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The Sampled Orchestra: Part 1

Getting Started
Published July 2017
By Dave Stewart

The Sampled Orchestra

Our major new series explains how to harness the power of today’s virtual orchestral instruments.

Remember the ‘Y2K Millennium Bug’ scare? According to experts, at midnight on December 31st 1999 computers would erroneously reset their clocks to the year 1900, wreaking untold havoc and destruction. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair declared it was “one of the most serious problems facing not only British business but the global economy today,” Computer World magazine wailed “We’re accelerating toward disaster!” and schoolchildren were lectured to “Go and tell mummy and daddy, and ask what they’re doing to prepare.” Needless to say, the expected global meltdown didn’t happen — apparently, a few Australian bus-ticket validation machines malfunctioned, the US Naval Observatory web site reported the New Year as 19100, and a Spanish worker was summoned to an industrial tribunal on February 3rd 1900 (where he or she was presumably fined for showing up 100 years late).

While this fin-de-siècle nonsense was building to an apparent crescendo, my debut article on sample-based orchestral arranging quietly slipped out in SOS’s December 1999 issue. Back then, the equipment scene was dominated by rackmount samplers such as the Akai S3000, preconfigured hardware modules (the Roland JV1080 fitted with an ‘Orchestral’ card was a popular choice) and a handful of keyboards containing half-decent orchestral sounds. At the time of writing, software sampler technology spearheaded by NemeSys Gigasampler had yet to gain a foothold.

Music technology has changed greatly since then, and for users it’s unquestionably a change for the better: thanks to the advent of computer disk streaming we now enjoy virtually unlimited sample time, and this in turn has inspired developers to create a mouth-watering range of top-quality orchestral sample libraries. We also have fabulous creative tools which, if used in a musically intelligent way, can help to shape the samples into astonishingly life-like performances. As Igor Stravinsky said, “Now is the best time ever for music making. It always has been.” Nevertheless, as the Millennium Bug hysteria makes clear, it’s important not to cave in to technophobia, nor let an irrational fear of the new hold us back.

Igor Stravinsky.Igor Stravinsky.The brave new world of orchestral samples is a great resource for musicians, composers and programmers. If you fancy dipping your toes in the water but are put off by the technical challenges or baffled by the jargon, if you have experience in the field but need a refresher course, or even if you’re an orchestral sample guru who knows the subject backwards but would like to see its principles confirmed in print in a reputable...

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Published July 2017