Orchestral Music for Film, Television, and Radio
A word from
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the syNThony Library - a new and important resource on the Internet. We welcome music lovers of all kinds, and all those who are interested in the ways in which technology is transforming music and the arts in general. And, above all, we hope to provide a wealth of practical and useful information and services to musicians - in particular to classical musicians and classically-inspired composers and performers of new music.
It is fitting that we choose this medium to further the application of digital technologies in the lives of musicians. The Internet is perhaps the most visible expression of the power of digital technology, bringing myriad innovations for life in general. In no less momentous ways, however, various kinds of digital electronic devices and computer software have transformed the world of music.
The onset of change is naturally unsettling. Indeed the unease may be felt more intensely by classical musicians who are, after all, always in a position to appreciate what society - or more properly, our living culture - is charged to protect and preserve in the face of change. Quite rightly, the custodians of our artistic heritage look with a dim view upon changes that threaten to put that heritage out of reach. Ultimately, Beethoven cannot be preserved without reference to living musicians who are capable of playing his music. What then shall be the cumulative effect of digital technologies - of computers, of synthesizers, of ubiquitous "CD-Quality" recordings (characterized by the electronic "editing" of performances), of electronic "reinforcement" in opera houses, of extensively decentralized mechanisms of music distribution, etc.? All of these have an impact, not only on practical matters such as the "bottom line" of orchestras and concert halls, but also on the aesthetic consciousness that makes an appreciation of the art of past ages possible.
Moreover, change has no overly seductive caché for a person who is sensitive to Bach and Beethoven. Considering what is recorded at "CD-Quality" in our time, one wonders if the game is worth the prize. Henry David Thoreau noted that the celebrated introduction of the Transatlantic Cable in the mid-19th Century might yield to disappointment should the message that came across the wires chance to report (as it quite likely would) only some such thing as the birth of the Princess Adelaide. Like Thoreau, the classical musician may be tempted to think that there is no such thing as progress and plenty of it!
Putting aside the conventional uses to which new technologies have been applied, the fact is that the arts have never isolated themselves from technological advance, and should not do so now. Digital electronic technologies, if properly employed, are capable of enhancing the musical experience. Classical musicians should be aware of the ways in which these technologies contribute in a positive way to the making of music. Unfortunately, there has been no convenient way for the classical musician to learn about it all in an appropriate environment.
The only place to find digital music technology, by and large, is in one of the many music stores that cater to people who play popular music, jazz and rock. This is not an unproblematic proposition, at least for a classical musician. Indeed, it was to one of these stores that I was directed on one sunny day in 1994. I had been inquiring about MIDI in a long-established and rather classically oriented music store in Reno, Nevada. (MIDI is one of the basic components of digital music technology in the present era.)
Id come originally intending only to see what was available in the piano department. But, on a whim, I strolled from the acoustic pianos toward a room filled with electronic instruments and began to chat with the salesman on duty. I asked about MIDI, for the electronic pianos seemed to be making big boasts about this oddly-named new technology, and to my astonishment even many of the acoustic pianos were avowedly "MIDI-capable."
In fact, I had been hearing about MIDI for some time, but it was an uncomfortable, and, I have to admit, humiliating feeling not knowing anything about it. As a classical musician I am accustomed to knowing things that popular musicians do not know. Here it was the other way around, for MIDI is as common a word among popular musicians as borscht is in Poland. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I might also be let in on this hip little secret. Anyway, it seemed it wouldnt hurt just to ask.
"Oh, you dont want to bother with MIDI," came the reply from the salesman. "MIDI never works."
How astonishing to hear a salesman asserting that his product does not work. He immediately won me over as a friend, for honesty in a salesman is, to say the least, refreshing. Yet his was an incredible assertion. Could it be true? MIDI technology has been an immense success in the musical instrument market. One current maker of standard MIDI interfaces (Mark Of The Unicorn), operating in a crowded field of competitors, claims that it makes a sale once every 15 minutes. Could millions of people possibly be buying something that does not work?
Unhappily, there is ample precedent for this impossible conjecture. For example, anybody who uses conventional home/office computers knows that maintaining them in working order is no easy task. Using a computer is much like playing the harp: 50% of the time you are tuning, and the rest of the time it is out of tune.
I had to know more about MIDI. The salesman was kind enough to send me to a competitors store for which kindness, coming again from a salesman, I went from friendship to outright affection. He assured me that there I would find people who could tell me everything I wanted to know. He, for one, had never bothered to look into it.
The store was found in a less substantial part of town indeed, in another town entirely from a strictly jurisdictional point of view. I refer now to Sparks, Nevada. Locals say that Reno is so close to hell you can see Sparks. In any case, it is exactly the kind of place in which you would expect to find a music store that caters almost entirely to rock musicians wearing black leather clothes and purple hair. It is, so to speak, on the other side of the railroad tracks.
The store itself displays many of the standard elements of a rock culture that has come to be known as "gothic" among other things. Certainly, one of the more outstanding features of this musical emporium is the parrot that sits on an open perch within, scowling at the customers as they stream past his wicked aerie. Or is he scowling at the combined cacophony created by their motley number, pounding all at the same time on the keyboards of a vast array of excruciatingly loud electronic instruments? (I do not mention drummers drumming, teenage divas chanting with orgasmic fury through microphones, delirious saxophonists, etc.) Being a classical musician, and having therefore by nature a precarious nervous constitution, I knew instantly that I would never learn anything about MIDI in this pandemonium, and promptly headed for the door.
There my eye chanced upon a posted announcement which, as it happened, brought me back to the store that very evening for what was to be an unforgettable experience: a professional demonstration of the Kurzweil K2000 Synthesizer.
A remarkable change of scene confronted me upon my return. All the erstwhile musical creativity had miraculously ceased, and in its place a docile assembly of wide-eyed youth sat in rows on folding chairs staring ahead with rapt expectancy. Finally, the gentleman from Kurzweil came before the assembled group. One could see that he loved what he was doing. His manner expressed genuine admiration for his instrument. He then proceeded to demonstrate what should be described simply as a triumph of human ingenuity and creativity.
This letter, and the "syNThony" site generally, are not an advertisement for any particular instrument maker. We have no connection with Kurzweil or its parent company, Young-Chang. The Kurzweil Synthesizer is one of a variety of very competitively developed instruments, all of which employ some of the wonders of digital technology. The last decade, with no exaggeration, has ushered in a new era in the history of musical instruments. We are witnessing developments that are even more far-reaching and significant than, say, the change from viols to violins, or from natural horns to valve instruments. The implications for music as a performance and a compositional art are nothing short of epoch-making. (For an extensive discussion of this subject from the point of view of aesthetics, please see my article, "The Aesthetics of Electronic Music," published at this site.)
The marvels of the Kurzweil Synthesizer and other electronically and digitally engineered instruments are only emblematic of what is happening in a hundred-and-one ways to alter music-making and the environment in which it is done. Music is one of the areas in which digital technology has had the greatest impact over the years. Digital technologies have opened up means for accomplishing in music things that were hardly imagined in the past. These new capabilities greatly exceed what we might have expected from any technology whatsoever. Digital aids for musical practice and education are simply astonishing in their power not only to make practice and study more effective, but also more enjoyable. New mediums and channels for the production and distribution of music have simultaneously opened up, as have systems of communication that have far-reaching implications for the lives that we lead as musicians. Think only, for example, of technology being used today that permits musicians in Los Angeles to play with musicians in New York, and to record their ensemble with no more trouble than they would have talking on the telephone.
One also has to admit that digital technologies seem a daunting prospect for people who do not understand to any degree how they work, or who have never witnessed them in use. Sadly, even its champions do not always render convincing demonstrations of its power.
I recall with an inner smile the demonstration that I myself gave of the instrument named above, the Kurzweil K2000, several months after the events described and after my own purchase of it. My victim was a friend of great talent, a composer who struggles in every conceivable material way in the thankless city of Los Angeles, in order to make his way composing music that has no hope of being played ever anywhere. In theory, a digital "virtual" or "synthetic" orchestra could be of inestimable value to a man such as this. At very least, he might create orchestral simulations of his own music, and use them to demonstrate his talent and skills at large.
Unfortunately, I couldnt get my MIDI to work (was it the salesmans revenge?). Later, my composer friend told me that he had already experienced two or three demonstrations as good as mine from other friends.
This site is dedicated to my friends friends, and all the other well-meaning people of the world who cannot get their MIDI to work. It is conceived in a spirit of thanks to all those who have invented and developed digital musical instruments. It looks forward to a time when as a matter of course classical musicians (and classically-inspired musicians) take advantage of the vast new power and independence that digital technologies provide in the way of learning, practicing, performing and composing music.
Once again, greetings and welcome. Be sure to let us know what you think, and how we might better serve YOUR needs at the syNThony site.
Daniel de Quincy
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