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In talking with a choreographer the other day – I realize there may be some confusion over samples.

Samples are short recordings of live music that can be triggered to play using a device called a sampler. In the early days of sampling, it was DJ’s taking short snips from existing records and mixing that together or looping it into new music. Most of you know that this world has been almost crushed out of existence by the threat and reality of the lawsuits from record labels.

Current State of the Sample and Sampler
Over the past 2 to 5 years, technology has improved so fast that most of today’s recording studios are moving “inside the box.” Meaning, everything is done inside the computer. Instead of a wall of machines, my Macintosh does it all with software versions of all that stuff.

And samples are no longer little snippets of pre-existing music or just loops (though they still exist). Samples have become extremely sophisticated and have turned into complete soundset libraries for the Composer. No longer are Composers forced to just use a pre-existing phrase or loop but can write pretty much anything they hear and make the samples perform it in a way that is extremely realistic – in fact, no one can tell the difference.

These sample libraries are being created where every note of every instrument of an orchestra is being recorded at multiple dynamics (soft, medium, loud, very loud) at multiple velocities (slow, medium, fast, very fast) and every nuance in between each note. This makes for a very large amount of gigabytes of information! In fact the Vienna Symphonic Library boasts over 238 GB for the Complete Orchestral Edition which comes to 385,586 samples! That is staggering. I remember when I was loading my samples by hand off a floppy disk onto my Ensoniq EPS16+ in 1991. I could fit 8MB and that was great! The East-West Quantum Leap Symphonic library has 68 GB and a slightly more big-Hollywood sound.

Thus Spake is a piece I wrote utilizing the massive sounds from my sample libraries. Sounds pretty real doesn’t it? Here’s one that is more subtle and mixes some real instruments together: Pomegranates.

Today, every Composer/Producer (as they’ve merged into one job- more on this later!) uses a software environment to compose. The top 3 Composing packages are – LogicPro, Digital Performer, Cubase. What about ProTools you say? Well, yes, there are quite a few who do use ProTools – though the interface and the workflow of it are much more geared to an Engineer and most definitely suitable for the final mixdown. I use LogicPro which is a fantastic tool (as they all are) and it allows me to compose music to picture and have the use of “virtual instruments”, access to sample libraries and amazing effects. This is a screenshot from my work environment in LogicPro for the feature film “Creche” by David Wall.

But all this is really besides the point. What sounds better?
In the end, the answer is does it support the picture and does it sound good? Sometimes that’s a completely sampled production, othertimes it’s completely acoustic and other times a hybrid.

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