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 Posted:   Dec 4, 2018 - 8:27 PM   
 By:   losher22   (Member)

Over the years, I’ve read so many posts by so many folks who know which scores by which composers are recorded using synth orchestra instead of real-live orchestra. I’ve always wondered, how do so many people seem to know synth vs real? Is it simply based on sound qualities, like hollow and emotionless vs heavy and affecting? Or is it film score aficianado / industry tribal knowledge? Or both? On some scores, especially those from 20-30 years ago, the differences are obvious, but is there great disdain from the film score community at large for synth orchestral scores vs real ones? If so, why, is it considered a lazy move by composers, and/or a “phoned-in” approach based on budget, or both? What are some of the most successful and/or lauded and shunned synth orchestral scores, and why? Sorry for the broad-scope question, this has just always been a curiosity of mine!

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 5:19 AM   
 By:   JB Fan   (Member)

Good question! smile

1st of all. With "older" releases you can identify synth vs. real orchestra by ear. For older I mean 90s - earlier-mid 2000s. Just listen Mrs. Ritmanis Batwoman. Yes, it's lovely score (one of my favorite), but you can HEAR that some instruments are real, and some are synth. Same with some Band's scores.
But as technologies been upgraded, so this days synth scores (let's me speak about animated Batman scores again) sounds much better. In some cases unless you study notes, where you can find that music was "programmed (etc.)", you probably even can't hear the difference.

2nd. Why they do this? Maybe I'm wrong, but in 99% it happens due low budget for full orchestra. But it's cool that even with such low budgets, composer's can lobby at least small ensemble of real musicians. And after that scores sounds much better!

 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 7:59 AM   
 By:   Justin Boggan   (Member)

Well, some (but not all) the ways I can tell:

Some synth libraries just have this "sound" to them and you can hear that sound in any score that uses that library with the sound. Same with other kinds of synths, like synth vocals.


A real group of orchestra players playing together in one room (not counting instruments boothed off) have this meshed sound, where just the force of the sound can create auditory affects you can hear.


And also anomalies like squeaking chairs, turning pages, couching, dropping things, and that one cue on "Rudy" where you can hear Jerry briefly humming with the orchestra.

 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 8:50 AM   
 By:   Basil Wrathbone   (Member)

Here's a question of similar intellectual value:

Over the years, I’ve read so many posts by so many folks who know which burger is cooked using Soylent Green instead of real beef. I’ve always wondered, how do so many people seem to know Soylent Green vs real beef? Is it simply based on Soylent Green's bland taste and smell vs real meat's tangy deliciousness and natural texture? Or is it a kind of fast food tribal knowledge? Or both? With some burger restaurants, especially those near where I live, the differences are obvious, but is there great disdain from the fast food community at large for Soylent Green vs real meat? If so, why, is it considered a lazy move by cooks, and/or a “phoned-in” approach based on prices, or both? What are some of the most successful and/or lauded restaurants using Soylent Green, and why? Sorry for the broad-scope question, this has just always been a curiosity of mine!

 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 9:01 AM   
 By:   Justin Boggan   (Member)

You can buy Soylent Green in other flavors now: 12:00 in:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0rZV2ztOJg

 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 9:16 AM   
 By:   SchiffyM   (Member)

Synths have gotten much better over the years at sounding like acoustic instruments, and especially when augmented by a small ensemble of acoustic instruments they can sometimes fool the ear (also depending on what instruments are being emulated by synths).

How does one know? Well if it's not by ear, I don't know why it would matter.

There is no one opinion about synthesized scoring – some prefer it, some disdain it. My personal feeling is that there's often a coldness to it that I don't personally prefer. The human touch of acoustic instruments – both the passion and the imperfections – are what I tend to respond to (though there are exceptions).

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 9:17 AM   
 By:   Kev McGann   (Member)

I used to be able to tell the difference between real orchestra and samples.
Then Jeepers Creepers 3 came along.

 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 9:39 AM   
 By:   johnonymous86   (Member)

To answer the most successful question, I would say that both Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner by Vangelis seem to have withstood the test of time. Though not a fan, I also think Brad Fidel's work on the first two Terminators could be considered successful or at least memorable (the main theme is pretty iconic).

I don't disdain electronics. In my non-soundtrack life, I like listening to down-tempo and retro/vaporwave (whatever you want to call it--basically modern analogue electronic music meant to sound like a video game from the late eighties). I also adore Goldsmith's experiments with synthetics and organic orchestration.

For me though, I got into orchestral music before electronic music and specifically because, as a musician, to me it is almost a quasi religious event to see 100+ people playing a piece of music together in synchrony. I've been in enough ensembles to know that just getting three or four hardheaded musicians to work together can be a miracle so the idea of so many playing together is just incredible to me.

Beyond that, I agree with what was said above about there being a certain musical quality to live, acoustic instruments that is fairly easy to distinguish from synthetics--I think it may have to do with the frequency of the soundwaves but I'm not a physicist so I don't know for sure. I do know that the mixing of electronic elements has a lot to do with whether I like them or not--example might be how Jerry would often record his electronics WITH the orchestra instead of dubbing. This created a natural acoustic aspect to the synth that made it just another instrument in the ensemble. Compare that to, say, any of the Zimmer Batman scores where the synthetics are mixed over the acoustic performances-- assuming there were actual acoustic performers on that score wink --while no less impactful, this style of mixing is, imo abrasive and very "synthetic" (read:fake) sounding.

 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 9:52 AM   
 By:   Basil Wrathbone   (Member)


How does one know? Well if it's not by ear, I don't know why it would matter.






When a composer writes music for specific instruments and constructs that music to be playable with the instrument, bearing in mind such basics as the physical capability of the fingers to actually perform the piece or the limitations set by bow strokes etc, that matters a bit.
Would you know one way or the other if a piece of synth cello music you were listening to was actually possible to play on a real cello with real hands? I doubt it. I wouldn't. And probably, the writer of synth pretend-music for pretend-instruments wouldn't bother to think about it either.

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 10:11 AM   
 By:   Paul MacLean   (Member)

Over the years, I’ve read so many posts by so many folks who know which scores by which composers are recorded using synth orchestra instead of real-live orchestra. I’ve always wondered, how do so many people seem to know synth vs real?

A musician can tell the difference. Samples "sound" like real instruments, but don't necessarily behave like them. The "attack" and "decay" of a string or wind instrument are different from that of a keyboard. A wind player can only sustain a note for so long before they run out of breath. A keyboard can hold a note indefinitely. String, brass, winds, etc. all have a specific ranges within which they can play (said ranges are divided into what we call "clefs"). A keyboard has a much wider range (and plays in treble and bass clef). A violinist has many options in how to transition from one note to another. A keyboardist does not. Wind players can control and alter the sound of their instruments with their breath. A keyboardist cannot.


If so, why, is it considered a lazy move by composers, and/or a “phoned-in” approach based on budget, or both? What are some of the most successful and/or lauded and shunned synth orchestral scores, and why?

I don't know many "synth orchestral" scores that have a lot of respect. The advantage of electronic music is that it theoretically allows for new and different timbres. Scores that use synths to merely mimic an orchestra rather defeat the purpose -- and don't sound as good as a real orchestra.

As far as budgetary considerations, electronics are often used on low-budget films because there is not enough money to pay for an orchestra. But an electronic score in a low-budget movie can actually make the film seem even more "cheap", owing the music's timbre (since many audiences -- even subliminally -- sense that "real orchestra = large and expensive").

 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 10:40 AM   
 By:   Basil Wrathbone   (Member)

John Mauceri's book, "Maestros and Their Music: The Art and Alchemy of Conducting" might be of interest. It's available in paperback.

"An exuberant, uniquely accessible, beautifully illustrated look inside the enigmatic art and craft of conducting, from a celebrated conductor whose international career has spanned half a century.
John Mauceri brings a lifetime of experience to bear in an unprecedented, hugely informative, consistently entertaining exploration of his profession, rich with anecdotes from decades of working alongside the greatest names of the music world. With candor and humor, Mauceri makes clear that conducting is itself a composition: of legacy and tradition, techniques handed down from master to apprentice--and more than a trace of ineffable magic. He reveals how conductors approach a piece of music (a calculated combination of personal interpretation, imagination, and insight into the composer's intent); what it takes to communicate solely through gesture, with sometimes hundreds of performers at once; and the occasionally glamorous, often challenging life of the itinerant maestro. Mauceri, who worked closely with Leonard Bernstein for eighteen years, studied with Leopold Stokowski, and was on the faculty of Yale University for fifteen years, is the perfect guide to the allure and theater, passion and drudgery, rivalries and relationships of the conducting life."

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 10:50 AM   
 By:   GoblinScore   (Member)

Another aspect I dont see mentioned yet is "Get To Know Your Album Credits". I was fooled at first by Danny Lux's HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION, until the lack of recording studio, conductor, all the things that go into orchestral scores by the usually reliable Varese weren't there. The only wiggle to this are recent Beltrami scores that SOUND orchestral (Scream 4, Seventh Son, The Giver I think, dont me to that one), but lack credits.

Short story - I think there is a shying away from crediting "composed & performed by" but if further investigation doesn't show me the orchestra...its a keyboard score. Those Beltrami's have me fooled though...

 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 12:03 PM   
 By:   TM   (Member)

Synths aping an orchestra still has a precision and uniformity that takes an inordinate amount of work and tweaking to cover up. Think about CGI characters (especially armies vs actual lead characters) in a movie, same thing. Sometimes it works better than others. We're getting closer and closer to the point where they're indistinguishable but we haven't got there yet.

 
 Posted:   Dec 5, 2018 - 3:51 PM   
 By:   johnonymous86   (Member)

Synths aping an orchestra still has a precision and uniformity that takes an inordinate amount of work and tweaking to cover up. Think about CGI characters (especially armies vs actual lead characters) in a movie, same thing. Sometimes it works better than others. We're getting closer and closer to the point where they're indistinguishable but we haven't got there yet.


Basically Uncanny Valley


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 6, 2018 - 7:05 AM   
 By:   Kev McGann   (Member)

It'll never happen, cos the technology is forever locked in now, but I wish lower budget films would go the old Twilight Zone route and let the composer be inventive with small ensembles.
Some strings, winds, piano(s), guitar(s) and various percussion. And maybe some synth, but play it live and dispense with the cheap sounding samples.
Those Goldsmith Thriller scores contain more interest and heart than any keyboard pusher score from the last two decades.

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 6, 2018 - 7:52 AM   
 By:   William R.   (Member)

It'll never happen, cos the technology is forever locked in now, but I wish lower budget films would go the old Twilight Zone route and let the composer be inventive with small ensembles.
Some strings, winds, piano(s), guitar(s) and various percussion. And maybe some synth, but play it live and dispense with the cheap sounding samples.
Those Goldsmith Thriller scores contain more interest and heart than any keyboard pusher score from the last two decades.


Agree wholeheartedly. Some of Carter Burwell's smaller-budget scores are in this vein.

 
 Posted:   Dec 6, 2018 - 11:12 AM   
 By:   TM   (Member)

Synths aping an orchestra still has a precision and uniformity that takes an inordinate amount of work and tweaking to cover up. Think about CGI characters (especially armies vs actual lead characters) in a movie, same thing. Sometimes it works better than others. We're getting closer and closer to the point where they're indistinguishable but we haven't got there yet.


Basically Uncanny Valley


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley


Wow, you win for completely owning the thread with three words!

 
 Posted:   Dec 6, 2018 - 12:25 PM   
 By:   Mr. Jack   (Member)

I remember when the Justice League cartoon switched over from the live orchestra that had been used for Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: TAS to all-electronic scoring, and the difference between the two being immediately obvious and jarring. In terms of writing, voice acting and animation, JL was every bit as good as its predecessors, but the cheap, tinny synth scores did bring it down a peg.

 
 Posted:   Dec 6, 2018 - 12:38 PM   
 By:   Justin Boggan   (Member)

Still good scores though. Just wish they had been done with real players.


Speaking of bringing back shows: the Timm-verse "Justice League" is a show I'd love top have back. That shouldn't have ended as early as it did.

 
 Posted:   Dec 6, 2018 - 1:51 PM   
 By:   Adventures of Jarre Jarre   (Member)

  • Synths have gotten much better over the years at sounding like acoustic instruments, and especially when augmented by a small ensemble of acoustic instruments they can sometimes fool the ear (also depending on what instruments are being emulated by synths).

    How does one know? Well if it's not by ear, I don't know why it would matter.

    There is no one opinion about synthesized scoring – some prefer it, some disdain it. My personal feeling is that there's often a coldness to it that I don't personally prefer. The human touch of acoustic instruments – both the passion and the imperfections – are what I tend to respond to (though there are exceptions).


    The atmospheric perspective of mic placement. The creaking of chairs. The breathy choral wisps during vocal rests. Somebody shouting "YEAH" during Explorers's End Credits. I agree.

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