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Making The Most Of Your Emu Proteus: Part 2

Emu Proteus/1 sound module.

Some people feel that the arrival of the polyphonic synthesizer didn't do a great deal in helping people write better music — after all, the only previous electronic keyboard was the organ, so there was a great temptation to play polysynths in the same way. The ability to play up to 10 notes at a time (five with each hand), many feel, is a bit of a musical short‑cut when you're trying to emulate orchestral sounds, and the current massive appeal of monophonic synths seems to suggest that, in many applications, one note can be more effective than many. This is not simply an 'analogue‑retro' point of view either, and if we delve much further back into musical history it's easy to see that this instinct for monophony (if that's the right word) stems from hundreds of years before Robert Moog was even born.

The depth and harmonic density of any orchestral piece is entirely due to the fact that most orchestras (in the traditional sense), are comprised almost entirely of groups of monophonic instruments. Each instrument, or instrumental section, plays a single musical line, which, when combined with other elements of the orchestra, form the individual parts of the chord. As you can imagine, if you take the trouble to work out every single woodwind, brass and string line, it gives you much more scope to add detail and variation than if you were playing block chords. In this way, composers such as Bach and Vivaldi, were able to construct mind‑bogglingly complex and ornate orchestral works, whilst retaining often very simplistic chordal progressions.

Proteus/2 (The Sequel)

'Wot, no big fat string sounds?' might well be your initial thought as you flick through the Proteus/2 presets, and you'd be right. But don't be fooled into thinking that a four second symphonic hall reverb and severe reduction of the string section attack time warrants an immediate contract scoring the next Steven Spielberg film. The Proteus/2 is designed rather differently, and a brief play of the Demo sequence is guaranteed to give you that 'how come my stuff never sounds like that?' feeling.

The internal architecture of the Proteus/2 is set up to help you get the most out of programming orchestral parts from this monophonic point of view, and an obvious place to start is to decide what kind of orchestra you're working with. Very often, a good way to familiarise yourself with the kind of things that orchestral samples are capable of is to start by looking at the individual instruments themselves, as opposed to the bigger 'ensemble sections'. The best way to explore this is by constructing a multitimbral patch consisting of only the Proteus' solo instrument presets. This is particularly helpful for added realism because, in most cases, the playable range of the preset is limited to the actual range of the instrument itself.

Begin by building your own collection of string instruments — for example, within your multitimbral setup, start with the 'Solo Cello' on channel one, 'Solo Viola' on two, and 'Solo Violin' on channel three. Still keeping things simple, move onto the woodwind section. Flute on four, Oboe on five, and so on, until you have the first 12 or so channels filled with a good selection of the solo instruments (take a look at the Multitimbral Setup Chart elsewhere in this article). Once you've conscripted your solo players, you can then select suitable ensemble string and brass parts to emulate the various orchestral sections where several players follow the same score.

Just as with the layout of the symphony orchestra, the pan settings are also very important. Traditionally, the first and second violins are to the left of the conductor, with the violas slightly to the right, and cellos on the extreme right at the front. Double basses are positioned behind the cellos, and the woodwind section usually sit centrally behind the violins and violas. The brass section is bringing up the rear (very often, slightly to the right), and just before you fall off the back of the stage, you come across the percussionists (see Figure 1).

However, with programming smaller solo ensembles, the pannings are very much left up to the individual, and providing there isn't too much of an imbalance of levels between inherently loud, and inherently soft instruments (such as trumpet and violin), almost anything goes. When planning your panning, keep in mind that a real orchestra seldom has a wide stereo spread, because a lot of what you hear is room reverb, and reverb tends to dilute the apparent width of the stereo image. To make your mix sound more realistic, choose a concert hall setting, and use more or less equal amounts on all the members of your virtual orchestra. You wouldn't hear different types of reverb in real life, so there's little sense in using one reverb setting on the strings and another on the brass, for example.

Modulation & Combinations

Last month, I talked about programming the 'Realtime Modulation Control', and how the pitch‑wheel could be assigned to control the volume of a given sample.This works especially well with the Solo Cello preset, and gives you plenty of scope for adding all sorts of dramatic swells and fades over the course of the cello line, just as a real cellist would.

Also try programming with combinations of instruments that you wouldn't normally use. For example, English Horn and Tuba may not sound like a match made in orchestral heaven, but providing their ranges sound realistic, and you are careful with the pannings and velocities, there is still plenty of scope for interest. For me, one of the finest instrument samples I've yet heard come out of a sound module has to be sample number 38, 'Oboe with natural vibrato'. As a solo instrument over an orchestral backing, this preset simply oozes realism and feeling. It's also a very versatile sound, working well as both a bright, detailed uptempo instrument, and a mysterious, expressive lead line. Try pairing it against preset 36 ('French Horn 1'), for a rich and surprisingly realistic result.


When it comes to orchestral percussion, generally speaking there really is only one golden rule to observe: less is more. The dramatic power of a good set of timps (such as preset 50), or the odd cymbal crash (preset 51, 'Gong/Cym') is unparalleled if these are used in the right place. Used sparingly, the percussion section is perhaps the greatest device for adding emotional vigour to your pieces. Good percussion doesn't necessarily have to stop at just the timps and cymbals, however, and the Proteus/2 has provided us with a wide selection of other useful percussion samples with which to make the most of this often overlooked section of the orchestra. You might like to emulate Stravinski or Prokofiev, and experiment with a syncopated tambourine rhythm (great for adding pace, and excitement), or perhaps a triangle at the start of each bar? Single note crescendo timpani rolls also work very nicely if you copy the same part to the triangle; this gives you all the power of the bottom‑end plus the detail of a good selection of top‑end harmonics.

Tchaikovsky's famous '1812 Overture' requires the firing of military cannons [Is there a GM preset for that? — Ed.] during its performance, and these, along with all the other instruments, are scored in the conductor's manuscript. This may seem a little extreme (particularly if you have to decide where to position your microphones!), but it shows that radical experiments with percussion can be very effective. Try de‑tuning the Tam‑Tam sample (number 69) by a couple of octaves, and see if you can't encourage your neighbours to move house by doubling it up with the orchestral bass drum (sample 56).

Another favourite is, of course, the Tubular Bell (preset 57) — resonant, unusual, and above all, easy to programme. Tubular bell samples, like so many others, seem to work better playing in a slightly lower register, as opposed to a higher one. The Glockenspiel (preset 55), is again effective for adding top‑end definition to string lines. This should be used with caution, though, as excessive use may evoke images of your least favourite marching kazoo band....

Common Mistakes

Firstly, the thing to remember is that programming orchestral pieces realistically requires a fair understanding of the instruments themselves. Think about their strengths individually, and also their limitations. It's impossible for the whole string section to be able to play pizzicato (plucked) at the same time as playing legato (bowed), so try having one section pluck whilst the others bow. Secondly, an orchestra is capable of some large variations in volume — consider the difference between a brass instrument playing at its quietest and the same instrument at its loudest. Also don't forget the orchestra's ability to increase and decrease its volume very quickly — many people do. Of course, many instruments change tonally between loud and soft, and the Proteus/2 allows for this; '36 French Horn 1' is a much softer sample, as compared to preset '37 French Horn 2' which is very much a 'forte' instrument.

Lastly (but most importantly), never, ever be afraid to experiment. Very often, the greatest advancements in music have come from the most unusual, avant‑garde ideas, and the Proteus/2 is, in my opinion, an ideal platform to expand your musical vocabulary (though the techniques here apply equally to any good orchestral sound sources). Mozart was, after all, considered the Stockhausen of his day, and as far as your music is concerned, never let anybody tell you that there are 'simply too many notes'.

Musical Basics

In most cases, simple chords are formed from three different notes, the first being the root note (or tonic). In the case of A‑major the tonic is 'A'. Next is the fifth (or dominant), and in the case of A‑major, the dominant is 'E'. We define the chord as a major by adding the third (or mediant), in this case 'C‑sharp'. To define the chord as a minor, simply drop the third by a semi‑tone, making the 'C‑sharp' a 'C‑natural', turning the chord into an 'A‑minor triad'. This arrangement is often exploited in the string sections — for example, the cello plays the first, the viola the third, and the violin plays the fifth, creating a simple triad using the first three instruments of our multitimbral setup. The bass note (usually, but not always, the tonic), can be strengthened further by the double bass, or that often overlooked, but versatile instrument, the bassoon. The third and fifth can also be sweetened, by pairing the flute and clarinet a third interval apart on the mediant and dominant notes.

If you now imagine that each of these instruments have to work their way through even the most simplistic chord structure, you'll soon see how easy it is to construct very intricate sounding musical sequences. Take, for instance, the corny old 'C‑A‑F‑G' bassline, and see how much variety you can build into the format of these four chords alone. If you get stuck, just remember that variation is the key to retaining the interest in very simple musical formulas. Try swapping the bass instrument from cello to bassoon, or the excellent bass clarinet sample (preset 29). With the cello no longer stuck in the bass, why not give it an expressive counter melody to play with?

Multitimbral Setup Chart






Solo Cello




Solo Viola




Solo Violin












Engl Horn












Fr Horn 1




Trumpet 1




Trombone 1








Percussion 1




Percussion 2




Pizzicato 1







Some Orchestral Contradictions

The Proteus/2 refers to preset 27 as 'English Horn'. The 'Cor Anglais' (or the thing that Paul McCartney is holding on the front of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album as it is perhaps better known), is slightly misnamed, because it is not even remotely a horn, and probably didn't originate in England. Despite seldom being made out of anything other than metal, the flute remains in the woodwind section, and even though the saxophone has yet to find its way completely into the modern‑day symphony orchestra, it would never be classed as a brass instrument on account of its reed mouth‑piece!