and even though they are a fairly relaxed band, only rehearsing once a week, this has meant even less time for KS. It has revitalised my tuba playing which I had let slip almost to extinction over the last decade and I’m practicing more now than I ever have even in my music college days. Sorabji and Jami haven’t gone away though just been put on the shelf for a while. They’ll be back.

So Many Violins

August 23rd, 2013

Three and a half months since my last post during which I’ve completed a fourth section of just over 20 minutes bringing the total duration completed to 72 minutes of around 120 in 31 weeks suggesting it would take over a year to complete the whole of the third movement. However I’ve also decided to stop for the moment. Whilst I’ve been very excited that I now have the hardware and software to create the quality of virtual performance I want it’s become clear I don’t yet have the mastery of my tools to do it justice. What I have done is a quantum leap better than the first complete performance but I know it could be better and that with a greater understanding of the Vienna Symphonic Library and how to get the best out of it I could control so much better the quality of the sound and the ability to balance the music as I really want. My thoughts about interpretation have also changed since I’ve started.

At the moment I just can’t balance the various instrumental sections, melodic lines, solo moments as I want. There should be moments where the choir say or brass completely dominate the orchestra but I can’t do that to my satisfaction and I’m sure that is because of failings on my part in the way I have set up the software. I’m also sure I can get a better sound, particularly from the strings. So I feel I need to stop what I’m doing and go back to the drawing board with another project to try and learn better the tools of this trade. I’ve thought about finishing the third movement before doing that but that would still take a long time.

So, as this is not going to be my final performance/interpretation I shall let you have the totality of what I have done so far with the third movement. The most recent addition takes us to a pretty big climax. There are three major climaxes in this movement, the first at around 21 minutes the second at 72 minutes and the closing climax each of which gets progressively more massive. I’ve suggested before that the ending of this movement should probably be one of the most massive moments in all orchestral music right up there with Mahler 2 and The Gothic, but for the moment that’s for another day.

The most notable part of the new section is the extended passage where the violins divide into eight parts each i.e. 16 separate violin parts. That starts at 67 minutes in. With the score calling for 48 violins that’s three per part but VSL only gives me 12 player samples, 6 player samples and solo samples so as I’ve used the 12 player samples when the parts are divided into two parts (the majority of the work) and 6-player samples when divided into four parts (a substantial amount of time) I’ve gone for solo violins for the 16-part divisi which works for me. There were some difficulties in getting Sibelius & VSL to play 16 solo violin parts correctly at the same time (neither software was built for such a scenario!) but a work around was found. I had to be careful with the placement and balance to make the transition between two 12 player parts and 16 solo parts sound seamless and natural which I think I largely have done. I may well do another post quite shortly with a detailed musical description of how the 16 violin parts work – just cos I fancy doing that and I would like to get better at describing the music.

But for now here is the first 72 minutes of the third movement in flac and as mp3 – enjoy.

BTW the next project I will do, to improve my skills, is Sorabji’s Chaleur recently completed by Frazer Jarvis who has kindly let me have the Sibelius score.

The New Complexity? Phaw. Old Hat!

May 5th, 2013

The third chunk of the 3rd movement is now complete. About 19 minutes. having returned to work which included a move of office across London and the kids returning to school it’s taken me seven weeks. I’m now up to 52 minutes so nearly at the half way mark.

I’m not sure when the term “New Complexity” was first applied to the works of Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Finnisy, James Dillon and Richard Barrett, but the Jami Symphony preceded them all and there are few pieces of even these composers which match the complexity of the Jami Symphony, except perhaps  Ferneyhough’s La terre est un homme – which only lasts 13 minutes!

A moment in this third part illustrates this complexity and I thought I would break it down between the various sections of the orchestra to demonstrate not only the complexity but the difficulty I am having in trying to make it as clear as possible. I work up each section one at a time woodwind, brass, chorus, strings, keyboards and percussion. Within each section I have to make choices about which part should be prominent and then which section should be prominent. Inevitably much is lost to the background wash, which is disappointing but choices have to be made. This section reaches a brief climax at roughly the overall mezzoforte to forte level and will be a long way from the massive climax at the end.

I had attempted to describe the complexity but decided it was easier to show a snippet from the score and then a sound clip of each orchestral section and the whole orchestra. So here is a page from this extract. And here are the Sound files for the woodwind, brass, chorus, strings, keyboards and percussion and finally the whole shebang.

As you will hear an awful lot of the detail is lost and in this section I have concentrated on the chorus at the start but allowed the brass to come through at the climax. I’ve made sure the tam-tam is heard because it is so rarely used but the woodwind detail is completely subsumed as is the piano (which hardly gets a look in in this work!). The strings are omnipresent! Whether these are the right choices who’s to say?

I still think the overall sound wash is exciting and there are plenty of places where lots of filligree detail can be heard.

Let the singer be heard

March 26th, 2013

The second chunk of the third movement has been finished in record time as I’ve had some time off work and have been hard at it for several days. This section lasts just under 14 minutes and brings us to 35 minutes so over a quarter done. I’ve got three extracts for you.

 The first is the first entry of the organ in the third movement which as usual comes amid a fairly full orchestral and choral tutti.

 The second is the quotation from Chausson’s Symphony of 1890 played by the trumpets.

 The third is one of those very special moments of repose when over a quite sustained chord of B major (momentarily with added spice from the lower strings) four solo sopranos distantly sing a variation of the main theme before moving off into more Sorabjian tapestry.

 I continue to learn both the technology and the music. I’ve made some software setting changes which means I shall have to go back and do the first chunk again but I shall leave that to the end. I’ve found a way of balancing the sections better particularly the choir which needs to be more prominent and in the first part sounded almost like they were off stage. During this part I have also realised that the most important part of the music is the melody. There is always melody somewhere and often several. The textural stuff, whilst fascinating, must stand back and the melody must shine. The trumpet has several important melodic moments in this section. Even in the multi divisi string parts someone will have a melodic line whilst all around them go bananas and the emphasis should be on the melodic part.

 This whole symphony is one huge songfest.

Shaping up very nicely

March 4th, 2013

After seven weeks I have finished the first major chunk. The first 21 minutes. That’s quicker than I was expecting. The music is wonderful and I’ve two extracts to post. The first is a passage where the strings divide into 4, 4, 3, 3, 3. This features the VSL chamber strings with six violins, four violas, three cellos and two double basses per part. These passages tend be the strings providing a mosaic background to lyrical lines elsewhere. There’s a long melody in the tenor section over this. Listen for the lush 2nd violin four part glissando and the glorious top violin line later. The second extract is an ecstatic full voiced moment for the choir divided into 32 parts largely supported by contrapuntal 10-part strings one of those joyous noise moments.

I’m still learning and improving as I go along and I shall want to go back and redo some earlier parts but intend for now to plow on. In particular I want to find a way to bring the choir forward in the mix, more in your face. At the moment they almost sound like their off stage and it’s very hard to make them loud enough in the big climaxes. And talking of big climaxes the end of this first 21 minute chunk is a real doosey. The problem is trying to rein in the excitement because the very end of the third movement is likely to be one of the biggest noises in any orchestral music right up there with the biggest moments in Mahler and even the Gothic. Way to go yet though.

Frustration, technical and musical.

February 11th, 2013

I feel like I’m into my stride. In two weeks I’ve managed another 5 minutes of music so now up to 6.5 minutes where there’s a brief pause in the flow of this mighty river. I’m discovering/rediscovering how beautiful this music is but also becoming frustrated. My current modus operandi is to take a chunk of about a minute or so, work up the strings first, then the choir, then harp, keyboards and percussion, then brass and then woodwind. It’s wondrous to hear each part building up, hearing what the two double bass parts sound like and then adding cellos etc until all string parts are sounding and adjusting balance and bringing out interesting parts and lines within. The frustration is as I add each section of the orchestra those exquisite details realised in other sections, and apparent in each new section, become lost to the Sorabjian complexity and there’s a constant battle to prevent the texture becoming too loud as you try to compensate for losing parts heard clearly before. I suppose that’s the nature of this complex and intricate Persian rug and of course certainly lends itself to repeated listening as you can constantly pick out things that you’d missed before, and of course to repeated performances where different shades and emphasis can be brought out. The result is a glorious wash of ecstatic sound.

I’ve just reached the first section where the strings divide into 3-4 parts each and am using the VSL chamber strings for the first time. This threw up a technical problem not of my making (for once) but of the VSL/Sibelius interface. What I am doing is extreme for Sibelius and VSL. Most Sibelius orchestral scores wouldn’t get beyond 20-30 parts/staves and most VSL templates would not get beyond 20 or so virtual instruments but I have over 200 staves and 120 virtual instruments. The difficulty is trying to get Sibelius to communicate the correct stave with the corresponding VSL virtual instrument. Sibelius doesn’t like having multiple instruments with the same name so having the violins divide into 8 parts (and later 16) which for Sibelius purposes are all called chamber violins caused it, and by consequence me, all sorts of angst. The good thing is that after many hours of jiggery pokery and creative thinking I have found a workaround which works. It’s thrilling to hear eight violin parts (of six players each) weaving the Sorabjian web and indeed the four violas (4 players), cellos (3 players) and basses (2 players). I shall post an extract shortly.

Full steam ahead (fingers crossed)

January 29th, 2013

It seems all major technical difficulties have been overcome and I can go full steam ahead with the performance of the third movement. Now it’s just a question of time and patience and if I can complete the third movement I can complete the 1st and 4th (and no doubt revisit the second). It’s taken about 12 hours (over two weeks) to do the first 80 seconds but it should be less time consuming from here. Even so we are still talking years. But that’s Sorabji for you.

Here is the opening 80 seconds in a fairly raw rendition but boy! does it sound good. Hang on in there!

3rd Movement performance can now progress.

January 21st, 2013

I decided to get one more hardware obstacle out of the way before really getting stuck into the 3rd movement. It is a real pain only having one monitor and having to tab backwards and forwards between Sibelius and the VSL software. And the score really wants the monitor in portrait to get the most out of it but the VSL software looks best in landscape.

So since Christmas I’ve been investigating a second monitor and needles to say it’s proved anything but straight forward. I started off by looking at a brand new 24 inch Samsung. After much web searching the best price I could find was £119. But then suddenly up popped a site selling it for £86. Purchase was thru paypal so I went straight ahead. Money cleared quickly but within a couple of days the website disappeared off the web. Thank goodness for paypal. Opened up a dispute with them and money refunded after a couple of weeks.

Second attempt was thru eBay. Decided to go for a 26 inch Samsung very similar to my current one. Saw a few auctions go by with prices reaching £180 so was discouraged until a “Buy Now” monitor came up for £110 so snapped it up. Couple of days, after taking my money, later the seller reneges on the deal with the excuse he only just noticed the HDMI connection was faulty. I pointed out to him I don’t use HDMI but he said he’d already refunded the money. I’m convinced he’d spotted the auction prices were far higher than I’d bought it for and I’ve no doubt it will reappear for auction fairly soon.

After two fiascos and several lost weeks I decided to go the easier and quicker (but more expensive) route and shell out for a brand new monitor from a reputable dealer. Which rather surprisingly turned out to be Argos who sold me a 27 inch monitor (cos Samsung don’t make 26 inch any more) for £218.

The next issue was space. Me and my PC are banished to a corner of the front room where I have a small computer desk wedged between the radiator and an immovable shelving unit. My lovely big 26 inch monitor fits perfectly so how on earth could I fit a second monitor in.  One saving grace is having one of them in portrait mode and the other in landscape. With a small amount of wood sawing and removing part of my CD collection to the shed and angling both screens inwards with one flush up against the window and the other flush up against the immovable shelving unit they just fit.

The other worry, as ever, was how difficult it would be to get them both to work together as I wanted but surprise and joy I just plugged the new monitor in and it worked first time just as I’d hoped and here is a picture (not very hollywood I know but pleasing to me) of my expanded workstation with the score on the right and the VSL software on the left.

Now I’m ready (I think) to get stuck in proper to the third movement.