Best of Both Worlds, Part II

A little ways back I mentioned the Elliot Wright EWQLSO Sibelius 7 sound set and how big a fan I was of how it managed to cross traditional music notation with the power of a sequencer. Turns out that I was the first one who ended up manually configuring for the Gold version (since it was developed for Symphonic Orchestra Platinum). He posted the PLAY instrument files on his website a couple of days ago. And as such, I thought I’d go into detail about why this was a good experience for me.

For someone who has been involved with music for a long time, I was shamefully ignorant when it came to music technology (for the most part, anyway). I had a vague idea of what MIDI was, but I didn’t really know how it worked or what it meant exactly other than “a computer’s ability to create music.” What it is, in fact, is a standard. Computer scientists love standards, because it’s the only thing that allows technology to communicate when you get right down to it. Ah, here’s my IT background coming into play :P.

Say you have two entities, A and B. Either one of these can be a computer, a piece of software (a program), or what have you. If you want to send meaningful information between the two, all you have to do is make sure both sides agree to a common format or standard. Otherwise, when A sends data to B, B will have no idea how to interpret it (or have the wrong idea of how to interpret it, which is even worse).

My work on getting the gold library to interface correctly with the sound set involved this concept directly, because the sound set itself is expecting certain things on certain MIDI channels in order to work properly. For those of you unfamiliar with the basics of MIDI, each MIDI connection has 16 channels. Each of these channels are generally used as either a single “patch” or a full-fledged “virtual instrument.”

  • Patch: A collection of recorded notes or “samples” of a given instrument, one for each possible note in its range mapped to the appropriate piano key.
  • Virtual Instrument: Same as above, only with additional functionality. Namely, there are two or more “key switches” found outside the effective range of the instrument, and pressing that key (or telling MIDI to do that) won’t play a sample. It will instead load a different patch of the same instrument with different articulation. Here’s an example:


The white keys are the playable notes, and the blue ones are the key switches. This happens to be a Clarinet Virtual Instrument, and since Clarinets can’t play a C1 or D#2, the key switches are below the playable range. Right now, I have the default sustain patch selected. But if I press C#1, it will load the staccato patch, and perhaps D1 will load a trill or a 5th slide up, which will then be heard if I press one of the white keys. This inclusion of different articulations within the same MIDI channel allows you to more accurately approximate what the instrument would sound like playing your phrase, because no player would play every note with the same articulation unless they’re holding a very long note in a harmonic capacity. Most players will play certain notes in a phrase more staccato than another, will do vibrato on one note but not another, etc. This is just a way to better approximate that variety and make it sound less artificial.

Now, the challenge with the EWQLSO multis was that these key switches had to be in specific places. Why? Because Mr. Wright designed the system so that no matter what instrument you were working with, the key switch staff note A will always mean staccato, A#, will always mean tremolo/flutter, etc., even if the actual position of the key switch wasn’t A or A#. So I had to make sure all of those mappings were right.

So, if you are of a mind to try out Elliot Wright’s Sibelius 7 system but you are like me and bought the Complete Composer Collection that came with Gold instead of the Platinum version of Symphonic Orchestra, fear not! My instrument multis are available for download at his homepage, free of charge after you buy his sound set.

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