“World Timbres Mixture”
A new sound for chamber and orchestral music in the 21st century
Musical research (2016/17) carried out in the INA / GRM (Radio France-Paris) studios on the fusion of timbres of instruments from popular traditions and of the classical orchestra, applied in the works “Mixing up” by José Luis Campana, for “live” Sextet and Ensemble of 29 instruments from popular traditions in audio support, commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture, and “Etorkiz eta izatez” (“Par origine et par nature”) by Isabel Urrutia, for “live” Trio and Ensemble of 27 popular instruments in audio support, commissioned by the culture department of the Basque government.
“A new orchestral palette”
This musical research on the timber has been carried out by the composers José Luis Campana and Isabel Urrutia.
SAMPLE OF TIMBRES OF POPULAR INSTRUMENTS
Due to the impossibility of bringing together a significant number of instrumentalists from different parts of the world who could play live, we decided to use samples of timbres in audio support, to represent the chosen instruments.
First, we select the samples of timbres of instruments of popular traditions. They were taken from the internet, from CDs and from sound banks.
We had to process selected samples from the internet to improve their quality. We looked for a similar “gain” (volume) level for all of them. Some samples had puffs, parasites … and had to be cleaned. We did not do any sound transformation treatment by computer programs.
The duration was then adjusted to obtain long notes, about ten seconds long.
The envelope of the sound (ADSR) was also worked on: its attack, its duration and its termination.
TIMBRES ORDERED BY COLUMNS AND RECORDS.
In the Ableton Live software we define the timbres by placing them in columns and arranged them by registers, from the sub-low to the high, assigning each register a different colour.
Starting from the original registers of each instrument, we choose some supplementary sounds towards the high or low, as long as they did not distort the original sound of the chosen instrument.
We were inspired by what happens with classical instruments, where there are families of the same instrument, for example, the family of clarinets.
MELODIC LINES AND CHORDS
In the Ableton Live program we can listen to different notes with different timbres simultaneously, that is, we can hear chords made with different timbres. If we want to listen to a melodic line, we first play it with a piano timbre that the keyboard recognizes and then we assign it the timbre of popular tradition that we want.
To make a polyphony of voices with different rhythms, we would have to record each melodic line individually and overlap all the lines in time.
(Note that the keyboard sends sounds to the computer in MIDI code and has classic timbres recorded in various dynamics, but it is not prepared by its manufacturer to recognize timbres and dynamics of instruments from popular traditions).
THE DYNAMICS OF THE TIMBRES
Unlike the classic timbres of the keyboard sampler, programmed by the builder, when we played a timbre of an instrument of oral tradition, we had only one dynamic.
To facilitate our work, we made all the popular instruments have the same dynamics when we played them on the keyboard, only mezzoforte, and later, in the Ableton Live sessions we did the dynamics individually, as we did with the envelopes: attacks, vibratos, legatos, joints …
WAVE FORM OF SOUND SAMPLES AND THEIR POSSIBILITIES
The «sampler» allows us to process the samples.
In the Ableton Live sampler we have a “window” where we see the “waveform” of the sound, which allows us to manipulate it.
For example, we can decide the duration of the sample of the chosen timbre, we can make the ligatures, slightly overlapping the notes …
We also work with automations that make the audio programs and allow us to perform glissandos, vibratos … To make the vibratos we use oscillators (we have a waveform and we assign it the speed we want to get a very fast, slow vibrato …).
This has to do with contemporary writing for classical instruments. When we write effects for these instruments, they don’t sound like they were originally intended. For example, if we put a flatterzunge, or use the voice in the wind instruments …
Also, with the amplification of classical instruments we grasp what is called “the intimacy of the instrument.” For example, the «gratter» effect on a string, moving the bow with legno battuto from ordinary to behind the bridge …
VIRTUAL INSTRUMENTS AND THE «SAMPLER»
When you buy a virtual instrument in an audio store, it is an instrument that was recorded with many microphones, throughout its entire range, with different attacks, articulations, etc. We made a kind of virtual instruments, with a single colour in a single note.
Thanks to the sampler, we were able to transpose the timbre sample on the keyboard and create a register for the desired instrument.
In this way, we had thirty-five virtual instruments from popular traditions for our orchestral palette.
RECORDED SOUNDS OF ORIGINAL INSTRUMENTS (SINUSOID WAVES)
In the past, instruments were recreated by synthesis. If we wanted to make our sounds by synthesis, we should first analyse the spectrum of each instrument, we should know what energy the partials have … it would be a huge computer work without having a guaranteed optimal result.
THE ORCHESTATION AND ITS SOUND RESULTS. “MAO” TECHNIQUES APPLIED TO ACOUSTIC MUSIC
Sometimes instrument mixes sound like music processed by computer programs, even if there is no sound transformation of any kind.
This is due to the work of orchestration, dynamics, resonances … which produces friction of harmonics between nearby notes. It is the application of MAO techniques (Computer Aided Music) to instrumental music. (We have already heard this type of work in orchestral or chamber works of the classical repertoire of 20th century without any electronic transformation)
TUNING OF THE INSTRUMENTS OF POPULAR TRADITIONS IN TEMPERED SYSTEM. NOT TEMPERED RESULTS.
All folk tradition instruments were tuned to tempered pitches (see Ableton Live display with columns and pitches).
But, obviously, when we do glissandis and use the oscillators for the vibratos, non-tempered frequencies are created. The same happens when they rub the harmonics of close notes and sometimes, by the combination of timbres with each other.
We have sometimes used a “colour palette” where a single note can have two, three, or four different timbres with different dynamics, resulting in electroacoustic sounds. They are “mixtures” of timbres that we are not used to hearing.
COPY OF THE SCORE IN SIBELIUS, MIDI SYSTEM AND ABLETON LIVE PROGRAM
The score is copied into the Sibelius program. From there, a melody line can be exported as MIDI and brought to Ableton Live (see Ableton Live screen photos).
It is important that the copyist names the tracks well. There is an option in Sibelius, under “preferences”. The most suitable and easy to work with is that each voice of the polyphony is on a staff of the score with the name of the corresponding instrument, just like in a classical score.
WRITING THE CHORDS
If a chord has only one timbre, there would be no problem because several notes are written on a single staff, for example, if a chord is played only by Kenas, as in the score “Etorkiz eta izatez” by Isabel Urrutia.
The problem arises if in a chord each note has a different timbre. Then, different staves should be used.
THE PROPORTIONAL WRITING
The Sibelius program does not recognize proportional notation. Therefore, it would be necessary to record the music on the piano, that is, make MIDI files (Midi is the information protocol between the keyboard and the computer regulated by numbers between 0 and 1).
By recording the music, you get a virtual piano sound, with all the dynamics, etc. Then, you must put the files in time on the score, in their corresponding measure. Then the piano sound is muted, and the desired timbre is assigned, for example: oud, n´goni, jubus, etc.
THE SCORE WRITTEN WITH NOTES AND RHYTHMS ONLY
As the Sibelius files are going to be exported to Midi, the best thing is that the score only has notes and rhythms, that there are neither dynamics, nor articulations, nor ligatures… Thus, the information that reaches the MIDI is clearer. (For example, if there are ligatures that go to a silence, as an indication of resonance, the MIDI does not “understand” the information and thinks that the sound continues to sound).
NUMBER OF TIMBRES AND THEIR CORRESPONDENCE IN NUMBER OF TRACKS
The number of timbres corresponds to the number of tracks on Ableton Live.
If we have a single voice of the polyphony, but we mix three different timbres, we multiply by three, that is, we need to open three different tracks, one for each instrument, even though all three play in unison.
In this way we can move the dynamics in each instrument individually, and we can make timbres transitions, “dosing” of individual timbres, and so on.
In the case of a single chord with a single dynamic with a single timbre, multiple notes could be written on a single staff and it would be a single track.
MODELING THE DYNAMICS. PRO-TOOLS AND AUDIO TREATMENT
To model dynamics individually, even if it is the same timbre, it is necessary that each voice be on a single track or on a staff.
For these reasons, in “Mixing up” by José Luis Campana we have had more than one hundred and sixty independent tracks, with MIDI information. Then, when going to audio, we group by timbres and make “bounces”, once all the parameters are verified (dynamics, ligatures, articulations, vibratos, etc.). Dynamics can be modified in the overall mix.
In short, each timbre is passed from MIDI to AUDIO by bouncing the instruments of the same timbre. The next step is to go to Pro-tools, to mix the audio. We can now put reverb etc., that is, we can do all the usual audio treatment.
THE DEFINITIVE PUTTING IN SPACE OF THE SOUND
The next step is the spatialization of the sound, that is, how the instruments are distributed in the loudspeakers at the time of the concert. We distribute the timbres in four or eight channels and we definitively fix the audio support. The timbres do not move from speaker to speaker, as in electro-acoustic music.
That is to say, the timbres of instruments of popular traditions, which sound through the loudspeakers, do not change place, just as in the classical orchestra the instruments would not change place during the performance of a work.
Our main objective is to recreate a new orchestra with acoustic instruments of the world, where the timbres of the classical tradition from Western Europe are united with the timbres of popular traditions from many different countries, creating a new orchestral sonority for our chamber and orchestral music.