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The Sound Blaster Live! Book
Interview with Ethan WinerBy: Lars Ahlzen.
Last updated: Mar 11, 2004
LC: Over the years, you seem to have gained a lot of experience as a musician - both in playing classical instruments (such as the Cello) and electronic instruments? Does this experience help you create better music today using synthesizers and computers?
EW: Definitely. Until you play classical music for yourself, and sit next to others in an orchestra, you have no idea of the fine detail required for a realistic performance. Brass players rarely blow a note at full volume and sustain that level for the entire duration, which is what I hear many amateurs do when they sequence a classical score. Rather, most notes start with an initial burst of attack for articulation, and then die quickly to the sustain level to make room for whatever else is playing. Likewise, real string players constantly adjust their dynamics to match what the score calls for, fading up and down to breath life into the music. One of the best examples of good classical music MIDI sequencing is Richard Audd's Earthday. I believe this MIDI file comes with the current SB Live! installation CD. Anyone who wants to do a credible job sequencing classical music should study this piece, and in particular look at how Richard uses Volume controller messages.
[Actually, this MIDI file can be found on the "Tour and Demo CD" (if you have the original SBLive! software CDs). It can also be downloaded from Live! center's FTP area.]
I also have a lot of experience with purely electronic music, and using real hardware synthesizers in the past gives me a much better understanding of how to effectively operate the software synthesizers now available. I bought the DreamStation software emulation of an analog synthesizer, and it is much better than the old MiniMoog it emulates. The original MiniMoog drifted out of tune, and would distort when you tried to get the signal level above the hiss. DreamStation has none of those problems, and of course you can trigger notes with MIDI, and save and recall all of the sound settings exactly. Having designed and used real analog synths in the past makes it much easier for me to understand the software synthesizers being sold today.
LC: Do you have any special tips or techniques for creating music (with a sound card such as the Live! in particular) that you would like to share with the readers?
EW: Since the Live! card handles both MIDI and digital audio, that's a pretty big question! I wrote an article for Recording magazine with many tips for making classical sequences more realistic, and anyone interested can find it on my web site at www.ethanwiner.com/realism.html.
I also have a few tips about recording audio. First, do not feel obligated to record at the highest level possible, right up to the point of digital clipping. I'm not suggesting that people should record everything at -20 dB. either, but 16-bit digital recording is much quieter than even very expensive analog recorders. If you aim for, say, -6 dB. you'll have some headroom in case a note or two comes out louder than you thought, and can avoid ruining an otherwise perfect take. Second, get the best microphone(s) you can afford and run them through a decent mike preamp. A few years ago I bought an audiotechnica 4033, which is a fantastic large diaphragm condenser. In fact, I like it so much I just bought another one. The first one cost me $650, but the same mike now sells for only $350! You don't have to spend a fortune to get a good preamp either. I use a Mackie 1202 mixer, which is relatively inexpensive and has four very good preamps with phantom power.
LC: Have you released any commercial records with your music?
EW: The only piece I've ever actually sold is my cello concerto, which I wrote in 1998 and premiered in concert in 1999. It is available from Music Minus One, and the CD includes a performance by a professional cellist and also a play-along version of just the orchestra backing track. The entire concerto was recorded in my home studio piece by piece using mostly live players, with only a few tracks synthesized. I wrote an article about writing and recording my concerto for Strings magazine in 1999. The complete text plus RealAudio and MP3 files are on my web site at www.ethanwiner.com/concerto.html.
LC: Thanks a lot! I wish you good luck with your music in the future!
EW: Thank you for your interest in my work!