Mahler Sixth played by synthesizer

Mahler Sixth played by synthesizer


norman lebrecht

May 28, 2016

Deeply disturbing, on many fronts.

Too credible for comfort.

mahler 6 drum


  • David Allsopp says:

    Noticably different from the real thing. Zombie performance.

    • Maria Brewin says:

      Agree entirely.

      However, it might pose a threat to orchestras whose income depends on film and computer game work where the difference might not be considered significant, rightly or wrongly.

      That’s assuming, of course, that the creation process is actually cheaper than employing an orchestra. Perhaps it isn’t?

      • Nick says:

        Many movie orchestral scores have been created on synthesizers for quite a few years. The sad thing is that few people know the difference.

        • David Allsopp says:

          Indeed. Hans Zimmer often uses synths but I suspect the subtleties of Mahler’s orchestration expose the soulless synthesised attempt?

  • John Borstlap says:

    You can hear that it is very mechanical and inhuman. Interestingly, this is how music sounds if merely ‘performed’ in sonic terms, without the input of the emotional / musical qualities of players and especially, conductor. This is how unmusical people hear music: they only hear the sounds it makes.

    • Allen says:

      It is also how some people in the jazz and rock worlds believe the classical music is always performed. In that respect it demonstrates the difference very well.

    • John Borstlap says:

      PS The picture shows an outdated model of computer as used by Milton Babbitt for his serial scores, and an angy flutist who had to rehearse a piece of his.

  • jaypee says:

    That’s a great tool for composers though…

    • John Borstlap says:

      No, because it bypasses the need for inner imagination of the music they are in the process of writing. But for sonic artists it’s great.

      • Robert Holmén says:

        How does this “bypass the need for imagination” when this electronic performance is something that comes *after* the composing is done?

        • John Borstlap says:

          As far as I know, composers using these kind of programs also compose with them: they can hear the result immediately after writing, which is then also done with mouse, picking the notes from elaborated schemes on the screen. Because, if you would first write a score on paper, you would have to type-set it anyway to be able to process it through the synthesizer programme.

          • Mikey says:

            John, that’s not quite how it works.
            If you use a DAW (as in the video above) then yes, you aren’t working from staves and regular notation.

            However, as a composer myself, I use a notation program when composing. I also use pencil and paper at my desk while working at the computer. So it’s a combination of the two. I’ve never used a piano-roll DAW in my work. I prefer to see an actual score.

            I never “pick notes from elaborate schemes”. That’s for the people who write the clichéd Zimmer-style soundtracks. I write themes, and develop them, and keep them on paper from which I build my material, yes, in the computer. But I know what I’m working on when entering it into the computer.

            It’s important not to reject the work of those who do choose to use computers as part of their compositional arsenal. It would be like when composers ridiculed those who worked at the piano when composing.

          • Robert Holmén says:

            “As far as I know, composers using these kind of programs also compose with them: they can hear the result immediately after writing…”

            Oh, dear… they got to hear a sound immediately instead of waiting years or a lifetime for some orchestra to bestow upon them the honor of even a cursory read-through.

            How is that less honorable than the composer of piano music who composes music sitting at the piano?

            “…which is then also done with mouse, picking the notes from elaborated schemes on the screen…”

            So the outrage is that they had a way to place an eighth note on the staff other than physically drawing one with a pencil. Wow.

      • jaypee says:

        So you think that composers don’t want to “check” how their music sounds? No writer has ever “tried” their texts on a private audience? I see this tool as a way to check things. Nothing more. Not as an end in itself. That *you* don’t want to use it doesn’t make it necessarily irrelevant.

        This will come as a big surprise to you, but not everyone thinks like you. More: it’s not because people have different opinions than you that they are wrong.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Checking your work with this synthesizer program is excellent for composers if they have trouble to imagine what they have written, and indeed there is nothing against it – although it is an escape route for the imagination, you don’t learn much from it. Also it depends upon the type of music. Mahler VI is not the best type of work to check in this way since it sounds so different from a performance by people.

          • Andrey says:

            OMG. Such an arrogant and unnessecary comment. Of course it is very valuable for any composer to have programs like this one at their disposal.

          • jaypee says:

            “Mahler VI is not the best type of work to check in this way”

            OK, John. Read slowly: I said that it was a great tool FOR COMPOSERS.
            Not for interpreting a Mahler symphony.

            “it is an escape route for the imagination”

            For you, maybe. For someone else, maybe not.
            My god, John, can’t you understand that people may think differently than you?!?
            Are you so full of yourself that you can’t even understand that?

            How old are you? 8?

          • John Borstlap says:

            Considering the number of sound artists nowadays and the confusion about the differences between sonic art and music, and the increasing use of computers in the production process, and relating this to the level of interest of the results, and then think of the fact that the overall majority of the existing repertoire as performed in the central performance culture was written without the slightest idea of computer programmes and with or/and without the help of a piano but with the support of inner imagination – also in a technical sense – then the idea that material-technical sophistication would help the realisation of artistic results becomes quite questionable. Computer programmes may give the impression of writing music to people who have no idea what that is. – The example of Mahler VI was taken to demonstrate that writing such a type of music does not need the help of computer programmes.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Since we had comparable problems in the recent past, we cautiously informed mr B that there is rumor that there exist people who have different opinions at the other side of the gate, to which he reacted with surprise and incredulity. When we insisted and mentioned, as an example, his own aunt’s opinion that the scherzo of Beethoven’s 9th symphony was lacking in rhythmic and harmonic interest, he just got angry and threatened to slash our summer bonus, so we did not mention the opinions of the Syrian gardiners who had some quite condeming things to say about mr B’s latest work but were so wise to keep them in Arabic. You see, we tried, but well, often it is better to agree.

          • Ben Babylon says:

            “think of the fact that the overall majority of the existing repertoire as performed in the central performance culture was written without the slightest idea of computer programmes and with or/and without the help of a piano but with the support of inner imagination – also in a technical sense – then the idea that material-technical sophistication would help the realisation of artistic results becomes quite questionable. Computer programmes may give the impression of writing music to people who have no idea what that is. – The example of Mahler VI was taken to demonstrate that writing such a type of music does not need the help of computer programmes.”

            Wow. Just wow.

            This is why classical music is quickly becoming less and less popular — because of ignorant people and arrogant composers that think they are better than everybody else and refuse to embrace new technologies, and new ideas.

  • Gerhard says:

    It is like a corpse. Everything still intact and there, and certainly evoking the living being, yet dead.
    P.S.: But still much more appealing than CAPTCHA …

  • Bernard Walston says:

    The frightening thing here is the heading. That isn’t a synthesizer – it’s a sampler. Musicians who don’t know the difference are doomed to the scrapheap.

    Fifty years ago, AFM and other musicians’ unions across the world went completely nuts when they feared that the Mellotron, the first widely-available sampler, would usurp live musicians. This was never going to happen with an instrument like the Mellotron, which sounded far more electronic than “live”. Now we have Kontakt and monsters like the Vienna Symphony sampler, which really do sound like the real thing and are in wide use across the television and movie industries – and the silence from real, practicing musicians is deafening. Quite possibly because they haven’t noticed, because the sound of these devices is so convincing.

    There is no synthesizer that makes a sound remotely comparable to real instruments, and no self-respecting synthesizer player would even try, at least in the last 20 years. It is simply not what the instruments are for. I have never met an electronic musician who cannot immediately tell a good sampler from a real orchestra; I have met comparably few acoustic musicians who *can*. This is genuinely worrying.

    Samplers are becoming indispensable tools in teaching composition and (especially) orchestration, and no amount of Luddite whining will make them go away. Ignorance, however, is not bliss – it’s death.

  • musicologyman says:

    Although it would be a lot more work, there’s no reason why someone producing a synthesized version cannot add nuances of phrasing, dynamics, balance, and so on. To that extent, the “inhumanity” of the performance is due to the imaginative and musical limitations of the human producing it. Nevertheless, the technology isn’t there to make it sound like it was produced using real orchestral instruments.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    1. Computerized music is a great tool for composers: you get an idea what the work will sound like, you can check much easier for wrong notes, and the score and parts will match. It’s far easier to make changes and corrections. I’ve been using music software like this for 25 years and gave up pen and paper and never looked back. Of course, I’m just a hack.
    2. Soul less, corpse? Maybe. But this version sounds a heck of a lot better than some amateur orchestras can ever hope to.

  • herrera says:

    How “realistic” or “lifelike” or “imaginative” the electronic version can be is limited by 2 things:

    One is the talents of the programmer, not the technology itself. Believe it or not, there are untalented programmers as there are untalented conductors as there are untalented musicians. Mahler’s 6th in the hands of an untalented high school orchestra would be pretty awful as well.

    The other is the sound fonts, taken from live musicians playing real instruments. Once again, the larger your sound library, the better your musicians are in providing the sound samples, the better and the more variety of sound you can have.

    Mark my word, one day, the Berlin and Vienna Phils will record their own sound library and license out their library for a good revenue stream.

    • herrera says:

      The day will come when the technology will evolve to the point where the interface between the sound you want and the sound you have in your head will no longer be your laptop panel of dials and buttons and typing in numerical values, but like Wii or virtual reality games, where with a wave of your hand, you can set volume, tempo, vibrato, cue a specific player or section, just as if you were conducting a real orchestra.

      When that day comes, Berlin will be at the forefront in filming their orchestra and recreating themselves digitally for eternity, so that we can always beckon Andreas Ottensamer to play the opening of Rhapsody in Blue, at any tempo and at any dynamic we like, at any time of the day (or night).

    • Steve de Mena says:

      This Mahler used sound libraries from Native Instruments. NI is definitely mid level of what is available. Not that the best sound libraries would sound much better without a human putting in the time to add all the nuances required.

  • Patrick says:

    No thanks. I’ll avoid this and inflatable life-sized dolls.

  • Patrick says:

    No, thanks. I’ll avoid this and life-sized inflatable dolls.

  • Matthew B. Tepper says:

    For a synthesizer like this to replace real, breathing humans playing orchestral instruments would, indeed, be a tragedy, even a disaster.

    But couldn’t it be a learning tool for musicologists and conducting students? Add in some motion-recognition devices of the sort that some gaming consoles have, and the student can see how tempo and dynamic changes shape (or mis-shape!) the music.

    But I agree, we cannot allow this to replace human players.

    • It should be clear that this was not done by a “synthesizer”. All the sounds were played by humans and recorded into a sample library. The good libraries have all the different inflections and playing styles to do a pretty good job of sounding natural but it would take an ungodly number of hours to do this with a Mahler symphony. For tv/movie short music cues is a different subject but even then the big guys like Zimmer use sample libraries for mock ups and then generally re-record sections with a real orchestra (often with synthesized sounds mixed in).
      I did the “Candide” overture once with sampled sounds. Parts sounded very good but it would have taken a LOT of effort to get that last 5-10% sounding good.

      • Robert Holmén says:

        “Sampler” is rather jargony and outside the parlance of most classical music audiences.

        To most people a “sampler” is a box you get assorted chocolates in.

        “Synthesizer” has become a general term to encompass electronic keyboards and sound production in general.

        • Consider yourself educated now.
          This is not music produced by a synthesizer. It’s played back from samplers using recordings of real instruments played by real people. Probably 1,000 or more recordings of various styles of playing at various volumes by various sized groups.
          It’s not “Switched on Bach”.
          “A box of chocolates”?? You gotta be kidding me.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      Musicologists and conductors — especially conductors — do this as they ought to: They sit down and read the score. If a performance looms, they mark the score in very great detail indeed. If a conducting student cannot see how tempo and dynamics shape the music without a “motion recognition device”, he should consider a different career.

      • Nick says:

        And surely composers should be able to hear the sounds they want in their heads? That’s what I was taught when studying music.

        • John Borstlap says:

          ….. Of course. If people need such technical means to be able to ‘write music’, they have no talent for it.

          • Mikey says:

            Until this point in time I was always happy to defend you and your point of view.
            However, this comment is simply beyond the pale.
            You, sir, have crossed a line.
            You’ve just told me I have no talent for composition. This will come as a huge surprise to the ensembles who have performed or commissioned my works.

            All I can think at this point in time is F*** You, Mr Borstlap.

          • John Borstlap says:

            As a way of a reassuring correction of such wrongheaded reading: if people, calling themselves composer, NEED computer programs to be able to write music at all, i.e. the program is a condition for the creation of a musical work, than this means that some important capacity of the mind is missing. Writing music is the ability to imagine music, and to write it down in such a way that players can translate the text into action of performance. For the writing-down one can, of course, use computer programs, which is a mere substitute for pencil and pen, but if the composer uses the computer as a substitute for his/her own imagination, or as an alternative for his/her improvising on a piano or keyboard (which is a normal preparation process to invent things), then some fundamental capacity in terms of imagination is missing and I would not call that composing. Maybe it’s something else, like concept art (cut corpses in formaldehyde or tinned excrements), but music: no.

            The question is not which means composers use to get their results, but whether the means make important processes of the imagination quasi-superfluous. Then one enters an altogether different territory. Maybe I have not formulated what I meant clearly enough, but maybe this helps.

  • Notsucha Luddite says:

    The example given is simply showing what can be bought for a few hundred pounds. As was mentioned above, there are sample libraries of significantly higher sophistication and there are ver, very talented musicians who when given the time to programme musically produce commensurately high musical results. Indeed in Vienna they are already working in this manner. The reality is that it is now primarily an issue of computing power and each generation of increases in processing power and memory increase the musical potential in almost equal measure. The same sort of computing power which has driven film imagery and particularly the tracking of human movement and expression in actors is available in music – there has been less of a commercial need to use it. Perhaps what is needed is a musical Turing test – I suspect that just as in other areas of “computing v humans” there will be some red faces if this were done seriously rather than relying on passing comments on a mid-range piece of kit. Besides humans have bad as well as good sides. I know of one major film composer who would likes to work with live orchestras and indeed has budgets to do so but chose not to do so in part of the UK because of the very bad orchestral attitudes on offer at one set of nightmare sessions. As is often the case, the most authentic sound emerging from the pit is that of someone shooting themselves in the foot as the money flew over seas.

    • John Borstlap says:

      London, and film music, does not seem the best example to defend the use of computer technology to replace live performance: London pay is low and living expenses inhuman. Everybody playing any instrument is accepting any gig that pays whatever money. The point is that many people prefer imitation reality over real reality, and machines over people, and eventually it may be much cheaper to wrap-up orchestras and opera companies and string quartets etc. etc. and have them replaced by computer programs – that is, of music which has not as yet been played and / or recorded. Surely, many people cultivate a strong, deep longing to live in such a world, a New Brave World of artifice and fantasy where nothing is real but eveyrthing dependent upon the electric socket. But they would not know that they are not living at all.