The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

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The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by HideawayStudio » Sun Jul 09, 2017 12:46 pm

In a world of today's gigabyte sample libraries I sometimes think we've lost the art and wonder of making characterful single shot samples...

Whilst reviving two of these beasts in the workshop I recorded this quick live improv of a dark piano timbre made with a single tiny sample on a 1985 Sequential Circuits Prophet 2002 Sampler which is lovely sounding beast thanks to its analog filters and interesting feature set. Despite being a single sample it became a living entity once some filter envelope, filter tracking and velocity dynamics were applied in the sampler.

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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by CS_TBL » Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:22 pm

I don't think we've lost the art or skill, I certainly still know how to cut/optimise samples and cram a lot of 'm in limited amounts of RAM.

But other than that: your example sounds synthetic. And it may, in a way, sound pleasant to the ears, but it's still synthetic. No-one today would accept that as a realistic piano. It's not really a case of forgetting ancient skills, but they're not really needed anymore, these days. Who cares about looping strings when can just record 20 seconds of 'm and stream it from your HD? That's about 12 bars! Who cares about looping strings ensembles (always complex) when we're gradually moving towards a situation where we sample individual instruments (much easier to loop) to stack into ensembles? Why bother cutting silent bits of the tail of a pizzicato sample when everything is being streamed anyway and only the short attack of a sample snippet is being stored in RAM? In a way you could state that modern day libraries could've been a bit more optimised, but that would only make sense using old 80's playback techniques. Our play technology has now advanced some thirty years. ;) Just like cars don't have manual chokes anymore, sample editors don't have to optimise the s**t out of their samples anymore.
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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by HideawayStudio » Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:39 pm

CS_TBL wrote:I don't think we've lost the art or skill, I certainly still know how to cut/optimise samples and cram a lot of 'm in limited amounts of RAM.

But other than that: your example sounds synthetic. And it may, in a way, sound pleasant to the ears, but it's still synthetic. No-one today would accept that as a realistic piano. It's not really a case of forgetting ancient skills, but they're not really needed anymore, these days. Who cares about looping strings when can just record 20 seconds of 'm and stream it from your HD? That's about 12 bars! Who cares about looping strings ensembles (always complex) when we're gradually moving towards a situation where we sample individual instruments (much easier to loop) to stack into ensembles? Why bother cutting silent bits of the tail of a pizzicato sample when everything is being streamed anyway and only the short attack of a sample snippet is being stored in RAM? In a way you could state that modern day libraries could've been a bit more optimised, but that would only make sense using old 80's playback techniques. Our play technology has now advanced some thirty years. ;) Just like cars don't have manual chokes anymore, sample editors don't have to optimise the s**t out of their samples anymore.
I think you may have missed the point I was trying to make and possibly thinking about this too much in terms of the technicalities. I think there is still definitely a place for these limited mishapen "caricature" sounds. Feedback from a number of film composer/producer friends over the years seems to agree with this in that often there are times when realism is not wanted but in fact something more abstract, detached from reality, that captures or conveys a mood.

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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by CS_TBL » Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:46 pm

I know, sometimes there's something useful in primitive sounds. I don't deny that. But because of all the possibilities today (RAM, CPU-power) it appears to be not really a target area for commercial sample library makers. Today we can have all the things that we wanted to have in the 80's but were impossible to have. With sample provides advertising with more 'n more gigabytes, more layers, more round robins, more articulations, and in five years we'll see 1TB-libraries I'm sure, who would dare to advertise with: "enjoy our 4 MB library"? (which is already science fiction for a Roland S-10, to name something).

So, again, I don't think the art/skill is lost, it's just not very relevant anymore for the big companies.
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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by desmond » Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:55 pm

If we can make attractive sounds with simple waveforms, using the remainder of a synth engine to impart a pleasing tone and playing response, there's no reason we can't do the same using small samples too.

In terms of absolute realism, then large multisamples are obviously more realistic sounding (though not necessarily in playability), but a good part of synthesis is about making interesting sounds.

Funnily enough, just today I was exploring a synth with an inbuilt sample library of very poor, short, low quality, and poorly looped sounds, and really enjoying it's character and the sounds I can get out of it. There is something nice about those old, low quality and extremely limited sample libraries - they can't get to hyper realism, so instead they aspire to some useful approximation which is a nice aesthetic in itself for some things...

So yes, very limited samples is an interesting and useful choice in sound design (but I'm also glad we have more realistic large-scale sampling as an alternative, too.)

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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by desmond » Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:57 pm

CS_TBL wrote:and in five years we'll see 1TB-libraries I'm sure
Roland are advertising their "Tera Piano" will be an 8TB piano library... :o

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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by commodorejohn » Sun Jul 09, 2017 3:33 pm

CS_TBL wrote:Today we can have all the things that we wanted to have in the 80's but were impossible to have.
...and as with many things, it's turned out to be a case of "be careful what you wish for" as sample libraries have turned into mostly highly-articulated generic sonic mush that can never get completely over the Uncanny Valley but can't accept their own limitations and search for their own unique character either. HideawayStudio is dead on here.
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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by CS_TBL » Sun Jul 09, 2017 7:31 pm

desmond wrote:(though not necessarily in playability)
commodorejohn wrote:...but can't accept their own limitations...
There is a problem with sample libraries that isn't so easy to fix, it's performance. To be exact, it's related to two aspects:
1) the keyboard with its traditional controllers
2) playing live


1) A keyboard interface is a single-event on/off interface. Whereas woodwinds, brass and strings have an interface based on a continuous driver. You can of course use pitchbend, modwheel, aftertouch, velocity and other custom controllers to make things alive, but those are again all rooted in the keyboard paradigm. Every library maker seems to be very busy with adapting their library to the keyboard, ignoring potential solutions that work but are less conventional for a keyboard player.

2) Playing live means playing real-time, and unless the player adds context to its performance (switch keys, volume controlling etc.) there's no way a system could possibly know what you want to play next. A key-down event could mean a sustaining note, and such samples are triggered then. But the system can't know that you lift up the key in the next microsecond, intending it to be a staccato note instead. Also, many brass/wind players apply a little temporary crescendo between notes, just before playing the next note. Unless you apply a controller for that yourself, the system doesn't know (and will never know) that you intend to play the next note.

So, if you really want realism in your virtual brass/wood/strings, the keyboard, but mostly the live-paradigm, will be the brick wall you'll bump into.

As for me: I don't play, I track (see my FM8 vids). So I enter notes on a grid. This has two advantages, and you can do the guesswork already. I don't rely on a keyboard interface, my wood/brass/string notes don't sound like they've been played on a keyboard. But most importantly: me entering notes is not real-time (it's in fact in random time because of the non-chronological order of inventing/entering notes). I have a far better overview when it comes to adding articulation switches and controllers. I don't have to think real-time and I don't have a metronome rushing me. Also, I do my own divisi writing and don't rely on algorithms splitting keyboard-chords for me. In a way I do traditional musical notation, it looks different, but it's the same paradigm, the same way of thinking, the same feedback-cycle.

So, based on that: do sample libraries go beyond the uncanny valley? Maybe, maybe not. In my current sample pool I have individual instrument samples for all my woodwinds and brass, with strings in four sections. You can count on it that strings will eventually be presented as 70 individual instruments, you'd need a neat CPU for that, and probably 64GB of memory! 1) These virtual instruments may go beyond a valley most people can identify, and 2) some people may be able to go beyond the uncanny valley whereas others cannot. Most notably, I think the non-realtime virtual orchestrators have the edge here. :lol:

And, just to think about: at some point we'll have timpani samples based on individual kettles. So weird to think that all our timpani patches are one long stretch of notes, whereas in reality, there are like four kettles that all have to be tuned before hitting it. Similarly for the harps, these are diatonic and can only play diatonic unless you tweak individual strings. Yet all harp patches in synths and virtual synths are chromatic. There are so many ways to improve realism, but as you can guess: the keyboardists won't be too happy if their synth-timpanies don't work in the traditional way.
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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by desmond » Sun Jul 09, 2017 7:48 pm

CS_TBL wrote:I don't rely on a keyboard interface, my wood/brass/string notes don't sound like they've been played on a keyboard. But most importantly: me entering notes is not real-time (it's in fact in random time because of the non-chronological order of inventing/entering notes).
I can't see much of a difference whether your note-ons/note-offs are played live, or entered into a DAW in any other way - it's still a keyboard-centric paradigm. How your parts sound is down to note choice, not really method of entry (in this scenario).

Personally, I find it easy (but incredibly tedious) to generate accurate notes by step entry, but much harder to inject the same "musicality" that I can easily do via playing. Of course, we don't have to solely rely on just one or other of those methods, but at the end of the day, everyone works differently and there are no wrong ways of going about stuff if you're getting the results you want.
CS_TBL wrote:So, based on that: do sample libraries go beyond the uncanny valley?
I think the case is much the same as it has always been - sample libraries can sound ok (even great) in certain circumstances, and if you stick to the arrangements that suit the libraries - and as the libraries get more sophisticated, the range of scenarios they can sound great in expands - but you are always limited in performance terms in some way or other, and I can't see that changing much, no matter how sophisticated and "intelligent" the libraries get.

We had a "modelling" innovative period for a while, then it seeme to back off as people realised that modelling was a) quite hard to do convincingly and b) didn't fix the needs of playing non-keyboard instruments from a keyboard-centric workflow in terms of controllability.

So, I think the near future at least is ever more articulations, and back end "intelligence" to "help" give more convincing performances automatically, with the ability to get in there and tweak for your own needs.

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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by commodorejohn » Sun Jul 09, 2017 11:11 pm

Eh, give me an Emulator II and "Marcato Strings" or a decent divide-down string synth any day if you're not going to get an actual string section in, that's what I say.
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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by Baus » Mon Jul 10, 2017 12:36 am

I totally agree with you Dan.

I love that sound example of the Prophet. Keep it up.

Although I don't think it's forgotten. Some people don't know and what I like is that minds like you and me want to keep it alive. It almost has become a craft.

I used to think that 'the bigger the better' but I came to realize that a sampler with 128kb of internal memory can be so much fun to play with and to program.

I really like what was done here:


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Re: The Lost Art of Single Shot Samples!

Post by adamstan » Mon Jul 10, 2017 6:08 am

desmond wrote: So, I think the near future at least is ever more articulations, and back end "intelligence" to "help" give more convincing performances automatically, with the ability to get in there and tweak for your own needs.
Latest Yamaha arrangers, like two-three last generations of Tyros and higher-end PSRs try to do something like this with their "Super-Articulation" voices - it tries to adapt to what you play on keyboard (like detecting legato playing on guitar or wind patches) and switches articulations on the fly (using some sophisticated real-time sample stitching).
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